Sunday, 27 July 2014

Bricks without Straw.

This is a special edition of the blog which combines games from several different sessions, including a recent bring and buy. Unfortunately, my internet-fu has suddenly failed me and so it is also a special no-pictures edition!

Apart from the report which gives the blog its title and the report which follows it and the report after that, all reports were written by Neil. Thanks Neil. (More reports could be edited in later if available).

 Glass Road 

A final appearance from Woody, who is off to sunny Portugal. Woody's first game of this classic Rosenberg, with Neil and me joining him. Collecting Ponds looked like a good strategy, with collecting Pits another possibility. Woody and I took the direct approach to Pond collection, with me playing an early immediate "gain 2 clay from each adjacent pond" building, but Neil headed us off at the pass by buying the building which gives you VPs for Ponds. Stymied, I espied a useful claymaking building- but Neil beat me to that as well.

Meanwhile Woody set about collecting Pits with a vengeance- I think he had 9 contiguous Pits by game end. I picked up the points for Clay and points for Wood buildings (although the later was only half points), and a method of turning Ponds into Wood, which was handy for all those stupid Ponds I had dug earlier. I had three bricks at the end of turn 3 and no earthly use for them. I was then extremely lucky in the final turn to see the building which scores points for used Bricks and have the resources available to build it, combined with the fabulous Water Tower (costs 3 Bricks and is worth 4 VPs- makes ponds) and a neat "re-use an adjacent immediate use" building which gave me 6 more clay.

Final Scores Me 27 Woody 22 Neil 17 (roughly).


Another outing for this gem collection game which sounds a lot more exciting than it actually is.... anyway same three players, Neil and Woody doing the obvious money-making strategy, me trying to be clever and picking up gems in other ways, Woody beating us to the punch with the old "not moving this turn" card- 5 gems to Woody, 4 to Neil and 4 to me but me with much less money than Neil.

 Railways of Mexico 

A different (earlier evening), a different group of players, a different kind of game... anyway I managed to set up the cubes with minimal redunancy apart from 3 reds in Mexico City. I won the bid for start player and rushed into an early lead in the North-West which seemed to accelerate into the mid game. In fact I was so far ahead I confidently declared I had won, only for Jon to put me in my place by a one point victory right at the end.

 The Council of Verona 

One I nearly backed on kickstarter due to it’s Shakespearian theme, until I realised it was yet another ‘micro’ card game, get three cards with different abilities, play them and then somebody, completely randomly, wins. Might as well play snap, noughts and crosses or any old dice game….
Anyway, I was wrong. No surprise there. I was right once last week but so got confused in the ensuing discussion I changed my mind to wrong.

This is very, very good. Your three cards will be either a Montague, Capulet, neutral or a combination. Your goal is to place your drafted cards into either the Council of Verona - hey, that must account for the game title! - or Exile. You then place tokens on any card you wish, which is where you can gain VPs from, or influence otherwise. Amongst the tokens in the expansion we were playing with are a vial of poison and another with the antidote.

After placing all your cards and three of your tokens the latter are revealed and poisoned characters die off. The remaining cards are resolved according to their agendas one at a time with any remaining tokens scoring VPs for their owners.

During the card drafting I held on to three Montagues; the Lord, his Lady and Benvolio. I played the Lord into the Council in the first round and put my ‘0’ token onto an Exiled Capulet. Next round I played Benvolio into the Council which allowed me to move a card from there to Exile, so I shipped out a neutral to ensure Montague Council control. I placed my ‘5’ token onto the Duke this time. For my final card Lady Montague joined her husband in the Council, used her ability to switch my ‘0’ token onto the Lord to remove one of Dan’s from a ‘likely to score card’ and I decided to place an ‘antidote’ token onto another Montague, just in case he’d been poisoned.

As the tokens were revealed it was looking good for the Montagues on the Council. Then each card was resolved and I managed to have 2 VP tokens in play, the same as Jon, with none of the other three surviving the cull! 5 VPs to me, damn, Jon had 6. Never mind, cracking little game.


Jon's turn-to filler in the absence of Mr Dawsey and Tenakee. Bet on the tiles, hope no one else has bet the same, and win the tiles. John opted for the reverse psychology during the first game picking up all the negative tiles he possibly could. Jon and I seem to stay out of the main clashes and so towards the end should have picked up the remaining tiles cheaply. I did, Jon didn't!! I won the first round my a good distance.

Round 2 didn't go quite so well, for me that is. John had clearly go the hang of the game by now and stormed into an unassailable lead. Second place was up for grabs but I blew it by matching with everyone and having all my bets voided. Not sure how the final scores came out, I think Jon noted them down.

 Camel Up 

So, hot game, might have won the Spiel de Jahre by the time this is published. My pre-game impression: race game - tend to be single faceted and thus do not appeal; camels - mmm, not my favourite animal, in fact i'm not particularly animal-friendly so also off-putting; betting game - being instituted by Lloyds, Abbey and some Irish bank I have a natural inclination to avoid betting.

On set-up I was able to add, 'contrived dice mechanic' that makes those old pop-up dice things look like the mac of dice mechanics. The wooden camels that stack - more mmm, bit chunky, yellow and green, yuk; the blue and white, hurrah, get stuck at the back, wrong.

Right, so the game; great fun, great laughs and a real treat, that's what i've read. My inhibitions tend to kick in during these 'party' games and I start analysing play a bit too much. By their sheer nature they're not designed for this.

Anyway, five of us took the reins (?) and did some actions and dice fell out of the pyramid, sometimes, and we gambled and tried to influence something or other. Green camel and orange camel took a lead and held it. White camel looked doomed from the start until blue camel did and then didn't. At the end of each round I picked up 2 coins compared to everyone else's 3-8, wow! And then the game ended, orange camel, representing the Netherlands, won, huzzah!

As the big bets were by paid out by the tote I won 8 coins on the first camel, maxed out! and then I won another on the last camel, maxed out 2 'maxier!' One to play again, undoubtedly.

Final Scores; Neil - 27, Soren - 25, Noel - 24, Philip - 23, Jon - 22 (well it is his game after all!)

Granny Wars

My ninth outing at Granny Wars, more than anyone else in the whole wide world who's logged their plays of this great little thriller!

We were five, an odd five to say the least, me, Philip, Dom, Woody and Tom (his 4th logged play!). All started with it's usual no idea of who's sponsoring which Granny until about half way through when there's a glut of useful cards to play. A few Grannies got nailed to and by their sponsors and it was left to the power cards at the end of the game.

We obviously all let Woody win. His possible last outing at IBG for a while if his adventure tales of living in Portugal come off... but it was close!

Bring & Buy (and Play) Report

So, the first B&B (&p!) at the London Apprentice. Despite a few weeks notice this gave more punters the chance to change their minds. Anyway, there'll be another one, it'll be called Play (and Bring & Take Home Again) next time, catches the day's events a bit more literally.

Saying that, Woody sold a few, I sold a couple and had several pre-sales too so the Essen budget is getting towards the 'travel and accommodation paid for' stage; it's the games I might like to buy that need funding next!

Right. Me and Basti (Hora jnr) set up and had just started a 2-player Istanbul when Soren and ladyfriend/wife/mistress arrived but there were no stopping us by then. Despite a good start my son soon took over and thrashed me 6-4. Good news though, he loved it, it's coming on holiday with us, hurrah!

By the time we were finishing attendance had almost reached it's peak with Woody arriving but deciding to sell his wares straight out of his boot, and Tom came plodding in too. Scott and Charlotte arrived and set up 6 Nimmt! for three enthralling rounds, I know I lost all three, Basti won one and Scott amassed in excess of 40 points in one round, is that possible? We were joined by a friendly gent who later purchased from Woody and then Canadian Barry arrived announcing his imminent departure from the UK back to his native North America as they say in RotW, Calgary to be precise.

Next up Scott and Charlotte were happy to try Splendor, great to find someone who hadn't played before! We gave it two goes with Charlotte taking the first narrowly from all of us, and me winning the second just ahead of Scott, Basti was asleep by this time I think, 2 points, a record low!

Having purchased Egizia from Woody - yes I know I wasn't supposed to but it's been on the list for yonks and I've never seen an English version this side of the Atlantic so I just had to have it - Charlotte and Scott were keen to give it a run out and teach me in the process, always good to have Scott running through the rules I find, top man! As it was I probably wasn't listening too well as they and Basti managed to score handsomely with me some 30 VPs behind, oops!

So, four hours of gaming, good bonhomie and very little buying, it was time to drag it all back home and face Mrs Hora with the clutter I had hoped to shed. Ah well, another day, different result, fingers crossed.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

The incredibly late blog entry

Agricola (thanks Natasha)

Neil, Andy, me and new-boy-Walter-White-lookalike-Scots-Italian-Mauro, sat down to a game which I thought showcased one of Agricola’s great strengths as a game.

Mauro obviously chose blue. Forza Italia! After a powerfully efficient start, he acquired quite an extraordinary ability, to transmogrify vegetables into animals. I could only think of The-Fly-style disasters ensuing - Cowliflower, Boargette, Ewebergine etc.

Neil managed a "PB" (as Noel’s athletics chums would say) by pursuing a delicious-looking grain, vegetables and veal strategy. At this rate of improvement he will be unconquerable in three games’ time.

Andy ended up through no fault of his own with a rather motley draft and was last to grow his family - quite the handicap even for a player of his quality. He retaliated by surprisingly gobbling up all of Mauro’s sheep in Round 7 - taking Mauro from catbird to bird-in-cat’s-mouth.

It mattered little as the other three were no match for my young Apprentice. He provided a food income every harvest for nothing more than owning major improvements, and alongside my 3 food-giving ponds (Duck, Goose and... Unidentified Aquatic Avian), I amassed the equivalent of the EU butter mountain.

What struck me as interesting though is that the game seemed awash with food and reed, but was starved of wood. Of course it was! Neil and I were pumping out food like crazy, and the Sheep card was turned in Round 1. Andy and Mauro meanwhile had improvements that meant they didn’t need Reed. However - nobody had free fences, discounts for room building, or much in the way of free wood - thus, wood was scarce.

Every game of Agricola seems to have lots of something and none of another thing - like this. It’s obviously one of the main mechanics that gives the game its variety. I think perhaps if one were very good at Agricola one would notice these trends during the game and react accordingly - rather than work it out in the post-mortem. Something to aspire to?

Final scores (only Andy's app knows the numbers) Natasha then Andy then Neil then Mauro.

Remaining reports all thanks to Jon. Five games in one night is pretty impressive...

Queen’s Ransom
This is a quick deduction / memory card game, where players have to deduce who kidnapped the queen and where she is being held captive, by examining a series of face-down cards - and then screwing with their opponents…
Neil and Jon had time for a couple of games of this, with Jon edging a win in the first game, and making the correct deduction in the second game whilst Neil was still making preliminary searches of the kingdom. A quick, clever card game, that plays really well with 2. 

Paul had now joined the early birds, but only to tell them that he had been unexpectedly called away, so they settled down to a 2-player game of Attika.
Jon was the first to make a dart across the board, but Neil managed to block his progress without too much trouble. Jon had his capital on the board quite early, and was subsequently able to get some free builds out.
Neil had a sudden burst of putting down a new landscape tile, and using a couple of amphoras, he built several streets in one turn and was close to making a connection of his own. Jon had to do some highly inefficient building to block Neil’s progress, but soon had only a handful of buildings left and was looking favourite to get them down first. However, unknown to Neil, he didn’t have the necessary cards to get them all laid, allowing Neil the opportunity to sneak in himself. But Neil also ran into a resource deficit, which meant that Jon just managed to get his last building down for the win.

Council of Verona
Amanda, Jon and Dan all wanted ‘light and fluffy’, so this was an opportunity for Dan to bring out one of his latest purchases. A handful of cards and a few wooden tokens. And all contained within an unnecessarily sturdy little box. Would there be a real game in there, or was it going to be another Love Letter  (ie in Jon’s opinion, a non-game that’s worth throwing off a ferry…)?
Players draft a hand of 4 cards, which represent characters from Romeo and Juliet, who are either Montagues, Capulets or neutrals. Players take it in turns to place a card in either the Council, or in exile, and then activate their action. They can then place a scoring token face down on one of the scoring cards (if available). Once all cards are played, the scoring cards and tokens are revealed and resolved, and players collect their points. Rinse and repeat x 3.
The interesting wrinkle comes with the ‘expansion’, which gives players a ‘poison’ token, which if played, will kill the character and not allow it to score. However, as with the scoring tokens, they are played face down, so it becomes a tricky game of bluff and trying to read your opponents.
Amanda was finding it hard to score points, and was questioning the amount of control that players could exert. However, Jon and Dan were doing their best to shaft each other, and enjoying the experience. Jon managed to score points in every round, and ran out winner.
So what were the thoughts regarding this latest micro-game? Amanda didn’t appear to be overly impressed, but both Dan and Jon were very positive. The expansion tokens are a must, and with them, you have a terrific little filler, with plenty of interaction and some clever card-play. And all in a bullet-proof box.
Jon 16; Dan 12; Amanda 7

Mad City
This was a game that Neil, Jon and Tom had played at the recent UK Games Expo, and Neil had been sufficiently impressed to make a purchase. Each player has a set of 9 tiles, representing areas within a city (residential / industrial etc) along with a road network. Players then have 1 minute to rearrange the tiles to maximise scoring which is based upon putting like areas together. There is a small bonus for the longest road, and for the first person to finish rearranging their tiles. First to 100
points wins. And that’s it. There is a more advanced game, but the ‘light and fluffy’ brigade were happy enough with the basic game to bother with reading the rules for this.
After the first round, Jon let out an audible groan. He had just remembered that this was a real-time speed game, and the 5th unwritten rule dictates that no-one should ever play one of these types of games with Dan (see previous reports for Adios Amigos, Galaxy Trucker, Santy Anno etc etc) as he is a speed-genius. And so it proved in this game, as he quickly sped into a healthy lead. However, Amanda and Jon were catching on quickly, and were soon constructing some efficient zones within their cities. Dan and Amanda were competing to build the longest roads, whereas Jon seemed happy to construct multiple little cul-de-sacs, and take the first player bonus several times.
The final round began with Dan having a few points advantage over Jon and Amanda, and after a frantic final minute of city building, it was all over, with the scores ending closer than anyone had imagined. Dan had still triumphed though, retaining his reputation as the king of speed…
Dan 108; Jon 106; Amanda 102

Amanda took her leave, so Dan pulled out this game that works well (if not best) with 2 players.
The swings of power in Innovation can be quite incredible. Dan pulled out into a big early lead thanks to having lots of military symbols in his tableau, whilst Jon had almost none, leaving him free to pull off the same combo on a number of consecutive rounds. However, Jon then managed to start picking up cards from a future age (more powerful) which enabled him to get back into the race.
Dan had a more varied tableau, giving him more flexibility, and soon found himself only one short of the required number of innovations. But Jon was able to find a neat combo that allowed him take a couple of high numbered cards each turn, and Dan’s only response was to immediately destroy them. However, Jon’s ability to pick up higher cards soon paid off, as he delved into the game-clinching 10th deck, and pulled off a very tight victory.
There is a bit to think about in this game, with all the icons and needing to look at your opponent’s tableau, which is why 2-player seems to be a good fit for a 45 minute game.


Saturday, 28 June 2014

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Another edition of "Treason never prospers"

Thanks to Jon- who contributed all reports except the first.


Andy picked race first: the Orion Hegemony, a strong military power. Gareth chose the Hydra Progress, scientific geniuses, while Alex, who hadn't played before, picked the peaceful Planta. I decided to stay human, with the Terran Republic.

Initial expansion was fairly standard with Gareth getting a stronger start. Alex and I both coveted the same system, defended by an Ancient, but I was able to move in first and Alex wisely accepted my offer to exchange ambassadors. Andy easily blasted his Ancients out of the way and stood poised to enter Gareth's territory- but decided to exchange ambassadors instead.

Andy now took out the Galactic Centre, establishing contact with me and Alex but refusing to exchange ambassadors. Both of us doubled and tripled our defences bordering Andy, while Alex exchanged ambassadors with Gareth (I had no common border with Gareth).

The game proceeded without much incident until the final turn. Both Gareth and I built Monoliths. Gareth was clearly winning by a country lightyear but he didn't have many actions available as he controlled so many systems. Alex decided to attack Andy for some glory VPs with a single interceptor- a combat which quickly escalated. Gareth having run out of action discs I pointed out to Andy that he could capture two systems from Gareth without a fight- systems worth 6 VPs total. Of course, he would get the Traitior and lose the Hydran ambassador, so only net 3 Vps. But Gareth would be losing 7 VPs. At this point Gareth claimed he actually had a disk left, but a quick count contradicted him and Andy stuck the knife in. The big fight between Alex and Andy in the middle was won by Andy

Final Scores Gareth 38 Andy 38* Philip 32 Alex 27.

*A tie! Or so we thought. But then we remembered the traitor tile: Andy 36. Gareth the winner.

High Society
There were thoughts that Dan might be turning up, so a quick filler was chosen, and what better than one of Herr Knizia’s finest. New to Paul II, and James II needed a quick reminder too.
The great thing about playing with new players is that they often bid in completely different ways, which affects how everyone then plays the game. For instance, James started off by bidding large amounts for medium-value tiles, which then gives everyone else more leeway to bid, as there is less chance of ending with the least cash.
Paul bid high for the ‘2x’ tile, but as his only other tile was a ‘2’, he wasn’t looking like achieving a particularly high score. Noel picked up the ‘-5’ scandal tile, followed by a ‘2x’, which gave him a large minus score at one stage. The pressure was then on, as everyone was low on cash, and once the third ‘2x’ came out, the game could end at any point. But it went down to the last tile, and in an incredibly close finish, Noel had just spent too much, which allowed Jon to pip James to the win.
The scores are lost to the sands of time (strangely, no-one had brought a pen), but suffice it to say, it was another classic game.

Airlines Europe

Amazingly, this game doesn’t appear to have seen the light of day at IBG since July 2012. But that stat was rectified tonight, as Dan failed to show and so the fabulous foursome stayed together to invest in some European airlines.
Noel has the most experience with this game, and showed it by quickly laying a widespread portfolio of shares, and consequently picking up the majority of points in the first round. Jon, Paul and James all had large majorities in single colours, and it was Jon that first started collecting the valuable Abacus Air shares. Noel wasn’t going to let him get away with that, and followed closely in his footsteps, resulting in a tie for these shares for the second scoring round.
As the game drew to a conclusion, all 4 players were vying for control of Abacus, but it was Jon that managed to pick up the last share which would give him the most. However, would he have time to play it into his portfolio? There were definitely less than 10 cards left in the draw pile, so the game could have ended at any moment – but it didn’t – and much like High Society, it went to the last card.
Noel had been pushing a couple of airlines very hard, nearly maxing out their points, and had been making some shrewd calculations about how to take the odd point without giving anything extra to Jon.
The game ended and the scores were tallied. Noel ‘s last minute min-maxing had paid off, and he squeaked home by a small margin from Jon, with the others a bit further back. This is a great game, and deserves to come out more often than every 4 years!
Noel 96; Jon 92; Paul 67; James 64

Paul decided to leave at this point, so the remaining threesome chose another Knizia auction classic to round the evening off. James II claimed to have only played once before “a long time ago”, and so got a rules explanation. Alex overheard this assertion and guffawed from the next table. Could mild-mannered James really be hustling Noel and Jon?
The first epoch began, and James started collecting tiles like they were going out of fashion. Noel and Jon bided their time (there’s always plenty of time in Ra, right?) planning on scooping vast quantities of tiles as the epoch progressed. Except it suddenly started progressing quicker than they had anticipated. And then ended. James had scored for most Pharaohs and several Nile tiles, as well as a pile of gold. Noel had a set of cultures. Jon had nothing, and consequently scored -2 points.
The second epoch followed the same pattern – James was apparently magicking tiles out of thin air, whilst Jon and Noel seemed to be playing the part of anti-collectors. At the end of the second epoch, Noel had a measly 6 tiles in his collection.
The third epoch barely deserves a mention. James had most of the ancient monuments of Egypt in his collection (a full set of eight different ones, and a few triple duplicates too), whereas Jon and Noel barely had 2 pyramids to rub together. 
Alex gave a knowing ‘I told you so’ look, as the scores were revealed. A true hustle if ever there was one.
James 67; Noel 34; Jon 30