Friday, 27 March 2015

Tickets Please

Having missed the fun earlier this week, I managed to engineer another games night at short notice on Thursday. Those hardy cube-pushing souls Andrew and Ian joined me.

Owing to a slight misunderstanding, I thought Andrew was running late, so Ian and I played Hive whilst we waited for him. The last couple of times I played this game I've been trounced, by Adam and Andrew respectively, so I tried to get on the front foot early and keep Ian on the defensive. Ian felt a little rusty - he needed a rules refresher in fact - and I managed to get on top early. In the middle of the game Andrew arrived, fashionably 5 minutes late rather than the half-hour we anticipated, but fortunately he'd got my message about chips. In the time it took us to eat them I managed to wrap up the game.

We moved on to the main dish of the evening, game-wise. Nobody was angling for anything in particular, but after a short discussion Ticket to Ride made its welcome return to the table. I think this has been seen in Bracknell periodically, but in Bristol it hasn't been sighted since the early days of Roll for the Soul, back in 2013. In part I suppose this has been down to the popularity of Railways of the World, the one game that seems to unite almost everybody at GNN (with the exception of Anja).

It's no RotW, that's for sure, but playing it again made me appreciate its easy accessibility. And we had a really close game: Ian made the early running - in fact he led for the first three-quarters of the game. But toward the end he seemed to run out of steam (ha) and both Andrew and I overhauled him in final scoring. After we'd counted up routes both completed and uncompleted, Andrew was one point ahead of me. All we had now was the longest-unbroken-route reward of ten points. We counted up our trails of trains and it was tense: Ian had thirty-four, Andrew had thirty-six... I had thirty-seven! I don't have the final scores with me as I type in deepest Devon, but hopefully Andrew can add them later:

Sam 126
Andrew 117
Ian 100

Ticket to Ride doesn't take long, so with the clock still closer to 9 than 10, we set up Castles of Mad King Ludwig. This is another easy rule-set, albeit with more thought required as to what you get up to with them. With Ludvig wanting to see a lot of cellars, we all built staircases early and started something of a downstairs-room cold war. The first two downstairs rooms were dead-ends, which would have meant building more stairs if you wanted more downstairs rooms, but Andrew bit anyway. He shot off into an early lead, I surged ahead of him mid-game, and Ian lagged behind with the same air of fatalism he last displayed when he thrashed us at Concordia.

Though Ian didn't win this time, he did still stage an impressive comeback with his endgame bonuses, which was enough to catch me and put us joint second behind Andrew, whose bonuses were also vibrantly rewarding. I think I might have won on the biggest-castle tiebreaker, but neither of us could be arsed to work it out, so we celebrated in our joint defeat!

Andrew 109
Ian 100
Sam 100

I still had the dregs of my cold to deal with, not to mention the portents of a hangover, so we called it a night.


The Division for Castles of Mad King Ludwig

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Happy Talk

For the third week on a row, Joe hosted Games Night. There were six in attendance, which made me worry we might end up playing Quartermaster General again. But we didn't. We began with Kobayakawa, the simple betting game. I played a cunning game. At least I thought it was. Everyone else seemed to find it funny. I wouldn't look at a new card, because I didn't want to give other players information as to what cards had been discarded. As it was, it didn't work at all, as I lost every bet until the last round when I won! The winnings from that were enough to send me from last into first!

Andrew 9
Ian 5
Martin 5
Joe 5
Matt 4
Katy 4

So what next? Interestingly, I don't remember much talk about us splitting into two groups of three. Instead we (Joe, Martin, Matt, Ian, Katy and myself) decided that six players without Sam meant only one thing: I'm The Boss.

This game of luck-based negotiation is a rare sight at GNN due to Sam's lack of love for the game. It was new to Katy, Matt and Ian so they were easily swayed by us three experienced hands.

I hadn't played in a while, and I'd forgotten how emotionally exhausting it was. After successfully closing a deal, I couldn't bring myself to join in with the next, not because I had fewer cards, but because I needed a rest. In fact, at the end of the game Ian remarked that if that's what businessmen do all day, then fair play to them, they deserve their inflated wages and stupid bonuses.

Martin went through the whole game insisting he always comes last in I'm The Boss. He was right again! Katy won it by closing out a deal that got her $21m. This was enough to send her from last place into first! Another last minute dash for victory that paid off! (the scores below are in millions of dollars)

Katy 34
Ian 30
Matt 26
Joe 23
Andrew 22
Martin 19

After this, we all wanted something relaxing. Igloo Pop was suggested but even that was considered to fraught for our nerves. Joe suggested Mysterium, the co-op game of crime solving. Described by Joe as a cross between Dixit and Cluedo, it involved a ghost (Joe) giving out clues in the form of seven Dixit-esque cards. From these, we had to identify five suspects out of an initial eight, and five potential location and murder weapons. Once we'd done that, we then had to deduce the actual killer from three more cards. And we only had seven rounds in which to do it.

Some of the clues were hard to get. Joe kept giving Katy cards that had little in common, except for having a woman in them. But none of the locations had women in them. We got it eventually, and after the game ended and Joe could speak again, he pointed out a tiny painting in one room that had a woman in it.

Anyway, despite all that, we managed it. Victory for us all! It was the teacher in the cellar with a clock. A heinous crime. You have to really hate someone to kill them with a clock!

We followed this up with some more non-leaderboard shenanigans: Spyfall! Martin was initially skeptical, but we convinced him. Or rather we set up the game in front of him while we assured him of the lack of shouty arguing that he was expecting.

Instead it was all about cleverly worded questions, trying to disguise the nature of the location enough to confuse the spy. We played four rounds. Ian and I both won as spies, Joe was outed as a spy, and Ian failed to identify our secret location (a circus tent). Martin did enjoy it. We knew his conversion was complete when he began the game grumbling that he was bound to be the spy because he always is, and he ended the game saying that he’d wished he’d been a spy.

We ended the evening with Martin remarking on what a conversational bunch of games we'd played. A very convivial evening. On the division, I think Katy has this all wrapped up with one week until the end of the season.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Was it you or was it me?

Perhaps wanting to shake off the experience of In The Shadow of the Emperor, or energised by the subsequent non-travails of Cube Quest, Andrew and Ian came to my (Sam's) house this evening for another wee games session before the next week falls upon us.

Nobody was really angling for anything, and for a few minutes we actually sat at an empty table talking, almost as though Settlers of Catan had never happened. But of course the talking stopped, and we went and chose Macao from the cupboard. What can be said about this game that hasn't been said already? It's Stefan Feld's slightly unpredictable offspring, who a few people (I count myself among them) love, and many more say it doesn't measure up to his other offerings.

What I like about Feld games are the neat mechanics - but unlike, say, Castles of Burgundy (also great, but abstract) or Bora Bora (I can't even remember what it's about) or even Rialto ("about" influence in Venice, but essentially a double-bluffing bidding game) Macao does kind of hold onto it's theme after you open the lid of the box: establish a presence in the city of Macao in order to trade with far-distant climes.

We all got off to a slightly cagey start, but before the early rounds move quickly, and before long Ian had a whopping chain of activated cards working their magic. In fact there was so much for him to do each turn as they game closed out, there was time for me to go to the toilet and write a couple of emails before he timed out. Andrew muttered into his cards whilst I, courtesy of activating the Idler card early on, spent a few rounds avoiding trouble and concentrating on my end-game plan - grabbing a big chain of city quarters. In the end it was enough:

Sam 96
Ian 87
Andrew 76

We elected to finish off with Take It Easy, which Ian hadn't played in a while and Andrew and I are always up for. Part of the appeal, perhaps, is the GNN meme of calling the tiles with a subject of the callers choosing. Ian pulled off an impressive array of Game of Thrones characters, Andrew displayed incredible knowledge of Japanese pop culture, and I let the side down with a series of Genesis and Phil Collins songs. Sorry everyone.

On  the board however I was more cultured, and whilst Ian and Andrew struggled (Ian's opening round was a spectacular 48) took control early on and even the mention of Whodunnit couldn't sway me. Meanwhile Ian, previously staggering around the Take It Easy arena like a man incapable of putting three sevens in a row, pulled a great round out of the fire near the end to make his score more respectable:

Sam 484
Andrew  279
Ian 227

The whisky had been flowing already, but I had a bit of a cold and fancied a cup of tea in front of the telly, so as the curtain came down in the weekend, we also drew the veil on our night.

It’s okay once you get your finger in

Saturday! Games! Ian, Martin and I arrived at chez Sam’s at six o’clock (actually Martin arrived one hour earlier having not received the news of a slight postponement. That did, however, mean he got supper) for some gaming. This first event of the evening involved Sam’s two boys, Stanley and Joe. It was Camel Up! Sam and Joe formed a team against myself, Ian, Martin and Stanley.

The game of crazy betting and judging probabilities went pretty smoothly once we'd taught Stanley how to use the dice pyramid. Ian won big early on and then kept winning big. Sam/Joe won 16 points on their bets, with both the winning and losing camels being exactly as they predicted. Kudos.

Ian 28
Sam/Joe 28
Stanley 15
Martin 9
Andrew 8

Next Sam put his boys to bed, so we had to fill in with a medium-sized game. Martin suggested Impulse and I and Ian agreed. Ian hadn’t played in a while, but with his zen approach to gaming of knowing, yet not knowing (what you should do next) that he perfected while playing Concordia, he happily agreed to give it another go against two seasoned pros.

It turned out to be a very odd game. After a few rounds of tentative exploration and the occasional skirmish, Martin went for the jugular, attacking Ian . If he had won, he would’ve been on course to take me out, too. As it was, Ian won! The key to battling in Impulse is that your hand needs to contain cards that match colour and value of one of the cards showing on the “impulse” (the action cards shared by everyone) and your tech cards and plan cards. Martin played a card to the impulse (a red three) which allowed Ian to defend himself successfully (with two more red threes). If Martin had played a different card, he would've won. Oh, the irony! And, oh the relief for me.

Towards the end of the game, war had taken its toll, and there were hardly any ships left on the map as the game neared its closing stages. Martin almost wiped out Ian, and then I swooped in to take out some of Martin's ships, before Ian took his revenge too. Finally, with only one ship left, Martin attacked me. All of this war left us with a very empty map.

I suffered throughout the game with a lack of cards, and couldn’t get going. Despite this, I was able to trade a number of red cards for points, so it remained close until the end, when Martin scored two points (by fighting, of course) to reach twenty points and won the game.

Martin 20
Ian 14
Andrew 13

Now Sam was back, and it was time for a new game to hit the table. In The Shadow Of The Emperor is a game in which we are vying for area control with our steadily aging barons. Winning an area gets you a vote in the election for emperor. The twist is that the emperor will get certain benefits for the next round, so you have to bear that in mind when deciding who the next emperor is. That part is pretty clever, and it's a neat catch-up mechanism. The rest of the game, though, is as dry as old bones.

We tried to power through it, but this is a game that demands long periods of concentration. We promised ourselves a rousing game of Cube Quest once we were done, and that kept our spirits up. I didn't really understand what was going on, Sam had so much cash that he couldn't spend it all, Ian was emperor twice in a row, and Martin... well, I'm not sure how he won, but he did.

Martin 26
Ian 23
Sam 22
Andrew 17

And so we ended with Cube Quest! Hurrah! The Emperor has been overthrown by two feuding kings and their unpredictable armies! With toast from Sam!

We played in rotating teams of two a side. I was Mr Cool-under-pressure (at least, I don't remember any wild flicks). Martin was a crazy maverick, building a tower in one game to get at the opponent's king straight away (and it very nearly worked) but mostly just pinging his cubes off the table, leaving his enemies largely unruffled. Ian, though, was the killer, finishing two of the games with cold precision. We were remarking on how well he was playing, which is when he explained that “It's okay once you get your finger in.” Which is where this blog post's slightly distasteful title came from.

Ian 2 wins
Sam 2 wins
Andrew 2 wins
Martin 0 wins

And with that, we were off into the night air, all gamed out.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

World War II - the short version

With Martin unusually absent due to a cough and a cold, and Adam unusually present, we were six at mine (Joe's) last night, with Katy expected later.

I seized the opportunity to offer up Quartermaster General, the crazy game of World War II in 90 minutes. It's a team game, with three players playing the allies - UK, US and Soviets - and three the axis powers of Germany, Italy and Japan. Although it can be played with fewer players taking on multiple roles, it plays best - and quickest - with a full six.

Last week, Andrew was last to arrive, and found himself being dealt in to a game of Pairs, much to his consternation. This week he was last again, and we upped the ante somewhat by dealing him in as the Germans in WWII. This may have coloured his appreciation of the game to follow.

Play is extremely simple, with each power having a small number of tanks and ships that gradually spread out from their home territory. Each turn, you play a single card, check all your units are in supply, score points for your side and discard/draw cards. The snag is that once your draw deck is depleted you get no more cards, so it's important not to rush through it. Added to that, some of the powers have fewer cards to start with.
Europe after turn 1 - (not our game!) from BGG user Noah Sheola

The game lasts 20 rounds, but either side can win instantly if they control two enemy home spaces, or score 400 points. As we began, the axis took an early but delicate lead thanks to Germany's occupation of Western Europe, scoring four points per turn to most other players two. Ian, as Italy, played some useful status cards which bolstered the axis scores each turn. Uk and Russia got stuck in in Europe, with the UK also creating supply bases in India and Australia. The US hung back, for want of build army cards, and surveyed the growing number of Sam's Japanese ships in the Pacific.

However, we realised that most of the Japanese navy were out of supply, and had to be dismantled, which allowed me, as the US, to steam in and 'occupy' the Western United States. An unorthodox approach, perhaps, but the midwest is crawling with rattlesnakes and bears - much better to travel by sea.

By the middle of the game, Germany were squished in Europe, not getting anywhere - the Allies had the upper hand, with UK scoring 8 points a turn; Japan was playing many mysterious face down response cards but cursing the lack of build army cards, and Italy was valiantly keeping the Axis end up.

We got to I think round 14, and Sam's Japan was about ready to pounce (I think), but the Allies managed to clear out Italy and Germany, and I played a card that let me redeploy all my armies, so we occupied both for the instant win.

I really enjoyed it, but it was perhaps a touch anodyne - there wasn't a huge amount of tension or intrigue. I do think that once you get to know the decks that would change, as you know what your opponents are capable of and can try to outwit each other. Sam said he'd be prepared to play again but would rather not play as the Japanese. Andrew hated it - something about cards and war not mixing - he'll have to explain.

I'd love to play again - it's always nice to have viable 6 player options, even if, as a team game, they mess with the leaderboard.

At the risk of damning it with faint praise, it certainly played fast. We were done and dusted by 9.20, and Katy had arrived, so we split into a three and a four, and Sam, Katy, Ian and Andrew played Pompeii, whilst Adam, Andrew and I played Through the Desert.

It may have been Adam's first game, but he got the measure of it pretty quickly, not side-tracked by the pretty pastel camels. I made poor choices with my caravan leaders, and found a couple fairly shut out form the start. It was a quick game, and a two-horse race by the end, with Andy just pipping Adam to the win. I lagged behind in third.
I do love me some pastel camels (not our game, but at least the pic is by me)

Pompeii finished at exactly the same moment, and Sam called it a night - the remaining six of us tried out my print-and-play copy of Spyfall. It's a simple game of trying to root out the spy amongst you - all players have a card showing a single location, except the spy, who doesn't know where you all are. Players ask each other questions, trying to ascertain who knows the location, with giving it away. Because as soon as the spy has worked out what the location is they win. Unless they can be unmasked first.

Dead simple, and very clever - I think we played three rounds; a good way to end the evening, but again non-leaderboard, I suppose.

A great evening, good to play a few different games too - a team war(ish) game, some regular Euro-fare and a deduction/party game too. Thanks all for coming, let's play again soon.

BTW there's an interesting post on BGG regarding playing the Japanese in QG. It seems there's a fairly key rule we may not have explored which allows for some more creative play - you're allowed to battle an empty space. So if you have a response or status card that is triggered by battling in China, you can do so even of there's no one there to trigger your cards. A bit gamey perhaps, but pretty useful.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Perfidious Albion

In this hastily arranged tête à tête à tête, Sam hosted Ian and I for a little games night. I arrived, for once sans rucksack, since Sam had offered yo buy me beer as a thanks for me recently looking after his son one morning.

I suggested Concordia and since no one else had any objections, it was brought to the table.

We played on the British map, and before long we were all experiencing that familiar feeling of never having enough time to do what you want. Ian said he had no real plan, and was just doing whatever seemed right at the time. Sam went for the meeple multiplier, and I sort of went after the bonus for different types of city.

No one was hugely confident of the win but surprisingly it went to the most pessimistic player, Ian.

Ian 99
Andrew 91
Sam 90

After this we got down good old 7 Wonders. This old reliable never lets us down. Every game is different. This time Sam was resource-rich while Ian and I went for a more streamlined approach. The consequence of this was that at the end of the game he scored a whopping 14 points for money. Ian and I could not keep up after that.

Sam 58
Andrew 48
Ian 46

Next up, Sam suggested Small Print or Fair Play or whatever name it'll finally have. Keen to try it with three players, Sam started explaining the rules to Ian before realising the problem he and I had found when we played it (a lack of reward for anyone playing honestly) would be even worse with three. In a surprisingly accurate re-enactment of the opening scene of our sitcom pilot, Sam started putting it away, saying “It's not ready.”

So instead we went for another old familiar: Love Letter and whiskey. Ian won the first two rounds and shot into an early lead. Mind you, the second win was mostly due to Sam being away from the table making toast. As such, he was unaware the Ian had seen my card. I swapped with Sam who then picked up a new card and looked at his hand without knowing what his original card was. When he played a different card to eliminate me, it was child's play for Ian to pick him off with a guard.

Perhaps it was harsh for him to lose while he was making us food, but as the old gaming adage goes: He who leaves Love Letter loses logic and lies last.

But Sam wasn't down for long. He and I got the score back to 2-1-1, but then Sam won two in a row to wrap up the game.

Sam 3
Ian 2
Andrew 1

Finally, as we left, Sam offered us some cereal that he received for free and had stacked high in his hallway. Ian took a few. I'm not big on cereal, but I might have taken a couple if only I had my rucksack with me. Oh well. What you gain in alcohol you lose on the breakfast table, I suppose.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Return to Persia

This Tuesday heralded the coming together of seven like-minded individuals for an evening of board games.

Our first game was Pairs. I was dealt in as I was still taking off my coat, such is the tight schedule that GNN runs to these days. For the first two rounds, it was Sam and Martin making the running. Then Joe and Ian put some good form together. Before long we had a situation where all four of these players could potentially win next round. It was Ian what won it as Sam, Joe and Martin all went bust in the last round.

Ian 22
Martin 20
Joe 15
Sam 13
Andrew 10
Katy 8
Andy 7

Then we split into two groups. Martin, Joe, Sam and I chose Tigris and Euphrates. Technically speaking, we had all played it before but only Martin and Joe (who had it on his iPad) had any real familiarity with it. Sam and I, having not played it in almost twenty years, needed a quick run through the rules. It was one of the first games of the pre-history of GNN. I could barely remember anything about it, apart from the monuments.

Meanwhile, Ian, Katy and Andy played Vikings, a game I have not seen before. During the evening, as I glanced over at their game, I felt that I knew how it felt to be a total newcomer to games. I couldn't make out the rules at all. A big circular thing was rotated, and bits of islands were take from it. Then some meeples were added. To what end, I had no idea. That game ended:

Andy 67
Katy 59
Ian 52

Meanwhile, on Tigris and Euphrates, Sam was having a bit of a meltdown. He admitted he couldn't get his head round it at all, and often asked for a rule clarification or two. He began in aggressive style, but lost in his first two battles. He then kept trying to catch up by starting more battles, but with similar results. My plan was to hide in the corners and slowly build up points, which I don't think is how the game is meant to be played.

Joe built monuments, giving him points of each colour at the end of each round, and since your final score is your lowest scoring colour, this was a strong tactic. In fact Joe seemed calmness personified, a mirror image of the increasingly despairing Sam across the table from him. The only time his coolness broke was when he picked up the bag to draw new tiles. He accidentally picked up the almost identical bag of meeples from Vikings and he quickly withdrew his hand, shuddering, as he expressed disgust at touching something unexpected.

Martin tried to ruin Joe's plan by pitting him and Sam against each other in a position of great advantage to Sam. But Joe still won the battle, much to Martin's surprise and dismay.

The game ended with Joe saying "The iPad has taught me well."

Joe 11
Martin 9
Andrew 5
Sam 3

After this, we rearranged ourselves. Katy, Martin, Andy and Joe played Texas 42, or The National Game Of Texas, as Martin insisted on calling it even after Sam pointed out that Texas isn't a nation. Ian, Sam and I teamed up to play Vegas. Nice and simple, no white dice to act as spoilers. Noteworthy for the return of Das Exclusive to the table. But since Das is too big too pass around easily, it spent all of the game in front of me.

Sam $550,000
Andrew $390,000
Ian $330,000

The National Game Of Texas was still midway through, so then we played Biblios. And what a remarkable game it was. There aren't many other games that can cause a man to cry out "I've just eaten my own shit!" He got a series of four or five one-gold cards in a row (one-gold = shit in Extreme Biblios). That's enough to make anyone think that they must have done something bad in a former life.

Where were all the three-gold cards? Well, they were in the auction pile, coming out one after the other! I was in a bit of a fix during the auction phase, having spent all of my money and not daring to use any cards to get more money. I was going after the three “lesser” dice, hoping that Ian and Sam would cancel each other out going for the higher valued brown and blue dice. As such, I had my hand already finished early on, and I was just hoping that anything left in the auction pile wouldn't change that. And it didn't! My plan worked perfectly.

Andrew 8
Ian 5
Sam 4

As for The National Game of Texas, it ended around the same time with the score at

Andy & Martin 4
Joe & Katy 1

Since they were playing in pairs (which brought the evening to an end with a nice reference to the first game we played) it's not leaderboard. As for the Division, alas, nobody changed places this week. Here it is anyway.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

The Reich Stuff

A brief two-player evening was arranged between Sam and I on Thursday. I arrived as he was packing away Lords of Waterdeep, ruefully telling me that his son, Stanley, had beaten him again.

First to the table was Small Print, Sam's own creation. Although meant for three or four players, but Sam wanted to give it a test run. It was okay, but with only two players, it was pretty easy to remember who played what. Also, very little chance of going bust. But Sam seemed happy that a few wrinkles had been highlighted, and what he should do next.

After this came Memoir 44. The tiny plastic soldiers were enough to bring back memories of playing as a child with miniature soldiers. But the game itself has nothing to do with trying to retake the sofa and footstool from the enemy. It's a fairly lightweight recreation of various military episodes from 1944. The game comes with a number if scenarios, each one of which should be played twice, with the players swapping sides after the first go.

Orders are given to your troops by playing cards, and battles are decided with dice. Towards the end of both games, I had a hand of cards which didn't let me give any orders to the troops I needed to move. I suppose there are finer details about hand management. Instead of just using the strongest card, I might have held some back. Sam seemed happier with it, but I'm not so sure. Cards and dice is a tricky combination, and I'm not convinced this game got it right. Maybe my cynicism is due to my sound 12-3 thrashing, though.

We then considered our next game. At first we considered 7 Wonders, but instead chose The Castles of Mad King Ludwig on the grounds that it was already out. We like this game so much we decided on a “long” game, with only ten room cards removed.

But now it was my turn to get lucky with cards. I got two bonus cards early on: 8 points for a castle with each room size and 7 points for a castle with each room type. In a normal game, these two would be very difficult. But with so many cards available, I felt confident. And, in fact, I did it. It was close though: only one 450 room came out and I had to nab it fast. Meanwhile, Sam did not get his bonuses working, and I came out a distant winner 152-116.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Forget it, Kate.

Chinatown was the main event for GNN's regular Tuesday meet, a very sparse affair this week. Martin, Andy and Matt couldn't make it. Ian was a late withdrawal. Even Andrew was absent, perhaps still a little gamed out from the weekend. Steve and Anja were busy building a garden deck.

However such is the population of GNN that still left 5 of us: Hannah, Adam, Joe, Katy and myself (Sam). Whilst we waited unknowingly for an Ian who would never arrive, we played Joe's new card game Kobayakawa. I missed its debut last week but it's very simple, if a little counter-intuitive. The main question at hand is whether to go for a high card or a low one, as the lowest card adds the common Kobayakawa card to their score before cards are compared.

Joe streaked off into a healthy lead, winning the first few rounds as the rest of us puzzled over our best move. In the fifth and sixth round I surged back into contention with two straight wins as I claimed the Kobayakawa. However in the last round I had to drop out and consolidate, hoping Katy would beat Joe. She didn't:

Joe 17
Sam 10
Katy 1
Adam 0
Hannah 0

We moved onto the main event. I was pushing for Rialto, but Joe had his heart set on Chinatown. He pulled the old get-the-board-out manoeuvre, and sure enough we were soon embarking on a seemingly never-ending negotiation spree.

For negotiation is Chinatown's main mechanic. Every player gets plots in the city (a lá Lords of Vegas) and businesses to establish there. However businesses are more rewarding when fully established over several plots rather than just one, and that's where the swapping of plots, businesses and money comes in. Unlike Lords of Vegas, the gambling is fairly minimal and only really applies if you negotiate for a plot whilst still needing a second (or third) plot to join it with your existing business. For the most part it's easy to work out what plots are worth, just by calculating what businesses will earn once established there.

I say it's easy. After a single beer and some Bombay mix I really struggled with the simple maths, and stared down at the player aid with a kind of number phobia, the same sensation I get when my accountant explains corporation tax to me. This bewilderment was misinterpreted as Machiavellian scheming, and I was accused of "winning", but I was just being thick.

If I had a strategy it fell together by accident - establishing two businesses as fast as possible then selling all my other plots to generate extra cash. It gave me a healthy position mid-game, but by the end the other businesses were much more profitable, and Hannah swept to a convincing win:

Hannah $1,200,000
Adam $940,000
Sam $890,000
Katy $850,000
Joe $840,000

I blame the Bombay mix, which was rather hot.

I'm not sure how I feel about Chinatown personally. I find the fact that plots worth is calculable (by those of us who are numerate, anyway) mean it feels like the game mainly consists of haggling. That's a fun mechanic for a filler but I found 2 hours of it quite tiring. I'd be interested to hear the other's thoughts.

Hannah was tired anyway, but that might not be the game. Whilst she retired to bed we finished with No Thanks. It was to be Katy's revenge: I missed out on a linking card for my two chains, Adam ran out of coins and Joe went for high cards that didn't exist:

Katy -8
Sam 47
Adam 51
Joe 80

Suitably sated, we called it an evening and Joe escorted me home in his new shiny gold Audi. We had to stop and work out how to fill it up with petrol on the way, which gave me an idea for a game...

Sunday, 1 March 2015

It's only Rockleycon but I like it


Andrew and I (Sam) arrived at Rockley cottage in mid-Somerset first, and sniffed around the place finding it to our liking. Talking later with Chris and Paul, we realised we’ve been doing these weekends away almost every year since before the Millennium. Once upon a time we camped and played cards, but when Chris stumbled on Settlers and El Grande, there was a sea change toward a place with a roof and a table. This year we found ourselves in the village of Edington, and after pondering the finality and intractability of the passage of time, we broke out Castles of Mad King Ludwig and started building rooms.

Chris and Paul were new to this game of haphazard construction but picked up the rules very quickly – it’s such an intuitive game. Paul was last to be Master Builder, but shrugging off this economic hobbling and swiftly began accruing a shedload of money. He sped off up the scoretrack, never to be caught, though Andrew gave it a decent go. Chris was sidetracked by a bonus card for getting all types of rooms, a bit of a red herring bonus if his (and previous) experiences are anything to go by.

Paul 123
Andrew 109
Sam 97
Chris 89

After all that building we were pretty hungry. I started making a chorizo stew whilst the other three played the longest game of Red7 in the history of games of Red7. I cooked stew and rice and we ate it as the game went on hold.

They continued afterwards, promising the game was nearly over for several rounds whilst I entertained myself – and occasionally the others – playing Sausage and Mash with Agatha Christie.

Eventually Chris ended the game with his first victory of the weekend:

Chris 44
Paul 31
Andrew 29

Keyflower was next on the menu. This Chris’ current favourite and he was keen to show it off to Andrew and I, having played it in Bracknell and Reading Boardgame Social. He’s explained it better elsewhere on the blog, but essentially each player is building a village by bidding for hexagons to add to their existing settlement.

However as well as using meeples to bid for the card, you can also elect not to bid on your turn but to use the action on the hexagon instead. The winning bidder gets to keep all the meeples that have used that hexagon’s action, and it’s this delicate balance of getting stuff versus losing meeples at the game’s heart. It’s also a multiple-paths-to-victory game, and a bit of a head-scratcher. There’s plenty to mull over, but we played it with reasonable pace and I pulled off a surprise debut win:

Sam 64
Chris 63
Andrew 60
Paul 56

Next up was Take It Easy. Everyone loves this game for its thematic possibilities that have evolved from our original rhyming-couplets convention, combined with its ability to drive you crazy. Paul began with an unbeatable calling theme of James Bond gadgets, which he sustained brilliantly over the 21 tiles placed. Andrew followed this with a wistful take on things he missed from his childhood, and I did animated characters. I can’t remember what Chris’ one was. The scores felt almost secondary, but it was Chris again with a convincing win:

Chris 649
Sam 587
Andrew 583
Paul 550

By now it was nearly ten and we’d been playing (or learning rules) for the last six hours. When I suggested Alien Frontiers I didn’t expect two newbies to bite, but Paul and Chris were keen – or at least amenable. Rules-wise it’s pretty simple next to something like Keyflower though, so going through the rules only took ten minutes and we were away. I can’t remember much about it to be honest – toward the end my eyes were starting to feel a bit furry but with some luck from the dice I did enough to pull off a win:

Sam 9
Andrew 7
Chris 6
Paul 4

I was ready for bed, but those crazy guys tempted me to stay up for one last game: Kakerlaken Poker. I think everyone has played this by now and there are fairly diverse opinions on it. I think it’s great, personally, though I usually do really badly. Maybe something about my sleepy state made me more aware of when Andrew was lying.

Sam: Fewest cards
Paul: No pairs
Chris: One pair
Andrew: Loser with three of a kind!

A very enjoyable start to the weekend came to an end and we reeled off into bed. I recall it being funny anyway. It’s Saturday now and my main recollection is thinking “Shit, I hope Chris doesn’t bid on that hexagon for making gold” in Keyflower. But the others assure me it wasn’t all like that.


Andrew here. The day began with Sam and I driving through the rain (perfect weather for board games) to the neighbouring village Bratton in a hopeful search for real coffee. In fact, they did stock it and Sam came out of the shop with a packet of filter coffee and freshly baked croissants, ruefully saying “Village shops aren’t the same as they used to be.”

Once we were back, we struggled with the cryptic crossword. Paul rose from his bed and we decided that the best way to get Chris to join us was if he heard the noise of happy gamers vigourously enjoying themselves. However, the best we could come up with this early was That’s Life.

Andrew 26
Sam 18
Paul 1

It was Paul’s first game, which goes some way to explain his score. Our plan worked, though, and Chris came down halfway through the game. Once a coffee was put down in front of him he was persuaded to join us in another game of That’s Life.

Andrew 24
Sam 17
Paul 13
Chris 12

After this, we cleared the table for the first of our big epic games of the day: Colonial. A huge epic of a game, taking in a vast swathe of history that lasts centuries. And that’s just reading the rules!

Ho ho.

Sam talked us through the rules, and we looked perplexed and puzzled. There were rebellions and war, diplomacy, and even the chance to abolish slavery. And that was just while reading the rules! (Oh, that joke never gets old)

But seriously, we decided to play a shortened version (up to eight prestige points instead of ten) but we explored as much of the game's options as possible. Sam got hit by a rebellion (thanks to me) and a war (thanks to Paul) but, thanks to never having got into debt, Sam was able to end the game the moment he got eight prestige points.

Sam 8
Andrew 6 and some debt
Chris 6 and more debt
Paul 4

But it was very much a training game. Paul deliberately did odd things, just to see what happened, and Chris deliberately had terrible luck when rolling dice just to entertain us. In fact, his fortune with the dice was so bad that when he finally succeeded in exploring Australia we all applauded.

It was a good game. At least I enjoyed it but then, I do like a game with a bit of a narrative to it. It felt weighty, with its nicely illustrated map and its themes of empires rising and falling. Not sure when we’ll get the chance to play it again, though. It certainly needs some sort of player guide, too.

Then we had lunch of sliced meats, cheeses, potato omelette, burningly hot quiche and dips. This was all to get us in the mood for Amerigo, another epic to stretch us to our limits.

It was new to Paul and Chris, and neither Sam nor I had played in a while so the game was dotted with confusion of the rules. I can’t honestly say it was a madcap bag of laughs, except when someone put a healthy handful of cubes into the top of the tower and only three dribbled out of the end. This happened more than once. Oh, how we laughed.

I exploited a new scoring rule that Sam and I were previously unaware of, scoring well for settlements on completed islands. It was enough to nab me the win.

Andrew 211
Sam 185
Chris 172
Paul 168

Then we went for a walk down to the local farm shop where I bought some local micro-brewed beer (as if we didn’t have enough alcohol already) and then we set off for a brief walk through some of Edington’s finest footpaths.

As we wandered past farms, we imaged the knowledgeable conversations we could have with the farmers thanks to our expertise in Agricola.

“You know, if you fence that field in, you could keep twice as many horses in there.” And “I see you’ve got a stone farmhouse. What other improvement did you get when you built that?”

Then, as it was threatening to rain again, we returned to the cottage, took turns having showers and our next game was another AP-laden Eurogame: Castles of Burgundy. In my notes for this evening, I wrote that CoB is “the fun game of having a plan and then forgetting it by the time it gets to your turn.” Sam went crazy on bonuses for shipping, and got a comfortable win. I came last, behind two newcomers to the game.

Sam 199
Chris 184
Paul 165
Andrew 163

After an excellent curry made by Chris, we decided to play something that was a bit more fun: Incan Gold! Chris was the big winner here, staying on in the first temple by himself, and getting a 9, an 11 and a 17 all to himself. A just reward for his cooking skills.

Chris 68
Andrew 54
Sam 31
Paul 6

By now, the cryptic crossword had bothered Sam and I so much that we even texted Joe, who kindly lend a hand to a particularly annoying clue. As for the games, we chose Raj as a similarly light yet tense way to pass the time. Sam won the first two rounds, but after Chris commented on how well Sam was doing, his game collapsed and he fell back into third.

Andrew 58
Chris 47
Sam 39
Paul 33

Following this, we chose 7 Wonders. A perennial favourite that we’ll still be playing in the old person’s home where we will surely end up. I went for sciences, but it wasn’t enough to beat Chris’ smorgasbord of decent scores across many categories.

Chris 61
Andrew 55
Sam 52
Paul 44

The evening was progressing nicely. We had no appetite for a big game, so we ploughed on with more simple yet tortuous games. No Thanks was given a couple of turns.

Andrew 16
Sam 32
Paul 39
Chris 75

Sam 23
Andrew 32
Paul 48
Chris 63

And then Kakerlaken Poker was dragged out again, with Paul trying to pass off most of his cards with the joyous cry of “It’s a kakerlaken!” It didn’t work.

Sam 1 pair
Andrew 2 pairs
Chris 3 pairs
Paul 4 of a kind

At five to ten Paul had a hankering for a game of Castles of Mad King Ludwig, and since our bedtimes were flexible, we were amenable. I got shitty bonuses, made all the more annoying by me throwing away a bonus card that scored money and I ended with over 50,000 marks.

Sam 120
Paul 102
Andrew 98
Chris 85

And we ended with Timeline, the general interest edition. I can’t remember much about this at all.

Paul 0 cards left
Chris 0 cards left
Andrew 1 card left
Sam 1 card left

Finally we went to bed. Just as I was putting my head down, I got a text! Sam had just realised an answer on the cryptic crossword.


Early morning, while listening to an old pirate radio broadcast I’d found on the internet, Chris and I played Biblios. It was close, and I entered the auction round with barely any money at all. I managed to win, though, thanks to Chris not pushing me on an auction for an “adjust two dice down” card. If he’d taken it instead of me, the result would have been very different and I’d be alive today.

Andrew 8
Chris 5

Sam and Paul came down from upstairs, and they blearily looked at the quiz in yesterday’s Guardian, unable to face the cryptic again. Instead we went for a light breakfast followed by a light-to-medium game of Istanbul. My recent form on this game has been nothing short of shocking, but when I got a “Use Sultan's Palace twice” bonus card my strategy was already decided for me, and it worked.

Andrew 5
Sam 4
Paul 3 + cash
Chris 3

With time pressing, we finished what was left in the fridge while playing Tsuro. And what an exciting game it was as we all ducked and weaved, trying to find a quiet corner to see out the game while the other players pick each other off. Paul and I were face to face on one square. I couldn't kill him and survive, so I put down a tile that sent us both around the board... to the same square somewhere else! Amazing scenes. But then we were stuck and both died on Paul's next turn, leaving Sam alone on the board.

1. Sam
2= Paul
2= Andrew
3. Chris

Our last game was Verflixxt! Or That's Life. We played it through twice using all the tiles. The first game ended as

Sam 31
Andrew 15
Paul 6
Chris 2

Then in the second game, Paul requested that all the clovers be right at the end. So we put the guards on the largest minus numbers instead of on the guards (otherwise it would have been impossible to play). Chris quickly sped off, hoping to get to the clover tiles first. It looked like a good idea at first, but he couldn't quite get enough clovers to make it work.

Paul 20
Andrew 13
Sam 12
Chris -8

And with that, games were packed away and cars were loaded up.

Chris departed for home and while Paul was having a shower, Sam and I tried a lightning fast game of Trivial Pursuit (house rule: roll two dice, may move either value or the combined value) and Sam was winning six cheeses to four when Paul came down and it was time to end the weekend once and for all.

Good show, chaps. A great occasion. I'm already looking forward to the next.