Wednesday, 14 October 2009

And God created woman.....

Players: Philip, Daniel, Iain, Barrie, Gareth, Tonio, John, Jon, Johan, George, Mark, Jayden, Julia

Tonight we welcomed 4 more newcomers: Mark, George - who we had assumed was a phantom, but turned out to be flesh and blood (and darned good at Alhambra), Jayden and Julia (yes - a female! - it's official: boardgames aren't just for blokes!)
Unfortunately there had been a mix-up in the pub and we found ourselves downstairs in the conservatory, sharing the room with what can only be kindly described as a "family meal out". But despite this, we soldiered bravely on to play a plethora of fine games.....

High Society
After a debate about which tables to nab in the conservatory, the first 5 through the door had a go at this auction quickie. It was new to Mark, but (despite his final score) he seemed to pick it up quickly.
Daniel’s tactic seemed to be “pick up every card you can” whilst Barrie appeared dumbfounded at the level of the bidding (over $40,000 for one card). The 4th red card came out with still a few left unturned (including the Thief) and in the final reckoning, Barrie’s late purchase of the ‘9’ was enough to swing him the victory (although he was only $2000 away from elimination).
Daniel needed some higher maths to figure out the score from his multiple cards, which it turned out would have been enough to win if Mark had been a tiny bit more frugal with his bidding. Jon and Gareth were apparently saving up for a rainy day…
Barrie 10 ($23k); Daniel 7.5 ($34k); Gareth 7 ($50k); Jon 6 ($49k); Mark 4 ($21k)

Whilst this game was going on, George and our new Kiwi couple turned up, so Philip joined them for a couple of games of -

Dominion (thanks to Philip for info on this one)
Of the 4 players, George had played before extensively, Philip had played about a quarter of a game the previous Friday at Barrie's house, and Jayden and Julia were completely new to it all.
The first game was played using the set-up recommended in the rules for a first game, with fairly straightforward cards available. Philip went for the boring treasure strategy - buying Silver then Gold then Provinces with occasional other cards like Smithy, Militia and Market. The other three players invested mainly in Smithies, Villages and Moats, with Julia also buying Militia.
Philip was able to start buying Provinces before his opponents, and that quickly led to his victory, although George was close on his heels.
Philip 39; George 36; Jayden 18; Julia 11

The second game was played using "Big Money", with, as the name suggests, lots of money generating cards. Again Philip played for treasure, assisted by the helpful Bureaucrat. Markets were a common card between the sets and Philip bought several.
There was no Village, but its distant cousin, the Laboratory, proved very popular, with Julia buying about half a dozen and playing them in chains throughout the game. Julia also went for the Moneylender, trashing her Coppers, and the Adventurer instead of buying Gold, which led to her going through her entire deck at one point but only finding 7 coins, which she sensibly used to buy a Gold.
Julia and Jayden's engines competed with Philip’s for Provinces towards the end, while George's stalled, as he was getting unhelpful hands like Throne Rooms without any other action cards.
Again Philip was the eventual winner, having 10 coins with 2 buys in the final turn, allowing him to purchase a Province and an Estate. Not far behind were Jayden and Julia, who were tied for second place (ahhh….young love…). The second place was given to Jayden, on the assumption that money was the tie-breaker, but it is actually turn order - which Jayden still won on, as Julia went first.
Not quite sure what George was doing – after all, you even start with 3 points in your hand at the beginning of the game!
Philip 34; Jayden 27; Julia 27; George 6

Tonio and John had now arrived, and immediately decided to have a go at saving the world -

Pandemic (thanks to Daniel for info on this one)
Two rounds of this excellent co-operative game were played by Daniel, Mark, John and a long-suffering Tonio (whose claim all night long was "I'm definitely leaving after this pint... okay then, one more game!").
It seems that the details of this game are a little hazy, but as it was Mark and Tonio’s first time, it was decided to go ‘vanilla’, and play at the ‘normal’ difficulty level. This valiant disease control team seemed to be doing well, yet struggled to find cures and became stretched too thinly across the board to save the world from dying from mass outbreaks of The Red Plague.
Daniel, Tonio, Mark, John – all lost.

Only one thing to do – try again, but this time ramp it up a bit with –

Pandemic: On the Brink
This is the expansion to Pandemic, and includes, amongst other things some rather cute little petri dishes for storing the disease cubes in. Nice!
On this reboot, the team did slightly better and were primed to deliver the final two cures whilst inoculating most of Asia. However, once again they succumbed to a chain reaction of outbreaks on the other side of the world, and the population of the Americas died in a rash of Exploding Yellow Bubous.
With hindsight, maybe it would have been auspicious to invite Johan, our resident Public Health Manager, to have lent his expertise to this game? (Then again, maybe not, considering that the Dutch answer to most impending catastrophes is simply to build a dyke…)
John, Mark, Tonio, Daniel – all lost again.

Just as we were about to give up hope, the aforementioned  Johan had arrived in the nick of time to take the fifth seat to play -

In the Year of the Dragon
This disaster-management game was new to Iain, so Jon did the rules explanation whilst the others sorted out the myriad cardboard tiles and chits. This is a tricky game to get to grips with, as there are genuinely a number of different strategies that can be employed (as the final scores bore out), but Iain did a great job of hanging on in there!
From the very first selection of person tiles it was obvious what initial strategies were being employed – Barrie, Gareth and Johan went all out for positioning on the person track, whilst Jon resigned himself to choosing last in each Action round and took the more experienced person tiles.
After the usual 2 months of peace the first event was the Imperial Tribute – successfully negotiated by all without too much difficulty. A Mongol Invasion was quickly followed by a Dragon Festival (Johan’s favourite) – a fairly gentle start to the year. By this time, Barrie and Gareth had bought a couple of large privilege tiles, and Johan was spreading his palaces wide.
By the mid-game, a gap had started to open up in the scores, with Gareth in the lead and Iain and Jon lagging well behind. Although Gareth was raking in points from privileges and Scholars, by necessity he was neglecting his population, and was constantly seeing his people fall victim to Plague, Drought and Mongol Hoards.
Jon found himself recruiting several tax collectors in order to get enough money to have a choice of actions in the last few rounds. Iain had built some nice sturdy palaces , but unfortunately fell victim to a lack of rice late on in the game (2 droughts in 3 months).
Barrie had been scoring consistently throughout the game, thanks to his privilege tile and “Court Lady” (although his personal supply of coins and tokens were suspiciously close to the communal stash all game..) He had also maintained a reasonable population for the end scoring.
The last event was a Dragon Festival, and Iain just pipped Johan for the second largest stash of fireworks. Before the final scoring, the scores were Gareth 83; Barrie 77; Johan 70; Jon 62; Iain 51.
So it all came down to person tiles and monks, which was to be Gareth’s undoing. He only had 2 people left and no monks. Johan racked up a healthy 20 points and Jon 27 (thanks to 10 people left alive and one monk). However, Barrie’s 16 final points were just enough to clinch him the victory in what proved to be a very close finish.
Barrie 93; Johan 90; Jon 89; Gareth 88; Iain 68

The Pandemic group were planning on starting a game of Automobile, but after setting it up they realised that none of them had actually played it before, and agreed that they were lacking the necessary time, will and brain power to learn and play a complex Wallace game in the remaining time left. So, Tonio whipped out something from the opposite end of the gaming spectrum –

Bohnanza (thanks to Tonio for this info)
Tonio did a great job of explaining the rules (well, he is a teacher) and after an open first hand to establish play sequence everybody seemed to take to it very quickly.
It didn't take long for players to work out the value of beans, and there was much trading going on. John seemed quite fond of Wax beans and as it was pretty clear at one point that he was losing, people were happy to donate Wax beans and Blue beans his way. He then bought a third bean field, and started to rake in a few coins. By the end of the game, of course, John had closed the gap to the point where he came joint first with 18 points.
As a tie-breaker, the rules state that you count the cards in your hand – Daniel had planted all his remaining cards, whilst John had two left – enough for the victory. Tonio managed to lose at his own game yet again (you know what they say about “those that can - do; and those that can’t…..”)
John 18 (won on tie-breaker); Daniel 18; Tonio 16; Mark 14

Not quite sure of the sequence of events, but at some point during the evening -

Mr Jack (thanks to Daniel for this one)
Daniel and Mark played Mr. Jack twice, taking turns to be Mr. Jack. This was their first time playing this game. First time around Daniel used wily subterfuge to convince Mark to chase the wrong suspect and the game ended when he accused the innocent Ms. Stealthy, allowing the reprobate cad Constable Goodley to escape justice for his terrible crimes.
Daniel won; Mark lost

Second time around, they were both more confident about what they were doing and yet they both managed to completely fudge their moves – Daniel’s mistake was putting the last two suspects within distance of escaping the board, and Mark duly seized this opportunity to guide the venomous Dr. Gull to freedom.
Mark won; Daniel lost

The other 2 tables had now mixed up a bit, resulting in a full complement for -

This was new to Jayden and Julia, and George also claimed that he needed a rules refresher (yeah, right….) With 6 players, a long-term strategy is almost impossible to play for – it’s all about making the most efficient decisions when your turn comes around.
Gareth started the game by collecting the valuable purple tiles, Jayden was making a good fist of paying exact change for his buildings, and George seemed to be somehow breeding tiles of all colours in his Alhambra.
Julia demonstrated that she was going to fit in perfectly with the Isleworth BoardGamers, as she mercilessly mocked Barrie’s lack of walls early in the game. He then proceeded to take every tile that she had her eye on for the rest of the game – a nice retort.
For some reason, Jon was collecting a large hand of small change, which was useless until he picked up 3 tiles in a single turn (which he then couldn’t fit into his Alhambra…doh!)
George pulled ahead after the second scoring, and despite “doing a Gareth” (trying to innocently pay 11 for a tile costing 12) he remained well ahead of everyone else after the final scoring. Quite how he managed to get majorities in so many colours is still a mystery, but hats off to our newcomer for a worthy triumph.
George 110; Gareth 75; Jayden 72; Jon 50; Barrie 48; Julia 41

Meanwhile, the other 3 went off to explore life on a coral reef -

Reef Encounter (thanks Philip for this info)
Iain and Johan were both new to the game, and so Philip explained the rules. Iain had gone swimming the most recently so he was the start player (truly bizarre…)
Initial corals were formed, and soon all 3 players had a Shrimp on the display and Iain began to fix algae cylinders. He quickly built up a massive yellow coral on the board closest to him, which Philip failed to attack, instead choosing to nibble at Johan's coral (an activity usually reserved for Johan’s wife…)
Johan retaliated by attacking Philip’s coral, and so Iain devoured his in peace, earning four tiles. This more or less settled the game for him, especially as Philip was following his usual simplistic strategy of eating corals as soon as he could, to rush the end of the game. While this strategy worked in itself, in that he was able to end the game by eating his fourth coral, it was a dismal failure in terms of points, with Iain winning by a big margin.
Iain 26; Philip 15; Johan 11

And finally, the Alhambra crew decided there was just enough time for some gem-hunting -

This game never fails to hit the mark, and tonight was no exception. Julia and Jayden needed a quick rules explanation, but this is one of those games where you can pretty much hit the ground running.
Jayden proved himself to be a canny player (aka “big fat chicken”) by running early from the first mine and collecting a healthy amount of gems, whilst several players perished to the attack of the giant blue scorpion.
Poisonous gas accounted for a few intrepid explorers in the second mine, with Jon this time playing the role of cowardly custard. After the third mine, Gareth and Barrie still had no gems, although everyone else had been topping up their chests nicely, which necessitated some big-time ‘luck-pushing’ by the dynamic duo.
Unfortunately the 4th mine blew up before any gems had been discovered, so it was all down to the final foray. And just when the boys had their eyes set on a huge pay-day, the deadly serpent turned up for the second time, bringing an end to their adventures; their coffers emptier than a hermit’s address book.
The end result? A tie between Jon and Julia (although she seemed rather keen on some form of tie-breaker, as opposed to the usual ‘rejoice in your shared victory’ cobblers).
Jon 21; Julia 21; George 14; Jayden 11; Barrie 0; Gareth 0

And that brings us to the end of another night of fun and brain-training! Next week we will be back to our normal residency of the upstairs Riverview Room, so we look forward to seeing you all again up there!

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