Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Bashing the Emperor

A 7.30 start in theory became a slightly more staggered affair tonight. I was first, prompt and on time, and we were expecting Joe and Katy shortly with Martin at 8.00 and Ian at 8.45. Sam set up the oddly named Viva Java: the coffee game: the dice game as a filler until Martin got here..

But Katy and Joe were a little late so we didn't get the rules explanation underway for a while and just as we were starting to murmur about how interesting it looked, Martin turned up, fifteen minutes early! Viva Java: the coffee game: the dice game was put away since it didn't play five. Pity. I had enjoyed saying "Viva Java: the coffee game: the dice game."

In its place we played Sakura. This Knizia game involves trying to be as close to the Emperor as possible without actually colliding into him (which gave us the phrase now adorning this week’s blog entry). Each player plays a card simultaneously, and carries out the orders on it, be that move the Emperor, or yourself, or the furthest forward or back.

It's a little gem of luck pushing and screwage, as players try to put themselves at the front but not so close that would put them in danger if the Emperor took a couple of steps back. I was pleased to win, especially so when I found out that Katy was under the impression that she had come comfortably in first.

Andrew 12
Katy 10
Joe 7
Sam 6
Martin 5

After this delightful episode, we wondered what we could play until Ian arrived. We chose Zero Down, the game of picking up cards to achieve a scoreless hand.

As I recall, Martin was quickest to knock and not necessarily to his advantage. I thought I did well. At least, much better than before. I still came last, though. On the other hand, Katy discovered that another sure win was spoilt right at the end.

Joe 13
Katy 13
Martin 21
Sam 22
Andrew 23

We ended when Ian arrived and we reorganised into two groups of three. Ian, Martin and Katy played Azul while Sam, Joe and I had a Heaven and Ale rematch. I had actually been hoping this would be suggested, since I couldn't stand having the humiliation of the last game hanging over me.

I began the game scoring categories early, on the assumption that although they wouldn't score as much, I needed to get something on the board. Sam went for monks and Joe catapulted his Brewmeister up the score track with a low scoring shed.

I just read that last sentence back. Frankly, I'm amazed that board games are as popular as they are.

Meanwhile, on Azul, Katy had had a nightmare start. Her slow beginnings turned into a becalmed section midgame followed by a bit of a lull at the end. Ian, though, surged into contention and scored something like 30+ points in the last round to give Martin something to worry about. But Martin had the bonuses from three complete colours to see him home.

Martin 101
Ian 97
Katy 62

We were still midgame, so they began Krass Kariert, a card game of playing increasingly good hands. Or something. To be honest, most of the game and the accompanying conversations were completely opaque to me. I had no idea what was going on. They ended when we finished our game, and it stood (albeit unfinished)

Ian 2
Katy 2
Martin 1

Heaven and Ale finished with a sudden dash for glory from me. On the final round I was very single-minded and selfish, as I jumped from one scoring token to the next, triggering bonus cards and, eventually, barrels. Joe had to skip half the board when he saw this, just to grab the last token. Sam, I think, picked up tiles to finish off areas at his leisure.

Sam's early dominance was too great for me to overhaul. Joe finished by admitting that the game still hadn't quite clicked with him.

Sam 28
Andrew 27
Joe 10

Now Joe bowed out for the evening, despite it only being ten o'clock. A shocking decision but, in his defence, he had driven all the way from Totnes to be here tonight. Fair enough.

As a five piece, we chose Voodoo Prince. A very excellent and very mean trick taker from The Knizia. Everyone got shat on, except Martin who avoided going out first or last all game. However, despite her one failed round, Katy scored top points in three out of the five rounds and came second in the fourth for a narrow win. But spare a moment of sympathy for Ian who started one round with a four black and found that everyone either undercut him or couldn't follow suit so he won that trick, sending him out of the round. Vicious.

Katy 45
Martin 44
Andrew 33
Sam 33
Ian 24

Then, despite the late hour, we craved one more game. The Mind is advertised as being for two to four players. But why not five, we asked. Using the declining rate of rounds according to number of players, we decided that six rounds was an appropriate number for five players. It was a triumph and someone needs to tell the designers that they're selling themselves short.

Round one was easy, since Ian had 2 and Sam had 100. We lost a life in round two, but battled through a fraught round three unscathed. In that round, Sam and Katy both moved to place a card at the same time causing a significant pause for thought, and later I had to move fast to get my 53 under Katy's 54. It ended in fine style with 78, 82, 85.

Then round four was cleared without loss of life, despite ending 94, 95, 98. But our luck hit a pothole in round five, where we lost two lives, perhaps distracted by Katy's pronunciation of "6nimmt" as "6nimpt". At this late hour and under this kind of pressure, we found that hilarious.

We cleared round six with the loss of only one life, and so we set off into the Dark Mind with two lives still intact. This level of challenge is an absurd idea. Yet tantalisingly possible. You play as normal, except you play each card face down. How do you know how far to 100 you are? Read the atmosphere. Take your psychic bearings and then hope for the best.

To our delight, we cleared round one! But we failed on round two, losing our last two lives. Regrettably, we still had a shuriken card we could've used, but didn't.

And so, at half past eleven and with me thinking Joe might have done the right thing, but pleased I got to experience five-player The Mind, we set off home. Thanks all, for another special evening.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Into the Twilight

Following on from last night's epic Times of Crisis, another operatic battle loomed on the horizon. Specifically, the Chippenham horizon, as I made my way eastwards to join Chris and pals Stuart and Paul for the debut play - for us - of Twilight Imperium.

Chris and I had a little warm-up game of Cosmic Run to get us in the mood, which I won by a narrow two-point margin. Then as Paul and Stuart arrived, we began setting up the main event.

This beast as been around for some time, highly respected in many quarters albeit guardedly (because of playtime) even amongst its admirers. Chris recently found himself in possession of the fourth edition (I guess he bought it) and each of us had spent a little time swotting up in preparation. Said preparation had warned us that a first play would take "all day" but with the evening ahead of us, we sat down at 3.30 with a vague notion of being done at a reasonable hour.

The first 45 minutes was a brief overview from Chris and refresher of the main rules. And at 4.15 or so, we began.

Like Eclipse - a game it inspired - Twilight Imperium sees you battling over the systems of a galaxy, only the premise being that we are each hoping to impress some ruling titans (I forget their name) by being the first to reach ten points. Ten points! You'd think it wouldn't take that long. But it does.

Each of us has a starting hex and - like Eclipse - we are inexorably drawn towards the centre hex Mecatol Rex, as it is the most powerful planet and potentially rewards you with a victory point for ownership. In a game with margins this fine, that's a big swing.

Play progresses through the selection of Strategy Cards - in a four player game everyone chooses two, and you get the primary action on your card. Everyone else gets the secondary action on your card, presuming they want to take it and can afford it. And there are also other actions too - activating a system in order to produce there, or move there and take control of planets. Activating an action card (there are many, and wildly varied) as well as trading with each other, fighting with each other (obviously) and, once Mecatol Rex is occupied, voting for laws and directives at the end of each round.

Paul was first in there and I found myself the beneficiary of the first vote, being elected Minister for Exploration. Stuart though wasn't keen on Paul sitting pretty in the middle of the board, and ploughed in to take it from him. Everyone voted in a crap law that penalised technology development, so I repealed it with an action card. Chris keep kicking himself for his own moves, Paul kept forgetting his faction's special power, and we all fell foul of our Eclipse-ic conditioning, forgetting that you can't move ships from a system that's already been activated this round.

We also slightly misunderstood the production rule, but corrected ourselves in round three.

Chris and I were first to trade (turn commodities into trade goods!) giving ourselves more spending power. Stuart remained aggressive throughout, seeing off Chris' attack on Mecatol Rex and powering through a wormhole to bat my solitary cruiser out of a hex at the other end.

Also at the end of a round is the opportunity to achieve objectives - some are public, some are secret. You can only achieve one of each in each round... but other objectives can be achieved during the action phase by meeting its requirements in combat or via some other means... I attacked Stuart's flagship and successfully destroyed it in order to meet a secret objective, and Chris placed four planetary defence systems on the board.

I began tweeting the whole thing in progress (@gamesnightguru) but would sometimes realise that many minutes, if not an hour, had passed since my last missive, as we all weighed up options and cursed our lack of command tokens (to activate things, or take secondary actions) or our previous decisions, or each other. Usually Paul. Paul's insistence that his faction was 'fragile' belied a steely determination, as he chipped away on the score track early on and set a healthy 4 point lead at one stage. We tried to inch our way back, with all our vague scattergun manoeuvring beginning to coalesce into something approaching logic, and Chris and Stuart actively going after Paul on the board, squeezing him into a narrow space.

But when 11 o'clock rolled into sight we agreed the current round would be the last one, with Paul's lead unassailable and, as it turned out, a pretty good plan to get the last two points he needed for a bona fide victory in a subsequent round anyway!

It ended

Paul 8
Chris and Sam 5
Stuart 4

And we stood, stretched and gazed down upon the last seven and a half hours of our lives, bar a short break for pizza. The verdict across the quartet was pretty much the same - a good game, perhaps a great game, with certainly more nuance to explore than we had uncovered in a single play. But was it worthy of the time investment needed? I certainly felt that although it had more going on than Eclipse, the successor ticked the space opera box in a third of the time, and I wasn't mad keen on all the action cards either - some seemed to spill over into arbitrary Take That territory, whereas others were a neat boost in battle or a way to retreat intact.

Inevitably a new day brought a wistful nostalgia though and this morning I'm intrigued to try it again while it's still fresh...

Meanwhile back in time we packed away and finished our evening with the pallet-cleanser of NMBR9. I put too much investment in the second 3 coming up early...

And suffered as a result, as Paul broke 100 for his second win of the night and Chris and Stuart claimed 2nd and 3rd. Chat returned to Twilight Imperium again, with what-ifs and hmmms running through everybody's heads.


This morning Chris and I were going to play Riverboat, but with the snow coming down hard and the memory of being stranded in Dublin fresh in my mind, I decided to head home while the roads were still open. An intriguing, dramatic night! Thanks Chris and all.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Beware the Ides of March

And the day after, too, for that is when me, Ian, Joe and Martin reconvened for another epic game of Time Of Crisis. It had been over two months since we last played and I spent some time before we began going over the player guide to remind myself what my options are.

We began at 8.15pm, with all four of us choosing to start in Europe. Ian had first choice and went for Gallia. Joe couldn’t tear himself away from Pannonia. Martin and I were keen to be near the action, so he went to Macedonia and I started in Hispania.

Early stages

When the game proper began, Zenobia arrived immediately in Egypt, miles from anyone. She continued to be a thorn in our side for half of the game, since no one could be bothered to go and fight her.

Meanwhile, Ian took Britannia, Joe took Syria, then an event card caused Postumus to pop up in Ian’s Gallia before Martin moved into Galatia and I went into Africa. I continued my tradition of poo-poohing the typical 3 blue, 2 red opening hand, and instead I began with 3 blue, 2 yellow. Somebody needs to.

There’s a round of consolidation and preparation before Ian leaps into action, kills Postumus and is first to buy a 3-value card. It’s a good start for him. On the other hand, Joe loses Pannonia (of course) to some Franks. Martin takes Asia while I continue to consolidate.

Ian throws a mob into Martin’s Asia, then a goth leader appears on the border of Thracia (currently owned by Ian): Cniva. Unfortunately, “Evil Cniva” becomes a bit of a figure of fun, since no other goths rise up to join him for hours, making him look pretty lonely.

The three goths behind him are clearly not that keen

Joe successfully retakes Pannonia and then fails to defeat the Nomads in Egypt. Then he is voted in as the new Emperor thanks to an exploding six! It is 9.05pm.

Martin can’t get rid of Ian’s mob and struggles over his move. He attacks Joe in Syria, but with one hit each it’s a draw. “The Gods smiled on me,” says Joe. “Shit,” says Martin.

I don’t have enough red points to go and fight anyone meaningful, so I move an army into Pannonia so it’ll be near the action when the shit hits the fan. That’s my thinking, at least.

Ian is then voted into Rome, but leaves Gallia undefended. Joe is unable to regain his place in the senate since he has no blue cards in his hand so he strengthens his two provinces. Martin takes back Thracia in order to weaken Emperor Ian.

Then I become Emperor, albeit a very weak one with support at level one. Meanwhile, my army moves from Pannonia into still undefended Gallia. Now it’s Ian’s turn to have no blue cards. He attacks me in Gallia and wins and I’m forced to retreat.

Joe’s crisis rolls send three Franks in Britannia. I’m so surprised that this sleepy outpost on the edge of the empire should get any attention from the barbarian hordes that I take a photo. Meanwhile, Joe takes Asia.

Britannia being interesting for a change

Martin wins two battles against barbarians and then becomes Emperor. A good move. My wounded (both physically and in terms of pride) army attacks Ian in Gallia but loses and is wiped out. With my other cards I recruit a governor (to go with my other spare governor) and build a basilica. It’s about 10.15pm and I have a feeling that I haven’t got started yet.

Martin 29
Ian 28
Joe 25
Andrew 18

It’s around this time that the event card for Inflation is revealed, making buildings more expensive. This card stays in play for a long time, rendering most displays of civic pride out of the question.

Ian becomes Emperor and plays Dannatio Memoriae, knocking four points off the deposed Emperor Martin. This, however, gives Ian two mobs which he puts in Britannia since it’s pretty screwed anyway.

After a long pause for thought, Joe declares that “I want to cause some bollocks.” He foregoes an attack on Italia in favour of invading the Alamanni homeland. He loses, 1 hit to 3. Clearly they were the wrong kind of bollocks. Martin can’t attack Ian either, and boosts support and builds legions.

I build a new army and, with some prompting from Joe and Martin that I should ignore Egypt, I attack Ian in Italia. I win! Then my basilicas help me to win the election too. I am Emperor again, but will Ian stand for this?

Ian, however, has a mess called Britannia to sort out. He ignores me in Rome and builds an army and attacks his occupying Franks. He loses by 1 hit to 4. Britannia falls to Franks and mob-rule and Ian scores just one point in this round. Painful.

Joe attacks the Franks in Pannonia, retreats from the Alamanni homeland and builds a basilica. He also has a mob, which he puts in Martin’s Galatia. “That was dirty,” exclaimed Martin who pointed out that he was neither Emperor nor in the lead.

As before, his hand isn’t equipped to clear a mob. “I just never buy yellows,” he says. Instead he goes to Egypt, nabs a nomad with a foederati card and then attacks Zenobi. He loses 0-2. “That’s fucking great,” he declares.

Then I attack Zenobia and I am victorious! I win a vote in Galatia and then become Emperor! With Zenobia’s win under my belt, I get a discount buying cards and with a half-decent empire for once I have money to spend! So much so that Martin points out I could afford another card after I say I’m finished.If anything, my position is too strong. I am definitely a target.

Meanwhile, the standings have now flipped upside-down.

Andrew 39
Joe 38
Ian 37
Martin 34

Then, as if to demonstrate my newfound target-ness, three Nomads invade my undefended Africa!

You wait ages for a nomad and then three...

Ian takes Galatia from me and Asia from Joe. He has another go at the Franks in Britannia. At first he draws 1-1, but a Flanking Manoeuvre gets him another try. He loses 0-1.

It’s 11.25 and inflation finally ends.

Joe attacks me in Hispania and wins the battle 3-2, but he can’t win the peace and fails to get his govenor elected.

Evil Cniva suddenly moves into action, heading into Asia with his one goth horde.

Martin declares a pretender empire in Thracia and Macedonia. Then he kills a nomad in their homeland for points.

I need to rethink my priorities, and with my support in Rome sinking and Martin’s pretender, I pretty much abandon my empire. I move into Hispania and force out Joe’s army and move another army back into Africa. But I’m still Emperor, even if I have no support or defence.

Andrew 47
Joe 44
Martin 44
Ian 42

Evil Cniva's short spell on the board ends at the hands of Ian. Spurred on by this, Ian then clears Britannia of the Franks. Joe keeps up this momentum of success: he takes Italia and becomes Emperor (it is now midnight, by the way). Then he takes Galatia and beats the Sassanids in Syria.

Martin is, as his turn begins, in last place. He moves an army into Joe’s undefended Galatia. All he needs to put his govenor in is not roll a one.

He rolls a one.

I then retake Italia from Joe and become Emperor again. I also attack Ian in Gallia for points, but we end up wiping each other out. On Ian’s turn, he builds a new army in Gallia and heads into Italia to fight me. Once again, we wipe each other out. But without my army in the capital, it is easier to take in an election, which Ian does, knocking me down four points with his Dannatio card. He is emperor and past sixty points so the endgame begins. It’s 12.25am and Martin offers people whisky.

In Joe’s last turn, he goes after Sassanids, but it’s a draw. He beats the Franks in Pannonia and builds. Martin has 3 red, 10 blue and 1 yellow points in his card. He considers what to do while Ian and Joe start packing away those parts of the game no longer in use. I think that might be a first for GNN.

Martin becomes Emperor and knocks Ian back four points with a Dannatio card of his own. I end the game quietly, regaining Hispania and taking Egypt. We finish at 12.50am

Martin 73
Andrew 67
Joe 65
Ian 62

An immense game, both in terms of length and emotions. And Joe points out that, since Martin ended up the winner, perhaps his earlier move of putting a mob into Martin's territory wasn't as unfair as it had looked. Just like last time, there were no stragglers so perhaps we’re getting the hang of it.

Or perhaps not, as Martin emailed us later to say we shouldn’t have been adding emperor turns when Zenobia was on the board. All told, between her and Martin’s pretender empire, only he and I should’ve rightfully got an Emperor turn but since we were tied for most turns anyway it doesn’t change the standings.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Battered and Bruges

This week's gaming bonanza coincided (approximately) with Katy's birthday. Since the actual day wasn't for another two days, the festivities were kept to a bare minimum: cake a card and the vague offer of a game of Yokohama.

There were between eight and ten of us this evening, namely: Adam and Hannah (the hosts), Judith (Hannah's mum), Sam, Joe, Katy, Ian, Martin, Stuart (a friend of Martin's) and me.

We began with eight of us around the big table (all of us minus Hannah and Judith) for a rousing game of Fuji Flush. Stuart started well, getting down to two cards in next to no time. But  soon after, Joe got down to one card and then before anyone had worked out how best to stop him, he pushed through for the win. Sam grimly accepted that, in this life, his super power appears to be the ability to pick up only the very lowest cards from a randomly shuffled deck.

Joe no cards left
Martin, Stuart, Katy, Andrew 2
Ian, Adam 3
Sam 4

This was followed by delicious cake, courtesy of Hannah, before we split into three groups.

Cake! Split into somewhat more than three.

Judith was tempted into a game of Team Play with Adam, Hannah and Katy. Soon after the game began, Judith remarked "I'm already getting frustrated," and a laugh of recognition spread across the room. It could almost be the motto of board gamers everywhere. That game ended...

Hannah and Katy 30
Adam and Judith 21

On the big table, six players played two games. Martin, Stuart and Ian played Azul. I didn't follow it, despite sharing the same space, but Ian was in full pessimist mode mid-game and couldn't dig himself out by the end.

R to L: Team Play, Azul, Heaven and Ale

Martin 95
Stuart 67
Ian 49

Joe, Sam and I chose Heaven and Ale. I was keen to defend my title, but instead found myself making rookie errors while Sam, free from Explainer's Curse, played an exemplary game, ending with six large barrels.

Sam 40
Joe 17
Andrew 11

Team Play and Azul ended at more or less the same time so, without Judith, they rearranged into two new groups.

Stuart was tempted by the artwork on Eggs Of Ostrich, so he, Ian and Katy played a game.

Katy 14
Stuart 7
Ian 5

Meanwhile, Hannah, Adam and Martin battled through The Mind all the way up to level nine. But Hannah was counting under her breath. Apparently, this meant something but I, in my ignorance of the game, didn't understand the importance of this. (Actually, now I've played it, I'm still don't see how it's a viable option for victory but oh well.)

Then Heaven and Ale finished and more groups were shuffled. Adam, Ian and Sam went for the (in my opinion at the time) insane option of Calimala with its daunting 75+ minutes game time on the side of the box. And that was without factoring in the rules explanations. Hats off to them, though, they cracked through it at lightening pace, zipping around European cities (hence this week's tenuous blog title). The ending must've been tense since, when the scores were counted up, Sam had just squeezed a win. This caused a joyous declaration of "In your face, Hillmann!" from the victor who had just survived some major spoiling tactics from Adam.

Sam 33
Adam 32
Ian 28

While all this was happening, Katy, Stuart and Martin played Hit Z Road. I know very little about this game except that Martin tried his best to avoid zombies.

Katy 12
Martin 7
Stuart died "but did well," according to Katy.

On the blue coffee table, Hannah, Joe and I played Zero Down which is a simple game of having a hand of nine cards and drawing cards from a common source of five cards, and also discarding into the same source so it always remains at five cards. The aim is to score least. Each denomination (1-8) scores its value in your hand, ie a pair of eights scores eight. As does one eight or three or four. But five eights get you no points at all. Equally, five in the same colour (of which there are seven) also gives you no points.

It's a tricky game. Unless you're Hannah, who scored 4 points, 0 points then 1 point in each round to win the game comfortably.

Hannah 5
Joe 26
Andrew 48

Then Hannah retired to bed, so Joe and I played The Mind. This simple game of putting your cards down in numerical order but without speaking is a surprisingly exhausting ordeal.

We made it all the way up to level twelve and, with a little more courage, might have cleared that final level too. But we were proud of our efforts, especially round ten which ended with the cards 93, 96, 97, 99 and 100. Joe did try to argue that losing your last life meant you had one more left, like in video games, but Martin wasn't having any of it.

Now we were all together we finished with 6nimmt. Any reservations about the late hour to start the game were eased by the sight of Joe crashing into a death spiral in the first round, ending with 46 points. At the other end of the luck spectrum, Martin had 1 point and Katy had 2.

In the second and final round (Joe was worst player twice in a row) Adam and Ian, sitting side by side, both scored a clear round. Not enough to win the game, as it happened, but enough to give Katy a moment of doubt. But only a moment.

Katy 10
Adam 12
Martin 14
Ian 15
Stuart 39
Andrew 42
Sam 46
Joe 74

And, with that, we were done. Thanks to the hosts for hosting and for cake. And thanks to Joe for a lift back in his spacious new car.

Friday, 9 March 2018

Heaven and Ail

Last night the games were in effect. 

Chris, Ian and Andrew hovered around the table as we debated Heaven and Ale, Calimala, or some undecided other. It was Ian who settled matters, saying he'd like to try Kiesling and Schmidt's game of beer-brewing again. Andrew and I had played a two-hander on Monday, so it was only new to Chris. We breezed through the rules and hopped to it. 

Yeah, hopped.

The broad ins and outs of H+A were covered in Tuesday's post, but we discovered that with four the game plays very differently than with two or three. There are 6 rounds (instead of 3/4 for two/three players) and spaces are at a premium. Not really thinking ahead, both Ian and I triggered some early scoring that seemed to set us up well, but turned out to be the mere red carpet for Andrew and Chris to saunter down as they timed things much better.

Timing is key even in a head to head with Heaven and Ale, but it felt even more so now, as those big leaps along the track for a monk or a scoring marker meant leaving much behind for others to hoover up. But on the other hand, everyone was making those big leaps because scoring markers in particular felt like the keys to the kingdom. 

Andrew gazes down at his competitors

I also noticed that Ian and I played a steady stream of tiles to both sides of our hill (shady side, when activated, gets you money - sunny side moves those precious ingredient markers up the track). In contrast Chris populated his shady side with big numbers, and Andrew was working in the sun with 1s, 2s and 3s. This specialising seemed to serve them well, though I'm not sure that was the only reason we got left behind. This game continues to intrigue, and as on Tuesday Ian could be heard muttering "Weird" as the final round moved into view.

It might not be screwage but there's a lot of inadvertent dickery too. Five times Ian - left of me - took what I was after. And everyone felt that sting at some point. We knew the fight was between Andrew and Chris, and I must admit I though Chris's impressive hoard of barrels would see him crowned Best Boozed-Up Monk. But I was wrong!

Andrew 42
Chris 38
Sam 22
Ian 18

Great game! 

We continued the boozy theme with the only other Andreas Schmidt game I know - Polterfass! 

Everyone knew this one so we hit the inns. Except I kept walking into the door, and reeling around in a daze - going low when I should have gone high, and (many times) going high when I should have gone low. The scores at one point stood at 52-49-48 for the others, while I languished in single figures or less. 

Then Ian was suddenly poised on 74 points and Andrew realised that to catch him he needed to roll big - very big. He pushed and pushed... and it wasn't enough. Ian claimed the victory - although Andrew had at least done enough to snatch second place from Chris. Meanwhile I was back in the twenties. 

Lots of beer-based fun. Thanks chaps.  

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Mind over Mutter

This week's Tuesday GNN saw a reduced table, with long-term absentee Andy suddenly unable to make it and Andrew, our usual blogger, also having to drop out. That meant there were five of us sat around my (Sam)'s table - Joe, Katy, Ian and Martin. At the start we were also joined by Stan and Joe, who requested Fuji Flush. We accepted the challenge, and the memory is foggy now but I think Katy won, with everyone else stuck on one, two or three cards.

That appetiser done, Joe (-little Joe) went up to bed and we split into two groups. Martin, Katy and Stan took on Martin's new co-operative game, The Mind, which Martin insisted was 'excellent'. More on that later.

At the other end of the table I talked Ian and Joe through the rules of Heaven and Ale, undergoing the usual heckling from Martin as I did.

Having already discovered that both Martin and I played a rule wrong on our first (separate) debut games, we now discovered that Martin had been going around the board anti-clockwise instead of (correctly) clockwise. He was furious, and vowed he'd never let anyone teach him a game again. For a moment, anyway - then he went back to laughing about The Mind.

Heaven and Ale is in theory about monks brewing. In actuality the theme is gossamer-light, and it's mainly about getting hexes and monks and triggering them. Or activating them. The rules aren't entirely clear on that and apparently there's a whole thread on BGG about it. Players move their piece around the central board for a set number of rounds, buying things, and can choose - more or less - when to trigger what of the developing brewery on their home board. It can be quite head-scratchy, especially on a first play, and Ian kept muttering that it was 'weird'. Joe was more enamoured, but as Stanley's bedtime arrived and the series of Mind games wrapped up, we agreed to play an abridged version with one less round.

My previous play-throughs and two-header against Andrew the night before saw me victor, though we all suffered heavily for want of a fourth round, when our carefully laid plans would no doubt have seen some exponential scoring shenanigans.

Sam 12
Joe 5
Ian 2

I wanted to play The Mind, having been witness to its hilarity for the past hour, when they'd played something like seven games in a row. But with five of us we were one too many, so instead we settled on another of Martin's new finds: Krass Kariert.

The unusual element of this trick-taker is that when you cards are dealt you cannot rearrange your hand - instead you must try and be rid of all your cards by playing singles, sets of two or three, or runs of two or three cards, with a poker-style hierarchy at play - but taking cards from your hand that must be adjacent! If you can't take a turn, you can add a kind of 'substitute' card into your hand (everyone starts with two of these) but if you're out of substitutes and still can't go, you're bust and lose the round. The other way to go bust is to be the only player left with cards. There's a couple of rogue cards too that add a bit more unpredictability. It was a clever game, played uncleverly by me:

Katy and Joe 2 lives left
Martin and Ian 1 life left
Sam loses.

There was some loose talk of Voodoo Prince but instead it was a third new Martin find we played - a Knizia called Zero Down. The deck is made up of many colours of cards numbered 1-9. "All the colours of the rainbow!" exclaimed Katy, until Joe pointed out one of them was grey.
"-Ian's rainbow" she corrected. I think it was around this point Ian started drinking whisky.

In Zero Down each player begins with nine cards and five are laid face-up on the table. On your turn you simply swap a card in your hand for one on the display, and what you're trying to do is create a hand that scores the fewest points possible. All cards of the same number in your hand only score once (i.e. three sevens only costs you seven points) and if you get five of a kind, in number or colour, that's worth zero. The ideal hand is five colours overlapping with five of a number - scoring you zero, at which point you can instantly end the round! If that doesn't happen, the round ends after the second person passes - choosing not to swap at all. I was one card away from a zero hand at one point, but Katy - to my left - claimed it before I could! But no-one could keep up with Martin:

Martin 29
Joe 39
Sam 42
Katy 59
Ian 71

There was now a game of guilt-tripping Joe into giving people a lift, which got very confusing when it overlapped with the game of Katy wanting to go home, as well as the game of everyone being interested in playing The Mind. I did point out Joe wasn't obliged to give anyone a lift, but by then Katy had her coat on and Martin had sensed Joe's defences crumbling.

Appropriately, we then played The Mind.

The artwork is interesting, and when Joe asked if the game was about electrocuting rabbits, Martin said Yes, and throwing shurrikins at them. "Just like my youth" reminisced Ian.

The Mind shares a lot in common with The Game, if anyone remembers that. In The Game players co-operatively try and shed all their cards (numbered 1-100) by dumping them onto piles that either ascend or descend. There was a nice little twist about 're-setting' the piles but it was otherwise kind of forgettable. In The Mind, players have the same challenge of shedding cards, but there's one pile, no shared knowledge, and no communication once the round begins. Instead it's all about waiting, and deciding when the right moment has arrived for you to play your card so you're not rushing ahead of someone who may have a lower card, but getting in there before someone with a higher one.

Level One is easy - each player has only one card each. But in subsequent levels the card count climbs, and it gets much easier to mis-time your interventions. When you get a series of close numbers out in the right order, there's a palpable sense of joyous relief.

We lost three times in a row,  and I can understand how multiple earlier attempts also ended in failure. Ian's increasing inebriation added an extra dimension, but as far as our success rate went, it was pretty much irrelevant. Great game. And a great night! I love Heaven and Ale. I think The Mind is a work of genius.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Arctic Dawdler

I was supposed to return to Bristol on Wednesday, but the Beast from the East saw my flight back from Dublin grounded. My flight on Thursday was cancelled an hour before take-off, and the booking for Friday lasted all of twenty minutes before Dublin Airport announced nothing would fly...

Only Norwich

I'd heard that Gamers World was a good games shop, but it was shut - along with most of Dublin. I had entered some weird twilight world of snow outside, and work and Netflix inside. Fortunately on Friday some locals rode to my rescue, as Muireann invited me to meet her and her partner John at a local pub. As I made my way there through the snow, the world seemed oddly empty.


But the pub itself was so rammed to get a table we had to migrate to the pub next door. Muireann and John are gamers and brought a selection along form home, so after some talk (mostly about games) we played the suitably snowy Arctic Scavengers: each player is trying to build a tribe in the post-apocalyptic snow, via the medium of deck-building. 

Most of it is pretty standard Dominion-type manoeuvres: using cards to get more cards. What prevents it from sinking into mechanical drudgery is the skirmishes - in each round there are resources available that players can fight over, so you can hold cards back for the skirmish, unrevealed to the other players. There's also the end-game goal of the Gangs, who'll join the player who has the most of a certain type of card (medicine, tools, etc)


I thought I was having a pretty good debut as I won a couple of skirmishes and looked in good position to win at least one gang. But after a 40 minute fight John emerged the winner, having done very well out of the skirmishes. 

John 42
Sam 38
Muireann 32

There was some talk of trying out Kana Gawa and John even got as far as setting it up. But considering the hour, we switched to FUNemployed, a game of trying to sell yourself at an interview. John described it as Cards Against Humanity for actual humans, and it was a game probably best played after a couple of pints of Guinness. The winner is almost irrelevant - it's all about the nonsense of trying to apply for the job of executioner or school nurse and rationalising your pyromania or habit of carrying a sawn-off shotgun. 

The snow was still falling as I made my way back to the hotel, where I learned the red weather warning had been extended until 9am...


On Saturday, after watching Everton's latest capitulation on the telly, I made my way into the city to meet with another pal (and gamer (and game designer)), Robin. After catching up over lunch we negotiated the increasingly slushy snow to have a gander around Gamers World, by the river. Being stuck in a hotel for four days with nothing to do except (when I wasn't working) browse the internet, I had to stop myself making games purchases sheerly out of boredom, but in the shop I found that just as in the UK, prices are fairly ludicrous. But I did get something, spotting a coffee-themed dice game by TC Petty (of Spires fame) on the 60% off table. 

We then made our way to Robin's friends' house, Peter, where we were joined by Joe, Itor, and after a while three young women from the flat below. Before that happened though, we played Chicago Express - a game I played at Joe Berger's house so long ago I think it must have been pre-blog. It's a share-auctioning, company-investing, track building game replete with the opportunity for dick moves. I enjoyed it - it's not Railways, but then what is... Robin won, though I managed to grab second place despite only ever investing in a single company.

Robin and I were keen to try out his new trading game, but first there was a game of Codenames to be played with the new arrivals. I'm not sure how they realised what they were letting themselves in for, but the explanation for the game took far longer than the actual play, where my team uncovered the assassin on our third round of guesses.

sneak peek of prototype!

We still couldn't get any movement on Robin's play-test, and with pizzas and chips joining various other snacks on the big table, Robin and I broke off for a quick game of Okiya, which is kind of like noughts and crosses (you need a row of four to win, or a square of 2x2) but when you place your geisha pieces, there are limitations about where they can go, based on what piece was played previously: as geishas go into the grid, they replace landscape tiles, and at least one element of what's on the most recently ejected landscape tile (birds, ferns, sun, flowers) must be present on the next ejected one.


It's quite a sweet game that I lost at miserably. In our house I'm the Connect Four king, but in our best of three Robin attrition-ed me into defeat in game one, and I made a foolish error in game 2, not realising he was one move away from getting that 2x2 set. 

Despite doing bugger-all for days, I found myself exhausted and headed back to the hotel, despite the early hour. Hoping that in 12 hours time I'll be home!