Saturday, 31 August 2013

Work Rest and Play

All at the same time! Just to round off a record-breaking month for GNN posts, I met up with Sam for a little home improvement: namely, scraping carpet tape off a wooden floor. This job is slow and exhausting, and required frequent breaks, so we decided to set up a game on a little table which could distract us from the tedium.

We needed something that you could look at, and see what was going on. So, nothing with cards. Chess was suggested, but Sam had lost his chessboard. Tinners’ Trail? Couldn’t be bothered to learn the two-player rules. In the end, Scrabble was the game of choice, making a rare appearance on the blog (Chris and Sam played it once at a games weekend, but blogspot didn't have enough space for the tags of every game we played, so it was left off the list).

Sam was always the favourite, with his knowledge of two-letter words and experience of the game. He must've been confident, since he didn't challenge BALTIC, although he considered it. We both bingoed: Sam with RETAINERS and me with PRODDING but Sam's positional play was second to none. Luckily, right at the end I remembered that QI was a word, otherwise his victory would’ve been even greater as he closed out the game with the next move.

Sam 345
Andrew 293

Wow. Twenty posts in one month. What a crazy summer!

Friday, 30 August 2013

Juggling the Hare

Hare and Tortoise is an old game - from 1973 to be precise, and it won the inaugeral Spiel des Jahres in 1979.

Joe had seen it in a few charity shops but not been moved to pick it up for a few pennies; whereas I, being perhaps less circumspect in my impulses, purchased an old copy through ebay for a tenner.

I initially read about the game on Mind Sports which seemed to rate it highly, albeit from the perspective of a brainiac rather than your average gamer. Compared to something like Brass, or even Tinner's Trail, it's pretty straightforward, but back in '73 it must have seemed way ahead of its time, foregoing dice in favour of a series of mental arithmetic involving carrots and lettuces.

So after a morning of writing Andrew and I thought we'd give it a go. I'll be honest, I did not think it would have aged well and was slightly trepidatious about a game that made calculus its central mechanic - not my strong suit. But I was pleasantly surprised.

this copy is in the earth's orbit

In the game you represent both the tortoise and the hare - of your own colour - trying to beat everybody else's pieces as you race - sometimes rapidly, sometimes slowly, sometimes backwards - around an old fashioned roll-and-move track. Except there's no rolling. Instead your movement is fuelled by how many carrots you have: small moves are relatively cheap but as you push up past the 3 or 4 squares mark the carrot cost goes up exponentially.

So to balance this you need to get more carrots - which is done by moving backwards. There are also some more risky ways of picking up carrots, and there's a potential spanner in the works in the shape of the Hare square - land on one of these and you 'Jug the Hare' which is a bit of pot luck. The card might work for you or against you, depending on both the number on the hare card and your position in the race. You also have some lettuces you need to get shot of before you can finish the race!

they're off!

With two players both actually have two racers played alternately as well, so there was the extra challenge of remembering the turn order; which we thankfully managed with minimum confusion.

For the game itself - well, I think Andrew would be first to admit fate smiled on him with his hare-jugging antics; they were beneficial almost every single time whereas when I gambled the hare scratched my arms and shat on my hands, making me move back or miss turns.

Andrew throwing his carrots around, as usual

But despite that I think Andrew would have won, as he managed his carrots in slow-and-steady fashion whereas I hit upon a tactic of moving one piece back (to pick up carrots) and the other forward. Which seemed viable until I realised I still had 4 lettuces to be shot of and I was miles from the finish line - a late sprint put on by my green piece was merely for pride as Andrew's purple (stop it!) sailed over the line.

Purple wins with Green 9 squares back, dragging groceries

It's not a 'modern' classic, but you can see the links between old world gaming and new in Hare and Tortoise. And though it could be played very, very thoughtfully - and hence slowly - two things stop it being too AP-inclined - firstly the hare, and secondly player positions, which affect both how many carrots you might pick up AND what you can do on your turn, as no two pieces may be on the same square at the same time.

So while I don't foresee this as a Tuesday night staple, it was actually quite fun - an uncanny marriage of luck and strategy that does not outstay its welcome (we took about 35 minutes to play).

Andrew and I have decided to work through the Spiel des Jahres winners chronologically, so as soon as I get a copy of Rummiikub I'll be in touch...

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Railways of the Seven Wonders of the World

A hastily convened evening at Sam's featured Andrew and myself and commenced with Seven Wonders.

I battled both a plate of chips and handful of cards early on, while Andrew battled everyone and Sam tried not to pick up the wrong set of cards.

In the final analysis Sam just shaded the military and blue points cards, Andrew won on the wonder and money and my late surge into green science cards gave me hope and in the end it was as close as its possible to be:

1st: Andrew 50
=2nd: Adam 49
=2nd: Sam 49

After that we felt like a more meaty main course and Railways of Mexico was unpacked, Sam tearing the brand new cards from their shrink-wrap like some starved card-eating creature.

I thought I'd got a great start, bidding high for starting player and getting two bonuses straight away to cover the expenditure, but Andrew played a card that gave him points for one of my tracks and Sam quickly boxed me in and hoovered up resources left right and center for the four cube delivery bonus.
Sam dominates the south
Andrew's starting gambit of being nowhere near Sam and I meant he streaked into a mid-game lead while we slugged it out wacky-races style (Sam, you'll never know how close I came to overturning the table when you took that yellow for one point when it was worth four to me!)
Ya gotta speculate to accumulate...
As the board emptied of goods Sam leapt into the lead by investing heavily to complete long-distance routes. This time he didn't spend so freely as last time, but he still ended the game with seventeen bonds to Andrews six and my five, crippling his cash-generating capabilities. My monopoly of Guadalajara combined with a lucky break on a delivery bonus card meant I scored four or five points with all of my last six turns while Andrew just looked forlornly at the board wondering where all the cubes had gone.

I broke away at the end while Sam's bonds dragged him down to third place:

1st: Adam = 80
2nd: Andrew = 59
3rd: Sam = 57

And so we departed into the muggy evening, with Sam's plaintive cries of "Biblios? I've got to win something tonight." ringing in our ears...

Elephant in the room

Last night saw the welcome return of Taj Mahal for the Bracknell collective. Paul and I had played it once yonks ago and James was new to it therefore we spent the first 20 minutes or so in a crash course rules refresher. The rules seem to hint at a complicated game but as with the first time I played it, after the first round the mechanics become straight forward. Keeping abreast of the different scoring possibilities proved tricky for us and at one point we had to perform a count back as we were adding a point for every palace placed.

James and I were quickly into a bunch of heavy bidding wars for early territories while Paul sat back waited to see where the dust settled. James identified link between the provinces to be a key to victory whereas I felt getting goods and the elephant tiles as the way to go. As the game developed Paul came more into it. This game has a lovely balancing mechanism where winning a round of bidding can see you dominate a province but repeated wins means you retain fewer cards and are left with just one to add.

Everybody loves the Palace colours

Cards mean power in the bidding and thus it proved that I lost out in the latter stages to Paul's fist full of cards. Such as it was that my game trailed away like a toy boat pushed out to the middle of a pond. The initial shove showed great direction and promise but eventually it just ended up floating around aimlessly going nowhere. Unlike that cracking analogy! Inbox me if you require similar - it's no trouble.

I really fancy a curry

So Paul's late surge made the game a lot closer than it maybe looked half way through, James' Palace links making the difference.

James - 55
Chris - 48
Paul - 45

Then with time short we chose one of our favourites, Medici. There must have been some rustiness as I was allowed to load fairly generous cargos for relatively little money. Although it must be stated I was lucky with one draw where I needed a 5 to win the ships total for my last space and actually drew it out!

Chris - 163
James - 121
Paul - 114

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Crashes in markets and in space

Joe’s place! Seven o’clock! Me, Sam and Joe were first there and, after some chat with Charlotte about holidays, the three of us decided on a game of Coup. “It’s leaderboard, right?” asked an eager Sam. His eagerness didn’t last as he was first out after a couple of rounds. In the end, I prevailed over Joe and was consequently appalled when Joe asked “That’s not leaderboard, though, is it?” It is.

1. Andrew
2. Joe
3. Sam

Then there was a very welcome return for an old regular: Quentin arrived, and Coup was given a second run out. Thus began Joe’s descent into a dark pit of gaming anguish. He came last, followed by Quentin, then Sam edged me out as I unsuccessfully challenged his final move.

1. Sam
2. Andrew
3. Quentin
4. Joe

Next we discussed our next game. Since there were five of us, it was the perfect number to try Space Alert! from the makers of Galaxy Trucker. I was surprised that Adam agreed to another co-op game so soon after Pandemic but he did, so off we went!

Our glorious team... before the game started

We went through the rules, with Joe mercifully skipping over the amusing commentary between important bits, and then we launched ourselves into the tutorial game. We won admirably, with two turns to go, and were confident enough to go straight into the second mission.

Here we became a little undone. I, as communications officer, had put back the deck of enemy ships back the way they were. This meant that halfway through I had to replace the fleet of familiar ships bearing down on us with complete new and unknown enemy ships bearing down on us, and we didn’t have enough time to take in their special attack or defence powers.

Adam mashes the fire button (A).

And do you know why we didn’t have enough time? Because Captain Joe’s daughters needed to use the laptop, or wanted to know where the salt was. Meanwhile, without our good captain’s guidance, we didn’t know what to do. There seemed to be a lack of people able to use guns, and an awful lot of people able to use lifts. In the end, Sam only used three of his potential seven moves, while Quentin, Adam and I only placed cards until move five, leaving Captain Joe to fend off the enemies more or less by himself. We died.

After our failed mission, the disgruntled crew laid the blame at Captain Joe’s feet for not steering us to glory. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed it. I like games which have a narrative, and Space Alert!, at the very least, tells an absurd story of space exploration where people just press buttons because they happen to be there at the time, or needlessly shoot lasers into the inky void of outer space. Sam, though, didn’t seem totally in love with it, and after this he went back home, feeling a little under the weather.

After this, with the evening progressing, we went for Hab & Gut. This was Quentin’s first attempt at the game, so Joe taught him the rules. Not entirely accurately because Joe started by saying that the cards needed to be shuffled but then told Quentin not to shuffle those cards he’d been shuffling for the past five minutes.

Quentin's shuffling skills... wasted!

At last, with shuffled cards shuffled and sorted cards sorted, we began. We bought, we manipulated. We sold, we manipulated again. At the end of the first round, Adam was in a distant last regarding donations, with barely £75 on the board. I was sitting pretty with £200, so I went into the second round with high hopes. Joe, meanwhile, decided to invest in coal, and drove the price down. Alas, he drove it down to zero – at which point no one can buy those shares. After this, no one touched coal, leaving Joe’s plans in tatters.

Finally, we counted up the scores before working out the donations. I was in first, with Adam, then Joe then Quentin. When we calculated the donations, Joe was appalled to find he was least devout player, and relegated to last. Quentin stole a creditable third on his first go, and Adam complimented me on my play. A high honour, indeed.

Andrew 830
Adam 775
Quentin 510
Joe OUT (but scored 670)

With two last places and a destroyed spaceship full of dead friends, this must have been one of Joe’s less successful gaming nights. It was a lot of fun though. Unfortunately, the Form Table doesn’t have a sense of humour...

I leap to the top. Hopefully, Quentin will be keen to send himself up the table and we'll see him again soon.

Andrew1 2 1 3 1 8
Sam 1 3 1 3 4 12
Adam2 4 4 2 1 13
Joe4 4 2 2 2 14
Steve3 3 3 4 3 16
Hannah3 4 1 4 5 17
Anja2 5 1 5 5 18
Miles2 3 5 5 5 20
Quentin3 3 5 5 5 21
Lizzy2 5 5 5 5 22

And in the monthly division, I'm top too! Admittedly, I've played more than anyone, but dedication reaps it's own rewards. Hannah takes points ratio, and Sam is first on the medal table.

Oh, and one last thing before I go. I recently bought an X-box, because I had some old games I wanted to play. First thing I did was to rename all the computer-controlled characters in Conker: Live and Reloaded to something more familiar. See if you can find yourself...

Friday, 23 August 2013

War is hell

The outcome of wars can often be traced back to a decisive battle which swung the balance of power one way or another. This Wednesday surely will now see the battle of the Crystal Spires added to the list of D-Day, Thermopylae, Hastings and Waterloo. For in the dissection at the end of our game of Nexus Ops, James and I discerned that the outcome hinged on an epic battle staged in the opening act.

We had elected to set up the board in a configuration called "Close Neighbours" (I think) which places the opponents home bases next to each other. Bounding after far flung resources I turned back to see a rather weighty attack amassing at my border. I noticed that battlefield was a Crystal Spires hex and James had used troops which were hindered in such an environment. Sensing a chance at a devastating victory I amassed my own troops which carried an advantage in those hexes. As I advanced I placed down three special attack cards from my hand which allowed me to roll twice for each piece and add two to the roll of four of them. With such fire power I felt sure that James' pieces would be wiped of the map before he could fire a shot.

Shits about to go down

Unfortunately what happened next will go down in Nexus Ops lore for maybe weeks to come. James then laid his special ability cards down. First up was a card reversing the order! Argh! This meant he got to roll double the amount of dice first! Then a regeneration card which allowed his troops to survive and respawn in his home territory and finally he played a +2 to the roll card. His first roll was two 6's and two 5's. Blammo. A devastating attack - against me.... My remaining guys managed to hit some of his but due to the regeneration it was no hinderance.

I never recovered and James steam rollered me to an easy win 12 to 3.

Then onto 7 Wonders. James and I now have very definite playing styles in this game which is as follows. I collect brown card resources, James has a few and all the yellow card markets. I advance my military, James does enough to beat Dirk. James majors in blue building cards, I cover off a few. In the 3rd age I go for guilds and James lands the big blue cards.... We both totally disregard sciences!

In this particular game the guilds I picked were some doozies allowing me to get something like 18 points. The final tallies were the largest we've seen.
Chris - 70
James - 59

59 would have won in all of our previous games. (Checked against the old sheets)
For the record James had the Palace.

Why rules are important

This fortnight’s gathering at Roll For The Soul saw Sam make his debut, along with other newcomers Katy, Gareth and two others who I didn’t speak to. They were very shy at first, perhaps put off by the bloodlust of Cube Quest, which is how the evening began. They played chess in a quite corner of the café.

Cube Quest is a great game if you want to meet random people at a café, as you may well find yourself asking permission to look under their table to find a knight or two. Stopping the cubes from flying too far from the table became an integral part of the game. Sam beat Gareth, and then I beat Katy.

After that, we were six (Adam and Hannah were also present) so we decided on Tsuro. I’d bought Tsuro of the Seas, but we decided to forego the dragons as unnecessary. We sped off around the table, with Katy unsure of which way round her ship should be facing. Of course, she didn’t win with that kind of navigating. In the end, Adam and I had no choice but to finish the game together, face to face, with no exit route.

Then Adam enticed the two newbies over for a game of Ticket To Ride. This meant there were now eleven (eleven!) of us, since Steve and Anja had arrived with Luther. Luther didn’t play much, but he did a great job of distracting Hannah.

Five people played Ticket To Ride while five of us played an interesting variation on Pandemic. First, there were five of us, instead of the regulation four. Plus, it had been a long time since we played it and we forgot one rule that allows the diseases to spread. As such, diseases stayed localised, and things never really got out of hand. Not so much a plague, more a coincidence that some people were getting ill at the same time.

This only dawned on us halfway through the game, since two early Epidemic cards had disguised the fact that we were playing a really easy version of the game. We decided to chalk this up as an introductory game, and ploughed on, trying to cure and eradicate all diseases. But we failed, with one disease left uncured by the time the cards ran out.

It was fun but a bit of a disappointment. For some reason, getting the rules wrong somehow ruins the game. Even though it looks exactly the same to any passer-by, it takes the heart of out the game. We weren’t fighting impossible odds, but going through the motions. Talking of passers-by, one of them said “Oh, Risk!” which is the second time someone’s said that. But to be fair, Pandemic does look a bit like Risk. Certainly, more than Ticket To Ride does.

I’d like to try and play it again soon so this doesn’t become my abiding memory of the game. Also, playing a co-op game needs lots of discussion but in a place of loud music this can become quite tiring.

On the other table, I’ve no idea how TtR was shaping up. Anja seemed to be winning but I didn’t stay for the end. In fact, I left after Pandemic, as Adam and Sam drew up a makeshift chess-board on a sheet of paper because the real one was being used. A morning text informed me that Adam had won.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Bed the Penalty

Andrew and I sat down with good intentions. We were planning to map out the six-episode arc of our proposed sitcom and flesh out the characters. And to be fair to us, we did the bare bones of that. But perhaps our concentration was diluted by the coming and goings of Stanley and Joe, who weren't particularly interested in going to sleep just yet.

After a couple of abortive attempts at getting them to stay within five feet of a duvet, I abandoned all pretence of authority and let them roam freely downstairs. While Andrew and I worked, they broke out Shopping List, a game of memorising items that are then placed face-down - the aim being to fill your trolley first, matching your shopping list.

I was just thinking how wonderful it was that they could play so serenely this way when Stan took his victory a little too crowingly and Joe slapped him in the face. This is plainly out of the bounds of GNN behaviour, and I decided enough was enough, marching them both (Stanley more sympathetically) upstairs.

By this time it was nine and I certainly couldn't face more work, so we played Cube Quest. I went for one of the defensive formations displayed on the Cube Quest facebook page and, like the Peppa Defence, it worked well. Andrew had a more lassez faire attitude to combat - or more chivalrous maybe. But Cube Quest does not reward chivalry and I won both games.

Game, formation and image courtesy Cube Quest

We polished off an eventful evening with 7 Wonders, a game that needs no introduction - except to Sally, who arrived home halfway through and was seemingly taken with it. Probably because she wasn't being asked to play.

I wasn't best pleased getting the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, a wonder which has been distinctly unwonderful before with its privilige of building discarded cards. But I left these as late as possible and fate smiled on me with the arrival of Dirk's cards, leading to a pretty comfortable win:

Sam 60
Andrew 43
Dirk 31

Then we didn't play Biblios! I waved the game theoretically under Andrew's nose, but he was having none of it.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Four by four

This week, games night moved to Monday, since Joe was unable to make this Tuesday and for him to miss another GNN meet would be unbearable. As it was, three of the core four arrived at Joe’s house within seconds of each other, for an evening of quality entertainment.

We began with Metro, the recent table-topper of choice. It was Joe’s first game, but someone as game-savvy as him eats rules like these for breakfast, and we were off before we knew it.

Metro is a very confrontational game. Even if you’re trying to keep yourself to yourself, you can’t but help finish other players tracks for them. Inevitably, feathers get ruffled and people turn their thoughts to evil. For such a quaint looking game, it would be dangerous in more sensitive hands. As it was, Joe picked his way through the shrapnel of attack and counter-attack, just edging out Adam at the last minute.

Joe 70
Adam 69
Andrew 49
Sam 38

After this, we returned to the games shelves to decide what to play next. Adam was drawn towards Endeavor. This game, which hasn’t seen the light of day for years (making its first appearance on the blog!), involves exploring and exploiting less civilised areas of the world for personal gain. Joe talked us through the rules again, notwithstanding a giggling fit from Sam which wasn’t helped by Joe explaining what he could do with his bags. Of money, that is. In the game.

The game is faintly immoral, and certainly there’s a slight air of Imperial arrogance since Africa is the smallest area on the map. Joe fought bravely to make sure that Adam didn’t abolish slavery and, indeed, when it became clear that he wouldn’t be able to, Adam picked up some slaves for himself. At least the theme of the game matched Cybil the dog's Victorian-style harumphing whenever she wasn't allowed to go outside.

Pre-Patterson projection maps, I suppose...

Sam, meanwhile, went for shipping in a big way, picking up two lots of goods at once. I was worried at first that no one else was picking up the same buildings that I was, but at the same time I was keeping an eye on other players and trying to second guess them. It seemed to work. Joe totted up the scores on his electronic scoreboard...

Andrew 59
Joe 58
Sam 54
Adam 51

It was nice to get it back to the table again. I enjoyed but maybe because I won, even though I couldn't tell who was winning for most of the game. Sam seemed cool about it, but then liked it more and more as the rest of the evening wore on. By the time we had to leave, he was saying he really enjoyed it!

And then we played Biblios. But no ordinary game of Biblios. One of intrigue, subterfuge, bluffing and luck. Actually, most games of Biblios are like that, but this one ended with a score that will live in the memory for a long time.

Sam 4
Joe 4
Andrew 4
Adam 4

Sam won on the tie-breaker, by having most brown cards, and Joe came second by having most blue cards while I was third due to having most orange cards. What a game. And what a night. Thanks chaps!

Joe returns to the top of the form table. Sam replaces a first, a third and a fourth with another first, third and a fourth. We at GNN Towers salute such symmetry!

Joe 2 2 1 3 2 10
Sam 1 3 4 2 2 12
Adam4 4 2 1 1 12
Andrew 3 1 3 4 4 15
Steve3 3 3 4 3 16
Hannah3 4 1 4 5 17
Anja2 5 1 5 5 18
Miles2 3 5 5 5 20
Lizzy2 5 5 5 5 22

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Two men don't play Cube Quest shocker!

So Paul and I are two thirds of the way through Trans Europa when we started trading our favourite game board based funnies. Possibly initiated by a lame gag that I tried, I regaled / reminded my politely smiling opponent of the time we were all playing Civilisation at my shared flat in Uxbridge. Sam searching around for the right combination of resource cards was heard to exclaim, "Aargh, I'm two fucking short!". Ha! Paul then retold his tale where I was about to leave Sam's for a long late night drive home. On announcing I was quite tired Sam offered "Well you could just crash". Perfect!

Anyway, last night's events didn't offer up any similar gems but it did see three games played out. I was feeling decidedly dodgy due to a persistent neck pain that sometimes makes me quite giddy and sick. Paul proposed that we stick to shorter games and so Roll Through The Ages got a second run out in a week. It was Paul's turn to cop all the pestilence in a reversal of real life events! I was a wash with lovely goods and even had 56 on the stone track. Never seen that before.
Chris 1st
Paul 2nd

Then it was Trans Europa in which I was playing hard ball to Paul's gentleman Jim. In each round I was somehow managing to pip him by one track. The game took a little longer than the advertised box time.
Chris 1st
Paul 2nd

Then we unhoused little Agricola. I had taken the set to my dads for the weekend in the faint hope that we might rekindle our playing of games together. It lasted up until I said "and this little board is your farm". Father is not one to be seen playing with little wooden sheep and cows.

In this closely fought episode though I managed to pip Paul to the post by accumulating more points for things than he did. There was to be no rejoicing in shared victories today.

Chris 1st
Paul 2nd

(At work don't have the scores)

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

French Leave

The French odyssey is over, and it was an awesome holiday.
Tornadoes, blackouts, underground troglodyte farms - and lots and lots of wine, food and swimming. With the odd game thrown in. Just to paint the complete picture, Charlotte and I and our three girls aged 14, 11 and 9 were on holiday with our friends Henry and Rachel, and their three girls who are of similar ages.

Henry and I played a total of 73 games over the course of the two weeks - spread across 20 different titles. The majority of these were two-player, but almost every evening brought with it willing participants of various ages and sizes.

The big hit across both families was The Resistance. The kids would have happily played it every night, though a couple of days into the holiday it's charms had worn thin amongst the grown-ups - in fact Charlotte and Rachel both professed a hatred of bluffing and declined to play at all. They did play a 6 player Panic on Wall Street with us and the two eldest girls, and whilst the girls loved it and were keen to play again, both the mums disliked the mathsy aspect.

So here's a rundown of the games we played, in no particular order. The number in brackets is the number of times we played . . .

Targi (2)
It's a solid, enjoyable game - it just runs a little too long given the amount of luck involved.

Taluva (6)
All our games were two-player, which I think is the best number for pure strategy. Taluva is a real winner - looks gorgeous, almost no set-up time, and plays in about 15 minutes.

Caylus (2)
This top and tailed the holiday for Henry and me. We played on the first day in Najac, having stopped in Caylus itself on our way down, a very pretty medieval village. I thought I might be able to get a Caylus (the place) t-shirt there, but to no avail - no-one had built the t-shirt shop.
Henry won both games - the first was pretty close, the second I was completely trounced - but in my defence I was tired and forgot that building buildings was an important part of winning.

Henry won both of these, the first as the Scots, the second as the English. And both times by killing my king in battle! It's a brilliant game, one that could easily fit into a tuesday night if a two-player game was required.

This was my game of the holiday, and not just because I won both games. It's been sitting on the shelf for over a year, unplayed, since I got it in a trade. A huge, epic board, and an epic narrative - the Hundred Years War between the English and French. There are two scenarios, and we played both; the differences rules-wise are negligible, but they deal with different periods of history, so you get different leaders (Robin Hood comes in to play in the Lion in Winter scenario).
It's brilliantly thematic, and chaotic - each turn your leaders get a little older, and eventually die - sometimes leaving huge swathes of troops to be snapped up by an opposing leader. I think the main reason it's not played more is that it is very long for a game with so much chaos and chance; but I would say it's the most fun war game I've played.

The numbers say it all - this turned out to be the go-to short game of the holiday, when we had a spare half-hour. We even played at the poolside, and on the ferry. All this despite an inauspicious start. Henry hadn't played before, and wasn't enamoured after a first go. The off-putting iconography and slightly obtuse strategy certainly deserve their reputation.
But to Henry's credit, he agreed to try it a couple more times, and perhaps warmed to it a little more. We then got hooked on St Malo, which is much more instantly graspable, and so for a few days that was our short game of choice. But after 7 games, we both felt we had plumbed it's depths, and Race for the Galaxy seemed to offer a more substantial challenge. There's a real pleasure in getting a little engine running in this game, more so I think than with San Juan, it's earth-bound spiritual brother. So each game is different, and once you begin to know what cards are out there, you can really start to strategise.
I won all but five of the games of Race, though they were mostly extremely close, and Henry had begun to take the odd game off me towards the end. Amazing that it really does hold up - 21 games with just the base set and I'd happily play many more. I regret trading away the first expansion, The Gathering Storm - I don't think it needs the added complication of war, but the extra start worlds and 6-point developments would be fun to play with.

As mentioned above, this is a brilliantly quick little two-player; it shares a lot with Roll Through the Ages, and I think ultimately suffers that game's same lack of strategic depth. None the less a delightful little charmer, and actually one with a directly competitive edge - should you notice that your opponent hasn't built up as many defences as you, you can actively choose to keep the pirates, handing your opponent -5 points.

We played this once, the four adults with Matilda and Flo as a fifth player. They bid recklessly on everything, handing huge wedges of cash to all the other players, but at least they did so fairly evenly. It's a game that works best when everyone has a firm grasp of the internal economy, and one I'm always happy to play.

Henry and I played this with Bea and Flo, and really enjoyed it. We gave it a second outing with Martha and Dot as well, and it was very stressful - the Philosopher/Demon creating an infinite loop with their powers, and sparking some interesting philosophical debate. It's interesting that everyone's first game of this seems to be delightful, and the second deeply harrowing, making a third very unlikely.

Two great games of Twilight, with the first ending in an early war victory for the Russians, the second a mid-war victory for the US (or was it the other way round?) Either way, I won both, mwahahahaha. A great great game, deserving of it's number one spot on the Geek. It's quite a serious game, I suppose, and one I have to be in the mood for, but such mind games, and so thematic. I've said it many times before, but this one doesn't need to be feared - it's not heavy and difficult to learn.

Vegas (4)
Vegas went down well with Rachel and Charlotte, and with the eldest girls too. Perfect for when everyone wanted to play but couldn't face a big game. Sooo much luck, and yet such fun - it really got me thinking about those two things.

Staying in a little village,with nothing but a bar and a small local Epicerie, we didn't expect to find many opportunities for buying new games. But every wednesday evening in Najac there's a night market, and would you believe it - a stall selling games. Proper games! Quite a few titles I hadn't seen before, and a few we already had, and nestled amongst them, Cartegena. Henry bought a second-hand copy in Area 51 last time he was here, but forgot to take it with him to France, so I grabbed the copy on display. We played a three-hander, and it's a very neat little game (from what Sam says it may be one some of you have played, as Jon B may have a copy).

This was the four-player grown-up hit of the holiday, although it almost didn't happen, Charlotte and rachel both glazing over mid-way through the rules explanation. But they soldiered on, and as soon as we scored up the first game it clicked. I was really interested in Charlotte's take on it - she kept wanting advice on which card to play, professing not to know which was better. I was struck by this, because that 'difficult decision' thing is a key part of what we gamers actively enjoy, demand even, from our games. But for Cha it just produced stress.

For old times sake we played Settlers, and despite it's age and lopsidedness, Cha proclaimed it still her favourite game - the one where she know's exactly what she's doing. None of us really wanted to play a second time though, especially Henry, who suffered the way one person usually does in every game. And Rachel won, though Charlotte was right behind her, and I wasn't far off myself.

A few games of Incan Gold and Love Letter got played, and Henry picked up a nice copy of 6 Nimmt in a tin from a French toy shop. At the same shop I got Dobble, which was a huge hit with the kids, and is a brilliant matching/dexterity game. Everyone has a stack of cards with a variety of symbols on them to get rid of, and play cards on to a central discard by matching a symbol with one on the top card of the discards. But the real puzzle is the maths - each of the 55 cards contains 8 of an available 50 symbols, and shares one and only one symbol with every other card. How do they do that then? It's the sort of thing that you think might make a good game, only to decide that it's physically impossible and give up. But it seems it isn't. It's just very, very complicated.

And let's spare a thought for the few games that didn't get played: Tichu, Chronicle and Hanabi; Glory to Rome hit the table and got packed away seconds later. And Henry and I played 3 rounds of Through the Ages, before collapsing into lethargy at the fiddliness of it all. Actually I know that's a barrier to entry that can be hurdled with that game, but Henry had been so gracious in learning Race for the Galaxy against his better judgement that I felt I owed him a break. Oh and he had brought, from his attic, a very old game called Sorcerer's Cave, where you lay tiles and explore a dungeon. He'd never played it, and we gave it a shot. He got killed by a dragon after three moves, and we decided it hadn't stood the test of time.


We could have played Wallenstein

But at the last minute, out of deference to the absent Anja, we decided not to.

But first, to set the scene: Anja and baby Luther were away, giving Steve free reign of the house. Sam and I arrived and promptly played two games of Cube Quest while Steve ate his supper. 1-1.

Then Adam arrived, minus a poorly Hannah. So, with the four of us assembled, the only question was what to play. At first, we veered towards Wallenstein, but without Anja it seemed a bit mean. Instead we went for A Castle For All Seasons: Sam and I were experienced in it, Steve knew about it and Adam was a total newbie. Perfect!

We set up, Sam went through the rules (oh, how we miss Joe!) and we got stuck in. This was the first time that the game was played with the maximum four players, and it becomes quite a different beast. Relying on other players became paramount, and knowing where you were in relation to the starting player was also worth bearing in mind.

In the end, I juggled those aspects better than the others. I played a Master Builder in a round when two players built, and I went for bonuses for unbuilt buildings and money. Sam found himself bereft of resources for most of the game, Steve was awash with resources but strangely reluctant to build anything with them. Adam’s gaming instinct homed in on the better bonuses on the board and he cruised to a comfortable second place.

Andrew 65
Adam 41
Steve 28
Sam 15

Afterwards, Adam said he felt the game was unbalanced, and he searched the rules for clarification on the “unbuilt buildings” bonus, believing it to be too powerful. It was an odd game, though, because very few people played the Trader (or is it Merchant? You know: the guy on the cart), meaning resources weren’t flowing as much as they normally would.

Phone calls to wives, mid game.

After this mind-melting experience, we went for something that we thought was a little lighter: Metro. The recent newcomer to the table is rife with opportunities to sabotage your opponent. Especially if they’ve just won at A Castle For All Seasons. I found myself at the end of some very short railroads, and I was frustrated by the rule that says you can’t send an opponent off the board in one move even if it meant the best possible fate for my stunted network.

Adam was unstoppable and maybe that’s the secret to the game: slip past when no one else notices. Make no enemies, don’t rock the boat and before you know it, you’ve won.

Adam 75
Sam 56
Steve 41
Andrew 36

After this, we fancied something a little lighter. 7 Wonders, perhaps. Or Biblios. No. We went for Condottiere. Perhaps we forgot that this pocket Risk is a heavy game in a light game’s clothing. It is not a late-night closer, and I found myself quite exhausted well before the end of the game. My main problem with it is that I just don’t care who wins. I find myself making half-considered decisions, and not being bothered when I lost. Which I did. Perhaps the best bit is when other people get caught up in battles, and I did enjoy seeing Sam and Steve face off with Steve on 32 points against Sam’s 2.

Adam 5 territories
Sam 3
Steve 2
Andrew 1

An evening of three quite heavy games (apart from Cube Quest at the start). This leaves Adam top of the pile, with Joe still in second after his three week holiday.

Adam1 1 2 1 4 9
Joe 3 2 1 1 3 10
Sam 2 2 4 3 1 12
Steve3 3 3 4 3 16
Hannah3 4 1 4 5 17
Andrew 4 4 1 4 4 17
Anja2 5 1 5 5 18
Miles2 3 5 5 5 20
Lizzy2 5 5 5 5 22

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

The Four Step Program

As usual when Monday rolls around my fingers start twitching. Andrew, post-life drawing, was amenable to getting a couple of games in early so I don't arrive at Adam and Hannah's house tonight panting like a dog with the DT's.

With little discussion we went for Cube Quest as an opener. And having seen it so effective in a previous game, I plumped for the Peppa Defence, where the king is surrounded by cubes packed so tightly they resemble a Roman phalanx. Peppa saw off her dad Mark with this as the King was rendered inaccessible.

the Peppa Defence

And the tactic proved successful twice in a row. Is Cube Quest broken??!

We moved on to a Castle For All Seasons. This hasn't really caught fire with GNN yet but I think it has potential. Maybe not enough people have played it, and with more than two players I guess it's a little longer that the action-packed 55 minutes we played it in. But still - trying to build the castle for victory points (or money) and second-guess the card your opponent will play in order to take advantage? Collect resources for a big payout or go for smaller buildings and get more workers on the board (who bring you end game bonuses)? Time your master-builder to cash in on other player's activities? It's a gem.

In this instance Andrew engineered a multiplier that saw him score lots of points for all his houses - only jumping in the the not-quite-as-good multiplier did I manage to see him off:

Sam 91
Andrew 85

Then we played 7 Wonders. Interestingly both of us played Dirk slightly differently - rather than a card dump for opponents wants or a customer for your own resources, Dirk was played quite aggressively, building armies and expanding both his sciences and a number of guilds. That's the great thing about 7 Wonders - it's always very different due to the make-up of the hands.

Sam 64
Andrew 52
Dirk 38

We'd blasted through four games in an hour and a half and, as I had to see my sponsor, it was time to leave.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Last weeks report, today!

Those cards in Agricola. They ain’t half bossy, aren’t they? You fan them out and do as you’re told. Or woe betide.

They told James to slaughter sheep. A lot. Use them and churn out butter, slaughter them, cook them up in a gypsy’s crock. The hedgekeeper, stablemaster and woodcutter would between them ensure there was no escape. The cards had decided. This could stand up in court.

Meanwhile, Chris had seemingly been told by his cards to make two tiny pens which acted like little funnels as he sporadically air-dropped cattle into his fireplace. James wanted the cattle, but no. Chris kept nabbing them to serve up an all-you-can-eat-buffet for his massively overbred farming family. He kept shaking his fist at his hand of occupations and James felt assured Chris’ huge empty spaces would work against him. Though James’ plans had faltered a little. The cards wouldn’t be pleased.

But then... Was it a herd? (Nope, no room). Was it the plane? (Nope, Chris wasn’t going to use that card). It was Super-Plough. Yup, Chris finally dragged out his riding plough and filled his farm with fields. With a well-developed farmhouse and a massive family, fed with minced cattle, Chris won.

Defeat for James. He doesn’t blame himself. It was on the cards. (He’s easily led).

Chris 43, James 27.

Then a quick blast at Roll Through the Ages. Chris was playing well. Then, four skulls and an invasion. So he brought the game to a quick close, meaning even James’ grab at The Empire wasn’t nearly enough. A thrashing.

Chris 28, James 18.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Coming out of the cupboard

This evening, a non-GNN games night was arranged at Roll For The Soul, a café that sounds like it’s already a gaming heaven, but the “Roll” but actually refers to bicycles, not dice. I don’t think we have any games about bicycles, but they didn’t seem to mind.

By the time I arrived, the first game had already begun. Hannah, Adam and two women (who I assumed were Sustrans-types but were, in fact, real people who had come out of curiosity) had started with Galaxy Truckers. They had, however, paused for food so Adam and I had two games of speed chess. It was the first time I’d played the game for years, and Adam won both times.

By then, food had been eaten and another attendee had arrived: Tim. He and I played a game of Agricola: All Creatures. I taught him the rules, and he seemed to get the hang of it awfully quickly, and it ended in a draw: 36 all. Adam, of course, pointed out there is a tie-breaker, and technically speaking Tim won, but he only did that because Adam does not rejoice in shared victories.

Galaxy Trucker had finished by then, with Hannah victorious, and the two newcomers set off with, hopefully, a new appreciation for Eurogames. A man arrived, whose name escapes me, and the five of us sat down to play Ticket To Ride.

Before long, Judith arrived, and she took over from the unnamed man. Whereas previously, he had been simply picking up cards (not, in itself, a bad idea: Adam and Tim had been doing the same) she began building tracks.

I was the first to build and, on a whim, I also build a long but unnecessary six-link railway for 15 points. This turned out to be my best move, as the region around the alps soon became full and I had to send my long track around the south of the map and up to Moscow via Turkey. Not very efficient, but it was all I had left.

The game progressed, and we noticed people looking in the window at us, so we arranged the box so people could see the name of the game. And, during Ticket To Ride, people from the café came up to watch us and said “Oh, it’s a bit like Settlers/Risk” and I had to bite my tongue to not snap back “It’s nothing like Settlers/Risk!”

Near the end of the game, Judith discovered that unfinished route cards counted against any final score and so in a fit of sheer joie de vivre, she stocked up on extra route cards to try and counter the impact. In the end, she did finish in the black. By nine points. She still finished in last. I came fourth, one point behind Hannah and, amazingly, Adam and Tim came joint first. Adam was forced to go home rejoicing in a shared victory, whether he liked it or not!

By now, with our double-checking the scores and putting things away, the café was closing, with chairs already up on tables. We sallied forth into the central Bristol evening, having played a board game or two in full view of people, and the world didn’t come to an end! We must try it again sometime.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Brand new, you’re Metro

The first GNN Bristol meet for two weeks, and the first appearance this season of Steve and Anja. Joe and Hannah were away in far off places, so it was the five of us: the two hosts,Sam, Adam and I. After a brief spell of entertaining a laughing baby Luther, Steve took him off to bed while the rest of us began with a little No Thanks.

Sam went for my usual tactic of picking up low cards, while Anja went for the high-risk, high-reward strategy of going for the 30+ cards. And it worked. She got the cards 30-33 and at one point needed two hands to hold her coins. In the end, it was a convincing win.

Anja 10
Sam 31
Adam 33

Next up, with all five players round the table, it was a new game, freshly arrived that day: Metro. The Tsuro-esque train game involves building tracks for each of your trains, with points being earned depending on how long the track is. I found it quite frustrating. I wanted to turn my tiles to get the best outcome for me, but that’s against the rules: each tile has to be a particular way up. Then again, the game does allow for plenty of spoiler tactics as you can divert other trains back to the side of the board.

Sam picked up two big scoring tracks (20+) leaving the rest of us to splutter in his steam and smoke.

Sam 67
Andrew 41
Steve 38
Adam 37
Anja 36

After this saw a rare sighting of Condottiere. This simple yet difficult game of trumps over a map of Italy was new to Anja and Steve, so Sam talked them through the rules. Baffled at first, they soon understood the various cards. Several long-winded battles took place, usually during winter – when cards are mostly only worth one – which was exciting to watch, especially since it meant your opponents were using up all their cards.

Adam was master tactician extra-ordinaire: the game stipulates that three adjacent territories are needed, but he put together four. Anja came second with four territories, Sam next with three and Steve and me last with just two each.

Adam 4 in a row
Anja 4
Sam 3
Andrew 2

Finally, what else to play just to round of the evening? Why, Cube Quest of course! Steve and Anja haven’t played it yet, so it was the obvious choice. We split into two teams of two and three, taking turns to flick our tiny hexahedrons of doom into each other. Or, more often, over the top of each other and onto the floor.

We played two non-leaderboard games, and Adam was on the winning side both times. This will go some way to compensate for his making the worse shot of the evening: while trying to position a cube to a more advantageous position, he flicked it so gently that it didn’t move at all.

A lovely evening, complete with Sam and I bringing identical packets of crisps and the hosts laying on the style with bowls of Hula Hoops. Blowing two weeks’ dust off the form table, and we see that Sam has nabbed first place in a very tight contest.

Sam 3 1 2 1 3 10
Joe 3 2 1 1 3 10
Andrew 4 4 2 2 1 13
Adam1 4 3 2 5 15
Hannah3 4 1 4 5 17
Anja2 5 1 5 5 18
Miles2 3 5 5 5 20
Lizzy2 5 5 5 5 22
Steve4 3 5 5 5 22

Monday, 5 August 2013

Part and Castle

Sam came back from Cornwall, desperate to get back into the GNN swing, Even though the next games night is tomorrow, he sent out a text to meet for a little warm up.

Standing at the cupboard, Sam suggested Castles Of Burgundy. Since I was still to translate my solo-player success into something more multi-player, I agreed. And at first it seemed like the one-player version had taught me well. I was chaining buildings together early on, and a succession of rivers meant my position as starting player was never in doubt.

But don’t underestimate Sam, even as he panics at the growing disparity in scores. His board was full of small areas which he could complete swiftly for points. He kept track of me, and even pulled into the lead. A lead that, to our surprise, my bonuses couldn’t close.

Sam 208
Andrew 202

Then we considered another game, since Sam had just opened another beer. We pondered a few old favourites, but then we remembered A Castle For All Seasons. For a short while, it was the belle of the ball, surrounded by prospective suitors. But in the last few weeks, it was a little left on the shelf (literally) so it was good that we remembered it’s deep-but-quick charms.

We brought it down and set it up and, using Sam’s player guide, we sprang into action building castles and taverns and towers. Sam took the lead fro the start and didn’t let go. I closed the gap towards the end by scoring bonus points for money, but it was more to save pride than mount a serious challenge on his lead.

Sam 74
Andrew 60

And the day was done. Possibly enough to keep Sam going until tomorrow evening, but you never know. Maybe his animating assistants will be forced to play Biblios or Alhambra at lunch.

The Louis-Schmeling Paradox

On the Guardian's cricket feed today somebody was talking about the Louis-Schmeling Paradox, something I can find no reference to online (despite a lot of history between the two boxers) and so probably their own invention, but it struck a chord with me anyway.

"In sports economics there is this concept called the Louis-Schmeling Paradox which states that although you want your team to win every game it plays, if it actually did then the certainty of victory kills interest."

The choice between a whitewash and a tense, nervy game. Everyone likes to see their own team trounce somebody now and again, but for entertainment value isn't a hard-to-call, dramatic-to-the-wire game much better value? (This is especially the case in cricket, where over 5 tests you can end up watching (or losing interest in) a competition that is over with over ten days play remaining.)


But what about boardgames? Where is the balance between entertainment and likely victory struck? How willing are players to play a game they don't expect to win? And is playing a game you are confident of winning less exciting than an even field?

Although I hope I'm not so competitive as to completely rule out any game I can't win, I have to admit my reticence in playing Agricola is at least partly down to my conviction I'm destined for 3rd or 4th place (partly also because it's a long game to play with this conviction in place at the outset). Actually to be fair I do equally badly at Railways but I'm much more amenable to that, maybe because it feels a less pre-ordained experience, and there's an exploratory aspect absent from Agricola...

How does Adam feel when he sits down to play a thinky, strategic game with the rest of us? With the most regular attendees at least, he is recognisably the best at managing multiple game strands; at recognising what other players aims are as well as his own and adjusting his moves accordingly. Obviously he likes to win - who doesn't? - but is it too easy? I'd hope from the stats we strike a reasonable balance of pushing him a little, even if we may have some more luck-based games to thank for this. I think Tinner's Trail is a great leveller - it does have luck but by and large you can manage your luck, and when I sit down to play it I have no idea who is going to win.

I think we're quite lucky at GNN in this respect - usually Adam is the person to beat, but we don't have anyone who steamrollers everyone in every season. Our Louis-Schmeling balance is perhaps just about right in that we have a bookie's favourite but everybody has a chance to make their mark over an evening - or indeed a season. In fact having some odds to 'buck' makes it feasibly more exciting for the rest of us!

That said, it would be lovely to see someone hit the Perfect Five* before long. I was actually disappointed when Adam missed out on it recently.

*five wins in a row on the form table