Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Slice ‘n’ Dice

As the classic ballad goes: "We had joy, we had fun, flicking bogies in the sun" except it wasn't bogies, but tiny circular spaceships. And we were inside, not out in the dying rays of the day.

Outside: lovely
Inside: even lovelier

There were eight of us. The co-hosts, Adam and Hannah, and the co-guests, Sam, Joe, Ian, Katy, Martin and me. Before Joe and I arrived, the others (minus latecomer Martin) were introduced to Passe Trapp, and game that's short in length but high in tension. It became a feature of the evening, as the go-to time-filler for the waiting gamer.

But first, we had to decide what to play while we waited for Martin. We chose 6nimmt, inviting Dirk along too so Martin could jump in if he arrived mid-game.

The first round began in a strange fashion: the four cards showing were 3, 4, 6, 101. A pattern soon emerged, whereby everyone would play high cards, but lower than 101, which would quickly fill up any potential places to play. A peculiar situation, and one in which Adam thrived, picking up no points at all. Dirk did okay, and was placed fourth. Ian came off worse, with 49 points.

All bases loaded

Round two was more typical and poor old Dirk struggled, as did Hannah who got caught in a dreaded spiral of death. In round three, Martin arrived and took over from Dirk, arresting his slide. In fact, Martin won the only round he played, and he extrapolated his score of 2 across an entire game giving him a hypothetical victory. In his mind. Adam and Katy, though, had a collapse in form, and Katy crashed down to last.

Joe 19
Sam 24
Hannah 34
Adam 44
Andrew 45
Dirk 49
Ian 65
Katy 67

After this, we split into two groups of four. Katy, Ian, Joe and Hannah chose Ascending Empires while the rest of us went for a pot pourri of shortish but devilish games. First was Flamme Rouge. It was Adam's first go, but the rules aren't complicated and we were off before too long.

It was a cagey start until Martin broke away from the pack. After that, Sam and were mostly blocked by Adam's two riders and Martin's second cyclist. Adam could've won right at the end, if he'd drawn a five to get him over a small mountain. But he didn't, so the game lasted one more round and Martin edged ahead in the final reckoning.

1. Martin
2. Adam
3. Andrew
4. Sam

Then we played, at Martin's suggestion, New York Slice. It was new to all of us except Martin but, again, the rules aren't massively deep although the strategy is. Can't say I was too impressed, though. I felt that, like King Of Siam, the last stage see your options shrink dramatically. Nice, though. It does make you hungry, so the strange cheesy crisps were much appreciated.

Adam 35
Martin 29
Andrew 26
Sam 24

Next up was Dicht Dran. Adam and Martin got rules explanations and we began. It was a two round game, and Sam's quick and effective win in round one was enough to see off Adam's surge in round two.

Sam 8
Adam -4
Martin -7
Andrew -13

By now, Ascending Empires was almost at an end. After repeated comments about how civilised it had been, Katy turned on Joe with all the rage of a woman who didn't want to come last twice in a row. She got a five point swing from him to her, changing the standings significantly (but not the winner).

Ian 39
Katy 30
Hannah 27
Joe 25

While the final stages were played out, scores totted up and the game packed away, Passe Trapp was brought out again. Sam and Martin had an epic battle, with Sam repeatedly crying "Martin, stop it!" which made Joe comment that it all sounded a bit non-consensual. When Sam finally won, he lifted both arms up and gave a full blooded cry of joy and relief. And then apologised, because there was a young child asleep upstairs.

Other games were played. Martin got his revenge on Sam. Then Martin beat Adam twice, and then Adam beat Sam. There may have been other games, too. I’m not sure.

Now we were all together again, it was time for some big group fun. Except for Hannah, who bowed out at this point, preferring to head up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire.

First we played Dead Man's Chest. Sam was out first on an ignoble manner. He called Dead Man, and Ian challenged. It turned out to be 3:1. Sam had mis-read the dice. There was quite a lot of blind bidding going on, around the 6:X range, as people gingerly edged from Safe Bet to Unlikely Bet in tiny increments.

Finally, it was against Katy and Adam, both with two gems. Adam made sure to tell everyone that Katy was bound to win, and then he won the next two rounds. His victory came when he bid 1:1 and Katy challenged... it was Dead Man!

What a way to win!

1. Adam
2. Katy
3. Joe
4. Ian
5. Andrew
6. Martin
7. Sam

Then we played Fuji Flush. I kept track of the Dick Points this time, and good thing too since Joe came close to an early Big Swinging Dick when he cleared the whole table (but not every player by one point. Ian had preferred to go home, since he was very tired but we bullied him into a final game. His fatigue showed, when he played the 20 card, thinking it was a 2. Sam, meanwhile, played nothing but sevens for most of the game.

Adam and I got down to our last cards first, the others did everything they could do to stop us. When I jumped on a series begun by Martin and Katy, Katy implored the remaining players to beat them, in a scene reminiscent of that bit in Aliens when someone in the wall of alien gunk suddenly comes to life and begs the marines to kill him.

But no one could. And, at the risk of being targeted for the rest of my life in Fuji Flush, I feel I should point out that this was my third win in a row in this game. (Adam won dick points: Adam 3, Joe 2, all others 1)

Andrew 0
Adam 1
Joe 1
Martin 2
Katy 2
Ian 3
Sam 4

Saturday, 20 May 2017

On the Night of the Bunfight

Ian, Andrew and I gathered together in front of the alcove bedazzled by choices. Was it a Feast for Odin night, or a bunch of shorter games? Ian said he would prefer the latter, and despite him immediately adding "but I don't mind" we took heed of his unusual demonstrativeness by starting the evening with Flamme Rouge. I don't recall the name of the route we set up, but it was one of the games' own variations.

 blues making a break for it

Andrew shot off into the lead and seemed to spend the first part of the race picking up exhaustion cards as he led from the front. I panicked after a few rounds and shot into the lead, before dropping back again. If I had any strategy after that, it was to try and stay just behind the leader. Not rocket science, but it seemed to work, and on the final downhill stretch I made a break for it.

Sam - both riders home!
Andrew and Ian - joint second.

Staying with the brevity of shortish games, we set up King of Siam and I talked the guys through the rules, only missing out one or two finer details (by accident). I remain taken aback as to how playing eight cards apiece can amount to such a long (but not that long) game, and Siam's inscrutability was as evident as it was on Tuesday.

what the

I played what I hoped was the coup de grace in the penultimate round, but all I did was accelerate someone else's victory. In the final round Ian realised that playing his last card would only change the victor from Andrew to me, so he passed!

Andrew - wins!
Ian and Sam - lose.

Our ganders danders up, we broke out the perennial GNN favourite that is Quantum. Ian got off to a quick start, and I was hot on his tails. Andrew was slightly distracted by the capacity of the Void, and didn't seem to get much traction, even though he was researching like nobody's business... The game became combative early on and stayed that way.

Twice I was one move from winning, and both times I was stymied - in one turn Andrew built a spaceship and thus prevented my four-action turn (because I was arrogant) and in the next Ian came in and attacked me. I thought I could still win anyway until Andrew pointed out that you can't deploy ships where you have no quantum cubes! In the adrenaline of battle that cold hard truth had slipped out of my brain. And while I played for time, Ian swooped in to claim the win, pulling off an impressively convoluted attack by virtue of his being energetic. It was the grandstand finish our battle royale deserved, and we ended the night with one win apiece.

Ian - all cubes down
Sam - 1 cube left
Andrew - 2 cubes left

Ian (green) wins

A great bunch of games, and a classic to end on.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

LoV thy neighbor

Tuesday at Joe's saw nine gamers squashed into his kitchen. There was a feel of a reunion in the air, with recent absentees Sam and Matt returning and Adam making a rare journey across the M32 to join us.

We began as a seven, bashing out a quick Fuji Flush while we waited for late arrivals Chris and Matt. I was too sober to keep track of Dick Points, but there were plenty. I got lucky, picking up a 20 when I was on my last card.

Andrew 0 cards left
Martin 1
Adam 2
Sam 3
Ian 3
Katy 3
Joe 4

After that, with everyone assembled, we split into three groups of three. Sam, Martin and Matt chose a new game, King of Siam. Since it was a small game, they set up Joe's rickety card table and started playing.

Joe, Katy and Ian instantly formed a cabal of Lords of Vegas players, leaving Adam, Chris and I to decide what to play, given the space limitations. We perused Joe's wall of shelves, finding reasons not to play most of them. Finally, we chose Castles of Burgundy, since we all knew it (Chris a bit less) and had to get cracking.

King of Siam looked, as Chris (I think) pointed out, like a game based on the Intrigue option in El Grande. I know nothing about it, other than the groans of analysis paralysis that drifted over from time to time. It seems to be a game with no score, only a winner.

Sam 1st
Martin and Matt not 1st

Lords of Vegas started with Joe speeding into an early lead ("But only on points," he modesty insisted, as if the game would be decided based on happiness). The early stages saw a lack of conflict, leading Katy to invent a new word: Harmogenous. A mix of harmony and homogeneous, we assumed.

On Castles of Burgundy I sped off, Joe-like, into an early lead. Picking up small areas quickly gave me a considerable advantage. Adam was offering occasional rules explanations to the inexperienced Chris and as they closed the gap midgame, and I became paranoid that Adam had a master plan to make him first, Chris second and me last.

Mid-game, my lead is seemingly insurmountable

On the card table, Sam, Matt and Martin had started on Hit Z Road, Martin Wallace's atypical apocalypse game. When I asked for an update midgame, Sam insisted he was surely at death's door, but in the final reckoning he held on long enough.

Martin 16
Sam 7
Matt 0 (ie, dead)

Lords of Vegas was next to end. The feeling of harmogeny had evaporated after Ian and Joe locked horns over a mega casino on the Strip. It had grown from a curious set up, which I thought looked like those Chess puzzles you see in newspapers, like "How should yellow play to maximize chances of success?"

What would you do?

With some sprawling and a lot of reorganizing, the casino changed hands many times. Katy got in on the action, too, when she claimed a plot that had been sprawled into.

At the end, though, it was in Joe's hands when the Strip paid out for the last time. Enough to get him clear of his rival Ian. Meanwhile, Katy's unchallenged six-tile Casino simply didn't bring in enough punters.

Joe 49
Ian 40
Katy 36

Castles of Burgundy was still some way from being over, so the six of them played Insider, the cunning game of trying to look like you have no idea what is going on. Unsurprisingly, the dark horse Matt won since he was the Insider but was not discovered.

Finally, Castles came to an end. Adam had taken the lead, and I was desperate to finish my seven-tile city. In round four, Chris had (unwittingly) taken the building that would've ended it for me, but as the tiles for the last round were dealt out, I was relieved to see three tiles that would save me and, since I was going second, victory was assured.

They've almost caught me!

Andrew 228
Adam 210
Chris 160

The other six kindly waited for our game to end, so we finished the evening with a nine player game: 6nimmt.

We dealt in Dirk, to bring the number of players up to the maximum ten. And we made a vow that if Dirk finished in first, we'd immediately give up board games forever.

A vow that caused concern when, during round two, Dirk was actually in first place. Luckily as time went on, Dirk's supernaturally prescient game play left him, and by the end of round two he was joint sixth with Chris and Matt.

Joe, though, was having a nightmare. Two rounds left him teetering on the brink, with 65 points. The end of the game was all but assured. Adam's clear final round tied up the win.

Adam 14
Katy 29
Ian 32
Sam 44
Matt 46
Martin 49
Chris 52
Dirk 55
Andrew 56
Joe 82

Beaten by Dirk. How annoying. But, thanks to the auto suggest option on my phone, we can ask Dirk what he thought about the game by typing in "6nimmt" and seeing what happens:

"6nimmt you so bad for her birthday."

Thanks, Dirk.

And that was it. Thanks to all for an unforgettable night!

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Easton Cowboy

Saturday night. After a day of moving soil what I should have done was go to bed early, but I was awake enough not to cancel the incoming Adam and Ian.

There was a little discussion over what to play, with the main choices Flamme Rouge or Great Western Trail. I was happy with either, but when Ian warned Adam that the latter was long, his mind was made up: Great Western Trail it was.

I explained the rules as best I could and we began. The game though is slightly Rosenberg-esque in the options you have - you can travel as far as you like on your first turn, and up to three 'steps' thereafter, so it feels like you are being directed to a buffet rather than served a first course.

I won't go thorough the vagaries of GWT which have been covered in great depth recently, but my plans of exploring the buildings some more sort of evaporated early on. I didn't build a single one. We all bought cattle, and grabbed station master tiles. But during the second half of the game, Adam either hit on or realised a long-planned strategy of shunting his train as far up the line as he could. I'm sure I did this before and lost, but maybe I misremember. Or maybe I just didn't do it as well as Adam did. As the game end hove into view, it was clear Ian and I were duking it out for second. And Ian proved to be the clear winner in that particular melee:

Adam 101
Ian 84
Sam 67

I remain bamboozled as to how to join the cogs together on this one, but I do like it. Adam, as Adam so often does, had no such qualms and seemed to be in his element; herding, trading, and most enthusiastically of all, shunting.

We still had some time, so we bashed out a couple of quick games of For Sale. Adam won both of these too, with Ian and I sharing second in the opening game and me bumped into third for the second. I should have gone to bed at seven...

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Mind Over Master

After a few fallow weeks, we were back up to a respectable six attendees gathered at Joe's house. Along with the host, we were: Martin, Katy, Andy, Ian and me.

After a brief bout of conversation, Martin suggested we play Insider, the new game from the company that gave us A Fake Artist Goes To New York and Deep Sea Adventure. The concept is simple, while the method of working out who won isn't.

It's basically 20 Questions. In each game, roles are dealt out and kept secret except for the Master, who declares him or herself immediately and will be the person who chooses the words to be guessed by the others and who answers their yes-no questions.

However, there is a spy in the group who also knows the word and has to get their group to guess correctly without anyone realising that they are the Insider.

I shall refrain from explaining how he winner(s) is/are decided. Instead I'll just explain what happened as best I can.

We played twice. In the first round, Joe was the master and fielded our questions. Towards the end, as we were pretty stumped, Martin asked "Is it wood?" And it was! We had succeeded! But who was the Insider?

Unfortunately for Martin, his blurting out the answer made him suspect number one. After a unanimous vote to accuse him, he admitted his crime.

Martin lost!
Everyone else won.

We played again, but this time the result was quite different. The cold, calculating manipulation on show is quite chilling to recall.

Martin was the Master and we started the usual guessing. It was small and not found in cities. A toy made of wood, but had no wheels. Then Joe asked if it was from a particular part of the world. It was. We kept guessing. Katy guessed Frisbee but then, dejected, remembered that they aren't made of wood. At this point, Joe asked "Is it a boomerang?" And it was! With only a few grains of sand left in the timer, we had succeeded again.

But who was the Insider? With Joe's insightful questions and conveniently timed correct guess, he was very suspicious. Joe insisted he'd got the right answer "Because I'm smart," but even he admitted, the more he defended himself, the more guilty he looked. We voted for him and we were wrong! It was Katy!

Katy wins!
Everyone else loses.

She explained that her guess about a wooden Frisbee was supposed to make people think about boomerangs, which was exactly what Joe did. But what of Joe's question about parts of the world? Katy explained that, actually, Joe had finished her sentence for her. She'd said "Is it from -" and then Joe jumped in with "a particular part of the world?" She'd played Joe like a puppet. Such subtle manipulation was both amazing and worrying in equal measure.

I really enjoyed it, since it's a Resistance-esque game of subterfuge which is over in ten minutes and still works with fewer players. I guess five would be the minimum. Andy was not convinced.

After that was the small matter of the evening's main attraction. Six players without Sam usually means I'm The Boss, but Martin mentioned that he had Winner's Circle, and I was keen to play it again. Katy was quick to tell everyone how bad she was at it. Another attempt at the power of suggestion.

We set off on the first race, which was notable for Andy always rolling a horse's head on the die and then moving the same horse, we all did okay ish except Ian. Joe and Katy ended up placing their bets in exactly the same way.

In race two, we had a horse called Colin. He was a steady horse with average values across the board, but he was starting near the front of the pack so definitely worth a shot. In the end, we all bet on him because who can resist a horse called Colin. He came second or third and everyone was happy.

Two slow starters?
No! One horse is about to be lapped!

Also in round two, I got stuffed by Joe repeatedly moving a horse who'd been doing well, despite only me having a bet on it, the fewest possible spaces. I regretted bringing crisps when I saw that shameless gamesmanshipness.

So, I was screwed. Ian got screwed in race one and in the third race, in a crazy bout of optimism, Joe put three of his four bets on the three horses right at the back. A foolish move.

Katy, Andy and Martin were a league apart. Such was the gulf between us, they may as have well have been playing on a different board.

Katy 2500
Andy 2450
Martin 2050
Joe 1150
Andrew 1050
Ian 1050

We ended with a handful of lighter games.

First we played For Sale. Katy insisted that she had a new tactic she was going to use, and began by confidently bidding two chips. Towards the end of the first round, though, she admitted she hadn't followed it at all.

After the first phase had ended, I had nothing too high or too low, which meant I needed to bid well in the second half of the game. I did okay but, just like Winner's Circle, it ended with a final score with a huge divide halfway down, separating the consummate professionals from the eager amateurs.

Ian 50
Andy 48
Martin 47
Andrew 40
Joe 39
Katy 34

Next up was Perudo. Katy's newest favourite game and, as usual, it was a roller coaster of lies and deceit.

Most shocking was the news that, after about ten years, we'd been playing a rule wrong! On a person's first pallathiko, aces are not wild and so the value of the bid can't be changed, only the quantity.

In the midst of all this controversy, I obviously couldn't concentrate. I was out first on an optimistic bid that no one (i.e., not Martin) believed. However, later on, I jokingly predicted that Katy had 2,3 and 4 based on her hesitation before bidding, and I turned out to be right. Shame it's not leaderboard.

But let's not forget to mention Ian's amazing bid when he was down to one die. He called 4 twos. Joe said Dudo, and every dice was a two or wild. At least, that's what I've written down in a drunken haze. It might not have been every dice, but most of them. Either way, it was amazing. Ian was still out next, though.

Finally, it was down to Katy vs. Joe, both with three dice. Joe was first to pallathiko when we discovered ANOTHER rule we'd been playing wrong: there's no pallathiko when there's only two players left. Joe couldn't recover from the shock of this discovery and Katy won.


We considered Dead Man's Chest to finish, but it was too similar to Perudo. Team Play, too, was passed over.

Instead, we played two games of Fuji Flush. Andy won the first one so quickly (Martin was still on five cards) that we played a second.

Andy 0
Katy 1
Joe 2
Andrew 3
Ian 4
Martin 5

In game two, I got a bit of luck with my cards, being able to piggyback onto other winning rounds, which is how I got rid of my last card to win the game.

Andrew 0
Martin 2
Katy 3
Ian 3
Joe 3
Andy 3

And I won on dick points, too. I had eight, while my nearest rivals Katy and Martin (of course) only had four. Joe didn't have any at all. What a genial host.

After that, we stumbled out into the evening air, our game-thirst fully sated.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Cowfight at the OK Corral

Thursday night club was on, and although Ian couldn't make it, Joe stepped in and slipped into his seat with ease. He'd brought Gold West with him, but I wasn't mad keen on that. Then he suggested Great Western Trail, and I wasn't mad keen on that either.

"What does Sam want to play?" Andrew wondered aloud, but as I had no agenda/idea, after discussions we returned to the idea of Great Western Trail, and ended up setting it up. Having done so - we were off!

This was my fifth play of GWT and you'd think that might give me some small advantage, but I remain inscrutably bad at it. I decided early on to try and build a hand of good cattle, but doing so costs money, and it's cheaper if you have more cowboys, but cowboys cost money... and so on. I pictured Martin doing some sort of Stewart Lee-style comedy routine based on the diminishing returns of plaintive optimism... although the game experience is far from that. Every turn has the potential to be lucrative, but I found myself making largely sub-optimal moves to a great degree, with the exception of the turn when I hired three (three! count 'em) workers, causing Joe and Andrew to make impressed noises.

The noises were mostly cowboy based though, as Joe started something of an accent theme to the evening. He was taking long enough over his turns that we - or I - felt obliged to rib him about it, but secretly I was worried that he might know what he was doing.

In fact in mid-game I thought it was a battle between me and Joe - Andrew had almost no workers and seemed to be dawdling on a scenic walk rather than driving cattle. But at the game end he sped up, hurtling his train down the track and delivering to the well-monied distant climes of Sante fe and so on... the 24 points he got from cattle delivery delivered him to a very convincing first place.

Andrew 81
Joe 67
Sam 64

Despite my crestfallen and slightly ruddy face come 10.45, I really enjoyed GWT - like Railways of the World, it's game you can have fun losing - and unlike Railways, you can delude yourself you're doing better than you are.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Dicht Diggers

Tonight saw a continuation of the recent whittling away of regulars as just four of us set up in Sam's kitchen. Joe, Ian and I joined the host for the week's festivities, trying hard not to read too much into our new found exclusivity.

We began with Pairs, with Sam's son Joe telling his father what to do. With four players, it's quite a different game to what we're used to. Very cagey, with people preferring to stick in second rather than risk one more card.

Joe got hit by a lot of low pairs while Sam & Joe were in pole position midgame, just four points off the target of fifteen. But, they couldn't score again and Ian took first place.

Ian 15
Andrew 12
Sam & Joe 11
Joe 6

And then came decision time. Since we didn't have to share the table with another game, our choices were limitless. We struggled to make a choice. Joe said he'd almost brought Brass, and I wished he had. Great Western Trail? Feast For Odin? But after Viticulture had been mentioned several times, it was brought to the table.

Joe had recently been introduced to the game by Sam, but had found his first attempt rather frustrating.

Round one:everyone training new workers

For the rest of us, the rolling hills of Tuscany were as familiar as the garden path to Sam's door. We set up with Ian having a rare luxury of an extra worker thanks to his Papa card.

Interestingly, the extra worker option at the end of the Player Order Option Track was barely used. With four players, spaces were likely to be filled so an extra ordinary worker wouldn't be much use.

Halfway through, I asked Joe if he was enjoying it more and he said no, it was still frustrating. Which is true, but that's part of the joy of the game. This was especially true for me in the last round, when my plans of a double-order fulfilment were scuppered. I'd been holding on to my Grandee, hoping for a stroke of luck to allow me to fill an order, and I was sorely chagrined (© 18th century England) when Sam played a card allowing you to take back your Grandee and use it again.

Then again, so was Sam when he saw Ian take his back and then use it to fill another order and make sure of his victory in this close game of Viticulture.

Ian 26
Sam 21
Joe 18
Andrew 18

After this, we wound down with lighter fare: Dicht Dran. The 6nimmt-ish game is high on frustration but not so much that you feel completely in the lap of fate. For the first time at GNN, Sam handed over the rules explanation to a YouTube video.

The idea is to get your hand size down to zero, while also picking up the cards dealt in the middle. However, increasing your hand size means you're more likely to have a card that'll win one of those cards in the future. It's a fine balance.

We played two one-round games. In the first, Sam was never in danger of not winning while Ian stayed true to his stereotype of being bad at 6nimmt style games.

Sam 9
Joe 1
Andrew 0
Ian -5

In the next game, I got off to a flier picking up one card after another. And while I ran dry later on, and didn't discard all my cards, I still had enough to win.

Andrew 6
Sam 4
Joe 4
Ian -2

Finally we ended with good old High Society. My early tactic was to pick up a bad card for cheap while everyone else got stung. However, no one else seemed terribly annoyed at their lack of funds and I ended up off-setting my 1/2 card with a x2 card, bought for top price. Along with my basketball team, complete with woman lying down.

Joe had a wide selection of scoring cards, but only one money card in his hand. In the end, he went out with least money, despite his potentially winning 16 points.

Sam 15
Andrew 8
Ian 6
Joe OUT!!

And so we were done. Another week ticked off the calendar, another grey hair sprouting from all of our bonces. As for the Division, I decided that this week, I'd replace all our numbers with a sentence invented by my phone whenever you start with someone's name and keep choosing the middle option that it suggests. Since I write GNN reports on my phone, it seems to have learnt a bit of my style.

Well done to Sam for reaching top spot. Oh, and, Laura, a "Knizia" is a games designer: Reiner Knizia. I've obviously written "It's a Knizia!" so often that my phone thinks it's a noun.

See you next week (he said, optimistically...)