Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Because ya gotta have standards

Players: Alex, James, David, James, Soren, Paul A, Noel, Bryan, Philip, Rachel, Tom, Amanda, Jon, Dan

Once upon a time, in the good old days when patchy line drawings on badly cut punchboards were all the rage, it used to be that simply playing games was enough. Then with the resurgence of popularity in boardgaming, lead without doubt by quality productions from the German market, it became all about building a collection of great games that were well-designed and accessible. Words like 'elegant' and 'compelling' were bandied about. Things have shifted once again with the recent exponential explosion of publishers facilitated by crowdfunding, this time to a place where people are designing and publishing their own 'ideal' games regardless of whether or not they have the skill to pull it off. As there is seemingly no end of a thousand fools ready to part with $100+ on the back of unfinished rulesets, snatches of incomplete artwork and a plentitude of promises, more of these are coming to fruition than ever before. Let's face it, many of us have been one of those fools at some point or other.

The hobby has attracted it's fair share of people with a collector's mentality, and popular websites like BGG have helped to fuel the hype machines that feed on this by building up the desire to acquire and play the latest products. We have reached a point where many purchases are being made largely sight unseen, buying into vapourware before a finished product even exists, and not just through crowdfunding sites - we are committing to purchase games from established traditional publishers on the back of industry previews and early enthusiasm from distant places such as Origins or GenCon.

But is this really any different from those good old days? Before the advent of clicking a mouse or tapping a screen to make a purchase it was a requirement to visit a brick & mortar store in person, and to make decisions purely on the basis of back-of-the-box blurb. Misguided and misled purchases have always been inevitable; the only difference today is that the advent of online shopping and crowdfunding have made it easier to persuade us to buy games en masse, with more choice, easier access, and most significantly the intangibility of not having to weigh a box in one hand with cash held in the other. The purchasing impulse may now be harder to resist, but at least we can have a better impression of what a game will be like out on the table so that we can at least feel more confident about what we are investing in.

And it is that sense of false confidence that entices us to commit to games that don't meet the standards of quality that opened the hobby up to widespread appeal in the first place. Games may look prettier but competent design and development seem to have taken a step backwards, or at the very least the good designs are being drowned by the ever-increasing flood of vanity projects. The cheering backers encouraging everyone else along are often unwittingly hiding behind the sunk cost fallacy to dispel the notion that they may have squandered next week's grocery money on what will later turn out to be a healthy dose of buyer's remorse. Confirmation bias kicks in and others jump on for the ride, and so a mass of cock-eyed projects build a momentum that makes us believe something must be right if so many others are onboard; and then we end up with the likes of Up Front or Doom that came to Atlantic City. Or, even worse, just some very poor games that have now lowered the bar of what is considered acceptable standards of design and development.

With crowdfunding on the rise, particularly with it becoming an outlet for traditional publishers to speak directly to consumers, what lies ahead for the future of the hobby? Only one thing is certain, we will still be at The Apprentice every Wednesday playing games both old and new alike.

Dry-erase hexy bingo (Thanks Tom)

I arrived to find everyone in situ with I Love Trains and Coup (oops, add that to the burgeoning list). Luckily, Amanda turned up soon afterwards and we decided to situ down for a quick game of Traxx, from the designers of Quixx, soon to be joined by Dan and Noel. As said by Dan, it is essentially dry-erase hexy bingo but a rather enjoyable exercise at that.

There's a nice balance in terms of trying to maximise the number of hexes that you are able to use from each card, keeping your options open for the next turn (to avoid getting stuck in a dead end or too reliant on a certain colour being drawn *cough* Noel *cough*), and attempting to hit the big scoring hexes before anyone else. A good start to the evening with Amanda the victor.

Show Manager (Thanks Tom)

With the arrival of Jon, we had five (with others starting Specter Ops and Throat Clearing: The Card Game) and settled on a game of Show Manager. Now this is a game that I played when I first joined the club all of those years back and remember liking but not being wowed by. Having revisited it, I have to say that I don't think that I'd be turning down a game in the future. The rules are intuitive, there's a nice amount of tension in terms of drawing the right cards for your production and which production to put your bets on (in trying to secure a favourable city), and a little bit of push your luck with flushing out the market. It also didn't overstay its welcome with five.

As to the game itself, Amanda "played like a girl" (Jon's words not mine) insofar as she just focused on what she was trying to do and not getting one over on the rest of us. Despite investing heavily at the outset and having to draw on funds, three big productions (one of which was in New York) saw her triumph with 47 points. I came in second with 41. Noel and Dan tied for 3rd with 40 (after Dan stripped his money out of the Rats production sacrificing four victory points to me). Jon refused to divulge his score - merely referring to a badly chosen order for his production run.

Specter Ops (thanks Paul A)

Specter Ops is another entry in the "dude sneaks around, other dudes try to catch him" genre. (See Whitechapel, etc.) As such it's one of the better entries: the agent has targets to reach, both sides have powers they can deploy, the agent is likely to get wounded a bit and escape the hunters for another showdown ... like all examples of the type, it could be a little brittle (make a bad decision or get unlucky and the game is over). But it's not bad.

Kingdom Builder

Duelling reports this week for this hoary old club favourite.

Noel: "Bryan watched out the dying embers of a torturous Show Manager as everyone tried to eke out more/any points by flushing the draw pile in attempt to catch Amanda. The 6 of us then broke into two threes with Noel and Jon opting to take Bryan through his first play of Kingdom Builder. Both Noel and Jon, keen Kingdom Builders but also 'real gentlemen of IBG' shakearrrh kindly pointed out pitfalls and traps to Bryan in the first couple of turns.

The bonus cards were Shepherds (2 points if the settlement you are building is not next to any empty terrain of that kind), the largest area & 1 point for settlements next to Mountains. The Quarry tiles were also in play and Noel and Jon quickly grabbed these thinking they would be helpful to close out areas and pick up the Shepherding bonus.

Noel started with one of the Nomads tiles that allowed him to place in lakes so he began with an immediate 4 points for 2 settlements in closed 1 tile lakes. Jon picked the Nomad tile that allowed him to remove 1 of each others players settlements. He duly removed one of Noel's next to a bonus tile meaning he lost that bonus but was a little kinder to Bryan as the teaching continued.


a few turns in when Bryan constructed a complex move of moves and builds for multiple bonus points Noel and Jon realised the teaching had been well and truly completed and Bryan was a quicker learner - game faces on. With the shepherd's bonus and the quarry tiles to think about each turn there were multiple options and this was one of the most crunchy Kingdom builders yet played. The Quarries were very useful in a 3 player game as they closed down some of the territories, leading Noel and Jon to wonder if they would be a useful variant to give a set number to all players in a 3 player game.

When the game ended Noel was out in front having gained the most Shepherd bonuses. Jon caught up with the mountain builds while Bryan was just a little further back. However, in his last few moves Bryan had managed to connect 35 of his settlements bringing in 17 bonus points to shoot well into the lead. Although Noel closed the gap to just 2 with his castle points it wasn't enough and Bryan took his first win in only his 2nd game at IBG. Noel and Jon shook their heads and wondered what just happened... Bryan 64, Noel 62, Jon 52 "

Jon: "Noel's friend Bryan joined us for a 3-player game of KB, which can sometimes be a bit sub-optimal due to the spacious nature of the board. However, this game involved the Nomads expansion, with the 'Quarry' ability (build stone walls to block areas off) which both Noel and Jon picked up. This combined well with the 'Shepherds' scoring card, which gave 2 points every time you built a settlement which wasn't next to an empty hex of the same terrain type. At first glance, this didn't appear that interesting, but it soon became apparent that there were a number of possibilities for creating situations where this would score.

Consequently, the game became more 'thinky' than usual, but Bryan picked it up at a canter. Before the final scoring, Noel was ahead purely on the Shepherds points. Jon did well with the Miners (next to mountains) but scored poorly with building next to the Citadels, which Noel maxed out on. However, Bryan had been quietly building one large settlement area, and scored an impressive 17 points for his Citizens - enabling him to win by 2 points from Noel. Jon had used his stone walls so effectively that he had hemmed in several separate areas, meaning that he scored a measly 4 points for his Citizens and finished well behind.

Noel cam up with an idea for 3-player games that players should always all be given a number of walls that they can build during the game, which would increase flexibility, and effectively reduce the map size. Very interesting.....

All in all, I think that I'm falling in love with this game all over again - even if I am pretty rubbish at it! "

Rhino Hero (thanks Paul A)

Rhino Hero (a.k.a. SuperRhino) was there in all it's brain-burning analysis-paralysis glory. We were tested fiercely by it and barely survived. 

Evolution (Thanks Tom)

After Show Manager had finished, we were now six with the arrival of Brian and decided to break into two groups of three. Both Dan and I were eager to try James's copy of Evolution and drafted Amanda in as our third. We learned the game from the rulebook and this was intuitive enough as the game is really rather simply once you get the basics down. We were scuppered by a misunderstanding about how carnivores work and the unfortunate decision not to make clear on the Intelligence card that it wasn't dual function but it's function depended on the species being a herbivore or carnivore. I'd be up for another game (bring it along next week, James) as I really want to explore the combination of traits and the hand management issues that the game obviously wants to create. I am currently a bit worried though about the time that the game will take without playing trait cards simultaneously.

As to the game itself, Amanda again "played like a girl" and this led to her carnivore being rather ineffective, due to its love body weight. I over-expanded with my species but somehow managed to keep them all alive thanks to constant feeding of high cards into the watering hole. However, with the advent of my super predator (with high body weight and Pack Hunting), I managed to start eating a lot of food and reducing the population of some of Dan's species. This saw me to the victory with 108 points, with Dan on 80 and Amanda trailing in the 50s. 

Deep Sea Tentative Treasure Collectors (Thanks Tom)

Rachel and Phil wondered over having finished doing something or other in Renaissance Florence and Dan suggested Deep Sea Assholes. We managed to play two rounds before Fake Artist was produced for end of evening fun. I was a little disappointed by this to be fair as I didn't see where the Asshole part of the game would occur. This might be from picking up treasures on the way back up but frankly with five players, there was so little time to do anything before having to get back to the ship that this didn't really happen.

Is it a Strawberry? (Thanks Tom)

This was great fun as always other than my constantly getting over-excited and forgetting that there was a spy in our midst. As a result, my observations of "that's not a very good Strawberry" or "someone finish Jon's church" where not helpful in that context. I'm also very disappointed that Noel wasn't the spy for Christmas Day as it would have made my day to see him draw a happy little sun in the top corner for the third time running. Although I enjoyed it, preferred this with a few less as the downtime from having to write out eight individual clues led to a little too much downtime for my liking.

Also played: Fields of Glory: the card game, Coup G54, Isle of Trains, Valley of the Kings, Florenza: the card game

On our Boardgamegeek guild page James has initiated an open Q&A session with a new question each week. Feel free to play along at home, and even if you are not a regular IBG attendee you are more than welcome to join in with your own answers!

Last weeks question: "what are your thoughts on crowdfunding and its current place in game development? Have you backed any games on Kickstarter and the like and, if so, how did they work out?"

Jon: "In terms of Kickstarter, I'm afraid that I'm probably in the minority, being rather apathetic about the whole thing. I like the concept of indie designers being able to get their product to market via crowdsurfing, but all it seems to have done is produced a massive influx of games that are here today and gone tomorrow. For collectors that's great, but I'm rather of the 'quality over quantity' camp....
But then again, it's Monday morning and I'm probably feeling a bit 'bah humbug' about most things until I have that first coffee of the day... yuk"

Tom: "Although I myself have engaged with Kickstarter to some degree, this has tailed off quite a bit since it first came on the scene in 2012.
There have been some real successes out of this - Sushi Go!, Sentinels of the Multiverse & Fleet - but also some flops!
At present, I'm more than happy to err on the side of caution and wait for the games to hit the retail stores unless I know that there are possible issues with getting the game or if it's a publisher I want to support, such as Tim Fowers (Burgle Bros & Paperback) or Grail Games (Too Many Cinderellas & Elevenses).
In respect of the latter, those are two publishers that may still be able to get their games produced without the assistance of crowdfunding, e.g. by way of pre-orders, but would have a lot more difficulty in doing so. On that note, I consider that crowdfunding is something to be lauded. On the other hand, you have your Queen and Eagle-Gryphons who I think are using KS as a glorified pre-order system in of itself which I don't agree with.
I hold no truck with Kickstarter exclusives and the like. Frankly, if a project takes me two minutes to scroll down to look at all the various stretch goals, I'll generally move on unless those goals relate solely to component quality or minor additions to existing gameplay components (e.g. the extra character cards for Harbour). At the same time, I think that Paul A will be able to attest to projects with give you tens of hundreds of extra miniatures!
It is interesting to look at the number of projects on which I pledged and then withdrew - very happy that didn't pick any of them up (other than perhaps Council of Verona)!! Ultimately, it's a case of backer beware. If it's a first-time designer, without any third party input in terms of design or logistics, then don't be surprised when they don't deliver on time or the game is a pile of rubbish. "

Paul A: "Jon, I don't think you are in the minority - there is a growing feeling that while KS is generally a Good Thing, it has lead to the creation of a lot of games that we could have easily done without. As well as acting as a pre-order system for companies that don't really need it (*koff* Queen Games *koff*).
KS preys heavily on the gamers fear of missing out, and you see this sentiment expressed a lot in discussions: jump onboard or you'll regret it! It's also allowed publishers to effectively recruit gamers as publicists, with people trying to attract more pledges so stretch goals can be reached.
I'll cop to being as vulnerable to KS hype as the next person. I've not had any outright bad experiences, but it has been mixed. I dived in on a game that on reflection I really didn't need (Ground Floor), got an old favourite that was long out of print (Last Frontier: The Vesuvius Incident), had one small project where the creator just upped and vanished (Stab City), a few that ran more than a year overdue (Incursion, Guide to Glorantha (Two Volume Set) et al.), one game that was just mediocre (Sedition Wars: Battle for Alabaster). On the upside, Omen: A Reign of War, Where Art Thou Romeo? and Heroes of Normandie delivered more or less on time and are nifty. But, coupled with some late preorders on other fronts, I'm more or less done with KS.

Dan: "Kickstarted boardgames seem so full of promise but the overwhelmingly vast majority end up being under-developed, poor quality and derivative vanity projects. A couple of successful small publishers have used KS to get their business started (>G and Indie B&C for example), but seeing as they had good product and good business sense they could have succeeded quite admirably had they gone the standard route of business financing.
I too have pulled out of far more than I've actually bought, and Council of Verona is the only one that I would also regret were it not for the fact that I picked up a copy in trade very shortly after they were sent out to backers. So I'm kind of glad that I didn't back it as I ended up getting it more cheaply than the KS anyway.
Sentinels of the Multiverse was a great one for me; I like the game and got all the things more cheaply than retail plus some very profitable KS exclusives that I sold on. Plus I made a lot of new friends within the >G community, which is worth more than the game any day. Heroes of Normandie I have mixed feelings about, I like the game but it just doesn't get played, then again I sold most of the extraneous material for more than I invested so technically I got that game for free. I'm looking forward to Thunderbirds, fully confident that will be a good purchase. Cinderella was a good punt, plus I got some expansions for Flash Point quite cheaply although not a great buy as I don't play it much anymore.
The only turd that I actually paid good money for was Kremlin, thank god I managed to sell that on quickly without a loss. All in all I have been extremely careful with what I choose to back and have had a good ride so far as a result. To be totally honest though, the only KS game that I would ever consider citing as genuinely great is Council of Verona, even then an established publisher would no doubt have improved on it by toning down the extravagant production and included the Poison tokens instead. "

Paul D: "My only experience of kickstarter was a positive one with Greed. But I'm not sure it was too much better than waiting another few days - James came up with a copy shortly after so not sure why I really bothered.
I do like the idea of giving indie designers s chance but I'm not sure that it's happening as the. Campaigns need to be fairly pro to get anywhere. I could try it again but don't feel the need to.
But I'm really interested in Mr Horabin's comments on the matter having kicked quite a few. "

Gary: ""KS preys heavily on the gamers fear of missing out" - Great point. This is absolutely what happened to me backing several games, but particularly Forge War.
As someone new and enthusiastic to boardgaming and having a collecting (and somewhat obsessive) mentality, Kickstarter was an irresistible pull for me.
Once I found it, I couldn't stop backing new, shiny stuff that looked great on paper. Also the feeling of being involved that you can get from some projects and designers can be very rewarding.
HOWEVER (and, as you can see, it is a big however), I think I am pretty much through that phase now! I have backed quite a bit of stuff on Kickstarter in the meantime, mostly as family games. (I've just looked it up and I've backed 19 games since my first pledge in November 2013.) One didn't deliver (bloke went bust) and another looks to have gone that way too. Most of the others have been all a bit "meh" and haven't really been played more than once or twice.
I am finally starting to get it into my thick, collecting-obsessed skull that more is not better in boardgaming. And it is very rare that "better" can be associated with Kickstarted projects in any event.
As others have pointed out, there are some exceptions, mostly through those independent game publishers who have used Kickstarter as their business model for distribution. So Harbour, by TMG, is great (though I could equally have gotten it retail) (though Dungeon Roll has less legs). Among the Stars is OK too, as a family game, and Artipia is also a publisher that uses Kickstarter a lot. Viticulture Collector's Edition is quite good (and Jamie Steggmeier does a great job with his campaigns), but I didn't really need another worker placement game.... And Province has been a nice little microgame to take to the coffee shop for $5.
But I can honestly say in retrospect that it would be no great loss not to have Kickstarted any of these games. It is clear that the mainstream published game industry still produces much better games in 99% of cases.
(The less said the better about Queen's antics - though just to mention, if you didn't see it, that Donald X commented on their current Kickstarter for Kingdom Builder Marshlands that (a) they only had the licence to produce it if they did so by the end of June 2015 and (b) as he hadn't been paid by them for 2014 he wasn't feeling inclined to extend that licence....)
So, I do think Kickstarter is great. But, as always, buyer beware. I may still back the occasional Collectors Edition (I'm still waiting for the Collector's Edition of the family game Tokaido) or something if the Stretch Goals are a real pull (eg Among the Stars), most likely if it is an established publisher.
But I think I'm mostly over it...
Now let me see which retailer I can order copies of Voyages of Marco Polo and La Granja from.... perhaps I haven't yet shaken the collecting bug altogether... "

James: "Kickstarter... most of my thoughts have already been said.
Great if you can avoid the postage costs
Not good if there are a ton of exclusives, and a high postage cost.
Seems obsessed with games including miniatures
Generally reliable, but can get stung (cough - Up front - cough)
Don't like major game publishers using it as a pre-order service
A few good games, but a lot of dross... but I tend to support anything that takes control away from the bigger players and allows creativity to flourish.
Would games like Essen 13, Evolution, Council of Verona have been published without it ?"

Soren: "There is a lot of tat and hyped pre-ordering on Kickstarter, but also some good, worthy games if picking carefully. I have generally been happy, and games such as Alien Frontier, Sunrise City, Krosmaster Arena and Xia have been great buys and may not have happened at all without Kickstarter."

Noel: "No real interest at all for me in Kickstarter, when buying games I like a bargain and often to know I like them so will usually have played first. Kickstarter to me means Heroes Wanted, Super Dungeon Explore, ScoVille... overproduced and disappointing...
Maybe I would get in on a reprint on something I wanted or an expansion to a favourite game, but there are no shortage of great games to play and would probably just wait until it arrived in the normal way. "

This weeks question: "Who are your favourite game designers, and/or the ones you consider are the ones to watch in the coming years?"

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Hudson on Hyde Park

Players: David, Quinland, James, Olga, Neil, Dan

A special additional game night slotted into the calendar this week to celebrate the return of our old friends David and Quinland from Oregon. It was Poker Night upstairs so we were sent packing to what was a rather lovely table in the bay window at the front of the pub.
In honor of their visit (see what I did there?)  I have chosen the most American picture I could find on the internet for tonight's blog. 
I do hope they will still want to come back.


This is the kind of quick filler material that is dead simple to explain, and dead simple to play (even while preoccupied with wolfing down one of The Apprentices finest steak pies), yet it is far more difficult than you might imagine. Quinland won convincingly, but we'll give ourselves a pass as she was after all the most recent one of us to have sat through a history lesson.

Colt Express

Despite the rules being 'Jamesed' David and Quinland were quite accommodating about flying several thousand miles to sit and watch a man read from a rulebook. David had a narrow victory over Olga after James got too greedy in raiding the briefcase from the engine room and put a target on his back.


James is still obsessed with Spiders, David and Quinland solved their clues pretty quickly despite my having to dump a load of crappy cards on Quinland, Olga missed the most obvious clue of the game which then meant that every subsequent card I gave her just confused things further, and Neil had a rough time as it was phenomenally difficult to match cards to his clues. 

Six players is far, far too many with too much downtime for the investigators as it's much harder for the ghost to juggle who gets their dream first - with five dreams to juggle and fifteen or more active cards on the table there is a lot of scope for mis-interpretaion and it was the most challenging game I've had as the ghost. People tend to focus on their neighbour's dreams rather than the whole table (no surprise that D&Q were at the opposite end of the table from James ), people end up taking two turns in the same round, cards get mixed up, days get missed, and so on.

Despite, or because of, all this we got to the end and 'won'

A Fake Artist Goes To New York 

A different kind of game to previous efforts with everybody working on their own little space instead of one central piece. James straddled the language barrier at one point but managed to correct his 'Trousers' clue before he spread more than the usual amount of confusion. Neil had the wooden spoon of being Fake Artist more than anyone else but did quite well in correctly guessing the clue. Went down well again.


Never a dull moment with this club favourite for some end-of-evening fun. David stomped to victory after being involved in a brace of big two-player hauls - the first a massive seal hunt that tanked after an encounter with Nanuk, the second was a bird hunt that nobody else believed would run on for a whole eight days. 

No fancy question of the week for this edition!

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

One Step From? One Step Beyond!

Players: John, Jon, James, Paul A, Paul D, Jenaid, Chris, Dan, Noel, Amanda

What makes a good game great? We all have a burgeoning designer within us whether we choose to accept it or not, a keen eye for just what a game needs in order to be slightly more refined, a touch more challenging, or just a little bit better overall. Although our taste in games is naturally subjective, and the changes we would often like to see would only devalue the game for others, there are times where a fundamental change seems so obvious to all that it is a mystery how a game got through development in the first place without it. 
Perhaps the most obvious one in the pantheon of club favourites would be the Poison tokens in Council of Verona, which should have been in the otherwise rather flaccid base game right from the off. Many others come to mind, such as the 'H' mechanic in Sentinels of the Multiverse or the River start in Carcassonne, but these are all examples of things that have already been seamlessly integrated into the original games as an afterthought. This week we delve into those other games that are one step from greatness and still lacking the one thing they need to make the grade.

Beasty Bar 
James and I set up a quick game of Beasty Bar while we were waiting for the eternal game of G54 to crunch to a conclusion. It's one of those games that starts with a very simple premise, playing 'take-that' cards to mess everybody else around, then lathers a ton of complicated stuff on the top that puts it just out of the reach of being the light and airy game it seemingly strives to be. I think it would be a lot more chaotic and fun with more than two, but just not convinced it would sit high enough in the pecking order against other games with similar intent.

7 Wonders with Cities (thanks Paul A)
7 Wonders occupies a strange place for me. I will never ask for it, but I enjoy it in the moment of playing. There was an expansion of some sort added, which probably meant more to those who've played the game to exhaustion. There was much war from John, much avoidance of war from Paul building to a satisfactory end.

Firenze (thanks James)

First game for Amanda which was unfortunate for her in the sense that she was joining a fierce rivalry between James and Noel... Still she picked up the game quickly and showed her true colours when after Noel destroyed one of her towers (with a vicious and uncalled for move) she ignored his pleas to do the same to me as some kind of retaliation... I knew there was a reason why I liked Amanda's all too rare visits

By mid stage I'd managed to create a short lead based on claiming a couple of bonus tiles... Noel saw at this stage that he was going to struggle in the long game, so coupled with the bonus card for 3/4 high towers he started to try and accelerate the end of the game. Amanda had recovered from Noel's treachery and was looking to claim some of the bonus's herself.

Suddenly the end game was in sight due to Noel's strategy... I narrowly survived the near demolition of a 7 high yellow tower and was focused on bagging any points I could get in the last few moves. Noel completed his last 3-high tower and the game was done.

Scoring was tense as although it looked like I had the lead Noel's bonus's started to add up... luckily the last element of scoring with the bonus's for the most tower in each colour helped to push me ahead and I think I won by 5 points... Noel held in his defeat like the stoic warrior he is... but I could tell it hurt ... Amanda looked on in awe at the battle she had been part of.

Kingdom Builder (thanks Paul D) 
Newcomers to IBG, Jenaid and Chris were keen to try something that they hadn't played before and were happy to take guidance on this, so Paul used it as an excuse to table Kingdom Builder which seemed to go down well.

The winning conditions in this game were Hermits (a point per individual settlements), Workers (a point per settlement next to a special hex) and Farmers (3 points for each settlement in the quadrant on the board with your least settlements - i.e. put a lot down and spread them around evenly).

The special abilities allowed players to jump existing settlements, move an existing settlement to the chosen terrain card, add a settlement if it touches three existing settlements and adding a settlement to the edge of the board.

Paul started somewhere in the middle figuring that this would be easiest to spread into the four quadrants. Chris achieved this by using horses and Jenaid with her edge of board abilities. Jenaid scooped up the most special abilities the quickest and therefore was laying settlements most rapidly. Chris found himself a little isolated in one half of the board at one stage, but spread by virtue of two horses each turn (I've never seen a double jump in Kingdom Builder).

The games looked fairly even as the end conditions approached with Jenaid's multiple extra settlement abilities allowing her her finish first. As the scores were totted up, Chris and Paul maxed on Castles and did best on Hermit points, Jenaid had the most workers on Workers and Paul and Jenaid were looking best on the Farmer front. Jenaid was first to get a final count at 57 points. Chris got there with a healthy 55 points. Paul eventually managed to count his Farmers correctly and came in at 56 points (he'd have won if his initial incorrect total was right!). So never a closer game has been before. Final scores: Jenaid 57, Paul 56, Chris 55 (actually I made the numbers up as I can't remember them, but I do remember that we were all separated by one consecutive point in that order).


Welcome to the Dungeon (thanks Paul A)

A wretched tiring week at work for me, so gaming came as a welcome relief. Dan ran away, so it was left for me to introduce Welcome to the Dungeon to Jon and John. For such a light game, I think it actually helps to have played before since we all were far too pushy and daring when setting up the dungeon. As a consequence, the winner was the only one who hadn't died. Still, a fun game, as always.

Istanbul (thanks Noel) 
Istanbul played 4 players in an hour, including a rules explanation for 2 new players (Dan and Amanda), so kudos for that. It was pretty close perhaps only because James thought we were playing to 6 gems but Dan and I would have each got our final gem on our next move. It seemed like only a couple of errant moves on our parts proved the difference to James's streamlined collecting of all the bonus tiles and then the money gem. A fine night on top of the podium for James...until Jon stitched him up in Fake Artist... 

A Fake Artist Goes To James' Face

Paul A: "A Fake Artist Goes to New York is pure genius and just what I needed. How do I draw something that is obviously a donkey, without giving away it's a donkey? Probably it was too hard for the spy, but it doesn't matter."
Dan: "The highlight of the evening was Jon's not so subtle rendition of a giant question mark when hopelessly lost with the mental scribblings he had been handed. Also see the rather scary interpretations of his clue 'James' Face'"

Also played this week: Coup Guatemala '54, Valley of the Kings

On our Boardgamegeek guild page James has initiated an open Q&A session with a new question each week. Feel free to play along at home, and even if you are not a regular IBG attendee you are more than welcome to join in with your own answers!

Last weeks question: "One Step Away from Greatness - With so many games to try and so many new ones coming out each year, those that don't quite cut it are soon to be consigned to the trade pile and largely forgotten. However, some games come within a hairs breadth of being great.

So, what would you choose to do if you were asked to redesign just one part of one game that would transform it into a keeper?

James: "My initial answer to Dan's question is to remove the surveyor from Snowdonia... Turns a good game into a great one as it will force players with limited imagination into following a proper strategy
I'm sure I'll think of something else later in the week...

Noel: "I think deciding when its ok to use your worker for the Snowdonia surveyor is still an interesting decision, as it leaves other spots for cards and resources free for everyone else to use imaginatively and more efficiently . The surveyor bonus cards do seem a bit of a misfit though, as there are only two of them meaning whoever is start player when they appear can grab them. I don't think there are any other bonus cards that people need to take as a blocking action, so not sure this is fits particularly well with the rest of the game. Perhaps if there were more surveyor bonuses that linked with other bits of the game rather than a big old straight up bonus?
For me, its TtR. I think its good but don't play it so often as a 'gateway' because its just so quiet with limited chat. I'd like something in there that causes a bit of social interaction. Not imaginative enough to work out what, I'm a Snowdonian surveyor.

Paul A: "I am always redesigning games, saying "If this was my game, I'd throw out these rules ..." Some recent examples:
* I quite enjoy Imperial Settlers but if I had my way, I'd double the icon size and eliminate the last round.
* Kingsburg is also a decent game, but I can't shake the feeling that it can turn on the roll of the invaders dice at the end of the season and whether you get lucky or not. I'd go for a more graded set of punishments: miss it by one and suffer a small hit, miss it by 3 and suffer a big one.
* As for The Adventurers: The Temple of Chac, if you die you're basically out of the game ... but still playing. I'd replace the binary death with hitpoints / injuries or something. And add a proper modular board. "

Tom: "I feel that Arctic Scavengers is a game that falls nicely inside this bracket. A very interesting take on deck building with a delightful touch of bluffing in terms of the end of turn scuffles. It's just missing one thing that I can't quite put my finger on in terms of making it a game that I am always willing to play. Perhaps a little more screwage in terms of cards like the Sniper and Saboteur? Maybe a reduction on luck in terms of Contested Resources - e.g. a Field Crew is far superior to a 3 person Tribe Family.
Dungeon Fighter: so much fun but so frustrating in terms of the die skidding across the target like Bambi on ice meaning that even throwing the die without the behind the back, under the leg nonsense is borderline impossible.
Eminent Domain - another deckbuilder. This one again has a lot going for it but Lou and I always hit the 90 minutes mark when we play which is a big minus. It feels that there is a very good game here but it just doesn't have that X Factor. Maybe it's a question of expectations and if viewed as something that should be played quickly (e.g. Race for the Galaxy) then that may be the key. It's also perhaps not helped by an unfamiliarity with the available technologies which would help guide strategy otherwise.

Paul D: "The obvious candidate for me is Machi Koro, and especially with the harbour expansion and new draw mechanism. It's such a good game, but even though I like it so much, I must admit that the card distribution and the 'only ten piles showing' mechanism do leave it somewhat unbalanced and can result in a runaway leader, with others not having done much wrong but left trailing in their wake. I'm hoping that the new 'Millionaire's Row' expansion deals with this.
An example of a game that did fall into this category but it's been sorted is Trains. It was a fun game, but the balance between the board and the cards was out of whack and missed the point of what they were trying to do by introducing the board, and so out came the Rising Sun expansion, and it's now genuinely really quite superb, instead of nearly really quite superb.
But there are also a load of games which are close to being there, but as they aren't quite, they're actually terrible. The infamous 'Kings of Mithril' falls into this camp - it was like the designers put a lot of time into it and got so close, but just didn't bother finishing it off properly, so they have a roll and move element which drags any of the good bits down into oblivion. This shows me what a tightrope games designers walk, and as board gamers we're fairly unforgiving of mistakes and anything not thought through ad infinitum will be an utter failure, however many other good bits it has. "

Dan: "Huh, I was also going to suggest Machi Koro but for completely different reasons. The problem I have is the way that you merrily play on for an hour or so then suddenly someone says "oh, I've won" and everything goes back into the box. It feels like an anticlimax to what is otherwise an alright game and I'm left with the feeling that everything I've been doing has just been rendered completely meaningless. I like the idea, the gameplay and the graphic design, but the endgame leaves me cold as I don't feel like I have anything to show for my involvement in the game other than not being the first person to get the game-winning dice roll that I needed."

Tash: "there are so, so many - but I would say one of the most interesting parts of our hobby is that, with any mechanic, there is almost always someone lurking to put those near misses right and fulfil the potential of the mechanic.
I would probably choose Antike as the near miss of all time. It was just brilliantly close to being the quick and simple civ-building/wargame that is the holy grail of one kind of boardgamer. Until we played it a few times and realised there were ways to exploit the wheel that gave a straight-up advantage to the first and second players that there was no real fix for. And a slight imbalance between the resource-building and wargame elements. But... close.

Jon: "I think that Letters from Whitechapel falls into this category for me. It's a game that I really enjoyed playing a few times, but the downtime for the player playing Jack is too much, which is only slightly remedied by turning it into a 2-player game, which then takes all the fun out of the collaborative discussions between the police players. Shame...."

This weeks question: "what are your thoughts on crowdfunding and its current place in game development? Have you backed any games on Kickstarter and the like and, if so, how did they work out?"

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

All the nice things

Players: James, Paul D, Jon, Tom, Dan, Andy

"There's more to life than shiny things." - Everyone's mum
Not that I'm about to pit my mum against Frank Lloyd Wright in a quote-off or anything, although I reckon she could have him in a bare knuckle brawl if it came down to it, but with all the talk around blinged up boardgames I thought it would be due time to discuss the ever-receding line of completionism that is often reached for in this hobby. There are players of games and there are collectors of games, most often we are somewhat of a mixture of the two. It may be baffling why someone would spend several hundred dollars on a luxury edition of their favourite boardgame, but is it much different from spending a similar amount buying into every expansion for a relatively unseen game? Or piling up unopened, unplayed games on a shelf or in a corner nook of the attic?
Nobody needs the gold-plated hand-carved version of a game any more than they need the limited edition Wil Wheaton promo card, but they want them all the same, and is this really any different from buying yet another box that is just like another one already on the shelf, except it plays six with worker placement and deck building just in case the occasion should ever arise. Maybe the people who punt their cash on a top quality version of a game they get a lot of play out of are saner than the rest of us after all.
I'll leave you with one more fitting quote: “Contemplation seems to be about the only luxury that costs nothing.” - Dodie Smith.


Tom: "TROLL didn't benefit from a number of false starts as myself, James and Paul D were first halted by a fundamental rules error (guess who was rules explainer) and then the appearances of Jon and Dan.

The game itself was in a similar push your luck/bluffing vein to Welcome to the Dungeon but I think actually pulls off what it's trying to achieve slightly better than that title. However, at the same time, it is both a lot drier and quite a bit slower and ultimately is dwarfed by the insurmountable brilliance of the Blue Lobsters of Diamant. I won."
Jon: "usually the sort of semi-blind bidding game that I like, but perhaps not helped by using James’ patented method of teaching a new rule every 5 minutes…
This isn’t a terrible game at all, but it reminded me of ‘Felix the Cat in the Sack’, which is a lot better to play, and much nicer looking."

Tom: "By the time that Dragon Teeth Washer (aka TROLL) had finished, Andy had turned up and we commenced a six player of Pictomania following the triumph of last week. It didn't quite zing like last week. Having discussed it with Dan, it has to be played at a greater speed with less time spent on carefully considering the options available as this leads to errors and hilarity. Nevertheless, there were still several laugh at loud moments such as Paul's abominable effort in drawing "shoes". Luckily, my picture of "Sensuality" wasn't saved for posterity - "rub rub".

Dan was victorious this time around - pipping me by two points. Paul's drawing skills didn't help him, James was often the black sheep and Andy spent far too long on drawing his meisterwerks."
Jon: "great fun, and I prefer it when the words get harder and more abstract, as it encourages greater lateral thinking and head scratching, rather than a mad rush to throw tokens at each other. Shame that no-one appreciated my efforts to draw a car ‘jack’ to clarify that my drawing of a bird was in fact a sparrow…. But it was nice to see that James thinks that a ‘bailiff’ is someone who locks prisoners in a cell…"

(thanks Jon)
This hasn’t been played for some time, but Paul, James and Jon were all keen, so out it came, this time using the NE US map. James chose his starting position first, and plonked himself in the South East, next to a nice large mountain range. Jon took the South West, next to some juicy remote locations, whilst Paul took the North East, surrounded by a nice combination of cities and remote locations.
James’ plan soon became clear – lay rails in the mountain ranges, and then use the Mining Trains (worth one coin for every rail you have in the mountains) to buy some Skyscrapers (4 points each). Paul was laying track and building stations, with the intent of stretching out into the North West and collecting a route bonus along the way. Jon was trying Noel’s ‘minimalist board building’ strategy, and picked up train cards and Control Rooms (draw 3 extra cards) to cycle through his deck and aim to build Skyscrapers.
The Mining Trains (combined with a card that essentially copied the Mining Train) started to pay enormous dividends for James when he’d built his 7th rail in the mountains, and although he didn’t have that many points on the board, he started to hoover up the Skyscrapers. Jon saw what was happening, and as his deck was starting to clog with Skyscrapers and associated waste, he decided to buy up several irrelevant cards to end the game, before James could take the last 2 Skyscrapers. As Paul was about to lay rails into a remote location and score at least 7 points (including a route bonus) and James would almost certainly have built skyscrapers and possibly laid rails into a 5-point remote location, this proved to be a judicious move, as he ended the game just ahead of James, who was only a few points ahead of Paul. As usual, it’s all about timing, with very little room for error.
This was a great game, with some cards that synced beautifully for some lovely combos, and it wrapped up in under an hour. Perfect!

(thanks Tom)

Dan, Andy and myself tried out my new copy of Elysium, fresh from the Expo. I had managed a two player game with James at the Expo and it hadn't quite sung but it was heartily impressive with three.

Dan went for the dick family, Poseidon, stealing from Andy and myself every which way and raking in VPs for himself thanks to his early acquisition of the Lords of the Sea card. Andy in the meantime was establishing a nice money generating engine (thanks to Hesperatus) and attempting to link this up with transferring cards into his Elysium with the assistance of Hades. I, in the meantime, had acquired the very helpful Charon who gave me two VPs every time I transferred two cards into my Elysium. This coupled with a couple of VP generating Zeus cards saw me in the lead in terms of VP chips.

Whilst this was going on, I had established a healthy lead in terms of a 2 value collection with Dan and Andy getting end game bonuses for the 1 and 3 value collections respectively. All of these collection were two way battles with the family bonuses disregarded until Dan acquired a full Poseidon family at last blush.

At the end, the scores were very close with Andy taking the win thanks to an astonishing 12 VP end game bonus from his 1 value collection which contained three different Gatherings (each of which awarded him 4 VPs, for 4 different families in that collection). I was 4 points behind and Dan 2 points further back. Will certainly be brining this back.

Too Many Cinderellas
(thanks Jon)
First time for me, and we played 3-player. Seems ok – feels a little bit like Council of Verona for some reason, but without the subtleties of that game. It’s got the voting mechanism from ‘King Up’ which is always fun when 2 people use their ‘No’ votes on the same card (as Paul & James did twice running…)
Fake Artist Goes to New York
Tom: "Thanks to us ending at the same time as the other table, a five player game of A Fake Artist Goes to New York was arranged with Andy exhausted from his previous artistic efforts. I have been interested in trying this for a while now and it was a highly enjoyable experience. As James described it, it's a visual version of Spyfall and, in my opinion, is actually the far better game. It was mentioned that a downside is that one player won't be involved in a particular round but I think that I had just as much fun watching the others trying to draw "Bee" and guessing myself who the spy was. I'll let Dan tell you all about his social experiment!"

Jon: "Spyfall meets Pictionary. Much hilarity and not as straightforward as it sounds. If someone can come up with an app so that you don’t have to have one person sit out each round, then it would be perfect."
Dan: "Some more highlights from Fake Artist:
The clue was Bee so James goes ahead and draws... a Bee...
My picture of the London Apprentice sign being reinterpreted by Jon as someone attempting to leap from a window... not sure what he was subconsciously trying to tell us about his thoughts on drawing games...
Is it a Carrot or is it a Strawberry... only Tom can tell us...
And finally, confusion reigned when I gave everybody the clue "spy"... including the spy..."

Super Rhino
Tom: "To close off the evening, Super Rhino which was a big hit as always. In fact, I do believe that a certain rhino may be finding a new home in the Wooden residence very soon"
Jon: "OK, I admit it, I was hooked after one game and definitely need to pick this up. It’s so rare for a decent manual dexterity game to be in such a small box. Kudos to the designer…"

On our Boardgamegeek guild page James has initiated an open Q&A session with a new question each week. Feel free to play along at home, and even if you are not a regular IBG attendee you are more than welcome to join in with your own answers!

Last weeks question: "Did anyone else spot the announcement that Days of Wonder are going to be selling copies of Small World Designer Edition from their web site next week... at the low low price of $450 (plus P&P)... I mean it looks fabulous, but that's a lot of bagbagbagbagbag

So the question is this...

Is there a game that you'd love so see produced in a 'deluxe' edition like this...? And then, if it was available... how much would you be prepared to pay for it !??

Dan: "Well obviously if they produced
in a luxury format it would have to sell for One Million Dollars..."
Neil: "I think I'd go for a deluxe version of Hawaii. You get the whole island obviously.
Or maybe a decent Ticket to Ride collection, would need to be a damn sight better than the 10th Anniversary Edition though!
Tony Boydell has a wonderful box for his Agricola.

I think I would sell the Mrs for a 'Rosenberg Chest of Games', and I'm not suggesting she's cheap before you ask.

It's only money you know..."

Tom: "In terms of deluxe editions, I'm really not sure. Space is at a premium and more often than not I value economical box size and pound-for-pound gameplay over a ritzy looking behemoth nowadays.

That being said, the big version of Rhino Hero that James was talking about on Wednesday does sound fun... "

Paul A: "Deluxe editions I'm usually immune to. I mean, the deluxe TtR is lovely as is the deluxe Hanabi but I can't really see my way to spending money for "lovely". My sole purchase in that space has been buying the supersize map for High Frontier, and that was more a question of functionality more than prettiness. "

James: "Who wouldn't want to play this
I'd like someone to bring out a deluxe version of Tumblin-Dice, perhaps with a 'out of bounds barrier' so that Phil's miss aims don't disappear off the back of the table and into the Thames...
Tikal could look fabulous with 3D tiles... imagine building the towers up with sculpted pieces instead of cardboard.
Lastly I'd love a copy of Deep Sea Adventure with bits like this...

Noel: "this 3d Version of Notre Dame is very cool:
Jon: "In terms of deluxe versions, I always liked this version of Rallyman. Merely an ok game, but this homebrew board design is preeetttty.......
Tash: "I am one of those gamers who couldn't give a continental jam tart what their games look like or even (to be honest) what state of repair they're in. I am called the "Beer spiller" by some gamers, which probably gives you an idea of why it is that my mother once memorably said to me:
"And that's why you don't deserve nice things."
On the other hand, if there was a chance to spill a pint of beer over the $450 Deluxe Small World ... I'm your man for that task."

This weeks question: "One Step Away from Greatness - With so many games to try and so many new ones coming out each year, those that don't quite cut it are soon to be consigned to the trade pile and largely forgotten. However, some games come within a hairs breadth of being great.

So, what would you choose to do if you were asked to redesign just one part of one game that would transform it into a keeper?"