Friday, 27 January 2017
Wednesday 28th December
Contributors: David, Noel
I arrived early and was shortly followed by TomToo. As there was only the two of us we went for a game of Valley of the Kings: Afterlife which is a pleasant little deck-builder. The difference here is that you are entombing cards out of your hand in order to score them. It feels a little easy to chain cards together and to trim your hand into the perfect hand each round. I haven't played regular Valley of the Kings but as far as I know there's not really much difference in the way they play. Tom won this by a couple of points.
We then split into two tables and myself, Andy, Alex and James B decided on Stockpile. Andy hadn't played before but that didn't stop him wiping the floor with us. He managed to score almost all the end game bonuses propelling him into a comfortable lead. I came second about 40k behind with Alex just behind me. James B came in a rather sorry last place as he ran out of steam towards the end.
We then ended the evening with a game of Castles of Mad King Ludwig. I have played this at the club a few times now and didn't really like it as I always feel like I'm doing a piss poor job compared to everyone else and never sure why. However I thought I would give it another go with my reasoning being that if I played with people like James B and Alex who hadn't played before then perhaps I won't feel so utterly useless. Well that was a mistake, I was still terrible and still came last albeit by a single point. So even though I enjoyed it slightly more I just can't seem to combo the rooms together and my castles always look like pathetic efforts compared to everyone else
Noel received Great Western Trail from his family secret Santa who clearly has some good gaming chops as followed up last years Mombasa gift. However, it was a bittersweet present opening as Mombasa is still in shrink on the shelf and he wondered if GWT would suffer a similar fate. But Tom to the rescue...he brought it and taught it to Noel, Raj and Alan. Hats off as well as teaching it is a bit of a marathon.
Nothing too complicated but lots of interlocking bits to understand. Alan at least twice uttered the infamous 'lets just start', thankfully Tom decided to 'lets not' and patiently answered Noel and Raj's questions. Alan was also keen to establish and test that the theme adequately explained why you could only move your railroad to certain stations and markers to various cities and to be fair to Tom and the designer all these were batted off with excellent thematic explanations. Noel wasn't too bothered but it was nice that it fitted.
And so the cowboys began their first journey to Kansas and before long buildings were built, a few aha moments as we realised that Tom used his first building to make it more difficult(expensive) for us to complete the trail. Tom and Raj focused on getting more cowboys enabling high value cows to be picked into their hand for point scoring at the end and markers on cities. Noel selected more engineers to move the train along, built up the building tech tree a little and managed to cycle his deck to get a disc placed on each of the positive cities for many points at the end.
Overall a really great mesh of a little deck building, tile placement and thematic point salading. It went a little long with perhaps 2h30-3h game time and a good 30 mins of rules exp. Noel won in the end, doubly so for getting the game played within a few days of getting it! Noel 90 Tom 68 Raj 64 Alan 56.
Wednesday 4th January
Contributors: Daniel, Neil, David, Jon
Karuba on the go early on, then Soren cut a tragic figure failing to drum up sufficient interest in Manhattan Project or Ponzi Scheme before plumping for Old Western Trail or summink with Tom and James, a quick ninety minute Euro that took about three hours to play (again) - hmmmmm.
Dave, Alex, and Phil were meanwhile massacring people in a German village (according to the banter in any case) while Jon, Paul and Neil joined me for a quartet of light games.Dream Home got us started (flighty but far too nicey with four, you can give me the three player version of this anyday though), and despite trying to double count some of his rooms Paul still managed to win. Yes, that's right, you read the words "Paul" and "win" in the same sentence without the usual additions of "didn't" or "sat to his left".
Fabled Fruit to follow as the fish course and nope after trying some of the later decks I'm not convinced at all about changing my initial impressions on this one. It just feels like a procedural activity of swapping cards around until it all suddenly stops on an anticlimactic note. Totally baffled as to where the fun is supposed to be coming from, then again the Monkey was barely used so maybe stealing stuff is where all the excitement is.
Flamme Rouge was the meat course, and we set up a devilish route with a long flat straight at the start and a massive hill climb to the finish, broken with one smaller hill that wasn't quite small enough to cross in one move. Neil's breakaway Sprinteur almost surprised us all after a sudden early burst of speed but unfortunately ground to a halt on the big hill at the end. Despite getting caught at the head of the following Peloton for most of the game I had cunningly kept back all my Sprinteurs fives and managed to power up that sucker at the end despite the bundles of exhaustion cards that were crowding my hand each turn, leapfrogging the pack and leaving everyone else in my wake - finally I got to win at this game!
The dessert for our evening was Imhotep, which I had previously wanted to take a second tilt at after being slightly bemused by my first introduction to it a couple of weeks ago. On the surface it looks like the ultimate in turgid Euro design where you literally push cubes to score points, but I was sure there was something more to it under the surface. Oh I am fortunes fool, as rather than being a sickly sweet pudding to finish with this turned out to be more like a dry and crumbly lump of school dinner sponge, dumped on the plate without ceremony by a mustachioed dinnerlady. Greg Wallace would not have been impressed by this butterless biscuit base.
This time around I knew what to expect from the game and I couldn't help thinking all the way through that we were just pushing cubes to score points, non-stop for a whole hour, just pushing cubes and watching Jon hold the end of round spots that were giving him free actions, free points, free bonus scoring cards, over and over, destined to thrash us all with nobody able to stop him (especially after Paul locked out the board that was giving Jon all these bonuses in successive turns), with absolutely nothing of any interest or excitement to break the tedium of pushing, pushing, pushing those little wooden cubes into places that score VPs. I can't remember anything of note other than that Paul didn't win and Jon, who did win, was sitting to his left.
Just enough time at the end of the night for a special bonus cheese and crackers round of Insider, a neat take on playing "20 Questions" with a sort of Fake Artist vibe. It works very well and we had a ton of fun over three quick rounds - We correctly fingered Jon as the Insider on the first, then Tom won as Clue Master on the second after Soren refused to step over the line of blundering us into the correct answer as the Insider, and finally James neatly took the third round as the Insider after stirring the pot just enough for Jon to be unjustly hoisted on the walls with his somewhat leading questions (or so it seemed). Liking this one a lot!
Well I had a blast.. Dream Home became that freakin' house you move into and try and make work but it's never going to; needs rebranding to "Oh fuck it, let's just unload the boxes where they are, the next house will be better."
Fabled Fruit didn't do it for me either I'm afraid. Rummy with less options dressed up in a doily. Give me real fruit any day.
Flamme Rouge. Enjoyed my epic fail last time out and leading for 95% of the race was more than sufficient pleasure for me. The length of the final hill was simply ridiculous but walking the bike up at the end was pretty cool.
Imhotep. You either get led by the nose or fail to inflict enough grief on your competitors, I actually quite enjoy this one!
I convinced Alex and Phil to join me in a game of My Village as I knew they had previously enjoyed playing Village. In many ways this is more complex than the Village and thus loses a little of what makes the Village so special.
There's perhaps too much on offer, too many routes to victory and it has a very large and messy footprint. There's a communal dice pool from which players draw two dice and then try and trigger as many actions as they can through building an engine of similar numbers within their village. As each player is building up their own personal village it is very much a multi-player solitaire game with little to no interaction. The only interaction being the communal dice pool, using dice that someone else wanted or building a card they wanted. Even then players are able to manipulate dice using money and there's so much on offer you can always build something else. It retains a lot of elements from Village such as everything costing time, villagers dying, albeit not as important, and the various parts of the village such as the church, council chamber, crafts and travelling.
I went for a strategy of scoring on a bit of everything and not really concentrating on one aspect, so I built up a church a few levels, invested in a meeting place and council chamber that would score me end game points as well as serving customers and travelling. Alex meanwhile went for an interesting strategy of scoring as many story points that he then spent the game turning into victory points. Phil went for building up his engine with lots of money whilst trying to a little on everything as well. Alex's strategy paid off, he won with 56 points whilst I came in second with 53 and Phil last with 42. So it's not as good as Village but I rather liked the engine building and dice combinations. Putting a number into your village and triggering five or six different actions is satisfying. I've played this solo a few times now and honestly there's almost no difference than if you were playing with other people, so not a game for those who enjoy player interaction. We then followed this with Mundus Novus a trading and set collection game with a fairly interesting way of trading cards from other players and the market. By turning in sets of cards on a turn you can gain money, of which seventy-five doubloons are needed to win, and development cards that provide you with more cards and extra abilities.
It's effectively a race, you don't want to spend too much time building developments as it doesn't take too long for a player to reach seventy-five doubloons. I managed to win by claiming all ten of the different resource types which was the second win condition. If I hadn't managed to do this Phil was on course to win as he wasn't far from the seventy-five doubloons win condition. I really like this one, it has great artwork and I always enjoy trading games.
Don't listen to Dan (well - not all the time, anyway...)
Dream Home was great - a perfect super-filler that breezes along nicely and is pretty as Neil's beard. Not sure how Paul won though, especially as I was sitting to his left....Fabled Fruit was admittedly a little anticlimactic on this occasion. Unfortunately, the 'steal off the player with the most cards' actions had just disappeared from the tableau, so it was a bit tricky to pull back anyone in the lead. I'm still liking the way that the game changes in a subtle way each time. Maybe you need to play it several times in a row rather than just once...? Just have to make sure I play it with the two Tom's next time....
Flamme Rouge - another classic outing for this one. It was probably inevitable that Neil's lone breakaway was going to be caught eventually (which happened when he pretty much started going backwards on the final hill), but Dan timed his late run to perfection and squeaked out the victory on the line. Nice.
Imhotep - despite what Dan says, this was the succulent chocolate cheesecake that I had ensured that I saved some space for at the end of the evening. This is definitely not cube pushing - it's more like cube-dragging, cube-heaving, cube-erecting and cube-admiring, with nice (albeit subtle) decisions to make about what you do and when. Admittedly, I did benefit from an interesting move by Paul, which ensured a few extra points for me, when he thought that he was actually doing me harm (he still claims that it was a good move on his part ), but I did enjoy the three 'variant' boards that we played with, which mixed things up just a little. A light euro at its very best.
Wednesday 11th Jan
Contributors: Noel, Daniel, Tom
Ah so what was the game that caused dissention in the ranks of the IBG stately pleasure dome.... Did Jon draw 14 forests in a row and declare that Kingdom Builder was dead to him? Was there a Lance Armstrong endorsed Flamme Rouge expansion that Noel railed against because he should be ignored and forgotten for ever more as a cheat and a loser...
Perhaps no surprise that it was Condottiere - billed as a high conflict, interactive 45 minute card game with a board that is no more than a map of renaissance Italy displaying regions to fight over area control style.
This was the first play of Noel's 1990ish Eurogames edition and, if only from its huge box aesthetic, it could be easily dismissed as a tired old Risk genre game that should remain in the 90s because we have better games now. But what's that, it was reprinted in 2007 by Fantasy Flight in small box style which also did very well...
The rules are pretty simple. You get 10 cards. A region of Italy is chosen and you play one card at a time to your army on the table until all but one player passes. The strongest army then claims the region and another region is chosen. You don't draw any cards back into your hand until only 1 player has cards left. At this point, that player's cards are discarded and everyone gets a new hand to fight another series of battles. (You could of course choose to play all of your cards in the first battle and have no more left to play for the rest of that round but its pretty unlikely that anyone would do that and if they did they might have to wait for a bit. ) Four adjacent regions and you win. The standard cards are point values 1-10 and the special cards let you do 'take that' moves to affect the current battle.
On the first battle, Tomtoo and David both went all in, spent their 10 cards one at a time against each other, tied 78 all and neither of them won that region, which was very unfortunate! Phil, Noel and Lawrence played over another 3 or 4 areas, with Noel gaining 2. About half way through the second hand of 10 cards, Tom declared that this was perhaps the worst game he had ever played which cannot be true because he has played Magical Athlete.
Tom was now out of cards, but wasn't getting much traction from the other players in kicking the game. David was a big fan, Noel and Phil engaged in a few more combat rounds with Lawrence, who was biding time hoping to get his new game played later.
Then the other table finished, and Soren, 'overhearing' some irascibility came over to say we must be playing it wrong as he was a bit of a fan.
To be fair to Tom, his second hand of cards was pretty rubbish, although a well timed winter card might have helped out here and we did have a couple of rules wrongly interpreted that were clarified in later editions (see below). While this second round of cards was ongoing, it was commented that this game could go on forever and that perhaps Tom would play two games simultaneously while Condotierre trudged to its conclusion. About a minute after this, Noel won a final battle against Lawrence to get his 4 regions connected. Rules explanation and game all done in about 45 minutes for a Ronseal moment.
The rules we got wrong
You cant place the Condotierre token in a previously won region.
(this was changed in later edition. The version we played had the rule that you can and led to a few clunky moments when neither Noel nor Lawrence wanted to commit forces to a battle in such region, which I guess is why this was changed. This would also keep the game time down.
You should draw one extra card for every region that you control when redrawing cards.
I think scarecrows should only be used to take one of your own army cards back into your hand. (we played a much overpowered version of the scarecrow, where you could take any card on the table)
David seemed a fan, Id like to play again although there might be too much 'take that' for me (would be less if we played Scarecrows correctly), Lawrence & Phil probably lukewarm on it I think, Tom has already handed out his Jon Wooden Deferrystration award for 2017. Except there is no way this oversized plastic insert is sinking.
Tokaido opened the evening for Tom Juan, David and Phil, and there was just enough time before that one wrapped up to get a quick round of Deception in with Jon, Soren, Tomtoo and Peter. As usual when I am the murderer there seemed to be the perfect storm of clue cards that unequivocally pointed the finger of suspicion directly at me... either that or Jon is an idiot-savant with manipulating the clues... or it could just be that I am terrible at being the odd duck in games like this
Actually I did learn something new about the meta with this game which is that the speed and authority with which the clue giver makes their choices carries a lot of weight in the interpretation, and that is largely what allowed the group to differentiate the murder evidence from the rest in this case.
We then regrouped and Peter, Phil and Tom Juan joined me for The Networks which was light fun as always. This was Peter's first game of this and despite it being pretty straightforward to play there is still something of a learning curve that he fell foul of and placed a fair distance behind as a result. Tom gave me a good run for my money but couldn't quite keep up all the way to the end with Phil placing in third place. I'll let someone else do the honours of providing more detail of events!
Three rounds of Insider then took us into "please will you now get out of the pub" territory; we just couldn't help ourselves with what is proving to be the go-to end of evening closer du jour. Would the Insider now please bang the table and state their name clearly for the rest of us to hear?.....
Tokaido (sans Crossroads) was played first off with David and Phil. It was very enjoyable as usual as I managed to eke out a substantial 20 point win - thanks in the main to being allowed free rein with my shopping spree and visits to the temple. I know there are a few who say that there isn't much to this but I disagree. More often than not, an experienced player will win over those aren't due to the balancing act with money and managing the ways in which points are being acquired.
Dan has said enough about Ponzi Scheme although he did manage to bollocks up the placings. I managed a handy 2nd place (with or without Dan's gift of $100k+) with Peter going bankrupt on the last turn albeit less spectacularly than Dan. If only I had waited out on Dan's offer rather than handing away points to Soren to avoid bankruptcy. I did enjoy this quite a bit but feel that Stockpile may scratch that medium weight economic itch a bit better.
The Networks was just delightful - this was surprising as I hadn't quite grasped it in my initial two player run-through with Dan. The only downside was the appearance of star snatching network cards during the first two years which put a bit of a dampener on show acquisition in the early going. Again please.
Insider was a magnificent way to end the session. I had planned to comment further on "Fuzzy Bear", the non-animal, non-movie starring, animated Muppet but fear that it may end up close to a dissertation. I will simply leave with you with this perfection: Good grief the comedians a bear!
Wednesday 18th January
Contributors: Daniel, Jon
A busy old night of welcome returns with Original Flavour James on a Sojourn from Soton, an appearance from a remarkably sober Tasha, Gazza and Shazza replete with yet another broken limb (remind me to stay away from that hospital at all costs, the staff there are in worse condition than the patients), and John (no, the other one) in fine spirits.
Gazza and Shazza arrived early and were enjoying a quiet tete-a-tete of Port Royal, in which I observed that the G-Man was uncompromisingly mean in busting rounds purely to frustrate his opponent by preventing her access to cards, or stopping after the first card draw for similar reasons. It took him to a comprehensive victory though, and showed that this otherwise tame push your luck game has a nasty mean streak buried deep within.
The rest of us set up For Sale and had just got started when Port Royal finished up, and as we were already at maximum player count I decided to invite them in to Team Awesome as my advisers. Perhaps still smarting from their earlier game, Sarah decided that she didn't want to join any team with Gareth on it unless it was a team of people dangling him over the balcony by his ankles, and as we were in the middle of playing we weren't quite ready to oblige. More people started to turn up and so the brain trust of Team Awesome just got bigger and better, and what a team! We took an early drop on the first couple of rounds and then leveraged our cash superiority to force difficult decisions round the rest of the table. Taking a strong hand into the second phase meant that we were able to compete on everything worthwhile and came out on top by some margin.
The most notable moment though was Tom's odd choice of refreshment that stimulated memories of the totally god-awful "The Room" which is widely recognised as the worst movie ever made and host to some of the most punishingly brutal drinking games known to man. Even watching it all the way through is an endurance feat of it's own, but taking a shot of Scotchka every time Tommy says "oh, hi" or throws a football is a guaranteed way to cause your liver to crawl up your gullet and slap you round the face for your rank stupidity. Anyway, I wouldn't be so cruel as to encourage you to sit all the way through this terrible turd but I do highly recommend the Cinema Sins condensed view of this catastrophic gem: Everything wrong with The Room in 8 minutes or less.
Still with us? Not laid out by a Scotchka overdose yet? Back to the games then!With the usual dithering going on around the games table Tom, David and myself wasted no time in getting out Roll for the Galaxy and were quickly joined by James II and Tomtoo who had decided that playing an actual game was preferably to playing the game of "what shall we play?"
It seemed like everyone was stuck on the same strategy of rushing their tableau through developing/settling as nobody really cranked the handle on trading - or maybe they just couldn't get an engine up and running - and I was the first to get twelve of 'em out after spamming Genes and Military worlds to get silly amounts of dice chaining. Most rounds saw those two actions running alongside Exploring, but the rest hardly seemed to come up at all.
I secured victory with a big 6pt development that gave me a stack of points for my cupful of red dice. I like this one better than the original card based RftG, however with five players it very much turned into multi-player solitaire.We then played Pictomania, which made a very welcome return after god knows how long an absence from our tables. This was the reprint from Stronghold which comes with some awesome card holders and, on the downside, the shittiest most useless board-wiping sponges ever. The game was filled with the unmistakable "you had to be there" kind of hilarity we all remembered so well from the last time it did the rounds, such as how Tom likes to smell with his eyes and his bean-dropping rat catcher, James' incoherent scribbles which could quite frankly have been anything up to and including the results of an episodic attack that went quietly unnoticed, or my particular favourite which was Tomtoo's spectacular fall from grace after setting himself up with some unwise bragging at the start.
I do believe that I kept the winning streak up on this one too, pinching victory right at the end when James was the only person to guess correctly on my last picture and after I had re-learned the hard way that you don't just make random guesses in this game. Glad to be reminded what a brilliant game this is.
David and James jumped ship at the suggestion of moving onto 51st State so it was just me and the two Tommies for the next one. I changed the expansion deck from the quiet supportive building one where we all get along just fine to the evil grudge stab you in the back, neck and face one. Tomtoo was the first to stir things up after particularly difficult opening card draws led to a slow first round and little option but to go on the offensive to gain some leverage. After trading blows with each other for a while Tom Juan also decided to get in on the act and so I ended up doing a Napoleon and fighting on two fronts. My tableau turned red with guns and my murderous rampage spurred me on in victory points and opened up the endgame as a result. Try as I might though I simply could not compete with Tomtoo's card drawing engine that gave him the capability to drag his final round out into a VP marathon which sealed the win by several points.
Only one thing that can end the evening these days of course, and that is Insider. We managed to thoroughly confuse Tash with the most awkward three-way rules explanation ever, but I think we won him over after his barbed bemusement turned into total hilarity as the game came alive. Phil demonstrated a grasp of perfect comedy-timing and created a moment of gold that I'm sill chuckling about even now. I honestly don't think I have ever laughed so hard during a game night, at least not for a good long time. Hoping for more Pictomania and Insider again next week pretty please!
James produced Via Nebula, heralding it as a 'family-weight' version of Steam. Intriguing. Phil and Natasha were the other willing guinea pigs....
It is definitely a pick-up-and-deliver game, although its comparison to Steam is probably tenuous at best. Each player has 2 actions per turn, which involve either placing 'track' (which is universally owned by all players), or goods, or by making a delivery to fulfil a variety of private or public contracts. The first player to make 5 deliveries triggers the endgame.
To be fair, it buzzes along at a nice pace, with the decision tree not being huge, but with enough interesting choices to keep players engaged. The board has some nice, colourful, family-friendly artwork on it, but this rather detracts from the gameplay, as it's not very easy to scan the board and work out exactly what's happening. Natasha ended the game by making his final delivery and picked up a 2 point bonus. Everyone else then had a final turn to mop up an extra point or two. The scores ended up being 24,23,22,21, with Natasha coming out on top, and James at the bottom of the heap. General verdict from Natasha was that it was an enjoyable romp for 45 minutes, but it didn't seem as if there was anything else to discover in the game in future plays.
And, of course, as it was James that explained the rules, you would expect a complete howler somewhere along the line, and he didn't disappoint, omitting one of the most important rules regarding final scoring (that all goods left on the board, even those on the exploitation tiles, count negatively for their owners). Who knows what the final score would really have been - but to be fair - players may have played the entire game differently in light of this information. Nice to know that in an ever-changing and uncertain world, some things remain predictable....
James II, David and Jon took another crack at Imhotep, which yet again proved to be a wonderful sub-60 min euro with plenty of decision-making and interaction. In the final round, Jon sent a delivery to the obelisks, which gave him a 12 point swing on James, and also picked up an unchallenged 16 points from the Burial Chamber. This was enough to finish with a healthy lead from David & James, despite David's impressive statue collection.....
Paul had brought along one of his Essen '16 purchases - Habitats - and there was just enough time to fit in a 2-player game with Jon. This is a really fun zoo-building, tile-laying game, which played easily in 45 minutes, and has some lovely components. Jon picked up bonuses from 2 of the 3 scoring rounds, which gave him enough of a lead before the final scoring to help him on his way to victory. There is an interesting mechanism regarding tile-selection (moving a gorgeous ceramic animal around a grid), and both players agreed that they had underestimated the importance of planning ahead in this phase. Regardless - a really enjoyable game that will definitely see more table time if Paul brings it again.
Wednesday 25th January
Contributors: Daniel, Jon
I started the evening off by jumping in midway to golden oldie Ivanhoe, a Y2K release from a certain whippersnapper known as Herr Knizia. It's a pretty straightforward trick taking game from the golden age of Euro design where the game is functional, direct, and has a setting pasted on with only tenuous links to the gameplay as justification - and it just doesn't give a damn what you think about that.
I thought it was alright, and liked the way that the central elements of gameplay came through very distinctly with a bit of push your luck and 'take that' blended in nicely to what I suppose is a sort of ante-ing mechanism at the heart of it all where you lose your bid whether you win or lose the trick. It's Knizia in his purple patch so it's drum tight and works well even if it's the gaming equivalent of trying to stuff your face with dry water biscuits. It even has a proto-form of point salad scoring for all you Europhiles out there!
With six of us attending there was clearly only one game we could play, that being Flamme Rouge on two tables at once of course. We set up the same track too, one which started with an immensely long flat section followed by a very short hill that could be crossed in a single push, leading into a slightly bigger hill and a long enough finish that reserving a sprint card became a strategic consideration.
On our table I was up against Jon and David. David went for an early break, pounding out all three big sprint cards in quick succession to break away. Jon and I jostled for position with Jon getting the better of it and coming away with less exhaustion and having benefited more often from slipstreaming. As we approached the first hill he moved to the head of the trailing peloton (or pelotons as we had fragmented into three or four groups by this point) and started to catch up to David who was still pounding away as the lone wolf.
After being caught up on the small hill and conscious that I was being left behind I pushed my cyclists to give their all in closing the gap and with a burst of speed slipped into second place just behind David's now struggling sprinteur as we made our way up the punishing final slope. The pack predictably closed up on this section and as we came out onto the final stretch it could have been anyones race - but whose legs were simply tiring at this point and whose were completely jellified? In the final positioning Jon's Rouleur slipped first past the post with my Sprinter just one place behind and David unfortunately running out of steam just at the last moment.
A reshuffle of the tables and I joined Tom and David for San Juan. After picking a quarry and some other building that gave me cards for playing city buildings I then had the city guild fall into my lap and so had the ideal engine. Pretty sure the other guys got fed up with my predictable swiping of the Builder every single round as we rattled to a short game with a lopsided end score despite David's best efforts to keep pace with Bank and Harbour and Tom's... well, he was farming an awful lot but unfortunately this wasn't Agricola.
As we were motoring on at a fair clip we went straight into Valley of the Kings, wherein Tom wreaked his revenge with a comprehensive thumping that revolved around two key moments - the first was in the early game when he stuffed virtually all of his start cards into his tomb, thinning his deck into a very effective machine, and the second was a monster combo chain of entombment in the late game that catapulted his score into a different league from us lesser god-kings.
After Dan’s rant about Vikings Go Wild, I’m not sure that I can either (a) add very much, or (b) talk about its redeeming features, but I’ll have a go anyway...
On the positive side, I quite like the artwork – cartoony and bright, without distracting from functionality. The premise of the game is also good – a deck-builder that includes an element of interaction that stops it being multi-player solitaire. I also liked the idea of being able to buy some cards (buildings) that sat in your tableau rather than in your deck, and gave you a bonus each turn.However, Dan’s ‘misgivings’ are pretty well-founded. It feels very much like a game that was designed by committee, and so a bit of everything was thrown into the pot – deck-building, tableau-building, attacking other players, defending your property, 2 separate currencies, random card appearances, shifting turn orders, special bonus cards and a pseudo-economic engine builder. At some point, someone needed to shout “STOP!”, and do a little deck-thinning of their own…
The main problem is that there is too much to do, and not enough time to do it. One strategy seems to be to build lots of buildings, which gets some sort of economic engine going. Except, in order to build enough buildings, you need to upgrade your Town Hall – twice – which costs an inordinate amount of gold. And by building these buildings, you create a big fat target for the other players to attack and score loads of points in the process. Unless you buy lots of defence cards – except there’s no time to do this as well as build lots of buildings. I won by buying 2 ‘draw 2 cards’ characters, adding a lucky ‘draw 3 cards’ bonus card, using my resources to buy (only 2) aggressive Vikings, and then having a storming round where I drew most of my deck and attacked all of Tom’s buildings, for a haul of 9 points (and you only need 30 to win the game). I felt like I’d found some sort of short-cut to victory, which shot me over the finishing line whilst Dan was still crawling along with his economic strategy of using his brewery to churn out beer barrels each turn (that Tom and I kept stealing).
The other annoying feature is the moving turn order, a la Puerto Rico. This is done in order to give everyone a fair choice of which buildings to attack each round, but the trouble is, you can’t draw your hand of 5 cards until the start of the next round. Which means that for two turns (or three turns in a four player game) you're sitting twiddling your thumbs. And then the turn order changes and you wait for a further two turns until you get to act again. As Dan intimated, in a four player game, that would be enough time to visit the bar, visit the little boys' room, and possibly visit James in Southampton...
Unlike Dan, I didn't get annoyed during the game (probably 'cos I was winning) but I came away feeling just a bit disappointed because, with a little self-discipline, the game could be so much better than it is.
Having said all that, Vikings Gone Wild is actually quite a bit of fun, which is more than can be said for a lot of the games out there. It just needs refining to make it fun AND a well-balanced game.Habitats with 3 (Paul, Jon & Phil) was a nice puzzle that breezes along at a swift canter but does leave you with a few head-scratching moments about where exactly is the best place to put your iguana, bearing in mind that it has a penchant for forests, lakes and rocky terrain… Phil picked up most of the in-game bonuses, but Jon had placed more high-value animals (and managed to complete most of them), so was able to pip him at the post by a handful of points. This is one of those gentle kick-back games, without a great deal of interaction, but somehow leaves you with a warm sense of satisfaction at the end (unless of course you are Paul, in which case you finish with a sense of frustration that your buffalo and your meerkat had been placed in such a way that it was impossible for them ever to enjoy their preferred habitats. Poor creatures…)