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.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Gentlemen, the King!

Since we Bracknell fellows combined evenings and became a trio, I have been itching to break out one of my favourites El Grande. Back in the fledgling days of eurogames this was the daddy of them all. I was hoping that in the 5 odd years since I last played it could still stand up against todays flashier offerings.

not that exciting

Because, one of the first things that strikes you when you get all the components out is how dull it all looks. When James went through the rules on Sunday evening he said it was touch and go whether he would make it to the end of them. I reassured him that gameplay was a lot more fascinating and onwards we went. I took up an early lead with my central but highly prized territory of New Castille and strong bidding for some of the choicest cards. James adopted a cautious opening and concentrated on filling his court with caballeros and Paul reignited his passionate love of the Castillo. With my early dominance being slowly eroded, a turning point occurred when Paul intrigued his way into my home territory. Spending the next turn repairing the damage I didn't notice a rather plum card for James sitting there, "score the 5 regions". He was in first place in all of them and raced up the track only for the next round to present the same card, which he plucked out again as Paul decided on a better move for him.

A late rally from me could do nothing to prevent a debut win for James who played a canny game and took advantage of opportunities when they presented themselves. All three of us felt that the game had stood the test of time and for me it's always been the game with the most replayabliity that I've owned. Not as heavy as Agricola and not as light as, say, Ticket to Ride it has a balance which is mirrored by it's in game mechanics. You might be able to tell I like it….

James - 138
Chris - 134
Paul - 122

There remained enough time for James and myself to have our posteriors returned to us by Paul in Alhambra. By developing possibly the most expansive collection of buildings I've witnessed he romped home to a 70 point win and maybe the largest 3 player score.

Paul - 184
James - 114
Chris - 111

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

The League of Three

Tuesday night at Joe's was a minority affair, with Andrew off flexing his linguistic muscles and most of the Easton crew unavailable. Adam was there, of course, and he joined Joe and myself for what promised to be my inaugeral game of Brass.

However a promise was all it remained, as having been to Plymouth and back on a job-hunting mission, I was too tired to take on, let alone learn, a Wallace epic. So apologies to Joe and Adam for being a bit of a damp squib in that department. The saga continues... not a par with the Forsythes perhaps, or the Ross/Rachel odyssey of Friends, but I do what I can.

Nonetheless there was still drama to be had. Joe and Adam were interested in trying The League of Six, so that's what we started with. Joe's eagle eye for mechanics spotted that we'd played something slightly wrong last week - not a game-changer, but the player turn re-ordering is decided according to the amount of guards used, rather than horses gathered (the horses still determine turn order on delivering goods). Having been burnt by a multiplier-strategy last week, I was much more cautious in my choice of where to deliver goods. But after a crazy opening where three of the best tiles were flipped over on the towns of Lusatia, Joe remembered that he had several of the tiles in his bag as I'd somehow left them here last week. They were shuffled into the pack and the subsequent 5 rounds were much tighter.

Real tax collectors eat Pringles

I had played before, Joe had play-tested with me, and Adam picks up games quicker than any of us, so I didn't know how this one would end. But Joe gave us a salutary lesson in taxing Lusatian towns and delivering the goods to the best places, allying his in-game point-scoring with a decent collection of multipliers:

Joe  79
Sam 70
Adam 68

I once again enjoyed this game. It is fairly abstract, but it has lots of canny little things about bidding and player order that I like. Adam seemed less enamoured, saying he wasn't sure he understood it. Phew! Imagine if he had.

Next up was Airlines Europe, making it's second bow in Bristol after a debut some months ago now, so long back we needed a heavy rules refresher. For those unfamiliar with it, players buy shares in different airlines (in Europe) and spend money developing those airlines. Nobody runs any of the companies though, so there's an element of suspense as you often don't know if your shares in a particular airline are about to become the minority share, an action that led to a fair amount of cursing and name-calling on this occasion, though it was all allegedly in good heart.

You can't play it without doing this

It's a fun game, but as we noted last night, very different to it's perceived predecessor Ticket to Ride in terms of mechanic and scoring, despite other visual and card-managing similarities. Despite some little bursts of AP, it moved along fairly swiftly and turned out to be a game of fine margins. Adam's decision to keep pace with me on the Abacus Airlines turning out to be oh-so-Hillmannesque and decisive, as the four points he took for sharing first place in shares on them pushed him into first place over all. My four point 'loss' shunted me back behind Joe, who had regrets of his own about how he could have won.

Adam 87
Joe 83
Sam 82

It's a curious game, clever, and nice to look at, but a little dry and distant at the same time. I'm keen to play it again but I'm not sure it's going to be one of my favourites.

On the form table it's as you were positionally, though Adam tightens his grip on top spot. Joe remains in 5th, but he's poised to leap higher next week with a couple of half-decent results, as that irksome 5 will drop off the table (and potentially the 4 too). It's an interesting quirk of the form table that picking up a leaden 5 (as Joe, Anja and myself have all done early in the season) means you need a couple of weeks to shake it off. But having done so you can make a formidable leap upwards...


Lots of fun, thanks chaps.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

News from Japan

Everything here is fine, pretty much just as I left it. Went to a museum which had two 1:20 scale armies fighting each other. Since it was a bit game-ish, I thought I'd share.

I especially like this next one. After I took it I noticed that If you look closely (just to the left and up a bit from horse) there's a guy who's clearly looking at the camera. That's how realistic it is!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Railways designed in crayon and string

Tonight is a special night, as the Gravediggaz featuring Tricky once sang. And if they'd sung it today, they would've been right because it was Tuesday. In other words: Games Night!

Joe hosted, and Sam and I were early arrivals. Adam arrived just after the three of us had started playing High Society and, knowing Adam's aversion to Reiner Knizia's counter-intuitive game of chance, we stopped.

Instead we chose String Railway, in honour of my impending departure for a fortnight in Japan (since the designer is Japanese). This game involves a board made up entirely of lengths of string, draped carefully over strategically-placed point-scoring stations. Anja turned up just in time to hear the rules and so the five of us jumped right in.

Since it was a first for all of us, there was a certain amount of hesitancy in our play. Some cards were explained as they appeared and strategies often needed to be adjusted as players were reminded of rules. In the end, Joe suffered from the old Instructor's Curse, whereby the person explaining the rules ends up in last.

1. Sam 34
2. Adam 27
3= Andrew 24
3= Anja 24
4. Joe 22

Steve arrived during the game, and ate chips while we finished off. So, with six of us, there was the usual stalemate over what to play next. Sam's new purchase, League of Six, was put on the table and taken off about three times before it was decided that he, me, Steve and Anja would play it. Joe and Adam chose Eurorails, a shiny-surfaced game where players drew their train tracks onto a map in crayon. Luckily, we were able to fit both games on to Joe's kitchen table.

League of Six is, ostensibly, about tax collecting. Each player uses a certain number of guards for the priviledge of taxing a particular city. Each city will give a combination of goods (used for getting points and bonus cards) guards (used for choosing a city), horses (used for player order) and more bonus cards (used at the end of the game for scoring).

It's an interesting game, which relies a lot on understanding what goods your neighbours are going for, because it's possible to force them to use those goods to your benefit. As such, going last is a real disadvantage.

Steve went last a lot. At the end of the game, he and Sam had put a lot of faith in the bonus cards to get them up the score track. In the end, those bonus cards weren't as powerful as we'd thought and they didn't not change the order that we finished in, but they did make it all a lot closer.

Anja 74
Andrew 67
Sam 66
Steve 62

By now Joe and Adam could see no end to their Eurorailing and so, like suddenly homesick students in the middle of an unremarkable European town, they decided to cut their losses and call it a day. They counted up the value of the cards in their hand and the amount they had in their reserve.

Joe 208
Adam 161

Sam left at this point, but Anja wasn't to be stopped. She suggested another quick game, and so No Thanks was brought to the table. This game of bluffing and bidding is always a winner. Steve tried to distract us by dropping his tokens into his lap, in a seedy attempt at getting us to focus on his groin and forget our strategy. Apart from that, the two games played out in the same way that No Thanks usually does.

Anja 16
Adam 36
Steve 38
Andrew 40
Joe 55

Adam 31
Andrew 34
Steve 43
Joe 48
Anja 50

I head to foreign shores with Adam having deposed me from first. And then Sam deposed me from second, too, just for good measure.

Adam1 2 2 2 3 10
Sam3 1 1 5 1 11
Andrew2 4 2 3 1 12
Anja5 1 1 3 2 12
Joe 4 5 1 4 3 17
Steve 3 3 4 44 18

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Tsuro Tsnippet

You all know how much I like Tsuro and the one-player challenge I invented to entertain myself through the dark autumn evenings. If you don't, it's very simple. Draw one tile at a time, and use it to get from one end of the board and then back again.

Well, I played it recently, and the way there was fine. No problems at all.

But as you can see, the journey back was so complicated, it may as well have had Steve Martin and John Candy in it.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Thursday is the new Tuesday

A rainy Thursday evening is not enough to dampen the spirits of two losers in Poker and so Sam and I returned to the games cupboard (a metaphorical cupboard, since we were at my place) for a pick-me-up before the weekend.

First we played Tsuro, but Sam hadn't brought it with him. How is this possible, you may ask? Were we now so familiar that we were able to play it in our heads? No. I'd spent the afternoon making my own version of the game since it seems like forever before Tsuro of the Sea is going to come out. It's not as pretty as the official version, and the pieces are dice not dragons, but the gameplay is intact. And it's still brown.

We played out a tense game and in the end, it was a case of who could last the longest as our respective corners of the board grew smaller. I stayed on just long enough to register the first win on my own board.

Then we chose Lords of Waterdeep as the main course of the evening. A main course which, it must be said, we wolfed down in double quick speed. Since we were familiar with the rules, there was no delay in setting up and getting stuck in. We initially agreed to ignore Mandatory Quests for a less shitty game, but as it happened, none came out.

Sam built buildings and I quested. Sam used the Ambassador and I was able to use one already-occupied building. But the turning point was at the end of round seven when through judicious use of the tavern, I ended the round with four turns in a row. Enough to complete a quest and set me up for the next.

When all was finished and the scores counted, it couldn't have been closer:

Andrew 178
Sam 177

Then we played Biblios! Tonight's pudding is another favourite, and we played the game in thoughtful silence. Sam's win on three dice just beating my two.

Sam 8
Andrew 7

And he disappeared back into the rain and the dark evening streets. Three games done and dusted before nine o'clock. I think we're getting the hang of this gaming lark.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Queens of the Throne Age

We met up as usual for our weekly games binge, but for some reason it felt like a long time since I'd seen anyone. Ah, the tricks a mind can play. As we walked in, a new game was laid out across the table, tempting us to investigate its intricacies.

The game was Game of Thrones, which has also been a book and a TV show. One of the few board games you might find in a game of charades, then. The map was a sort of distorted Orkney Islands of
silly made-up names. I was in charge of the Greyjoy family – a family whose ancestors were too poor or stupid to change their name by deed poll.

Anja and Steve walked us through the basic rules, promising us that other more specialised rules would pop up as the game went on. We got stuck in a little after eight, and we were a lulled into a false sense of security as the first two rounds sped past without too much trouble. Then round three happened. First, three special cards each needed a lengthy period to work out the consequences. Then people started battling each other for once.

Towards the end of the game, the score chart in the top
right shows Adam only one away from a win.

It cannot be denied that Adam got the perfect spot. He more or less had the whole Eastern seaboard to himself. Meanwhile, Sam was stuck in the board game's version of Scotland: lots of large territories but not a great deal to do.

I started slowly and soon became squashed between the hordes from my north (Sam) and south (Anja). Meanwhile Adam was quickly building up territories with buildings in (and what do territories with buildings in make? Prizes!) which sped him to an early lead. A lead that soon turned into a win, as he picked up his seventh building, causing the game to end immediately, just before Sam was about to unleash an attack by sea on his HQ.

The rest of us were in second place with three buildings each, and I almost said "We'd better do the tie-break rules because I don't feel like I came in second" but when we did those rules, it turned out I did come in second! With barely any presence on the map! Baffling.

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

My second-placed territory highlighted. Amazing what
you can do with three regions and some sea.

Since the game was over sooner than we thought, we played a quick game of No Thanks, just to give those gamers who aren't good at strategy or planning a chance for a win. I have to say, I got a bit lucky. I picked up an early ten on a whim and was rewarded during the game with an eleven, nine, eight and seven. With those in my pocket, I just had to play it safe and I finished with no red coins at all. Sam, though, played a cannier game, picking up red coins to draw level with me with Anja not far behind.

1= Sam 7
1= Andrew 7
2. Anja 12
3. Adam 23
4. Steve 27

Then, as we were discussing possibilities for our next big games weekend, Anja and Steve dropped a bombshell. They are expecting a tiny new meeple in April! We all congratulated them on their new arrival, and decided that if we do do something, it'll have to be before mid-March.

Such happy tidings almost make the form table seem unimportant...

Almost, I said. Of course it's still important.

Andrew1 2 3 1 512
Adam3 1 23 514
Sam1 5 14516
Anja235 5 520
Joe325 5 520
Steve445 5 523

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Two's company, three's a lot better to play Stone age actually.

And so after over a year of playing alternate weeks with my gaming friends James and Paul, the planets aligned to bring us all together on the same night. So as not to bog down the evening with rule learning I displayed the range of games I had that all parties were familiar with. After the briefest of introductions we were straight into the gaming action with everyones favourite Roll Through The Ages. After a slow start Paul came roaring through to take the first game. I foolishly decided to end the game early thinking I was in 1st place but forgot I was the starting player thus meaning everybody else got to take a final turn.

Paul- 21
Chris -16
James -13

Next up for the main fare of the evening was everyone favourite Stone Age. None of us are a stranger to 2-player Stone Age, however the addition of a 3rd person was enough to get some heads scratched searching for good strategy. Unlike the 2 player where you can start collecting anything you please and its a sprint to amass the most stuff, the 3 player makes you observe your opponents to make sure you don't clash. Paul struggled throughout trying to feed his family on his worker strategy. James made huge strides around the scoring track buying up huts using expensive resources and at one point threatened to lap me. I settled on the axe route as the first culture cards I picked up had a few corresponding multipliers on them. Paul spotted that culture cards were about to run out leaving us with one final hurrah. Needing a few rolls to go my way I managed to buy two huts and push my score up a vital 30 points. It was enough, plus my healthy axe score, to pass James.

Chris - 206
James - 183
Paul - 113

Chris swings to victory

We wrapped the session with a turbo quick game of everyones favourite Hey Thats My Fish which produced one of the closest games I've seen. After tying with James I tipped the scales on count back of how many tiles I had collected.

C - 33 (19)
J - 33 (18)
P - 30 (19)

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Next Train to Wensleydale

Tonight saw Sam and I meet up for a quick games night, and among the options Sam brought was Last Train to Wensleydale. We decided that, as gamers, giving it another chance was the proper thing to do. The rules were still as fresh in our mind as a recent blind date that went terribly wrong. But maybe there was a spark there that needed revisiting.

So, the board and all its fiddly bits were set up in double quick time. We needed to consult the rule book occasionally to make sure that there wasn't another two-player variant we should be aware of, and sometimes there was. But mostly this time everything went pretty smoothly.

The only downside was now that the bidding section wasn't really that competitive, with eight options and only two players battling for them. Apart from the occasional hiccup over the rules, everything made much more sense this time. But between being too fiddly for four players and too sparse for two, perhaps three players is the sweet spot? Further investigation is needed. But, for the record Sam won, 40-something to 30-something.

And then we played Biblios!

First time round was the usual set up, and Sam won. Then we tried a little idea of mine. Before the game begins, roll the dice so each colour's starting value is random. "Anarchy!" you may think. But, no. Instead it made for a slightly different strategy as some colours were desirable from the start. It wasn't different enough to make me win, but I was a single solitary card from victory. Such bitter sweet defeat! Oh, the delicious regrets that board games leave you with! Pardon me while I swoon.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Maybe Beeching had a point

A new season, a new game. Last Train to Wensleydale finally took it's place on the hallowed tabletop of GNN. None of us were familiar with it, but we were prepared for a few hours in the company of a challenging Martin Wallace game we'd never played before.

Host Joe talked us (me, Sam, Adam) through the rules. In this game, the point is to build railways across dales and through valleys in order to deliver stone and cheese and serve passengers. However, in doing so, you leave a trail of unprofitable railways behind you that you have to sell off to the local council. We played as we read the rules for each phase, which meant that we weren't really sure of our targets at each stage. And Adam wasn't yellow. That was really confusing.

At the end of round one, after much fiddly adjusting of counters on so many sliding scales it looked like something used to produce a Pink Floyd album, we found ourselves a quarter of the way into the game without much more of an idea about what to do next. I was in the lead, simply because I was lucky enough to choose the option that no one else chose. I went into the expensive valleys looking for stone, while the other three ran into each other on the plains, searching for cheese.

By the end of round two, people were glancing at the clock and thinking if we stopped now, we could play something else. And so it was that the game was curtailed, with me in a commanding lead, and the other three separated only by their railways companies' profitability.

Andrew 18
Joe 9 (profit -2)
Adam 9 (profit -3)
Sam 9 (profit -4)

I think I liked it, but I think I was in the minority. Maybe that's because I got a little bit of the board to myself. Or maybe I'm more forgiving of Martin Wallace's self-indulgance. To maintain the Pink Floyd theme, if Tinners' Trail is Dark Side of the Moon, and Brass is Wish You Were Here, then Last Train... is Ummagumma. The over-ambitious one that never quite fulfils its promise.

After this, we used Adam's Spin The Bottle app to chose between three games: Ticket to Ride, Seven Wonders or Downfall of Pompeii. It chose Pompeii, so we set it up and had a quick run through of the rules.

Then we set about populating a doomed city, mostly with our own relatives apparently, before Vesuvius erupted and we all panicked and ran to the exits. A sort of board game version of shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theatre. Oh, what fun we had, sending our opponents' meeples into the tiny plastic volcano of doom while trying to guide our own meeples to safety. In the end, Sam was the winner, with the last three of us relying on the tie-breaker rule of "least dead".

1. Sam 8 survivors
2. Adam 7 survivors (6 dead)
3= Andrew 7 survivors (8 dead)
3= Joe 7 survivors (8 dead)

Ah, the thrill of a season's opening fixture! Only slightly dampened by Last Train's inscrutable opacity. Mmm, I like those words.

In the meantime, the tiny form table looks like this...

Andrew315 5519
Sam145 5520
Adam235 5 520
Joe325 5 520