Friday, 31 August 2012

Arkadia Fire

Andrew and I often meet for extra curricular games and this week we examined Arkadia, my BGG trade. We did extend the invite around but no-one else could make it - perhaps they were all critically ill. I can't imagine anything else keeping them from the table.

When we broke out the contents of the box it reminded us of two less popular games - the overtly abstract Torres and Sator Arepo Tenet Opera Rotas, whose palindromic nature extends from the arse-about-face name to the actual gameplay.

But though the play of Arkadia also had slender reminiscences of both, the combination of the two proved to be a winner. Yes, it wears it's theme lightly, but not so lightly that it flies away upon removing the lid (Torres). And it is about pattern-making and puzzle-solving, but in a hugely more engaging way than Sator...

Early doors

As builders of the castle of Arkadia the players are trying to generate the prestige that goes with it, and they do this by building their influence in the areas around the castle, adding workers and buildings to put them in. When those buildings are swallowed up by the encroaching conurbation around them, the workers adjacent get you seals (of approval, not fur) and the seals get you, you guessed it, prestige points.

What makes the game extra canny though, is every time a building is surrounded you add another piece of the castle. All the pieces have a seal on them (of four different colours) so the seals in your hand are worth different amounts of prestige at different times, depending on the state of the castle...

Late doors

There's more to it but basically it made a very diverting two player (it can play up to four). I don't know if it's abstract-y-ness will keep it out of the limelight at GNN but we were enamoured enough to immediately play a second game - very differently, as we went from gung-ho newbies to over-cautious novices in the blink of a scorecard.

I won both, but this was more the randomness of the new game than any cunning on my part.

Then we played Biblios! It was the tightest finish ever as I won the red category with just 2pts to Andrew's none.

Sam 8
Andrew 7

That's just how we roll at GNN.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Lucky in games, unlucky in weather

As I sit here in Ersby Towers, barely minutes after Adam left on his bicycle, the heavens opened and rain pelted down. As if someone was reminding the creeping custard not to get too cocky. Because tonight mostly belonged to Adam. Admittedly, he only had two opponents: myself and Sam, but even so, he can be proud of his two comprehensive victories (and a third place).

We began with Macao. Sam and I had played before, but any advantage we may have had from experience was washed away by Adam's canny ability at chaining together his cards to build an insurmountable lead. He got the Ship Loft to allow his ship to move two spaces, and then the Captain which allowed him to get two Prestige Poitns every time his ship moved on two spaces. You get the idea.

End of the game, nothing but ones...

But it's a great game, with a lot of thinking and trying to second guess what the dice may do. It's a little bit fire-fighting (as you pick up cards you don't want, and have to get rid of) and a little bit empire building (with trading and buying city quarters. Despite my dismal performance at the game, I like it a lot and I felt I had a shot at second place until the very last round when Sam connected a chain of city quarters, leading to some healthy bonus points.

Adam 88
Sam 68
Andrew 58

After this we played Biblios as a less intense game. I thought I had some idea of what I was doing, and had some kind of strategy during the game. Perhaps this was all an illusion, since I came in second but nevertheless an interesting illusion.

Sam 7
Andrew 4
Adam 3

After this, we chose No Thanks as a nice short game to wind down with. The cards teased us with a flurry of high, yet unconnected, values which we picked up grudgingly. I never even got the chance to do my usual tactic of picking up low cards. Not that it made much difference to my place.

Adam 41
Sam 52
Andrew 68

After this, Sam went to the toilet and came back requesting another game and a cup of peppermint tea, but he quickly read the atmosphere in the room and, despite it being only half past ten, we ended the evening.

The Form Table shows Adam still atop the pile, albeit with a little slippage in his lead. I squeeze ahead of Joe and Hannah thanks to my new tactic of coming last in three-player games, not four player games.

Adam 1 3 1 1 1 7
Sam2 1 2 23 10
Steve411 4 1 11
Andrew 3 2 3 23 13
Joe 243 1 4 14
Hannah 43 4 1 2 14
Anja 3254 2 16
Dan 15 5 5 521

Berger update part 2

Unbowed by our late-night Twilight Struggle, Henry and I continued our mini game-a-thon on Monday morning, while the rest of the household gradually woke and brunched. Henry wanted a TS rematched, but graciously agreed to test out Hammer of the Scots with me, a block war-game based on the Scottish rebellion of the 1290s.

I had bought it when we were in Scotland on holiday, and it's previous outing is detailed elsewhere in this blog (or perhaps in the comments). Having now played it, I can see it wasn't going to work for Charlotte, but it is an excellent game. Each sides pieces face the player in question, so whilst you might be able to see forces amassing, you can't be really sure of how strong they are until you engage in battle. We played the Braveheart scenario, which is 9 turns, Henry as the Scots and me as Edward I, trying to pin down Wallace and the rebelling nobles.
Despite our inexperience, it's a very smooth playing game, and the ebb and flow of fortune was fascinating - at one point it looked as though the Scots would overwhelm the English - a turn later and the tables were well and truly turned.

The winner is the one with the majority of nobles on his side at the end, and the English win a tie if Wallace is dead or off the board. Sure enough we tied, and I was convinced Henry had won. In fact it turned out Wallace, who I'd been desperately trying to root out all game, had been taken off the board during a wintering round, and was languishing face down in the pool (the pool of available pieces, but the analogy holds), giving me the win.Great game, would love to play again - I'll bring it along to Septcon in case anyone fancies a bit of 2 player kilt-waving.

We squeezed in a quick game of Mr Jack (Henry's first - he won as Jack!), and then laid down sour gaming tools in order to be sociable and cook some food. But once the meal was over and the kids happily ensconced in The Incredible Hulk, more games hit the table. The four of us played two games of 10 Days in Africa, which feels quite different to its European counterpart. Charlotte won one I think, and I won one.
During those games, Henry had begun discussing an unholy idea: a couples game of Twilight Struggle. And more incredibly, Charlotte had assented. If it all sounds a bit pampas grass/bowl of car keys, it did feel a little bit like we'd strayed into odd territory. Luckily I had enough remaining faculties to realise that it would be impossible to explain the game to our respective spouses whilst trying to play against each other, and that, more importantly, it wouldn't be nearly as much fun as Lords of Vegas.

So we played Lords of Vegas again. I had some early luck, and it looked as though I would run away with the game. Charlotte looked to be in particularly poor shape, still waiting for a single point when the rest of us had got to the 10 point mark. But the great thing about Vegas is the reversals of fortune, and as the game came to a close it was a three horse race between Charlotte, Henry and me. In the end, Charlotte raced ahead by 6 points, with Henry and I joint second again - this time Rachel trailing in las place.

By this time it was nearly 1am, but Henry was hardly going to let the game-a-thon end without a Twilight Struggle rematch, so we made cups of tea, took neurone to fight off the encroaching hangovers, and waded in. This time I was the US, and had learnt from Henry's experience of the night before. I knew I needed to hold of the USSR until well into the mid-war, and I managed to do it. By turn six it was clear we were in for the long haul, and called it a night.

This morning  we returned to the board, and embarked on round seven. I looked at my hand and saw that I had the Europe scoring card, which can win you the game if you control Europe when it is played. I only needed to shore up Poland and East Germany before playing the card and I would, for the first time, win the game as the US. But surely Henry would see my plans and stop me. Fortunately for me, he was holding the Asia scoring card, which not only took his mind off things closer to home, but crucially had to be played at some point rather than playing an ops card. This meant that even when he spotted my plan, I was able, with the help of a couple of lucky high value ops point cards, to keep the pressure on. Before the round was out, I had complete control of Europe and won the game.

We both regretted not pushing on last night, since it turned out we were so close to the end, though I was so exhausted I may well have misplayed my hand, allowing the game to drift on in to the later rounds. Twilight Struggle is epic, awesome and deceptively simple - very very deserving of it's sometime number one ranking on the Geek.

We just had time to play a quick game of Manouevre before Henry and Rachel returned to London - Henry's Prussians beating my Spanish by a whisker, just a card away from nightfall.

A lovely weekend of gaming, more than making up for missing out on saturday's Shogunnigans and regular GNN games night tonight - and a special commendation for Charlotte for being such a good sport, given her natural antipathy for the gentle art of cubes and cardboard. I couldn't ask for more! JB

Paul makes his Point

Before the main meal of the evening in the form of Nexus Ops a few small game nibbles were partaken. Hey That's My Fish is becoming a firm favourite with us for its simple play and set up, and surprising depth for game that only cost me a tenner. After two quick games I had collected a victory in each but by only one point in the second game. After musing what the game would be like with two sets mixed in and 8 people playing (Septcon anyone?) we moved onto a new game Nile. 

Nile is a card game of fairly simple mechanics where you take on the mantle of an ancient farmer along the flood plains of the Nile. Your task is to plant crops and harvest them if you are lucky enough each turn. It has the feel of lots of other games merged into one. It plays very fast once you have the turn sequence down and there is a nice amount of stitching up that you can do. The scoring borrows from Euphrat and Tigris where you score your weakest crops first.

In the two games we played Paul won one 5 - 1 and I tipped my game 2 - 1.

So to Nexus. Paul got to take the sometimes powerful first turn and right from the off he was marching across the board spoiling for a fight like I had called his beer a shandy. Probably coming off better in regard to revealing bonus tiles, Paul's massing ranks were making headway into my controlled areas. In a futile attempt to stem the flow I tried to get in behind his defences only to see my away party squashed lazily like a dopey fly. Despite all that I still was managing to keep in touching distance. In a last ditch attempt at victory I went for all out attack taking on a series of soft targets to gain victory points to take my total to 12 (The winning amount). It all came down to one last roll. My warrior only needed to roll 2 or over on the D6. It came up a 1. The next round Paul's onslaught returned my posterior to me with and with it my crushed hopes and dreams…...

Monday, 27 August 2012

Techs as instruments

Tonight Sam and I had plans of writing, but at the same time, Sam had brought Ascending Empires with him. I was easily swayed to play the flicky game of intergalactical invasion. We set up, with it sitting snugly on my table and began well.

I thought it was quite evenly matched at first, comparing my spread of different tech levels to Sam's specialisation, but before long I discovered that his level four in grey technologies gave him effectively two goes to my one, and I saw him speed off into the distance. And when you're in space, "into the distance" is a very long way.

I think this was the first time that I've played when someone got level four grey so soon, since it rendered the game unplayable. By the end, I was grimly watching him fly about and then perform another action, leaving me largely trapped where I was. I can't see me playing Ascending Empires any time soon. Not now that I know it's busted.

Got a nice pun out of it, though.

Mini-update from the Bergers

Our friends Henry and Rachel are with us for the bank holiday, and as is traditional, games will be played. Henry and I played a fair few games of Twilight Struggle back at Easter, and Henry had texted his intention to "get some Twi-lit Strugggling in" before their arrival this time.

H & R and their three daughters got to us at five, and after we'd caught up properly (including a tour of the games cupboard) and eaten some food, it was nine o'clock. Undeterred, Cahrlotte was keen (yes, that's right - Charlotte - keen!) to introduce 10 Days in Europe. So we played a couple of games, which acted as the perfect warm-up to a main course of Lords of Vegas.
We had played a few games of Lords back at Easter, and it really worked for the four of us back then, but it was getting late; I was concerned about the length of the game, and suggested Skull & Roses. Cha poo-pooed the idea, and opted for the two hour game over the fifteen minute bluff-fest. Once again, you heard me right.

Rachel grabbed an early lead in Lords of Vegas, and the rest of us spent most of the game trying to catch her, without success. But it was fun trying - Henry's technique was to gamble vast amounts in Rachels casinos, the net result being handing her regular stipends of $20 million. Charlotte and I spent valuable money re-rolling the dice in casinos we had stakes in, but time and time again, the re-rolls came out exactly the same! In the end, Rach raced away with a win, Henry and I were tied for second-place, Charlotte close behind in third.
Lords of Vegas remains one of my all-time faves - I'm determined to try it on some non-gamers, I think it would be a great introduction to modern baordgames.

It was midnight now, and Charlotte and Rachel bowed out gracefully; since Henry rightly pointed out that it was too late to be learning rules, our only option seemed Twilight Struggle. Even I was a little daunted by the prospect, but we figured we'd set it up in the study, where it could remain undisturbed if we needed to pause for sleep.
In the end, my aggressive stance as USSR, coupled with some very lucky timing with Middle-East, Asia and finally Europe scoring cards, meant that the game was over by the end of turn three, with a decisive victory for the reds. We'd played for less than an hour!
Twilight Struggle often gets cited as a long game, but it only rruns long if no-one wins; if the players are inexperienced or out of practice, it can be over very quickly (usuaally with a victory for Russia - the US have to cling on until the late war, when the tide turns in their favour).

More games will doubtless be played today, and I'll provide another update this evening, just to show that I'm not slipping, despite my no-show at the recent GNN games-saturdays . . . JB

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Five hours of game

A Saturday's games night is a bit special, and tonight saw a rare return to the table for pre-blog regular, Dan. It was his first appearance in almost two years, and he walked right into an epic: Shogun... As played by five people who'd never tried it before.

This game is largely similar to Wallenstein in terms of mechanic, with a few slight changes. Perhaps the most obvious is the change of map. Instead of Germany and it's open fields of opportunity, Japan's map is bordered by sea and it quite long and thin in comparison. As such, there were fewer chances for attacking, but at the same time, fewer chances to be attacked. With just six rounds (plus two scoring rounds) trying to connect your disparate territories seems impossible.

We arrived at eight, and after the rules were explained, we began at around nine. By nine forty, the first round was done and dusted. Sam felt his planned bedtime dissolving in front of him like a mirage. We ploughed on, picking up a little speed and getting a feel for the game. Dan instantly declared that war was fun, and did not hesitate to expand his territories.

As ever, Andrew found it impossible to sit still

By the end of the first year (at around eleven o'clock) Dan was in the lead. Usually, the person in the lead gets picked on by the others, but not so much this time. Steve ran out of money in the second half of the game, and never really recovered. His poorly reinforced regions were picked off by the rest of us.

The final round was slightly ruined by the fact that money didn't come out until the very end, which meant we had to exact our evil plans of domination with whatever money we had left over from our last evil plan of domination. Dan seemed to do very well exploiting his sea routes and all his buildings, meanwhile Sam managed to get a whole region to himself. All of which lead to the result finally being calculated at one a.m., leaving Dan very pleased that his win ratio was up to 66%, albeit with only three appearances.

1. Dan 47
2= Andrew 34
2= Sam 34
3. Anja 33
4. Steve 28

Adam111 2 1 6
Sam2321 3 11
Steve411 4 1 11
Joe 243 1 4 14
Hannah 43 4 1 2 14
Andrew233 4 4 16
Anja 3254 2 16
Dan 15 5 5 521

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Hours and Laborious

This week we wended our way to Adam's for games night. At first, we were five: me, Adam, Sam, Joe and Anja. While we waited for Steve and Hannah to arrive, we played a quick game of No Thanks. Anja had never played before, which we only found out after Sam had begun the game. She was given a swift run through of the rules, and we were off!

A low scoring game in the end, with Adam successfully making everyone think that I was winning. But, of course, I never win at No Thanks. Adam does, though.

Adam 12
Sam 16
Andrew 23
Joe 30
Anja 55

Then we split into two groups. Joe, Adam and myself went to play Ora et Labora, an epic Agricola-esque game from Uwe Rosenberg. Sam and Anja were joined by Steve and Hannah decided to play Macao. In fact, Hannah arrived at a time when she could've joined in with Ora et Labora, but she backed out of the room, saying it was a nice offer but she'd prefer something less taxing.

Adam talked us through the rules, and we set off. Like Agricola, it's all about resource management, and the resources grow during the game if they're not used. With these resources you can build buildings and make these buildings do things for you to create nicer resources which scores victory points at the end.

Nibbles, anyone?

There are a lot of options, which increase as the game goes on. This is good, since you're rarely stuck for something to do but, like Agricola, often the thing you want to do takes one more go than is really efficient. This frustration caused a lot of thoughtful pauses and muttered curses.

The nightmarish ordeal of Ora

It's a bit spreadsheet-y for my tastes. I'd like it a lot more if it were shorter, and there is a short option which we dismissed as being for lightweights, heading straight into the main game. It was a long, hard slog, with only Joe's delight at having built a religious icon as the main expression of delight during the game. In the end, Adam scored a comfortable win, with Joe's flashy trinkets pushing himself past me into second.

Adam 223
Joe 180
Andrew 170

The biggest surprise was that we ended before the game of Macao finished. Towards the end, we could hear some yawning from the next room, and we'd often pop in to see how they were doing.

The laissez-faire jollity of Macao

Steve, as he so often does with new games, was looking good for the win. And that's how it turned out.

Steve 79
Anja 75
Sam 71
Hannah 57

Adam111 2 1 6
Steve11 4 1 1 8
Sam321 3 2 11
Joe 243 1 4 14
Hannah 43 4 1 2 14
Anja 254 2 3 16
Andrew33 4 4 3 17

Wednesday, 15 August 2012


As planned, Andrew and I spent an hour or so writing this evening, feeling like we were doing something productive.

As also planned, we then played a game.

During the Writing Phase, we ummed and ahhed about what to play, and it was only afterwards I realised we had progressed through the Guiltiest Three (the longest-owned unplayed games): we discarded First Train to Nuremburg on account of the length of rules and weight of meeples, then got as far as setting up Comuni before giving up on the rules and finally settling on my birthday present from Chris: Macao. I had wanted to debut it on a Tuesday but time was a-pressing, with almost 6 months past and the cardboard unpopped.

We then moved into Game Phase, and indulged ourselves in this quite highly thought-of creation, which we both liked a lot. A little like Navegador - but less dry - a little like Taj Mahal - but less elephanty - and a little like something else that currently escapes me. Players are making a living trading goods at the port of Macao, sailing their ships off to distant climes and trying to establish themselves in the quarters of the city... so far, so very gamey. But what marks Macao out is the unique dice-rolling element.

Each player has a 'wheel' that shows how many actions they can make this turn and in subsequent turns - and the wheel turns between rounds. Everyone having added a card to their 'tableau' of actionable cards, the starting player (there is a definite advantage in starting, more so with more players I would imagine) then rolls five coloured dice, the colours representing five 'action cube' colours. Everyone chooses which two dice they will add to their wheel - if there is a red five, they put five red cubes next to the five dots on their wheel. If there is a green one, they add one green cube to the one dot. It may sound like you'd always go for the high numbers, but because your next turn will always be the one dot, it's often beneficial to add cubes there.

Hmm - easier to explain with the wheels and cubes present perhaps.

Anyway we had a lot of fun with it (thanks Chris!) and I suspect others may like it too. It's got that nice combination of simple rules but room for strategy. Do you expend resources getting first player place so you cherry-pick the best cards? Do you try and become a powerful presence in the city? Or do you establish yourself at sea, dropping off rice at Marseilles with your cooperage earning you bonuses?

In the event, we both did a bit of everything and it was close until the last round, when I surged past Andrew courtesy of my jade-trading and Abbott card waiving my "un-actioned cards penalty".

Sam 84
Andrew 46

The dice can hamper you or give you a boost, but the luck is managed by everyone's decisions on how to use them, so it never feels like you're getting a bum deal. I think this game has bumped Navegador from my top ten...

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Return of the sheeples

Those lightweights at the Olympics may have packed up and gone home, but not us. Games Night is more important than a fortnight-long sports day with billions of spectators. At least, it is for us. Tonight my humble abode hosted a fully-fledged meeting for the first time, and it was the core four in attendance: myself, Sam, Joe and Adam.

We began in experimental mood as Sam's creation Year Of The Sheep got another playtest. With Joe's uncanny eye for detail, Sam made a lot of notes during the time we played. It also seemed as if your choices were made for you according to circumstances. No money? Then you have to protest so you don't have to pay rent. No food? Then you'd better harvest (or protest, if that card also gives you food). As such, there was little room for choosing different strategies.

Plus, the main point of the game – the cubes of the Black Watch clattering across the board colliding into your pieces – was still mostly absent: Too easily stopped by other protest cards. When it did occur, it was the most fun part of the game.

Due to the game's still unfinished state, this wasn't leaderboard, but for the record, I won.

Andrew 38
Adam 35
Joe/Sam 34

After an hour of this, we turned to more serious stuff... Magical Athlete! This racing game is dice based, but begins with a bidding round where you use your limited resources to put together a team of five characters, each with their own special power. Then five races are run, where everyone pits their characters against each other in a race across a shitty brown dirt track.

I enjoyed this, and was impressed by how close the races usually were. Everyone's special powers seemed to offer something different. Adam chose a very spoiling tactic, often choosing a character which would ruin other people's races. And, as such, he came in first.

Adam 14
Andrew/Joe 7
Sam 4

Next up was Biblios. A game so mysterious, it's very name can hypnotise Joe into repeating the title in a variety of emotions. Biblios? Biblios!! Oh... biblios...

It remains an enigma, but this time it seemed that people had a strategy of going after two colours. Whether this is the right strategy remains to be seen since everyone tried it, but only one person won.

Adam 7
Sam 6
Andrew 3
Joe 0

By now, we were on a roll! Maybe it was the smell of the new furniture that had addled our minds, but we kept on playing. Next up was Skull and Roses. A simple game of bluff and counter bluff, it was apparently once used to decide who would be next leader of Hell's Angels gangs. A story I personally doubt, but if it were true then Joe seriously chose the wrong path in life. He could be King of the Greasers by now. Or at the very least, friends with Lemmy from Motorhead.

1st Joe
2nd Adam
3rd Sam
4th Andrew

Was the night over yet? No!! We broke out Sam's brand new copy of No Thanks, to finish the night. For most of the start of this game, hardly any consecutive cards came out at all, and I think everyone picked up at least one card because they had to. But Adam ran into a run of lucky cards at the end. Not lucky enough to give him the first place all to himself, but lucky enough that he shouldn't complain after a good night's work.

Adam/Sam 41
Joe 48
Andrew 61

He leaps to the top of the form table by some margin.

Adam1 2 1 1 1 6
Steve1 4 1 1 2 9
Sam1 3 2 3 2 11
Hannah 3 4 1 21 11
Joe 3 1 4 2 4 14
Anja 4 2 3 2 2 13
Andrew 4 4 3 2 3 16

Thursday, 9 August 2012

New table, new vistas

Tonight Sam and I met up for a little writing session. And then after a whole hour we decided we could reward ourselves with a little game. It was time to test the new big table that I'd just bought, which is in my Room Of No Distractions (ie, no internet or TV) which will house any future games nights I may host.

Sam had thoughtfully brought along Alhambra, and such seasoned players as ourselves set it up quickly. But right from the start, something seemed odd. Despite being thoroughly shuffled, we began with a lot of low cards to pick up. This must have contributed to a flurry of "exact buys" during the middle of the game, which meant that we soon had two sprawling complexes in front of us and we ran out of tiles immediately after the second round of scoring. It was almost Alhambra as it was meant to be played. Fast. Efficient. Deadly.

Our sprawling metropolii

Maybe not "deadly".

Unfortunately for me, Sam had the game wrapped up by round two, so there was no chance to catch him up. And Dirk's uncanny ability at specialising in types of buildings frustrated me, despite my nice long wall.

Sam 155
Andrew 124
Dirk 88

After this we decided to play Roll Through The Ages – the one game that I actually bought myself. It rarely gets a spell on the table top, but I enjoyed it. Lots of thinking, but not so much that you seize up completely. Luckily I checked the rules as Sam closed out the game with his fifth development, and it confirmed all players were allowed the same amount of goes. In my last roll I netted fourteen points, pushing myself past Sam.

Sam points at dice

Andrew 38
Sam 30

With the sultry evening drawing to a close, we parted with honours even. I would've gone home rejoicing in our joint victory, but I was already there.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

From here to Timbuktu

No Joe or Adam this week, but Steve and Anja returned after a brief spell away and it was they who hosted Sam and I this week complete with supplies of crisps and cats. The cats weren't edible, but they were in bags.

We began with a new game, Timbuktu (or Tombouctou) which involves guiding your fleet of camels safely across the desert. As each section of the desert is complete, thieves come out and take goods from camels in particular squares. But panic not! During each round, the players receive cards telling them where some of the thieves will strike. Thus you can guide camels away from some danger spots, while hoping you're not blundering into a new crime wave.

The theme of camels and thieves made us expect a light-hearted fun game, but it requires a fair amount of thought and bluffing. Perhaps the most fun is giving your camels silly names based on the letter they carry on their backs. Steve leapt into an early lead, with lead to an anonymous death threat scribbled on one of the game's useful notepads.

Steve 123
Andrew 108
Anja 100
Sam 96

We followed up with another new game for Steve and Anja. Sam and I had played Artus only once before, on the previous day, as a two-player. As a four-player option, I was sure it'd be a different matter. And so it was. It's still a mind-melting bag of options, except with this many players, there was little point in planning ahead, since you could be pretty sure that someone would move the king or make a new king or generally ruin things for you. Anja played half of the game using far more difficult rules than was necessary, yet had still managed to get to second when she realised her mistake.

In a neat example of symmetry we ended this game in the opposite positions that we finished Timbuktu.

Sam 124
Anja 92
Andrew 75
Steve 33

We realised we'd all scored five points on the leaderboard, so a tie-breaker game was introduced. It was Biblios. This baffling game of card collecting takes a minute to learn, and offers a lifetime of wondering if you're winning or not. Steve spent a lot of the game complaining about his terrible hand. Of course, he won.

Steve 7
Sam 5
Andrew 3
Anja 2

By now it was almost midnight, and after three analysis-heavy games, it was time to wend our weary way home.

Steve1 4 1 1 2 9
Sam2 1 4 2 2 11
Andrew 3 3 2 2 111
Hannah 3 4 1 21 11
Joe 4 2 3 1 111
Adam1 3 3 23 12
Anja 4 2 3 2 2 13

Monday, 6 August 2012

Night at the Square Table

Andrew and I often squeeze a little two-player game on a Monday and tonight it was Artus, which I got dirt-cheap off Ebay and was subsequently collared trying to smuggle it into the house. I thought my smuggling skills were good, but clearly I need more practice - so obviously will have to purchase more games.

Artus is in English Arthur, head Knight of the semi-democratic round table. In Artus you're trying to curry favour with him by getting as close as you can at the table - to pass him condiments, perhaps - except that he keeps moving about, and spinning the table with him, and occasionally getting dethroned by one of a triplet of hungry princes.

It's weird. The mechanics in no way match the theme (except the table is round) and every turn is a cluster of mathematically-inclined choices. Do you shuffle a knight around, or one of the princes, or the king himself, who will spin the table as he moves? We played the basic game and then the 'expert' (Andrew beat me at both) and the latter was much better, as it brought in an extra move each turn (letting you play combinations of cards) and an additional deck of potentially damaging or lucrative cards - depending on where your knights were located.

It's an odd game but quite a lot of fun for two. As Andrew said, four players and you can imagine each turn taking an age to complete.

A Games Tent

Saturday 4th August, and the latest attempt to tempt Katie and Mark to Stabcon takes place in Hotwells.

I brought along three options: Lords of Waterdeep, Stone Age, and Biblios. Katie still wanted to play Carcassone but before I could throw a foot-stamping tantrum she was shouted down by Mark and Sally. Still reeling from this spontaneous show of enthusiasm for a new game, I stayed out of the selection process, which ended when Mark chose Lords of Waterdeep.

All three were slightly trepidatious about the theme, but these reservations were soon swept away by the new reservations about what the buildings did. But apart from that, the game moved relatively quickly - it's so easy to pick up - and the cards 'Placate the Moving Statue' et al - remained the same source of bemusement as they are for us. Plus we had cheese.

Mark was lagging in 4th place for some time, but as I suspected he had the Lord who rewards buildings and having caught us up, he shot past me and Katie in final scoring. But Sally's concentration on very expensive Quests had brought her serially large chunks of victory points, and all four of her completed quests were (50% unwittingly) rewarded by her Lord too, so Mark was unable to fully overhaul her well-established lead, sharing the spoils:

Sally/Mark: 104
Sam 85
Katie 83

So a reasonable successful debut, most notable for Sally's suggestion of a games tent at a festival. I barely had time to register my joy before she added "for people who've lost all their friends, and have nowhere to go".

I wish I could say she was joking, but she wasn't. Another conversational nail gun pierces my heart...

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Paul the Variant King! (All hail)

After the fairly 'strategy linear' games of Hey Thats My Fish and Ticket to Ride were played the more variable Nexus Ops was brought out for a second week. Feeling like there was some unfinished business due to our truncated game last time we set up the board in good time for a probable finish. We decided to add in the option of different resources and Paul made the early running by winning the toss. Going first has an advantage but this is offset by the player going second getting more rubium (Money). With subsequent turns Paul's army of alien 'things' encroached on my side of the board taking up strong positions. A kind of western front developed where my quickly amassing 'things' made a stand.

Then the dice rolling might of Jefferies began to whittle down my lovely troops with him picking up victory points willy nilly. Even my counter attack down the left hand side could do nothing to stem the tide of attacks although, my VP count rose to threaten Paul's total. Then, the Jefferies tactical variant mind kicked in. Using the entire wedge of Rubium he had accumulated to purchase an army of miners and then in conjunction with two energise cards, he air dropped his shock troops right behind my lines. I was Banjaxed.

Although in a dominant position the score was only 12 - 11 to Paul. For the record I won the first two games so: ner. 

(Which is a direct quote from Hitler)

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Night of the Sheep

As my fellow GNNers know, I have long harboured aspirations - okay, illusions - of inventing a game of my own that will stand up in the company of the Berger cupboard. Previous abortive efforts have included the somewhat fiddly Henchman and the more-promising-but-somehow-hollow Luddites. And of course I have been privileged to play the Paul Jefferies creation Cargo; although my recollections of it are hazy as I was unwittingly in the grip of appendicitis.

Anyway I haven't yet given up, and having still felt there was mileage in the destructive tower idea was behind Luddites, I changed my thinking to start with the theme first and then build on top of that. Wallace would be proud!

So the new game is The Year of the Sheep. This is not a game-based gag but a genuine 'year', for the game itself is based loosely on the Highland Clearances, when Clans were ejected from their ancestral homes to make way for profitable sheep-farming, generating cash for the aristocracy. It's an appalling chapter in Scottish history, and not one that can really be paid due respect by a game, but then as Joe pointed out when I was moaning about Age of Empires, lots of these games - combat or not - contain tons of implied tragedy.

In the game 2-4 players represent a clan that is fighting the incoming tide of sheep from Admiral Ross on the Isle of Skye. There are I guess elements of Agricola - worker placement, harvesting, feeding - along with the fire-fighting aspect of something like Year of the Dragon, as you strive to keep (and grow) your clan in the face of severe provocation. The game is broken down into three phases, and each player does all three in turn:

1 Growth: crops planted or cattle reared in previous rounds generate extra resource cubes.

2 Actions: Place your septs (workers; you begin with 2) on the spaces of your choice: sowing, harvesting, going to market, fishing, or protesting. The first two are self-explanatory and the market is obviously a way to turn your goods into cash or vice versa. Fishing basically buys you time - it's a way to feed your septs but it doesn't contribute to your success. And Protest does two things: Protesting means you don't pay rent for that round, and a protest card will also bring it's own benefits, detailed individually on the cards.

There are also some special actions that have limited access, but I won't go into too much detail here.

3 Feeding/Pay Rent. At the end of your turn you must feed your septs and an allotted amount of rent to Admiral Ross - unless of course you protested on your turn, in which case he can stick his rent.


However, after every third or fourth card (depending on how many players there are) in the Protest card deck a Clearance card will spring up; and that means the Admiral will send out the Black Watch to attack your crops and cattle - and possibly your village too - as they are placed precariously close to the castle in the centre of the board, from which the Watch will come hurtling almost as though dropped by a giant unseen hand through the castle roof. The Clearance cards also come with their own individual actions, which are not beneficial.

As the game progresses it gets harder to avoid the Black Watch, and halfway through the deck (when the Year of the Sheep card appears) they start replacing your crops with sheep, charging you more rent, and generally being a pain in the arse. When play ends - there are different ways to finish - players score points for their septs, buildings, fields, and money.

Final scores:

Andrew 86
Sam 77


I'm sure Andrew will give an honest appraisal but I thought it was a qualified success - or maybe a mitigated failure. I was really pleased with how the protesting system worked, and it felt like the cards and board(s) integrated very well. And the  mechanics seemed to sit well with the theme.

But the things that need to be worked on were also very evident; namely that it was too easy for players to generate everything they needed (we both ended the game with bundles of cash), a few of the cards were a bit lopsided in terms of their effects, and in the latter stages of the game - mainly due to the aforementioned easiness - there was an element of treading water if we had plenty of septs to work with.

I did come away feeling there was some engineering to be done rather than a radical overhaul, and when I make those changes I hope you'll allow me to bring it to 'the table' in the GNN sense of the word. I mean, still a table, obviously. But a table with beer, ill-advised snacks, and the doughty intellect of the GNN group.

Can't think of a title. At all.

Adam and Hannah's house. No Joe, Anja or Steve. But Adam and Hannah were there. And so was I. And Sam. Four of us, then. The guinea pigs were safely in their hutch, and the housemate was slipped a fiver and told to go out and have fun.

After some polite discussion, followed by a round of voting, and finally an executive decision by Adam, we chose Puerto Rico as the night's first game. This game has an interesting twist to the usual worker-placement method, since when you chose and action, it affects everyone. Usually beneficially, so you have to be sure it is more advantageous to you, or that it helps them in a way that actually hinders them.

It had been a while since we'd played, so Adam talked us through the rules and some tactics. He poo-poohed a particular building's usefulness, so Hannah decided to build it and use it to its fullest potential. Meanwhile Sam seemed to resign himself to a lowly third place during the game, but his repeated use of captain (with its bonus victory points) pushed him past Adam into second.

Hannah 55
Sam 44
Adam 41
Andrew 37

After this, Biblios was brought to the table in the faint hope that light would dawn on us and we work out what the winning strategy was. But it remains an enigmatic beast. We can't even be sure when we're losing! Sam seemed to have thrown away the game when he made a bid for a card that he couldn't afford. After each player took a card at random as punishment, he was left with three cards in his hand and no option but to pass for the rest of the game.

Amazingly, this left him in second since he retained enough points to pick up two dice. I, too, got two dice of a slightly higher value to pip first place. Adam came third to Sam only because Sam had better monks. Meanwhile, Hannah scored no points at all.

Andrew 6
Sam 5 (plus monks)
Adam 5
Hannah 0

It was after ten o'clock by now, so we chose a quick game of Condottiere. This is a game of trumps with special cards and a map of Northern Italy to fight over. The idea is to conquer adjacent regions of Italy, but like a lazy Garibaldi, once you have three regions you stop. Perhaps you think that's about as united as Italy will ever become. And you may have a point. Who knows?

Hannah used her bishops a lot (against me, it seemed) and Adam seemed to have an endless supply of mercenaries in his hand at the end. His wall of numbers was unbeatable and got him that final region.

1st Adam: 3 connected
2nd Sam: 2 connected and 1 other
2nd Andrew: 2 connected and 1 other
3rd Hannah 1 region

Sam's three runners-up prizes have put clear blue sky between him and the seething mass of gamers beneath.

Sam2 2 2 1 1 8
Steve 1 2 1 2 5 11
Hannah 3 4 1 21 11
Joe 4 2 3 1 111
Adam1 3 3 23 12
Andrew 2 1 4 34 14
Anja 2 2 1 4 514