Wednesday, 10 December 2014

The Mystery of the Mysteriumless Evening

This is almost the only Wednesday in the year when I’m guaranteed not to attend the London Apprentice and play games, as Big Tree Night in Shepperton calls for some local participation, so along for some carol singing and street food I went leaving the fun of board games to everyone else.

Of course it gives the games players that did turn up the chance to write their own reports, but when they don’t exercise this right I’m left with no option but to create fiction.

I’ll include all the facts I’ve been given and employ my piecing together skills, finely honed from last week’s Mysterium, to fill in the blanks. Forgive me if I’m a little off the mark. Make up your own minds what was made up.

Players: Neil, Tom, Tom II, Jim, Gareth, Arturo, Philip, Jon, Andy, James and Natasha


In preparation for building stately gardens of King Ludwig later, people were tending their own garden patch with Tom’s floral filler. As everyone gathered for the evening, flowers fell out of the sky with the players attempting to use them to their advantage. Tom used the discard pile to assemble a colourful garland which he presented to the eventual winner (name withheld) who wore them proudly for the rest of the evening, only for Tom to have to wrestle them from him at the end of the night so that he could re-box them to take home.

St Petersburg

Tom managed to get his two games to the table in quick succession, with the new edition of St Petersburg hitting the green baize twice. A big hit in the early days of designer games, it’s been dusted down, expanded to take five people and includes a new phase. Once the original rules had been explained to those that hadn’t played previously and the new rules to everyone, two games ensued.

The first was a battle between Philips seemingly random strategy and Tom’s ‘It’s my new game’ keenness, with Philip proving not to be so random and taking the honours with lots of orange cards.

The second was played with a little more known about the new phase, and so Natasha battled with Andy for victory. It ended up being a dead heat, a wholly unsatisfactory result for Natasha who ‘did a Jon’ and delved into the rule book to unearth a rule that simply wash;t there in the first time of reading, but that no one could argue against and therefore he took the game, if not the award for good grace.

Takamatsu (thank you Neil)

With no Paul to set up Tom II, Jim or myself I took the glory on of king making. Takamatsu with three isn't quite as chaotic as it is with five. In fact we had two clusters of samurai dragging each other around the board with seven or eight room movements becoming usual.

As tutor I let the boys see how the game works by taking a couple of early home runs and quickly reached a score 10, half way to victory! Jim cottoned on pretty quickly despite me stuffing him with a -2 card and was hot on my heels.

As frequently happens when you're nearing old age you start working no end of plans out based on your usual colour of preference, purple. Except that Tom II was playing that, except that I forgot that too and thought I was stymieing Jim who I believed was scoring well by now. Oh dear!

As it was the boys picked up all five 'blind' scoring cards between them and so I knew that I had to push on. Unfortunately, by this time the samurai were getting too well connected and being able to move them where you wish became very tricky. I did manage to get another -2 score card into the arms of Tom II, once I'd realised that he was playing purple although we then realised he was already on 15 points and had won the game the round earlier. Well played sir!

Castles of Mad King Ludwig (thanks Jon)

Jon was late arriving due to attending his daughter's Christmas play, but managed to reach the London Apprentice just in time to take a place at this recently popular game. It was new to him and Tom II, but Neil's patient and methodical rules explanation helped them get started. Despite the game appearing to be quite complicated with lots of moving parts, once you get going it's really quite straightforward.

The details of the game are lost to the mists of time, but the highlights were:
- Jim putting together some very impressive combos of rooms, allowing him to build several in a turn
- Tom building a highly compact castle, that was probably very efficient to live in
- Neil moaning that Jon was constantly taking the rooms that he wanted
- Jon having the ugliest castle ever constructed, and failing to pay attention to any of the scoring bonuses on offer

Once the final scoring had begun, Jim swept into an impressive lead, having scored heavily with the 'downstairs rooms' bonuses. However, to everyone's surprise (including his own) Jon's focus on his personal bonus cards had paid off, scoring a large amount for square rooms, large square rooms, and sleeping rooms, which allowed him to pip Tom by a few points for the victory.
The game finished in 90 minutes, and was a really enjoyable experience. This could well see a few more plays at IBG in the future....

Scores: Jon 108, Jim 100, Tom 96, Neil 78

Zhanguo (thank you James)

Here’s a photo. Surely enough for you Mysterium fans to gets everything you need. Well, it’d better be - it came to me in my sleep and it’s all I’ve got. What you can’t see from the electronic version is the greasy sweet potato fry finger prints that came on the original, leaving me to suspect that James has already doctored the evidence, but I’ve lost my password to the master police database so I just can’t prove it.

Macho Koro

Gareth, Jim, Tom II and Jon decided that Machi Koro was just about the right size to take them to 11 o’clock. Jon explained the new ’10 card’ rules which everyone thoroughly approved of, as the new players did the game - how can you not. Jon attempted to win using a one dice strategy, but Tom II and his cheese factories won the day.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

The mystery of the mysterious mysts of Mysterium (does not contain actual mists)

(Title plagiarised from Dan).

Back on blog duty for December, I had some ideas for what to write, but the way the evening panned out last Wednesday got me thinking along different lines, so I’ll reserve those thought for another week in December and follow an indulgent diversion.

The overriding flavour of the evening was one new and highly original game: Mysterium, which probably broke records for the number of plays on it’s first outing as it was brought to the table four times during the evening and one of our number seemed to enjoy it so much that he played it every time. The feedback from around the room was overwhelmingly positive with claims that it’d go down as the hit of the year.

I was on the other side of the the room whilst the first two plays happened and although I was very much enjoying my games, it was impossible not to get the buzz of excitement from the Mysterium table and did indeed manage to get a game in before being thrown out of the pub.

So what was it that caused such a stir?

James, the games owner had posted earlier on our on-line forum with the claim that his new game was supposed to be like a cross between Dixit and Cluedo. Genius. Which board game player could fail to be intrigued by such a thing. Dixit when it was released, was extremely popular at IBG, not to mention winning the Spiel des Jahres and receiving some high plaudits for both the gameplay and the artwork, and maybe more importantly the way the artwork was such a crucial part of the game - without it, Dixit just would’t be. And Cluedo is a game that I don’t think has ever made it onto a London Apprentice table, but that everyone knows and most remember fondly from their childhood. There can’t be many board gamers that don’t get turned on by the idea of solving a murder, even if the mechanisms of Cluedo are very dated.

So a combination of the two? Such completely different games, both with their own level of popularity. Bringing them together is a hugely original idea and the game gets a massive tick in the originality box. And in these halcyon days of board game design where there are so many new titles (I heard that over new 700 games were released at Essen this year), anything original is more and more difficult to come across, so Mysterium is set apart.

So, okay, it’s original, but what else is there to it?

Well, the theme is super strong and really well woven into the play. It’s difficult to not imagine oneself in a mansion, with a murder having taken place and with images flashing into your head of possible suspects. See Dan’s writeup below to get a better flavour.

And this is partly due to the artwork. Dixit had superb art, which not only looked good but was rich in the themes each picture combined. At first look, Mysterium has equally high quality artwork, which supports the theme fully and creates an atmosphere for the game to be played.

The gameplay is original too. Narrowing down your guess on the guilty party, place and weapon by looking at these cards.

And by the end of the evening, all ten attendees had played the game, most of whom were raving about it, probably more than any title I’ve seen unveiled.

So it’s created a splash on week one, let’s see if it also passes the test of time over the next few weeks by being played week after week in the same way that Agricola and Trains are.

Personally, whilst I enjoyed the game, I have doubts over it’s sustainability as I’m not sure the gameplay has enough to it, but I think that it’s a cracking theme with awesome artwork, so I hope I’m wrong.

Players fr the evening: James, Dan, Chris, Jon, Noel. Tom II, Jim, Arturo, Tonio, Paul

Mysterium (who else could have written this but Dan - many thanks)

Look there, high up on that hill by the stream that winds its way down into the village proper, the creepy looking house that has fallen into disrepair? The one that is almost falling to pieces, it has remained empty for many years as nobody is prepared to stay for more than a handful of days. They say that there was once a horrible murder in that house and that the murderer was never identified. A ghost walks the halls of that house, they say, and gives terrible and confusing dreams to any who will brave the night. Nobody has lived in that house for long and, eventually, nobody lived there at all.

Although benign in nature, the ghost will never rest easy until the truth about the murder has been revealed. The current owner of the land has humoured you, a group of self-declared psychic investigators, with just one week to amuse yourselves in that creepy old place. While you are there you hear doors slam shut in distant rooms, unusual smells assault your senses, and a prickly, crawling sensation floods over your skin when you enter certain parts of the building. At night, you hear the wind whisper half-heard snatches of words, or is it just your imagination? Knowing what you know about the other side there is clearly more to this than the cold weather whistling through the rickety broken patches in the walls; something – someone – is trying to break through the veil, to tell you things that are important, vital things that only you are able to successfully articulate.

You have no fear, and sleep soundly, experiencing strange and vivid dreams. When you wake, you discover that your fellow investigators have also had a similarly unusual night. As you walk around the building discussing how best to interpret your dreams, the things that you see remind you of half remembered moments from your night time visions. Was the ghostly presence trying to tell you something about this or that particular room? Is it the colours that are important to interpret, or the shapes, maybe a recurring object is the key?

The group of you congregate in the drawing room and spread out the case notes of the murder on a big table. There are suspects, fingered by the police who initially investigated the terrible crime, all of whom were cleared on various technicalities but had both the motive and the opportunity to be the killer. Something tugs at the back of your mind, an unconscious and ethereal finger pointing toward the files in one corner of the table. But who exactly is the finger of blame pointing at? None of you can be totally sure at this stage, so you each make your choice of who you believe the ghost is trying to identify as the murderer before retiring for the evening.

Tonight, you will have another dream.

Maybe it will be so vivid that you will be sure of who you think the murderer was, and can begin to focus on the where and the how.

Maybe it will simply involve more confusion, leading you to change your mind on your initial choice.

This pattern will continue until all of you start to share the same dream, and can all agree decisively on what happened on that fateful night long ago, allowing the tortured spirit to finally be at rest.

Or maybe your time will run out, the hauntings will continue, and you will all return to your normal lives, ridiculed, dejected, and exposed as frauds.

Seven days is all you have to solve the case, ending the mystery, and once again bringing peace to this house.


Our investigators tried four times in a row, haunted by a different ghost each time. The first time around we were haunted by James and unable to complete any of our initial investigations and were sent packing with a sneer and cries of being a bunch of psychic conmen.

The second attempt was better, with all the investigators succeeding in completing their initial predictions despite my best attempts to confuse the heck out of them, however time ran out on formally identifying the true circumstances of the murder. All we managed to do was to stir the pot of conspiracies surrounding the crime. Noel was particularly good at guessing correctly the first time on each of his cards.

Third chance was better still, and we even had our first shared dream delivered by Tom Too. However, we were unable to successfully determine the murderer on our last night in the house, so close and yet so far, but at least we headed home with our reputations mostly intact.

On the fourth attempt, ghostly Jim rushed things along as closing time at the bar was imminent. It seemed to help as we had our first success of the evening, correctly closing the case on Day 6. I guess we just sat in the garden and drank beer all day Sunday then.

Players: erm, just about everybody at one point I think? James, Daniel, Paul, Jon, Noel, Tom Too, Jim, Chris, Tonio, forgive me if I missed anyone out. Our ghosts with the mosts were James (Rentaghost), Daniel (Ghost in the Shell), Tom Too (The ghost of badly wrapped Christmas presents), and Jim (Ghostrider, but not from the first film which was a bit rubbish. Actually, come to think of it, the second one wasn't much good either)

Machi Koro (thank you Jon for the writeup)

Paul and Jon were looking for a quick 2-player game, and as Jon had recently bought an English copy of the game, it seemed like a good choice. This was played with the 10 card variant, which basically means that the entire deck is shuffled together, and then cards are revealed until 10 unique piles are created. This means that not all the types of cards will be out at the same time, making players adjust their strategies accordingly.

Paul picked up an early lead, looking good for the win by rolling several 4's on the trot to make good use of his convenience stores, whilst Jon appeared to be resigned to rolling useless 6's, which wasn't making the best use of his myriad bakeries. However, when Paul moved to 2 dice to try to benefit from his Cheese Factories, Jon picked up a couple of Family Restaurants which let him steal some of Paul's wealth on a roll of 9 or 10. This allowed him to build the Shopping Mall which gave him a big bonus for his bakeries which finally started to pay off.

As always, the game rushes to a finale once the players have some big-scoring buildings, and it was Jon who rolled in the most cash and built his 4th building first.

This game definitely works better with the 10-card variant, and with the Harbour expansion coming out soon (which apparently includes this variant as standard), Machi Koro may be due an IBG resurgence.

Scores: Jon won, Paul 2 buildings

Trains: Rising Sun (thanks to Tom II for his first session report)

Second game and already writing a session report! I don't even know what I was doing! I thought I could escape doing these reports for a while longer, but since I won, I was given the "privilege" of writing it. I will try to do my best!

Me (Tom II), Jon, Paul and Noel sat down and we set up the board and cards and were ready to go!

It started with me and Paul very close together with Noel in the corner and Jon at the top of the map.

Most of us started in a familiar fashion. Me and Paul ended up sharing a lot of land with Noel completely safe in the corner, amassing points no one could take from him. Jon however, started in the mountains, building up his deck with cards, refusing to build tracks.

As the game progressed on from starting tactic of collecting the trains for coins to buy other trains, I could see Jon gathering the yellow (point) cards and Noel was gathering his station army in the corner. Me and Paul were playing quite similarly and still taking each others land with tracks, which usually this would of caused a lot of waste, but due to some card that negated the extra waste (Ed: The Viaduct - no extra cost for building on cities), we were both safe... for now.

After doing this for a while I managed to pull ahead and gather the two completed train paths for extra points! Jon had also moved from the mountains and started moving into Cities for points. It was a different tactic that I hadn't seen, (apparently similar to Noel’s usual) which was not to play on the board much at all. It was all about hoarding the Yellow point cards, and with skyscrapers on the table, Thats a lot of points to be hoarding!

Mid way through, Paul decided it was time to buy a politician, a card that makes every player pass a card to their right, which didn't work most of the time and people were mainly passing waste to one another, however me and Noel managed to ONCE, get a card each that wasn't waste. Maybe it isn't a card you should buy. But what do I know after two plays.

This all continued with us passing waste to one another, Paul building up tracks in the corner and building on cities for points, Noel building stations and stations, Jon collecting cards and points from cities, and me, also building the skyscrapers and building tracks to Noels station land to get some final points, as we all knew the game would end soon.

Noel then decided that he wanted to complete his station army and the game ended. Noel, also having completed a station to station track, looked like he would be way ahead being in several cities all worth 5 points and his millions of stations spread about. It was tense..!

However after calculating the final scores we all ended up very close.

Scores: Tom II 58, Noel 55, Paul 50, Jon 50

I didn't think I would enjoy a game about trains, but after seeing the game out on the table for many weeks beforehand I gave it a go, thinking I was missing something. And I am glad I did. I have to say I really enjoy this game, which surprised me. I really like the combination of a deckbuilder and a board.


Another outing for the dinosaur themed game of guiding your species through the perils of scarce food and completing carnivores.

This week it was our resident vegetarian, who no doubt could’t resist the irony of becoming the main meat eater in the pack. The flavour of the game was that James was the main carnivorous species and therefore he attempted to minimise the communal feeding pool to press hem his competitive advantage. A few attempts were made to take him on, but they largely failed, so other players scavenged off his scraps, hid up trees, down burrows, warned their fellow players that James was on the prowl, or they got eaten. And this time round, the meat eater won the day. Next time it’ll be interesting to note how evolution works again as I suspect that the other players will learn and meat will be on the menu for more next time too. Just like what happened in the real world all those millennia ago.

Scores: James won, Paul, Tom III, Chris all lost

Also played during the evening were Council of Verona and Agricola.

Image from creative commons:

Haunted Mansion II © Andreas Overland

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Time to get the Turkey ready..

So, another missed week by me last week, my attendance record is fast becoming my non-attendance record. Never mind. Here’s what I got told about, many thanks to some new authors this week, fantastic chaps!!

In attendance: Paul, Paul II, Tom II, Tom III, Dan, Arturo, Noel, Philip, John B

Bucket King 3D (thanks Noel)

A simple game brought along by John that involves playing cards in sequence around the table and if you didn’t have a higher card in that colour you had to flick out one of the buckets in your pyramid of 10. Person with the most buckets in their pyramid at the end of the game wins. 

A little bit of thought goes into your pyramid stacking and the direction you send the round when playing first and it didn't outstay its welcome as an enjoyable filler. Paul II was the victor. Noel was first eliminated and Arturo second. 

Castles of Mad King Ludwig (cheers Paul)

Not a week goes past since Essen without this game being played at least once. This week was no exception and by now everyone knew the rules (although John challenged one that we'd been playing since we'd been taught it by our official Essen trainer Neil. Philip looked in the rules book and ended up agreeing with John. I went along with it all). [John was right... I got it badly wrong! ED]

Philip went underground and lived up to his corridor wondering reputation by maxing on corridors. John spread out and seemed to have lots of bug rooms of all shapes. Paul created wonderful gardens looking out in all directions.

Philip edged ahead during normal play, but John and Paul had been completing orange rooms and therefore gaining more bonus point cards only to be revealed on completion of the Castles.

So after the initial scoring, Philip was in the lead. When Paul totted up his bonuses, he overtook that mad pretender Philip, but then when John did the same he leapfrogged everyone and took the crown.

Still a lot of fun, and Paul was delighted not to be trailing a long way behind as he had in his previous castle building attempts.

Scores: John 139, Paul 132, Philip 121
Evolution (many thanks to Paul)

A joint rules explanation by Tom II and John B educated us in the ways we could evolve our dinocreatures to grow, feed, protect ourselves and even turn carniverous and chomp on other players creatures.

This game involves everyone starting with one creature way back when the earth was very young and man had not yet invented the internet. Everyone is dealt several 'ability' cards which, if played in the right way, allow the creatures to evolve into having this ability, which then allows them to do good stuff, like use their long neck to get food more quickly, use their tree climbing ability to scurry off when predators are on the prowl, or indeed use some unstable DNA to spawn more dinocreatures.

Each turn involves gathering at the watering hole for food, and in the initial turns life is good and grub is plentiful. But as time marches inevitably on, food becomes scarce and so each creature needs to develop in order to survive. One way of developing is to turn carnivorous and start to eat other creatures. But in doing so, a meat muncher must be sufficiently bigger than it's pray, so growing very big is a valid defence mechanism, as is growing horns or shells, or the ability to climb or burrow your way our of danger.

To start with only Noel fancied some prime rib, but as the game went on the necessity of having the eat meant that many creatures followed suit.

Philip was quietly bringing in a good number of points each round, and was my favourite to win, but Tom II has used his stock of unstable DNA to create a horde of species which all clocked up points each round and ended up winning comfortably.

A very fun game, with a strong theme and it played six players comfortably within 45 minutes. I suspect this'll be played many times again providing John B brings it. Or James has a copy (or course!) 

Scores: Tom II 55, Philip 46, Paul 40, John B 40, Noel 39, Tom III 39

Trains (cheers Paul II!)

Paul II and Arturo asked Dan to explain a second new game to them. Its just like race for the galaxy fell on newbie deaf ears. After a brief explanation about cards, hands and discards we were off.

Dan led the way going for the top right of the map, Paul II the bottom left which left the unfortunate Arturo stuck in the middle. After a few rounds everyone got how to play and given the newbies were copying Dan initially it was all still to play for.

Dan and Paul II's geographical advantage enabled them to snaffle up more cities and bonuses. Its hard to know what Arturo could have done so possibly a flaw in the game map?

Dan majored on cards which enabled him to recycle trains quicker and was happily buying up bonus cards rather than bigger trains. Paul II got the upgrade cards first and then was regularly able to afford the 8 cost bonus cards. Dan's lack of big trains left him with 7 to spend a few times which ultimately cost the victory as Paul II snuck the win by 1 point.

Approx final scores: Paul II 46, Dan 45, Arturo 25 

San Juan (thanks Arturo!)
Since we played 4 games and that might be too much work for Paul, I am going to help him with one of them: San Juan. In addition, it is the only one he played that night that he was not able to win, so I am glad to review it myself (now you might think I won it, but I am afraid not; see below).

San Juan is the cards game version of his big brother Puerto Rico (or the other way around, who knows). No board, no checkers, but plenty of cards with basically the same: production buildings that produce goods to sell, facilities to help and monuments to get extra VPs.

At the beginning we all had an eye on Dan, who was the only one that had played this game before. He built a carpentry, so Paul did the same. I was not that eager to be original, but with no more carpentries available I decided to concentrate myself on production buildings. Later on I got a card that allowed me to perform really nice prospecting, collecting a lot of cards.

But Paul and Dan were also building their stuff, so even if I decided to end the game by building my 12th facility, Dan scored far more points than us (mainly with a card that gives points based on the amount of production buildings). At the end experience is always a plus. 

So it was a really funny game, easy to learn and containing far more strategy than I expected from a quick cards game.

See u next week there!

Sentinels of the Multiverse (thanks again Paul II)
Dan heroically then explained a third game in one night to Paul II and Arturo. Cooperative games are especially difficult to teach without coaching so special thanks to Dan for cutting us loose.

We were three superheroes fighting just one bad guy. After Dan had patiently explained each of the twenty available options we ignorantly picked the ones with the coolest name / picture!

Arturo had a big gun, Dan a box of tricks and Paul II good armour to soak up damage. So by pure chance a very good mix and the bad guy (and the multiple minions he summoned) were destroyed with ease.

Jury out to whether this game is excellent or not due to ease of win but I'd like to try facing off against another tougher baddie so definitely a fun game.
Libertalia (cheers again Noel)

Noel, Giant Tom and Normal Height Tom won the polite 'after you' negotiation about who was going to play Libertalia. (we should play Genoa or Chinatown again!) 

Noel had played a number of times before but it was new to the two Toms. The first campaign was fairly close but memorable for Giant Tom's Brute knocking himself out. Noel pushed out into the lead in the 2nd campaign while Giant Tom was again unfortunate when he chose to swap his Spanish soldiers for booty tiles but drew some cursed booty instead. 

Noel had a healthy lead in the 3rd and final campaign and Giant Tom helped him out by deciding to attack his namesake instead. (Noel smiled and reminisced about every 3 player game he plays with little brother Paul) 

Final Scoring: Noel 63; Normal Height Tom 56 and Giant Tom 45

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Le Havre
This week’s report is being filed from the Channel. Yes, I have run away catching a ferry at noon from Portsmouth today, dumping my entire games collection overboard on the trip to Le Havre. Whether I return or not is yet to be decided!

Anyway, last week. Mrs Hora took priority for Wed evening entertainments and I missed the chance to play some great games, damn. Rumours and gossip abound and here’s what I garnered from it all..

Attendees: James, Gareth II, Paul II, Tom II, Tom III (now to be known as ‘mitten’! [WHAT??], Dan, Natasha, Tonio, John, Jon, Philip, Arturo, Dom, Jim.

Playlist: Splendor, Essen: The Game Spiel 2013, Imperial Settlers, Terra Mystica, One Night Ultimate Werewolf, Deus, Valley of the Kings, Forbidden Desert 

One Night Werewolf (thanks Jon!)

Noel had previously vetoed this game on the basis of a poor experience with it in the US – however, he was not here to pour cold water on it this evening, so James managed to get it to the table – with Jon, Tom(s) and Dan being the other protagonists.

The premise is simple – everyone gets a role (Werewolf / Villager / Miscellaneous idiots) – and then a night phase occurs (i.e. everyone closes their eyes) when various characters can do various things with various other role cards. The day begins, and the ‘good guys’ have 5 mins to winkle out the werewolves, who in turn need to throw suspicion on others.

Out of the 3 games played. The werewolves won once when, ironically, there weren’t actually any werewolves in play, but the paranoid villagers still managed to sacrifice one of their own. To be fair, with James, Dan and Jon all playing a hidden role game together, the level of suspicion does tend to run rather high….

I’m not sure about this one. It’s quick, which is always good news, but I’m not sure about how replayable it is. The strategy for the villagers appears to be – get everyone to reveal as much info as possible, then get the seer (if there is one) to confirm if anyone is obviously lying. Then decide which of the 2/3 dodgy players you believe most. I’m sure that there’s more to it than that, and when the more complex roles are introduced, there will likely be multiple levels of suspicion and misdirection. However, I think I would still err on the side of the Resistance or Mayday Mayday when it comes to social deduction games. And whatever happened to 2 Rooms and a Boom?!

Not as bad as Noel had made out, though……

Essen 2013 (cheers Jon)

Having both been at the Essen Spiel in 2013, this was a trip down memory lane for James and Jon – and Tom II joined in for the ride as well. This is heavily thematic, with players having to race around the fair, buying too many games for far too much money, and then taking them back to the car-park to cram into Neil’s car. It was almost like being there….

There are big bonuses to be had for picking up games that are on your ‘shopping list’, as well as picking up certain numbers of different game genres. The crowd of gamers will also randomly turn up on your location and slow you down to a crawl – and if you’re already crawling due to a bursting bag of games, then that pretty much means coming to a halt!

The game plays relatively quickly, although the last couple of days were characterised by a bit of min-maxing, as players (Ok – mostly Jon) tried to calculate exactly how many games they could pick up and still return to the car-park in the same turn to unload and return to the fray.

In the end, James pulled comfortably away from the rest, as would be expected by the ‘Master of Essen’, with Tom and Jon sharing 2nd place together, after having failed to pick up quite as many bonuses as James.

The verdict: great theming, and a real nostalgia trip, as the game contains the actual box art from many of the new releases from Essen 13, as well as the publishers’ stands being in pretty much the same place as they actually were at the event. The game itself is pretty fun, and the random nature of the games’ appearances should make it replayable. There were a few random elements (crowd / shopping list cards) which could really affect players’ actions and scores, but otherwise, it was fairly solid. I think that the turn order needs looking at (clockwise from the player with the least games in his bag) as this can give an advantage to the player that already has the most actions in a particular round, and a disadvantage to the player on their right, but I think that this has already been noted on the BGG forums. Anyway, definitely not worth throwing off a ferry. The only things missing from a true Essen 2013 experience are the marvellous range of Jacket Potatoes on offer, and the gorgeous blonde playing Mayday Mayday. Sigh……….

Terra Mystica (thanks Philip)

Myself, Dan II (aka Natasha), Paul and Arturo playing the expansion. Arturo's first game ever, Natasha's first game with expansion, Paul's 2nd game ever (and 2nd with expansion), my 3rd game with the expansion and first 4 player expansion, previous plays being 3 players.

There's no doubt the game is better with 4 than 3. Water cult tiles in the first two rounds lead me to suggest the Mermaids for Arturo. Natasha saw the Yeti's obvious power (and picked Wasteland as his terrain): Paul I think was just attracted by the look of the Darklings although much the same could be said of me and the Acolytes (I picked Forest although it doesn't matter except for my starting locations. Mountains or Desert would have worked better in terms of limiting Natasha's options). The extra VP goal was "most settlements" which I hadn't played before.

I only worked out when taking my first round income that the Acolytes get shorted a worker: ouch. That made my double temple strategy not only hard to achieved but fairly dumb: reducing your income to two priests is bad enough for most races but when you don't get a basic worker income it is worse still. Myself, Paul and Arturo all took the Water 2 temple so as to benefit from free spades in round 1 and priests in round 2. Arturo combined this with the priest starting tile to reach space 8 on the Water track in the first turn.

Natasha kept saying he had miscalculated, but he was going from strength to strength: he completed his stronghold in round 4 after which he had good access to all resources.

I was not very skilled in the masterful manipulation of the cult tracks which the Acolytes require. I refrained from terraforming much early and found I had burned too much power compensating for that missing worker in round 1. My stronghold power helped but not enough given that I downgraded 4 priests to workers in order to build it.

Arturo played well for a beginner, taking the two spades power action to terraform two tiles at least 3 times and easily establishing two towns, one of which was the 2 keys town. Paul's Darklings were not as successful, partly due to one of his starting dwelling's isolation in one corner of the board. He did manage to correctly time his Stronghold so the conversion worked. 

As the game ended we competed to build isolated Dwellings so as to win the "most settlements" goal. Natasha easily won this with me and Arturo joint second. Paul hadn't managed to connect his two sets of buildings and neither (more surprisingly) had Natasha, so I came second there. I scored ok on the cult tracks but Arturo scored better. The game ended with me last and Paul just ahead of me, Arturo about 10 points ahead of us, and Natasha about 20 points ahead of Arturo- Yetis proving their worth again.

I have seen Acolytes lose three times now: possibly there is a strong way to play them that we're missing. I'd like to try the other Volcano race at some point although they also look oddly weak- Natasha pointed out that they only start with 8 power...

We used the variable passing order which worked fine. 

‘Very enjoyable game of Terra Mystica, particularly given that we played the first 40% of the game in two and a half hours, and the last 60% in one hour! I heard the Deus players pretending to enjoy themselves, but I presume that was just out of spite.’ Natasha [paranoid]

Forbidden Desert (and thanks to Jon again, top reporter!)

As Jon’s copy of Valley of the Kings was being played on another table, Jon decided to postpone his imminent departure and break out a quick co-op instead. Tom and James (sort of) joined him in trying to locate the legendary flying machine and escape a sandy demise.

It turns out that the boys managed a relatively straightforward victory, despite James being distracted for most of the game by talking to anyone else who would listen about something probably related to game trades. Having said that, there were only a handful of sand tiles left when the great escape was made, and another turn would probably have seen the 3 of them entombed in sand forever. Which would have put paid to James’ latest trading exploits for a bit…..