Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Scipio dies

Faced with the prospect of over a whole week without games due to the tue-to-thursday transfer of regular GNN fixture, I have been exploring Commands and Colours: Ancients on my own. It's a tactical level 2 player game similar to Manoeuvre, but replaces that game's chess-like 8x8 grid with a much more dynamic, sweeping sense of battle.

The game comes with a a huge number of grey blocks (the armies of Rome) and brown blocks (Carthage), and a book of scenarios based on real battles; while there's nothing to stop you setting up your own games from scratch, these scenarios offer a real two (or one) player challenge.

Infantry units are made up of four small blocks, while cavalry are three. So infantry can take four hits before they're destroyed, cavalry one less.

Hannibal's heavy cavalry, and Hannibal, a leader block peeking out from behind . . .
Both foot and mounted units come in three strengths, light (green circle), medium (blue triangle) and heavy (red square). Light cavalry can move four spaces a turn, but only hit with two dice, heavies move two but hit with four. Infantry have similar firepower, but can move half as fast.

Scipio with some medium cavalry, and light infantry in front.
Leader blocks aid the units they're attached to, making them less likely to retreat, more likely to hit.
Like Manoeuvre, you play a card from your hand to order a certain number of troops. Those troops can move, and then attack - you roll the custom dice, and hope to roll the symbol associated with the units you're attacking, and purple helmets if you're attacking with a leader.

The order cards . . .

. . . and the dice.
The scenario I've been playing a lot is Ticinus River, which pits Hannibal and his light and heavy cavalry against Roman Scipio with his light infantry and medium cavalry.

Scipio (grey) facing off against Hannibal (and two other Carthaginian leaders), ready to go.
That's the Ticinus river in the foreground - it's all quiet apart from the babbling brook . . .
Most scenarios are skewed in favour of the side that won the actual battle, which in this case is Hannibal. For each unit or leader you defeat you win a banner, win six banners and you win the game.

Carthaginian and Roman banners in the dice tray. And a box of horses.
The idea is that you play two games, switching sides. The player who wins the most banners over-all is the winner. Games of this scenario last about 30 - 45 minutes, so it's easy to play two back to back - but playing alone I just play one - I always win anyway!

In the first three rounds, Hannibal swept in with his light cavalry on both flanks, and the Romans met them head on with their six light infantry units. Both sides took damage, but no banners were won.

Hannibal's right flank sweeps in, and Scipio's light infantry rises to the challenge.

Hannibals left flank, which Scipio blocked with more light infantry.
Then things got interesting. Hannibal played Darken the Skies, allowing his light infantry to unleash several waves of nasty arrows. Two infantry units were lost, the rest driven back against the Roman edge of the board. 

A great card to have with the right units in the right places.

Roman infantry in tatters.
Rome retaliates with his medium cavalry, trying to hold back the advancing cavalry. They successfully take out a weakened unit, but the leader escapes.

Rome recoups. A bit.

Round 5, and Hannibal unleashes his heavy cavalry - but they can only move two spaces, so they're not within combat range yet - perhaps he has something up his sleeve. Scipio plays counter attack, allowing to copycat Hannibals order for his own men - he brings the rest of his medium cavalry up to meet the Carthaginian heavy cavalry. One of Rome's units got in a pop at Hannibal himself.

He got two hits in, but then Hannibal battled back and took him out completely!

Round 6 - Hannibal plays the Mounted Charge card he had up his sleeve, allowing five ordered units to battle with an extra die. This could well be game over for Rome.

But amazingly, the Roman cavalry fall back without a single hit! Unfortunately Scipio's out of good cards, and has to order his straggling infantry. Thy manage to take out a wounded cavalry unit, but the Carthaginian leader escapes again. Score is now Carthage 3 banners, Rome 2.

Round 7
Hannibal orders his left flank, which successfully takes a fourth banner, and sets up his line for a commanding push next round. Some of the cards allow you to order troops that are adjacent, so it is imperative to hold your line. And it is equally imperative to try and break your opponent's line if you think they're gearing up.
Rome has picked up one such card, but need manoeuvre Scipio in to position to be able to use it. So he plays an otherwise useless card to move Scipio . . .

Round 8
Hannibal plays his Inspired Leadership card to drive his heavy cavalry against Scipio - they take out a unit for banner five, and have Scipio pinned. 

The final push

Scipio's attached cavalry unit is destroyed for banner five,  leaving him defenceless.
When a leader's attached unit is destroyed, he has to roll a Leader casualty check. One purple helmet and he's done for. They think its all over . . .

Purple helmet!
. . . it is now.

Final score Carthage 6, Rome 2.

So that's how I've been filling the gaming void. Whether you like a bit of direct conflict or not, you've got to admit, it makes for a better play by play than Tinners Trail.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Hey that's my Thurn.

Having survived each their own mini hardship in the lead up to games night, James the nasty weather, Paul trial by small children and myself over cooking the carrots, we three sat down to begin playing mildly challenging Euro board games.  I made my feelings known right from the off by saying I wanted to play a game we hadn't done as a three. I suggested Thurn and Taxis and received no real opinion either way and so it was unboxed. Refreshing ourselves of the rules as we played I noticed that previously we had misinterpreted a rule where you collect scoring tiles for having post offices in adjoining territories. This, and with the additional player, changed the dynamic dramatically. Now the game was tighter and you weren't able to do whatever you wanted.

Another of my washed out very green looking pictures

Paul took up large chunks of Bayern whilst I occupied east and west region. Meanwhile James kept his powder dry silently scheming. The end of the game crept up on us after James' crafty plot to cover all of Bayern and take the first scoring chit meant that he had only one more post office to play. In the last round I managed to bag a few extra scores whilst Paul languished with a lack of cards, his strategy of lots of shorter routes not really coming off.

Game was very close with James winning on account of him getting the bonus point for finishing the game.

James - 26
Chris - 25
Paul - 17

Paul then did his usual trick of turning us over in Alhambra but not by such a greater margin as last time. I was bemoaning my luck when I missed out on the final tower to James making us tie for first place however, when we counted back I still wouldn't have won....

Paul - 135
James/Chris - 125

We had just enough time left for Hey Thats My Fish where Paul and I battled each other into mutually assured destruction and James sat at the other end of the ice floe hoovering up fish.

James - 37
Chris - 36
Paul - 23

I must have had a trying evening as on several occasions I jumped ahead of James to take my go. I blame the many nights of 2 player games affecting me.

We have now made a little mini pact to try and get through all of the games we haven't played, and who knows, with my birthday coming up there maybe a few more to choose from!

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Let the records show

... a new record! Now, there's nothing more pleasant than a one-player game of Castles of Burgundy while listening to the football on the radio. My previous best was 209 points, but that had happened so long ago that I was starting to suspect that I'd miscounted. All of my scores since then have been 160-180.

But then, just as Brentford were fighting to a noble draw against Chelsea, I found myself with a dream team of bonuses right at the start of the game, and I played them for all they were worth. My final score: 229.

Maybe I should start a one-player leaderboard.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Will Wonders never cease?

Sam spent Saturday evening babysitting, so he sent out the clarion call across Bristol to all GNN regulars to join him in a game. Only I have nothing to do on a Saturday, so we found ourselves with a kitchen table all to ourselves and a hankering for something new.

Hacienda was the choice for tonight. In this, the players are Argentinian land developers (the game had a nicer word for them, but I forget what it was). Although both Sam and I agreed that the theme is very much tagged on as an afterthought. Certainly, we couldn't imagine Phil "Pax Porfiriana" Eklund enjoying this game much. "I can just claim land? No paperwork or anything?"

The game is a very simple game of claiming territories, with a few extra bonuses thrown in for good measure. Having a chain of a particular type of animal or land, or lakeside views, or being near a market all score points. It's quite a thin idea for a game, but perhaps it's more interesting with more players playing a more aggressive strategy.

As it was, Sam began in the corner, while I was more central. This turned out to be a good move, since Sam was unable to block my progress toward markets, with my ever-increasing herd of cattle. It was to prove decisive.

Andrew 89
Sam 50

However, a look on Boardgamegeek tells us how badly we'd both been playing, as one person put up a report of 181-138.

After that underwhelment, we needed something familiar to round of the evening. And so it was that 7 Wonders was brought down from the high shelf. We began and, just like Hacienda, Sam got off to a poor start. We both did, since a lack of brick ended our dreams of building anything remotely like a wonder. Meanwhile, Dirk seemed to be doing very well for himself.

In fact, as we totted up the scores, Dirk was in the lead after the first three rounds, Dirk 23, me –1, Sam 8 but Sam had his blue cards and I had my sciences. However, I was undone by my pacifism as Sam surprised himself by just pipping me to the post, despite having build none of his wonder at all.

Sam 48
Andrew 46
Dirk 35

What a great game, and a great evening to round off the week. After all, it's a long time until Thursday...

Curse of the Mummies Tomb

Last night Sally and I hosted Andy and Tiff, and between the stew, cheesecake, biscuits and booze we managed to squeeze in a game. Andy's a keen gamer - he introduced me to Carcassone back when Brass was just an alloy. But as he doesn't get many opportunities to play (having two little girls) I thought I'd introduce something he hadn't played before - Ra.

It's been a few epochs since we last played this, but the rules being pretty straightforward meant we dived happily in and began bidding for things just like your run-of-the-mill ancient Egyptian.


I'd forgotten how good Ra is. The action is all down to the players, when they take a guaranteed - but diminutive - lot, and when they push their luck and try and maximise their return. Andy did the latter, and in round 2 also suffered the curse of the high bidding tiles - like Chris and Joe before him, he found himself unable to spend them as Ra was called on some feeble offerings. The problem with the high tiles is they feel like they're wasted on small lots, but often that's all that are available...

Going into the last round it was hard to tell who was going to win. I was in front, but Sally and Tiff were close behind. Andy pushed his luck again and was shat on by the Gods, trailing in last. Both the mummies managed their tiles well, and Sally would have won had she not been hit with minus points for her lowly bidding tiles in the count-up. Instead it was canny Tiff who ended up with title of Best Egyptian Tradeswoman:

Tiff     38
Sam    37
Sally   34
Andy  18

So the epochs ended with the Mummies on top. Very nice evening, although I'll have to keep a close eye on Tiff next time we play. She was up to speed immediately and played a very Hannah-esque game, quietly accruing points whilst the rest of us debated aloud.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Trains, Brains and the Route to Mobile

There may have been snow, but that wouldn't stop the immutable tradition of Tuesday's game night. Except it won't be Tuesdays for much longer, since we're moving to Thursday for the foreseeable future. Otherwise, it's immutable. And traditional.

At first, it was me, Joe and Adam who discussed our options for tonight and decided to set up Railways of the World: Eastern US. Sam had only played it once before, at Stabcon, but we were sure he wouldn't mind. And he didn't.

Duluth. Not the most exciting city on the board.

Joe set up the huge game board, almost sending three bottles of beer off the table as he wrestled with it. Then he got a collapsible table from the next room to house the money and score track since we'd run out of space.

I was in the mood for a challenge, but I didn't fancy my chances against past masters Joe and Adam. But I got off to a flier, picking up two bonuses in the first few rounds which helped me build up a decent income. Sam and Joe battled over the North-East section. Or should that be shared the North-East section? Adam had his own plan, and tried to monopolise the Great Lakes.

At the start, it was all about me and Sam, with Joe and Adam sadly lagging. Then Adam pointed out that Sam was about to get a twenty point bonus for the New York to Kansas link. I panicked and wasted a whole turn trying to block him but to no avail. Sam simply went around me to net his bonus and sink Adam's chance at winning.

While this was going on, Joe started shipping goods around his network, and before I knew it, he was challenging both Sam and I for first. I went back to my original plan, and it ended close. Painfully close.

Joe 81 (wins on money tie-breaker)
Sam 81
Andrew 80
Adam 67

It was a great game, full of tension and double dealing, and I note with approval how often we all stood up at the same time to study the map thoughtfully. And Joe's win has the added sheen of honesty, as he kindly pointed out I'd misread the map and would I like to reconsider my move before he exploits it. That such honesty should be rewarded with a win is only right.

But we ended at ten thirty, with still enough time for one more quick game. We chose 6nimmt as a suitable nightcap. However, Joe's attempt at doing the double ended after two bad rounds sent him from first to last. Sam played a cagey game, which contrasted with his disregard for safety concerning salty nibbles.

Appalled at his own addiction to pretzels, he pushed the bowl away, straight into my glass of whiskey which then spilt its contents all over the kitchen floor. Luckily, Joe's dog wasn't around to lick it up. Even more luckily we weren't in Vegas because casinos have been burnt down for less.

Sam 32
Andrew 51
Adam 54
Joe 70

On the form table, Adam falls after a poor evening and I remain in pole position.

Andrew 2 3 1 42 12
Sam1 2 6 1 4 14
Anja2 2 3 2514
Joe4 1 3 5 1 14
Adam3 4 5 3 2 17
Steve4 6 1 5521

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Stone Age Pensioners

A hopeful text is sent out
Through the threat of snow
We played Stone Age at Sam's house

Nothing says Games Night like a bad Haiku. Sam I and met up for an evening of board games. I was given the choice of game, and ever since someone mentioned it on Tuesday, I've had a hankering for another game of Stone Age. Even if we've played it so often that I've run out of puns for blog titles (see above).

It had been a while, but there was no issue with rule remembrance. We got right into the stride, and AP set in almost on the first round. Sam went for axes instead of his more usual fields tactic. I made a fatal mistake: I diversified. Jack of all Trades and master of none, and that's not good enough when it came to multipliers.

Sam cashed in on his large family and axes, while I rued my inability at ending the game earlier and maximising my chances with my extensive collection of knick-knacks.

Sam 285
Andrew 254

After this we dug out Artus, in which Knights of the Round Table discard any sense of chivalry and shamelessly scramble for the best seats at the table. However, we needed a rule refresh and I missed an important rule regarding scoring every time you move a knight. Instead, we only scored when a scoring card was played. Instead of starting again, we carried on, because it was still quite a fun game. Our truncated non-leaderboard scores were

Sam 67
Andrew 24

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Batteries recharged

After the deflating experience of Stabcon, we convened at Joe's for the regular games night. At first it was the core four, me, Adam, Joe and Sam. Despite feeling jaded after the convention, we discovered that each of us had played board games in the time since we'd last met. Perhaps there's still life in this hobby yet.

While we waited for Steve and Anja to arrive we decided to play a game that Anja would never agree to if she was here: 6nimmt. This simple game of card placement has a winning strategy just as enigmatic as Biblios, but is funnier. We ended the game after the round when our two companions arrived, all rosy-cheeked and fresh from the winter air.

The most confusing cards on 6nimmt

Adam 42
Joe 48
Andrew 55
Sam 60

The sad news is that this is the last Tuesday for Steve and Anja, since pre-natal classes start next week. We all hope they'll be able to make the extra-curricular games nights that will crop up now and again.

We split into two groups: a game of four and a game of two (now that I've devised a two-player leaderboard, more of which later). Adam and Joe played two games of Aton while Sam, Anja, Steve and I played Downfall of Pompeii: The game of populating a doomed city and laughing at everyone's untimely demise. Sam explained the rules to Anja and Steve.

During this game, disaster struck. Not the volcano, a proper disaster. I knocked over my bottle of Bishop's Finger, and although the spillage wasn't great, there was a minute or so of holding the board gingerly off the table so the meeples didn't slip while some quick mopping was done. And on Joe's lovely green baize, too.

It's not a game for people who hold grudges, and sitting next to Anja, I was acutely aware of her barely disguised snorts of disgust whenever I chose one of her meeples to put in the volcano. However, it was Sam who was most picked on, and he came out the worst in the final count, with least escapees and most of his relatives in Vesuvius.

Steve 10
Andrew 9
Anja 8
Sam 6

During this time, Adam and Joe had played Aton twice. In the first game Adam won an "absolute victory", while Joe pipped Adam in the rematch.

Adam wins!
Joe didn't

Joe 42
Adam 35

Finally, with Stave and Anja's time on the car club running out, we decided on a quick game of Coup. This, too, was new to Anja and Steve but they seemed to catch on soon enough. Well, at least Anja did. We played one game, during which Steve extended their time with the club car. That makes me feel a little bad about being the one to kill him off first... but not that bad.

1. Sam
2. Anja
3. Adam
4. Andrew
5. Joe
6. Steve

Oh Captain, my Captain!

Then, since Steve had extended the time on the club car, they decided they had enough time for one more game of Coup. Unfortunately, since Anja was doing so well, they had to extend again. If there was a category on the leaderboard for most money spent during a game, I'm sure Steve and Anja would be top.

However, Anja was not to be victorious. I'm not one to boast, but I'm quite proud of the way I played a hand which would usually be considered the weakest: Two Contessas (who do nothing except stop assassinations). After the first (and only other) Contessa was revealed early on, I started to act as if I had an assassin. Since I knew they couldn't possibly have a Contessa, I felt confident and that confidence made a difference. As long as I made sure no one got enough money, I could assassinate with impunity and I ran out quite a comfortable winner.

1. Andrew
2. Anja
3. Joe
4. Steve
5. Adam
6. Sam

So the evening ended with our faith in board games reaffirmed. Sam takes a tumble on the Form Table, and Steve's season is still to get started.

Andrew 1 4231 11
Adam5 3 2 1 1 12
Joe3 5 1 2 2 13
Anja2 2 3 2514
Sam6 1 4 4 3 18
Steve4 6 1 5521

Meanwhile, there's the business of a two-player form table to sort out. It's always been a bother that the good people of Bracknell have not been able to pit their wits against ours, but now I've gone some of the way to put that right. The two-player system uses the same system as The Division, but it needs a third player to make it work. If the game is new, then an average score from the first session report that I find on Board Game Geek is used as a dummy player. If it's been played before then the previous scores of the player(s) act as a third (or even fourth) dummy player. So, make sure you improve on your last performance or else you may up with less than bronze in a two-player game!

This is how it stands to date...

With the most recent report from Bracknell being a three-player session, maybe those can be added onto the The Division as normal.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Monday night games

We Bracknell (and one Croydon) people reconvened as a trio for the first time of the new year. We played Alhambra and then Lords of Waterdeep mainly because they are our favourites and also nobody fancied playing anything that required much of a rule review. Nothing really report worthy happened in either game. Paul won Alhambra and James won LOW...

Paul - 156
Chris - 143
James - 126

James - 182
Chris -172
Paul - 145

So to add some interest I've gone back to the end of september to create a table of results.....

Table - Olympic style

                  Gold     Silver    Bronze
Chris          7          9            3
Paul            7         5             3
James         5          5            4

I am ahead because I play more..... interesting.....perhaps.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Holmes Alone

There's no regular Tuesday night games this week, since we're all exhausted from Stabcon but I do have some gaming related news of sorts.

One of the stranger things to happen at Stabcon was that I bought a game. Although it's not really a board game, more like one of those Fighting Fantasy books where you make a choice and turn to the required paragraph.

Except the choices aren't listed for you. You have to decide where to go, and then find that address (street number and postcode) and that'll tell you which page to turn to. Sometimes these aren't easy to find, and you have to do a little lateral thinking to find it in the game's directory or on one of the fairly convincing faux Times newspapers that come with it.

The Times from the game, dated 12 March 1888

And the real Times from the same day

Or you can do as I did when you get stuck: look up the street on Google Maps, find it on the game map, and then find the page that way. I don't think that's cheating. It's what Sherlock would've done.

You are Wiggins, leader of the band of ruffians that Sherlock occasionally called up for information. And you have to solve each crime thoroughly enough that you're able to answer eight questions, and then you can score your performance against that of Sherlock Holmes himself.

There are ten cases to solve and each one has red herrings and false leads, so as you can imagine, it must have been a nightmare to put this package together. And there are still a few mistakes here and there, such as a wrong address in the directory or a typo in the text. Actually, there are quite a few of these, and there's at least one example where it looks like some proof reading notes have been left in.

I've done two cases so far, and it's been enjoyable. I struggled with the first, having got distracted by a wrong lead. But I solved the second case much quicker, and when I checked my findings against Sherlock Holmes, I discovered I was supposed to solve a second case, too, which I hadn't realised so I quickly went back and tried again.

On the up side, it's well written and offers a nice suspension of disbelief. On the down side, each witness offers only one statement and if you find something new, you can't go back and question them again. This can be a little frustrating if you're used to video games like Broken Sword.

I'm not at all convinced by the multi-player aspect. Like cricket can be described as a game for two players, played by thirteen, this is certainly a one-player game that can be played by up to eight. Or more. But preferably one. You can put it down and come back to it the next day, and it doesn't take up an entire table top in the meantime.

It's certainly a nice way to spend an hour or so: in the company of a glass of wine and a dead Victorian gentleman.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Farewell Stabcon

Three years ago, Sam had the idea of going to Stabcon as a means of doing some research for a sitcom we were working on. This year, on Saturday evening, as we drove down dark country lanes following the tail lights of a famous games designer on our way to the pub, we realised we'd become that sitcom.

We (Sam, Joe, Adam and I) set off on Friday, keen and eager. We arrived after a pleasant drive, stopping off for food at a service station famous for its ducks. We didn't see any, though. However, once at the Britannia, early signs weren't good. Behind us in the queue to check in was a man who smelt quite strongly of piss. He made idle chat with us during a hold up at reception, and I held my breath and nodded non-committally.

We then set up in the hall, and started to play. Downfall of Pompeii was first, as it encourages back-stabbing and betrayal in a light-hearted and amusing way. We followed that up with a new game, Singapore, which is a lot of worker placement and resource conversion. Nice, but not earth-moving. Joe did manage to miss his mouth with a crisp twice in succession, though.

Downfall of Pompeii
Joe 9
Sam 8
Adam 7
Andrew 5

Early days, empty tables...

Adam 79
Sam 74
Andrew 60
Joe 42

Then we thought perhaps we should mingle a bit, but time was getting on and we'd be going to eat soon. Adam played on the internet, because he was in the middle of a game and it's rude to keep people waiting.

Not ostracised, just playing Civ.

Joe taught Sam Elk Fest, a flicking game where your have to get your tiny wooden elk across the table on stepping stones. And then we played Biblios. We spiced it up by rolling the dice before we began, meaning each dice started with a random value. We play hard and fast in Stabcon.

Beer, butter and elks

Following that, we went to the carvery, and a very nice man found us a table while we stood at the bar and drank the beer made by (?) the band Elbow. During the meal, we discussed what we wanted to play next so when we got back to the Hotel, we were all geared up to play Africana. It was Adam's first attempt at this game which involves doing laps up and down Africa while picking up adventures and treasures along the way.

Andrew 41
Adam 38
Joe 36
Sam 34

Then we took another break and wandered around for a while. After that, Sam and Adam played Elk Fest while Joe taught me Traders of Carthage.

Then eleven o'clock rolled around and we thought it was too late to mingle, so we broke out the Tinners' Trail – a game we knew and loved. Halfway through, Cuz from Area 51 came over to see if we wanted to join in a game of The Resistance. We were too far in to stop, so we declined, and he seemed disappointed that we were only playing amongst ourselves.

Tin-mining in Joe's forehead? Anyone? It's quite dry . . .

Tinners' Trail
Sam 96
Adam 92
Andrew 75
Joe 66

That was the end of Friday. On Saturday, after breakfast, a shower and a shave I was walking towards the games hall when I met Sam who told me we were about to play test a new Martin Wallace game! This is what Stabcon is all about! I was very excited that we four humble gamers would be in on the ground floor of designing a game. The game, Northern Empires, is set in a mythical Britain where the humans battle each other, calling for help from elves, goblins, giants, etc and even help from other players.

Martin planned it as mostly a bidding game, but I like to think we added something with our plotting and bluffing. We certainly added to the running time, since Martin thought the first round was too long, and in the second round he removed a lot of the bidding and negotiation. It wasn't as much fun, and also there wasn't much reason to help each other unless you had nothing better to do with your troops. Some nice ideas, though, and Martin seemed happy that he'd learnt how to improve it.

Northern Empires
Joe 58
Adam 52
Martin 51
Sam 47
Andrew 41

After a quick bout of Elk Fest, Sam went off to do some paperwork from his job, and Adam, Joe and I proudly rolled out Joe's green felt Pax Porfiriana playing area and sat down to revolutionise Mexico! We got a few admiring glances, but we were mostly too busy trying to plough through Pax's dense forest of rules and text dressed up as a card game.

Sam came back, and we didn't seem to be anywhere near finishing. Adam tried to topple the government and I almost let him, but I couldn't just let him win because we were tired so I played a card to see off his revolt. Joe happily said "I think I can end this game!" The fact he said "end" instead of "win" gives a good idea of our priorities at that point. Shortly afterwards, Adam did win and we couldn't do anything to stop him even if we wanted to. And we didn't really.

How we felt after playing Pax Porfiriana

After two pretty full-on gaming experiences, my brain was frazzled. Certainly too tired to do any socialising. Instead we dug out Manila, the jolly game of betting and piracy, and followed that up with Arkadia. Joe thought that the theme was a bit tacked on, and it was really just an abstract game with a historical lick of paint.

Sam 142
Joe 138
Adam 108
Andrew 104

Adam 79
Andrew 73
Sam 72
Joe 56

After this was a series of quick two-player games, mostly against each other, with one other passer-by playing against Sam at Elk Fest. Joe taught me Battle for Hill 218, and Adam taught Sam Mr Jack in New York.

We also played what was, for me, the best new game of the Con (not that I played many), Hana-bi. In this game, each player had four cards held out so the others can see them. You are then allowed to give your fellow players information about what cards they have in their hands (either colour, or number, both not both at the same time). The idea is to lay down the hands in numerical order. It's quite a test of memory.

Joe successfully traded a green jelly baby for a Nurofen.

The reason for this sudden run of short games is because we were waiting to leave the hotel to have dinner with Martin Wallace. He really wanted to speak to Joe about some work he may have, but the rest of us managed to be invited too. He said he knew a nice gastro-pub near here, and that's why the four of us were heading down unfamiliar roads following a man in his car just because he designed games.

The pub he had in mind was too full, but the pub across the road wasn't, and luckily the food there was pretty good. We discussed games and no one said anything crass or embarrassing, so all in all a very nice evening. Martin then went home, so we relied on Adam's GPS to get us back to the hotel.

At the hotel, we played Railways of Mexico, where I eschewed the more sensible tactic of short tracks bringing in quick profit and instead went up to my eyeballs in debt building a cross-mountain railway because it looked nice. Meanwhile, the tense rivalry between Joe and Adam concerning this game continued unabated.

Railways of Mexico
Adam 47
Joe 46
Sam 27
Andrew 22

We ended the day with Hana-bi, using the tone of our voices to indicate if a card was good or bad and, my, what acting skills we have! Didn't complete it, though. Then we played Biblios and No Thanks and went to bed.

Sunday morning rolled around and Joe and I were up nice and early. While we had breakfast, Joe dropped a bombshell. He and Adam hadn't gone to bed at 12.30 like Sam and I. Instead they tried the two-player version of Le Harve, thinking it was a quickish half-hour simplified version of the 3+ player version. But it took them up until two o'clock to finish and Joe didn't seem keen on repeating the experience.

After breakfast we found ourselves in a deserted games hall. We played some Traders of Carthage, and Sam and Adam, when they arrived, battled again over Elk Fest. Then Joe got invited to play Pax Porfiriana with Martin Wallace and a couple of others. Adam, Sam and I rather cruelly chose a game to try and make Joe jealous, so we broke out Brass. With departure time in a couple of hours, this would be our last game of the Con.

Adam gave Sam a quick refresher of the rules which extended quite a long way into the game, and I think everyone consulted the rule book a couple of times during the game. I decided this was to be my last try on the Shipyard tactic, and I really went for it, building three and selling a fair amount of cotton to ports, too. Did no good.

Adam 205
Sam 164
Andrew 161

After we finished, and Joe came back from playing Pax, we packed up since we were already behind our schedule. Once back in the car, we mused thoughtfully about our lack of socialising. While it was nice to play so many games, if we weren't going to mingle, there really was no point in driving all the way to a hotel in Stockport to do it. Perhaps it was simply too close to the festive season this year. After festivities with families and friends, did we really need more festivities? And the level of nerdiness seemed a little higher than usual. Joe told me how twice he'd said "hello" to people and they'd just stared back at him.

While games conventions are great, we may have to reconsider next year's trip. If we're being honest, the timing's wrong, the location's wrong and I don't like the carpet. Perhaps we will feel different next year. We shall see.

The final Olympic style leaderboard includes all the little games we played, and it's hat's off to Adam, who came top of the pile!


Thursday, 3 January 2013

Martin Wallace - Discuss

It was the new year and Paul and I fancied something, well, new. I only have a guilty two so therefore it was to be either road building settlement link up game La Strada or brain aching card based civilisation game Innovation. La Strada was selected on the basis that I printed out the accepted two player variant and that Innovation looks to be a game you take on after a week of mental training with Stephen Hawking.

The fact that this Wallace game had remained unplayed for so long was due to the Geeks universal damning of the two player game. However, help was at hand in the form of the "Danger Style" variation which exciting title lent nothing more than it being the authors username.

The rules are fairly straight forward, you are linking cities, town, villages and hamlets via a pile of roads at your disposal and depositing merchants in them and hoping to have more of them than your opponent at the end of the game. Links to settlements must be completed on your turn, the cost of which are limited by a allocated points system. Plains, forests and hills are worth 2, 3 and 4 points respectively and you receive 6 points to use each turn. Points can be carried over to a maximum of 10.

On the road to nowhere
Right from the start it was obvious why more players created a better game. The board was very open and, as we didn't know how it was going to play out, we had stuck to our own sides. The centre held a little area of contention but other than that we were able to roam away picking off settlements with ease. It felt a little like Trans Europa had merged with Hey Thats my Fish! The scoring mechanism which is supposed create tension failed because we had all but few of the cities etc to ourselves.

Paul and I were left musing as to whether Wallace can or has made a good game for 2 players.....Tinners Trail is his stand out game, but does it work as a 2?

La Strada plays quick and has potential. I shall reserve judgement until I've played a 3 or 4 player game

Chris - 26
Paul - 19

We then played the 2012 favourite Lords of Waterdeep, where again, I got the lieutenant quest again in the first two cards and fell way behind obtaining it. It did pay off in the end as it gave me just enough to catch Paul and win by a few points.

Chris - 182
Paul - 175

A brave new stat to the year

Hastily convened, but adequately attended. That's the only way to describe the opening fixture of this new season. Stabcon may be just two days away, but nobody waits two days to scratch an itch if they don't have to. At first, there were four of us (me, Sam, Anja and Steve) but that happy chance meant that football was cancelled and Adam could join us too.

Me, Sam and Adam began with Biblios. Time and experience shall not dull its attractions. Nor will it tell us how to win. After a hesitant start, with rules forgotten and cards put onto the wrong piles (seriously, they'll chuck us out of the Britannia if we're like this at Stabcon) we got into the swing of things.

Adam 8
Andrew 5
Sam 3

During that game, Anja and Steve arrived, carrying Snowdonia. All of us except Adam had played, and since they'd brought it all this way, it was chosen as the night's main game. Anja explain the rules to Adam, and there was frequent reference to the rule book throughout as we wished Joe was with us: He'd know what to do!

But we managed. We told Steve to stop putting resource cubes on the cards instead of his own cubes. We mostly allowed people to retake their goes. We mostly played the game as it was intended. There was a lot of one-upmanship over owning a train, which I felt acutely having never bought a train. And Sam and Steve and Adam felt too, having once owned trains, only to have them cruelly snatched away.

By the end, I had no idea who'd won. I suspected Adam had, but maybe that was just out of habit. When the scores were totted up, I could hardly believe it myself. Anja scored in every category, and Steve had 47 points for buildings alone but thanks to my surveyor plus bonus for surveyor (36 points, just for that) I managed to edge into top spot.

Andrew 89
Anja 86
Sam 82
Adam 78
Steve 77

And that was that. The new season baptised with a couple of games that defy prediction. It's nice to play two games that leave you guessing right 'til the end, especially if you win one of them! It leaves me on top of the form table. Steve's fifth place means he may as well have not turned up at all (except we're glad he did - he's a lovely man).

Andrew125 5518
Adam415 5 520
Sam335 55 21

And now, the new system to replace the Q-system: The Division. This was introduced at the end of last season and from now on it will be popping up at the end of the month, alongside the trusty form table. It includes the Olympic style medal table, and the points are based on the golden trinity of gaming: length of game, number of players and size of win. Points ratio will come in once you've played three games or more, I think.

And this is how it would look if it was in an old newspaper...

How very retro!