Thursday, 31 October 2013

Small mediums at large

Hallowe’en. The evening before All Saint’s Day is traditionally a time of ghosts and ghouls, freaks and fools and we at GNN wouldn’t dream of ignoring such an old tradition. To commemorate the occasion, we... well, actually, we did ignore it.

On arriving at Roll For The Soul, I was distracted by the sight of a building being torn down across the road. I stopped to admire it for a minute before I entered, and so did Adam.

At first it was myself, Hannah, Adam and Martin. We chose Divinare, which was the closest we got to anything supernatural this evening. This game involves using your psychic powers (and memory) to guess how many of each type of card are in play as they get passed from player to player.

We at GNN had played it once before at a games weekend, but with the wrong rules, and it didn’t really work. We got it right this time, and it is a nice game of bluff, recall and a dash of luck. Out of us mediums (although Hannah pointed out that the plural of “medium” is “media”) Martin won, with Adam second and me in last. Hannah chose to concentrate on her egg and chips while we played.

After this was a period of transition. Hannah was going to leave but Katy and Mel had arrived but they wanted to eat/socialise before playing. How odd, we thought, but never mind. Adam, Martin and me chose a new game: Pala. It’s a trick taking game, but one in which the suits (which are colours) can be combined to change the lead suit. For example, if someone lays down a 5 Purple, you can put down a red card and a blue card and if they add up to more than five, then you win!

There’s more to it than that. There’s some bidding on what you think you’ll win and there are other ways to change the lead suit, and also the option to choose if you want to win or not if your card has the same value as the highest. Seems odd, but it is quite useful if you’ve bid on winning no hands at all.

I got the hang of it quicker than any of the other two, and I won. Being an artistic type, I instinctively know that red plus blue makes purple. I guess Adam wasn’t sure of a game where yellow didn’t win all the time. But it was an interesting idea for a game, and one that may reveal deeper strategies with more play.

After that, Mel and Katy joined us. Tinners’ Trail was chosen, due to it’s Cornish roots, and Mel and Katy decided to form a team. We explained the rules to them, and set off to pillage the peninsular of its precious resources. Katy rolled the dice to see how many cubes went in each mine and she was embarrassed by how much water she was rolling until it was pointed out to her that the water die had higher numbers on it than the others.

Copper started high and stayed high for the second round, too, before falling back. Tin remained pretty unexciting throughout. But there was a lot of copper on the map to start with, so we began with a lot of high bids for promising mines. Followed by a lot of pastie selling before we could actually mine.

Not for all of us, though. Adam started well and stayed that way, despite his discovery of an underground lake at the start of round two.

Meanwhile, his other mines were producing tin and copper in copious amounts, so it was no real surprise when he won. The big surprise was how we ploughed through the final two rounds in only twenty minutes, getting to the end of the game before the cafe closed. A lot of this was thanks to Martin saying “Speed!” whenever we started to slack off, and also thanks to Mel and Katy apologising to any friends who came to chat by saying they really had to concentrate now. A noble sacrifice.

We ended bang on ten o’clock, with Adam first, then Martin, me and Katy/Mel. But their score: 73 was close to mine of 77, so for a first game under strict time conditions, they can be proud of themselves. (For the record, Martin got 88 and Adam got a million billion. Or 115. One of the two.)

And that was it! We were gone! Until next time!

The Gaming Dead

Chris and James were exhausted. Half-term dads syndrome. Chris had hauled his family to London Zoo while James had, well, buried stones and twigs in the garden (his son’s idea*). Less exhausting than a trip to the zoo, but James did have to hold the bucket for the soil and was forced to watch. All the time. “Watch, Dad. Dad, watch. Put your phone away and watch me.”

If real life was ‘worker placement’, James and Chris might have placed themselves elsewhere yesterday. As they couldn’t, because it’s not (shame), they were baggy-eyed and delirious by the time kids had gone to bed and they settled/slouched into two-player conflict.

First up, Agricola: All Creatures Great and Small. James hasn’t played this that often, so while all the symbology was familiar from the big version, he couldn’t really remember what to aim for, and how fast to aim for it. Chris claimed similar, though he could have zonked and been talking in his sleep. Somehow, James assembled a neat Tetris-like arrangement of horses and sheep. Chris developed a farm with wide-open spaces for unknown reasons. (It would have hurt less, perhaps, if he’d nodded off and  fallen face-first into it).

What would be the worst game to fall face-first asleep into? El Grande with its Castillo, maybe?

The scores were added. James won. They compared scores to the old scorecards Chris collects (it’s a passion) and chortled nervously at their pathetically low scores, eyes darting to and fro, frantically trying to spot something they’d done wrong. Something they hadn’t added points for. But no. Shame-faced, that game was packed away sharpish.

(And Chris had spent the day looking at creatures in fences. You’d have thought he’d have put that to use).

James 34, Chris 27.

Next up, James’ fondness for Carcassonne, the first set, was catered for. Normally a casual game where  life is put to rights through wise debate as the tiles are idly considered and twiddled between finger and thumb; or mercurial banter fizzes between players or they talk nostalgically about childhood (they both had Demon Driver – and loved it (such low standards of realism in 1980!)). But this night, chatter was subdued as they stared bleary-eyed and tried to concentrate.

With little effect. The whole game was a bit of a botch-job as the simplest rules seemed forgotten. James found a tile next to his Opal Fruits he seemed to remember taking off the pile several turns earlier when Chris had halted proceedings to check the rulebook to see if gaps were allowed. Both players, perhaps from post traumatic stress disorder, made huge mistakes. Chris was in constant commentary mode, regularly announcing how beaten he clearly was, with James’ farmers dominating three quarters of the tiles.

But when it ended, Chris was shocked to find he’d won. James had carefully dominated a large area with just three completed castles in it. Chris got more points from his weedy little patches and won.

Chris 116, James 112.

*James’ son is 4 so there’s yet hope he’ll grow out of ‘planting stones’. One day.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Hey That’s My Fifth! (win in a row)

For the second week in a row, Adam hosted. For the first time this season, Steve and Anja could make it and like a weird DC/Marvel crossover, Chris came all the way from Bracknell to Bristol for work, and stayed for the evening too. With me and Sam in attendance too, that made six of us.

At first we were just four, as we had to wait for Anja and Steve to arrive. We dug out Hey That’s My Fish! As a quick filler beforehand. It may have the appearance of a silly kids game, but it hides strategies and challenges that deserve deep ponderous thought. At least that’s how we play it.

At the end, it was Adam wot won it.

Adam 28
Sam 25
Andrew 23
Chris 19

And this meant that The Perfect Five had finally been achieved! Five wins in a row for the creeping custard, and this means an extra special look at the form table before this rare phenomena disappeared!

Adam 1 1 1 1 1 5
Joe 2 3 2 1 2 10
Gonz5 2 3 2 1 13
Sam2 3 4 4 3 16
Andrew3 4 5 5 2 19
Quentin3 5 55 5 23
Chris4 5 55 5 23

Look at all those ones in a row! Look how pretty they are!

Anyway, the form table marches on, and with no sign of Anja or Steve, we broke out Bananagrams, an amusing game of wordplay, as long as your not playing against Scrabble experts who know all the two-letter words. I gave up halfway through the first game.


I sat out the second, and watched as Sam and Chris battled it out, with Adam left in their dust this time.


After this, Steve and Anja arrived. To be sociable, we played a couple of games of The Resistance. Round one, the resistance won convincingly when Chris was one of the spies, and had no idea about how to react. He was quickly unmasked and the other spy, Sam, was never chosen to go on a mission. Viva La Resistance!

Then for round two, Adam began by asking people if they were spies. When Steve and Anja said yes, I thought it was a clever double bluff, especially when Steve kept saying he was a spy. In fact, it was Chris and Sam again who, by some nice acting and clever play were able to keep up the pretence. Viva la Dictatorship!

Then we split into two groups. Steve, Anja and Sam went for Tinners’ Trail, while Chris, Adam and I went for Agricola. Adam’s recent form on this game has been pretty poor, so maybe this was went he got his mojo back? Not when you’re up against Farmer Smith. We played with Occupations and Minor Improvements, and I started to get worried when he seemed to know what each card did after he’d only heard the card’s name.

Chris plays Agricola like Richard Clayderman plays the piano. Suave, smooth and in a nice suit. Everything went together nicely in Chris’ farm while Adam and I bickered over the starting player. Adam cursed his luck in the final round as Chris took an option that would’ve netted Adam a tasty seven points. He only had himself to blame, though. Him and his family of five farmers.

In the end, though, it wouldn’t have mattered. Chris reigned supreme.

Chris 45
Adam 31
Andrew 23

Tinners’ Trail ended

Sam 135
Steve 128
Anja 113

Then Chris, Sam and I drove away, reliably informed by Talk Sport that Arsenal are going to have to finish above Chelsea if they want to win the league this year.

Sam1 2 1 2 3 9
Adam 2 3 2 1 1 9
Joe 2 3 2 1 2 10
Gonz5 2 3 2 1 13
Chris1 1 3 4 5 14
Andrew3 4 3 4 5 19
Steve2 5 55 5 22
Anja3 5 55 5 23
Quentin3 5 55 5 23

On the end of month leaderboard, surely it is merely a procession towards Adam’s ultimate victory.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Come the revolution!

In the week prior to Wednesdays meet James had mentioned that he had been routing around underneath the back tables in the Works and had prised out another bargain worthy of a try. Precious little information was divulged about it until the big reveal on games night with the promise that it was a quick learner. Being a bit behind with the kids bedtime routine meant that the time I entered the kitchen Revolution! (Remember the exclamation mark!) was in the end stages of being set up.

Revolution! is a fast paced influence/territory game with cruel bidding mechanism that achieves it's design to stymie the plans of your opponents. Set against a back drop of the American Revolution players are to use their influence tokens, a red fist for force, a black envelope for blackmail (geddit?) and gold coins for good old fashioned bribery to coerce 12 different upstanding members of the community to your cause. The public figures include people like, the captain, priest, merchant, general and err... spy and are all laid out in a grid in front of you complete with their varying support conditions i.e. the merchant allows you to win 3 support points (General score) 5 Gold pieces and influence the Market. On the brightly coloured playing board is a representation of a small town complete with dock, fortress, market etc. Each one of the venues has an influencer that allows you to put a marker in it. These have a finite amount of spaces and only the the clear winner in each wins the support score attached.

Colourful revolution

The clever bit of the game is how the tokens work. Using the VERY sturdy screens to hide your grid players are to choose which character they want to win over. The tokens work in an olympic medal table kind of way. Therefore force (Gold) will beat any amount of Blackmails (Silver) or Coins (Bronze) and combinations there of will always start biggest first and then down. Ties mean neither player win that characters benefits. Additionally gold coins can be used to influence any role but you are forbidden to place tokens on the same colours, so you can't force the captain or blackmail the magistrate... Ooer.

In the 3 player there was always spaces left over but often the case was players were competing for the same options. I came a cropper a few times with Paul either matching my choice or beating it therefore seeing my lovely tokens disappear to the supply piles.

Have ever seen such sturdy screens?

The game reminded me of a lighter version of El Grande and the association harmed neither game. Toward the end I began to fall behind on the score track and wasn't winning enough token for the next rounds and slipped out of contention. James, however, got to grips with the mechanic the best and edged away as the last spaces on the board where filled.

James - 205
Paul - 154
Chris - 86

Next up was another new game to the Wednesday night trio although not Paul and I in Modern Art. This early Knizia classic has its roots wedged in the brilliant game designer's economics past. Balancing out the right amount to pay for each range of paintings in the different types of auction requires a little bit of business nous. Which, unfortunately, I didn't have. Unlike Medici where bidding big can still bring in the goods in the art world buying low and selling high is the name of the game. Who'd of thunk it. Anyway I was completely bowled over by the figure James and Paul had managed to accumulate compared to my poor return. Paul rather charitably tried to cheer me up by saying the amount I had made would have been good for any company in real life, but really I sucked.

James - £520,000
Paul - £482,000
Chris - £342,000

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Some Kind of Wonderful

This week’s GNN saw a return to Easton, as Chez Adam was our venue for tonight. There were five of us:

First was a new game, the poorly-spelt Mascarade. It’s a Coup-esque game of bluff, except while Coup has two cards and you can look at them, Mascarade has one card, which you can’t look at it. Well, you can, but that’s your go for that turn.

The game begins with everyone being dealt a card that is then placed face up in front of them. Then they’re turned face down, and the general gist is that you can swap (or pretend to swap) your card with another player, look at your card, or perform your card’s special action. However, if another player (or players) think that they have the same card face down in front of them, then they can challenge. If there’s a challenge, then the players involved turn their cards face up and whoever is the real card-owner gets the benefit of the action, and the liar has to pay one coin to the court. First to 13 coins wins.

It’s a test of memory, really, as to who has what card or, more precisely, who you think has what card. Joe said afterwards that he went through the whole game mistaken about what his card actually was. And he came second. There was an air of cautious praise once we'd finished. I think this is one of those games that you can’t be sure if you like it until you’ve played it a few times.

1. Adam
2. Joe
3. Gonz
4. Sam
5. Andrew

After this we debated our next game. Railways of the World Great Britain almost made it to the table, but Gonz is allergic to train games, so it went back in the box. Instead we chose 7 Wonders, but this time with the Cities and Leaders expansion packs. Gonz explained them, and there were rule book in both Spanish and English, so we set off into battle, fully briefed and prepared for anything!

I have to admit, though, I did not have fun. Maybe it was my choice of leaders at the beginning, but my distaste of game expansions remains undiminished. It felt like we were playing all the bits that had been removed while they were play-testing the original. I found it fiddly and tedious. Others seemed to enjoy it more, though. Gonz went for sciences again, but found himself beaten by pacifist Adam who diversified, winning on only two categories, but coming second in three.

Adam 72
Gonz 67
Joe 66
Sam 63
Andrew 43

After this we went for Ra. It was new to Gonz and we decided to share rule-explainer’s curse by all of us taking turns in telling him how to play the game. Then off we set! However, I soon found myself falling behind and, not knowing what anything was worth, Gonz was also struggling. The other three, though, were having a titanic struggle. Sam hoarded gold, Joe used Gods, and Adam gave the proceedings a Vegas sort of feel, when Hannah came and sat on his knee like a gangster’s moll. To complete the effect, because he couldn’t lean over any more, he had to throw his tiles onto the board like a bored millionaire putting a cool grand on red 34.

But the game was slow going. There were plenty of toilet breaks, and Anja and Steve also arrived midway through to talk about babies or something. At one point, the games table looked like a lonely place to be. Poor show, chaps....

In the end, it could hardly have been closer. Adam, Joe and Sam took their places as New, Middle and Late Kingdoms (yes, I looked up “Ancient Egypt” on Wikipedia) while Gonz and I had to made do with pretending to be the shitty Old Kingdom and the Early Dynastic Period.

Adam 42
Joe 41
Sam 40
Andrew 22
Gonz 11

A bad evening for me, and not so great for Sam either.

Sam, distraught
Adam, meanwhile, is one away from the perfect five! Who can stop this gaming juggernaut?

Adam 1 1 1 1 2 6
Joe 2 3 2 1 2 10
Gonz5 2 3 2 1 13
Sam3 4 4 3 3 17
Andrew4 5 5 2 2 18
Quentin3 5 55 5 23

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The Wild, the Innocent, and the Suicidal Shuffle

Andrew and I haven't managed to squeeze in a little Monday night session for a while now, but last night we had a shared 8 to 9.30 slot in which to squeeze in a couple of games.

Firstly we played the effervescent 7 Wonders, which was notable - to me at least - because of my score which I think is a new record. Neither Andrew nor Dirk contested me on military, and that combined with my Mausoleum of Halikarnnassus (which allowed me to build two discarded buildings for free) allowed me to put together a string of sciences too, culminating in 81 points. Thanks Gonz.

It looks like 61, but it's not

However if I thought the evening couldn't get better I had forgotten the charms and potential of Cube Quest, which after an initial burst of play has had a little turn on the shelf. 

Our first game was over fairly quickly and had it been the first play ever might have left us slightly underwhelmed. But the second was an epic. Skirmish after skirmish was fought around the perimeter of the battle, and at this point there was only small hints of the madness to come. But as we ran out of troops, the pressure told on both of us, and our armies began to take on an air of unregimented disorder. Wild flicks sent them careering off the board at a rate of knots, and the closest we came to defeating the opposing king were slightly fey slaps to the face as a wannabe hero flew by. At one stage my promising-looking flick propelled my cube kingwards, only for it to suddenly leap skittishly into the air and over the king to his own demise. 

After a breathless 10 or so minutes we were down to a Mexican standoff, with two cubes each left on the board.


We shuffled for position, and promptly both flicked our Grunts off the board with opposing kings unscratched.


Andrew moved forward to try and tempt me into a flick. I chickened out and move backwards, hoping to do the same. Andrew shuffled forward an inch. Then I decided that it was death or glory, and went for the kill. As it turned out it was death and glory, as after punching Andrew's king off the board my own reeled away in celebration and didn't look where he was going, falling off the table and leaving the kingdom entirely unpopulated. Why can't these guys just share?

Monday, 21 October 2013

Survival of the Fattest

Sunday, Portishead. Games weren't originally on the agenda, but after a beach walk and an enormous meal (this was nearly called Roulade for the Soul) Katie, Mark, Sally and I stuffed to the point of inertness, and communication was reduced to a series of gestural wheezes. We were ready to hand over the communal child wrangle to the television, so a screening of Despicable Me was set up and, a window of time opening up, we were struck by the urge to play a game.

Vegas was brought out. For those uninitiated, this cheeky little number has a playing area of six casinos labelled 1 to 6, that at the start of the game are dealt a bunch of dollars (minimum $50,000). On your turn, you roll all of your dice (you have eight at the start) and choose which ones to put in a casino in an attempt to win the money. The dice numbers and the casino number must match, so if you choose your three 4s you put them in the casino marked 4. And note: they all must go in; you can't split up matching numbers.

This continues until everyone has run out of dice, then the person with the most dice in a particular casino takes the highest showing money card. If there's a second card, the person with the second-most dice takes that and so on.

The potentially brilliant/agonising thing about it however, is that if two people tie for the same amount of dice they cancel each other out - so (as in our game) when Mark and Katie got into a battle for a $90,000 money card they ended up with four dice each, and Peppa and I (playing as a team) took first place and the cash with a solitary die.

courtesy BGG user Tonksey

I started well with a decent haul in the first round, snagging a small lead over the others. My tactic was to hedge my bets and put in a single die here or there, hoping to give myself a bit of choice when the others ran out of dice. But in the second round we were all blown out of the water by Katie, who picked up $250,000 while the rest of us ended with scraps.

At this point it seemed like The Chiseller was well on her way, but three things happened in my favour. First, Mark and Katie began fighting over the same casinos. Second, Peppa got bored with Despicable Me and joined my team as Official Dice Roller, performing the task with something akin to dark magick in terms of what we wanted. Finally Joe peed on the sofa and Sally's attention was distracted by admonishment and laundry duties.

Also I should add that I encouraged the others to go after Katie, like the sneaky little shit that I am.

As Katie and Mark got into a philosophical debate about how their shared love was or wasn't manifesting itself through die placement, and Sally chased a damp-crotched reprobate around the living room, Peppa and I cleaned up.

Peppa and Sam $520,000
Katie $450,000
Sally $330,000
Mark $240,000

All of which means, after a long period of playing second fiddle to Katie or Mark, I stay top on the extremely occasional KMSS leaderboard. Sally improves her numbers but stays fourth, and Katie leapfrogs Mark. I keep telling them we're going to play 7 Wonders so that will probably be next...







Friday, 18 October 2013

Old tool(s)

With Netrunner not really catching fire with myself and James this weeks 2 player event saw some tried and tested titles in attendance. When asked James said he had a hankering (Or a synonym like it) for Stone Age. It felt a while since we had played it but we both knew the game inside out. As is often the case in 2 player Stone Age access to everything is pretty much on tap and therefore keeping an eye on which of the 4 key multipliers your opponent is majoring in and taking up the slack is sort of the only challenge. There is the opportunity to damage each others scoring potential by picking up a culture card which duplicates a technology you already hold. In this game we both elected not to do this (Unspoken of course)  as it often felt like a sub optimal move.

James' tactic of hoarding expensive resources and then over paying for huts saw him make great gains on the score track and build such an impressive line of dwellings I had to double check we weren't playing Alhambra. (Pause, wait for laughter to die down.) My tactic, purely decided by the first culture cards that I picked up, was for fields and axes and trying to keep up with James in the scoring. Before the final count up I think I was somewhere between 15 and 20 points behind and not keen on my chances. James scored his multipliers first and lapped me twice to post 284. My totals faired better than I feared and I managed to creep past reaching 304.

Chris - 304
James - 281

Next up was 7 Wonders with the 2 player free city variant. We both are becoming old pros now when it comes to using the free city to our advantage. Cards your opponents want can be generously handed to the non-player it so that its money can flow into your coffers or used as a card to build layers of their wonder. Their military often gets a boost if one player has neglected to invest adequately in red cards, similarly the blue buildings cards when its a free upgrade building. The game was close and in fact was only decided by me getting a very useful guild pop up at the end from the draw deck that gave me 6 points.

Chris - 51
James - 44

Soul Through The Ages

I arrived late at the fortnightly Roll For The Soul games meet, and I found four gamers (Hannah, Martin, Adam and Ryan) knee-deep in a game of Carcassone, and Joe watching while he ate. It was Adam’s homegrown version, where the fimo farmers tower over their fields and cities like a B-movie version of Carcassone. Except that the usual B-movie trope of the woman falling over at important moments and needing to be rescued by the hero did not take place. In fact, Hannah won, with the others not winning.

While they finished their game, Joe and I played Roll Through The Ages. Joe was a bit rusty on the rules but not on strategy as he went for the quick win, filling himself up with cheap developments, while I got more cities nice and early and went for more exclusive developments. Joe’s spoiler tactic won, and he got to five developments, ending the game, when I had only got three.

I got a beer from the counter, and I guess I must be a regular now since the owner handed me my order before I’d even said anything.

Hannah left and more people arrived, and we decided to split into two groups. The friendly, mixed-gender group playing a game on a recognisable map with trains that passers-by can instantly understand. And the other, less friendly group of three old men in the corner, playing a game with cubes and tiles and no clear objective unless you’ve already played it twice.

Adam cleverly sold Ticket To Ride to the newcomers by describing as being like Inter-Railing. That seemed to swing it, but one of them was intrigued by Tinners’ Trail, amazed that there was a board game set in Cornwall.

I didn’t take many pictures today, so instead here’s one I took earlier:

Happy Adam

Joe, Martin and I decided to give The Palaces of Carrara another go. This game has tantalised us with its sense of almost understanding it, but not quite. Maybe next go it’ll click. Not since Biblios has a game hidden its winning strategy so effectively.

Except that maybe Martin has cracked it. He won the first game, although it was close between himself and Joe. Martin’s strategy was to end the game soon as possible and rely on after-game bonuses, even though he’d barely scored a point during the game itself. Joe got second and I was third.

During this game, a drunken man wobbled over to us, pointed out of the window at a passing bus and stammered “Look! A train! In London!” After a few seconds, he changed London to Bristol, but was still shocked at seeing a train in the street. And then the cafe owner gave him some food in a brown paper bag, and that distracted him long enough for him to forget that he’d been talking to us at all and he wobbled away again.

Then we begun on a second attempt at Palaces... and found it was a closer affair. Possibly because Martin misread one of the end-game criteria (which change every game) and far from being about to finish he was, in fact, in a terrible position.

Despite that, he still grabbed a couple of powerful upgrade tiles and shot himself off around the scoretrack. As for me and Joe, our tussle for second relied on one decision: whether or not Joe would build a new building, or score what he already had. If he built, he risked a cheap building being drawn from the pile which I’d be able to build and end the game immediately leaving him without a chance to score.

He chose to build. A cheap building came out, and his fate was sealed. Martin hit triple figures, I got seventy-something and Joe lay in a distant third in the 30s, cursing his luck.

On the other table, Ticket To Ride ended. Adam didn’t win, despite his usual tactic of hoarding masses of cards in his huge spade-like hands. I can’t remember who did win, but they got 114 points. More or less the only number I remember from that evening.

But before they finished, we were able to squeeze in a quick game of Sticheln. This cunning trick-taking game is beautifully designed, even if it did take us a couple of attempts at getting the dealing right. Joe won, despite picking up the highest number of bad cards. I got no cards at all and came in second.

And then it was time to wend our ways away, into Bristol’s darkened, drunk-lined streets. See you in two weeks!

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Eclipse round the ear

Tuesday evening, mid October. Time for games.

Today we were six: Myself, Adam, Joe, Sam, Gonz and Quentin, who’d brought Eclipse with me. Well, when I saw that game on the table, my decision was made. It was time to go back to the stars!

Amazingly, people weren’t keen on my suggestion of six player Eclipse, so Joe, Sam and Gonz went into the other room to play something lighter and more fun, and they refused to take the twiglets with them. Adam, brave man that he is, was plunged headlong into a set of rules that, at first, make little sense even when explained patiently by Quentin.

We began, and Adam began by exploring the less risk/less reward III hexagons. I got a couple of lucky planets and ended up with lots of money coming in, allowing me to build up my fleet. Quentin sent his brave Interceptors into battle, only to see them shot to pieces by the implacable alien forces.

In fact, Quentin found himself stuck behind two alien sectors, unable to expand because Adam had taken most of the III hexagons. Instead, he busied himself in making his area as full of victory points as possible. I went for the big prize in the middle: The Alien HQ in the centre of the board! But by chance, Adam also wanted to have a go, too, and arrived at the same time. We we duty bound to fight it out amongst ourselves first.

What could have been a mighty and epic battle was over rather quickly, as luck favoured me and I shot down his two dreadnoughts. And if that wasn’t anti-climax enough, then I wiped out the alien base in one go. We stared at my collection of fives and sixes in stunned silence, before I took the spoils of (a very short) war.

By this time, the we were into the last round, and we tried to get as many victory points as possible. I went exploring, hoping to find more aliens to kill. Adam levelled up his technology and Quentin built a monolith.

Then, we added up the scores, and I’d won: Andrew 34; Adam 33; Quentin 33. But then Adam changed his last move, giving him the win: Adam 35; Andrew 34; Quentin 33. At the time I was so caught up in the excitement of a close result that it didn’t occur to me: You’re not allowed to take back your last go after the results are in. Maybe I’m being over-sensitive about this, but at least I should’ve got to change my last go too (which would’ve given me a win). Any thoughts? I’ll hold back on doing the leaderboard until it’s settled.

[EDIT] Joe has spoken. Adam's win stands.

Adam 35
Andrew 34
Quentin 33

In the other room, they played Kingdom Builder first.

Gonz 83
Joe 58
Sam 45

And followed it up with Downfall of Pompeii:

Joe 12 (fewest in the volcano)
Gonz 12
Sam 11

Hopefully, they'll fill us in with the details soon.

Adam 1 2 1 1 1 6
Gonz2 1 1 1 2 7
Joe1 2 1 2 3 9
Sam3 3 3 21 12
Andrew2 2 3 3 4 14
Quentin3 5 55 5 23

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Whose Top Ten?

Not my top ten games, and not yours. But all of us. Looking at the stats for games played since we started the blog it's interesting - okay, it's obsessive and unhealthy - to note which games have been played the most. For this list I'm disregarding fillers such as Trans America, Incan Gold, Biblios etc and just picking up on those longer games which have been played into double figures.

7 Wonders - 33 plays
Stone Age - 28
Alhambra - 26
Lords of Waterdeep - 22
Tinner's Trail - 21
Ticket to Ride - 17
Agricola - 14
Ra - 11
Railways of the World - 10
Ascending Empires - 10
Macao - 10

- with Brass just bubbling under on 9 plays so far. What does this tell us about our little group? Aside from the fact that this member has a limited attention span when it comes to drawing maps... That's what I should be doing right now. I think we should doff our caps to Lords of Waterdeep - for all the praise Tinner's Trail garners Lords has swept past it in pretty short order. Agricola would be higher had we started the blog a year earlier. And in a year's time I'd bet Railways will be higher.

Out of interest here's the top fillers list:

Biblios 33
Trans America/Europa 26
Tsuro 25
No Thanks 17
Poison 15
6 Nimmt 12
Roll Through the Ages 12
Incan Gold 11
Cube Quest 11

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Straight to Video

Saturday night, my place. A quarter of a century ago that meant cans of Heineken and watching Animal House (again), but one kind of societal non-starter has been replaced by another - games.

It was a bit like some kind of 70's war film, where a disparate band of heroes - probably featuring an aging Gregory Peck and under-40-possibly Roger Moore - attempted to negotiate their way to a hideout in the Alps before sabotaging a Nazi rally. But just as in war there were casualties and members of the crack gang who couldn't make it  - Matt was tied down by family and Steve literally was in hospital; thankfully with a short-term treatment for a relative.

While real dramas played out elsewhere myself (Borgnine), Andrew (Bronson) and Gonz (Kinski) did make it to the secret hideout. Gonz was first, and - I'm giving up on that analogy now- the first thing he witnessed was me dropping my dinner on the floor in the front room. I've only met Gonz once before and I was conscious that as first impressions go this wasn't ideal. However we laughed it off and, having put some tired kids to bed, played a couple of warm-up games before Andrew arrived.

Gonz was intrigued by Biblios so we did that first. He focussed entirely on browns and blues and, having won the tie-breaker on the latter thanks to the alphabet, wiped the floor with me 10-5. We then played Tsuro and I exacted some measure of revenge, winning once by default and once again by dastardly tile placement. But these were mere fripperies of course and the meat and drink of the evening began when Andrew arrived.

Gonz gave us the hard sell on Dungeon Petz, but though it did appeal I wasn't feeling energised enough to take on a big rule-learning session for a fairly long game. Instead we perused the cupboard and after a matter of seconds agreed on Lords of Waterdeep - which needs no introduction. Everybody knew exactly what they were doing and we were off. I was fortunate enough to be dealt the mission-that-gets-you-the-leiutenant at the outset and by round three had him up and running. Andrew was leading the field for three-quarters of the game, but fell away at the end as everyone struggled for money and I in particular for rogues. You'd think with no rogues there'd be money about but Waterdeep's a strange place. Before we scored our Lords bonuses I was 1pt ahead of Gonz - and thankfully for me we both scored 28 points for our seven valued missions:

Sam 156
Gonz 155
Andrew 124

 courtesy BGG

Next up was 7 Wonders. Again, a friendly face. But our universal perception at GNN (and Area 51 as I recall) of the sciences being over-rated was turned on it's head by Gonz, who specialised in science to a degree I have never seen before and scored 36 points from them. Allied to little bit of military might (11 points) it was enough to give him a comfortable win as well as opening up a real pandora's box:

Gonz 59
Sam 54
Andrew 40

Finally we played Portobello Market, which is a bit of a sleeper in GNN world. It only takes about 40 minutes to play and I think the fact it feels a bit in no-man's land between filler and not-filler means it doesn't get to the table verey often, but it's very nice; very strategic. My early lead seemed to stagnate though and I was overtaken by my sparring partners:

Gonx 111
Andrew 109
Sam 99

 courtesy BGG

I could have done one more game myself but it was half-ten and the others decided we could blow up some Nazis another day.

Adam 2 1 1 1 2 7
Gonz1 1 2 3 3 10
Joe1 2 3 3 3 12
Andrew2 3 3 41 13
Sam3 215 5 16

Friday, 11 October 2013

Probably Thou Art a Cruel Mistress

Today, it’s me, Gonzalo, who takes the role of  scribe of these chronicles, so please we patient with my stumbling English.

Last Tuesday Adam, Joe and me met at Joe’s for some board game action. I felt like playing Smash Up, so I brought it and shamelessly forced them to humour me. It’s a crazy area control game, played with cards, in wich you take two factions (decks), shuffle them together, and fight over the dominance of several bases. The factions belong to epic nerdy themes like pirates, ninjas or dinosaurs. So you can have a team up of zombie plants vs robot ninjas and alien pirates…So much for traditional, non random, trading, euro games, eh? Long story made short, you have minions and actions. You use minions for controlling the bases, and actions for gaining adventages and messing with other players.
Joe fought along the fairy ninjas, Adam was robot-russian bear cavalry and I was ghost pirates. The game dragged a little at the start, because even if the mechanics are pretty simple, there is a lot to read in each of the cards. But soon enough, we were screwing which each other, killing minions left and right, and doing all kind of witty, complicate schemes.

Around the middle of the game, Adam and myself were a little ahead. Joe face a grave conundrum, having to decide whom to grant victory.  After some thought, instead of that, he decided in the most Salomon-like way, to kill both of our minions and call it a day.
After that, I saw my chance to win, and having the biggest mouth in the known universe, I couldn’t help but comment that I had a master evil plan. Of course, Joe, hearing that, decided to play a card on me that forbade me from playing actions during the next turn, and thus keeping me from victory.
Adam took that chance and won. Damn you, Joe!!!
The score was 16,15, 12 (Adam, Gonzalo, Joe)

Then we played Kingdom Builder, even if I was weary of playing it, having read about its dryness. . They explained me the rules, and it results it wasn’t that bad at all.

I found myself enjoying and planning, and thinking I wasn’t doing that badly, when suddenly, the game ended. I don’t know how, but when the game ended, I had still scores of my little houses to build. Also, it seems that when one of the goals say the part of the board with the least settlements, and you have one with 0 settlements, that is the one with the least settlements! Can you believe it?? How it dares, using logic and language and stuff to steal my victory! Again, Adam won with 45, Joe followed with 41, and I am ashamed to confess my lousy 24.

To wrap up the night, we went for a short game of Pickomino. I don’t really want to talk about it. Stupid worms grumblegrumblegrumble
Joe 11, Adam 5, Gonzalo 2

In despite of my losing streak, I had a blast!!And next time….Revenge will be mine!
Also, we had a charming chat about the proper way to address a group of worms.

Adam 2 1 1 1 2 7
Joe1 2 3 3 3 12
Gonz3 3 2 23 13
Andrew415 5520

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Nexus Oops.

Hovering over the game bags (Yes thats right, game bags) the three Bracknellites (Honorary in Paul's case) were unable to make a decision or push forward a preference for the evenings main game. I floated the idea of three player Nexus with the hard sell of three being regarded as the optimum number by blogs and forums alike. Paul, unable to hide his skepticism, graciously accepted and we proceeded to unpack the mutli-various pieces that come with it.

Configured in its three player format the board looked instantly tight and set for conflict. Resources for exploration were randomly placed on the board and after the first few rounds Paul and I looked enviously over at James' industrial heartland churning out a whopping 14 Rubium per turn to our 9. I made early headway to the centre of the board hoping to poach some refineries, the games lifeblood, from James with Paul adopting the same ploy on his flank. Very quickly we began to see why this game is heralded for 3 players. The balance is perfect. In the game I played with four ended up with almost two separate battles on the same map. Downtime was noticeable and it was too slow paced. With three you always feel you are involved in the game even when it isn't your turn because there nearly always is a battle to be fought.

As the war raged on James' early advances had reaped a healthy collection of victory points and was ahead by 5. Then, he found himself fighting hefty battles on two fronts as exchanges between Paul and myself resulted in a stalemate defended weakly by disinterested troops. And anyway, since the winning margin was 12 points James had to be stopped at all costs! Even though we pushed him back and pinched his best refineries James had staged managed his final push to perfection. Breaking out from his home territories with a miner task force and parachuting into a poorly defended hex of mine he vanquished the troops and satisfied several secret mission cards to reach the required 12.

It was a close run thing. I was left wanting to know how the war would've ended even though the battle had been won. In fact James and I did play out one final conflict - Just for the fun of doing it! I was really impressed with how well this game played with 3 and look forward to the net bout.

James - 12
Chris - 7
Paul - 5

We then tried to squeeze in a game of Trans Europa. Everything was going swimmingly until James realised that he had two cards which were meant to be taken out. And we ran out of time. It was decided that this wouldn't contribute to the table. (Although for the record I was winning!)

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Your Purples are Finite

As I missed Tuesday last week and will again this evening, I really needed to fondle some card and to that end, after having played Galaxy Trucker with the boys (Stanley won) I coerced Andrew up to the house for a game.

Andrew was invited to choose and picked out Macao, the Stefan Feld game of dice wheels. We set up and realised we'd forgotten to set up. Then we started playing and realised we'd forgotten how to play. I ambitiously went for multiple-colour cards while Andrew kept his goals more achievable - but due to the vagaries of the dice and our own brains, neither of us could really get going.

Then Andrew suddenly surged along the scoring track and the wall, only to just as quickly lose momentum. And I fretted about the fact I couldn't activate any of my cards - I picked up two penalty chits and was about to receive a third when I pretty much stumbled on the tactic of using the joker cards from the city quarters - I had less goods to deliver as a result, but allied to my Statue card (which gave me bonus points for the dark city quarters, where the jokers were purchased) meant I was onto a winner, running out 60-something to Andrew's 40-something.

In the game's final quarter I'd finally accelerated through the gears. However I still forgot to implement one or two cards several times, and we're not sure if I mis-used the Midwife card... so it should remain non-leaderboard.

Macao is a great game but every now and then you seem to run into a bit of a dud - it happened before with myself Hannah and Anja, where none of us could really get going. If the dice help you and the cards come out in a way that invites chaining it can be brilliant. You also need to be switched on, and we really weren't last night - both of us finding that we didn't have enough cubes to do anything significant several times... hence the title of this post.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Carrera Hearts Poker

That’s what played this evening at Roll For The Soul, more or less, and not in that order. There were four of us at the start: me, Adam, Joe and Martin (Gonz couldn't make it. Something about a "birthday". Not sure what that's all about). Tonight we were banished upstairs because there was a gig downstairs and I suppose the owner of the cafe thought that a group of people yelling “Here goes his funny bone!” at sensitive moments of the set wouldn’t go down well with the artist.

Of course, we didn’t play Operation. Instead we played Black Spy. A rather feeble makeover of Hearts, the famous card game. The difference here is that the cards have illustrations of spies on them, they only go up to eleven (with a lot of sevens), and there are five suits instead of four. I have little to no patience with games that are just new versions of old favourites and this is no exception.

We played the first round with a fundamental rule wrong: we thought the player with most points won. I won. Then we looked at the rules and saw that we should be aiming for the lowest points. We played a second round, and I came in last by miles with 70+ points, while everyone else scored in single figures more or less.

After this, Katy arrived and we all played Kakerlakenpoker. This is a pure bluffing game. In a pack of 64 cards of eight types of animal (rat, cockroach, bat, fly etc) the rule is simple: pass a card to an opponent face down and tell them what it is. They can either say they believe you or not (if they’re wrong they keep the card, face up, in front of them. If they’re right, you keep it) or pass it on, having looked at it, to someone else and the bluffing begins again. The first person to have four cards of the same type loses.

So simple, yet so cunning. And, luckily for me, not an “improved” version of poker (although I did inwardly wince when I heard the name). It’s all about the bluff, the nerve, about having the chutzpah to look your opponent in the eye and say, without laughing, “That’s a frog.”

There is only one loser in this game, and it was me, hoisted on my own petard of confidence: five rats were out (three in front of me) and I thought I knew where the others were but Martin blind-sided me, and I confidently said “That’s not a rat!” to his card, but it was. My second last-place of the evening. Suddenly, everyone’s eagerness to have a RFTS leaderboard was looking like a trap!

Finally, it was a second appearance for The Palaces Of Carrera. This game had been a cautious hit the last time we played. Katy bowed out, and the four of us set up and Adam got an introduction to the rules. I played with half an eye on the time. I remembered how quickly the game can end, with little warning.

I bought up expensive white and yellow marble, so I could build in the highly desirable residences. Martin bought dirty dirty black marble, keeping his buildings at the lower end of the market. Joe and Adam went for cities in the middle.

During the game, Martin admitted that he still didn’t know the right strategy for this game even though he’d played it six times. Certainly, I was feeling the pinch from spending so much early on, and I thought I'd made a terrible mistake. But then, we all seemed a bit skint. We’d begun with a spate of buying marble. So much so that we ended up with no blocks left in the bag! An event so startling that Martin reeled back and accidentally knocked his pint glass off the table in such a way that most of the glass went under the table. Physically impossible, you might think, but anything’s possible at Roll For The Soul!

As for the game, Adam picked his way through the rules gingerly, like a cat unsure of the surface it’s about to jump on. I went for money, mostly. Joe had started building up resources in readiness for a big push when once again Martin closed the game suddenly. The thing about this game is: after that happens, you only get one more go, maximum. And there’s not a lot you can do in one go. If you don’t have some nice buildings ready to score at a moment’s notice, you can be left scratching your head.

However, I had used up all my bad luck earlier that evening, and my investing in the two highest echelons of Carreran property was just enough to get me bonus points for both (I tied with Adam in one, and with Joe in the other). This sped me off around the score-track and I ended comfortably in first, with Martin second, cursing my luck.

I left after this, but I guess they others stayed for one more. I await more news...

By the way, what about this leaderboard? Any ideas? Something serious like The Division or something a bit random and silly?

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

First and Last and Always

That’s how the new season began for me.

I arrived first and, having only recently learnt that the right way to knock on Joe’s door was to rattle the letter-box, I completely missed the new and handsome door knocker that’s now attached. Joe patiently pointed it out to me, and even gave a little demonstration, so I’d know for next time.

There were four of us: myself, Joe, Adam and Gonz. At the start of the evening, while we were waiting for Gonz, we decided to have a look at a new game: Renaissance Man. Joe had played this game half a dozen times as a single player, so he knew the rules well. When Gonz arrived we were still looking at it and, since it was already out we decided to give it a go.

The reception was not great. It’s sort of like Ludo, but with cards. In Ludo, you have no choice but to wait patiently for the right roll of the die. In Renaissance Man, if you don’t have the right card, then there’s not a lot you can do. The game looks as if it’s giving you options, but it’s only an illusion. Each card has an action, but to do those, you still need the right card. There are four cards in the middle of the table that you can fight over, but only if you have the right card. Also, as the game progresses, and people’s pyramids of cards are built, you get more actions per turn (one go per level) but fewer actions to chose from (you can only action those cards which are not covered).

At the end, Adam needed one more card to build his pyramid, and his game was reduced to picking up new cards at the start of each round, hoping one would fit, and if they didn’t, he couldn’t do anything. I was close, but I had a little leeway in my actions. Then I worked out how three cards in my hand would work together, so I was able to win triumphantly (or rather, put us all out of our misery).

1. Andrew
2. Adam
3= Joe
3= Gonz

Joe apologised as he put the game away. He said during the game that he didn’t understand how the problem of just waiting for the right card hadn’t come up in play-testing. Then he had the terrible thought that perhaps it had, but the play-testers had gone “Hey, this is fun!”

I could see how it might be an enjoyable single-player: just you, your objective, and a strict time limit. As a multi-player, it was very dry and with almost no interaction except over the four cards in the centre. I will hold off from rating it on BGG so Joe can trade it away before its reputation spreads.

After this, we were in need of a pick-me-up. Gonz suggested Space Alert, which was certainly a complete change, but we wanted something less co-operative. We chose Stone Age. A classic, by any definition of the word. Gonz needed some prompting since he was used to playing on the computer, which did all the collecting stuff/moving pieces for you. Adam, too, needed a helping hand since he seemed to “round up” some of his sums at the start of the game.

I went for civilisations, and had half a plan to go for people multipliers, but it wasn’t to be. Adam got into farms and axes early - the Sam tactic, as he later called it. Joe got a bit of everything and Gonz built his family up. But mostly we were all in thrall to the Stinky Cup. Oh, Stinky Cup! Somehow it’s peculiar aroma adds to the realism of a game based on unbathed hunter-gatherers.

Everyone except me went for huts in a big way. I was mortally hurt mid-game by two rolls for food that came up snake eyes, and me with no axes! I almost starved! Luckily, stone-age man could digest wood. We used two of Joe's finest dice arenas, and Joe managed to roll a die in such a way that it paused dramatically on one corner, before settling on five. Adam shot off further and further into the lead, and it was a comprehensive win by the end.

Adam 206
Gonz 185
Joe 181
Andrew 154

After this, the rain had begun and we set off into the night. A new season is underway! New hopes, new dreams, new horizons! Surely, if God hadn’t meant us not to play games, he wouldn’t have made cubes dice-shaped!

Adam125 5 518
Gonz235 55 20
Andrew415 5520
Joe335 55 21

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

The Bad Lieutenant

The Bracknell bunch season finale took place on Friday night as there was a postponement due to Paul's trip to the orderly realms of Switzerland. On James' arrival it was impressed upon him in no uncertain terms that he stood a chance of topping the ratio table should things go his way. His excitement became somewhat dulled when he realised that there was no trophy that came with the award, a feeling I can totally identify with when my run away B division win in the East Berks Scrabble Club league went totally unnoticed by the national press.

Anyway to the games. I felt that in order to give James the greatest chance of temporary greatness we should plumb for one of his favourites. I'd asked earlier in the week what his top 5 games were and Lords of Waterdeep came in at number one. Never a hard sell for the Bracknell trio it was unboxed and set up. During its course each player took a turn at extending a lead only to be dragged back. Paul had established himself as the keeper of the useful buildings, James had spotted and completed some beneficial Plot Quests and I had elected (Against my better judgement) to take the extra man in the lieutenant.

Approaching the last two rounds James had opened up a decent, unassailable looking, lead of around 30 points. On the final turn I performed on the surface what looked like a total bastard move. I could see Paul needed warriors to complete a massive 25 point quest and I took them just to stop him. Next up was the completion of my own heavy hitting quest. That done I was still left with around 10 points to gain with two agents to place. James, out of adventurers, was left claiming extra pieces to bolster his score as it looked to all around the table that my chance had gone. I was left with 3 warriors and 1 cleric and scant few options on the board to choose with all available quests way too expensive to finish.

With a final roll of the dice, which are not included or even part of this game, I elected to reset the quests and hoped that one would arrive that I could complete. It did. 8 points after nabbing an extra cleric. James took it on the chin as the final count up of completed quests and money etc revealed my narrowish win.

Chris - 180
James - 168
Paul - 144

At this point credit should be extended to Paul who mentioned to me on the drive to the station that he had a mandatory quest in his intrigue cards. He decided not to play kingmaker and let James and I battle it out. He said he was sorely tempted after my blocking move, but as I pointed out, if I hadn't taken those resources I couldn't have completed that last quest!!

Then with 45 minutes left we choose to take a run at Paul's nemesis 7 Wonders. Every time we have played this Paul has spent the bulk of the game scratching his head and saying things like "I really don't know what I'm supposed to be doing". Only this time he thought he didn't but he did winning comfortably with best military and most useful guilds...

Paul - 43
Chris - 37
James - 33

And for you palace watchers out there, I had it.

Not sure what this does to the final table but I'm pretty sure it leaves the winners of each category intact and James doesn't have to worry about a trophy he's not getting.