Wednesday, 24 August 2016

The dusk was seasonably warm...

Contributors: Daniel, David

The night was warm and sultry

The evening was humid and dark

The twilight was met with the heat of the day

The night was damp and not very light

Ahh, whatever, opening lines are always a bitch. It was bloody hot in the Riverview Room last night but ten of us struggled through all the same.

We welcomed two new members last night, Steve and Clive, who joined myself and Andy for Castles of Ludwig followed by Plus and Minus, then Andy and I finished off the evening with a combination of The Networks and some text message finger wagging as we went a bit over time.

Both Steve and Clive are adamant that they've never seen Castles before but managed to do the rest of us up like a bunch of smoky Herring breakfast treats. Clive seeminly took an unusual strategy of buying whatever the cheapest room was each round, but it turned out that he was just the Alan Titchmarsh of renaissance Germany and was going after all the cheap gardens for an endgame bonus score. We gave Steve a little reminder here and there about placing in order to score room connections effectively and he stormed into a strong early lead after completing some purple rooms that were returning double digits.

Andy got in first on the downstairs rooms and the swine manipulated the market to capitalise on my low cash flow to ensure I couldn't quite grab the tiles we were competing on. In return I swiped a couple of bedrooms that I knew he was after as well as pinching a paticular yellow food room that would have fitted pefectly into a gap in his layout providing two extra actions while also completing a blue room - no way I was going to let that one stay in the market for him! He had a very neat and attractive looking castle by the end but the good looks were marred by an ugly score. Having to go one better as always, I made sure my score was even more of a bete than a belle, struggling with a castle full of dead ends and a handful of bonus cards that were scoring me nothing as those annoying buggers I was playing with kept taking the tiles I needed - one in particular would have scored me twenty-odd points in various bonuses but Andy put it into the cheapest slot and so, of course, Clive bloody well bought it instead.

So a somewhat lacklustre showing for the old hands with me on eighty-something and Andy about ten points ahead of me, Steve was well up over a hundred points but Clive streaked ahead in the endgame scoring to a convincing win.

Plus and Minus delighted again, a reversal in fortunes from Castles mainly due to the small but significant learning curve that you bump into regarding managing the number range that you aim to keep your pawns in.

Two player Networks, light and fun and still not showing any wear. Having played this quite a bit now the score ended up pretty lop-sided, however Andy got into the rhythm pretty quickly with some big scores in the later rounds and a good finish.


James B, myself and Sarah settled down for a couple of games whilst Raj hosted an all night game of Scythe for Gareth and Philip. On our table we started with Stockpile, James and I played this last week and we were keen to have another go. It's great fun. just the right amount of hidden information, push your luck and screwing people over. A couple of turns in James made a great move of selling six American Automotive shares at 9k each. This was pretty much the winning move with Sarah and I then playing catch up. I tried my best to screw James over and we both ended up screwing each other on one round with 6k trading fees in two of the three stockpiles. My laughing was short lived when I realised he had screwed me in exactly the same way. When it came to final scoring I did well on the end game bonuses which pushed me close but not close enough. James won with 124k, myself on 114k and Sarah on 70K, Sarah missing out on the bonuses and some bad luck with share prices rising after selling. The market can be a cruel mistress.

After that we played Kingsburg, both James and Sarah had played before but it was my first game. A dice allocation game where players influence members of the King's Council who provided you with resources you can use to build buildings. It was a surprisingly simple game, roll your dice, place them in the most optimal position (usually the one with the most resources) and make sure you have the least/most buildings when the bonuses seasons come. There's a small element of whoever rolls highest has better rewards which allow them to build more buildings. There are thankfully though a few mechanisms to help those who are lagging behind a little, such as an extra die for having the least buildings at the start of the year. I went for building up two rows of high scoring religious buildings which were great for victory points and defensive structures that allowed me to combat the invading armies at the end of this year. This constant scoring of victory points allowed me to build up a small but important lead. James pushed me close whilst Sarah was scoring well on the small victory point bonuses. The game ended with myself winning on 34 points, James one point behind and Sarah on 28 points. Sarah needed a few more turns for the bonuses to pay out more. I rather enjoyed this one and would play again with the expansions which I gather improve the base game a lot.

At the start of the evening there was also a round of Mamma Mia! and then a game of Good Cop Bad Cop with the Good Cop Bad Cop: Undercover expansion. The first time I played the expansion the cover mechanism didn't really make sense, it protects an identity card and in my first game of it a few weeks ago it didn't move. It turns out that the cover card moves to a new card every time you are investigated which then opens the game up a lot more. The expansion played a lot better this time because of it. I started as the Kingpin but Gareth swapped my Kingpin for Raj's Honest cop turning me into an Honest Cop. That just left Gareth, an exposed Philip and myself as honest cops in a sea of corruption. It wasn't long before Phil and I shot dead and all guns were turned on Gareth.  

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

This town ain't big enough for the 2-5 in 60-90 mins of us

Contributor: David

Myself, Tom, James B, Raj (new one), Philippe and someone else started the evening with Good Cop Bad Cop and its expansion Good Cop Bad Cop: Undercover.

We worked out fairly quickly that Philippe was the Kingpin. I had to convince Tom that I was an honest cop before as he had turned a gun on me and thankfully he believed me as we then set about turning our weapons on Philippe. There wasn't much Philippe could do as it was four against two.

The expansion added a cover that allows to protect one of your identity cards, this didn't seem to add much other than to slow down the investigation and force players to turn guns on each other just to find out who was who.

Magnus, Karolina, myself, James B and Raj (new one) made three valiant attempts at surviving The Grizzled. The last time I played with Magnus and Karolina we came within one mission of surviving the horrors of the First World War. This time however we didn't stand a chance, we failed almost every mission and watched as our morale dropped. It didn't help that our leaders were selfish, bloodthirsty and at one point mute! It's a lovely game, a very tight co-op with almost no room for mistakes, one trauma too many and it can signal the end of the game. I'm not often a fan of co-ops but this is probably my favourite one I've played, just hard enough and doesn't take too long.

In between games we played a few games of Pinguin-Party. There's not much to say about this other than someone always turns into an arsehole and plays a card that breaks the pyramid for everyone else. I was that arsehole at least once!

There was also a game of Dice Town with myself, Tom, James B, Raj (new one), Magnus and Karolina. I spent most of the game rolling nines that activated the gold mine. I deviated from this strategy a little by rolling Tens and gaining money from the bank.

The other players meanwhile were being a bit more adventurous by fighting over the Sheriff, gaining items from the general store and winning the favour of the girls. Magnus made the winning move by stealing from Tom on the last turn and stealing his highest victory point card which helped propel me to victory. My slow and steady collection of gold and money was enough to see off the other players. A fun little dice game.

To end the evening was a game of Pi mal Pflaumen, or the Plum game. A trick taking game where you build sets of fruit. The theme is a bit pasted on but it has beautiful artwork. I can't remember much of what happened only that Karolina stole from me a couple of times as I was working my slowly to last place. I believe Karolina then won by a single point over Magnus with Tom and James some way behind them.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Having a right El Grande time of it.

Contributor: David

Paul kindly offered to host a game of El Grande as I had shown an interest in playing and hadn't played before. Philip was also keen to jump in and just as we were setting up both James B and Alex jumped in to make it five.

An area control game set in medieval Spain with plenty of decision making. My starting position was right in the centre of the map in 'New Castile' which proved to be the breaking and then making of my game. By the first scoring round I had suffered quite badly from the action cards that the other players were all scoring nicely from, such as 'The Four/Five regions all score'. I was already about 30 points behind and it looked like I would struggle not to come last let alone win. However that proved to be a bit of a turning point for me and I managed to turn it around by controlling only one territory of 'New Castile'.

The King was resident as well as my Grande and I utilised some of the action cards such as 'score any region' to start the long catch up. Alex meanwhile sped into an early lead but had used most of his high and low power cards whilst Paul wasn't far behind and managed to get a couple of his power cards back. By the 2nd scoring round I was back in the pack. Everyone else was spreading their caballeros across multiple regions whilst I decided to continue to just control 'New Castile'. That one region along with the bonuses from the King and my Grande as well as the occasional tower scoring was enough to propel me back into contention.

By the time it came to the final scoring round I had pushed into and taken control of Philip's Grande region as well as push Paul close in one of his regions. It wasn't to be though as I just fell short on the last round. The game ended with Paul on 110, Alex on 99, myself on 97, James B on 95 and Philip on 93. Paul scored consistently well on every round as well as scoring well with the tower and action cards. I was quite pleased I managed to close the gap after a terrible first three turns. It's a truly great game and it's nice to see there are still classics I haven't played yet so thanks to Paul for hosting a game.

After that Philip, Paul, TomToo and I moved onto Greed. I didn't like this the first time I played but really enjoyed it this time around probably because I figured out how to play it and how to rack up the combos and bonuses. This time I went for a strategy of playing all thugs knowing I had a card I was saving for the last turn that made all other players discard 10k per thug I had. So whilst everyone else was working on building up holdings and money I went for playing as many thugs as possible as well as score from any combos.

I had also played a few action cards that gave me a big money boost before I hit the others with the minus 60k for my six thugs. This was just enough to hand me the win with Paul second, TomToo third and Philip just behind. Now I 'get it' this would be something I would happily play more of.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Tonight at 8pm it's Gardens and Guillotines, only on IBG - The Gamers Channel

Contributors: Daniel, David

I've been struggling for some time now, maybe as much as a whole year, to find a genuinely popular new game, one that isn't tired and derivative and which can survive more than one or two outings at the club. I don't think it's just me either as we've reverted to playing some old classics for many months now, something which is great to see but which also highlights the opinion I've held for a while now - which is that the current state of game design is lacking in innovation and is stuck in a lazy rut of retreading stale old ground, with poor gatekeeping and kickstarter hype fuelling the lowering of standards and a celebration of mediocrity. Some people stand aghast at this point of view, but it bears out with the only games that have stuck around being filler material like Happy Salmon, Karuba, and Codenames.

Last night however was a pleasant change with two new games that were good enough to hit the table multiple times in the same night (although one of these is far from being a new design, despite certainly being new to the club).

The Networks bucks the trend of unpolished Kickstarter folly and delivers a truly original and, thankfully above all else, fun experience. We liked it so much that we wanted to play it again, with James stepping in for Dani after he had to leave early. I personally liked it so much that I turned up late having already played it with the family before leaving and played it again solo when I got home - I don't think I've ever played a game four times in one day before

Players are in charge of some fairly awful TV stations, putting out public access shows that literally no-one is watching, but have also lucked into a big chunk of cash that they can invest in climbing up the ratings. Viewers are encouraged to tune in by commissioning better shows, hiring actors/personalities, and signing up advertising deals to fund everything. The simple goal of a straight VP race for viewer numbers allows room for the game to breathe - there is no points salad or conditional scoring rules here, just a focus on making your primetime schedule as crammed full of awesomely exciting shows as possible.

There are some neat ideas that bring the setting to life. Shows age each season they run, mostly bringing in fewer and fewer viewers until they end up being cancelled and going into re-runs, although there are some that become more popular from a slow start. The cards in the game are filled with amusing media references, with all of the shows being parodies of existing or recent televisual fare (albeit with a strong American lean so quite a few of them remained mystifying to us), and this is also tied in to the mechanics. For example, the show that parodies South Park is one of those that gains bigger audiences over time through word of mouth, and you are also encouraged to shape your network into a genre station by commissioning shows of a similar type (e.g. becoming the equivalent of the Comedy Channel).

The addition of 'network cards', which are a mix of one-off bonuses and special abilities that allow you to attract extra viewers through cash investments, keeps the game hopping into unpredictable areas without fundamentally imbalancing anything. There are different varieties of these cards that are clearly marked so you can easily take out the more complicated or take-that style cards, which makes it easy to tune the game for e.g. family play.

Gameplay is packed full with those frustrating moments where you can't quite do everything you want to do, particularly when your opponents are beating you to signing up that hot new talent while you were busy locked in contract negotiations with a new sponsor, so you have to prioritise well and keep your options open. Casting a shadow over all of this is the need to 'drop and budget' at the close of the season, and the longer you wait to do this the less cash you are likely to receive; there is a timing pressure on whether you risk staying in for another round in the hope of getting just one more thing done, or you drop out now giving more immediate options to your opponents but giving them a harder start to the next season.

There are criticisms to be made. There is a bit of fiddlyness in tracking the age of shows and in both our games there were moments where the tokens weren't moved or were knocked around. Sometimes the wealth of options available at decision points can grind the game to a halt, and end of season scoring can be a slow process the first few times you do it; however there is a neat scoring track on each player board which means you can work out your score for the round as soon as you drop out, and which is a clever little fix for downtime being both a preventative measure as well as something to do during the slower moments. There is also a lack of direct interaction beyond weighing up the risk of what is likely to disappear from the marketplace between your turns, but talent being snapped up by whoever gets in first kind of works in line with the theme. It's also the kind of game where you have to constantly plan your alternative options as you will undoubtedly have many moments where you are completely stymied by your opponents, and this is certainly not to everybodies taste.

Overall though, genuinely a great game that I'm very happy with.

The other new but not new new game that we had on the table was a veritable antique, a pre-war copy of Plus and Minus. I used to play this with my flatmate donkeys years ago and was delighted to recently pick up a copy of my own that was complete and in good condition, so I knew what to expect but was keen to find out how it would go down at IBG.

This exceptionally clever card game starts from a simple premise: you have four pawns that you need to move from zero to twenty five by playing numbered cards, and each time you play a card you add it to the one that was previously played by your preceding opponent. If you go over twenty five then you bust back to zero, and you score the position of your pawns at the end of the rubber with ones on the base worth minus twenty and ones at home doubling up to fifty points each.

Where it becomes so engaging is that the cards are irregularly numbered, with a few negative ones included for good measure, so it becomes a highly strategic game where you try to land your pawns into positions where you can use the preceding players likely card plays to bounce straight into the home positions. This requires careful management of your hand of cards as you want to keep your options as open as possible whilst they dwindle away, and of course your opponents will insist on playing the most inconvenient cards possible. I'm trying to think of a modern comparison as a frame of reference, and I guess that it's a bit like Arboretum except simpler, much more enjoyable to play, and not bogged down by burying all the fun under a big mound of trying to be clever.

Plus and Minus is simply brilliant. Quite frankly, there is more interesting gameplay in this charming oddity than pretty much anything I have played in the last twelve months. As the box says, you will most certainly be playing PM until the AM


First up was Felix: The Cat in the Sack with James, James B, myself, Gareth and Sarah. Second time I've played it at the club but in the intervening time I'd completely forgotten how to play. Everyone throws a card into the pot and then players bid on the pot, when a player passes then one more card is revealed. This slow drip of information will tell you whether you're bidding on a great set of cards or about to be screwed. It's all about knowing when to jump out or stay in. Nice enough filler, it's neither superb nor is it terrible, it does what you want most fillers to do. Gareth won this by a single point over Sarah.After James B, 

Phil and I played Alhambra from the big box using three modules from Alhambra: The City Gates expansion. We used Characters, Camps and City Gates. I would say Alhambra: The City Gates is probably the best expansion in the box whereas many of the other expansions and modules are take it or leave it. Characters add new abilities that players can bid on, City Gates allow you a bit more freedom in your Palace layout and the Camps reward certain Palace layout. Phil won with 120 something, I was second about 10 points behind and then James B was about 30 behind. I scored incredibly well on my last round but it was the first scoring round where I lost it. It came out a few turns too early for me and then I was playing catch up. Phil scored nicely on the bonus Camp points and came second on the Tower and Garden tiles which was enough to keep him ahead.

To end the evening was Guillotine sans "Callous Guards". I don't really mind the card although I can see why it is recommended to play without it. It does stop the game from being played the way it's meant to be played. Players play a card to affect the line and then take a noble. If you remove the play a card to affect the line aspect then all you have left is pick up a card which isn't much of a game. If someone plays it in the first day then it's quite feasible for it to remain out for the rest of the game. I personally think its power can be reduced by saying it is discarded at the end of a day. That way it can still be used but won't ruin the entire game. Anyway, Phil won this one with a massive haul of nobles, I came a little way behind with James B bringing up the rear.