Tuesday, 30 December 2014

2014 in Numbers

It's another review of the year, only this one is all about the numbers.

Mmmmmm... numbers...

First, there's the small matter of the Division for 2014


So congratulations to Sam and Steve as our end-of-year champions. Now let's take a quick reminder of the many and varied champions we've had this year.


Next up, I thought I'd highlight some of the more interesting statistics that our endless gaming has generated this year.

Matches played
350

Different games played
113

Total points scored
72,900

Top point scorer
Sam, 15,199

Total number of players
23

Biggest Victories
Twice Martin won with a points total which was greater than his two opponents added together. Both were space-themed, interestingly enough.

Impulse, 20th August
Martin 20, Andrew 9, Matt 7

Ascending Empires, 17th December
Martin 33, Katy 17, Joe 15

But Sam has managed to win a game of Raj with a score more than three times larger than his two rivals combined.

Raj, 19th November
Sam 110, Matt 44, Ian -15

Biggest win in terms of points on the Division went to Matt who picked up 9.3 points for winning a five-player game of Concordia.

Concordia, 2nd July
Matt 95, Andrew 84, Joe 83, Ian 79, Sam 74

Biggest margin of victory in terms of points on the Division was achieved by Joe. One of his wins at Russian Railroads got him 9 points. His closest rival, Sam, was so far behind he picked up only 3.32 points on the Division.

Russian Railroads, 9th April
Joe 401, Sam 303, Andrew 292, Martin 262

Heaviest Defeats
There have been a number of incredible (meaning “not credible”) results this year. Here's a selection of them.

I've already mentioned Ian's -15 at Raj, but his special understanding of 6nimmt has become almost legendary. One performance in particular broke all records as he ended the game in just two rounds.

6nimmt, 1st October
Joe 9, Sam 14, Martin 20, Matt 26, Andrew 30, Ian 80

Also, my one attempt at the children's game The Rocket Game ended with me scoring only 10% of what my closest rival scored.

The Rocket Game, 22nd January
Joe 11, Sam 10, Andrew 1

Not forgetting (although I'd like to) my failure at understanding the shitty card game Wizard. A shocking score: I failed to end with any points at all, but I hated the game so much that I was kind of glad.

Wizard, 17th September
Joe 200, Martin 180, Andrew 0

Biggest losing margin in terms of points on the Division was also achieved by me. I came last in a game of Russian Railroads, having been lapped on the score track by the three other players. I picked up the usual one point for coming last, but Martin got a healthy 6.6 points for his third place finish.

Russian Railroads, 19th March
Joe 377, Sam 363, Martin 329, Andrew 215

Interesting to see how often Joe wins games in which another player is humiliated (usually me). This is a dark side to our genial friend that I was previously unaware of.

Well, Karma is a cruel mistress, as this last entry in this category demonstrates:

Beowulf, 4th June
Martin 31, Matt 26, Ian 24, Joe -4

Closest game
A game of 7 Wonders ended with the three players only one point apart.

7 Wonders, 17th August
Ian 45, Andrew 45, Sam 44

But perhaps closest of all was the game of 1944 The Race To The Rhine. Since none of the three players actually made it to the Rhine, they referred to a number of tie-breakers to discern the winner. None could tease them apart, until the last tie-breaker, which was turn order. In other words, how they were sitting at the table decided who was the winner. I mean, what's wrong with celebrating in your joint victory?

1944 The Race To The Rhine, 1st October
Martin, then Joe, then Sam. None reached the Rhine, all killed four Nazis, all earned five medals, Martin wins on a silly tie-breaker.

Longest winning streak
Andrew, six games, 23rd July - 6th August, (Abluxxen, Timeline, Lost Valley, High Society, 7 Wonders, Takenoko)

Longest losing streak
Gonz once picked up five last places in a row (26th March - 2nd April: Timeline, Tinners' Trail, Quantum, Timeline and Ice Flow) but some of those last places were joint last.

Ian, meanwhile, has come last five games in a row with no ties at all (9th April - 16th April: Kingdom Builder, Trains, Medici, Stone Age and Take It Easy) although it was his first time playing Trains, Medici and Stone Age and only his second time playing Kingdom Builder.

Longest without a last place
Martin went for an astonishing twenty-two games without finishing last (19th February - 2nd April). What was the game that ended this run of good-to-mediocre form? Russian Railroads.

Longest without a first place
Ian went for seventeen games without winning any of them (9th April - 7th May). The game that ended this run was Timeline.

And now we have the list of games played this year (leaderboard only)...


I took the games we played less than three times off the table, otherwise it would've been too long. But for the record, they were:

Games that have been played twice

A Study in Emerald, Africana, Citadels, Colosseum, Dixit, Galaxy Trucker, Greenland, Hyperborea, Indigo, Lords of Vegas, Lost Valley, Medici, Nefertiti, Palaces of Carrara, Poison, Potato Man, Skull & Roses, Splendor, Taj Mahal, Takenoko, Terra Mystica, Thurn and Taxis, TransAmerica

Games that were played once

10 Days in Africa, Agricola, Alien Frontier, Ascending Empires, Beowulf, Black Fleet, Bruxelles 1893, Carcassone, The Castles of Mad King Ludwig, Caverna, Colossal Arena, Condottiere, Coup, Crimes Against Humanity, Cube Quest, Discworld, Dominion, El Grande, Fauna, Fleet, For Sale, Fresco, Google Datacenter Manager, Hab & Gut, Havana, Hollywood Blockbuster, Ice Flow, Igloo Pop, Industry, Mama Mia, Mammut, Metropolys, Mexica, Mission Red Planet, Municipium, Mutineer, Nile, Olympos, Piranha Pete, Race to Rhine, Rocket Game, Sail to India, Samurai: The Card Game, Seasons, Sons of Anarchy, San Quentin Kings, Steam, Sticheln, Stone Age, Sutter’s Mill, Trains, TransEuropa, Vegas Showdown, Village, Waggle Dance, Winners Circle, Wizard, Ys

Just to finish off, I thought I'd take a look at the Divisions for the most frequently played games. Timeline was this year's smash hit. Or, more accurately, this year's preferred drunken choice at the end of an evening. And I share the honours on this game with Martin.


Next up is 7 Wonders. This perennial classic is the perfect game to fit into half an hour or so. Sam sweeps the board with this game. Amazing to see Adam at the bottom of a Division, too (even if he has only played it once).


Third is 6nimmt. How things have changed. Once this game was ruled by Sam and Adam, but in 2014 the victories have been more evenly spread. Nevertheless, Martin takes all the honours here.


Fourth on the list is Love Letter, and it's Ian who takes two of the titles for himself. The third goes to Matt.


Fifth is the little matter of Kingdom Builder. Our absent friend, Gonz, takes Medal Table and Points in this very close Division: less than three points separate the top four. Matt wins on Points Ratio.


And lastly is Take It Easy. Sam takes the Medal Table and Points, but Adam proves that fatherhood hasn't ruined his form completely by taking the Points Ratio title.


And that's that for 2014! Here's hoping the spreadsheet for 2015 is even larger and more all-encompassing! If it keeps expanding at this rate, it should become self aware in 2023.

Fauna-cation

Tonight was the last night of the season. Six of us clustered around Adam and Hannah’s table (me, Adam, Hannah, Sam, Katy and Joe) before we realised there was no appetite for the suggestion of six-player Railways Of The World.

Instead we began by comparing our various Christmases. Adam and Hannah had to host a large number of family members who came and went. Katy spent five days with her parents, bookended by two days visiting friends. Sam several spent days with two different branches of his family tree. My Christmas was done and dusted in a single day, as I visited cousins for a meal and that was it. Joe arrived late, and when he asked how everyone’s Christmas was he was told that we’d already done that conversation. He said he’d wait for the blog.

As for the games, once Joe had arrived, we began with the slightly less-thinky Fauna (not counting the aborted game of Linkee was began while we waited for Joe). Fauna was all about Joe and Katy battling for top spot. In the end, Joe won for hedging his bets over some obscure animal that no one’s ever heard of anyway.


Joe 83
Katy 78
Sam 68
Hannah 57
Adam 48
Andrew 39

Then we split into two groups. Alas, we did not play two three-player games of Railways Of The World (since Joe brought his copy to go with Adam’s copy). Instead, Sam tempted Adam and Hannah with the new exotic delights of The Castles of Mad King Ludwig. They sprawled out luxuriously on the floor of the front room (the usual table was in the shed, apparently).


Joe, Katy and I played Ra. Joe explained the rules to Katy since it was her first time playing. Like a gentleman, he kept offering advice to her while we played, right up to the end of round two when I had to ask him to stop, since he was giving advice to someone who clearly already knew what they were doing.

Despite my wise choice to bow out of the battle of the Pharaohs (which ended something like 8-7), I had a barren second round where I lost points, losing precious ground. My Nile and Buildings were not nearly enough to combat Joe and Katy’s scoring on civilisations most rounds.

Katy 51
Joe 48
Andrew 29

Since them in the front room were still building castles, we three squeezed in a quick game of For Sale. This was also new to Katy but that doesn’t stop her from winning most games she’s never played before. And so it was again.

Katy 71
Andrew 62
Joe 60

And by now the castle builders in the next room had finished, with the scores at

Adam 106
Hannah 79
Sam 68

And we come to the end of the season! Katy takes top spot on the form table, just sneaking the win away from the absent Martin. Congratulations!







Points
Katy 1 1 2 2 1 7
Martin 1 2 1 2 2 8
Jon 2 2 2 2 1 9
Matt 2 1 3 4 1 11
Andy 2 3 1 3 2 11
Joe 3 2 1 3 2 11
Anja 2 2 1 1 5 11
Ian 1 4 2 4 1 12
Hannah 2 4 3 3 2 12
Adam 1 5 3 2 2 13
Chris 2 5 1 1 4 13
Andrew 2 3 6 2 1 14
Sam 3 3 3 2 4 15
Steve 3 3 3 5 1 15
Stanley 3 2 4 1 5 15

Meanwhile, on the Division, Sam wins on Points and the Medal Table and Anja wins on Points Ratio. Congratulations to them too!

And before I forget, this is the Division for two-player game for the season.


Well done to Sam and Joe, our two two-player champions.

And that's all for the season! All that's left is to put together the end-of-year review in statistics, which should be up later. Then, it's a bit of rest and relaxation in the pause before the start of the next season.

Which begins on Friday!

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Christmas spirits

Remember that Christmas when you wanted Tin Can Alley and got Othello instead? Or that Christmas you thought you might get a few of the new Return of the Jedi figures but no, your auntie thought it was high time you started getting deodorant for a present. And hairspray. Hard not to show the disappointment, wasn’t it? Well, no such dismay for the Bracknell lot because Paul played the role of Father Christmas and treated the group to the Lords of Waterdeep expansion, Scoundrels of Skullport. Faces full of glee! Thoughts of any other games were cast asunder and a flurry of excited activity soon saw the familiar old favourite laid out with the added extras. Most notably, the corruption tokens, in the form of blue skulls.
The evilometer.

Cue much over-acted cackling.  Yep, the Skullport module was chosen for its corruption content. The new area, new quest and intrigue cards and new buildings presented tantalising gains, but they came with a smattering of blue skull tokens. The more you had at the game’s end, the more points you had to deduct. And this addition was much enjoyed, truly adding a new dimension to the game, because the more blue skulls taken from the corruption track, the more minus points each was worth at the end. The stitching up of opponents had been promised Paul by the games shop bloke and the Bracknell lot was up for a bit of that. Though it was predicted that gaming good boy, James, would have nothing to do with any corruption.
New Buildings!

So, Paul was rightly given the new faction, with its grey pieces (there, so six players can now play), the Lords were dealt (though not the new ones, because they went, erm, unnoticed) and the long game was opted for, because the expansion also provides a further piece for each pre-existing faction. Then the Bracknell lot wriggled in their chairs and started the game. Still cackling a bit.
This picture cleared up a question of whether James had a purple cube or not. He did.

Paul went corrupt right away. Then Chris. And then James, when it became apparent after turning over a few cards that the game presents opportunities to return your corruption tokens. Straight from the off, Chris played a building where you could pay one gold to be rid of one blue skull. So like the other two, James racked up quite a pile of blue skulls after all.
The long game was indeed fairly long, but the Bracknell lot loved every single minute. Chris was building like Barratt Homes, so he clearly had the Lord that gave bonus points for buildings. Paul sneaked ahead, but only a little. He was enjoying some of the nasty new intrigue cards. James had some good plot quests under his wing but became obsessed with clearing his corruption tokens. Chris was always dangerous, as no-one seemed able to curb his building. The new buildings, quest cards and intrigue cards were delectable.
Come the end, Paul’s ‘Gray’ Hands faction were flagging behind on their debut. It was between Chris and James. So began a tense totting-up. James had a shed-load of Lord’s bonus quests (arcane and warfare), but Chris had buildings galore. James was squeaky clean, having dutifully cleansed his faction of all those nasty blue skulls. Now, the corruption tokens weren’t as punishing as they could have been, because not that many were still in play. But Chris did have a few and that was his undoing. Good triumphed over evil. That’s James triumphing over Chris. Ahem.

James 211, Chris 205, Paul 166.

So that was the Skullport expansion, played with the long game option. There’s still the Undermountain module to try. Then both together. Happy days ahead for sure. The best game made better in the opinions of all those featured. Thanks to Paul and his festive gesture. Somebody should have let him win.      

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Bedroom Tax

When I was asked by my secret Santa what I wanted I said I'd love a game, but maybe I should curb the habit and get something else instead. What can I say? Santa insisted I get a game. Put on the spot for choices, I plumped for this new Castles of Mad King Ludwig thing and spent the run-up to Christmas worrying I was going to hate it.

But despite a minor quibble about the readability of symbols, it was fun and straightforward. Stanley and I tried it out today, and having been beaten by him at Stone Age yesterday I decided that I'd balance the scales and play a little more competitively. Joe and Sally sat this one out:

A rare moment of calm

Largely inspired by the Neuschwanstein Castle and of course the King that commissioned it, the game is about competing builders trying to impress the King by building castles on an extremely ad-hoc basis: room by room in fact. There's a little of Carcassone or Alhambra in there with the placement of these buildings, but there's also a bit of economics going on too. On a given turn the starting player (which moves around) is the Master Builder, and they choose how expensive the available rooms are going to be by placing them beneath a fixed set of values, that go from 2000 to 15,000. If they have their eye on a certain room, obviously they might make that one of the cheaper ones.

But the Master Builder having decided the going rates is then last to purchase, so may - probably - end up with the most expensive rooms. On the other hand, all the other players pay the master builder for their rooms, whereas the master builder pays the bank. This system keeps things interesting, as although we didn't pay a huge amount of attention to it in a 2-player I imagine with three or four it would play a big part in the game.

If you can't or don't want to buy, you can sacrifice building to pick up 5000 money. 

Having bought a room you add it to your growing castle. Like Alhambra everything must be connected to a central starting tile (a foyer, in this game) and there are straightforward set of rules about placing. Having built the room, you score points for it!

Hard hat area

The rooms all have their own thematic function, which is not at all academic, because placement can count against you when that room is surrounded - i.e., all its exits lead somewhere. When that happens, you get a bonus. Points are a part of it, so a parlour next to a bathroom will score extra points, but putting a parlour next to a forge, for example, will hit you with a points penalties. There are other bonuses too which range from extra points or cash to having an extra turn or picking up bonus cards.

The cards can be a game-changer come the count-up, and I thought that my having eight of them, courtesy of my continuously building bedrooms, would mean I outstripped Stanley with his two. But I'd overlooked one thing: the final scoring includes seeing who won The Kings' Favour, which reward different things in different games á la Kingdom Builder. Stanley, having not presented himself with the architectural cul-de-sacs that the bedrooms lump you with, picked up twice as many points as me from the insane king (entertainment rooms and surrounded rooms), and despite my bonus-point surge, he ran out winner.

Stanley 116
Sam  113

My gripe with the game is the pieces are fiddly and you have to kind of squint at them to check what sort of room they are. But on the other hand if they were any bigger I think you'd swiftly run out of table.

Stan counts up his winnings.

I can't see Martin embracing this game because the player interaction is limited to the economics, and the building happens in isolation. But I think those of us who like a game with minimum aggression and, well, the idea of building a faintly idiotic castle, will really enjoy it. It's a very accessible game with room for strategy and tactics.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

If you knew Zeusy like I know Zeusy

No big pre-Christmas event this year, but Sam and I got together for an evening of games before the big day. Sam’s first suggestion was Olympos. It required some specialised two-player rules to be introduced, but otherwise the game played out the same. So with Sam already familiar with the rules (of which there are surprisingly few) he talked me through it and we were away.

A slightly embarrassed Zeus keeps track of his game

The game was far quicker than before. With two players, the amount of analysis paralysis was greatly lessened. On the other hand, Zeus barely shut up, with Olympos cards being triggered every couple of turns. With only two players, this meant that one player was rewarded while the other was punished. There was no third option of just doing enough to avoid those cards by not being last. This, perhaps, robbed the game of a certain subtlety. Sam came out a confident winner.

Sam 48
Andrew 27

But on its second outing, it still didn’t really impress Sam. I have the same opinion as Ian – I’d like to try it again to see if perhaps I’d missed something. Maybe three players is the sweet spot? Despite it’s map and swords, it’s not a war game. The aggressor always wins – it just takes them more time. And with Sam having the most Zeus tokens, he could push the game on, without fearing the wrath of the gods in the slightest, leaving me at a bit of a disadvantage.

After this, we played Linkee. This quiz game is aimed at the family market and contains four easy questions per card. The difficult bit is working out how the four answers are connected. Like a dumbed-down version of Only Connect, it’s a fun diversion: easy enough to make you feel smug about yourself while still hard enough that victory isn’t guaranteed.

One "E" away from victory

Having said that, Sam won this time, and then again when we played it at the end of the night.

But it was still early, so there was more games to be had. Castles of Burgundy was brought out. In round one, I looked at the tiles available and I decided to go for animals, since no one ever goes after them, and it seemed to work. One herd of cows got me 43 points during the game. Plus, I got a couple of useful bonuses. I led throughout the game and Sam’s last round of spoiling tactics and his large collection of tiles for completing areas wasn’t enough to complete the gap. The game was also notable for the constant battle for going first, since that seemed to be advantageous to our plans.


Andrew 192
Sam 179

And then we played Biblios.

Has this game lost some of its mystery? Sam and I sped through a game, fully at home with the rules and the strategies. But halfway through the auction round, I realised I was in a fix. I couldn’t possibly win two dice (which added up to six) while I was certain to win the other three (which only added up to four).


Since we don’t shuffle the auction pile in GNN Towers (and Sam and I reinstated the tie-breaker rule of leftmost die wins since I do believe it makes for a better game) I knew that the last card to be auctioned was a church card that allowed you to change the value of the cards. I thought it was a card that let you change two dice. This would’ve given me the win, since I had the brown dice in the bag, but when it was unveiled, it only changed one. And that’s how I lost by a single point.

Sam 6
Andrew 5

And that’s also why our tie-breaker is better than the official one. You try having a strategic battle like that when the tie-breaker is only “who has most gold left over?” Yawners.

Then there was one last game of Linkee, which I already mentioned before that Sam won, before Sam sped off into the night, Christmas stretching out in front of us. Season’s greetings, everyone.

Monday, 22 December 2014

A Review of 2014

January


The year began with a bang. That bang being the sound of Marieke pounding her fist on the table and yelling “Five pounds!” at every auction for a mine during an epic attempt by Sam to get some drunken non-gamers to play Tinners’ Trail. A valiant effort, somewhat doomed, but at the very least we got an excellent blog post out of it. Film rights are available.

If that wasn’t eventful enough, the next meeting (held one afternoon) saw Sam take his youngest boy off the A&E after he fell out of the car (when it was parked). Joe and I played Steam while we waited for news, and happily, he was okay.

In terms of games, the aforementioned Steam made an appearance as did Russian Railroads. Sutter’s Mill came and went. Sentinels of the Multiverse got a first play, and I suspect it’s still lurking in Joe’s cupboard. Meanwhile, Bracknell went all seasonal on us with their Gingerbread-themed version of Carcassonne.

The month ended with Martin teaching me and Sam a valuable lesson in Railways of the World, as he crushed us both with his audacious big-spending technique.


February


This month found us at the cusp of a new wave of art, as Bruxelles 1893 came to the table. This Frankengame mixes together a number of different game mechanics, but after an arduous game between me, Sam and Joe it was sent off in a trade.

This month saw us hitting the heights of sophistication, with the dice arena Das Exclusive making another appearance for a game of Las Vegas with whiskey and, later on, Love Letter was accompanied by After Eights and, again, whiskey. And if that weren't enough, how about the decadent luxury of an automatic shuffling machine?

Raj arrived and stayed, Caverna got played once and, criminally, hasn't been seen since and Kingdom Builder, after a long time in the wilderness, suddenly came back to the table in both Bristol and Bracknell. Fauna was a smash hit at Roll For The Soul. And two games linked to famous authors flopped about unimpressively in front of my eyes like dying fish, Discworld, and A Study In Emerald, although other people seemed to like them.


March


We had long discussed the idea of a Game of the Month, in which a game gets played regularly for a few weeks. This would avoid the flitting about from one new game to the next, without ever getting to grips with any of them. Russian Railroads was the first one pulled from the hat, and so we dutifully played several games of this steam-themed abacus.

Colosseum made a triumphant comeback to my delight! And then made a slightly less triumphant return a week or so later, where its Roman showbiz attractions couldn't hold the attention of a relative newbie. Philistine!

Fresco was a simple Eurogame with artistic pretensions. Quantum proved to be a winner, one of the few games at GNN at the war-game end of the spectrum. And Industry appeared in Bracknell, thanks to The Works and its occasional clear out sales.


April


It's all about the jolly holidays in April. Joe squashed eight games into two small boxes for his vacation (or should that be “playcation”? A ha ha) while me and Sam met up with Paul and Chris, plus Stanley and Ashton for a weekend of one game after another.

New games were Ice Flow, Splendor, Vegas Showdown (I'm sure that Joe is trying to rebuild downtown Las Vegas in board game form), Port Royal (a big favourite until Martin broke it) and Igloo Pop (Should be played all the time).

And who could forget Stack, the game of rolling lots of dice and then placing them one on top of the other. Such larks! We never actually played it, and Joe only bought it because it was a pound for a lot of nice pastel coloured dice.


May


This month began well, with Sam and I regaining some pride on Railways of the World, reversing our previous standings against Martin.

Meanwhile, Pergamon was this month's Game of the Month with its promises of “spectacular archaeology”. I love this game, especially the method of distributing funds which has a nice gambling feel to it. Plus, it doesn't outstay its welcome. And Adam and Hannah's baby Arthur made his first appearance at a games night. Didn't play anything, though.

In Bracknell, Smash Up found the appreciative audience it lacked in April, when it was played as a final game at our games weekend. Maybe we were too tired to appreciate its charms at the time, but since then, it's become something of a regular.

But outstanding new arrival of the month had to be Kings of San Quentin. This uniquely illustrated (possibly by actual inmates, Joe guessed) card game recreates the gang warfare and tense paranoia of San Quentin prison. The artwork was a triumph in naive art, and the game itself wasn't too bad either.


June


A quiet month. 1812 The Invasion of Canada (the hilarious strategy game) and Mission Red Planet both reappeared on the GNN radar.

New arrivals were Sail to India, Beowulf: the Legend, Concordia, Avalon, and Amerigo, the space guzzling game of exploration and cube towers. And almost the complete opposite of Amerigo in terms of size – Havana – got its first play. A neat slimmed down version of Cuba.

And that was about it.


July


Gonz returned to Spain for educational purposes, but the GNN juggernaut trundled on. Just about. It slows down quite a lot in summer. And Bristol became Bracknell, as Sam and I joined in with a Bracknell evening for once.

Martin convinced us to play Palaces of Carrera again, and then he won it again.

There were debuts for Hollywood Blockbuster and, finally, for Sigma File: a game from the 1970s, where sophisticated gentlemen outbid each other for control of spies as they ferry an attache case around the out-of-date version of the world and politically incorrect names for the spies from various countries. Also Metropolys and Lost Valley got their first plays.


August


We hit 500 posts in August, which was nice. And I won five games in a row, which was even nicer! And Adam came back to GNN after paternity leave, which was even nicer still. And all of this was in the first week! Pleasant surprises were set to continue as Paul and Chris from the Bracknell Bunch made it to a GNN evening (separately). And then I won at No Thanks! Truly, a month full of marvels.

Impulse appeared on the scene. It confused me at first, since it looked like a points salad: do a little bit of everything and you'll do okay. But it's not: choose if you want to trade, plan or fight, and do that best while defending yourself. Like a board game equivalent of the 8-bit computer masterpiece Elite.

Terra Mystica also arrived in Bracknell and Bristol. At least Bracknell played it (twice!). In Bristol, Sam and I had barely got all the pieces out of the board before we decided our time was better spent elsewhere.

Takenoko, Camel Up, and Lewis & Clark also made their debuts.


September


Tonight our Bristol-Bracknell enclave struck out in its next phase of total global overlordship, when Chris visited a gaming group in Reading.

The Morrison tribe played Poker, with a last-card finale that you wouldn't have believed if it had been in a film.

Five Tribes arrived on our shores, and what a brain-melty game it was. Ys also returned to the limelight, to a positive welcome and vague plans to play it again real soon. It hasn't been seen since. Race to the Rhine was played and was enjoyed right up until its rather dismal end.

But the award for best new act went to Red7, a fun and simple little card game. Meanwhile, best new comedy was Cards Against Humanity, a rip-roaring journey through our most depraved thoughts, brought to light by the magic of flashcards.

Shamefully, though, the ugly side of GNN's pack mentality surfaced this month: Steve was on the verge of his own Perfect Five, having won four games in a row, so we chose a game that was (a) new to him, (b) mostly random and (c) easy to pick on a player if they were winning. It was Age of War, and Steve came third. I still feel guilty about that.


October


Biblios has been a favourite at GNN for two and a half years. Imagine our surprise, then, when Martin told us we'd got a rule wrong. It turned out that the tie-breaker was gold left in your hand, and not left-most die wins.

Meanwhile Mutineer, not played at all for two and a half years, made a reappearance. I can't remember much about it, though, except that no one mutinied.

Nefertiti was a new game, and got positive vibes.

Another Perfect Five slipped through a player's fingers this month. This time it was Martin who fell at the fifth hurdle. He can't complain, like Steve, that the fifth game was chosen to thwart him since it was Kingdom Builder. He was just one point short of the win.

Further afield, Chris dabbled in Keystone and told us all about games from Essen. Sam bought a new deck for Timeline, turning a game that I'm confident in into a game that I have very little hope with. Google Datacentre Manager was also finally played after weeks of being suggested but never accepted. That name lacks a certain pazzazz.

But Greenland was the highlight of the new games. Silly and baffling all in one, there is plenty of going with hunting, religion and beaver pelt fads to be dealt with. A unique gaming experience.


November


Istanbul and Mexica were two new games to our band of gamers. And Hyperborea made us all flinch with it's fantasy stylings.

No such style problems for Wir Sind Das Wolk (or Wind In The Willows, as Sam calls it) which recreated the rise and fall of the GDR and the FDG. This game is played out on a map with cubes, octagons and cardboard pieces. Very sensible.

Sam began a new and exciting hobby of box customising, with some custom-made in-box separators for Hyperborea and a drastic approach to Take It Easy, slicing it down by a third.

The month ended with a huge three-day weekend. From Cube Quest to Greenland, all manner of games were won and lost. Especially interesting was Sons of Anarchy, a game where boardgamers get to pretend to be all rough and tough, with their own biker gangs.

Also worth remembering was Martin's dash for the last bus mid-game, and then his dash back again when he realised he had ten more minutes and could finish the game. That's true dedication for you.


December


Ah, December. How could we forget December? Especially since it's still here.

Quantum came back in fashion in a big way. Alien Frontier, too, suddenly popped back onto our table. As did Lewis and Clark. Olympos arrived on the scene and got a guarded response. But none of this compares to Potato Man. Just saying the name is fun! It's a tense but frustrating trick taking game with potatoes on your cards. But look out for the evil potatoes! Ho ho. Just typing it makes me smile.

And that was our year. And what a year it was: one of fun, friendship and the occasional humiliating defeat. Here's hoping for even more next year.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Black Markets

Matt, Andy, Ian and I (Sam) convened at my house the night before Stanley turns 7. He was up when they arrived, too excited to sleep, and watching a run-through of Black Fleet with me. After a short discussion - and Stanley now in bed, that was the game we started with.

Its a very simple game and one that is brimming with chance. Each player owns a merchant ship (for trading) and a pirate ship (for nicking stuff) and they move both on their turn - if a merchant reaches a suitable port, it delivers goods. If a pirate reaches an opponents merchant, it steals goods from it. And if that good happens to be the last one (merchant ships hold up to three goods at a time) then, by the unforgiving laws of the sea (that also apply to Serrinissima) that ship will sink.

Everyone also gets to move one of the navy ships on their turn, that scoot around eliminating pirates. And there's some extra cards that let you break the rules, too.

Big sea

All of this nautical larking about gets you doubloons - for delivering, for stealing, for sinking pirate ships. And the game progresses as you spend these doubloons to flip over some cards (I forget the name) in front of you. Once one player flips them all, that is the final round. So it's a race - but everybody gets a random set of cards and they each give a special power when flipped. Andy's worked together quite nicely, but the game twists and turns a great deal and we were all - at one point or another - the victim of lady luck, as our best-laid plans came unstuck and our ships were scuttled. I think we played it in the best way though - quickly. 

In the end Andy got the win by flipping all his cards first. The rest of us had flipped all but one, and the tie-breaker was on doubloons:

Andy: all cards flipped
Ian 7 doubloons
Matt 4 doubloons
Sam 3 doubloons

A fun, quick game that we all quite liked. 

Next up was Istanbul. The decision-making on game choice was inexplicably fast, although Andy had said that if you spend 15 minutes choosing a game, that's 15 minutes of game time lost. The type of guy who would rush through the wedding vows so he could break out Castles of Burgundy. I like that. 

not a governor to be seen

Istanbul was tight. We dealt the tiles randomly and all felt the pinch of having to make two moves where one would have felt more appropriate. I was one move from winning (at which point Andy would have bumped me into second) and Andy one move from winning (at which point Matt may have bumped me into third) at the moment Matt won. And as he was fourth player, nobody could make any last-minute minute moves to react. What's more, he could only afford the winning move as I'd paid him two lira to engineer myself one move from winning! ISTANBUL - the game Katy would describe as Gem C**t - if only she'd been here to do so.

Matt 5 gems
Sam 4 gems (2nd on money tie-breaker)
Andy 4 gems (3rd on money tie-breaker)
Ian 3 gems

It wasn't horrendously late so there was just time for everyone to hand me my ass in Love Letter. 
fucking useless


Ian WINS
Andy 2 cubes
Matt 2 cubes
Sam 1 cube.

What more can you say about this game? It's nuts. 

Happy Christmas to everyone - most of you - who won't be around on Tuesday. Hopefully we can organise a last-games-of-the-season at some point before New Year's Eve too.







Points
Martin 1 2 1 2 2 8
Andrew 2 1 4 1 1 9
Jon 2 2 2 2 1 9
Katy 2 1 3 2 2 10
Matt 2 1 3 4 1 11
Andy 2 3 1 3 2 11
Sam 3 2 4 1 1 11
Anja 2 2 1 1 5 11
Ian 1 4 2 4 1 12
Joe 3 2 1 3 3 12
Hannah 3 3 2 2 2 12
Chris 2 5 1 1 4 13
Adam 3 2 2 4 4 15
Steve 3 3 3 5 1 15
Stanley 3 2 4 1 5 15

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Ruletide Greetings

Nine of us arrived at Anja and Steve’s house. Steve was out when we got there, but was expected to arrive just as soon as he got his fill of Palestinian cinema for the evening. Otherwise we were: Anja, Sam, Andy, me, Martin, Joe, Katy and Ian. We split into three groups and, thanks to Steve and Anja’s new dining table, it wasn’t a problem to give us all the required space.

It wasn't planned as such, but it ended up being the Christmas edition of GNN as most players won't be around for next week. There were snacks and mulled wine and mince pies on hand! A lovely cosy winter's spread.


As for the games, Andy and me went for Lewis and Clark, while Joe, Katy and Martin chose Ascending Empires. On the coffee table at the far end of the room, Sam, Ian, and Anja chose a new game Olympos with the option for Steve to join a game when he arrived.

All of which meant that every game needed a rule explanation, and the whole room hummed with the noise of criteria and options being described. By 8.50, Steve had arrived and no one had actually started their game (a situation that Martin found appalling). He chose Olympos, because there was enough space around that table.

Since I was sat at one end of the room, I can’t say much about Olympos, except that there was the occasional exclamation of “Fuck Zeus!” And, I have to say, my neighbouring game of Ascending Empires was every bit as foul-mouthed. Martin played an aggressive game, as he and Katy fought over one half of the galaxy, leaving Joe's half nearly untouched, with Katy using her very best swearing to try and ward Martin away from further attacks on her quarter. Joe, meanwhile, continued to have the yips, mis-flicking almost every move that meant anything.


As for Lewis & Clark, compared to the other games, it was relatively sedate. There was a bit of worker placement, and a bit of hand management. This sounds like a euphemism for a quick wank – what it actually means is that we were trying to build up a strong hand of cards that would allow us to win the game. Each card has a historical character and a vaguely related action. I was amused by Big Horse, who allowed you to turn two Native Americans into a horse: I imagined it being a pantomime horse, carrying your supplies through the mountains (“Oh no he wouldn't!”).


But Andy had a couple of cards that allowed him to build canoes for cheap, and then combine them with food for an extra two spaces. This was enough to beat my cards that got horses for cheap and then gave each one an extra space on water or land.

Andy won
Andrew didn't

When we'd finished, no one else seemed close to winning. So we started on a quick game of Red7. It was a close game, with the scores at 33-31 as we went into the last round. But Andy's attempt to wake the forces of darkness must have been enough to get him some luck.


Andy 41
Andrew 33

By now, games were entering their final stages, so we were able to watch the scores being totted up. In space, Martin had won by a very comfortable win, and his merciless aggression gained him the title of Space Cunt.

Martin 33
Katy 17
Joe 15

Finally, the scoring for Olympos was worked out. There were plenty of different categories and it all looked very complicated.


Sam 48 (wins on tie-breaker)
Anja 48
Steve 47
Ian 28

The overall impression seemed to be that learning the game with four players was a bit of a bump to get over. When I came over to watch the final stages, Ian looked like he'd just spent the evening doing squat thrusts since he was slumped back in the sofa, absently clinging onto his beer. He may have been shaking slightly. I didn't check.

Then we discussed whether or not to bring back the Game Of The Month, or have a system where the host gets the privilege of choosing one of the games to be played that evening. Something to slow the relentless march of progress as new games are brought to the table about once a week. I'm all for this, and I'd also like to suggest we play more two-player games. It would give us a little bit of flexibilty, at least.

I've been thinking about this for a while and I've put together a new two-player division so that two-player games aren't forgotten. Nothing like the old one that I tried about a year ago: this is based on football divisions. Three points for a win, one for a draw and none for losing. Then multiply this by the game length, and finally add one (so the person in last gets at least a point). This is what it looks like right now for this season.


It doesn't need points, just a winner and a loser. We could even play Chess!

And, of course, there's our old pal, the Form Table which looks like this. Martin maintains pole position, while Matt has been away so long, his score has started to decay.








Points
Martin 1 2 1 2 2 8
Sam 1 1 3 2 2 9
Andrew 2 1 4 1 1 9
Jon 2 2 2 2 1 9
Katy 2 1 3 2 2 10
Anja 2 2 1 1 5 11
Matt 4 1 2 1 2 11*
Joe 3 2 1 3 3 12
Andy 3 2 2 4 1 12
Hannah 3 3 2 2 2 12
Chris 2 5 1 1 4 13
Ian 4 1 3 3 3 14
Adam 3 2 2 4 4 15
Steve 3 3 3 5 1 15
Stanley 3 2 4 1 5 15

Monday, 15 December 2014

Khmer and say that

Back to Germany circa 1950, as Martin accepted an invite to join me this evening for a Wir Sind Das Volk! Rematch.
I offered to play West for the first time; this may have given Martin the impression that I had been reading up on strategies. Our experience has been that it is very hard to win as West, but various posts on BGG seem to show the opposite.

In any case, I had one aim and one only - to build up living standards in West Berlin to unfeasibly high levels, and let the sound of clinking champagne glasses and high-living drift over the border and make the socialists furious with jealousy.

Unfortunately, while I was doing that I forgot to make things difficult for Martin in other ways, and he built up a decent economy and started to raise his living standards. Which made my plans redundant. I was able to seed a Western Currency crisis in the last two decades, but by then the damage was done. Martin's socialist ideology had so gripped the nation that it looked like he would win as we unravelled the final decade. I'd spotted this, and my one chance to stop it happening was to force him into insolvency. However, his economy, though decimated by the 70s, wasn't quite on the point of collapse, and so his Socialists triumphed. Even if they hadn't he'd have won by surviving all four decades.

Another good game, though I admit to not having a firm grasp of the full workings of either side. I'm still enjoying it, though every game seems to have a point where I get a stay of execution because Martin makes a wrong move, spots it too late and curses his own idiocy; which is not quite as satisfying as me being actively clever. I liked playing West though, and would like to do so again next time.

(I'll have to add a picture tomorrow as I can't seem to upload to blogger from my iPad).

A full four decades game took about two hours, so it had only just gone 9pm when we finished; Martin couldn't quite be persuaded that it was early enough to play Commmands & Colours, so we got out old friend Aton instead. Two really interesting games, quite unusual - Martin won the first on the insta-win by filling temple one; the second super close, Martin winning by a point after the second scoring round. He scoffed at my attempt to intimidate him with my greens, but I was closer than he realised. Only a shit hand with no fours stopped me making it a very real possibility, which would have made things even more interesting.

Finally we played Khmer - a much closer game than before, starting with a completely symmetrical hand, which Martin won for a 2-0 lead. He won the second hand too, but I won the third, bringing the score to 4-2. In the fourth hand, I correctly deduced that I couldn't win and folded, leaving Martin a single point from victory.

He then folded on the fifth hand, and the scores were 5-3. Interestingly this was the first game in which either of us had folded, and we both called it correctly. By now my brain was melting, and in the sixth game I made a silly error, giving Martin two points for a 7-3 final score.

Great games all, and nice to know that games were being played elsewhere in the GNN-o-sphere at the same time. We are all made of meeples.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Many a Macao Maks a Muckle

A quiet Sunday evening, and two cheerful old friends took time to meet up away from the hurly and the burly of a full GNN meet.

I went to see Sam at his house, bedecked with Christmas cheer, and we settled down for a quick game of Macao. A remarkably quick game in its two-player guise, especially in practised old hands like ours. We sped through the first few rounds, and never let up until the dice where all ones, and it was make or break in the final round.

Free points!

But, by then, Sam had pretty much won it. Some lucky rolls mid-game gave him the chance to chain together some cards to get some gold and buy prestige points. That put him in miles in the lead, and though my little engine to create two (later three) points per round for doing nothing really helped catch him up, by the end his chain of city quarters put him out in the lead again.

Sam 88
Andrew 74

Then Istanbul was brought to the table. Sam and I are old enough to play on a random board, and that’s exactly what we did. But it was a bit of a tricky layout, which involved several trips back and forth through the Turkish capital just for one jewel. Early on, Sam suggested we play until five jewels, not six and I agreed.

Sam

We struggled on, having difficulty in looping back and picking up our assistants without it being a bit of a wasted move. Then Sam struck! I was on four gems, when he managed to get to the Sultan’s Palace and got his fifth gem. Victory!

Except it wasn’t. I only realised when I got home but, since Sam started the game, I had one more go. We’ve all been playing Impulse and Quantum and Palaces of Carrara so much recently, that we clean forgot that Istanbul doesn’t end the moment the first player gets the required number of jewels. I was one move away from the gemstone dealer, where I would have got my last jewel. It would’ve been down to a money tie-breaker, and I didn’t make a note of that. Let’s call it a draw. EDIT: according to Sam, he only had one lira left, and as I recall I had about twentysomething, about to buy a jewel for nineteen lira, so it looks like I would've won a tie-breaker.

Andrew 5 (wins on money)
Sam 5

And then, having sped through two games that, in their four-player version would take a whole evening, we set about a little light game to wind down. Good old Biblios. It never fails to intrigue. I even had the crazy idea, halfway through, that I might be able to win all five dice. That’s could have been the whisky doing my thinking for me, though.

This time, I feel that the game was won and lost on the red cards. Halfway through the auction round a red card came up. I passed, since I only had one. Sam passed too. This rang alarms in my head since the reds were only worth two. Would he really have stockpiled enough to assure victory?

The next time a red card came up, Sam passed and I bought it. And the same again the third time, too. Sam looked nervous. In the end, we both won what we thought we would win, but Sam just pipped me on reds: he had four points to my three. So, instead of a 6-5 win to me, it ended:

Sam 7
Andrew 4

Sam retakes his crown as Mr Biblios. A rather battered crown by now, since it is automatically passed to whoever just won at Biblios, but still a crown nevertheless.

History re-written: Sam wins a Perfect Five

Today I was reading old entries on the blog, trying to find the evening when we played games while Stokes Croft burned. When I found it I noticed that, in the comments, Adam mentioned Sam winning five games in a row. This was before the Form Table, and the concept of The Perfect Five hadn’t been invented, so I went back and checked to make sure all five games were leaderboard, and they were!

For the record, Sam’s Perfect Five wins were...

25th July 2011

Poison: Sam 14, Quentin 22, Joe 34, Andrew 37

3rd August 2011

7 Wonders: Sam 62, Paul 59, Andrew 46, Chris 45
Tinners’ Trail: Sam 87, Adam 82, Steve 64, Jonny 64
Poison: Sam 17, Adam 20, Steve 29

10th August 2011

Tsuro: Sam beat Hannah, Sally and Andrew

Congratulations! Just like West Aukland FC can lay claim to winning the World Cup before there was a World Cup, now Sam can make a similar claim regarding the Perfect Five!