Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Cult of the New vs the Tried and Tested

Every week at the London Apprentice, board gamers start to arrive, maybe as early as 6.30 to get some early evening food, with most having walked through the door by 8pm. Many will bring games, some struggling with more than they can carry, some with just one or two under their arm and some come happy to enjoy those brought by other people. The games are piled onto a table in the corner and from 7.30 onwards the pile of boxes can start to resemble a treasure trove of cardboard delight, with the latest releases from rubbing sometimes shoulders with classics from the 70s. There are two player games and seven player games, 10 minute fillers and 3 hour marathons, brain burners and dexterity challenges. The games may feature orcs and trolls, knights and traders, cunning business men or ruthless mafioso, architects or thugs, town planners or explorers, adventurers or corrupt politicians, or whatever else a game designer’s imagination can conjure up.

Often some short games are brought to the table to amuse the early arrivals whilst they wait for those that popped home en route from work to put the kids to bed first. Then, when most attendees are indeed in attendance, the big question starts to go around ‘what do you want to play?’, ‘no, what do you want to play’, ‘how many people have we got? 11, well that’s two four player games and a three’, ‘does anyone want to play Terra Mystica?’…

Some people are polite, some people will be blunt, some people have a very good idea of what they want to play and some are genuinely happy to play anything.

When I’m asked this question, a few things go through my mind:

 - "is it a fantasy game (I’m not really into fantasy games, but have no problem with other people playing them)?"

 - "how much brainpower do I have left after a day of work (indeed how much would I have had at the start of the day - but that’s another question)?"

 - "how long will it take?"

In my gaming biography I have gone through periods of enjoying many types of games, but now I’ve come to a place where I normally like to play more than one game in an evening (ruling out a three hour epic), and I quite like games in which I have to think, but not necessarily for the whole evening, and I like to use the different parts of my brain by mixing the thinky stuff with something that might involve some manual dexterity, some negotiation or some bluffing. 

And then there is another question that is often key in my choice and often overrides everything else:

 - "Have I played the game before?"

This is quite often a very emotive subject for regular boardgamers and there are two very extreme schools of thought. 

In one corner we have ‘The Cult of the New’, board gamers who simply love experiencing a game they’ve never played before. Some of our regular gamers have vast collections of 300+ games (some would claim that 300 isn’t vast), buy new games every week and just love the thrill of an original idea, new rules, virgin pieces and the chance to try something they’ve never done before. Why play games more than once when there are so many that you haven’t yet played?

In the opposing corner we have  the ‘Tried and Tested’ band of cube pushers, who prefer to learn the depth of a game by playing it many times, really getting to grips with the way it ebbs and flows, fine tuning their strategies and doing the same again next week, only slightly differently to see it it works better. These players might not have such a large games collection, but their games will be more worn. But how did they find that they liked these games in the first place?

I find myself somewhere in the middle. I do enjoy learning new games, and two or three years ago I could easily have had my head turned by a different new game for weeks on end. But after a while I found myself wanting to go back to the games that I really enjoyed and play them again to get more out of them and that only playing a game once, especially the good ones, was vaguely unsatisfying. I tell myself that I'd be more than happy to only play Kingdom Builder, El Grande, Ticket to Ride, Lords of Vegas, Acquire, Yspahan, Tikal and certain versions of Settlers of Catan for the next year. But then we'll see if my head isn't turned next Wednesday when the newest Stefan Feld game is sitting on that table in the corner and I'm asked if I'd like to give it a try. After all people have read very good things about it.

And taking all of that into account, this is what we ended up playing…

Santa Cruz (thanks no body)
When I arrived I found James, Lucas and Donald part way through a game of Santa Cruz. I don’t know how to play it, so looked over their shoulders for a few minutes before my food arrived, nodding knowingly when a move looked good.

Scores: Lucas or Donald (first), Lucas or Donald (second), James (third)

After Santa Cruz, while the rest of our motley band started to play Glass Road, James asked if I’d teach him Suburbia and Donald and Lucas seemed quite happy with that. As soon as the game was set up and Paul started to explain the rules, Dan walked in, made our remaining number ‘five’, and as Suburbia has a capacity of four players, we decided to keep Suburbia on ice and try another game for the larger number.

Cheaty Mages (thanks Dan / Natasha)

The clue is, after all, in the title, but I’m not completely sure that Lucas, James, Donald and Paul knew what they were in for when they sat down to a five player Cheaty Mages with Natasha.

Now the four of them had already shown themselves to be generous souls (ie spring lambs prancing merrily to the slaughter) by breaking up what looked like a perfectly serviceable four-player Suburbia after Natasha strolled in at a clearly advertised yet somehow still wildly surprising 8.05pm. And everything seemed to be going fine as the rules were explained, and it became obvious that this was a carnage-based, chaotic, throw-stones-and-duck kind of game that probably wouldn’t be much in the way of fun for fewer than 5.

The paintball-in-a-phonebox vibe was perpetuated through Rounds 1 and 2, as Natasha did precious little of any note or effectiveness but the other four largely knocked one another out and propelled Natasha’s chosen Mages to primacy. Nobody had any idea why all players start with 2 coins. Nor indeed any idea why they are called coins and not simply points. James had a fine line in gloating. Who’s got 8 coins now? Hmm? Lucas? Anyone? Hmm? But then...

“What foul dudgeon be this?" cried Donald, in his best medieval tones, "The judge - he walks among us, o fie! Tis witchcraft!" For you see, a card had been turned - and Natasha herself, in another guise, was revealed as one of the judges: Lester, the show-off. Despite this revelation, Lucas still believed he could win, based on having lots of coinpoints, and especially more than James. But how could a mere mortal hope to defeat the living avatar of the game itself? The human embodiment of Cheaty Mages, made flesh? Show-off indeed. 

Final Points: The Judge 28, Lucas 23, Everyone else 8, Hmm, 8 coins? Who has 8? Hmm?

Glass Road (thanks Neil)
After having played four games in the afternoon, one with Josie - her first - and three solo, I was always going to do really badly wasn’t I? Philip was keen and his eyes lit up instantly as we flipped over his building, the Office. As I went through the rules with Andy and visiting policeman Anthony I warned them not to let Philip get the Office.

First player selection: Philip. The Office was his. Drat!

With no other glaringly obvious combinations of buildings several of us dived in with the Feudal Lord, trying to uncover a perfect building but nothing was forthcoming. I started collecting resources, as did Andy, and Philip was busy building up room for his monster last move. He neatly collected another good building, the Anthony was playing a traditional learning game and twice stymied himself by not having the resources available to pay for an action. Glass Road can be cruel at times. He was looking good on collecting the different Landscape Tiles for his Estate building. I eventually picked up the Mason’s Guild giving me three VPs per brick instead of one, together with a couple of high value buildings. Andy had also locked in to several of those, and also scored well on glass and sand.

Philip though, was in his element. Collecting resources, converting them, compounding that conversion and all the while picking up some high scoring buildings himself. Victory was comfortable. In writing up this report I’ve realised I didn’t add my score correctly so I actually did three points better than I thought I had. And to think that’s been getting me down all week, should have written this earlier perhaps!!

Final Scores; Philip - 24 1/2, Neil - 21, Andy - 19 1/2, Anthony - 12 1/2.

Santa Cruz (thanks Neil)

As Anthony made his way out with James’s money for two trades in, - quite a rarity that! - Philip, Andy and I decided the best option for a quackish three-player was Marcel-Andre Casasola Merkle’s Santa Cruz. James’s crew had played it earlier and Philip thought he could remember most of it from his one previous play. So, he explained it all and Andy and I looked at each other in non-comprehension but opted to ‘see if it all becomes clear as we crack on’.

It’s pretty straight forward, a few options to take but not that many really. Timing is the main factor I’d say, playing the scoring cards early so that only you benefit. Apart from that, a bit of set collection, area majority, but only just. We hadn’t bought into it though.

Philip taught us well and took a good lead after the first half. I’d assumed my natural position of last but that did allow me to select a better hand of cards, just not the skill to use them. I scored early though and began bridging the gap to the others. Andy and I continued our looks and Philip told us that ‘second time I thought it should be good. Once you’ve understood it though, it’s a bit boring.’ Summed it up for us I’m afraid. Saying that it’s so rare to play a game that leaves you feeling like that so that must mean there’s a wonderful selection of good ones out there. Merkle’s others I’ve played, Verrater and Attika, are among some of the very best.

Final Scores; Andy - 146 (he wasn’t sure how either!), Philip - 143, Neil - 141.


Who was the last person to go to Strasbourg? asked James as he was defamiliarising himself with the rules, in order to find the starting player. Of course our resident Frenchman Lucas, who claimed only to have gone there as a young boy. But at least he’d been there, which was more than the other three Brits at the table could offer. He later justified some eyebrow raising moves with the claim of a Strasbourgian family traditions, so would Lucas fulfil him family destiny, or would he be thwarted in reaching his destiny?

The game is designed by Stefan Feld, which for those of you familiar with the likes of Rialto or Bruges will know that this means a neatly designed Eurogame with lots and lots of options at each turn, providing a thoroughly satisfying gaming experience. And so it turned out this time, with players travelling back to the medieval French borders to indulge in some bidding, some toying with the guilds and some dallying with royalty. 

Each player is assigned a deck of identical cards, which they work through with typical Feldian rules, bidding for the right to carry out certain actions, which might mean placing on the board, taking guild tiles, selling guild tiles or placing chapels and other structures on the board - for their personal benefit, of course.

Paul started by spending lots of his tiles as he fancied those spots on offer, while everyone else held their bigger cards in reserve. Everyone else, it turns out, was correct to do so as Paul found himself drifting behind in the points stakes. James operated with typical cunning, claiming at every stage that he was doing terribly (this time he wasn’t completely wrong). Donald was going for the shield guild and buying big money tiles, although had a few too many left that he wouldn’t benefit from towards the end. Dan pushed a little bit of everything in a well balanced way. And Lucas of course had to prove himself to his forebears by coming up with a fiendishly clever strategy which all revolved around betting all of his money on two final round auctions, earning himself huge points as he did so.
But Dan proved to be the black horse and he confidently surpassed Lucas’ total plus some to spare, all within the last round. I’m still not sure how he did it, as Lucas looked odds on to me, so congratulations were certainly in order.

Scores: Dan 61, Lucas 53, James 32, Paul 29, Donald 23

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

The Boardgamers Ride Again

I didn’t make it last week for the second week in a row, which might have been penance for my heinous counting error on the last blog, but actually it was just that I could’t make it (my 17 month old can count up to eight with less mistakes). Bless the uncredited villager for attempting to allow me to fade into obscurity.

What happened on Wednesday night? Although I can't be perfectly sure of its accuracy, my understanding from afar, is as follows…

"Some locals were enjoying a quiet drink downstairs at The Apprentice, with a wind blowing down the river and the smell of rolled dice in the air.

At 7.00 on the dot, Tonio rode down Church Street on a grey burro, sporting a sombrero and handlebar moustache to make a reappearance having read about the cowboy heroics the previous week. Andy and Dan, uncharacteristically early, were settled in upstairs where the action would take place, chewing on cigar butts and competing at spitting over the balcony. Under his wide brim, Dan had the look in his eye of someone bursting for an outlet, somewhere to let out the words he’d been letting simmer inside him for the many, many months (since his last games report). He didn’t want to play games, but he needed to get the words out lest they fester for longer. He needed a fix, an escape; he needed to blog. The double doors burst open and in strode Neil, the imposing figure that quietened the locals chatter to a few scared whispers when he looked menacingly left, then right. The whisper went up ‘it’s him, the one from the board game. It’s really him’. And it was. John B challenged Gareth II to a ‘who’s got the most games’ duel (where was James when he was needed?) The bar staff smiled meekly when Philip asked for a salmon linguine and asked bravely if he was sitting upstairs for the 164th consecutive week. Then in walked Jon, aiming to round up this rabble, have them choose their games of choice before 9.45 and mercilessly get everyone to write a report. The scene was set, and no one quite knew what was going to happen next…"

Players: John B, Jon, Gareth II, Andy, Dan, Tonio, Neil, Philip (more than likely plus some uncredited villagers as I’ll almost certainly have missed some)

Qwixx - the card game (thanks Jon)

Trust John B to be able to bring out a neat little card game that takes only a few minutes to play but has enough decisions to make it interesting. This is the card game version of the SDJ 2013 nominee (more on that later) and involves playing cards in either ascending or descending order and marking them off on a natty little scoresheet. Once played, a player cannot use a card lower / higher in that colour (think Lost Cities) which gives a nice push your luck feeling to the game.

As usual, the game's owner misrepresented the likely winning scores (see Glass Road a few weeks ago...) by claiming that 90 was his highest ever score and a winning score was likely to be much less than that…

Suffice to say, John's experience shone through, and he succeeded in beating his previous highest score. Whilst Jon and Gareth were only 1 point apart (a long way back!)

Scores: John 92, Jon 70, Gareth 69

Qwixx (thanks Jon)

With the other table still attempting to use their skill and cunning to co-operatively beat a deck of cards, John brought out the original game, which is very similar to the card game, but uses dice. It's essentially Yahtzee for the modern generation - nothing to go crazy about, but simple and quick enough to be able to play with the whole family, which makes it a winner for those of us in a certain age bracket.

This game very much followed the patten of the first, with John steaming out ahead, and this time nothing between Jon and Gareth. Jon and John were up for another round, but Gareth was pleased to see that Hanabi had finished and hurriedly exited the table of fluffy little fillers!

Scores: John 82, Jon 65, Gareth 65

Hanabi (thanks Neil)

Over an extended weekend in Suffolk I'd played two games of this co-op and, unbelievably, we'd scored 25 both times, the first times ever. Better take it to the club I decided. Three newbies, Andy, Dan - watch out for some mentions of his amnesia - and Tonio. Must have had a good tutor as we got four of the five 1s out pretty quickly and moved through the blues and whites as well.

Despite his incredible intellect Dan managed to prove that his memory is made up of nine parts amnesia. 'This card is red, and this one's a 3. Or maybe the other way round.' As it was it was down to me to discard a rather useful red 2, thankfully we got away with it! 

Eventually the green 1s reared their heads and we picked our way through quit comfortably. That I had three of the 5s meant it was down to me to complete our incredible success. For a first game it was impressive. In fact if you ask Dan about it I'm sure he'll have it tattooed on his brain, just below the yellow stickie that reads 'dementia'. Respect.

Final Score: We got 25 out of 25, CLASS!

4 Monkeys (thanks Dan - feels good, huh?)

The monkey game was called 4 Monkeys, it's sort of like mixing Ligretto with filing a tax return. We were all completely terrible at it although John B seemed to do alright in the last round. We didn't keep scores but he must have won even though he finished the first round with the kind of negative score usually reserved for Alan Davies on QI.

Escape - Curse of the Temple (thanks Dan, that’s better, let them out)

We lost twice at Escape, the first was down to our complete inability to function as a working team. In the second game Gareth II "did a Tonio" by being the last man left behind in the collapsing temple, which was funny seeing as Tonio was the one who abandoned him to his fate. There may have been some inadvertent cheating going on too, but it's not the sort of game where anybody cares much.

Railways of North America (thanks Neil)

Always up for some train action, Jon, Philip and Andy helped Neil unpack not only his Canada map but his main box too. Philip's cube distribution was notable for the proliferation of yellow cubes on the Western side of the map. Apart from that everything seemed ok. The main differences with the map were 1. The introduction of the snow line, north of which each track build costs an additional $1,000 per hex, 2. Ferry hexes to connect a few towns offshore, plus 3. Mines which cost $10,000 each and you get to put between one and five different colour cubes on a grey town, quite a gamble but when money becomes no problem it's good value. The major routes are few and only of four or five point value.

The initial auction for first player was quite high, Jon taking it for $13,000. He picked up six points for it and it looked a reasonable return. Whereas he'd begun laying track in the north-west Andy started south-west. Whilst not inevitable that they would meet it did happen. Philip started somewhat differently picking up three cards in the first turn, unusual. I went for two hotels amongst the close-knit Ottawa, Montreal & area, and began building there too. It was pretty profitable keeping away from the others and I managed to only take three loans all game. I had a poor return on my first attempt at a mine but the second proved beneficial. One more turn would have been good for me as the others were running low on deliverable cubes.

Philip built some impressive stretches of five hexes utilising one of his magic cards. Andy went for the bonus for first to
build their four engine and ended up with a 'sizer' which he used twice to take him away from the rest of us. Jon had added points for delivering the first three cubes but his initial lead had been reined in half way through and despite his concentrated efforts he couldn't compete towards the end.

An intriguing map which looked quite small for four but performed brilliantly. It's certainly expensive to build above the snow line and there are a mass of grey cities needing expansion. Scores were close at the end but victory was Andy's, very good!

Final Scores: Andy 50, Neil 45, Philip 39, Jon 38

Damage Report (thanks Dan, same time next week?)

DR is set in a disintegrating spaceship but was more like a pick up and deliver game, moving bits around the ship as required by cards in each of the board sections. I think we sort of broke the game in the second outing as we just piled up a huge amount of stuff in one of the rooms and kept turning over the repair cards until we reached one of the victory conditions. 

There's a neat but annoying mechanism where you use sand timers to delay your next turn and the delay gets longer based on some shonky logic to do with life support systems. It's real-time so there is a pervading sense of calamity all the way through; each of the characters has a fairly specific role to play so I'm not sure how much real collaboration is going on and how much is led out by the game itself.

And so, the brave board gamers had put their lives on the line, survived, and will live to shuffle another day.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

The Magnificent Seven

Standing up for the greater good by laying lives on the line and sticking up for the defenceless masses against a disproportionate number of bad guys is a little inappropriate in 2014 Isleworth, so this magnificent band of seven had to compromise and play out their adventures in a settings that relied more on cardboard, cubes, strategy in the mind, calculated risks (sorry… die rolls) instead. Looks like they still had fun though, and although a few people did fall by the wayside in their respective table top settings, there was the added bonus that they managed to all get up and go home at the end of the evening. 

I wasn’t there to join in, but it did sure sound like a lot of fun was had by all (even Neil when press ganged into a game that he's learnt to love). Enterprises were built in Japan, gems traded in Arabia, whole European Kingdoms were constructed, ancient temples were raided, German rail networks forged and (ahem) some kiwi Granny’s bashed each other into submission. Not a bad night’s work.

The brave souls who fought their way through the evening and came out the other side were: James, Lucas, Donald, Neil, Jon, Dominic, Andy and Philip

Machi Koro (thanks Neil)

Good to see James and his colleagues Donald and Luca as I arrived. James was trying to sell them on another, yes another, Japanese mini game that I’d never heard of. As keen as I was it wasn’t to be. Instead we played a different Japanese mini game, the wonderful Machi Koro which I must admit to thinking about during the last week, it’s been a while since its last outing.

Anyway, things started out quite sanely with each of us picking up fairly identical cards. Eventually something had to give and it was down to Donald to start picking up Corner Stores. Luca tried pinching two TV Stations but we all put him right on that one, although somehow, every time it was his turn he had ten money to spend; way too close to the bank for my liking!!

For absolutely no reason whatsoever I bought a Cheese Factory. People have won with this frequently. The fact that I hadn’t picked up a single Ranch, or anything else that might have been useful hadn’t occurred to me… anyway, on to the winning strategy, pick up loads of Corner Stores, and then continuously roll fours and the game is all yours. Donald managed this at least three times on the trot and it was game over. Fast ending. Well played Sir!

Sultan (thanks Neil)

Jon had introduced this to us some time ago and funnily enough I almost brought it along too. As it was there was Jon, Dominic and me setting up as Philip and Andy arrived so it was a full player version of this one. Everyone has a hand of fifteen cards (1-15 oddly enough), which are used to place one per round against the gem of your choosing. There’s only three gems available each round, so it’s tight, to say the least. Andy and I went pretty low early on and so after the first two rounds we’d collected nothing.

The different gems; diamonds, rubies, emeralds, lapis lazuli and frozen urine, are worth different values each come end game scoring. Bonuses for multiples of gems are available. Andy and I started going mad for the most valuable Lapis Lazuli (blue) and Emeralds, sharing them equally, not a good investment. John was picking up some rubies, a lot of rubies I thought, and Dom was simply making sure he got something every round. Philip, in true Philip style, was unpredictable but did seem to be collecting several gems.

The final scoring actually determined who was doing what. Or not doing what in the case and Andy and I. Philip and Jon were tied on 49 but way out in front was Dom with a massive 62, wow!

Kingdom Builder (thanks Jon)

3 players – new to Dom; and Neil has learned to tolerate the game too, which is nice. Jon had all the expansions available, and chose 1 tile from the Nomads expansion, and a mission card from that expansion too, which as it happens, really mixed the game up nicely. It did take Neil about 3 hours to find the baggies containing the appropriate tokens, but he got there eventually…..
The scoring cards for this game were Workers (1 pt for settlements around locations), Farmers (3 pts for each settlement in the sector with your fewest number of settlements) and Shepherds (2 pts if you have no empty spaces of the same terrain type next to a settlement just placed). The Shepherds score during the game rather than at the end, which is a nice change. The Nomads tiles (of which there were 3) award minor bonuses to the player that picks them up, but the new location (Quarry) was very interesting, adding the ability to place walls on the board, effectively blocking off areas.

The Shepherds scoring is very interesting, as it now matters in which order you place your settlements. Get it right, and you could score 4 or 6 points on a turn, which can be big difference in a game that is often decided by small margins. As it turned out, Jon made the most of this scoring, ending with 37 points from this card alone, as opposed to 24 to Neil and 22 to Dom.

Neil was doing a good job of spreading his settlements out between the sectors, to maximise his scores for the Farmers, whereas Jon had trapped himself on a small island in one sector, limiting himself to a mere 5 settlements there until the penultimate turn. By that point, he had picked up the second Quarry tile (Neil had picked up the first one early doors and was making good use of it) and used it to effectively block his access to a terrain type, allowing himself to spread out into the 4th sector. Dom was struggling to maximise his Farmer points, and only managed 6 settlements in his ‘fewest’ sector, although he did use up all his settlements first, bringing the game to a close.

With all the points totted up, Jon’s advantage in the Shepherd scoring proved to be the deciding factor, giving him a healthy lead at the end, from Neil and newbie Dom, who had picked up the strategies really well for a first game.

The Quarry tile, and the Shepherds scoring gave this game a very fresh feel, adding new subtleties and scoring opportunities, and I think that the 2 expansions have now made this a complete game, increasing its replayability and longevity. Perfect!

Score: Jon 89, Neil 68, Dom 54

The Adventurers: The Temple of Chac (thanks Jon)

It’s been far too long since this game saw the light of day at IBG. It’s one of those games that you wouldn’t want to play every week, but every once in a while is perfect. And it’s not really about mechanics and strategies, it’s all about the story…

And so it was, that 6 brave adventurers found themselves ensconced within the depths of the treasure-laden Temple of Chac, desperately racing to get out before being squished by the giant boulder of doom. The first room promised many treasures for those willing to linger, as well as clues detailing how to safely cross the lake of molten lava. However, the walls of this room were moving ominously (if somewhat slowly) inwards, hastening the adventurers exit into the corridor outside. Jon was the only adventurer to dwell long enough to examine all 4 clues, although his tiny brain struggled to fully understand their true meaning. Luka was the first out of this room, and then decided to take his life in his hands and start to cross the molten lava on the carved stones of disintegration. One step – all was well, and treasure was his reward. Second step – oh dear – his luck ran out and he plunged to his death. Fortunately, Luka had another team-mate who was willing to join the fray, albeit from a slightly perilous position once the boulder had passed. 

All the other adventurers raced for the alcoves of Yahtzee, to try to extract the treasures hidden within. Dom’s abilities to roll dice in a pre-determined fashion were strangely limited, whereas they simply tumbled out of Neil’s hands in perfect order, giving him the opportunity to greedily gather up the treasures within. James paused as he passed the molten lava – he had examined at least 2 of the clues, dare he take a risk and cross anyway? The answer was a resounding ‘no’, at least not until Jon had blazed a trail first. Jon used his carefully acquired knowledge to skip gracefully across the molten lava, picking up treasures as he went, which started to weigh him down and slowed his progress. Luka’s new recruit followed closely in his footsteps, not risking a second untimely death.

Adventurer Donald was feeling a little warm from his exertions, and decided to take a dip in the underground river, stopping every now again to scoop up some soggy treasure.
Neil (whose character was certainly no stranger to the dessert trolley), decided that the rickety bridge was his best method of escape, and just managed to stumble across, dislodging all but one of the planks (no – not the other players….) in the process. His reward was a valuable treasure hidden in a secret alcove – now all he had to do was puff and pant his way out of the temple.

Jon had let the boulder sweep past him (by now it had picked up speed and was bearing down on James, Dom and Luka) and also plunged into the icy river. Donald was making a good fist of scrambling out, and sprinting for the open door, and Jon hoped to follow in his soggy footsteps. The boulder had turned the corner and was approaching faster than a Norwich City relegation. The sound of squishing indicated that Dom, Luka and James had indeed perished, and as Jon popped his head above water, he was nearly trodden on by the size 12 loafer of Neil’s character lumbering towards the exit – dropping the odd trinket on the way to ensure his safe departure.

Jon dropped all but his most valuable treasures in the river in a last desperate effort to scramble out. All he had to do was roll 2 dice and as James helpfully remarked – “Don’t roll 2 ones.” And so what happened? Yes, you guessed it sports fans, he rolled 2 ones and plunged head-first into the bottomless waterfall, never to be seen again.

And so, Donald and Neil were the only lucky escapees. When they opened their swag bags it was discovered that Donald had collected the princely sum of 3 groats and a bag of humbugs, whereas Neil had the entire contents of Nigella Lawson’s expenses account upon his person, and was declared the winner. 

The moral of the tale? If you want to survive the terrible horrors of a dastardly, trap-infested underground temple, then learn to throw dice properly…

Ticket to Ride: Marklin edition (thanks Lucas)

After James and his accomplices robbed half of Germany stations, victory seemed all his.
Anyway, in the end honesty and hard work finally paid out as the French rail company Lucas Trains & Co strong connection between Bayern and North-West Germany finally got him the victory, by 7 points!
Scores: Lucas 172, James 165, Donald 125
(Ed - love the brevity and subtlety of Lucas’ writeup, if only I could do that on my scrawls - it typically takes me many paragraphs to do James down. Respect.)

Granny Wars (thanks Neil)

With five of us left at the end of the night it was time to a trip to New Zealand for this game of ‘tit for tat’. Six grannies are set up, and we each get to sponsor one of them. With a hand of ten cards you place one at a time against a granny. There are pluses and minuses, play the opposite but of the same value and you can bounce the previous card on. Then the ‘golden grannies’ come in with their specialities.

Feeling confident, having played this several times before, I played some pretty nonchalant cards against a wide variety of grannies. Donald and Luca nailed their flags to their grannies early on and were outdoing each other for several rounds. Jon and James were also playing the cards close to their chests but on the whole the grannies weren’t attracting many points. 

Saving a set of four golden grannies for the end I thought I was in with a great chance, until Luca’s golden granny allowed him to steal my best card. Damn! Jon and James finally showed who they were supporting but it looked too late for Jon. And that was it. To be honest, I was so shocked at my poor performance; minus three, that I didn’t pay attention to who’d won. I know Jon’s granny beat mine with a huge minus one. The others were all around plus eight or so. Good fun.

Rumour has it that 2 games of Splendor (that’s games called Splendor, not games entreated in Splendor, although they might have been, we’ll never know; read on) and Agricola were played. The truth will be consigned to the big cardboard box in the sky.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Eight Legged Freaks

An interesting start to the evening - Philip was offered the long since departed Salmon Linguine (Phil's petition to Taylor Walker for its reinstatement is still awaiting a second signatory). This was despite his having ordered the Vegetable Tagliatelle - which was what the dish actually was!  Much merriment was had at this mix-up - as it was when Phil decided to recount the story in detail to each and every IBG'er who arrived at the pub thereafter.  

This was then followed by the amazing sight of Phil deciding to eat his food by sucking it from the plate whilst standing up. Ever seen the bit in Oldboy, when he eats the live octopus?  It was like that... but worse.  

Neil moved quickly to wipe the veggie juices from the green felt and to expunge the burning liquid out of Jon's eyes so everyone could move on to the games and to repressing the memory of Phil's eating habits.

Glass Road

With Tom keen to play his second game in a matter of days (Ed:  And why the heck not?  It's a thing of loveliness), he risked life and limb and was eventually granted permission to attend from his lovely wife, Louise. We were joined by similar one game veterans Amanda and Philip although with two weeks having passed since their first play you could be forgiven for thinking they'd never heard of board games at all, never mind Glass Road.

Tom won first player (Ed:  if only all games were that easy to win) and began weighing up suitable opportunities. Philip had spotted something and started collecting resources and Amanda and I went off to the Feudal Lord to give ourselves more building options. As it turned out, Amanda picked up the Mason’s Guild, giving her three points per brick at game end, something Philip had done very successfully first time out. Philip was still collecting resources and Tom was still oohing and aahing over the available buildings -  nothing too obvious was available.

As for me, with my vast experience, I picked up the Slipway and the Bath house which scored me nicely on wood and ponds built adjacent to it.  That both Philip and Tom were planning for the latter was particularly useful (Ed:  it was somewhat lucky for me as I mixed up the meaning of adjacent and congruent - goodness, the things us board gamers have to put up with!). Tom took recompense by picking up two buildings, each of which were worth four victory points at the end, and Amanda decided to use up all her bricks.

Once again I used my hard learned knowledge to play the Builder as my first card in the penultimate round. Genius, loads of resources with to build - all I needed was one food to pay my builder, and boy oh boy was he furious when none was forthcoming. You know what builders are like at the best of times.  To add insult to injury, Tom built the building I had been planning on! Live and learn, I managed to build the Coal Storage soon enough which gained me one more point. Philip then did his amazing final turn, converting no end of stuff into more stuff times lots, and looking pretty good as a result. Amanda had forgotten everything she learned first game, and more (Ed:  she didn't even have any bricks for the Mason's Guild - the magnificent fool!). A close game with no obvious building combinations.  The scoring was very close and despite my gaff I just held off Philip.

Editor's Note:  I love this game - can't wait to try it again.  Neil's nefarious stealing of my dream buildings did affect me but the real issue was planning a perfect final round and not taking into account the real problems that would happen if other players played matching role cards.  A strategy solely based on scoring for buildings without taking into account the scoring for glass, bricks and sand is just not going to win you the game when playing against experienced opponents, especially the mighty Horabin.

Final Scores; Neil - 23, Philip - 22, Tom - 17, Amanda - 12 1/2.


Not having given this an outing for some time, Jon fondly remembered playing this on the ferry back from Essen, and we were joined by Philip, who, it is safe to say, got so excited during the second game on the ferry that he threw up! Happy days.

From the off we all followed different life paths: Philip was going heavily into health, relationships and science; I opted for academia, going to uni, getting a PhD, becoming a Professor all the while picking up the yellow money/materialism cards - my life goal; Jon was busy early on rolling the worst dice combinations he possibly could. Took him ages to pick up anything - must have been formatting his CV rather than writing the bloody thing.

Neither Jon or I spotted that Philip had collected the three cards that allowed him to pick any health, relationship and science cards for one symbol less every time. No wonder he won by a mile.

Quite early on I opted for early retirement and although this gave me a free card each round when combined with my sole relationship card, I had peaked too early and obviously was festering in some old folks' home. Jon nipped in picking up a few good professions to gain twelve bonus points through one of the communal life goals, thus pipping me to second place.

So, what did I learn? Don't go chasing money. Get a career to make retirement bearable. And most important of all: get a life!

Final Scores; Philip - 78, Jon - 48, Neil - 46.


Three players. 45-60 minutes to kill – perfect for the much underrated area majority game, Mykerinos. This was new to both Andy and Sean, and Jon had forgotten Sean’s aversion to rules explanations. Hence, two minutes into the introduction, Sean was requesting “Let’s just start playing!” A nice idea – but not very practical if you don’t know what those little cubes do – or those tiles – or that map of a museum – or how to win the game. So Sean had to put up with Jon blethering on for the next five minutes about how to actually play the game...

Anyway, once started, things went fairly smoothly. Andy majored on Lady Violet tiles, which gave him extra cubes each turn. Jon also picked up a couple of these, whereas Sean didn’t get any early on, giving him a numerical cube disadvantage.

Jon and Sean were both placing into the museum to maximise their end scores, whereas Andy was choosing to neglect this element of the game in favour of collecting sets of patrons.  The game moves along at a fair pace, and it was soon time to tot up the scores. Andy had completed 2 full sets of patrons for 10 points, whereas Jon and Sean only had one set each.

However, Sean and Jon had both achieved the maximum room bonus for two of their patrons, pulling them ahead of Andy, with Jon having the right collection of patrons to pull off the victory.

Jon 62; Sean 54; Andy 41

Finally, Splendor, the wonderful new engine building game was also played by Andy, Tom, Dan and Sean.  Little is remembered other than that Sean managed to sit through the rules explanation without being distracted.  Dan won at a canter thanks to his aggressive acquisition of Stage II and III cards, with Tom and Andy trailing just behind.  Sean, however, was nowhere in sight.