Sunday, 30 November 2014

That was the end of the weekend, that was

After a game-heavy Friday and Saturday, I spent Sunday pottering around with the boys. We left the house just after ten and after a trundle around north Bristol, returned in the early afternoon. The boys watched Inspector Gadget and I wondered what kind of film I could make with that kind of budget and if it could possibly be worse.

After idly speculating what I could do with a free night (Sally is still away) - it hit me: Games! Usually the feeling arrives after my first coffee, but this time it was quite unexpected and late in the day after the previous indulgences. I didn't really expect any takers, but Ian bit, and we rounded off Novocon with an evening of two-player games tonight.

First out of the cupboard was Arkadia, which has never really hit the main drag of GNN but remains a firm favourite with myself and Andrew. Ian was new to it so there was a brief and possibly muddied rules exploration before we were off.

Those of you who've missed out on this, it's one of those games where a drab board (and little plastic men that could very easily be wooden discs) hides some neat and easy-to-learn mechanics. There's precious few options on your turn - either place a building or place workers, and then if you have a mind to, cash in a pennant in order to get more workers and cash in your seals, which you get by surrounding buildings on the board with other buildings. That admittedly idiotic sentence does contain the essence of the game - the key to it is maximising when you surround buildings (and of what colour) and what colour stones you add to the castle, as the colours in the castle dictate the value of your seals. Simple eh?

yeah, simple

I have made it sound very complicated I know but it's a game of very few rules and deceptive depth, like a well that's been made into a pond.

Sam 165
Ian 126

It was only just gone nine when we wound up Arkadia so we brought  out Quantum. I left Ian to set up whilst I went to put Joe on the potty. When I returned he'd gone for a very confrontational layout - though let's face it, the whole game is confrontational.


We began as is tradition by concentrating on our own shit, but before long Ian was blowing up my ships (and getting +2 dominance as reward) and I was combining some movement cards (1 free peaceful move, 1 free and possibly aggressive move of one space only) in order to go back at him. Aligned to my ability to knock a point off defence and attack rolls and after a series of skirmishes I claimed the win:

Sam 7 cubes
Ian 5 cubes

It wasn't even ten yet, so we broke out the whisky and what we thought was a quick game to finish off. We pondered a few options but I remembered how much I enjoyed Hive with Andrew on our sortie to York recently. The rules are simple - very chess like, with each piece having it's own movement abilities - and each player is trying to surround their opponents' bee in the hive of the title.

Early game

Ian entered the fray tentatively but whereas mine and Andrew's games tended to be the football equivalent of end-to-end cup ties (won by Andrew) this game took on the tense tactical air of a crucial golden-goal situation. Ian manoeuvred himself into a strong position and it was all I could do to keep blocking him, so he couldn't place the final piece to claim the win.

My bee is nearly surrounded, but my two ants 
and grasshopper (all on the left) are stopping 
Ian from completing the job.

But despite three or four desperate defences on my part, I eventually succumbed, having rather optimistically moved an Ant hoping to mount a counter-attack. Ian one-two-ed his way to a victory that was something of an epic, if a long time coming in his favour.

Ian: wins
Sam: loses

My bee is dead.

Whisky drunk and bees surrounded, we finally called time on Novocon 2014. Thanks everyone for making it a cracker!

That was the week(end) that was

I was the first to arrive at Sam’s at 2.00. Sam and his kids, Stanley and Joe, were there and we were just about to play Indigo when Adam and Hannah (and baby Arthur) and also Martin and then Ian arrived. Since there were enough of us, we split into two groups. Martin, Hannah and I set up Greenland in the kitchen, while in the living room Ian, Stanley, Sam and Adam played Hyperborea with its custom made box dividers.

I was a little surprised when Hannah agreed to play, and also a little relieved. I thought that Greenland might be one of those games that you always think “I must play that again soon,” and then it turns into a game that you don’t really want to play because it’ll need a rule refresher. Like poor old Canalmania, which was vetoed on Friday for just that reason.

Greenland was kinder to us this time, with most of the cards staying on the warm side of the board. Hannah had plenty of energy and I was slowly picking up VPs for cards. But Martin, who has played it several times since his last GNN jaunt, was stashing away the iron like he was about to build a bridge with it. Then, in the penultimate round, he converted to monotheism, and was able to convert me, too, leaving all my victory points worthless as forgotten relics of a bygone age. Hannah, though, resisted conversion and stayed Pagan until the end.

Martin 47
Hannah 19
Andrew 16

One of the more one-sided games of the evening.

Hyperborea, which was played out to the backdrop of School of Rock, ended:

Ian 44
Stanley 36
Sam 34
Adam 31

Then there was a break for food. All of us, except Ian and Martin, set off to the local chippy for chips. While we were away, Martin beat Ian at Biblios and Red 7. I was the first to finish my small portion of chips and a pickled egg, so I joined in a game of Red 7 which ended early, with the scores at Martin 18, Andrew 14, Ian 0.

Next was a period of confusion as babies were looked after and children put to bed. During this time, Jon arrived and his first game was new to him: Raj. Easy to explain, even with the closing scenes of School of Rock in the background. He seemed to pick it up well, going from third to first in a strong final round. Almost as impressive was Ian’s ability at attracting red tiles.

Jon 47
Sam 43
Andrew 36
Martin 14
Ian -2

Arthur was by now fed, and Adam took him upstairs to get him to sleep. Hannah, Jon and I played the new slimline Take It Easy. It was a quick sudden-death one-round game and, once again, Jon did well at a game he’d never played before.

Jon 149
Hannah 105
Andrew 77

And this was Hannah’s fifth second place in a row! Congratulations to her on a rare Perfect Ten!

After this, Sam, Jon, Joe and Stanley played Galaxy Trucker. Joe didn’t last the distance, going to bed halfway through.

Sam 89
Jon 65
Stanley 55

During this, Hannah and Steve played Hey That’s My Fish twice. First time was a 51-46 win to Hannah, and the second more aggressive game ended 50-50. Hey That’s My Fish may look like a kid’s game, but it can be brutal.

Adam suggested playing Railways of the World. I was keen but we needed to start immediately if we were to fit it in before Arthur’s inevitable re-awakening which was to be Adam and Hannah’s cue to head back home. Since it had to be short, we went for a four-player game on the Mexico map. This would be cramped enough, but we made it worse by all clustering around Mexico City.

One thing was clear from our game: no one had the baron that rewarded least bonds. I think the most money that anyone made in a round was a mere $12,000. Martin and Adam made most of the running, but Martin pulled away with a convenient bonus for delivering to Culican. I didn’t really get going, but I did finish the Vera Cruz to Santiago link via the longest possible route. Ian spent little and used his trading depots to fullest effect.

Martin 44
Adam 33
Ian 28
Andrew 26

In the other room, Jon was introducing Hannah and the newly arrived Steve to the fun game of bee communication (I assume) Waggle Dance. It ended:

Steve 5 honey, 9 bees
Jon 5 honey, 10 bees
Hannah 3 honey

In the gap between RotW ending and Waggle Dance ending, Sam came down from putting Stanley to bed, and we engaged in a quick league of Cube Quest. It had been a while, and it was well overdue a return to the table. Everyone played two games, and after a lot of laughter and amazement at Adam’s flicking power (one cube went out of the room and was still spinning in the hallway for several seconds before it finally came to rest) Sam took the crown:

Adam's destructive power in full effect

Sam won 2 games
Andrew 1
Ian 1
Adam 1
Martin 0

Then, we were all together. We decided on one last quick game before Adam and Hannah left and we chose Tsuro! For eight players! This could really hurt someone on the form table.

Steve started badly and ended quickly: the only tile he played left him at the mercy of Ian, who promptly sent him off the board. Possibly a record for quickest defeat in Tsuro. On my last tile, I was stuck with a symmetrical tile, so it didn’t matter what I did, I was at the mercy of those around me. Annoyingly, Ian put himself on a collision course with me, while Martin was sent on a wild looping course to safety. How annoying. It was enough to assure him of first place as everyone else crashed out of that round, too.

Near the end of Tsuro. Steve's path to oblivion is highlighted, bottom left.

1. Martin
2. Sam
2. Jon
3. Hannah
3. Adam
4. Ian
4. Andrew
5. Steve

Adam and Hannah said their goodbyes, and we split into two groups of three. Ian, Steve and Sam played Istanbul and Jon, Martin and I played Impulse. There were simultaneous rules explanations as the two games were new to Steve and Jon.

Twin rules recitals

Jon seemed to get the hang of things very quickly, as the game progressed in a very unusual manner: Jon and I sped into a lead, with Martin trailing. His part of the sector was full of Build commands, so he soon amassed a huge flotilla of transporters that couldn’t move very far. Jon and I sent our cruisers over, and this was the most violent game of Impulse that I’ve been involved in, with some last-ditch defending by Martin.

Finally, I was on 13 points and Jon was on 14. I was sure he could finish the game with just one more turn, so I worked out how to get seven points in one move and end the game. Phew! My first win, and it felt good. Jon cursed that he knew he should’ve started attacking me before. The only reason he hadn’t was that I’d gone to the toilet, and he wanted to keep the game moving.

Andrew 20
Jon 14
Martin 12

Over on Istanbul, their first game ended

Sam 5
Ian 4
Steve 2

And since we were still knee-deep in space battles, they decided to play another round. I was able to watch the final exciting stages, with all three players on four gems. Sam had lots of money, but he was already on the gemstone dealer square. It looked as if Steve and Ian still had time to get a final gem. But no! Sam had a “move zero” card! He could activate the dealer again and he won the game!

Sam 5
Ian 4 plus 24 money
Steve 4 plus 17 money

After this, Jon and Martin set off home, but the fun wasn’t over yet! Not at all. Us three remaining gamers poured ourselves more whiskey and set off on a Timeline. Considering how drunk we all were, we began like geniuses: the first three cards of each player were correct. But I was able, somehow, to finish the game without a single mistake! If only I could remember what cards I had and where I put them.

Andrew 0 cards left
Ian 1 card left
Sam 2

And with the clock telling us it was 12.20am, we then began the last game of the weekend, Love Letter. I need to play more games when very drunk, because I won with a couple of bulls-eye guesses of Sam’s card after he’d looked at my hand and was clearly about to dump me out of the game.

Andrew 3
Ian 1
Sam 0

And then, finally, we wobbled off into the night. Our craving for derring-do and strategic battles completely satisfied. Until Tuesday, that is.

And so now the Form Table looks like this...

Andrew 1 1 1 4 2 9
Katy 1 3 2 2 1 9
Jon 2 2 2 2 1 9
Andy 2 2 3 2 1 10
Sam 3 3 1 1 2 10
Matt 4 1 2 1 2 10
Ian 2 2 2 2 4 12
Martin 3 1 3 1 4 12
Hannah 3 3 2 2 2 12
Chris 2 5 1 1 4 13
Joe 3 4 2 3 2 14
Anja 2 1 1 5 5 14
Adam 3 2 2 4 4 15
Steve 3 3 5 1 3 15
Stanley 3 2 4 1 5 15

I’m top, holding off Katy and Jon on the “best most recent” rule. But what about the division, I hear you cry. Well, this is the division for just this weekend...

Sam wins on points, Katy wins on points ratio, and I take the medal table.

And since it’s the end of the month, it’s time for the monthly division, with the weekend included...

Sam heads on points again, but Martin currently leads the pack on the medal table and points ratio. Only one month to go!

Saturday, 29 November 2014

The beginning of the (week)end

It must be November if the itch to host a Games Weekend becomes impossible to bear. Sam offered the rare treat of consecutive gaming nights: Friday evening and Saturday afternoon and evening. Tonight we were nine, whittled down from ten after Steve’s last minute apologies for not attending.

We split into two groups. Those at the mean end of the table chose Sons of Anarchy, Men of Mayhem, a new game of rough, tough, gravel-throated, mean-spirited fightin’ talk. However, I wasn’t won of those four gamers. Instead, I was at the civilised end of the table, playing Istanbul. Ian, Martin, Katy and Joe were the respective leaders of their gangs, while Andy, Sam, Chris, Adam and me sauntered around Turkey’s capital, selling our goods and wares.

Istanbul was new to Adam and Chris, so they got a guide to the rules, and we were off. There must be something about being new to this game, because since my initial good form, I have steadily got worse and worse at the game. Meanwhile, newbies have clocked up wins with apparent ease.

This time it was Chris to benefit. He may have had only a loose understanding of the rules, but his awareness of strategy was as keen as it ever was. He quickly got a fifth assistant, and never went to the fountain. Andy went for money in a big way, clearly keen to never loose another tie-breaker like he did last time. Sam was hit by explainer’s curse. Adam, who I’d persuaded to play by telling him he’d be great at it, seemed confused a lot, but at least ended with a decent haul of gems.

Chris 5
Andy 4 (plus 24 lira)
Adam 4 (15 lira)
Sam 3
Andrew 2

Well done to Chris and Adam – I think five-player Istanbul isn’t the best place to start, although it does scale up better than most games, but they’d played very well. Back to the drawing board for me.

Once that had ended, the riots in gangland showed no sign of abating, so we dug out a new, simple game to fill in the half hour that they said they needed to finish the game. We went for one of Andy’s: Piranha Pedro.

The game was simplicity itself. You have cards that control a fisherman as he walks across the water. Everyone plays their card face down at the start of the round, and then, one by one, the fisherman is moved by the cards. This means it’s a bit of a crap shoot where he is when it’s your turn. As long as he’s on land, or you have enough stones to support him when your card is played, you’re fine. If he falls in the water, off the board, or walks into a piranha, he’s dead. First to kill the fisherman twice loses.

I enjoyed it. Very simple and fun (although we were getting distracted by the increasingly silly conversation from the other game, with Joe insisting that “you have to respect the heat limit” with a straight face and Katy begging for someone to buy drugs from her. Only a dollar, apparently) and definitely one for the end of an evening. I also approve of the real stones that come with the game.

1. Andrew
1. Chris
1. Adam
2. Sam, killed him once
3. Andy, killed him twice.

By now, it appeared that the Crips and the Bloods across the table still needed half an hour to settle their little disputes, so we chose 6nimmt to play next. Chris had played it once, a long time ago, so he got a quick rules refresher. But while Istanbul has all the opportunities laid out in front of you, 6nimmt keeps its secrets in dark corners of your opponents minds. Chris threatened to crash out after two round, but played the next two well enough that he lasted for a full four rounds before the inevitable happened. Just in time, too, as Adam’s collapse in form threatened to send him into last if the game went on much longer.

Andrew 35
Andy 36
Sam 44
Adam 57
Chris 69

Of course, Sons of Anarchy ended as we were halfway through 6nimmting. The scores were

The grotesque pile of money at the start of Sons of Anarchy

Martin 27
Katy 25
Joe 24
Ian 17

And then they began a rollicking game of Indigo. I didn’t pay much attention to that, because after we’d 6nimmted, Adam went home and the remaining four went for 7 Wonders. While we were playing that, Indigo finished...

Martin 10
Ian 9 (6 gems)
Katy 9 (5 gems)
Joe 4

There seemed to be a lot less gem destruction than the last time we played it.

And with half an eye on the clock they began a game of Love Letter, first to two, before Martin’s bus home. Katy said she didn’t like Love Letter, but was persuaded. And she didn’t have a great reintroduction to the game, as she was immediately knocked out of the first round before she’d even done anything.

As for us on 7 Wonders, I’d drawn the Mausoleum, which allows you to build discarded cards for free. Tricky to get right, but powerful if you do. Sam went for side A of his monument, and focused on blue buildings. Chris went for a little bit of military and Andy had a few sciences lying around the place.

It was a low scoring game. I used the mausoleum’s power to build a final card, and I went for a military (to tie with Chris, denying him five points and saving me from a minus one) instead of a Guild (giving me three points) and it turned out to be the right choice (otherwise we'd have tied on 47).

Andrew 45
Andy 43
Chris 42
Sam 38

Fascinating though 7 Wonders was, that was nothing compared to the shenanigans of Love Letter. Joe, in a rare moment of lack of clarity, saw that I was watching the game and his showed me his hand of two Soldiers.

“Which should I chose?” he asked, ironically.

And then, once he’d played a soldier, he realised he’d pretty much given away that his other card was a soldier too. He was out before his next turn.

Also, Love Letter lasted longer than anticipated, and Martin had to leave for his bus with the scores tied at 1-1-1-0. Once he’d gone, there was a little period of confusion and debate, before they decided to play on without him, just to finish the game.

But then, Martin came back! He’d misread the bus times! He had another thirteen minutes! Quickly they dealt out another hand and the first thing Joe did was play a soldier and ask Martin if he was a Baron. He wasn’t.

That was a shame, because if he was, then he would have been out and he may as well have got back up and made another dash for the door. That would have been quite some sight: a man running from a bus stop just to play one card before he had to run straight back again. Martin's commitment to the gaming cause knows no bounds.

Katy won the round, giving her the overall win. I think the scores were...

Katy 2
Ian 1
Martin 1
Joe 1

Looking forward to more mayhem tomorrow!

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Sivél Disobedience

Tuesday - and after a long absence I was finally able to attend (host, even). The call went out; and was roundly ignored.  Sam, Andrew and Ian were putting on an evening of Evil Genius animated films in Southville, and a few other GNN-ers were attending the screening. Others were ill, and others still were left off the email list altogether.

So Martin and I (Joe) got to play games to the tune of "Just the Two of Us". Martin had been itching to get Wir Sind Das Folk! to the table since a friend brought it back from Essen for him, and I was cautiously happy to oblige (having failed to round up the four players needed to break out the most un-GNN-esque Sons of Anarchy - for which I have high hopes).
WSDV is a political game exploring the relationship between East and West Germany from the fifties through to the eighties. If East Germany can survive all four decades with communism intact they win, otherwise the West prevails. Either side can win sooner by forcing levels of unrest into outright revolution.

It comes in a delightfully small box, and has well thought out graphic design - the same designer Richard Sivél (hence the post title) was responsible for Maria, an equally elegant and even prettier game about the Austrian war of the accession.
Andrew, Adam and I played Maria a couple of times a few years ago, but it proved just a little too complex for our feeble minds, and was reluctantly traded away.

Complexity is certainly evident in WSDV - my heart sank a little when, after 25 minutes of rules explanation, Martin said "This is where things get complicated...". But after something like 40 mins we were ready to play, Martin as West Germany - me as the East.

The game is asymmetric to a degree, and bears similarities to Twilight Struggle, though you are not fighting over territories so much as fomenting unrest in each other's provinces by making life unbearable for each other by comparison. 

In basic terms, you build up factories and infrastructure in your regions, which allow you to raise the standard of living and thereby quell unrest. If one of you raises living standards above that of your opponent, unrest will begin to foment.
However, you have to balance the standard of living within your own country, otherwise you'll sow the seeds of disquiet at home.

Each of the four decades is a round in which decade-specific cards are available for both sides to play. At the end of the decade, a checklist of states is compared, including East German flight, Western currency, prestige, living standards etc. The consequences of these trickle down to the map, degrading infrastructure, fomenting unrest and generally messing with your shit. If at the end of this either player has four mass-protest tokens on the board they lose, otherwise you push on into the next decade, broken but un-bowed.

the '70s in full swing

It was Martin's second game, my first, and there was scant room in my brain for strategising. I just planned to cling on. Martin missed an early opportunity to do some serious damage to me (and I wouldn't let him take his go again), and I managed to struggle through the decades relatively unscathed. I denied his West German's the invention of colour tv, which send to annoy the hell out of them, but as the third decade drew to a close, Martin announced that he now realised what he should have been doing.

some West German mass-protest up close

He belatedly tried to put this plan in to action during the final round, and nearly did it, but just didm;t quite have the head of steam needed to topple the East, and I won the day.

It was a very interesting game - far more opaque than Twilight Struggle but with a few more plays I'm sure the rules would crystallise and it would become the pure battle of wits we all want from a game. We both thought that the extensive use of icons somewhat diluted the historic resonance of the events, but it made it very clear what one stood to gain or lose from the use of a particular card.

Martin noted that I had done none of my special actions, sending in the Russian tanks or building the wall for example - I had effectively ignored the trappings of communism and won by treating the East Germans to a fairly capitalist existence (whilst denying the West their colour TV). That seemed possibly a little odd - there seemed to be little imperative for the East to operate within their ideology. But we may have played something wrong, or I may just be missing the finer points of the asymmetry. I'm going to read up on the rules now, ready for the next bout. 

We just had time for a quick game of Aton, in which the whisky got the better of me and I let Martin dominate the second scoring round for a neat on-the-nose 40 point win.

Monday, 24 November 2014

You're never more than eight feet from a gamer in Montpelier

Whilst Charlotte and I were walking to some friends for dinner on friday, my geek-sense suddenly began to tingle. Among some rubbish by the side of the road I noticed the unmistakeable cardboard husk of a sheet of board game tiles. I felt a warm glow - there are gamers all around us.

Can you identify the game?

And on that same subject - during the summer I noticed a car parked on our street with a Catan bumper sticker. Despite many covert tactics I never saw a driver, and by the end of the summer the car seemed to disappear for good. Then, two weeks ago, it was back.

You can also get one that says "I've got wood for sheep" . . .

Last monday, I left the house at dusk to pick up Bea from a friends and there was the car, with a woman just emerging. I couldn't help myself, I doubled back to speak to her - she looked faintly nervous. I explained that I had noticed the bumper sticker a few times, and she laughed. It's her boyfriend's car and they're staying with his sister, a neighbour of ours. She teases him about the sticker, but they both love the game. "It's a classic!", I said. She concurred - "We have all the expansions!".
I think at this point I must have moved towards her slightly in my enthusiasm at having found fellow gamers practically next door. "I have a room in my house filled with over a hundred boardgames!" I exclaimed breathlessly. She looked genuinely horrified and I think reached in to her handbag for some mace. Realising my error I turned and walked swiftly away, flushing with shame. 

I fully expect to see the bumper sticker to have gone next time I see the car - perhaps replaced with one that says Gamers - keep your distance!

Friday, 21 November 2014

Box Thresh

There are some sights you cannot unsee. Those images that remain seared on the mind, as if branded their by hot iron. Tonight had one of those sights.

Rushing out to a swiftly-arranged games night, I arrived on time with beer and chipsticks. Imagine my shock when I found Sam, hunched over the kitchen table, knife in hand, sawing a Take It Easy box in half! With Ian watching on as if this was the most normal thing in the world!!

It turns out that Sam hadn’t suddenly turned against one of his favourite games. Instead it was part of a new scheme to reduce the space taken up by of some of his games. Games which, he hastened to add, he would never trade away. Unless he tried to pass it off as a one-off limited edition customized release. The plan was that those games that live in boxes far larger than necessary would find themselves on a crash diet.

As for tonight, I had first choice and, although tempted by Railways of the World, I chose Istanbul. This time we went for the “Long” set up as suggested in the rules. This puts the gem dealer far away from anywhere you can make money, and the Sultan’s Palace was nowhere near the warehouses.

I did not start well, wasting a couple of turns getting from one place to another via a square that didn’t do me any favours, and then having to go back the same way. Ian used the Martin technique of ignoring the Wainwright and going to the Sultan’s Palace. It was a masterful plan and, unlike Martin, when Ian got his fourth gem, he didn’t struggle to get the fifth. He already had enough money to get his fifth from the Gemstone Dealer and there was nothing that we or anyone else could do to stop him.

Ian 5
Sam 4
Andrew 2

After this we went for another recent arrival, Hyperborea. This game of pulling cubes from a bag and taking actions accordingly had been played before by all of us, so it was only a formality to set up and start, giving Finn the cat extra time to enjoy it’s roomy and spacious box.

Unfortunately, I cannot find the piece of paper I dutifully wrote all the score down on(it might be on Sam’s kitchen floor). Sam won thanks to his army of men spread out across the board, despite Ian’s glut of gems. I came last, with my woeful presence on the playing area undermining my collection of cards.

Sam 50 something
Ian 40 something
Andrew 20 something

My memory is no more accurate than that. I think I’m still in shock from seeing Sam slice a game box in half.

Finally, we went for a short game to finish off. 7 Wonders! The old regular. Sam went for military and a bit of everything else, I went for blue buildings (32 points for them – I do remember that) and Ian went for sciences. Sam won by three points, iirc.

Sam 56
Andrew 53
Ian 42

More or less, anyway. I can always check later. On the Form Table, Sam leaps to the top and later that night he texted me the evidence of Take It Easy's new slimline look.

Sam 1 1 2 2 1 7
Katy 2 1 1 1 5 10
Matt 4 1 2 1 2 10
Andrew 2 3 3 1 2 11
Ian 3 2 1 3 3 12
Martin 5 1 3 3 2 14
Anja 2 1 1 5 5 14
Joe 3 2 3 3 1 14*
Adam 1 4 4 3 3 15
Chris 4 2 4 4 1 15
Hannah 2 2 2 5 5 16
Andy 1 2 4 5 5 17
Stanley 4 1 5 5 5 20
Steve 3 3 5 5 5 21

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

The Stockholm Syndrome

Tonight saw ten (TEN!) players crammed into Steve and Anja’s front room. Me, Martin, Sam, Matt, Ian, Andy (from Roll For The Soul, but making his first leaderboard appearance), Adam, Katy and, of course, Steve and Anja.

We split into three groups. Sam, Ian and Matt went on the coffee table for a game of Quantum. Martin was keen to try Istanbul again, and so myself, Andy and Katy joined him on one half (closer to two thirds, actually) of the dining table. The rest of the dining table was home to a game of Thurn and Taxis, chosen only because it would fit.

Steve, Anja and Adam played out a much interrupted game of T&T, with their baby Luther waking up frequently and needing attention. Sam, Ian and Matt had no such problems, and they steamed through their games at breakneck speed. First, as I mentioned before, was Quantum. This was brought to a swift halt by Matt taking two crystals in one turn, ending the game before it had hardly got going.

Matt 5
Sam 3
Ian 2

After this, they went for a rip roaring game of Raj, with a most unlikely scoreline.

Sam 110
Matt 44
Ian –15

Hopefully, they’ll explain what happened in the comments.

After this, they played Take It Easy and the scores were.

Matt 428
Sam 394
Ian 220

After this Sam set off home. Well, he was probably exhausted.

As for us slow-coaches on the dining table, were were still knee deep in our alternative worlds. Istanbul was played with a different layout (cards laid out 1-16) and I can’t say I really enjoyed it. Like this, all the warehouses are together, likewise the markets and mosques, which looks very convenient but is quite frustrating when you want to get from one to the other.

Katy played a masterful game, building her wheelbarrow early, and using bonus cards to full effect to get to four jewels with enough money to saunter over the the gemstone dealer, while the rest of us were stuck on three gems each. In fact, she would have won earlier if she had ignored our advice that she didn’t need the “gemstone dealer twice” card so early on in the game, so she should discard it. If she’d had it, should could have finished all the sooner.

Andy had in interesting tactic of just hanging around the police station and using his family member. Now we know that another player has to send him back, it’s a much more effective strategy. Martin tried a different tactic from the one he won with last time, and he regretted it. He found himself without any options, since he had no assistants left.

“I’ve run out of juice!” he cried. “What kind of juice?” Katy asked, “Money?” No, he’d run out of man juice. And the idea of Martin running out of man juice halfway through a board game isn’t something that should be shared, not even on the internet. But, we’re all friends, right?

I’m rather proud that I didn’t go to the fountain once during the game. Still didn’t win, though.

Katy 5 gems
Andrew 3 gems + 37 lira
Martin 3 + 21
Andy 3 + 19

Another interesting game. I think Istanbul has lots of potential. I look forward to the time when we’re all proficient enough to play on random boards.

Then we played Indigo, Reiner Knizia's Tsuro-esque game where instead of avoiding death, you're transporting gems along paths back to your side of the board. At least, that's what you're supposed to do. Instead whenever we noticed that a gem was about to get anywhere near the edge of the board, we'd join up its path with another gem, and they'd destroy each other. This made for quite a low scoring game. And, frankly, not a very satisfying one.

Martin 2
Katy 2
Andrew 1
Andy 1

As we ended, there was still no sign of Thurn and Taxis so the six remaining gamers set off on a game of Trans Europa, a game that Andy helpfully described as being like Trans Amercia, but in Europe.

I got hugely lucky with my cards in the first round, with Riga and Helsinki (neighbours) and Marseilles and Barcelona (also neighbours) in my hand. And I got fairly lucky with the second hand too. I didn’t win, but only suffered three points damage.

Martin, on the other hand, had a nightmare second round, starting deep in the south-east, he was miles from anyone else's network, and had only just linked up to the main railway routes when Katy announced she’d won. He went crashing out, and the two Andrews shared a win. As we packed away he cursed his tactics, and especially his inability at getting anywhere near Stockholm. "I've never been there," he seethed, "and now I never will."

Andy 10
Andrew 10
Katy 9
Ian 6
Matt 5
Martin 0

And during this, Thurn and Taxis finally ended.

Adam 23
Anja 21
Steve 19

The monthly Division does take game length into account when calculating its scores, however that is the game length according to Board Game Geek, and doesn’t take into account stoppages for babies. Pity, because Adam would’ve scored a load of points.

After that, all was left was for me take Martin home via the scenic route and the night was done.

Andrew 1 2 2 1 1 7
Katy 2 1 1 1 5 10
Matt 4 1 2 1 2 10
Sam 2 1 2 4 2 11
Martin 5 1 3 3 2 14
Anja 2 1 1 5 5 14
Joe 3 2 3 3 1 14*
Adam 1 4 4 3 3 15
Chris 4 2 4 4 1 15
Ian 3 3 3 3 4 16
Hannah 2 2 2 5 5 16
Andy 1 2 4 5 5 17
Stanley 4 1 5 5 5 20
Steve 3 3 5 5 5 21

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Hype or Boring-er?

Hyperborea is the new game on Sam’s already groaning shelf of games. Its vast box, unable to slide neatly into a space, sits on the edge, it’s spacious lid covering the spines of many other worthy contenders for our attention. In other words, it’s a bit of an attention seeker. And with it’s silly artwork of D&D style subjects, when Sam first bought it, I thought he’d made a terrible mistake.

But he was keen to try it again after an initial test run against Ian, and so I agreed. I ignored any attempt at learning the names for various pieces or colours, and concentrated on the rules that Sam was telling me.

It seemed like a bit of a point salad, or even a point soup, with almost everything you do getting some kind of reward if it was still on the board by the end of the game. Everything, that is, except fortresses: these flimsy castles which sound so promising when it comes to defeating enemy hordes, but vanish the moment it’s your turn again and you have to build your defences from scratch. Less a fortress, more an inflatable castle, as Sam pointed out.

There are icons a-plenty, and I’m not at all sure we got them right. But the basic mechanic of drawing cubes and using them to trigger actions was a smart one. Certainly, I had reason to like it when Sam went through a mid-game spate of unlucky cubes, forcing him to tread water for a few turns. But that’s life, really, isn’t it? And isn’t that what board games are all about? Dreams and hopes, plans and schemes, dashed against the rocks of cruel fate.

While ghosts dance at your misfortune...

The game is pretty fast once you get going, and it seems to offer a variety of paths to glory. But one thing is plain: too many cubes can slow you down, as you cannot clear your playing area until your bag is empty of cubes. Do you specialise in a small number of similar coloured cubes, or go for a smorgasbord of opportunities, picking up different coloured cubes as you go? I think you’d need a few games before a preferred strategy began to to emerge.

At the end, we were struggling to get our last player on the board when I bought up my fifth card, thus triggering the end of the game. But Sam had his stash of gems, and plenty of presence on the board. He took the win by a slim majority.

Sam 44
Andrew 42

That’s from memory, but the way. It might have been 64-62, but it was definitely a two-point gap. It was fun, and it’d be interesting to see how it plays with more people. Part of me wants to try the six-player version, and another part of me wants to remind the first part of me that that would take about three hours.

After this we played a nice two-player game of 7 Wonders. But, in a sense, there’s no such thing as a two-player game of 7 Wonders. Dirk has grown into a little character of his own, mostly as a witless dumping ground for dull cards, but occasionally with an uncanny knack of picking one player to favour over the other.

This time it was Sam who gained most from business with Dirk, while I was left scratching together coppers just to build another science. That was my strategy - sciences - while Dirk went for blue buildings, chaining them together for full effect, and Sam went for military, backed up by some nice guilds in the final round. It was a resounding victory for Sam, and a precious silver medal for Dirk.

Sam 60something
Dirk 44
Andrew 43

But I enjoyed it. I can’t believe there are people who don’t like the 7 Wonders two-player variant. It adds new strategies to what would otherwise be an exercise in futility.

And that was that for the evening! Non-leaderboard, although 7 Wonders should appear on the division, I suppose.

Friday, 14 November 2014

One good Turk deserves another

Due to difficulties in finding attendees, Tuesday was cancelled (and in fact, I was quite ill that evening so a good thing too) and our regular GNN was shifted back to Thursday. And as I walked to Sam’s, I did wonder if I had to cancel that evening too, since my stomach was grumbling up a storm. Luckily my belly held out until I got there, and after a mercy dash to the toilet, I was up and raring to go.

There was Sam, Matt, Ian, Martin and me. Martin had brought Greenland, but that would have left us with an awkward 3/2 divide, so it wasn’t really considered. Instead, we went for Istanbul, the new game of moving and actioning that has fewer rules than Impulse and less AP than Five Tribes. Matt and Martin were new to the game, so Sam talked them through the rules.

With five players, the game changes slightly, but to our relief it scales up rather well. The biggest difference is that you have to pay other players two coins for landing on their square far more often than in a three player game. Otherwise, it was largely the same: you move, you collect, you convert into gems.

Martin, as he so often does, seemed to get a grip on the process very early. In fact, he played by eschewing the usual route of building up your wheelbarrow and then circling around the warehouse/market/gem dealer (with a detour to the tea house if you’re feeling lucky). Martin flouted all of this, and instead used his tiny wheelbarrow, with no upgrades, to get goods and then buy gems at the Sultan’s Palace.

It was a smart move, and shot him into a lead where he had four jewels (needing five to win) while the rest of us struggled with one or two. But we started to close the gap on him. Not enough to take the win, but enough that the last two rounds were pretty tense, with Sam and Martin on four jewels and the rest trying to catch up fast. Sam lost it by gambling too high in the Tea Room when he could have played safe. It ended

Martin 5 gems
Sam 4 gems (and 15 cash)
Andrew 4 (3 cash)
Ian 3 (21 cash)
Matt 3 (18 cash)

Perhaps the best bit about Martin’s win was that it showed that there wasn’t just one route to victory. You can build up your wheelbarrow, but in the time it takes to do that, perhaps someone has already taken the cheap stuff from the board. It’s not just a case of pursuing the right path to victory in the most efficient manner. I think that after this game, Istanbul has cemented its place as a new favourite in the GNN pantheon. One that plays five as well as it plays three.

After this, another new game was brought to the table. Reiner Knizia’s Capacious Derriere Colossal Arena. This game of betting on victorious mythical creatures is very simple. You start with eight creatures, and cards get played below each of them. The lowest value (once all eight have at least one card) is eliminated from that round. And this goes on until three are left. Or until the draw pile is finished, which is what happened in this game. Perhaps the biggest challenge was trying to remember which creature had been eliminated. We tried turning cards face down, or moving them to the top of the rows and we eventually signalled it by using upturned shot glasses on the now-useless cards. It seemed to work.

During the game, you can place bets on which creatures will be still standing at the end. The earlier you place a bet, the more it earns you. I was lucky that I had bet big on a creature that another player (Matt) also wanted to keep alive. At the end, the scores were

Andrew 16
Sam 13
Martin 13
Ian 11
Matt 8

I said it was simple, but since it is a Knizia, there are subtleties, such as being the backer of a creature (allowing you to use some kind of super power that round) or by using spectators (annulling that creature’s super power) or by using a referee (that does things).

Then, just to round the evening off, we played Raj. This game of bidding with an aversion for ties was once a hot favourite. It was great to see it back, especially after round two when a fortunate set of tied results gave me an 8 tile (iirc) for next to nothing. That meant I had commanding lead after the second round, and only had to play safe in round three to record the win. Sam, meanwhile, played the first round by using his cards in numerical order! An audacious tactic that only netted him 3 points in that round. We finished:

Andrew 42
Matt 38
Martin 16
Ian 12
Sam 12

With that, Martin dashed from the house in search of a nicely-timed bus. I set off for the toilet, just for luck, before I went and we all went home, happy after an evening of great games and some very nice whisky.

I hold on to first on the Form Table. For now, at least.

Andrew 1 1 3 3 2 10
Martin 3 2 1 1 5 12
Katie 1 5 1 2 4 13
Sam 4 2 2 2 3 13
Joe 3 2 3 3 1 13*
Chris 4 2 4 4 1 15
Matt 2 4 5 4 1 16
Ian 4 3 4 2 3 16
Hannah 2 2 2 5 5 16
Anja 1 1 5 5 5 17
Adam 4 4 3 3 5 19
Stanley 4 1 5 5 5 20
Steve 3 5 5 5 5 23

* And I've just noticed that Joe's been away so long (three weeks) that his score has started to "decay". (This rule was introduced to stop a player getting a good score on the Form Table and then not coming again - eventually, the score starts to increase, and the player will slip down the table) I hope Joe can make it soon. Not just to wipe that point off, but also because of the joie de jeux that he brings to the evening.

Oh, and one more thing: the division for Raj.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Small Print

Long-time GNNers will recall having my embryonic game thoughts periodically thrust upon the table in the form of scribbled paper and basic photoshop skills, before I inevitably retreat with tail between my legs. THE TIME HAS COME AGAIN.

Let's be fair, it's been a couple of years. You've got off lightly.

I've been developing (i.e. thinking about) a game inspired partly by Raj and partly by High Society. Last night I play tested lengthily it with some like-minded folk (i.e. myself) and I think it's ready for a sortie out into the wider world of GNN. It only takes ten minutes to play (i.e. it won't waste as much of your time as Henchmen or Year of the Sheep).

the stuff

It's a game of buying businesses and gaining the monetary value. Just like real life, you can do it straightforwardly, or operate with nefarious duplicitousness.


Each player (2-4) is given a set of Paperwork cards: they are mostly Shares but they also have three Contract cards - Small, Big, and Total. The backs of the share and contract cards are identical. Players are also given wooden contract markers also labelled Small, Big and Total.

On the table there's a deck of Business cards that have a monetary value between £1m and £15m. These are shuffled and placed face-down.


Play breaks down like this:

1. Reveal three business cards
2. Place paperwork cards face down (up to three per player)
3. Reveal paperwork cards.
4. Assign money.

Over a set of rounds (four for 2 or 4 players; three for 3 players) three of the Business cards are flipped face-up in a row, and players take turns placing a Paperwork card beneath them - face down. The cards will determine who gets what money from the business, and the Business cards have numbers on them to show how these divide between big and small contracts. Once everyone has played up to a maximum of three cards (or passed) the cards are flipped over and the business value is divvied up.

Total contract will claim all of the business. Big and Small contracts will split the business according to the numerical values shown on the business card. And Share cards divide whatever is left over (or split/claim everything if no contracts were played).

But the contract cards under one business can be declared Illegal under certain circumstances.

A total contract and no other contracts is legal. Shares are ignored.

big and small contract with no other contracts is legal. Shares are ignored.

One or two small contracts is legal. Any shares claim the remainder.

Any other combination of contracts will have over-valued the business and they are all declared null and void - the business is now split between share cards, if there are any. Share cards will also swoop up or divide anything left over from contracts that haven't claimed all the business. Any remainders after this divvying up go into a pool in the playing area labelled Small Print. 

Also note: any business valued at over £10m splits the first £10m only between the contracts/shares; the rest goes into the small print pool.

There are also the Contract Markers. Players can choose to play these honestly, and put the marker on top of the corresponding contract card to announce to other players what they have played.

But they can also play any other marker, or no marker at all, or put a marker on a Share card (for instance, claiming to have played a Total contract to try and keep other players away). Markers are always returned to players after each round, though cards are not. So it's up to all players to try and remember who has used up what contract cards…


At the end of the round any player who played a contract marker dishonestly has to take a penalty chit for each instance into their hand.

The business cards and any played contracts and shares are now discarded, and the next round begins with a new starting player.


At the end of the game the player or players with the fewest penalty chits claims any money in the small print pool, and the player with the most cash wins.

Ties are decided on fewest penalty chits followed by most cards left in hand.

It's a celebration of rampant capitalism!

What it doesn't look like yet

Friday, 7 November 2014


Friday. Ian and I cracked into Hyperborea, the game with possibly the most teenage box (fantasy, weapons, mountains) and certainly the silliest title of 2014. However hearing good things I rose above my snobbery and traded in... er, Terra Mystica for it.

The theme is of tribes or peoples post-apocalypse in some distant planet, perhaps named after a bowling alley, reawakening their sense of adventure, exploring the largely hexagonal world, encountering each other and obviously fighting to the death the moment they make contact. There's also ruins and cities to explore and ghosts to kill. It's like a conglomeration of all the things that make games sound a bit silly.

But at the same time there's a really nifty mechanic at work - terminology allowing. It's been christened bag building or something on BGG. Basically you're generating movement up some advancement tracks as well as on the board, and the more you do this the more options you have in your exploring/fighting and the more gems (victory points) you generate. And how this happens is by pulling three cubes from your bag and seeing what you can do with them: certain combinations allow certain actions, and you can get cards that give more options and rewards too - although the cards cost you in grey cubes, which are mostly worthless.

As the game goes on you populate your bag with more cubes and have more options. It's reminiscent of the card-play in Dominion - not a game I'm fond of, but I found this more engaging. There are options - do you take an instant reward or gamble on setting a few possibilities up for your next turn? That part of the game was a very intriguing element.

4-player set up with invisible table

Although it took us two hours that was a first play and I think the alleged game time of 25 minutes per player isn't too far off, assuming all players know the rules. I also think plain wooden discs rather than designed plastic pieces would have been preferable to me - there's something about bright plastic that turns me off. But these minor gripes aside I think we'd call it a success - Ian would, too: he wiped the floor with me.

Ian 52
Sam 44

I then introduced Ian to 7 Wonders for two plus Dirk - it's really underrated as a two-player I think. The ghostly Dirk adds an extra dimension as you dump cards your opponent (Ian) wants and get Dirk to buy stuff from you. I exacted a small measure of revenge for my trouncing in Hyperborea...

Sam 73
Ian 52
Dirk 31

And with that we called it a night.

Sometimes thinking up the post title is the hardest bit.

After what has seemed like a long time all three of the Bracknell bunch were in attendance for Tuesday nights cardboard adventures. With everyone boasting a clean bill of health there was no autumn sniffles to keep anyone away.

To start James made his Timeline debut and in no time we were all cursing our rusting brains trying to work out was meant by the introduction of the clementine. A lot later that I thought, it turns out,  after I had placed it about 2000 years to soon? Introduced to where, exactly. The first game was tied between Paul and I and with no tie breaker evident we elected to do nearest to the date of the next starting card. I got pretty close to the invention of the something or other and won that. The second game was another tie between Paul and James this time. No tie breaker was undertaken.

So then with Paul's request of a proper board game and my realisation that Lords of Waterdeep hadn't been played in the 'The League' we were off to the tavern to recruit rouges and the like.  Some of the early buildings were very helpful in producing much needed adventurers and so aiding the completion of a steady stream of quests. We here tend to play the game a little confrontationally and a few mandatory quests got placed in front of opponents. With 3 players the Agents go from 3 to 4 at round five and this really tightens up spaces on the board there was a bit of spot nabbing by yours truly to prevent the others getting their preferred resources. It might seem like I have a vendetta against Paul as I've stymied him in the last round in the past. However, in this game he selected a risky 5 wizard (Purple) quest in round 7 and I felt if he completed that he would take first place, so I played an intrigue card that meant he had to put back a purple.  Just to make sure James wasn't left out I slapped him with a mandatory quest in the last round. I'm really a nice guy, honest. Despite this James still managed to complete a bunch of quests in the final round and he and I tied on points. The tie breaker came down to money which he had more of and became the true Lord of Waterdeep.

A big ask for the last round!

James - 152 (win on money)
Chris - 152
Paul - 124

Next, with a bit of time left we thought we'd squeeze in a game or two of Incan Gold. The first one was 'League' again. In this game the gems were flying and I managed a really good second round which meant I could be conservative in the following ones. In the second game Paul played the same tactic and his bravery in the face of snakes and Zombie ladies was unfaltering.

Chris - 60
Paul - 48
James - 43

Paul - 63
Chris - 54
James - 32

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

The faulty colours swapped spot

Tonight’s game fest was hosted by Steve and Anja, making their debut appearance this season. We were seven in all: our two hosts, Sam, myself, Martin and Matt drove up and Ian sauntered across from his nearby home. Joe was otherwise occupied, Katie was ill and Adam and Hannah... well, we assume they got an early night for once, but who can say for sure?

We split into two groups. Anja, Ian and I lounged casually on sofas as we played Istanbul, while Sam, Steve, Matt and Martin sat up straight at the dining table for a sensible game of Mexica.

Anaja was new to Istanbul, so I talked her through the rules. I have to admit, there were a lot more than I’d remembered. But Anja seemed to take them all on board without any problems, and we began playing with the recommended “short game” layout.

Everything seemed to be going smoothly until about a third of the way through, when Anja (red) realised that at some point she and Ian (green) must have swapped their pieces, since she was now moving green and he was red. We pondered what to do. Retracing our steps was impossible because it had happened several turns earlier, and starting again wasn’t too popular. In the end, they just decided to change colours.

Molly the cat, aghast at the developments in Istanbul

Apart from that, the game went pretty smoothly. I was the last to pick up any gems, but I had a “Use Gemstone Dealer twice” card, so I soon leapt back into contention. In fact, I was fairly confident of a win, and I was just three moves away from the last gem, but Anja swooped in to the Sultan’s Palace to pick up her fifth and final gem.

Anja 5
Andrew 4
Ian 3

It was interesting how different this game was to previous games. The Black Market was hardly used to get blue goods, since we preferred the smuggler who was usually quite conveniently placed, or bonus cards/actions. A pretty deep game which changes even when the board stays the same.

Meanwhile, Mexica was entering its last stages, so we had enough time for another quick game. We went for Timeline. I managed to be accurate, but only to a +/- 4 years gap and mostly on the wrong side. Anja and Ian sped away from me, and Anja was the smarter of the two in the end.

Anja 0 cards
Ian 1
Andrew 2

And finally, we watched the final stages of Mexicana. It seemed completely incomprehensible to me. They just seemed to be doing things at random while counting. And then, at the end, they moved a bridge. Anyway, at the end Martin came away a winner, having withstood the last round of scoring where Steve and Sam (briefly in the lead at one point) mounted a spirited last gasp attack.

Martin 93
Sam 88
Steve 87
Matt 68

And with that, the evening drew to a close. We separated happy, with Anja perhaps happiest of all.

Andrew 3 2 2 1 1 9
Sam 2 3 2 2 2 11
Martin 1 5 3 2 1 12
Ian 2 3 1 3 3 12
Joe 3 2 3 3 1 12
Katie 1 5 1 2 4 13
Chris 4 2 4 4 1 15
Matt 4 1 3 2 5 15
Hannah 2 2 2 5 5 16
Anja 1 1 5 5 5 17
Adam 4 4 3 3 5 19
Stanley 4 1 5 5 5 20
Steve 3 5 5 5 5 23

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Week-ending Empires

Post-Rushay, I (Joe) almost - almost - felt gamed out. But our friends Henry and Rachel arrived on Halloween for the weekend, and that could only mean one thing - more gaming. Henry is a joy to play with - he's super-keen to try out anything new I might have acquired since his last visit, is a very gracious loser and gloats delightedly over each and every win. The perfect gamer!

Though he brought 1989, Dawn of Freedom with him, which we had played in the summer at his, the gaming ops points this weekend weren't really long enough to delve back in to anything that lengthy. That didn't stop Henry suggesting Julius Caesar, Hammer of the Scots and Warriors of God at various points. We also had Lost Valley out of the box several times, which Henry loved the look of; but without Martin to untangle the rules (particularly the two-player variant, which requires each player to control two prospectors), it also fell by the wayside.
Here's some gaming snacks, against a background
of the game of 1989 we played in the summer 

We did play was a lot of Machi Koro - which remains a current favourite of mine. We played in the garden, as this was the unseasonably warm Halloween - but as dusk fell and the kids all went off to the annual Bristol zombie march, we attempted a 2 player game of 1944: Race for the Rhine.

The circumstances weren't ideal, as I had to go upstairs and answer the door to trick-or-treaters every 90 seconds, but even so it didn't feel any less arbitrary than the 3 player game Martin, Sam and I played a few weeks ago. It's going on the next BGG Math Trade . . .

On Saturday we all went on a long walk in the Cotswolds, but in the evening we found a sizeable gaming window while waiting for supper to cook. First up was Razzia, with Flo and Matilda.
Razzia is the gangster-themed card-only version of Ra, with no disasters. Henry and I have splayed a lot of the iPad version, and I guess it's only real USP is the portability, but I really like it as a quick alternative version of its big brother. Not sure anyone else was that enamoured . . . though Flo won.

Henry and I then played a quick game of Race for the Galaxy, including the Alien Artifacts expansion, which is always a pleasure. Then we opted for Russian Railroads. Half way through explaining it I panicked that I'd over-reached; we were playing on the kitchen table and supper was not far off. But Henry's a quick learner, and we knocked out the game in little over half an hour. It was really good to play it again, actually - it's a very neat game, if a little one-dimensional.

Once the kids were abed Henry and I tried to entice Cha and Rachel to play a game. Neither were terribly enthusiastic, but agreed to play Long Shot, which I'd recently played at Rushay. Charlotte said that hearing us play a few days before had reminded her how much she doesn't like it, but graciously agreed to give it another try; and Flo joined in to make five. In fact Flo won. Next day Charlotte said she was now convinced she actively dislikes the game, but I think it's great, and in fact is particularly good for a late night session where you don't want to have to think.

The ladies left us to it at this point - it had gone midnight, after all. But Henry was still willing, and I, hapless dolt that I am, couldn't resist the chance to play another old favourite that he hadn't tried: Ascending Empires! It wasn't great with two; despite the relative simplicity of the rules, it's easy for a player to exploit a given strategy if the other doesn't know the way to combat it. But it reminded me what a great game it can be with three or four, and I'd really like to get it to the table again soon.
Just take an action and it's the next player's turn; the play is super fast and really interesting, despite my inept flicking.

Sunday morning we gazed longingly at Lost Valley, and then confusedly at the rules, before packing it away and playing Russian Railroads again. We both tried for the Trans-Siberian this time, but Henry spread his energies amongst the other three tracks as well and I was allowed an easy win.

After lunch another three rounds of Machi Koro, and our good friends had to hit the road. I hope Henry does pick up Lost Valley, so that when we next get together, around Christmas, we can have another game. Martin, your special trays are now secured with rubber bands - I'll bring it to the next games night I'm able to make. Hey perhaps we could even play it!!

Monday, 3 November 2014

The Constantinople Gardners

Ian, Sam and I met up for some weekend gaming. New to the table was Istanbul, GNN’s first dip into the murky waters of Essen exclusives.

The game plays out across a four-by-four grid, which can be either one of the arrangements suggested in instructions, or it could be completely random. Each space has an action, and the idea is to work out how to best put these actions together in order to buy gems. The first to reach a certain number wins the game.

You have a stack of counters, and every time you move to a new place, you take that action and leave one counter behind, like a little trail of rabbit droppings. However, once your stack of counters is exhausted you either have to retrace your steps (which means you can use that action again) or you can go to the fountain and gather everyone back again. But the fountain doesn't have an action, so it feels like a wasted move.

It's nice and fast-moving. It seems to scratch a similar itch to Five Tribes, with the random board and moving, but with far less processing power needed to work out what you should be doing. Ian, Sam and I liked it enough that once we were done with the first game, we decided to play again.

The first game ended:

1. Ian
2. Sam
3. Andrew

And the second ended

1. Andrew
2. Sam
3. Ian

After this, we went for something warm and comforting that we all knew and loved. 7 Wonders was pulled down from the high shelf it sits on, and we started to play.

Again, the GNN aversion to sciences was in full view, as none were built in round one and the moment I decided to take the plunge and try them, Sam started building them, too. In the end, I forsook science, and went for big blue buildings and a couple of guilds to squeeze me past Sam's armies and Ian's other guilds.

Andrew 57
Sam 55
Ian 47

Finally, to finish off the evening, we went for No Thanks. Should've know better, with King Of Chains at the table. Ian went on his usual run of good luck, putting together another improbable series of cards.

Ian 31
Sam 58

Ian 1 3 3 1 2 10
Andrew 2 1 1 3 3 10
Sam 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