Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Revenge of the bitter boardgamer........

Players: Gareth, Ian, Philip, Tonio, Jon, Barrie, Daniel, Scott, Steph, David, Vicky, Maynard, Paul, Jim, Emma

Despite the continuing wintry weather, 15 enthusiastic IBG'ers turned up to the London Apprentice tonight, including a welcome to 2 more new faces - Jim and Emma. Tonio also turned up after a few weeks absence, and marked his return by wearing the strangest headgear ever seen in the Northern Hemisphere....

A record 15 games were played tonight, so I suggest that you make yourself a nice hot drink before settling down to read on......

There were 3 early arrivals, so they jumped straight into a quick game of -

Coloretto (thanks Gareth for this info)
Gareth ran through the rules and the game commenced. Emma, a newcomer and defector from the local Magic club in Richmond, took the cautious strategy of trying to keep to the same three colours, whereas Gareth picked up anything that was going as long as he got three cards each round. David on the other hand was somewhere in the middle.
When the scores were added up Gareth came out on top with 6 chameleons in two colours giving a healthy 42 pts. David took second place and Emma third.
Gareth 52; David 29; Emma 19

By now, everyone else had arrived, and with such a large number of players, they decided to split into 4 groups, the first of these having a rematch of -

Steam (thanks Philip for this report)
Philip and Paul had played last week and Ian joined them, though Scott and Gareth defected….. Since there were only 3 players, the North American map was played and the Standard variant rules were used, as they were more familiar to Ian, who had played Age of Steam.
Philip won the first auction, upgraded his locomotive and connected New York and and Albany. Ian urbanized Binghampton and Paul linked Boston and Hartford.
The game progressed with Ian building up the West side of the map, Paul the East, and Philip the Centre, with an initial tilt West so that his network became intertwined with Ian’s a few turns before Paul linked up to Albany. Ian made good early running and quickly reached high income, but stopped building links at that point. Paul and Philip kept the links up, sacrificing income to pay for them. Paul had a complex network in the South-East with cities at Providence and Bridgport, and in the final turns he managed to link through to Montreal and into Ian’s network up at the top.
Ian had another city at Smiths and Philip one at Utica and a late one at Harrisburg. Philip invested in some links in Paul’s backyard while Paul did the same in return, meaning several of their deliveries relied on each other’s track.
The game ended with Ian’s lead on points and income eroded by the many extra links that Philip had built. Paul’s income had dipped to a negative for the final couple of turns, depriving him of critical points, resulting in a tight final scoring.
Philip 72; Ian 67; Paul 66

Meanwhile, newcomer Jim had brought a long a few games and recruited some willing(?) participants to have a go at -

Atlantis (thanks Jim for writing up this one)
Jim explained the rules to the other 3 players as he set up the long tracks of tiles between Atlantis and the safety of the mountains.
The game started slowly as people moved their Atlanteans gingerly from the sinking Atlantis trying not to incur too many penalties as they tried to get their first of three Atlanteans home to gain a bonus card draw at the end of each turn. Once this was accomplished, a veritable speed race started to be the first to get all three of their men home despite Jims counsel that “it was not a race” as he traded VPs for cards as he waited for “the perfect move” to get his first Atlantean home.
Emma went into full Kamikaze mode having her remaining pieces jump ahead in massive leaps but at huge point costs. Maynard followed suit paying in a lot of his early gains to keep up the pace. Vicky played thoughtfully and tactfully making appreciative point gains. Jim kept his own counsel and refused to race!
Suddenly with a swift bridge placement and another monster leap Emma had all her pieces home and the game was over, the others now having to move their remaining pieces to safety at cost as they crossed the water gaps without the benefit of gaining point at the end of their move.
As it turns out, Emma’s all-out rush won the day and Jim's hesitancy (and previous experience) helped him into second place.
Emma 24; Jim 18; Vicky 16; Maynard 12.

Next out of Jim's bag of tricks was -

Uptown (thanks to Jim again)
After explaining that it looked like sudoku, Jim changed tack when everyone else said they disliked sudoku! Jim explained the rules, everyone drew their initial tiles and the game began.
Despite Jim complaining about his poor hand, all players quickly established strong single groups but midway through the game Emma started nibbling / slashing away at the other's end tiles, determined to build one monster group of connected tiles whatever the cost in penalties. Also, despite Jim's advice, she also played her 'wild' tile early on. This kamikaze approach had served her well in the last game! Unfortunately it didn’t this time as Emma was the only player to have 3 groups (and far too many penalties to count).
Vicky had been forced to take a few penalty pieces to keep her group number down as had Maynard. Jim, with his early complaining (and previous experience) managed to remain relatively penalty-free and win.
Jim 2 Groups/2 Penalties; Maynard 2/5; Vicky 2/7; Emma 3/lots!

Over on the third table, another new game had been set up, namely -

The Scepter of Zavandor
Scott has again produced a cracking in-depth report, which he's published over at BGG, and gives a great flavour of what went on during the game. Some of the high points include:

- "I brought it along to the club for another go at the game and drummed up as much interest as possible but it met the response, "Scepter of Thingamajig?! I dunno." I didn't think Zavendor was that tough to pronounce?" (Maybe it's just the way your Kiwi wife says it, Scott.....)
- "Tonio continued to struggle with calculating income and spending his money, but being a maths teacher I'm quite sure this was just a ploy to make him look like less of a threat to the rest of us."
- "Dan professed that his face was charismatic enough that he didn't need a mask and so Tonio and Steph took one each."
- "We had let Tonio continue with his early income boost for too much of the game, while he hustled us with his 'poor' numeracy."

Tonio (Elf) 72; Scott (Mage) 64; Steph (Witch) 64; Dan (Druid) 42

The 4th and final table had brought out a game that was played a total of 4 times during the night -

This game was played with a random deck (the first mistake), as Barrie had forgotten to bring along his i-Pod Apps thingy. This resulted in a Thief and a Witch, but no Moat, and only 1 'extra action' card. The initial response was - "This is going to be a long game...."
Gareth took up his usual seat to the left of Jon (an unbreakable habit since a previous game of Stone Age), and the game began. As there were very few Action cards with treasure on them, Jon started buying Silvers and Golds, along with a couple of Chapels to try to counter the expected Witch invasion. David got some Markets and Black Markets under his belt, whilst Gareth went all-out evil and bought a deck full of Thieves.
Jon had Chapelled several of his Coppers and Estates, and was quickly able to pick up a couple of Provinces. However, before you could say "Raffles", Gareth's Thieves arrived in force, and turned out to be the luckiest miscreants in the whole gaming world. They managed to pick off just about every Silver and Gold in Jon's deck, whilst digging up quite a few treasures from the other 2 players as well. Soon, Gareth's deck was dripping with his ill-gotten gains, whilst Jon's hard-won treasures were simply a distant memory.
To add insult to injury, David decided to fly a few Witches around the table, resulting in numerous Curses being collected. Being rather a canny player, he had also figured out that Provinces were going to be hard to get hold of, and had started to hoard Duchies from fairly early on. 
The lack of 'extra Actions' was meaning that there were few strings of cards put together (although their were a number of Markets shared between the players), and Barrie found himself with a deck of many Coppers, reducing his buying power. 
Eventually, with Jon having only 1 treasure card left (and letting everyone know about it), he bought the final Chapel, which combined with the diminished Markets and Duchies, ended the game. When the scores were tallied, it was a genuine surprise (to all but David) that Gareth's overflowing treasure-deck had not in fact won him the game, but that David's Duchy-buying Witches had triumphed. Barrie shrugged, Jon whined, and Thief-boy was instructed to use his chest of treasure to go and buy the next round of drinks.
David 26; Gareth 20; Jon 15; Barrie 9 

Jon, after being stung so badly at the previous game of Dominion, decided to move onto something more forgiving - which didn’t involve an evil, thieving Gareth or a curse-loving David. (The truth was that Gareth had gone to get a round of drinks, and when he came back, he had lost his place at the Dominion table. Therefore, he had a bit of a moan and Jon had graciously agreed to step down.) So Jon was replaced by Emma, for another round of -

Dominion (thanks Gareth for this report)
Even though Dominion was new to Emma, she picked up the rules very quickly and proceeded to better the 3 more experienced players. This deck was also selected at random (errr...actually it was selected as a 'nice set' by Jon and David whilst you were getting the drinks, Gareth...) but this time did not include any of the attack cards, such as the Witch, Thief or Militia. This meant the game was less cut-throat than the previous and also a lot quicker. (But maybe this was because Jon had moved on to another table?)
This time there was a gradual build up of money and action cards. By the mid game everybody seemed fairly evenly matched. Barrie was finding it difficult to set up his trademark long chains of cards and Gareth tried a flawed strategy of collecting mostly money rather than action cards. Both fell foul to an abrupt finish when the last estate card was taken by Emma.
Scores were totalled and Emma had taken the win with 28pts closely followed by David on 24pts, with Gareth trailing in last place. (Justice was partially served....)
Emma 28; David 24; Barrie 19; Gareth 15

As previously mentioned, Jon had swapped places with Emma to join newcomer Jim for another new (and unpronounceable) game to IBG -

Alea Iacta Est
This was new to everyone except Jim, who had played it a few times 2-player before. It’s basically a dice game a la Dice Town, but with more dice and a Latrine. The game is actually fairly straightforward once you get going - the options are reasonably limited, and it finishes after only 5 rounds (in a 4-player game). It was generally agreed to play with the Senate cards visible rather than hidden, as the iconography is fairly obtuse, and takes some deciphering.
Having played before, Jim obviously knew the value of placing dice in the Temple, picking up a large number of Fortuna tiles during the game, which were worth straight Fame Points. Vicky picked up a fair number of Provinces, but didn’t end the game with quite enough Patricians. Jon picked up several Provinces and Patricians, but only had 1 Senate card to achieve any bonus points. Maynard did a bit of everything (emphasis on the “a bit”).
The game came to a sudden end, with Jim’s vast pile of Fortuna tiles sealing the victory for him.
This is a nice light little dice game, once you know what’s going on, and should easily clock in at under an hour. Hopefully Jim will be able to return with it again in the future.
(Postscript: Congratulations to Jim on your first visit, for taking Gareth’s title of “Most rules taught wrongly to your own game”, with a grand total of 4 little ‘inaccuracies’ which have been discovered at a later date! You have officially “done a Gareth”…….)
Jim 46; Jon 39; Vicky 35; Maynard 30

With Dominion and Steam finishing at about the same time, Ian suggested an old Reiner Knizia favourite, and was joined by Gareth, Barrie and Paul for -

Ra (thanks Gareth again)
Everybody was familiar with the rules so it was just a matter of selecting the sun tokens randomly and getting down to bidding.
In the first round disasters came out thick and fast, with droughts, earthquakes, funerals and unrest destroying most of the early tiles. Barrie managed to claim a healthy stock of monuments and took the early lead closely followed by Ian. Gareth only picked up a couple of points and Paul dropped six points with the lowest Pharaohs and no civilization tiles.
By round two, Ian had amassed a large collection of Nile tokens, but was now lacking in monuments. Barrie took points for the most Pharaohs and also some gold to increase his lead further. Gareth only managed two points this round, but did pick up a nice selection of monuments, which would prove crucial later on. With Paul failing to score anything, having the least Pharaohs for the second time running, things were not looking good for him.
In the final round Gareth won three bids early on, supplementing his monuments and obtaining a high-value collection of sun tokens. The other three players continued on without him, but Ra tiles were being discovered with great frequency. This stopped them from picking up too many tiles and forced an early finish.
When the final scores were added up Gareth just managed to win, only 1 point ahead of Barrie, who had led throughout the game, closely followed by Ian and Paul.

Meanwhile, back at the Dominion table -

Dominion (thanks Philip for this one)
In this game of Dominion, both the promotional cards (Envoy and Black Market) figured, but there was nothing which gave extra actions except from Market. Envoy and Silver was the universal opening and the Envoy turned up repeatedly thereafter, with somewhat unimpressive results for the most part.
Emma had the worst luck in this respect and was struggling to buy Silver whilst Philip and David bought Gold – with Philip’s Gold then being stolen by David’s thief. No one bought a Black Market and in due course Emma began buying Gold around the time everyone else bought Provinces.
Emma invested in a Witch, but only managed to play it twice. She Throne-Roomed an Envoy at one point but only drew 2 Copper. Philip and David split the Province pile 4 each and Philip lost by a single point because he had trashed an Estate with his Remodel.
David 30; Philip 29; Emma 3

Emma left at this point, leaving the 2 Dominion heavyweights to duke it out -

Dominion (thanks again Philip)
In the second game, the appearance of Gardens, Thief and all cards costing 4 or 5 made for an interesting game. First, all the Festivals were bought up, then all the Gardens and finally all the Estates. Philip won by a fair margin, mainly because his deck was slightly fatter than David’s and so his Gardens scored more.
Philip 58; David 49

With Scepter (sic) of Somewhere Strange having finished, that table moved onto -

Adios Amigos (thanks Scott again)
After SOZ, Tonio pulled out another maths-based challenge with Adios Amigos and its arithmetic gunslingers. Steph and Dan were new to the game, while Scott had played a couple of weeks ago.
Tonio set up and explained the rules and the game was underway quickly. As Scott had played it last time, he turned the new players' disadvantage of being unfamiliar with the game to his advantage, and exploited it to quickly kill them off before they really know what was happening. Tonio played a similar strategy for the first two rounds until he realised Scott was getting away with winning them, so in the third round, Scott was quickly taken out by Tonio. Dan went on to win it though.
Tonio was often found continuing to shoot at other players or throw in his dynamite while being dead, to which he would cry "Guys, you need to tell me when I'm dead".
At one point Dan played his Dynamite, and the rest of the players, being unable to shoot for a brief period, spent it distracting Dan as best as possible so that he couldn't calculate what he needed to to attack them.
For the 4th round, Scott had exactly the right bullets he needed and almost white-washed the floor with everyone else. (errr...I think you actually whitewash walls, not floors, but never mind.......) 
By the fifth round, everyone else seemed to had given up hope, and Scott won that round as well - the other brains were all burned out from Scepter, obviously.
Scott 37; Dan 17; Tonio 11; Steph 9

After this, Dan left and Steph proclaimed that number games "weren't her thing", and if only Tonio had some word-based games in his bag, then all would be right with the world. Tonio, in his bag of Zavandor did happen to have a number of word-based games, and also used to be an English teacher.......he's just full of surprises...

Lexicon (thanks Scott once more)
This game is a bit like a card version of scrabble where you have a hand of 10 letter cards with points on them; you need to play them out on the table as words as quickly as possible otherwise they count negatively towards you. You can also steal letters from other played words or add in letters as long as you keep them as valid words.
Everyone started cautiously with little words while Scott was building up a great word in his hand to finish it quickly with - 'Jealous'. At this point the scoring dawned on Steph, who had a huge hand of cards (worth 40 points) remaining, and ventured - "this is a practice round, right?!"
The game ends when someone reaches 100 points so the first hand was indeed called a practice and another was played. This one took a bit longer and Steph showed how it was done by finishing the round with Tonio and Scott with 16 and 20 points remaining respectively in their hands.
Tonio was a contender until he tried to play 'Flam' - "you know, like flim-flam". No Tonio, I don't think we're gonna allow that. A quick consultation at the adjoining table didn't want to allow 'flam' either. (However, rather ironically, if you look up flam online you get 'Flam - A deception or Trick; to deceive, delude or cheat'. Tonio may just have been flammed out of some points there.)
The other tables had just finished their game and everyone was keen to play Saboteur, so just one more round was played - another close round that Scott just edged out for a win. A fun game, but one which will probably need the addition of a dictionary next time.
In amongst the ignored practice round and possibly poor word acceptance, everyone technically won (or lost) but the scores were as follows:
Steph 10 (50 including practice round); Scott 20 (20); Tonio 26 (36)

Back on "Jim's table", there was just time for a quick filler whilst the Ra crowd finished, and the choice was -

No Thanks
This was new to Vicky and Maynard, but Jim had apparently played it a while ago. Despite a good shuffle, the top half of the deck was heavily weighted with high numbers, including the very first card, which was a 33. Not surprisingly, this went round the table a number of times, before Vicky finally succumbed and picked it up (along with a large pile of chips).
Jon also picked up a high-value card, by which point Maynard and Jim were running dangerously low on chips. This caused Maynard to start picking up several cards, purely to increase his chip-count.
Vicky had now started to run low again herself, but was fortunate to see the 32, 34, and 35 all appear in quick succession, meaning that she not only finished the game with a single run, but also with a multitude of chips.
Vicky 13; Jon 28; Jim 54; Maynard 54

3 tables had now finished their respective games, and so it was decided to finish off the evening with some hidden identity shenanigans –

Emma and Daniel had left, and Philip and David were still buying Provinces, so that left 11 willing and able gamers for Saboteur. Now the rules state that 10 is the max number for this game, but in true IBG style, the rules were ignored and we tried it with 11 anyway. This means that there were 4 saboteurs and 7 good dwarves, and most players only had the opportunity to pick up 1 extra card before the deck ran out.
In the first round, Jon (being an honest dwarf) had a handful of dead ends, and rather than discard them in a highly suspicious manner, decided to place one behind the start card. Unfortunately, the amazingly astute Steph misread this as an outrageously suspicious move, and spent the rest of the round breaking his tools and vociferously encouraging others to do likewise....
The mine never looked like getting anywhere near the gold, and despite Gareth and Ian showing their true colours fairly early, it stalled well short of the goal. Vicky and Jim had also been sly little saboteurs – coming out of their shells towards the end to put the final nail in the coffin of the treasure-hunters.
Jon was finally able to reveal that he was in fact a good dwarf after all, and Steph apologised profusely, in her best Kiwi accent… (er…..I think she actually said, “Well you shouldn’t have acted so suspiciously then!”)
There was just enough time for one more round, and this time it was decided to place the gold only 6 cards (rather than 7) away from the start, to help out the good dwarves a little.
Pretty soon into the round, and without any apparent justification, Jon slapped a broken tool onto Gareth, declaring – “That’s for being such a sneaky thief at Dominion!” Petty – maybe. Satisfying – definitely. Little did he realise that Gareth was a Saboteur the same as he was – nearly a disastrous own goal.
This round, the tunnel was progressing quickly towards the destination cards, but a flurry of map cards had left most people unsure about where the honest dwarves should actually be heading. Vicky had been identified early on as a Saboteur (as it turns out, wrongly) as had Scott. However, Tonio, Gareth and Jon were less conspicuous, but the mine still ended tantalisingly short by 1 card (but towards the wrong destination, as Gareth had misdirected the team quite cunningly.)
So, with 2 successes for the saboteurs, the result was that Gareth won, having been evil for the whole game (well, the whole night actually….)
And as for the question about whether you can successfully play with 11 players? Answer…… probably, but who cares – it’s a barrel of laughs and a great closing game whatever the numbers!
Gareth 4; Vicky 2; Ian 2; Tonio 2; Scott 2; Jim 2; Jon 2; Maynard 0; Steph 0; Paul 0; Barrie 0

And that was it. Tonio put back on his strange hat/scarf love-child, and Jon continued his revenge on Gareth by hurling a snowball in his general direction (and by general direction, I mean that it hit Tonio instead....)

Congratulations if you managed to get through that mammoth report in a single sitting. I'm off to soak my typing fingers in cold water. We'll be back next week - same time same place.

See you there!

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