Saturday, 29 December 2012

Viva la revolution(s)!

Christmas is a time of cheer and, if last night was anything to go by, also a time of intrigue, subterfuge and conspiracy. Six of us arrived at Sam's festively decorated kitchen for a special games night, complete with mince pies and a quiz. A quiz!

As I arrived, Quentin was setting up Eclipse. I assumed that an executive decision had been made, and that this would be tonight's main event. But others began to have doubts about the amount of time you'd need for six newbies to play it through. Also, when would we get to do the quiz? In the end, it was put away in favour of two three-players games. Something simpler that we're all familiar with. That was the plan, at least.

We began with a six-player game of Coup, which Joe had been name-dropping since his arrival. This is a simple game of bluff, as each player had two hidden cards and can make moves according to those cards. But, of course, you can pretend you have a different card and do something else. Someone then has to challenge you, and that's where the fun begins!

I had two pretty useless cards, and then I lost the slightly less useless one, leaving me with the Contessa. I just sat there, hoping someone would assassinate me so I could change my card. But the other players were more concerned with each other. Sam tried to assassinate people, but they insisted they had the Contessa and his assassin backed out, apologising and saying he must have the wrong house.

In the end, it was me (with six coins) and Quentin (with less than six). Quentin had no choice but to assassinate me. Thank God I still had the Contessa.

1. Andrew
2. Quentin
3. Joe
4. Sam
5. Adam
6. Hannah

Then there was the quiz! Sam put together some questions to see if we'd been paying attention during the past year or so. It was Joe "The Knowledge" and Quentin versus me, Adam and Hannah. We couldn't match Joe for the "Match the designer to the game" section, but we snuck past in our knowledge of GNN related trivia.

Adam, Hannah, Andrew 26
Joe, Quentin 25

Then we split into two factions. Hannah, Quentin and Sam played Lords of Waterdeep and me, Adam and Joe played Pax Porfiriana. It's a game by Phil Eklund, the same man who brought us the joys of High Frontier, and by all accounts he'd brought the same level of obsessive detail we saw before to revolutionary Mexico.

It was a bit of a hard slog, and not terribly intuitive at first (or even second) glance. The cards are packed with text, some of which has nothing to do with the game. Plus, it's very combatitive. Almost every card effects an opponent, but that may give them an Outrage point and actually do them some good. There are four different ways to win, and I wasn't sure how to achieve any of them. I was especially baffled when Joe said it was okay to attack yourself. I looked jealously across the table at the other group placating statues and raiding undermountains, while we were dealing with Mormon Lumber and the Democratic Chinese Exclusion Bill.

While I was impressed with the depth and how much game there is in the small box, there's no clear route to success. The best way to win is to try to topple the regime and hope everyone is too tired to put up a fight, which is how Adam won.

1. Adam
2. Joe & Andrew

Sam, however, may have less rosy memories of his time in Waterdeep. As I glanced over jealously, I couldn't help but notice that the three score tokens seemed to be quite some distance apart, with Quentin apparently languishing with barely ten points to his name. However, I soon learnt that he'd already been round the score track once and it was Sam who hadn't really got started. Hannah made a late dash for victory, but not enough to take first.

Quentin 166
Hannah 154
Sam 98

But a wounded Sam is an angry Sam (or, at least, slightly peeved), and he brought out his gaming muse, Biblios to play while we three struggled with "U.S. surplusing", whatever that is. It didn't let him down and pride was restored.

Sam 7
Hannah 6
Quentin 4

We ended with a couple of games of The Resistance. However, having just spread intrigue in Italy and tried to overthrow the government in Mexico, I was in no mood to zip into the future and do the same all over again. To my dismay, I was a spy both times. My tactic was to try and stay awake and hope that somehow the others would incriminate themselves. No such luck.

Game one:
Win to the resistance! Sam, Joe, Quentin, Adam
Spies: Andrew, Hannah

Game two:
Win to the resistance! Sam, Hannah, Quentin, Adam
Spies: Andrew, Joe

But that's life! Sometimes the good guys win after all. But for me, the major event of the evening was the look of horror and joy on our faces when we realised it's just one week until Stabcon 2013!

Next stop Stockport!! Woo hoo!!

Saturday, 22 December 2012

And then we played Biblios!

December 22nd 2012. What better way to celebrate the reprieved apocalypse than to play a game?

So that's what Andrew and I did. Three games, actually, all of which featured in our games of the year. We started with Castles of Burgundy, that dry yet gripping contest of castle-ground development by Stefan Feld. Dice were rolled, hexagons were shuffled, calculus was engaged. In the mid-game I felt I had a strong position, only for Andrew to belatedly start completing various areas and scoring enormous points. Fortunately, it wasn't quite enough to catch me.

Andrew: Let me tell you, never play Burgundy against a seasoned player after you've been explaining the rules to a novice the same afternoon. I was very slow off the starting blocks, while Sam picked off single hex areas for fun. I put all my eggs in one basket with my eight-square city and thanks to me getting starting player and the right building coming up at the same time, I was able to complete and reduce my deficit drastically. With my multipliers, I did wonder if I had enough, but it wasn't to be.

Triumverate of shit photos starts here

Sam 206
Andrew 201

Next up was Macao, by the same designer. It's a teeny bit less cerebral, but that's no bad thing to my clouded eyes, and the game followed a similar pattern. I began reasonably and in mid-game was feeling confident. But wait - here comes Andrew with his multiple card-laying strategems and action cube multipliers. Again, though, I'd done just enough to hold him off:

Sam played an... interesting game, quite unlike his usual style. He picked up cards that were difficult to complete, but gave nice bonuses if you did. And then he didn't get the right cards to trigger the bonus. But even with this, I wasn't able to overtake him. I enjoy this game but my main worry about Macao is that there only seems to be one way to win: buy lots of goods, and sell them. The bonus cards almost seemed like a tie-breaker. But maybe it's possible, once you get a chain of cards that work together. Possible, but difficult.


Sam 70
Andrew 65

It was barely half-nine so we poured ourselves some whisky and cracked open perrenial fave Biblios. This is probably the one game I have some pedigree in, yet it can still flummox everyone - or both of us, in this case. I was feeling confident come the count-up, only for Andrew to beat me (alphabetically) to the green die, and clinch the victory on colours:

Yes, my plan was to pick up as many book cards as possible, and avoid money but that soon fell through. Then I focused on browns, unaware that Sam wasn't collecting them at all. Spent a fair amount on them. Interestingly, with little information about what the other was collecting, instead of putting the dice-manipulators in the pile for the second half, we kept offering them at the start to see if that gave us any clues. I also kept an eye on the letters of cards as they were played, which I don't usually do, and that helped in the end. But a win's a win, whether you know how it happened or not.

slighty more interesting

Andrew 8 (wins on brown books)
Sam 8

Nice way to see in the new long count...

Thursday, 20 December 2012

How not to play boardgames.

So I checked the blog and it was about a month ago that the Bracknell three last played Puerto Rico and seeing as we had all stated that we wanted to play it again soon before we forgot the rules that's what we did. However we did forget the rules and after about five turns we collectively began to scour the board looking for ways to generate money. It didn't make sense, it was impossible, something wasn't right. Yes, it turns out that if you don't put dubloons on the roles you don't use each turn, the game is pretty much unplayable.

So what to do. A few half bottomed suggestions later we were starting again. Only this time when we started didn't set the plantation stacks up right. Nor did we set aside 55 colonists. There was still about 40 left when Paul suddenly realised. A quick tot up showed that we had gone 8 over. We ended the game right then and totalled up the scores. Even starting again did little for my score...

James - 38
Paul - 36
Chris - 19

It left an unsatisfactory taste in the mouth, (Unlike the Finest mince pies I bought) so we played Trans Europa to make up for it. Twice.

Paul - 1
James - 6
Chris - 13

Chris - 1
Paul - 8
James - 12

It wasn't until everybody left that I realised we had been doing the scoring the wrong way round. Not that it makes a difference really but still, not a good night for the rules!

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Let it snow, let it snow, let it Snowdonia

Due to the vagaries of the Gregorian calendar, this year the final day of the season came round fully two weeks before the end of the month. With Christmas and New Year falling on a Tuesday, family and friends and festivities have curtailed the gaming for 2012. At least until our non-leaderboard Christmas special on the 28th.

We were expecting six on the final evening, but Adam texted saying he was ill, and as me, Sam and Joe were playing Biblios as a warm up we received a late cancellation from Steve and Anja. A real shame, especially as it meant we couldn't dislodge Steve from his perch atop the form table without some kind of miracle occurring.

Meanwhile, Biblios remains as intractable as ever, with Sam convinced throughout the game that he'd played it all wrong. Of course, he won.

1. Sam 7
2. Andrew 5 + brown cards
3. Joe 5

Then, since we were three, we decided to play a new game. Snowdonia is the game that Joe received in return for a trade with City of Horror. If nothing else, we were looking at a net gain, right?

Well, yes. This is a game very much in the style of Tinners' Trail or Village: worker placement to collect goods/do deeds/win end-game bonuses and finally build a railway all the way up to the peak of Mount Snowdon.

Near the start of the game. Most meeples still in the pub.

It was our first game and I wonder how much we understood. I was frustrated by Joe consistently playing a move that gave Sam a chance to grab starting player. Meanwhile, Sam hoarded goods for much of the start of the game, and I picked up bonuses and tried to make sure I completed them.

In the end, my doubts over Joe's strategy were unfounded as he won. Not by a little, but by a comfortable margin thanks to his 60+ bonuses, which neither Sam nor I saw coming at all. And for all our sound and fury, we rattled into the sidings at the top of Snowdon as empty vessels, joint second.

1. Joe 113
2= Sam 95
2= Andrew 95

Cubes on cards... Joe's favourite thing in the world

It was still relatively early, so we decided to break out the whiskey and end on Las Vegas, the gambley dice game that isn't Lords Of Vegas. In this, you roll a number of dice and then chose a value to place into a casino, hoping that at the end, you have the most dice in that casino so you can claim the money that was dealt out to it at the start at the game.

It's a cruel game, with ties cancelling each other out, and every player is given two dice which will act against them, so be careful which value you choose. I never got started, and soon found that I was being picked on by the two wheeler-dealers who mostly split the winnings amongst themselves.

1. Sam $540,000
2. Joe $470,000
3. Andrew $250,000

And so it ends! No more games for 2012, and we now receive the final judgement on our efforts to appease the gods of board games. On the form table, Steve stays in first place with Sam just falling short in second. Who knows, if his request for one last game this evening had been granted, he may have won.

Steve2 1 1 1 2 7
Sam1 2 1 2 2 8
Anja1 2 3 3 1 10
Joe2 1 3 3 1 10
Andrew3 2 2 1 3 11
Adam3 4 1 2 3 13
Hannah1 1 5 5517
Paul1 3 5 5519
Jon35 5 5523
Chris6 2 5 5523

As for the Q system, a late flurry of games means that Sam pushes himself into first place, ahead of Adam. And then me and Joe also barge past Adam too, just for good measure. Paul win on points ratio.

On the Olympic style leaderboard, the story is very similar. Adam, who lead for much of the season, is overhauled by his closest rivals packing in as many games as possible at the last minute. Sam nabs top spot here.

But before Adam loses all hope, allow me to introduce next season's scoring system. I'm afraid we'll be saying goodbye to the Q-system in favour of something that allows for the three main aspects of a win: number of players, length of time and size of win. As such, this new system uses Adam's method of transforming any score to a scale between zero (loser) and one (winner), and then multiplying that by the number of players, and then multiplying again by length of time in hours (according to boardgamegeek). This is, I think, the most accurate reflection of a gamer's worth and I say that despite coming last in points ratio. And congratulations to Adam and Hannah for winning this new scoring system.

And thanks to this new system, we're able to recognise the best performance of the season, which was Adam's victory over four of us in Game of Thrones, where none of us managed even half of his score. A remarkable acheivement that ranks alongside any overhead kick from the edge of the box into the corner of the net in the last minute of a World Cup game.

A bit.

Anyway, congrats to all our winners (namely Sam, Adam, Hannah and Paul, but we're all winners if we play board games, right?) and I hope to see you on the 28th!

Friday, 14 December 2012

Games of the Year 2012!

As another season ends, so does the calendar year, and what better a time could there be to revisit our favourite games and make loads of lists?

In mitigation, I was actually going to have a nap having finished a job, but an email communique is looking like extending through til tea-time, so I'll keep myself awake thinking about meeples...

Here are my top ten of 2012. They're not necessarily published this year, I've just played them for the first time, and enjoyed them.

10: Castles of Burgundy

I'm sure Joe will be taken aback that Castles of Burgundy only makes number ten (beating out Airlines Europe and Ys) but let's be clear, we have played A LOT of new games this year. Castles has got a delightful rolling mechanic and it's a joy to play - it's just a little long, and a little dry. I'm sure when I play it again I'll really enjoy it, it just doesn't have that pick-it-up factor.

9: The Resistance

(Edit) I did have Taj Mahal in here, but subsequently realised it didn't meet the 'first played in 2012' criteria. Instead in its place is The Resistance, the best fun you can have being totally confused, sneakily clandestine or just carelessly transparent.

8. Arkadia

It's not everyone's cup of tea, to be sure, but I have a real soft spot for this one. As well as managing resources you're also trying to read an ever-evolving puzzle on the board - spotting your own best moves, and hopefully hampering everyone else's. A gem.

7. Hab and Gut

This is a quirky little number, and despite it's very straightforward gameplay it makes the list because of the speed of play, the opportunity for manipulation and the canny mechanic of the 'shared knowledge' - each player knowing only so much about where the market is going, and having to anticipate/guess the rest.

6. Wallenstein/Shogun

Essentially the same game, so I've listed them together. It's a bit of a love-hate relationship with these two - they dominate an evening, and, if you get in a bad position at the start (with 5 players at least) that's three plus hours you spend on the back foot, as Adam found to his cost this week. But the mechanics are great, the tower adds some randomness, and every now and then it's nice to go full-on combat!

5. Africana

Mmmm, only played it twice, and latterly last night, so perhaps the fresh memory does the other games a disservice. But it's a very fast moving, lovely looking game, with various strands of strategy to follow or mix up together. With no score track it's nigh-on impossible to tell who's won until the count-up at the end, and I like that.

4. Downfall of Pompeii

What is this rarely-seen curio doing at number 4? Well, it's great for the following reasons: it's two games in one, there's planning but also luck (a lot of luck), it looks great and there's a big plastic volcano you can throw your opponents into.

3. Lords of Waterdeep

Into the top three and it was very hard to choose the order. What I love about Waterdeep, apart from the artwork and the colours and the mechanics - is the silly missions (Massage the Orb of the Thunderelves etc) and the fact it scales so well - great with anything from 2 to 5 players.

2. Biblios

What can one say about Biblios that hasn't been said? Nothing.

1. Macao

Okay, there are more interesting games out there - even on this post - from almost every gaming perspective you can think of. Aside from Macao's dice-rolling aspect - which is great - there's nothing to mark it out from heaps of other games in terms of theme or its other mechanics. But for me it blends those different things together really well, and whenever I open the doors of the games cupboard the spine of this box seems to shine brighter than the rest... to me, the replayability of a game is its real distinguishing mark, and (like Tinner's Trail) I'm always happy to play this.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

From Cornwall to Cape Town

Tonight was a chance for Joe to catch up after his non-attendance at Tuesday's meet. Me and he met at Sam's for a little extra-time games night. After a minimal amount of discussion, we found ourselves in a mood for Tinners' Trail. Speaking for myself, after City Of Horror and Wallenstein, I was keen for a game which I knew and which didn't require any bargaining with your opponents at all.

Joe focused most of his resources on two mines, while Sam fretted over having one less mine than the rest of us. I went for the Adam-esque tactic of not scoring in a round in order to build up my reserves for a big push next round. Unfortunately the push wasn't big enough, as all of us were stymied by a stubbornly low price on copper, and a lack of tin in our somewhat soggy mines.

But the high point was when Joe had to roll for tin and copper prices. He casually leaned over to his bag and pulled out his esteemed dice arena. He used it to roll the three dice and then put it back, and we never saw it again. A cameo to rank amongst the best, I think

The Dice Arena in action

Joe 100
Sam 96
Andrew 93

After this was a new game! Coup. This may be a French word, but the game is set in Italy. Except it's not really, since it's a simple game of bluff and has no real sense of anything Italian. Each player has two cards and is allowed to take actions according to whatever cards they have. But those cards are hidden, allowing a player to take an action of a particular card that they don't have. If someone suspects them, they can challenge them. The loser of the challenge loses one of their two cards. The winner is last man with a card.

We played three games, and somehow managed to share the honours evenly.

1. Sam, Andrew, Joe
2. Andrew, Joe, Sam
3. Joe, Sam, Andrew

The night was still young (before 10) and Sam was eyeing the whiskey on the shelf. Another game was brought to the table along with the shot glasses: Africana.

Imagine The Cannonball Run set across the great continent of Africa except instead of racing from A to B, it's more like doing laps as we sped north then south then back in our search for adventures and new discoveries. I started badly, finding my adventures completed by other people before I got to the end, so I got an extra joker, and a bunch of discoveries and that really helped. Sam's early good form petered out towards then end, so by the end I really had no idea who had won.

A shadow falls across Africa...

When it came to counting up, it was very close with me and Sam tying for first, except that I thought we'd counted one category twice. I demanded a recount, and with good reason, as I squeaked into first with my last minute dash to Casablanca to get a necklace to go with my bongos giving me a set of discoveries that scored enough points to give me the win.

Andrew 40
Sam 39
Joe 37

We managed to squeeze five leaderboard games into one crazy evening. And, amazingly, we all came away with the same score on the form table. I scramble into third on the "best most recent score" rule, but it's tight at the top. Now, if we could just convince Steve to play five games in an evening...

Steve2 1 1 1 2 7
Anja1 2 3 3 1 10
Andrew1 3 1 2 3 10
Sam2 2 3 1 2 10
Joe3 1 2 3 1 10
Adam3 4 1 2 3 13
Hannah1 1 5 5517
Paul1 3 5 5519
Jon35 5 5523
Chris6 2 5 5523

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Cannon Fodder

Due to one thing and another games night this week was pushed back to Tuesday and so it was that James appeared on my frosty doorstep* at the allotted time of 7.30.

We decided to revisit Nexus Ops seeing as we hadn't for a while. We set it up as a standard game but with the alternate resources thrown in for variance. After three turns the board took on a very lop sided appearance. James had benefited from discovering three free warrior units, whereas I had an abundance of mines and nobody to protect them. Also the mines were all squashed down the left side of the board making for a horrendous bottleneck. As in most games of Nexus that I've experienced a strong front and build up of arms ensues until one side feel they are mighty enough to force the issue and so it was here with trenches being drawn up across the middle. 

In previous rounds James had laid a double whammy of energise cards which allowed him to accrue a whopping 20 Rubrium (Currency) on top of his already mined store.  This meant I was facing an advancing hoard of Rubrium Dragons....the games strongest pieces. 

Through some desperate troop deployment and incredibly lucky dice rolling I was able to dent the attack so severely that it looked as though the tide of the battle was swinging in my favour. Then James revealed his new tactic! Stocking up on the cheapest unit, humans, and then using them as a rolling mass of cannon fodder interspersed with crack units, like infantry following a tank. His blue swathe of an army swarmed over my positions and on to victory 13 - 9.

The game took most of the night and we certainly played it differently than before: a lot more tactically. My strategy of sending out small skirmishers to bother his back line was only partly successful and not sustainable as my supply lines became stretched. It looks as though James' policy of might makes right will be the go to tactic going forward.

*Due to the cold, not because my house portal harbours a resentment to visitors.

No Sachsen please, we're Bm Luttich

The freezing fog whirled around the streets as we convened in Easton for the weekly battle of wits. Joe was away at a showbiz party in London or something, so it was me, Adam, Sam and our hosts Anja and Steve.

We decided on Wallenstein for this evening's entertainment, if you can call it that. This cross between El Grande, Risk and Diplomacy is popular but still not fully understood by many of us GNNers. Especially since the first few times you pay it, you usually get the rules wrong.

Anja and Steve, however, are much more up to speed regarding tactics. We began by drawing territories at semi-random. I stayed in the north, Sam in the west, Steve in the east, Anja in the south and Adam set up camp bang in the middle. This, as it turns out, was a mistake.

I still haven't got the hang of Wallenstein: when to consolidate and when to expand. There's an awful lot of sledging going on as almost every move is accompanied by Adam asking why would you want to do that, and I couldn't help but tut at Steve's tactic of shuffling his armies from one region and then back again. Meanwhile, Anja grew in strength and numbers while her neighbours, Adam and Steve, pretended to be more concerned about the threat of me and Sam. Steve even went so far as to try and convince everyone that Sam was in joint first at one point. Nice try, buster.

The game is a bit of a beast, and as the end of the game rolled into view, it was almost midnight. In the end, Anja won. In fact, she got as many points in the second round as me or Adam got in the whole game. Let's never play again.

Anja 47
Steve 38
Sam 31
Adam 27
Andrew 25

Meanwhile, on the form table, Steve manages to extend his lead as we head into what is probably the last week of the season. I manage to fall a place, despite being already pretty low. By the way, I've only just noticed Joe's perfect "countdown" combo on the form table, as his recent results go from 5 to 1 in order.

Steve2 1 1 1 2 7
Anja1 2 3 3 1 10
Sam3 2 4 1 1 11
Adam3 4 1 2 3 13
Joe5 4 3 2 1 15
Hannah1 1 5 5517
Paul1 3 5 5519
Andrew5 3 5 4 3 20
Jon35 5 5523
Chris6 2 5 5523

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Fascinating logarithms

Let's all put thoughts of zombies from our minds (apart from the lovely zombie lady in Incan Gold) as settle down with some numbers. There are only a few weeks left until the end of the season, especially since this year Games Night has been double booked with Christmas Day, since both fall on a Tuesday. And if that wasn't bad enough, New Year's Day also falls on a Tuesday! What are the chances of that?

As for the Q-system, I made a mistake in last season's spreadsheet. It didn't change the order, but it did squash everyone together in terms of points ratio. This season, the Q-System is back to its cruel best. Adam has a considerable lead in terms of points and Paul's performance in coming first and third in two six-player games puts him in first on Points Ratio.

Then I typed out the Olympic-style medal chart and it was all quite nice, but something was missing. It looked tired, old... uninteresting. And it had, after all, been over a year since I'd messed around with the scoring system so I decided to create a football-style division with three points for gold, two for silver, one for bronze and nothing for anything less.

But it needed Goals For and Against. The explanation for how I invented this new system is a bit long and tedious (see below if you must know), but for now let us admire the new creation and salute Hannah and Adam on their glorious victories (so far).

About the goals...

I put my thinking cap on and dug out Adam's old binary system (which converts everyone's scores onto a scale between 1 (winner) and 0 (last place). I then mucked about with multipliers and eventually stumbled on quite a nice system using logarithms. I like this because if someone wins by a large margin, it greatly rewards them, while giving those in the other places almost nothing.

Fore example, in the recent trouncing of us by Adam in Game Of Thrones,

1. Adam, 7 buildings
2. Andrew, 3 buildings, 3 supplies, 1 power token
3. Anja, 3 buildings, 3 supplies, 0 power tokens, highest influence
4. Steve, 3 buildings, 3 supplies, 0 power tokens, not as much influence
5. Sam, 3 buildings, 2 supplies

By this system Adam scored 6 goals, me and Anja scored two, Steve got one and Sam scored no goals at all.

I'll be honest, I'm not sure how it works, really. I was just trying things at random when I found one that looked right.

You can download the spreadsheet here.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

City of Horrid

Tonight saw the heavens align and Bristol and Bracknell came into conjunction in the house of Joe. Yes, Chris and Paul made the journey down the M5 for one glorious evening of cross-country gaming.

We began with recent favourite, The Resistance. Sam was a late arrival so we set off on our quest to topple the evil government with five in the team: me, Chris, Paul, Joe and Adam. We began with a successful two-man mission (me and Joe) and from then on, it was easy street. Stumbling onto two genuine revolutionaries in the first go is a real boon, since it makes the spy's turn much harder (and there'll be a 66% chance the next will be a spy) since they have to fail the second mission or risk having to fail three in a row in order to win a game. In the end, Adam and Chris were thwarted and the revolutionaries won! Victory went to the Free!

Sam arrived and we played again. This time it was a tense affair, made all the more tricky when a four-man mission went off without a hitch with the other two insisting that they weren't spies, honest. It was enough of a smokescreen for the two spies to get selected for the final two missions and scupper them both. Chris and I were well rewarded by our glorious leader for our devilish subterfuge. With Pringles.

Then Joe wanted to try out a new game, City of Horror, which is apparently good with six players. We set it up and early signs were good. The board fits together like a jigsaw, allowing a bit of randomness and it's nicely designed with evocative scenes of post zombie-holocaust streets.

Then Joe read out the rules. They seemed straightforward, but I wasn't sure how I was going to win. Then we started playing and any thoughts of winning were replaced by wanting the game to be over as soon as possible.

They key to success is all about bargaining, and forming alliances. But if you've nothing to bargain with, then there's nothing you can do. It seems to rely heavily on two strokes of luck: getting good cards at the beginning, and having a chance to be starting player. The only bits I liked where when the game focused on a building where I had no characters.

Playing this game is like being at a party where there's an attractive woman who you'd really like to speak to but instead you are cornered by a fat sweaty geek who's determined to explain to you in minute detail where George Romero went wrong. In the end, I came last, which was fine since I don't want to be good at a game that's this bad. Other people weren't as dismissive as me, but their comments seemed to be along the lines of "Well, it wasn't a complete waste of time."

Adam 9
Chris 8
Paul 6
Sam 5
Joe 5
Andrew 2

In the end Joe suggested a final game as a palette cleanser. We chose Incan Gold, the game of luck-defying scavenging. For a while it looked like Sam would win with a decent haul when he was deep in a temple all by himself, but then in the last round Chris, Adam and Joe all left at the same time, leaving Paul in the temple with an artefact and a 15 jewel card all to himself.

Paul 38
Sam 34
Andrew 25
Adam 23
Joe 11
Chris 7

An interesting evening. Nice to see Paul and Chris again, and they got to see Joe's electronic shuffler in action which, by itself, is worth a journey across England. My biggest regret is because we played six-player games, we didn't have the excitement of using Joe's secondary back-up games room. Maybe next time.

Steve1 1 1 2 4 9
Anja2 3 3 1 1 10
Sam2 4 1 1 2 10
Adam4 1 2 3 1 11
Joe5 4 3 2 1 15
Hannah1 1 5 5517
Andrew3 5 4 3 3 18
Paul1 3 5 5519
Jon35 5 5523
Chris6 2 5 5523

Friday, 30 November 2012

Rooms for Manoeuvre

Back in the eighties raves were convened at short notice, and attendees would have to jump through a series of logistical hoops - picking up signals, signs and prompts - to get their fix of tabs, dancing, and seeing deities in a field. So it was again last night, as Joe, Andrew and I plumped for a little gaming session late in the day. 

First, I had to get the kids to sleep, so after a couple stories and some singing I was scraping the ice off the car, headed to Andrew's via the shop for a bottle of pale ale (see: tabs). Once there we played a quick game of Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small, shovelling crisps into our mouths and waving our hands in the air. We both left it a little late picking up animals, as though we didn't want their faeces and hoofprints muddying up the place. After a last minute rush on sheep, I triumphed due to my magnificent collection of horses (5) and timber-built cottage:

Sam 26
Andrew 11

we parked the XR3 in a lay-by and jumped the fence

Just as we were counting up, the call came in. Joe's table had been cleared of condiments and he was good to go. We were in the car moments later, checking the rear view mirror for the bizzies and listening to 808 State. 

Joe had pulled the oldest trick in the book: he'd got a game out of the box already, so our dreams of High Frontier were checked at the door. The game in question was Africana, and as players we took on the role of colonialists pillaging the continent in question during the 1800s. It was a little bit Ticket to Ride-with-imperialism, as we set off on adventures (by placing our pieces on the correct starting point on the map) and completed them by being the first one to arrive at the end point. If that sounds overly competitive, well, there are several adventures at any one point so you can get yourself on more than one to weight the odds in your favour - something Joe seemed very adept at, as he led the early running.

You can also collect pages from a book that reward you for a single destination (ie the starting point is immaterial) and during the game your options are one from picking up cards, travel (using cards), or buy a page from the book. Joining an adventure doesn't take an action, you just have to be in right place on the board. 

this is what Toto were actually singing about

It's nice to look at, and reasonably quick to pick up. It's also hard to judge who's winning - both Andrew and I assumed from an early stage that Joe was walking away with it, but our late surges saw us both overtake him, with me grabbing a narrow victory:

Sam 53
Andrew 45
Joe 44

There was time for a short game, and with zero debate we chose Biblios, a game we've played a lot of recently without tiring of it. This one felt a canny affair, and I certainly had the perception halfway through the game that I had far too much gold in my hand and not enough colours. But Joe didn't have enough gold, and sacrificed his green cards to pick some up - I'm not sure what happened to Andrew...

Sam 8
Joe 6
Andrew 0

And with that, we called it a night, wending our way to Micheldever services for a carton of orange juice and a blueberry muffin.*

* at this point I should probably confess - in case you haven't guessed - I never went to a rave, and my dancing is a bit like this.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

The Accidental Spy

Tuesday, Tuesday, Tuesday, so much more than just a day.

This week, games night was at Adam's house, and five of us (me, Adam, Hannah, Sam and Joe) convened in the early evening. With Anja expected later, we started on a quick (?) non-leaderboard game of The Resistance.

This game of bluff and double bluff (most of which goes on in Joe's head) is a lot of fun, but this game had a twist in the tail that John le Carré couldn't come up with, even if Frederick Forsyth and Ian Fleming had double dared him to come up with a really surprising ending that no one would believe.

Sam (easily detected) and Adam (remained covert) unveiled themselves as spies after Adam had ruined my mission. Adam then admitted at one point he had mistakenly played a Success card instead of a Fail card. This error, which Sam admitted he thought was a stroke of genius, was enough to confuse me so I took him on our last mission, much to Joe's dismay.

1= Sam
1= Adam
2= Hannah
2= Joe
2= Andrew

Anja arrived during this game and patiently sat through our bickering, and at the end we split into two. The Easton contingent (Adam, Hannah and Anja) chose Ys while me, Sam and Joe went for Village. We were keen to try this again after struggling through our first encounter.

It went a lot smoother, as you might expect, but it was clear that only one of us learnt from our experience. I more or less did the same as before – focusing on the market – but this time I ignored the chronicle. I was very sparing with my men and managed to make them last.

Joe, meanwhile, was like the Grim Reaper on a bonus scheme as his meeples died out quickly, getting their names in the history books before anyone else. Sam's meeples also died out quickly, but not fast enough and they usually ended up in a pauper's grave, forgotten to future generations.

As it was, Joe's strategy was a masterful display and left Sam and I fighting over scraps.

Joe 61
Sam 34
Andrew 33

Since Ys still hadn't finished, the three of us indulged our dice-rolling needs with King Of Tokyo. This game gives you three rolls, allowing you to keep any number of dice, as you try and build up hands of six dice to score points, earn cubes or deal damage to your opponents. It's not a game of luck, insisted Joe: it's a resource management game. The resource in question being luck.

Joe pushed his luck too far, and when the dice turned against him, it gave Sam a chance to steal first place.

Sam 20
Joe 18
Andrew 13

I'll leave it to the others to describe the ups and downs of Ys, though I wonder if Adam will want to relive that game, as he ended in a distant last.

Hannah 112
Anja 96
Adam 75

After this, Hannah and Anja called it a night so it was left to us brave boys to fight it out in one more game: Biblios. Sam now has something of a reputation for doing well in this game, and so it was once again.

Sam 5
Adam 3 (wins on colour)
Joe 3
Andrew 2

Steve1 1 1 2 4 9
Sam 1 1 2 3 2 9
Anja2 3 3 1 1 10
Adam2 3 1 2 3 11
Joe3 2 1 2 3 11
Hannah1 1 5 5517
Andrew4 3 3 4 4 18
Jon35 5 5523

Friday, 23 November 2012

A Rum Deal and No Mistake

Tonight Andrew and I dragged a bit of a curio out of the cupboard - Stefan Feld's Rum and Pirates. Feld is known, directly or otherwise, in GNN circles for Year of the Dragon, Castles of Burgundy and Macao, but this was an early effort, as though Mozart had composed "Shaddapa Your Face" before graduating to more serious work.

Jonny Depp played this as research. So did Keith.

In Rum and Pirates players send their salty sea dogs careering around the board, fighting with guards, getting drunk, getting married, practising bigamy, and discovering half a treasure map on the floor - only to pick up the other half of it later, if luck is with them. Each of the five rounds climaxes with a fight over the best bunks on the ship as they bed down for the night. It's kind of a ludicrous game, and not especially pretty, but fun nonetheless, in that it's the closest GNN has to the thrill of Blackjack.

Andrew didn't do anything wrong, but the game is extremely luck-dependent, and I was punching the air like a man possessed as dice roll after dice roll went my way. Fun for me, probably a bit tiresome for anyone else.

Sam 97
Andrew 60

Upright, but sleepy

Because of the chance aspect there are two main things to note about Rum and Pirates - one is that it's definitely not a 2-player. The other is that it's probably a little long - it took us an hour - and the sleeping-bag fight is not the most riveting bit of game design ever. But all that said, I do think it's one to get out now and then, if only to level the playing field. No matter how strategically adept you are, if someone really, really wants a hammock, you're in a dogfight.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

I'm ready for my close up, Mr DeMille

Tonight was a slightly strange games night as two of Joe's friends, Chris and Alex, joined us. Not as eager participants (although they do both enjoy board games) but as potential directors of a feature film documentary about us board games and they were doing a bit of talent spotting research.

We began with the six of us (me, Alex and Chris, Joe, Sam and Adam) playing The Resistance. Since Chris had come down the M4 in driving rain after a long day at work, we decided something with simple rules would suit him best. However, this didn't stop Joe from first describing the rules to a similar but different game first. He sheepishly had to ask him to forget all that, because the rules to The Resistance aren't the same.

But once we'd got started, it all became clear. After the first round, in which Alex and Chris were the successful spies, they had a better idea of the bluff, double-bluff and counter-double-bluff that goes on during this game.

So we started a second game, and this time Sam and I were the spies. I thought I blew it when I referred to the spies as “us”, but no one was listening to me. Sam retained his air of bemusement well enough to deflect any suspicion and we were victorious in our triumph. I enjoy The Resistance, and found it quite difficult to be a spy and not ruin everything (which I almost did).

After this, Alex and Chris decided to become observers, and had the dubious pleasure of us working our way through the rules to a brand new game, Village. After about half an hour, they made their excuses and left. This turned out to be the best move anyone made all evening. We ploughed on, and begun the complicated game of worker placement. It's not unlike Caylus, if you can imagine that game being played with pieces that suddenly drop dead after a while.

The longer your players stay on the board, the more powerful they become, but each meeple has an expiration date and before long will die, and need to be replaced. It's a delicate balancing act of trying to keep them alive as long as they're useful, and letting nature take its course.

There are many ways to score. The council house, the church, travelling, money and market tiles. Sam, Adam and Joe crowded into the church, and went travelling too. I didn't score at all during the game, but I launched myself up the score track with all the tiles I'd bought from the market. In fact, I was one mistake away from being first, since I could've bought a tile before Adam did, and thus make him lose four points while giving me an extra four. Just call me Kingmaker.

Adam 56
Joe 54
Sam 52
Andrew 51

Remarkably close. Either this game is cleverly balanced or we were all equally bad at it.

On the leaderboard, Adam puts more pressure on the leader.

Steve1 1 1 2 4 9
Adam1 2 3 2 1 9
Anja3 3 1 1 2 10
Sam 3 2 2 3 3 13
Joe2 3 1 5 3 14
Andrew4 4 3 3 4 18
Hannah1 5 5 5521
Jon35 5 5523

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Going loco down in Puerto Rico

Four of the Bracknell posse's totally made up and imaginary non members couldn't make tonights games fest and therefore we were reduced to the three stalwart regulars that continually make the effort, Paul, James and myself Chris.

Inspired by current events across the Atlantic where a group of small islands off the coast of the United States are having a referendum to decide whether they want to take the UK's place as the 51st state (Ooo, a little bit of politics), I put forward Puerto Rico for this weeks main game.

This game has sat serenely in my loft next to classics like El Grande and Tigris and Euphrates for years waiting for the right mix of players to appear. Buoyed by the success of El Grande's reappearance I felt it was time to give another old classic a dusting off.

One of the problems Puerto has is although game play is simple, options are multi-various in the same way that Agricola is and often a first play acts as a tutorial for any newbies. Considering the amount of time since either Paul or I had played it we were all practically fresh to the game. The start was understandably stop start as each action required a quick nose into the rules for clarification. After about three rounds this became less and less however any definite strategies were naturally absent.

I had concluded that the captain was a quick win for me as I was the only one producing goods early on. Clearly we were all struggling with the mechanics to form any consistent approach. Then, subtly, the balance of power shifted as James got his coffee roaster commissioned and Paul manned his sugar refinery. All of a sudden the pair of them were awash with cash and began snapping up the bonus buildings. I read somewhere that if you don't get one of these you stand little chance of winning, so with no small effort on my part I managed to secure the least profitable building, the city hall, and then made a mad trolley dash to claim as many violet buildings as possible before the colonists ran out.

Despite my incredible poor attempt at adding three numbers together the totals revealed a very close game.

Paul - 60
Chris - 58
James - 55

Puerto Rico, another classic which has stood the test of time. All parties agreed that we should play it again in two weeks time and totally disregard what our totally made up imaginary non members might say about that.

10.45 was looming large so we managed to shoe horn in a game of speed Roll Through the Ages which Paul quickly won as he was putting his coat on to leave.

Paul - 28
Chris -19
James - 19

Thursday, 15 November 2012

I was Monty's double

Today saw a joining together of two games nights, a crossover worthy of DC/Marvel, a shift in the Venn diagram of board gaming groups in Bristol. Tuesday's GNN met up with Thursday's Monty games group. Actually, there's already quite an overlap, as GNN regulars Anja, Steve, Adam and Hannah are also members of the Thursday cohort, and Jon from the September weekend was there too.

Sam and I arrived just in time to catch dessert since, apparently, part of Thursday's group involves sitting up at a table, eating a meal and talking like adults. Crazy. The desserts were very nice, and put our usual cheezy wotsits to shame.

But soon we got down to business, and chose our games. Me, Adam, Hannah and Jon chose Tinners' Trail. Sam, Steve and Anja went for League of Six. I'll leave it to them to explain the raised voices as they moaned about their lack of guards but in the meantime, the scores ended.

Steve 60+guards
Sam 60
Anja 58

On our table, it was Jon's first time playing Tinners' Trail and Adam explained the rules to him. Then we started to take chunks out of Cornwall like it was a lovely cheesecake made by Anja. Copper was at a premium and Tin was at its lowest price, but Jon bought a tin-rich mine for little money, hoping the market would pick up. I went for short-term gain, buying only mines with copper in. Hannah kept her mines close together, and Adam hid in the corner, down by Land's End.

It was close game, and Jon seemed to get a hang of it before too long and his long term thinking did pay off, despite Tin remaining rock bottom for much of the game. Adam had a curious method of buying bonds at the end of each round. He'd start with the smallest denomination before moving on to the largest, like someone at a restaurant telling everyone they're on a diet and they just want a small salad before caving in and ordering the banana boat chocolate sundae as well.

In the end, it was one of the closest games of Tinners' Trail we've had. At least, from second to fourth it was close.

Hannah 126
Adam 115
John 113
Andrew 108

Since we were still up to our knees in Cornish mines and pasties when they'd finished League of Six, Steve, Anja and Sam played Biblios. This ever-enigmatic game of zen cardship punishes those who think logically and rewards people who stumble haphazardly through a haze of confusion.

Steve 9
Sam 7
Anja 0

And here the evening ended. We said our goodbyes and gently pushed Molly the cat off Adam's stinky rucksack before heading home.

Steve jumps to the top of the form table, with fellow Eastonites hot on his tail. And we welcome two new names to the form table to make us look a little more popular and sociable.

Steve1 1 1 2 4 9
Adam2 3 2 1 2 10
Anja3 3 1 1 2 10
Sam 2 2 3 33 13
Joe3 1 5 3 1 13
Andrew4 3 3 4 1 15
Hannah1 5 5 5521
Jon35 5 5523

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

The Resistance is Futile!

Tonight was the first "big" game night since my return from Japan, so I brought some Japanese Green Tea Kit Kats by means of celebration with me. Kit Kits are very popular in Japan because the Japanese pronounciation sounds very similar to "kitto katsu" which means "surely win" and they're often handed out at exam times, etc. I should've kept this in mind and made sure I ate them all before I arrived at Steve and Anja's. Instead, I shared them around. And I think Anja took two, which may have been the decisive factor.

The secret of success.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. We (me, Steve, Anja, Sam , Adam and Joe) began with a rare contribution to the communal games cupboard from myself in the shape of Tsuro Of The Sea (or Tots, as Joe calls it). This new version of the classic lacks the purity of the original and the dice rolling slows things down, but having several menacing dragons marching around the board is quite exciting and I think we all did well for lasting as long as we did. In the end, it was Adam who sent Anja down a path straight to a dragon, and took first place.

Dancing with dragons

1. Adam
2. Anja
3. Sam
4= Steve
5. Joe

After this, we split into two groups of three. Sam and Steve were tempted by the gleaming newness of Mission: Red Planet, and Joe was happy to talk them through the rules. Adam, Anja and I went old school. Perhaps inspired by Chris' recent rediscovery, we went for El Grande.

I'll leave it for the others to fill in the gaps regarding their mission to Mars. But it seems like Joe managed to avoid Instructor's Curse this time.

Joe 51
Steve 43
Sam 40

Meanwhile, back in the olden days, El Grande was set up and our rusty memories of the rules were given a squirt of WD40 and put back into motion. And what a great game it is. All about bluffing and challenging and not annoying Anja early so she picks on you, using your bloody and bruised body as a stepping stone to greater heights. That's the mistake I made, and I paid for it in spades. At least that's how it felt.

But, in fairness, her tactic was the winning one as she sprang into first place in the final round, despite being in stoney last for the first half of the game. She admitted she wasn't sure how she managed to squeeze into first, and Adam seemed equally bemused, but the scoretrack doesn't lie.

Anja 150
Adam 149
Andrew 125

I'll be honest, I was very relieved that my happy memories of El Grande weren't the result of naive ignorance, and that it is a great game that still stands up today.

After this, the six of us joined together again for The Resistance. In this game, we secretly are assigned roles of resistance members or spies. We are then given five missions to complete. Spies can chose to ruin the mission, by slipping a Fail card into the deck of mission cards. The idea is to sniff out the spies quickly, allowing you to complete three missions before it's too late.

However, our innate suspicious natures came into play. I giggled, Adam was too quiet, Joe protested too much, and Anja didn't give herself a mission. All of these brought us into suspicion. In fact the only one who obviously wasn't a spy was Sam, whose air of bafflement and confusion was akin to James Stewart at his best. Steve was the only doubt.

I had him labelled as a spy, but no one listened to me, and thus it was that he was able to sabotage the third mission to take the victory with his partner-in-crime, Anja.

1= Steve
1= Anja
3= Andrew
3= Sam
3= Joe
3= Adam.

It's a game that's a lot of fun, and it's hard not to have a big smile on your face, spy or no-spy, while you're playing it. And it felt good to have a games night with more than three people there. Thanks everyone! Same time next week! Or earlier, if someone's wife is out for the evening?

On the form table, Steve leaps upwards and congratulations to Anja who takes first place for the first time. Meanwhile, Sam impresses everyone with a perfect score of sorts: all threes.

Anja1 1 2 51 10
Adam 3 2 1 2 3 11
Steve1 2 4 33 13
Joe3 1 5 3 1 13
Andrew3 3 4 1 2 13
Sam 3 3 3 33 15

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Lording it again

So this Monday it was just myself (Chris) and James to do battle over a table top. I was keen to play Lords of Waterdeep again and had given it to James to read the rules over the weekend. Learning from last week I didn't hang about with the quest making and bounded into a quick lead. James still feeling his way amassed adventurers (Or whatever they are called) and money. By mid game however, James had caught me up by putting his resources to good use and it became a lot more cat and mouse. Coming into the final round it really wasn't clear which way it was going to go. The key deciding factor was probably when I laid a Mandatory Quest on James with my second agent. (Sorry Andy but I like them and kept them in!) It was just enough to prevent him from completing an additional big quest.

The difference still was only 10 points in a keenly fought match. James was impressed, another LoW convert!
A familiar scene

We finished the night with Agricola - All creatures small and big. In this game I got my tactics all muddled and created a too restrictive farm, not allowing adequate space stick livestock. Across the table James had a well ordered farm bristling with baaing sheep and neighing horses. Although I recovered with a whole lot of pigs James took the winners rosette for best farm in show....

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Bright Lights, String Theory

Last night Sally and I entertained Katie and Mark, gamers in every sense bar the enormous collection, card-sniffing habit etc. On a recommendation from Joe we'd bought Mark Vegas for his belated birthday present, so after a hefty helping of cheese we cracked it open and dived straight in.

It's a very simple game of allotting your dice to different casinos and collecting cash when they pay out (when everyone is out of dice). The numbers on your dice are irrelevant; it's about how many dice you have in each casino... the catch being that if more than one player has the same amount of dice in the same casino, they are all rendered null and void.

the fun never stops

In the end it Katie "the chiseller" Daniels who took first place, with some canny die-play that picked up a lot of $60 and $50k cards while the rest of us fought over the odd $90k:

Katie $480k
Mark $430k
Sam  $390k
Sally $340k

With the night still young and lactose surging through our veins, I took the plunge and broke out String Railway. Like Vegas it's very simple, but the friendly feel of round one was clouded by growing analysis paralysis over subsequent rounds as the 'board' became more and more crowded. We didn't help ourselves by playing one more round than the game recommends for four, but anyway... I was barricaded in by the river and spent the first four rounds fretting, but my final play into the mountains finally got me a decent score and I leapfrogged Katie into third place...

the fun stops

Mark 25
Sally 24
Sam  22
Katie 20

The tactical challenge exhausted everyone, but I managed to convince Mark into a game of Monza to finish off - it's a very simple racing game, a little like Ave Caesar but with almost zero strategy. Basically you can move your racing car according to the colours on the dice you roll, so though it says ages 5-99 on the box, I somehow can't picture Wallace sitting at home exclaiming "Hey! Who fancies a game of Monza?" We won one race each, then in the decider Mark found himself stuck on the second corner, rolling a series of useless dice as I skidded to an unlikely victory.


We decided to start a little KMSS leaderboard and see who was doing best between the four of us, so here it is, based on our games from last night (ignoring Monza), and previous games nights in August and April. As you can see, Mark is the man to beat, heading the form table by some distance.



I do feel a bit ropey today though. Too much cheese.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Late report is late.

On Monday I (Chris) found myself looking after Ashton for the day whilst his school's teachers sat around smoking fistfuls of fags and bitching about the kids in what is more commonly known as an Inset day. It took me until about 10 o'clock to realise decide that my son might really love a trip to Reading. Co-incidently the town also boasts my local games shop, Eclectic Games, what luck!

With the whole range of games on display I couldn't quite get past that itch to play Lords of Waterdeep again and duly left the premises with it stretched into a flimsy plastic bag. Only Paul was due in the evening owing to James' jaunt 'oop north' and Sam had reassured me that it played well with two.

We kicked off the evening with Roll Through The Ages. Paul and I made our customary gallop toward gaining the maximum compliment of cities. Being a dice game luck can be disproportionate and no more so when Paul, all out of wheat, copped a revolt, twice. With something like a minus 24 in disasters come the tally up he was always going to have a mountain to climb.

Final scores
Chris: 41
Paul: 24

On to the main event Lords of Waterdeep and the very satisfying unboxing and separation of components. This game has a lovely feel to it and is 10 quid cheaper than Agricola. A briefest refresher of the rules and we were straight into it, placing 4 agents instead of two which the 5 player gave us last time. Paul quickly set the pace by completing some medium quests and settled on a strategy of more quests the better. I took a more balanced approach but felt that I had wasted too much resource on getting the lieutenant which actually didn't benefit me as much as I'd hoped. I had however, picked up a bunch of cheap plot cards which stay active for the whole game, but as I discovered mid way through Paul had the best one of the lot. Every time he received money he also got a Rogue (black) cube. A fair number of the quests require Rogues and he was off into the distance and in a commanding position and there was little I could do about it as Mandatory Quests were swatted aside with ease.

Despite a nice late rally from me Paul notched a convincing win......

Paul -182
Chris - 162

Thursday, 8 November 2012

The games we played were mostly on the train

We all love train games, don't we? Railways of the World. Ticket To Ride. Decathlon.

What's that you say? Decathlon isn't a train game? Well, it can be if you're with the right people.

Since myself, Sam and Joe all needed to go to London by train today, we decided to combine our journeys. I brought along eight dice and the rules to Renier Knizia's Decathlon for our journey. Joe brazenly sat at an already reserved table, saying that they probably won't turn up and if they do, then we'll move. I was highly doubtful, but I was made to eat my words, as none of the four people arrived to take their seats. I was a bit appalled too. Such waste.

But it meant we had a table, so we could play Decathlon. First, Joe successfully identified the dice I brought as coming from Troyes. Remarking that Joe's in-depth knowledge of games had now reached uncanny proportions, we began.

This is a game of ten dice-based challenges. It's all about pushing your luck, and trying to guess if you should go for another role for a higher score, but risk losing everything. Last time we played it was at Stabcon, where we got quite a crowd watching. But commuters are a tougher crowd and no one paid much attention to our cries of despair or victory. In the end, Joe won by a large margin, with Sam just pipping me to second.

Then in London, Sam cajoled me into visiting the Orc's Nest, a small but irresistible board game shop in the West End. I chose the newly released Tsuro Of The Seas, to go with my homebrew version of the original. And then Sam looked at a board game, Divinare, which caught his eye with it's mock Victorian spiritualist design. I liked the look of it too, and after a quick look on BGG I decided to buy it too.

Sam was at first tempted by a dice version of Biblios, but was then swayed by the sight of Village, a worker placement game that currently lies just outside the BGG Top 100. Back at the hotel, we got out Tsuro Of The Seas, keen to learn how the monsters would change the feel of the game. It's still much the same game of survival, but now with certain squares that move around at random, threatening to swallow you whole. It was fun, but I can't help thinking it's ripe for some variations.

Sam then opened up Village, keen to give it a go, only to find that it needed to stickers attached to the meeples before the game could begin. I looked through the rules of Divinare, but found it hard to follow the flow of the game, so I decided further research online was needed before bringing it to the table. After Sam had finished his sticking, it was late and we decided to call it a night.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Steampunk and steam trains

Tonight saw the return of an old regular: me! And as I walked to Joe's, I could help but think that all these firework displays were a bit over the top. I mean, I'd only been away two weeks.

Once again, three players were in attendance. The aforementioned me and Joe, and also Adam. From the pile of new games that Joe had got in a trade, we chose Mission: Red Planet. This is co-designed by Bruno Fiadutti, who also did Citadels, and the mechanic is similar. You chose which character you're going to play, and this also effects where in the order of play you go. But instead of building a medieval city, you are colonising Mars using some nifty looking Victorian technology.

You need to have most astronauts in an area to score points during a scoring round (of which there are three), and then at the end of the game you can add to your score with some bonus points from cards hidden in your hand. I enjoyed it. There are more rounds than there are cards, so at one point you will have to play the weakest card in your hand, which at least gets you all your cards back. I tried to avoid playing it until the last minute. I've no idea if that was a good idea or not.

During the game, Adam got picked on, and I thought I'd done enough to see off Joe too. But I reckoned without the wise one's wily ways. He edged past me thanks to his bonus points.

Joe 52
Andrew 50
Adam 44

It doesn't take long to colonize Mars, and we still had ample time for another game. We chose Ticket To Ride: Switzerland, the faster-moving but more claustrophobic version of the Europe-spanning game. Perhaps the biggest challenge in the game comes from when you get your routes to complete at the start of the game, and then you have to look for the towns in question without giving it away when you'd found one. My technique was to glance over the board casually as if it were a pile of magazines in a dentist waiting room. Don't know if anyone noticed.

I got lucky with my routes, and had completed them early on, which lead to me picking up more. And I got lucky with those too, so I got some more. By the end, I had nine routes cards in my hand, eight of which were complete. Joe had the longest route and seven route cards. Adam had six.

We totted up the points, and I sped off into first place, but Joe had a terrible discovery. A route that he spent ages in completing one end was not finished at the other. This cost him in points, and gave Adam a chance. Finally, as Joe's points for longest route were added, the magnitude of his mistake became clear.

Andrew 117
Adam 98
Joe 97

Joe may be cursing his lack of concentration on Ticket To Ride, but that doesn't change the fact that he now leaps up to first. Little else changes in this very sedate season so far.

Joe3 1 221 9
Adam 2 3 1 13 10
Andrew1 2 242 11

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Suitable for Miners

Having promised to play Brass the next time we were three players, I (Sam) was alarmed to see Tuesday looming large with various GNNers out of the picture. It looked like there was no escaping Wallace and his insidious clutches, so Brass it was to be. This game carries enough of a reputation to make a grown man nervous, so Joe charitably invited me over on Monday night for a run-through of the rules, and a practice session.


That done, I returned to Joe's on games night proper to find Brass set up and ready to go. Adam had chips, Joe had pretzels. I had chipsticks, which I felt were thematically resonant with an industrial age game, as they appear to be a confection of factory floor sweepings and animal glue.

Although Joe had finished ahead of me on points on the previous nights run-through, I felt equipped enough that I could compete with two old hands. Who knows, maybe I could even pull off an unlikely victory?

For those unfamiliar with Brass, players are taking the role of unabashed capitalists intent on sullying the hills of north England. They mine, they build factories, they build ports, they build canals (in the first half of the game) and railways (in the second). They spend a lot of time shipping goods and taking loans. It's not a simple game but, one or two rules aside, it is (as I was promised) a more intuitive affair that Last Train to Wensleydale, where you can feel like you are being phased into an early grave*. Though there are a heap of options generally your choice will be guided by either a. what gets you victory points or b. what gets you money, which could get you even more victory points, if you use it wisely.


I felt I hadn't built enough canals on Monday so I was much more active establishing connections. Joe, too, was busy with the shovel. But Adam pretty much ignored the canals, focussing on developing (discarding cheaper, less rewarding buildings) and building handsome buildings, using our connections to get around. The strategy looked a sound one as the halfway scoring round saw him take the lead. Despite trying to keep abreast of the others, I realised I had about half the amount of buildings on the board that they did - not a good state of affairs.

The second round saw things become a little more combative as Joe and Adam knocked each others buildings to the ground in order to establish their own. Though I managed to create a bit more of a foothold on the board, it was clear from the lack of wrecking balls swinging my way that the others were in a battle for first place.

So it proved, though it wasn't as close between them as I anticipated. Despite Joe's multitudinous trainlines, the explosion of yellow pieces over the south Pennines made it look like someone (guess who) had struck gold - or possibly custard. 

Adam 190
Joe 174
Sam 158

Brass again!

My personal verdict on Brass is that I liked it a lot. I don't think it's a game I'm likely to win, especially playing Adam and Joe - but I really enjoyed the variety of options and the theme. I struggled slightly with when you're allowed to build what, where... but that's a minor reservation. The only thing that'd stop me playing it again soon is the sheer length - three hours plus playing time for three people. That said though, it didn't drag at all. So - I'm in the fan club! Join me. Join me.

On the form table it's a bit of a one-horse race at the moment, with no-one able to challenge Adam's supremacy. In fact the person who is nearest him hasn't even played for two weeks, as Andrew moves into second by virtue of the 'most recent result' rule. Joe stays in fifth thanks to Brass - it gave him a very respectable 2nd place, but because we didn't have time for another game he hasn't shaken the 5 yet.


*on a first play. Andrew and I found it relatively straightforward second time around.