Friday, 26 April 2013

Sam, you're a Samurai

As is usually the way towards the end of the week, there is an impromptu games night for any stragglers who can't make it through the weekend without some kind of supplement. And, as is usually the way, it was Sam and myself.

We began with a new game, Samurai. For me, this had three things going for it: Reiner Knizia, Japan and hexagons. It's a very simple yet very confrontational strategy game. Various black pieces are scattered throughout Japan and each player has to have the highest value numbers on adjacent hexagons when each piece is surrounded. Then you can claim the piece. There are three types of pieces, and the player who has won in most categories wins the game.

For example, in the first game I had most of two types, compared to Sam's one. And then that was reversed in the second game.

It was simple enough to get your head round quite quickly but deep enough that there's a decent amount of thinking to be done. It remains to be seen how it scales up to more players, but I'm going to guess it'll do better than Tzolk'in.

After this, we decided that it was early enough for another game, but too late to learn any more rules. So I suggested Alhambra. Why on Earth I chose that, with Sam's record, I don't know. I'm going to have to start carrying round my spreadsheets on my phone in future. Anyway, Sam got off to a flyer, and built a ten-point wall before the first scoring round.

Then Sam really turned on the razzle dazzle by completing his wall with a handful of tiles still to go. This meant he couldn't add to his Alhambra, but by now, he was already comfortable clear of me and Dirk who were pretty much neck and neck until the final score.

Sam 142
Andrew 110
Dirk 87

Then we played Biblios. Sam ended by collecting four dice, giving him a win so complete that he exclaimed in victory “I am Mr Biblios”. Not exactly “We came, we saw, we conquered” but still, a neat encapsulation of the joys of winning.

Sam 13
Andrew 3

Thursday, 25 April 2013

The Great Unplayed

Owing to a couple of maths trades on BGG and the continued popularity of our existing collections, I've managed to accrue a set of games that are highly(or reasonably)-rated on the geek, but as yet unplayed by GNN (I think).

This lot used to be called the "Guilty" collection but as none of them are direct purchases I don't carry the same sense of Catholic remorse any more. My last outright purchase was Tzolk'in and we've played that 4 times already; albeit with mixed success.

Maharaja is one that's somehow sat in the cupboard for a few months now, even though it comes recommended. It's by Wolfgang Kramer, the man behind such gems as El Grande, 6 Nimmt, and, er, Artus. 

Samurai is by Dr Knizia, who needs no introduction. Does he? Okay, he designed Medici, Ra, Poison, High Society, Ingenious, and numerous others. This is pretty abstract but I played against myself last night and won, so I like it. Very simple rule-set, but as Joe has discovered playing on his phone, ripe with strategic possibilities.

This is (relative to the others here) fairly lowly-ranked on BGG, but it has a gorgeous board. So I was sold. It's about expanding your empire over the world and getting into fights with each other. One for the Wallenstein fans.

This is a worker placement and appears to be a cross between Caylus and something like Pillars of the Earth. There's two sides to the board so you can build your castle in summer, or, if you're feeling stoic or hopelessly optimistic, in winter instead.

Less well-thought of than the others here (but still in the top 650 strategy games) is Nautilus, where you explore the ocean floor, dredging up minerals and looking for Atlantis. A bit like Octonauts, but with less of a learning curve - as there's nothing to learn.  The criticism of this game is that for what it is, it takes a little long. But here at GNN we scoff at deliberation in all its forms. Don't we?

Finally Comuni, which is a mixture of adversaries and co-operations, as players seek to further their influence in Italy whilst also combining (if I remember rightly) their resources to see off outside (non-player) invaders. The most I've done with this is put it straight back in the maths trades, where no-one bites. Maybe it's destiny and we should try playing it.

So there's six games just waiting to be played by you. I've got Settlers: Traders and Barbarians too, which has been hanging around so long unopened it's like the last straggler at the party, refusing to take the hint. I think I bought it as I entered puberty.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Gears of chore

Tuesday. Games.

Joe, Adam, Andrew, Sam.

After last week's Castles of Burgundy marathon, we were in the mood for something lighter. Since Sam had brought Tzolk'in, we decided that would be a nice alternative. Sam, me and Adam had all played it before as a two-player, so beginner Joe got a run through of the rules.

It was to be a baptism of fire. And ice. And rocks being thrown at Joe's head. The three of us had at least some idea of what to go after while Joe gently pootled around, trying to collect food for his workers.

Adam was astute and calculating. At least, that how it looked to me (although he did keep forgetting to take starting player). Sam quickly made sure all his men never needed food, and with the distraction out of the way, he could focus on buildings and monuments. I started out determined to start exploiting those knowledge things but didn't get far before I, too, was distracted by trying to get the best seat at the various local temples.

The bright sun shines down on the temples

Towards the end, Joe fell into the trap of not being able to activate workers on the last round, effectively giving him one less turn than anyone else. This, I think, was the last nail in the coffin regarding his opinion of the game, and he started to tidy up pots and pans while we finished.

Sam 61
Adam 57
Andrew 54
Joe 31

I felt bad that Joe had spent the evening playing a complicated game against three people who'd played it before, so I was happy to agree to another game to finish the evening. It was an old favourite: Poison. It had been a long time since it was brought to the table, and we got stuck right in with no need to refer to the rules. Except to see if you removed any cards beforehand. And to remind Joe that each cauldron had to be a different colour.

The typical opening gambit. All sevens.

Apart from that, it was almost as if we'd never been away. Joe, however, could not make his familiarity with the rules count. Perhaps he was fatigued by Tzolk'in or perhaps he couldn't concentrate after his dog did a poo in the other room, but he collected more than his fair share of the poison. I, meanwhile, had nice cards throughout and I played them well. It gave me my first win of the season.

Andrew 12
Sam 21
Adam 23
Joe 33

On the Form table, Sam sneaks up to first while I rise to third.

Sam 2 1 2 3 1 9
Adam3 2 1 1 2 9
Andrew1 3 4 3 3 14
Joe4 4 3 2 3 16

Finally, due to circumstances beyond the ken of mankind, the Bracknell reports are being suspended for now. But the results are still being emailed in to me. Since they'll end up in The Division, I should report them so I thought I'd end with a brief fictionalised version of events.

Chris and James swapped foppish insults over two games of Agricola while Paul goaded them on, and then Chris and Paul tried to suffocate each other with pillows during a game of Alhambra. James' tactic of sawing a leg off the table proved to be futile.

06/04 - Agricola - Chris 32 James 27 Paul 25
20/04 - Agricola - James 28 Chris 27 Paul 22
20/04 - Alhambra - Chris 134 Paul 133 James 116

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Long Divisions

There's nothing more entertaining than spreadsheets and so, inspired by a comment made by Adam in the "Happy Birthday" post, I've decided to go back and do some divisions for individual games. (Three-player or more only.)

First was Biblios. Any enigma it may have once held seems to have been cracked by Sam. His winning formula, whatever it is, gives him the win in Points and Points Ratio.


Next is Alhambra, won in similar style by Sam. Paul comes in second in his highest performance on any division but perhaps the big surprise (apart from the fact that Hannah hasn't played it) is how well Dirk did: a comfortable mid-table finish for our imaginary friend.


Next up are the divisions for Stone Age and Tinners' Trail, both won on Points by Sam, and on Points Ratio by Adam.

Stone Age

Tinners' Trail

Then we come to Adam's two strong suits. Ticket To Ride and Brass. He won comprehensively on Brass, with a series of five wins in a row. I have yet to score higher than last.


Ticket To Ride

Onto the division for 7 Wonders. Again, Sam takes the Points title, with Steve taking the crown on Points Ratio. Meanwhile, Joe is yet to take a single win on 7 Wonders in ten attempts. But, no matter. He can cheer himself up with the next division after it.

7 Wonders

Railways of the World is, perhaps, the most exciting division. If you happen to be Joe or Adam. The rivalry between these two is fierce and fearsome, as demonstrated by the fact that apart from them, no one else has won a single game. Joe just wins Points and Points Ratio by the narrowest of margins.

Railways Of The World

Meanwhile, early rumours of Joe having won Lords of Waterdeep were wrong. Although, his fledgling points ratio is the best, he's only played two games, so it doesn't count. Sam comes top of a very even table, with Steve winning Points Ratio.

Lords of Waterdeep

Finally, Wallenstein. The two new parents share the honours on this game, Steve on Points, Anja on Points ratio.


And that's all for now. Of course, there are more games to examine in this exciting an fascinating way, but I'll leave those for a sequel to this post.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Happy Birthday!!

Tonight brought the happy news that Steve and Anja finally rolled a six and a new tiny meeple made his debut on the boardgame of life. But not the boardgame of Life, if you see what I mean. Anyway, congrats to all involved!

Meanwhile, it was me, Sam, Adam and genial host Joe. We began with a quick game of 7 Wonders. This classic remains a firm favourite despite being, as I noted, even less sociable than chess. Most of the thinking and waiting was done in silence, and apart from the flurry of activity when we all made our moves, that's how it stayed.

In the end, Adam took the honours with an impressive five-of-a-kind in the sciences. Sam and I, who ignored the sciences completely, came joint last. A moral there, I think.

Adam 55
Joe 46
Sam 42
Andrew 42

After this, it was still early-ish and in a rush of optimism, Joe and I voted for Castles of Burgundy. Adam was given a crash course on the rules. Then we rushed in. Or we "pondered thoughtfully and at length" in. Castles of Burgundy is a very thinky game, and I was a bit sad that we'd gone from the mostly silent 7 Wonders to the equally quiet Castles of Burgundy.

It turned out to be a masterclass from Adam. More impressively, he and I rolled the same value dice for three rounds in a row, with me going before him each time. He complained that I was spoiling his plans, and if that's the case then I hate to think what his score might have been if everything had gone as he'd wanted.

Joe impressed me (but no one else) with a move which effectively gave him six dice rolls in a row instead of the usual two. I impressed no one by pepping up my low-alcohol ale with some whiskey from a plastic bottle.

Sam fretted about coming last, although for most of the game, either Adam or Joe were trailing. I was keeping up with the front runners, but I was aware that my point-gaining was very short term. And so it was in the final count, I lost ground in the bonus round. Otherwise, it was all vintage Adam: only a few hexagons short of a complete board.

Adam 240
Sam 179
Joe 173
Andrew 170

On the Form Table, Adam, Sam and Joe have formed a break away group at the top. I languish, having scored three last places in a row.

Adam1 1 2 3 1 8
Sam 2 3 1 2 2 10
Joe3 2 3 1 3 12
Andrew4 3 3 5520

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Woolly Thinking

The first night of my four nights flying solo, and without an opponent in sight, what could I do? Keep the boys up late playing Scripts and Scribes (it's their new favourite)? Teach Finn the vagaries of Navegador? Neither of these opportunities sounded like they'd end - or even begin, in Finn's case - well, so instead I did what I've been promising to do for ages, which was revisit Year of the Sheep, my third attempt at game design and the one that got the furthest in terms of theme, design and intricacies of rules, without ever really becoming more than the sum of its parts. Less, in fact.

To recap, players sit around a board with a central tower, representing the Highland Clans who the aristocracy are about to kick off the land of their forefathers in order to raise sheep. When the clans resist, the Black Watch come scurrying out of the tower, wrecking their crops and ruining their homes.

So far, so good. But the two play-tests we did swung about like an indecisive gourmand at an all-you-can-eat buffet; first it was too easy to survive the clearances, then it was too hard. Looking at it again tonight, I decided that basically I'd tried to build a thematically strong game around the central (literally) USP that belonged to something like Mousetrap. The tower was silly, and random, and (supposedly) fun, so the complex system around it - Protest cards and Clearance cards, each with their own actions - didn't fit.

Inside my head it's even worse

Having gone through the feedback on the blog, I've come up with a much simpler, quicker game. No cards at all, and a defined number of rounds. On their turn players can still sow, harvest, go fishing, or go to market. They can also choose to pay rent as an action (as opposed to using a worker up choosing not to), and not taking this action means the Black Watch will come and get you - just one cube hurtling from the tower in the first round, and then an additional cube will be added over each round until the twelfth and final round. The player sitting opposite you gets to chuck the cubes in one at a time, so you'll likely suffer the consequences - but it's also possible the Black Watch will - deliberately or not - target other players.

If your crops and cattle are disturbed in their field, you need to take them back to the safety of the village. If they are knocked from the field they're gone forever.

If you paid rent on your previous turn, however, you'll be safe from them.

The other issue to fix was the market, which I have adjusted but won't go into here.

There are still three special actions your septs can take: Rebuild (costing money to repair Black Watch damage) Repopulate (costing money and food) and Clear Sheep (costing nothing).

Finally in the second half of the game your village is moved closer to the tower, representing the Black Watch roaming further and further afield in their search for you. If they clear your field they put sheep in it, hampering you further (though you can get rid of them with a special action)

That's pretty much it. If you can't feed your septs (workers) you lose them. I'm sure it's not wrinkle-free and there will be further amendments, but it'd be nice to break it out again at GNN one night as I think it'll play quite quickly. And even if it's terrible there will be some fun shredding peoples crops, like some giant unfeeling corporation napalming everyone from the sky...

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

My Kingdom for a Builder

With Andrew off in the distant climes of Northern Italy, Anja and Steve readying the house for a wee bairn and Hannah pilateing herself into a noble posture, it was a struggle to get a GNN session going at all. Only by coaxing Adam with texts and chocolate did we finally assemble a trio - Joe and I started the evening chez Bergers as a pair, and tried out Thebes Tomb Raiders. We didn't like it a great deal, and abandoned it at the same time Adam abandoned his chips. Joe says it's where Martin Wallace got the 'time track' idea for Tinner's Trail, but the game that came with the time track here did not have TT's strengths or intuitive play.

For what it's worth Joe was ahead of me; 69 to 61 points.

With the nine o'clock looming we didn't want to start anything big and Joe suggested Kingdom Builder,  the game of ever-changing boards and rules. Adam and I were amenable and so we started building our settlements across the vast tracks of grasslands, forests, canyons and, er, deserts. Citizens and Hermits scored big, and each separate settlement brought you victory points. However both Joe and I fundamentally misunderstood one of the scoring cards (they vary from game to game) and despite our discussion of how best to meet the card's requirements midway through the game, Adam was unable to enlighten us as to our misapprehension, as he was deep in thought, mulling over his turn.

Built by cowboys

So at the final count-up we both thought we'd done very handsomely indeed (I was pretty sure I'd won) only to discover that Adam had interpreted it both differently and correctly. As a result he ran away with a resounding victory, and I for one was slightly crestfallen. It was like thinking you were digging out a swimming pool only to discover it was your own grave.

(What Joe and I would have scored if our interpretation was correct is in parentheses!)

Adam 46
Sam    27 (78)
Joe      25 (61)

With that slightly underwhelming experience (for two of us) over, we settled on something a bit more lighthearted: Incan Gold. It's very much a game of push your luck, however on this occasion luck favoured the cowards (Joe and I) whereas Adam got caught and eaten by Zombie Ladies and Spiders. The round he survived on his own he discovered the next two cards after escaping the crypt were 17 crystals and a thingy that gives you ten points. I forget what they're called. After an abortive final round (Zombie Ladies again) I assumed Joe had won but it was a close thing:

Joe 56
Sam 55
Adam 40

Adam and I were in the mood for something like Poison to round off the night, but we discovered to our horror that Joe has put it in the attic, as part of some sort of Wildean pact with Charlotte no doubt. I suggested High Society but Adam pooh-poohed. Joe suggested Wizard, which I pooh-poohed. However my pooh-pooh was pooh-poohed and I found myself on the recieving end of a cajole for a change. It's not as bad as I thought - you feel wanted, even if only in a mathematical sense.

So Wizard it was, which as Andrew noted last time we played, is essentially contract whist. However it differs in three regards - you only score your tricks if you hit your target, the hands start low and go upward (rather than down as in CW) and there are wild cards - specifically Wizards and Fools, who can ignore the standard following-suit rule in order to automatically win or lose a hand respectively.

This game is wizard

I'm glad I was convinced because it was fun - better than contract whist I'd say. And obviously I like winning:

Sam 270
Adam 160
Joe 60

With three games under our belts we called it a night. Thanks Joe for hosting and pizza, and Adam for those last chips. On the form table it's still very embryonic, with most people still to shake those red fives...

Joe3 1 3 25 14
Anja1 3 5 55 19
Hannah425 5 521
Andrew3 5 5 5523

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

More Incan Gold?

The events of last night's games were still fresh in my mind when I got an email from Sam. There was no time for rest and relaxation in Unit GNN. Oh, no. A new game had arrived and it needed play-testing: Tzolk'in. The game of resource management based around the gears of the Mayan calendar. There's a bit of worker placement and some of the turning mechanic of Macao. In other words, if you want to do something, you may have to plan several moves ahead. Each section of a cog gives you one action, assuming you have a man standing there that you can remove, and of course, each day moves the cogs round one section.

We went through the rules, with Sam having to go up and see his recalcitrant (hmm, good word. I should use it more often) child, Joe, who didn't want to go to bed. But he battled through the repetitive rule book and his equally repetitive offspring, and we began the game.

It was a troubled start, and we soon found it difficult to build up resources or food. There was quite a lot of living hand to mouth, as we both battled to have enough food for each of the four feeding days that happen during the year.

Jaffa cakes not included

In the rules, it describes bonuses for those players who got to the top of temples or maxed out their technology but, frankly, we were at a loss as to how to progress that far. Halfway through the game, a bunch of scoring systems came into play that Sam hadn't read the rules for, and suddenly he found himself quite a long way behind. I had managed to progress one whole step up each of the temples, which got me lots of bonus points, since Sam hadn't moved at all.

And this is why the title of this blog has a question mark. We suspect there's a good game in there, but we just don't know how to find it. It is not very intuitive, and resources seem a bit hard to find. It's also quite short, given the amount of setting up it needs. I assume it's longer with four players.

Andrew 47
Sam 34

There's something in there, though. Perhaps it needs a bit of research online before we find out where we're going wrong. With resources so hard to get, options seemed a bit limited. And the score track goes all the way up to one hundred. That's not possible, surely. You know, like how the speedometer on a 2CV goes up to ninety.

I'm Spartacus, but I kind of wish I wasn't

Seven players were expected tonight at Steve and Anja's. We were a bit worried about the correct etiquette in the event of Anja going into labour (we finish the game without her and it's still leaderboard, right?). But she assured us that the little one wouldn't dream of coming out on a games night.

While we waited for Hannah and Adam to arrive, we banished Anja to the upper room so she could finish reading the rules to Spartacus without any distractions, and me, Joe, Sam and Steve sat down for a game of Love Letters. We only played one round, and Steve won. Hannah arrived mid game, so we stopped, ate some sweets (including meeple-shaped flapjacks courtesy of Hannah) and discussed what we should play.

Spartacus was already on one table, but what about the other? Joe had brought Bora Bora, the new epic from Stefan Feld. After some umming and ahhing, and perhaps persuaded by the pretty lady drawn on the inside of the box, they chose it over the other offers.

Steve, Anja and I went through the rules of Spartacus, the game of blood and treachery. Since I'd never seen the TV series, I didn't recognise any of the people on the cards, but it wasn't important. What was important was the bidding, the bribing, the battling. All of which was mostly lacking in the first round, as none of us really knew what was going on. In the first gladiatorial contest, Steve ran away from a fight, only to find that there are no hiding places in an arena.

But fighting isn't the only way to win at this game. You can host games or discard cards for influence. The blood part relies on dice-rolling, with a few cards that can help you re-roll, while the treachery part reminded me a lot of I'm The Boss, in that one person tries an action (with a card) and another player can block it (with another card, sometimes needing a dice roll, other times not) and there was no way of responding to that.

I found it all a bit soulless. Relying on dice, or the right cards just didn't seem to be much fun or need much skill. I also found it very slow. We thought at the time it was just because it was our first go, but I looked on Boardgamegeek and the recommended game time is two and a half hours. There were some laughs along the way but, again, mostly prompted by a result of a dice roll.

It ended on an anti-climax, too. Steve and I were poised to battle our two finest gladiators, with Steve destined to hit the maximum twelve points if he won, Anja stepped in with a card that rigged the game, allowing her to change Steve's gladiator for a slave. In the event, Spartacus won easily, meaning Anja won the game with her twelve points. Steve then read the rules and found to his dismay that he could've won the game earlier in the round.

Anja 12
Steve 11
Andrew 10

Meanwhile, on the big table, Sam, Joe, Adam and Hannah played Bora Bora. It looked baffling, but it had fishing in it, so I felt like I'd missed out. I shall leave it to the others to explain the game, except to say that Sam admitted his win felt like a fluke.

Sam 139
Joe 138
Adam 128
Hannah 122

Two epic games, stretching the length of the evening. What an experience. All that remains is to mention the scores of the game on Steve's birthday when the Easton group played Snowdonia. Happy birthday, Steve!

Steve 110
Hannah 89
Anja 79
Adam 66

Sam1 5 5 55 21
Joe2 5 5 55 22
Adam345 5 522
Andrew3 5 5 5523

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

More on a theme.

Inspired by Andy's post I thought I would have a rummage around the photo's to see if I could come up with any captured moments. Sadly my records only go back to New Years Eve 1999. Yes that's right folks we saw the new century in over gaming boards at Sam's mum's house in Frome.

Does Andy still have this T-shirt?
 And then on New Years Day, we went for a walk up Cley Hill.

We never got round to making the album
Some more from the vaults....
We played Settlers back then!

This was one of our first games weekends in 2007

7 years later, T-shirt still going strong
And we didn't just play games in those days
Oh no.....
And one from our time in Devon....

Don't know this game

So anyway.....James and I played a game of Nexus Ops last night. A very tactical battle was played out as I had only enough refineries to produce 10 rubium to his 17. After I had cancelled out his early gains and stolen a number of his refineries James produced a move which saw him claim 6 victory points in one fell sweep and therefore the game 12 - 8. Up until that point it was on a knife edge as I was making major in roads into his side of the board, but alas it was not to be......