A truncated blog this month as our venue is not available over the party season so only two official club nights to report. As a consolation we have our regular end of year list where we muse on the most and least enjoyable games that were new to us this past year. Feel free to add your own thoughts or simply shout abuse from the sidelines.
Roll on 2017!
Wednesday 7th December
Contributors: Jon, David
Fabled Fruit started off my evening, this time as a 5 player experience with Jon, Phil, TomToo, David and John B involved. We're now into the second deck of location cards, and the game continues to evolve at a pleasantly serene pace. The thieving monkey gets used frequently, and there is still the incentive to have more rather than less cards in hand. In this game, Tomtoo was the first to 3 fabled juices, but it was only David's random moving of the monkey in his last turn which prevented Jon from equalling his feat.
Flamme Rouge was next up, with John B and Tong joining Jon. In a shock IBG first, Jon had to correct a John rules misunderstanding (if you run out of cards, you re-shuffle your deck and start again). Apparently John and Tong had both experienced games where it was common for players to run out of cards. When James reads this he will be yelling at the screen - "You see - I told you so!!!" - in an excited, high-pitched voice. No James - this only proves that there are other players who are as bad as you at this game...
What a different game this turned out to be! Mainly due to John and Tong playing very low cards at the beginning, Jon's rouleur found himself in a single rider breakaway, with 3 hills in between himself and the distant finish line. The beauty of the 3-player game is that the field can find itself stretched out a bit more, leading to exhaustion being picked up by more riders and giving a breakaway a slightly greater chance of success. And this is what happened - Jon's rouleur regularly played high cards to keep himself away from the peloton, and as he approached the crest of the final hill, he was still just ahead. A constant accumulation of exhaustion cards had meant that his deck was now fatter than a whale omelette, but the timely appearance of a '7' card at the foot of the final descent was enough to push him over the line, prior to collapsing from complete exhaustion. A start-to-finish win that gives hope to breakaways everywhere...
Power Grid: The Card Game was up next for Tong, John and Jon. This was John's first experience of the card game version of Power Grid, and despite having an impressive array of efficient Eco-plants, he didn't have enough large capacity plants to challenge for the win. Last time Tong played this, he won by a single electro, having being tied on power plant points and money bonus points. And this time? Exactly the same result... 1 lousy electro.
Still a brilliant game - all the PG tension without so much maths and in half the time. Nice.
Kingdomino was the final offering of the night for Jon, TomToo and Phil. This is a light family game, that plays quickly but still has some interesting decisions and spatial skill involved. Jon and Tom's kingdoms were beautifully ordered and symmetrical and received the appropriate end-game bonuses. Phil's was a little more eccentric, and despite a large and valuable forest, his final score was less impressive. Jon's small collection of stone buildings turned out to be the crucial factor, scoring 18 points for 3 tiles and winning the game by a comfortable margin. There's a lot worse ways to spend 20 minutes - as some of us at IBG have had the misfortune to experience from time to time...
To start the evening Phil and I managed to get a round of Lost Cities in before TomToo turned up. I played, as I always do, incredibly conservatively in the hope that my opponent takes risks which then don't pay off. This was the case again as Phil took a few of these risks by starting expeditions with handshakes only for the higher numbers to turn up in my hand. The round ended with myself on 18 and Phil on 0.
When more people turned up we played a five player game of Fabled Fruit which Jon has covered above. Although I blame the monkey rather than myself for stopping Jon tying with TomToo
After that TomToo, myself and Phil then split off to play Black Orchestra. A co-op game where players are part of the assassination plot to kill Hitler. Each player chooses a character from history with different special abilities and then work their way around Germany planning numerous different plots in an effort to kill Hitler. At the end of each round an event is drawn that swings the game either in your favour or Hitlers. These events are also tied to historical events such as Stalingrad, the fall of Norway and Hess fleeing to Scotland. We started by carrying out a Coup d'état in Berlin, this was an Abwehr (German military intelligence organisation) plot so it was down to my character to carry it out. We had planned this meticulously, Hitler wasn't too powerful and we had the odds in our favour. I only needed to roll three successes on six dice....I rolled two. Of course after this failed attempt on Hitler's life I was arrested and the plot unravelled.
It took us a while longer to reach the point where we were ready to strike again, this time the plan was poison gas. Hitler had moved into his fortified bunker but I wasn't to be deterred as it fell to me again to carry out the deed. This time I needed four successes in six dice....I rolled one. Again the clamp down came, we were all arrested after a Gestapo raid (or three) and it took us too long to escape from prison. By the time we had formulated the last plot we had run out of time. Hitler had us all arrested and executed. We came close, especially at the beginning but then we were hit by a series of set backs that cost us too much time.
It's a great game with a compelling theme, the game seems to know when you're about to strike and throw things at you to stop you. I really liked the way the real historical events worked as well, Hitler moving around the country to attend meetings and rallies as well as his power rating increasing and decreasing based on history. Would happily play again.
Wednesday 14th December
Twas the last IBG night of 2016 :sniff: but we made the most of it with two tables on the go and a variety of games in play.
Gareth, John (no the other one), Alex and Phil were caught up in a longer than expected game of Artificium, one of those where there is forever always "just five more minutes!" to go. In the meantime Tomtoo, David, and James II joined me for an obscure and little known cycling game that hit the table through unanimous assent.
We used the Milano track which has three long straights interspersed with two steep hills that both have a very short downhill slope - so positioning and timing were absolutely crucial. James tried to make an early break for it, shooting ahead with his Sprinteur while the rest of us trailed in a tight pack that kept blocking some of the back riders from fully using all their movement. The first hill hit hard as the Peloton stretched out thin and quickly caught up to James trailblazer but, unfortunately for his tiring legs, remained in his slipstream.
In the second straight both David and Tom tried to break away. Although I decided to be more restrained with my Sprinteur I eventually caved in to peer pressure and also pedalled hard to catch up - this would ultimately be a big error as the pack once again juddered to a halt at the next hill and my Sprinteur was knackered with exhaustion cards from being a loose link in the approach. As a result I slowly merged back into the pack and was one sprint card short to boot. After struggling over the crest of the hill I was on a losing streak with only one decent card buried amongst fistfulls of angry red ones. Fortunately my Rouleur was faring a little better and powered over the hill and into the midst of the leaders as if it were a mere bump in the road.
Coming into the home straight saw my Rouleur tussling for the lead with David and Tom’s Sprinteurs. I knew that they both still had a big nine card somewhere in their decks and when my trusty course-man came within biting distance of the line with a guaranteed draw of a six card in the following round the only thing that could stop him sailing into victory would be if Tom managed to draw his nine. He shuffled and drew and then attempted to pull his poker face, at which point the rub was in. Cards were revealed and his Sprinteur elegantly swerved around the waiting line and slid just past the post to claim the win.
We then busied ourselves with a few rounds of Rhino Hero to the exhortations of “just five more minutes!” from the Artificium table, and after about twenty minutes of this gave up and opened up the next game. The choice this time was 51st State Master Set, Ignacy Trzewiczeks third attempt at getting his card-comboing empire-building resource-swapping opus just right (or fourth if you count the expansion to the original game).
Out of the two expansion decks in the box I had already mixed in the Winter one which is geared to a more friendly game of building and sharing resources. As a result there was no aggression between us, not even a single raised building, with the only competition being who would first send their workers into the most favourable open production zones. Both David and James broke away early in the scoring with nice setups that were regularly churning a couple of VPs per round, however a turning point came in the third round where I managed to chain a load of cards together that saw my score rapidly creep up from single digits up to just a single point shy of hitting the game-ending target of twenty five. We went in to the fourth round knowing that it would be the last, however with no cards left in hand and having gained most of my points through upgrading buildings rather than spreading further out, it was by no means a done deal.
James continued to grow his sprawling empire through a huge production of settlement tokens and I believe that he gained the most points from tableau size at the end. Tom also started to expand at a rapid rate, having found a good mix of card draws and tokens, whereas I continued to focus on banging out VP scoring actions then upgrading the now useless building. David found himself caught out in a dwindling spiral as he had neglected to secure enough bricks to begin upgrading and so kept running out of things to do and dropped out for an early bath. At the final counting Tom managed to get within touching distance and there were only three or four points in it at the end, a close and tense race to the finish. I definitely think that this is a marked improvement on previous versions (including IS) as it is much better balanced. I’m looking forward to trying the more aggressive expansion deck next time, which should ramp up the interaction and add a whole new dimension with much more incentive for tableau razing.
As the other table were still playing at this point - I think they may have changed game by then, but given that we were still hearing the cry of “just five more minutes!” I have no real idea what was going on – Tom suggested we try Champions of Midgard, a game that I’ve heard a lot of positive things about and which sits in a very similar vein to Lords of Waterdeep but with more interesting and challenging decisions to be made.
Out on the table it looks just as you would expect, a straightforward worker placement with places to grab food and wood, or to recruit warriors in the form of three different flavours of dice. What gives it that extra little shine is that there are a variety of mythical monsters for your happy Vikings to brutally drive into extinction, and doing so involves three different approaches and a certain amount of risk-taking along the way. Taking on the Mountain Trolls is a necessity to avoid receiving shame and a happy victor gets to heap more misery on a chosen opponent for their cowardice in failing to defend the realm. Alternatively, there are slightly more dangerous gold hoarding beasties that can be chased down – less opportunity for manipulating the scoring this way, but that gold does come in useful in the short term…
The third and most dangerous monster-bashing missions, and appropriately the ones with the greatest reward, involve acquiring a longship and loading it with provisions for a long mission overseas. It isn’t something you can do rashly as there are often perils along the way, but it can also be vital to claim a particular mission quickly before someone else does. This adds a really interesting edge of pressure to what would otherwise be a simple and procedural exercise in grabbing resources and spending them on VPs.
There are other things thrown into the mix too, almost too many of them in fact, and as a result I found the first couple of turns really challenging to find a way in to the game. After a while I could start to see the connections and therefore really begin to take an active part, but those first few opaque minutes weren’t promising – I’m glad I stuck with it though as it was good fun to play in the end. It will be interesting to see how much more the inevitable pending expansion adds; my guess is that it will push it over the edge, although there is a small random element in the setup that can shape the game in different ways that may well accommodate more and varied options that will not always be relevant in every game.
In our particular saga on Wednesday night Tom set himself up as merchant king, although it was more like a thieving bastard as his setup allowed him to constantly swipe all the goodies that were arriving at the harbour without having to pay for them. James, meanwhile, painted a huge target on his back by going monster slaying which put him into the lead, and also by creating early game enmities that would later come back to haunt him. I was having difficulty figuring out just what the heck I should be doing and so harvesting resources in preparation for the hope that things would somehow click for me sooner or later. I also felt the impact of the random element with a totally fruitless hunting expedition, i.e. a wasted action in a game with predictably limited opportunities. Tom then moved onto Troll-slaying, piling shame upon James for abandoning his people to go swanning off to fancy forrin’ places. I put my horde of resources to good use by buying my own private boat and used it to cut down not only a couple of the smaller foe (I was aiming for low hanging fruit in order to get some bonus scores) but also a deadly Kraken along the way – all in a days work for your friendly neighbourhood Viking berserker.
As our halls filled up with bold warriors and our store rooms bulged with produce the game turned heavily toward questing. Leaving Tom and James to squabble over who would get to take a shot at the most glorious expeditions, I instead turned my attention to homeland security and cut a few trolls and beasties down to size. James had a bit of a disaster in the final round by botching every single one of his dice rolls – as he had an ability to add extra hits to successful rolls he had stretched himself a bit thin and paid the price when his fighters fell in quick succession. My late start and slow pace paid dividends in the end, with Tom not too far behind yet still welcome to a seat at our dining table in Valhalla. James, meanwhile, would likely end up in the kitchen on the back of this performance
If this had turned up a few weeks earlier and I had another handful of games then it might just have snuck on to the back end of my best of list for this year. Play it again please Tommy!