Thursday, 30 October 2014

Essen Essence.

So this years Essen came and went and a 5th Wednesday in the month meet for the Reading Boardgame Social was hastily arranged so that the multifarious purchases of the group could be tabled. I arrived just in time to squeeze myself into a 6 player game of Colt Express. This game has an impressive "board" as it is made up of 6 little 3d train carriages complete with engine.

You want theme? - you got it
In this game each player is a wild west bad ass robbing a train of all its swag. Using a deck of movement cards you program your moves by handing them to the dealer in a predetermined turn order so that they can be re-revealed.
My baddie
Those familiar with Roborally will see a similarity here. Other players actions can interfere with your actions and cause unexpected results. Add into the mix that you can pick up damage from being shot by others and a roaming marshall you have something that starts veer into party game territory. It's not as frustrating as Roborally and only lasts four rounds. Its fast moving and actually a lot of fun with 6 players. Any hoo I managed to win in slightly fortuitous circumstances when a player carrying a suitcase full of cash dropped into my carriage at the same time I had programmed my guy to sock anyone nearby in the jaw. He dropped his booty and my next card was to pick it up.....

Me 3200
Dave 2000
Shane 1750
Chris 1550
Matt 1250
Paul H 1150

Next up for those wanting a challenge was Steam punk space exploration game Onward to Venus. This beautifully themed concoction is set in our very own solar system and playing factions that were world powers in the Victorian era. I got Ze Germans because they were the yellow counters and was facing the massed ranks of Russia, Britain, France and USA. The object of the game is to spread your influence around the planets and moons of our solar system setting up mines and factories, nabbing resource cards, victory point counters and averting the odd crisis. Players with the most mines and factories on a celestial body wins VP's in a 1st 2nd 3rd kind of way.

Earth - In an alternate Victorian space age universe

I decided I liked the look of Mars so in my first turn I flew my little space rocket to the red planet leaving one troop ship back on earth for reinforcements. This, I found out quickly, was my first mistake as no sooner than I had left orbit when the next player beat me up and nicked my factory. "Welcome to Earth!" My next mistake was to be taken in by a damsel in distress. Next to me Laura had been steadfastly collecting action cards until it was discovered that she had passed the 10 card threshold. Since we were all new to the game I felt it unfair to penalise her into discarding them as she had been using actions to collect them, therefore we agreed she could use them next turn. To repay that kindness she promptly destroyed several of my military units using the same cards in her hand that I had strived to save. (This is a little dramatic. She probably would kept those anyway BUT THATS NOT THE POINT.) In fact this became quite a theme throughout the game with my shiny yellow units being taken off the board due to a Yankee sneak attack. It was enough to give one a complex. Anyway the damage was done and the game owner Chris, strolled to the win.

Chris 41
Laura 34
Daryl 31
Me 22
Dave 13

The night was still relatively young so I jumped table again and joined the unboxing of another new game Boxes. This extremely simple game appears to have taken it's inspiration from the bizarre and not and all staged TV programme Storage Wars. Here, like the show, we are bidding for unknown lots of cardboard boxes each of which may or may not contain things of value. At the start of each round players may look at a certain number of boxes secretly so that they might be able to decide how much to bid. Multiples of the same colour goods create a bonus. Bidding is in two forms, closed and open.
Totally pointless gavel

I managed to not win any boxes at all through out the game. The prices just seemed too high.  Therefore I was left with the money I started with! It wasn't a winning strategy.

Paul 4150
Matt 3480
Me 3400
Paul H 3360

To end the evening we then played a couple of games of timeline which I seem to be quite good at and won both games. In fact I don't think I've lost with my deck yet....

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Four Tribes. Five Days.

Five days in Dorset with four families - Joe's, mine (Sam), our friends Tom and Hannah (plus Theo and Esme) and Alison and Simon (plus Elliott). It's something of a tradition now, as this was the third year running we piled into a rambling 1930's house and indulged ourselves in fine wine, fine food and of course, games.

It's only really myself and Joe who are committed gamers, but Tom, Simon and most of the children are at least intrigued, and often keen. It was amazing to watch how young children will pick up a game very quickly, whereas some of the adults will start to glaze over, defeated, as soon as there is a third or fourth rule.

I'd brought along a few games and Joe a few more. We both had a new purchase with us - Istanbul for me, and Machi Koro for Joe. Both were big hits.

Image courtesy JackyTheRipper

Machi Koro is a game of dice and cards. Thematically each player is building a city, and they grow from their initial two cards (Bakery and Wheat Field)) by generating money to build more buildings (or other things, such as the curiously un-urban Forest), which beget more money, which beget more buildings and so on. The first player to build four specific landmark buildings - Radio Tower, Train Staion, etc - wins. Personally I didn't get on with it. A series of rubbish dice rolls and consistent strategic ineptitude on my part in three attempts all ended with me soundly beaten and somewhat frustrated. But I was the sole voice of dissent, as Joe, Tom, Simon and the kids played it serially over the five days to much appreciation. I think Tom usually won.

Istanbul won the Kennerspiel des Jahres, the award for the "Gamers Game" this year, apparently seeing off Concordia in doing so. I don't know if it's the better game, but it's certainly more accessible. It's slightly reminiscent of Five Tribes in layout and movement, but any similarities end there, as the game moves much faster and finishes much quicker. Each player is trying to be the first to get a number of gems - 6 in a two-player game, 5 with more. Everyone has a merchant they move around the variable set-up board, dropping off assistants to do tasks in worker-placement style. You can try and generate money and buy gems, or pay for them with resources. Getting certain in-game bonuses or extras will also get you a gem. Key to the game is movement - you can only do the action of a building if you're dropping off or picking up an assistant, so you can't go scattergun all over the place.   I played this as a two, three, and four player and enjoyed them all - admittedly I won them all, but Tom never played it.

 Image courtesy Kenneth Hiew

Cube Quest was also a big hit, particularly with the kids. Big Joe and I spent a good deal of our time searching for cubes behind or under furniture as the flicking velocity increased. It's a great leveller, Cube Quest. I won a few games - but I also lost to both Little Joe and Stanley, and Stanley defeated Tom (Tom!) with possibly the Flick of the Trip - a two-mat sniper-style hit on Tom's King.

Little Joe prepares for battle

Possibly the biggest hit, though, was a variation on many party games which Alison introduced: one by one the adults chose a book and read out the title, and blurb on the back. Then everyone wrote their own opening line to the book in question, and they were all (including the real one) read out. Points are awarded for a correct guess and for anyone who guesses your own faked effort. I won this game narrowly but it helped me massively that, being only fairly drunk in a room full of paralytic people - courtesy of some extremely strong margaritas - I had my wits reasonably about me. I have never seen Joe as drunk as during this game. I'm not sure I've seen anyone as drunk as Joe during this game. He fell off his chair three times, went outside for a mysterious 'walk', and fell asleep upstairs during the last round whilst the children - still up to witness events - regarded us all with appalled, yet justified, disdain. The game definitely benefited from our inebriation though, as well as an impressive collection of 1950's literature on the house's bookshelves - titles including The Swish of the Curtain, The Houses Inbetween, Destination Unknown - and best of all Gently Sahib, the story of a tiger killing someone in a sleepy England town and poor old Detective Gently assigned to investigate. Our own investigation of the novel itself featured a fleeting appearance of Sausages and Mash, the game of reading out sections of a book and turning any words beginning with S or M into 'sausages' or 'mash' - or variations thereof. No-one - or maybe everyone - is a winner with this venture.

Our rival to Simonen

Other games were played - Dominion, Fauna, Camel Up and X-wing (basic version). The latter three were curiously flat: Charlotte admitted Fauna had never lived up to its first play when there was hysteria over the Bushy-Tailed Gerd. Though we played to the end nobody requested it again. I had a disaster, finishing stony last and embarrassing myself by thinking Balearic music came from Central America. Music and geography - not my specialisms. I tended to focus on the map and not guess at length and weight that much. Personally I really struggle with weight once you get beyond a pound - I've realised I measure weight in terms of cheese.

Dominion, and Elliott's leg.

But Fauna was probably the success of the non-successes; Camel Up was okay but it lacks the immediacy of something like Cube Quest, and actually is a tiny bit fiddly rules-wise for something that plays in 20 minutes. X-Wing I really need to learn the proper rules to, as the base game - played by Elliott and I - is fairly dull. I'll bring it along to GNN and let Matt teach me! Trans Europa also saw the table at one point early on, and the eerily prescient event of Tom winning happened. I think apart from Fauna and Cube Quest he may have won every game he played.

Take It Easy got played a couple of times, with Joe beating me in a two player, and I'm not sure who won the group game. Probably Tom. Wizard also made the table, although I only witnessed a small part of the game which was Theo going for every single trick in two subsequent rounds. Tom won.

Simon won Dominion (Tom didn't play) in a tie-breaker with Elliott, who had a bit of a crazy week overall. On the second night he fell out of a tree and broke his leg in two places. He spent a night in hospital and then returned with his limb in a cast and recommenced gaming, albeit more statically before. As someone who can generate a few days' worth of complaint about a split nail, I take my hat off to his calm stoicism throughout the whole episode. He also - pre-break - beat myself and Theo at Raj, when I picked up two minus cards thanks to the boys tying on lower bids. A late surge when the boys were left with low-numbered cards was not enough to catch up. Oh Raj! Why dost thou forsake me so?

There were also several games of Top Trumps, both Stan's several-years-out-of-date European Football Stars deck (Tom beat Stan) and Joe's Transformers version. I now know that Optimus Prime travelled to Earth after thousands of years in search of the Allspark, only to find his nemesis Megatron awaiting him. Poor Optimus.

Vegas, and the crossword

We didn't spend the whole time at the table. There was walking and beaches and Lyme Regis and football and cycling and even mushroom foraging, leading to the discovery of the Shaggy Ink Cap, which is non-poisonous unless eaten with alcohol, or even (apparently) combined with potent aftershave. Simon already knew this, as he recounted the fact that Georgians tried to cure alcoholism by feeding the afflicted with the shaggy ink cap, and thus supplying them with non-fatal yet lingering hangover symptoms.

We didn't need mushrooms for that.


On the last night we played (Las) Vegas (Tom won) early in the evening, and Joe's plan for Lords of Vegas as the main event were stymied by lengthy meals and lengthier chat, including Joe himself coming up with the tagline for the relaunched Soda Stream: Force Air Through It! He did still try and push Lords of Vegas through, but at 10.40pm, my shying away from it dissuaded others. Sorry Joe. Instead they played Long Shot, the game of betting on plastic horses. In fact that's what he, Tom and Simon are playing now as I write. All that remains to be seen is who finishes second behind Tom. I'm going to bed.

We are the gentle knockers

Martin and I arrived at Adam and Hannah’s and gave the secret (almost silent) knock on the door to gain entrance without waking the baby. Hence the title.

With Joe and Sam off on holiday somewhere (with their families too, I guess) and Matt having to be at someone’s birthday again (were all his friends born on Tuesday or something?) we were six at first. The aforementioned Adam, Hannah, me and Martin, as well as Ian and Katie.

We began with a jolly six player: 6nimmt. Martin had brought the classic cow-themed version, so we were not distracted by visions of zombies while we played. Nevertheless, the result was remarkably familiar. Ian got locked into a spiral of picking up cards in both rounds, and ended the game. It did seem a lot like Hannah and Katie were picking on him.

Martin 1
Hannah 11
Andrew 14
Katie 28
Adam 30
Ian 68

After this, Hannah decided she was too tired to play, but she stayed around long enough to watch the opening stages of the dramatically titled Google Datacenter Manager. This is a re-themed version of Palastgeflüster, and the idea is to get six different cards from your hand down onto the table in front of your with no duplicates. To do this each card has a special action (swap, discard, show hand etc) that will allow you to change your cards.

It’s a nice game. There did seem to be a lot of downtime between turns, especially since the next player is determined by the colour of the card just played. This means it could be a long time until your next turn. Mind you, Martin did say we were playing a lot slower than was usual. But there’s plenty of opportunities to try and ruin your opponents game, so there's some potential for some back-stabbing fun.

Martin 3
Ian 3
Andrew 2
Katie 2
Adam 1

After this we played Mamma Mia, the card game of pizza creations. The game involves playing ingredient cards from your hand onto a steadily increasing pile and, optionally, playing a pizza card too. The idea is that the ingredients of each pizza can be made up from the ingredient cards in the pile below (and in any left over cards you have in your hand at the end of the round). It a game of memory and some gambling, too, as you can play a pizza card hoping that the previous pizza cards failed, leaving you with enough ingredients to succeed.

It was a fun game, but the most fun was seeing Adam fail to make pizza after pizza. Cruel, perhaps, but we’ve all had games like this. Which is why it’s alright to laugh when someone else has one. Katie, meanwhile, played well and ended with a comfortable lead.

Katie 5
Ian 3
Andrew 3
Martin 3
Adam 0

Finally, we ended with two rousing games of No Thanks! Both were pretty strange. In the first game, I got lucky early on with chaining together 35-34-33, which left me with lots of coins. I effectively just watched the rest of the game. Ian nearly got minus points with a series of short runs, which would’ve joined up if only he’d picked up that one card instead of sending it round.

Ian 2
Andrew 20
Martin 35
Adam 51
Katie 75

After this, we figured we could squeeze in one last game of No Thanks. This time it was a closer affair. Ian astonished us all with another chain of cards. Katie did much better in her second time playing and Martin came last with a usually respectable score of 25.

I thought I'd done pretty well with this...

... until Ian did this!

Katie 14
Ian 16
Andrew 21
Adam 23
Martin 25

And with that, we gentle knockers sped off into the night.

On the form table, despite his appalling start to the evening, Ian rises up to second. In fact, I think most people have improved their standing thanks to Adam tumbling from top to second from bottom in one evening.

Sam 3 3 1 3 1 11
Ian 2 1 2 1 6 12
Andrew 3 2 2 2 3 12
Joe 3 2 3 3 1 12
Martin 5 3 2 1 1 12
Katie 1 5 1 2 4 13
Chris 4 2 4 4 1 15
Matt 1 3 2 5 5 16
Hannah 2 2 2 5 5 16
Adam 4 4 3 3 5 19
Stanley 4 1 5 5 5 20

And on the Division for this month, Martin is sitting pretty on the Points and Medal Table. Hannah takes first place in Points Ratio.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

I pity the Thule

Although three of us had been playing the night before, that didn’t stop us from re-entering the fray. Battle-hardened, war-weary, fight-fatigued and spat-spent, Ian, Sam and me joined Martin, Adam, Joe, and Hannah for our regular Tuesday meet.

At first, we were six because Hannah was putting baby Aurthur to bed. We filled in the time until she could join us with Timeline. Inspired by Chris’ mixed set, Sam bought a new deck of cards, and wanted to give them a test run. The theme was scientific discoveries, and there was some concern over the wording on some of them. For example, the first calculation of the distance from the Earth to the Moon. Is that the first accurate calculation?

Reservations aside, it was still an educational game, and it got the evening started.

Ian 0
Andrew 1
Joe 1
Adam 1
Sam 2
Martin 2

After this, we split into two. Three of us (me, Joe and Martin) played Greenland, Phil Eklund’s new epic of obscure but accurate pieces of history. In this case, something to do with surviving on Greenland. The other four went for Amerigo. And I’m glad to say that us playing Greenland were sitting to the North-east (just about) of those playing Amerigo. It’s these little details that make it all worthwhile, isn’t it?

Being in different rooms, I only caught a glimpse of their progress of Amerigo when I went in to get another can. I did notice that Ian had made an early dash for the big island in the middle. I thought he had it sown up, but maybe he’d made his move too soon, since the scores at the end were:

Adam 121
Hannah 115
Sam 107
Ian 98

As for us in the other room, we spent a peculiar evening in the company of Phil Eklund’s latest. Our early suspicions that we were about to have a unique gaming experience was supported by the baffling slogans on the box. No eye-catching commercial-friendly words to tempt you into buying the game. More like impenetrable one-sentence explanations of certain rules (what is a "biome", anyway?) and an illustration of a typical playing card with the words “Put husband here” next to a big red arrow pointing to a woman on the card.

After a rules explanation, we had to go through ten turns (each one a generation (not literally)) and at the start of each turn there is a random event that we all have to deal with. Our first event was fairly benign: Beaver Pelt Fad. But as the game came to a close, we were all struggling to keep our number of meeples up. Even Martin.

The playing area is made up of two rows of steadily shifting cards. You can place meeples on them to hunt there (using dice) and if you’re very lucky you may get three-of-a-kind (for example) that lets you keep the card, either for victory points or as a bonus action you can put in your hand for later use.

Joe had a very up and down game, going from a hopeless situation to sitting pretty and then back again during the ten turns. I started brightly but went into a slow decline thanks to being particularly prone to shark attacks. Martin had a bit of a benefit in that green get to start of a part of the New World with plenty of wood to burn to get energy.

My tribe, the Thule (hence the hilarious blog title) are great at kayaking, but I found little opportunity to exploit this. Joe’s tribe began with a domesticated animal: a pony. Before long he found it too expensive to keep, so he killed it, only to realise the next go that he couldn’t travel as far, and he regretted his rash decision. Maybe he should have kept the pony and let an elder die instead.

We ended with the event Dense Summer Fog, complete with bland illustration. I’ll say this much: Greenland is a game which offers experiences that no other game does. Martin ran away with the win, while I just about scraped second thanks to me killing a polar bear in the second round.

Martin 27
Andrew 8
Joe 6

It was fun, but I couldn’t tell how much of that fun was due to the absurd events and cards that come up throughout the game. I’m sure we skipped over a lot of the rules. There was very little fighting or marriage. I’m sure there are greater depths to this, and the dice rolling certainly livens the game up, especially as you can collect cards that influence the dice results in your favour.

I hope we play it again, since it would be stupid to only play it once and base your decision on that.

Amerigo and Greenland both ended at around the same time, but after an evening as intense as this one, there was little chance of one last party game to finish off the night.

It’s close at the top of the form table, with just four points separating first and fifth.

Adam 1 2 2 2 1 8
Martin 1 3 1 2 2 9
Andrew 2 2 2 1 3 10
Sam 3 3 1 3 1 11
Joe 3 2 3 3 1 12
Ian 4 1 3 4 2 14
Katie 3 2 6 1 3 15
Chris 4 2 4 4 1 15
Matt 1 3 2 5 5 16
Hannah 2 2 5 5 5 19
Stanley 4 1 5 5 5 20

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Fun With Dead Civilizations

Tonight Chris was in town, and so an APB was sent out from GNNHQ for any willing and able-bodied gamers to rendezvous at Sam’s. To play some games.

Chris, Sam, myself and Ian were tonight’s brave players. When I arrived Sam was showing Chris the basics of Five Tribes, and as I walked into the kitchen Sam looked embarrassed and declared “We’re not playing it” in exactly the tone of voice the people usually use for “Mother, I’ve never seen those magazines before in my life.”

That was put away and Ian arrived. Chris suggested we play his new copy of Timeline: the general interest edition. I usually do well with Timeline, but it’s usually about inventions. This edition had things like The Introduction of Clementines and The Domestication of Cattle. It also contained the curiously but vividly illustrated Invention of Hypnotism.

I had no chance with trivia like this. I’m used to historical events, not stuff like “First person to balance on the two back legs of a chair” or whatever. Chris fared better.

Chris 0
Sam 2
Ian 3
Andrew 3

No one seemed to be in the mood for anything long, so a pile of hour-long-ish games was produced, and from this Ra was chosen. I don’t have a great record at this, and Chris hadn’t played it in years. Surely, this would be a walk in the park for Sam. I went for monuments early and Sam’s first round collection of Niles looked like it would pay off, were it not for a conspicuous lack of floods in round three. Chris went for a little bit of everything and ended up with a large bit of nothing. Ian wrestled with several inner demons while choosing whether to bid or not, and in the end he seemed quite happy to not come last. My magnificent megopolis was not enough to overturn Sam’s lead.

Sam 39
Andrew 30
Ian 18
Chris 13

What next? Well, in the face of a ticking clock and terminal indecision, you can always rely on 7 Wonders to be the right decision. I got a very ordinary Wonder, which only got me money for my troubles. It was so bland, I’ve forgotten which one it was.

I played a fairly simple game, avoiding war and scoring a bit in each other category. Chris was scuppered as his initial plan of going ballistic with guns and bombs was undone by Sam and Ian having exactly the same idea.

Ian had good guilds and Sam scored almost everywhere.

Sam 55
Ian 50
Andrew 47
Chris 37

There is a 7 Wonders division, and I’ll be honest it’s a little embarrassing. Sam and I have played so often that we’re over forty points from each other and our nearest rivals. Is Sam’s score of 150+ points a sign of genius, or a signal for help? Gonz wins points ratio with another high score that will probably stay for a while.

Next up was Poison. Another Knizia, and another interesting game. Ian went for the unique tactic of trying to score most in all colours. And, surprisingly, he did it! Alas, there were four poison cards to drag him back in the first round. Otherwise, a sterling effort, and one that I didn’t think was possible!

But it’s a high risk strategy, and Ian’s eagerness to pick up cards was easy to exploit. Both Sam and Chris got through rounds picking up no points at all but it was yours truly, Mr Consistency, who took first place.

Andrew 15
Chris 16
Sam 18
Ian 26

Finally, there was room for one more light game, and Camel Cup had been mentioned throughout the evening. Clearly an irresistible treat, especially after all those savoury llama snacks that Chris had brought with him

Once down on the table it teased us with its probabilistic delights. Was it really possible for Orange Camel to piggy back on other camels from fourth to first? Well, anything is possible in this game. Just not very probable, that’s all. Why on earth did Ian bet on it, then?

Sam 37
Andrew 30
Ian 30
Chris 26

So... to the Form Table!

Not much has changed, not even after five games in an evening. Oh well.

Sam 1 3 1 1 2 8
Adam 2 2 1 1 3 9
Martin 1 2 2 4 2 11
Andrew 2 1 3 2 3 11
Katie 3 2 6 1 3 15
Ian 3 4 2 3 3 15
Chris 4 2 4 4 1 15
Joe 3 3 1 3 5 15
Matt 1 3 2 5 5 16
Stanley 4 1 5 5 5 20
Hannah 2 5 5 5 5 22

Friday, 17 October 2014

Reiner Knizia's Massive Botty

I just thought, seeing as neither myself, Andrew or Joe are capable of saying "Reiner Knizia's Colossal Arena" without sniggering like juvenile twits, that I would get the inevitable out of the way in the title.

Last night I sent the call for gamers but nobody could face the trip. Sick of games, or life, or me - who knows? All I knew was that I had several unplayed games in the cupboard and the least I could do in the available time was learn the rules to one of them, so the next time I open the cupboard door my expression could be 10% less glazed. And where better to turn than the arena of Doctor Knizia, betting on mythical gladiators, whilst presumably breathing in the pungent air of mathematics?

So. In Reiner Knizia's Big Backside Colossal Arena you are spectators betting on a big hoo-ha between said Gladiators - the game takes place over five rounds, and during each round you'll be using combat cards (with strength of 1-10) to lend your support to some, undermine others, and using your chips to bet. When the bets are counted up the winner is the one who has made the most money.

thanks to Aarnenaatos

But wait. It's a Knizia, so nothing is quite as it first seems. First off, in the first round players can make secret bets, which are worth the most if your gladiator is still standing at game end when there are only three fighters left. And just like 'real' betting, early bets are worth more than late bets (i.e. 8-3 gets you more than 4-3). And you can only make a total of five bets - so you need to choose wisely.

Finally, if you have placed the most bets on a certain gladiator, then you are that creature's backer and when you play a combat card to that gladiator you get to utilize that gladiator's special power - there are too many to list here but basically they fly in the face of the standard rules.

Finally finally, nestled amidst the combat cards (which mostly match certain gladiators and have to be placed beside them) are spectators and referees. Spectators are blood-thirsty fans who have jumped into the arena to help their favorite and they have their own little mini-rules. There are two types of referees, one of whom forces players to (potentially) reveal their secret bet, and another that does something else that I've forgotten. What I found intriguing was the idea that as well as trying to undo each other, players also end up collaborating at times, if they have backed the same gladiator. The whole thing takes less than an hour, unless your wife arrives halfway through and you watch Breaking Bad instead. Like Citadels or Meuterer, it's a lot of game in a small box.

There you have Reiner Knizia's Gigantic Bumhole Colossal Arena. I can't wait to open it up again.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Key-ping up appearances.

With the ranks of the RBS due to be decimated by attendees to Essen and my day trip to Harrogate optimism for any games this week seemed low. However, with two members pledging that they were going to turn up I prayed to the gods of motorway incidents that they might smite road users elsewhere rather than my route. They half obliged and through tempestuous skies I emerged into the Abbot Cook at 7.30pm to see Dave and Matt sitting there looking at the pub menu. On my tense journey home it did strike me as odd the lengths I go to just to push some wooden cubes around a table but then I used to play football, and if you break that down it really does seem like madness.

Anyway, my reward for my extended trip was a game of Keyflower. Patchhistory had been mooted but nobody had played a game of it before and the rules were perceived to be terrible...

Keyflower with 3 feels slightly different (In the same way Agricola does) from the 5 of my last game.  It scales nicely and the turns zip by but there seemed to be less interaction this game. Auctions for tiles were given up on quicker and, when built, players tended to use their own home tiles for resources. I slipped into the same strategy as last time winning the resources tiles and hoping for a complementary winter tile to aid my scoring. One didn't come.

Boats - strangely two tone

There was a curious lack of 'tool' resource tiles, which I needed, to upgrade some of my home tiles and when Matt used a yellow worker to produce some for himself I was undone. My solitary yellow worker was not enough to get what I needed. I also ballsed up my resource movement thinking two of my tiles were connected when it only kinda looked like they did..... You have to watch for that in this game. It's easy to make a small mistake. I think I reused a green worker when I should have chucked him back and I'm pretty sure I made other errors too.

Matt - 51
Chris - 45
Dave - 31

Next, to my surprise, Biblios was up. Still not clever enough at this game to forge a solid strategy but when Matt and Dave both kept increasing the brown dice which I had thirteen points in I thought that was as good a plan as any! I kept strong in another colour and helped down vote green.

Chris - 9
Matt - 6
Dave - 0

Lets see that Biblios table now!!!

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Tribed and tested

This day may be better remembered for the positive results from N. Ireland, Scotland, and Republic of Ireland, but for us it will be remembered for the day that the Lords of Waterdeep expansion came to the table!

But first, a little background. There were six of us at Sam’s: the host, Ian, Martin ,Katy, Adam and myself, and we began with a little light introduction in the laid-back form of Take It Easy. A simple of where cruel fate twists the knife in your back in ever more amusing ways. Especially with our habit of calling out various words, bingo-style, of certain topics.

However, for a while, it looked as if there may not be a game at all. But Sam’s artistic skills came to the fore and he fashioned a remarkably faithful copy, allowing the game to progress unhindered.

But perhaps the most amazing part of the evening was that Martin realised the missing tile was 5-2-8 at exactly 7.55 (ie, five to eight). Amazeballs!

The first round (with Sam as caller, and the topic was “clothes”) was close: only 77 points separated first and last. But the second round (Ian as caller, topic: punk, rock and grindcore bands) had people grinding their teeth and cursing the heavens in frustration. Not Adam, though, who came first in that round, as he had in the first. In the last round (caller: Adam, topic: condiments and sauces) he was second after Martin, but by then, the win was sown up.

Adam 527
Sam 452
Andrew 421
Martin 419
Ian 334
Katy 330

After all that, we split into two. Adam, Martin and I went for the cluster of analysis paralysis that is Five Tribes, while Ian, Sam and Katy chose Lords of Waterdeep with the new expansion. Of course, this expansion allows six players, but Martin would not be shaken from his belief that anything D&D related is as much fun as shaving with a cheese grater, so we had to split into two groups of three.

We set up, and Adam was told the rules. We played and we pondered. Adam noted that this game has pauses long enough for a comfortable toilet break. Martin said that was a weakness of the game just as I was saying that it was a positive part of the game. Despite our contrary opinions on the game, Adam cruised serenely (if a little baffled) to a win, having got a multiplier for his yellow meeples, and plenty of goods. Martin went for djinns, and I didn’t specialise in anything much.

Adam 191
Martin 160
Andrew 136

The game ended with Martin deciding that, after several attempts, he really didn’t like it. Adam admitted himself bemused by the whole process, while I thought I’d like to give it another go or two before I decide if I like it or not.

Lords of Waterdeep Plus was still winding up, so we played Love Letter as a nice little filler. Adam said he wasn’t a fan since he didn’t understand the strengths of each card and how to play them. Nevertheless, he and I raced into a 2-2-0 lead over Martin in the first four rounds. Then Martin declared he’d win three in a row and take the win, and he came close. The score was 2-2-2 when Martin foolishly decided to compare hands with me when I had the Princess. Victory!

Andrew 3
Adam 2
Martin 2

And so LoW+ ended. I’ll leave it to them to describe how the expansion changed things. The only difference I noticed was hearing the occasional reference to “dirty skulls”.

San 173
Katy 149
Ian 131

Then, since we were six, we decided on a final game of Tsuro. Martin claims that Tsuro is all luck, but that’s just a bluff. Everyone knows it’s a game of skill and bluff. I had no chance, stuck between Adam and Martin, so I was out first. Katy followed soon after and then Ian, Sam and Adam all converged on the same square with Ian doing the decent thing and killing them all off at once. This left Martin as the winner.

1. Martin
2= Sam
2= Ian
2= Adam
3. Katy
4. Andrew

Sam claims top spot on the form table, with Adam in second.

Sam 2 1 2 1 1 7
Adam 2 2 1 1 3 9
Martin 1 2 2 4 2 11
Andrew 4 1 3 3 2 13
Katie 3 2 6 1 3 15
Joe 3 3 1 3 5 15
Ian 2 3 5 4 2 16
Matt 1 3 2 5 5 16
Stanley 4 1 5 5 5 20
Hannah 2 5 5 5 5 22

And on the Lords of Waterdeep division, Sam sees himself on top on points and the medal table. Gonz takes points ratio with a record that probably won't be broken for some time. Steve lurks menacingly on the division, threatening to overtake me, despite having only played half as many games.

Wait! I almost forgot: we have a Tsuro division, too. And what a cosy love-in it is. Adam wins the medal table, Sam wins on points and we have joint winners on points ration: Quentin and Anja.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Nefertiti say Nefertiti again

Another weekend games night at Sam’s. This time shifted forwards to Friday. At first, the was Sam, Joe and I around the table, along with Stanley (keen for another battle after his win at Lords of Waterdeep) and little Joe (in a team with Sam). This time the chosen game was The Art Of War, Knizia’s cunning game of luck. However, tonight was not Stanley’s night as time and time again he tried to take castles, only to end up one dice short when attacking.

Sam (and little Joe) 14
Andrew 9
Joe 8
Stanley 0

Then, with a disappointed Stanley retiring to bed (as gracious a loser as he was a winner last week) the three grown adults decided what game they should play next. We chose Nefertiti, the recent smash hit at GNN. I explained most of the rules to Joe while Sam was off doing other things, and when he came back it was simply a matter of tying up a few loose ends, answering some of Joe’s insightful questions, and we were off!

It was an interesting game. Sam felt it was more confrontational than before, and I noticed that the spread of money seemed to be quite uneven: either you were skint or rich and not much in between. Joe made a move that stretched our interpretation of the rule book. He asked if he could asks us to discard a card of a type that he didn’t have in his hand. We had previously assumed that a player needs to have one of a particular card in his own hand to make other players discard theirs, but the rule book didn’t explicitly say this, and the discussion on BGG seemed to agree with Joe: no need for the player of the discard action to have the card that he wants players to discard.

This move was perhaps enough to get him the win, while my unused royal seals just got me past Sam into second in a very close game.

Joe 151
Andrew 143
Sam 141

After this, we considered the next game. Railways of the World: Mexico was suggested, sicne it was still early, but with a phone call expected from one of Joe’s daughters around ten o’clock, we went for the shorter delights of Alhambra.

I like to think that we played it in the spirit it was meant to be played: in tense silence with an occasional Al Pacino impersonation whenever we felt another player was encroaching on our territory. In the end, it was Sam’s walls what won it. Joe’s walls kept him hemmed in for most of round two as he swapped tiles from his reserve.

Sam 143
Andrew 128
Joe 124

We felt there was still time for one game, so Las Vegas was brought out, along with a cheese board with crackers with Stilton  and a block of Cheddar heavier than a leather-bound Bible, along with an Indian pickle (or chutney, not sure which it was and I forget the name) which was very nice indeed. And Sam reaped the karmic rewards of his generosity with the scores ending as:

Sam 550
Andrew 470
Joe 310

Oh, how I regret that last minute double six that knocked me out of a first place and handed a cash reward to Sam in round two. But that’s Las Vegas for you. Cruel, but there’s no arguing with fate. Ah, board games: Every evening with them brings a new moral lesson.

And cheese.

On the form table, Sam closes in on Martin, Joe makes an appearance and not much else happens.

Martin 2 2 1 1 1 7
Sam 1 1 3 1 2 8
Andrew 2 2 2 2 3 11
Joe 3 3 1 3 5 15
Matt 1 3 2 5 5 16
Adam 3 1 3 5 5 17
Ian 4 2 5 4 4 19
Katie 1 3 5 5 5 19
Stanley 4 1 5 5 5 20
Hannah 2 5 5 5 5 22

Finally, we also have an Alhambra division, which sees Sam and Paul as the two Goliaths of this game straddling our great nation from Bristol to Croydon.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

In search of the perfect five

Sam was ill and Joe couldn’t make it, so it was up to me to don leather gloves and buy a tin of boiled sweets for a long car journey, as I gave Martin a lift through Easton’s annoyingly busy tiny roads to Adam’s house. Of course, this meant I wasn’t drinking this evening. I started to worry. What if it turns out I hate board games when sober?

Adam and Hannah were there, and so was Ian, Matt and Katy who was keen to make a larger impression on the various leaderboards and form table. At first, Hannah was putting baby Arthur to bed so the six of us played 6nimmt. All eyes were on Martin, as he had three consecutive first places in the bag and was keen to get two more for a Perfect Five.

He started well, getting no points in round one, but after round two was in close competition with Adam and Matt. The final round was tense, especially since it was Martin’s worst. But he did just enough to steal the win from Matt by a single point.

But the best performance (at least, the most symmetrical) was Katy who scored 21 in her first round, then 21 in the second round before getting a single point in the last round. With the card 21. Poetic, almost.

Martin 23
Matt 24
Katy 43
Adam 43
Andrew 64
Ian 72

Then, with Hannah joining us, we split into two groups. Hannah, Katy and myself played Takenoko while Adam, Martin, Matt and Ian faced off over Kingdom Builder. Would their collective might be enough to stop Martin’s fifth win in a row?

In our room, we explained the rules of Takenoko to Katy. At first she was a bit confused, but soon powered into a mid-game lead. But, then, this game was notable for each player suddenly scoring plenty in a single turn. Also, I found a rule that had previously gone unnoticed: that in order for a set of tiles to score, they all have to be irrigated. Unfortunately for Katy, I found this rule just after Katy declared that she’d scored a set of tiles.

But she wasn’t to be put off, and when I finished the game, she powered past both me and Hannah with a final turn that clocked up 14 points.

Katy 42
Hannah 36
Andrew 33

I enjoyed it. I found it strangely relaxing, in a way. Although there’s a lot going on, it all seems very sedate, especially at the beginning. A lovely little game.

Before we’d even got halfway through Takenoko, the kingdom in the other room had already been built. I’d heard wails of anguish from Martin earlier about a tactic used by Ian that screwed him over. Perhaps that was pivotal, since the final results couldn’t have been closer.

Adam 52
Ian 51
Martin 51
Matt 46

One point away from the perfect five! How cruel life can be.

Since Takenoko was nowhere near finished, they began another game of KB. This time, there was no nail-biting finish, as Matt used a bonus to score point after point during the game, meaning his lead was unassailable by the time the end game bonuses were added up.

Matt 87
Martin 63
Adam 56
Ian 51

After this, we decided to squeeze in a very quick game of Kakerlakenpoker. This time, though, the loser was the first to get two of the same insect in front of them, instead of the usual four. I was out first and, even if I say so myself, I finished myself off in some style. A card had been passed around to three people, all of whom said it was a fly, before it came to me. At the time I had a rat in front of me (as well as others), and I said “I think it is a fly!” But then just as I was about to turn it over, I said “Unless it’s a rat.”

It was a rat. I lost. It took three of them to gang up on me, though. I guess that means they respect me.

Then it was time to go home. I got lost in Easton’s labyrinthine streets, finally got to the M32, only to discover the slip road was closed. Instead, I tried to emulate Sam’s weaving through darkened back streets and luckily Martin recognised a bus in front of us, so I just followed that back to the centre.

On the form table, Martin rules the roost by a mile.

Martin 2 2 1 1 1 7
Andrew 3 4 3 3 3 16
Matt 1 3 2 5 5 16
Sam 2 2 2 5 5 16
Adam 3 1 3 5 5 17
Ian 4 2 5 4 4 19
Katie 1 3 5 5 5 19
Stanley 1 5 5 5 5 21
Hannah 2 5 5 5 5 22

Finally, we have a division for Kingdom Builder. Gonz is still top, but it’s only a matter of time before his sterling efforts are eclipsed. Amazingly, I win on points ratio.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

You Ankhers

Saturday night’s alright for fighting, according to Elton John, but recently it’s also been alright for gaming. Sam hosted while his wife’s absence meant he was housebound. The evening started early since Sam’s oldest son, Stanley, was keen for a game of Lords of Waterdeep, with little Joe in charge of distributing cubes.

Matt texted to say he couldn’t make it, so there were four of us around the table: myself, Sam, Stanley and Ian. Waterdeep is familiar enough to all of us that no introduction is necessary. I made sure I always had plenty of money coming in, while Stanley had a powerful machine for collecting Intrigue cards. At the end, Stanley came first, and I was trying to win quite hard.

Stanley 122
Sam 114
Andrew 112
Ian 103

Martin turned up and watched the end of the game. He noted with approval Stanley’s low-key celebrations on winning. After that, Sam put his children to bed, and the rest of us played Biblios. Martin told us that the real tie-breaker was amount of gold left in your hand (how boring). This game was remarkable for no one going for orange, and so it was discarded at the end of the game. Also, there were loads of church cards making things complicated.

Martin 7
Ian 3 (+7 gold)
Andrew 3 (+4 gold)

Sam rejoined us and we decided on a new game: Nefertiti. This is a game of bidding on cards at a constantly changing set of market places. Once the not difficult rules were explained, we were off. Winning an auction means you can take either two cards, or one card that has the royal seal on it. Then on your next go, you can trade these seals for special actions (or keep them for three point each). And after each turn, the player passes on the ankh to his neighbour so we can keep track of whose go it is.

Collecting sets is good, unless other people are collecting the same sets. Then the value of both sets goes down. We all started well, going for the same special action of immediately scoring a set in your hand. But Sam and Martin later managed to build up a new sets that only they had, sending them far ahead of me and Ian.

Martin 146
Sam 134
Andrew 98
Ian 82

It was a lot of fun, and with each market having different criteria for closing the auction, it never got boring or samey. I think we shall be playing this again soon.

Then, to finish of, Mutineer was brought to the table for the first time in –oooh – over a year at least. I was quite drunk by now, but as I recall we sailed round in circles while Sam was captain for most of the game. The least mutinous game of mutineer ever. His bribes for support were so consistent (always one point) that we decided it was more like a wage than a bribe. How anyone else ever had the right goods for the island we were heading to is a mystery to me.

Finally, we noted that the amusingly titled island Fingerhut is actually one of the duller places on the table.

Martin 53
Sam 31
Andrew 19
Ian 18

And with that, it was over. Nice to have a new game like Nefertiti that’s fun and challenging, and also nice to be reminded that Mutineer is a good game.

I’m too tired to do a form table just now, but be aware that Martin is just two away from a perfect five.

Thursday, 2 October 2014


Some games are easy to pick up, some are tricky but become clear after the first round and some still have you groping around in the dark asking dumb questions well into the third act. Keyflower is definitely one of the latter games for me as it was hurriedly explained over the general pub hubbub. It's a game where you really need to get in with the iconography as this forms the central theme. The playing surface is all separate hexes each with a different function on them and each round there are new ones so the identifying of them forms a big part of each round to the uninitiated. We were a 5 player with three newbies and two old hands.

So briefly, Keyflower is a worker placement type of game where they can be used as either bidding tokens (Which ultimately means you will lose them) or workers to perform actions on the tiles. There are a number of different hexes which are placed down for each of the first three rounds Spring, Summer, Autumn. The Winter round consists of everyone placing scoring hexes that they were secretly given at the start of the game. This means that you and only you know a small section of the possible scoring chances.
Some Iconography for ya
Each round players bid for tiles so that they can be added to their home village. The bidding continues until everyone has declared that they are out. At any point you can use any tile as long as you pay the right amount of meeples and satisfy any conditions on it. Winning tiles means that you will collect all the meeples on them at the end of the round and if people use them when they are in your village.

Hidden meeples adds element of bluff
The core mechanic of the game is to gain resources and/or meeples that the tiles produce to allow you to satisfy the scoring conditions. Each tile can be upgraded and therefore award you more points at the end. There are a lot more extra rules which fill this game out and most of which you have to be reminded of throughout the evening.

Having said all that it's an excellent game. Somewhere in the autumn round it suddenly clicked for me and a clear strategy fell into my lap that nobody else was going for. I bid inexpensively for the tiles I wanted and managed to upgrade them. One element that I haven't mentioned yet is the scope to stitch up your opponents. If you are out bid for a tile you can move all of your meeples somewhere else. You might think you are safe on a tile but it can be taken away from you if you're not careful. Also players can make you pay more for resources by using tiles you need. All in all there is a balanced amount of back stabbing that goes on so as not to make it infuriating. Think El Grande levels of stitch up and you are about there.

It's incredible that I managed to win the thing. I hadn't a clue starting off but luckily spotted some rich scoring tiles that matched my own. Dave, the game owner, suffered from explainers curse and announced in a style similar to myself that he had lost halfway through the game! After several recounts the scores came out;

Chris - 48
Ryan - 45
Dave - 38
Daryl - 38
M (Ryan's wife) - 32

Following that the only Daryl and myself were left so we had a quick couple of games of Kingdom Builder which he both won.....

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Male Patton Boldness

The last Tuesday of the season, and alongside host Joe, Martin, Sam, Matt, Ian and myself, we also found Steve in our midst, keen to get rid of his two red fives before the season’s end.

We spilt into two. Martin, Joe and Sam when for the new Race To The Rhine, a sort of war game where three players race up the track, beating back the Nazi hordes and first one across the Rhine is the winner. If you get to the Rhine at all, in which case other means of finding the winner are used, but more of that later.

The rest of us went for something a little lighter. Africana, the joyous romp across any number of indigenous cultures, looking for treasures and “assistants.” I explained the rules to Steve and we were off! Although we often forgot which colour we were (I'm never blue, and Steve was appalled at being yellow).

I flatter myself that I though I was doing quite well, with my extra joker in my hand, but I hadn’t spent enough in the books, and both Steve and Matt easily overtook me on artifacts and stuff. Ian found himself frustrated that, in his last turn, he couldn’t do anything except buy a new expedition just for the one point it would give him.

Steve 42
Matt 38
Andrew 29
Ian 23

(Just a quick diversion, there’s a small matter of the Africana division, with yours truly doing rather well.)

Meanwhile, The Race to the Rhine was still in full swing, so we had time for another game. Since Steve was now on the cusp of a perfect five, we tried to avoid anything that needed strategy and chose Knizia’s elegant but dice-heavy Age Of War. We hoped that the luck aspect would level the playing field somewhat and also, when it looked like he might win, I have to admit the three of us did our best to stop him. Finally, Matt was able to pick up the final card which gave him the win.

Matt 11
Andrew 10
Steve 8
Ian 4

And by now Race To The Rhine had finished. By all accounts, it was something of a anti-climax, starting well but then tailing off. No one reached the Rhine, and since all three of them killed an equal number of Nazis and had the same number of medals, the tie-breaker was turn order. In other words, the final places were decided according to how they were sat around the table.

Martin 4 dead Nazis, 5 medals
Joe 4 dead Nazis, 5 medals
Sam 4 dead Nazis, 5 medals

After this, Steve went home, his two-game quota filled. The remaining six of us went for 6nimmt, since it’s a nice short game. We didn’t realise quite how short it would be, with Ian crashing past the 66-point barrier faster than a cartoon cat stepping on a roller-skate and whizzing into a larder full of pots and pans. After a bad first round, he then found himself in a spiral of doom, picking up cards almost every time he played. Joe stayed aloof from all of this to clock up his second win on 6nimmt!

Joe 9
Sam 14
Martin 20
Matt 26
Andrew 30
Ian 80

And so the season draws to a close. It’s been the driest finish to a July to September season since 1910, according to the news. But for all that, we still haven’t had a games night outside. Meanwhile, the winners are...

Steve takes the Form Table. Only one game away from a perfect five: he still ended the season with the rest of us wondering how he became such a winning machine.

Steve 3 1 1 1 1 7
Adam 3 2 2 1 1 9
Sam 2 3 1 2 2 10
Martin 3 1 2 1 5 12
Matt 4 1 2 3 2 12
Chris 1 2 13 5 12
Joe 1 2 6 1 3 13
Hannah 2 2 3 4 5 16
Andrew 5 2 3 3 3 16
Ian 6 4 4 2 1 17
Paul 2 2 5 5 5 19
Anja 3 3 5 5 5 21
Katie 3 3 5 5 5 21
Jim 4 5 5 5 5 24

Then on the Division, it’s close at the top. Sam takes first place in Points by less than two points: it was basically all down to that last game of 6nimmt. I win on the medal table, though. And there’s that man again: Steve takes Points Ratio by a handsome margin. Well done that man. Well done all of us!