Wednesday, 27 January 2010

We're going on a Bear Hunt.............

Players: Gareth, Scott, Philip, Jim, James, Tonio, Emma, Johan, Jon, Paul, Barrie, Steph, David S

12 regulars and another newcomer (David - who cycled in from New Malden to be with us - there's dedication!) sat down to a fine selection of games tonight. It may have been cold outside, but activities such as chariot racing, treasure-seeking and arctic hunting ensured a warm atmosphere inside.

The first 4 willing and able gamers were persuaded to join in this quick card game -

Circus Flohcati
This was new to Paul and Tonio, whilst Jim and Jon had both played it a long time ago. This is essentially a set-collecting game with a push-your-luck element, as you can choose to reveal more cards from the deck in the hope of getting a better one, but if a card of a duplicate suit is revealed, you get nothing that turn. There are also decisions to be made about whether to put down sets of 3 numbers for a guaranteed 10 points, or to hold them in hand for a potentially larger score at the game end (but risk having them stolen by your thieving fellow players….)
Everyone caught on to the game very quickly, although Paul did seem to have some problems noticing when duplicate colours had been revealed – he almost ‘did a Gareth’ on a number of occasions…
The scores were incredibly close at the end, but Tonio just pipped Jon (who had failed to lay down a set of 4’s worth an extra 10 points) for the victory.
Tonio 58; Jon 55; Paul 51; Jim 49

The next group of arrivees, seeing the fun that was happening on the other table, also decided to have a go at -

Circus Flohcati (thanks Gareth for this info)
This was played using Tonio’s German version, which was almost identical to Jon’s English copy, although the Action cards had text rather than pictures on them. None of this group had played the game before, but the rules were quite simple (the other table providing a single nugget of helpful information – “Make sure you shuffle the cards well!”)
Barrie and Emma built up their points with sets of cards. Each time a set was placed on the table Barrie would hum the 'circus' tune - Dum dum dumaduma dum dum dur dum (you get the picture…) Philip, however, decided to hold onto all of his cards, presumably for a higher score at the end - or maybe just to stop Barrie from humming the tune even more.
Both James and Gareth tended to keep the higher cards and play a couple of sets of the lower cards, which turned out to be a winning strategy, allowing them to ‘rejoice in their shared victory’.
James 52; Gareth 52; Emma 47; Philip 38; Barrie 35 (or could be 39?)

Johan, Steph and Scott had now arrived, so we split into 3 groups, the first opting for -

Colossal Arena (thanks Scott for this report)
Scott brought this along again for the second week running, and recruited some more willing participants for a full complement of five players; with Scott & Steph (both played before) and Paul, Johan and Jim (newbies). Jim had a faint recollection of playing it before and not liking it, but he persevered.
The rules can be a bit tough to take on board, but everyone got there in the end. The game began cautiously, with everyone playing cards whilst trying to understand the betting and creature powers. To play it even safer, everyone targeted who they thought was the most devious at the table, so the first creature killed off was the Titan, one of Scott’s.
The second round contained the same mistake by almost everyone in succession, “If I play a bet on the second row and play a card for that creature I get to do the special power, right?!”…….. “No, only when you have the most bets”……“Oh, Really?!”
There was no end to the torment for Scott, though - the next creature dead was the Gorgon, which had only been bet on by Scott and Steph. Knowing how to play the game was fast becoming a curse….
Despite some fancy footwork from Steph (using up her Ettin powers to mess with multiple creatures), she bore the brunt of the other players’ attacks, and the Ettin was killed off in round 3 with two bets on it from Steph, and one from Paul.
Round 4 saw the first of many dilemmas - Johan and Scott were both heavily invested in similar creatures at this point but they never managed to have the right cards at the right time to help each other out. Despite Scott revealing a secret bet to take control of the Unicorn to manipulate multiple creatures, he could not save all of his bets and the Daimon was the one to go. Just Johan and Scott had invested in that one.
With so many bets for Scott and Steph now gone, it was all left up to the other players, who were pretty close in the standings. The final round dragged on, as the end of the deck had been reached and everyone was left playing out the dregs. Most creatures were kept on a level playing field, but in the end the Unicorn was the one to suffer. Mournful cries from Scott were heard the length and breadth of the Thames, as he secured himself a score of 0.
Everyone else totted up their bets and revealed who had made a successful secret one. Steph proudly announced that she had bet on the Seraphim, although a closer inspection of the secret bet card did not reveal a Seraphim at all, but a Serpent (a wild card), so her efforts to keep it alive all game long had been in vain.
With Johan not making a secret bet in time and Jim’s being killed off, the only player with a valid successful secret bet (which earned him the victory) was Paul.
Paul 11; Jim 10; Johan 8; Steph 4; Scott 0

Following a successful first outing last year, table 2 decided that it was time for the return of –

Tonio and Jon were left on their own, so attempted to recruit another player from the game of Goa that was about to start. Barrie decided to come over, but his transfer was revoked at the last minute as Gareth didn’t want to play Goa with 3 newbies. To prevent tears at bedtime, Emma made the switch instead.
Tonio and Jon made a reasonable job of explaining the rules to Emma, who always comes across as not having understood a word that has been said, but then proceeds to storm into the lead. Tobago was no exception, as Emma quickly managed to find one treasure and take most of the share of the loot. Her pile of treasure cards was growing at an alarming rate, although she did have to lose a couple due to curses.
During this game, Tonio explained the usefulness of collecting amulets (which had been largely ignored the last time it was played) and so a couple of turns were spend wildly driving around the island picking them up.
It was at this point in the evening's proceedings that Emma suddenly enquired in a loud voice, “Why is it so quiet in here?” To which the response came back – “Because you’ve stopped talking…...” Harsh - but fair. (Actually, the relative quiet in the Riverview Room was due to the fact that the church committee meeting had packed up and left, combined with the strange absence of tunes coming from the sound system. Never mind, we made up for it later when we played Nanuk…)
Meanwhile, back on Tobago, Tonio had managed to get his ATV into a good position on the West of the island, where a number of treasures were turning up, and this resulted in his hoard of gold growing. Emma used up several turns towards the end of the game placing her compass roses on clue cards whose treasures were never actually revealed, whilst Jon got his ATV stuck in an awkward position that prevented him digging up any treasures or picking up any further amulets.
Tonio’s experience of playing at home paid off in the end, as he strolled to a reasonably comfortable victory.
Tonio 40; Jon 32; Emma 24

The final table (including Barrie but minus Emma) pulled out -

Goa (thanks again Gareth)
James brought along his copy of this game. Gareth and Barrie were both familiar with the game but hadn’t played it for twelve months, but it was new to Philip. As Barrie set up the board, Gareth ran through the rules. It is a 4 player auction game based around trading spice and colonizing islands in the 16th century.
Different strategies were tried out. James collected expedition cards and got the most colonies. Philip got the maximum amount of ships and spices on the track, and took the bonus points for the most gold. Gareth got to maximize his spices and used them to purchase two bonus tiles for an additional 8 pts at the end of the game. Barrie on the other hand won the flag in the majority of auctions and, like James, obtained a lot of colonies.
As the game progressed, it was difficult to see who was going to come out on top. When the final scores were calculated it revealed a very close result, with just 3 points between 1st and 3rd place. Gareth just took the win, thanks to the additional bonus points.
Gareth 41; Philip 39; James 38; Barrie 29

After Colossal Arena the same group of players was debating what to play next when Jim disappeared to his bag of tricks and pulled out (much to the obvious delight of Steph and Scott who had played before) -

Ave Caesar (thanks Paul for this report)
Even though Jim's copy was a German language Ravensberger original, the rules were so simple that all 5 were 'charioteering' in no time. Steph was the randomly selected starter and sped off first by playing a six, the highest possible. Much racing and blocking continued until the three laps had been completed - at least for those that managed to make it round all three circuits.
At the end of the first lap the three players in the lead, Steph, Scot and Jim, opted to pay their mandatory homage to Caesar early, and did so at an intentional snail's pace to slow up those behind them. Johan and Paul made up some ground by choosing to 'Ave' Julius C. next time round.
Jim's chariot was first past the three lap marker giving him victory, with Scott close behind. Both had overhauled Steph, who was in a great position but had ended up running out of movement cards a handful of tantalising spaces from the line.
Paul, in 4th and Johan in 5th also failed to reach the end goal, but for those two it was less frustrating than it was for Steph as they were just so far behind that they saw it coming from a long way out.
Jim 1st; Scott 2nd; Steph 3rd; Paul 4th; Johan 5th
The game had proved to be quick and simple, with the skill coming in the selection of card and the choice of route, to either break free from the pack, create your own chariot-shaped road block, or to avoid getting clogged up en route by other racers.
It was a simple choice for all concerned to give it one more go, if for no other reason than to try to put their lessons learned into practice. The only change was one of orientation, with the race now going anticlockwise around the track.
This time round Paul was first and he opted to throw out his high cards at the start and subsequently managed to maintain his lead for most of the game. Part way round there was a necessary rule clarification, as it was revealed that the leading player couldn't play a six, but when Paul revealed that he only had sixes in his hand, it was decided that he was allowed to play one. Jim, Steph and Scott were constantly vying for second place, whilst all of Johan's high cards seemed to find themselves at the bottom of his deck, and he became the victim of some cruel blocking by almost everyone else.
In the final lap, Paul was charging for the line, being hotly pursued by Steph, but when down to two cards, was forced to play his 'one' instead of his 'six' as he was in the lead, allowing Steph's perfectly timed final burst to carry her over the line first.
Paul then finished in second by virtue of his six with Jim next in line. Both Scott and Johan who had lost valuable moves due to blocks ended up drawing for fourth and not crossing the line.
It was calculated after the game that even if a charioteer avoids all blocks and takes the shortest possible route, there are only four movement spaces to spare, which means that it is some feat to ever finish, and it is unlikely that all players will ever do it in any one single game.
Steph 1st; Paul 2nd; Jim 3rd; Johan 4th; Scott 4th

With no other game looking likely to finish any time soon, and before any other games were suggested, Jim produced a copy of -

Uptown (thanks Jim for this one)
As none of the others had seen let alone played the game before, Jim took a few minutes to explain the rules, taking great care not to "do another Gareth”...
There was a tentative and largely friendly start by all, as everyone tried to keep their tiles in a single group, but as the board started to fill up and space became a premium, the nibbling away at each other's groups and carefully laid plans started.
With much good-natured banter among the players - despite the thwarting of many plans, and some serious nip-and-tuck between Scott and Paul - the scores ran out as:
Scott 2 groups/9 penalties; Paul 2/11; Steph 3/5; Jim 3/8; Johan 3/11

Steph decided that she liked the game and requested that it was played again and everyone agreed. It was a much more tactical game this time, with many a quarter asked for, but none given as several players fought for dominance in the lower right hand corner of the board. While Johan was very successful in maintaining a long “single line” group, making it difficult to block his unflinching progress, Jim’s plan to do the same came to nothing, with him ending up with the most groups, despite taking many penalties.
Johan 1 Group/12 penalties; Scott 2/7; Paul and Jim both with 3/9; Steph 4/6

So Kudos to Scott for a 1st and a 2nd place and to Johan for a complete reversal of fortune between the games going from last to first and yah-boo-sucks to Jim for coming 4th twice with his own game! The game itself plays quickly and leaves everyone with a sense of “I know what I’ll do next time and I’ll win” and will hopefully make a frequent appearance at future IBG evenings, scaling well from 3 to 5 players.

At this point, newcomer David walked in (well – cycled actually), and while Jon coerced him into helping with a round of drinks (from the new barmaid, whose bemused expression indicated that she'd never had to pour 13 drinks in one go before), Tonio set up –

Small World
Jon did a rules explanation for David and Emma who had not played before, then Tonio launched straight into the game with some Underworld Elves. This is an interesting combination, as it prevents the Elves from being cornered, and allowed Tonio to keep them active and scoring plenty of points for a number of turns.
Jon started with some Stout Halflings, whilst Emma brought on the Forest Skeletons, who grew in number and occupied 3 forest areas, bringing in valuable points. David began his campaign with some Diplomat Giants, who quickly gained control of a number of mountains and made peace with the Elves for several turns.
Unsurprisingly, Jon was the first to decline, and used the Stout ability to do so without losing a turn. He then brought on some Bivouacking Tritons, who quickly conquered the regions around the central lake, and set up some healthy defensive positions. Emma then decided that her Skeletons could expand no further, and showing affinity with her female sisters, took control of some Heroic Amazons. These swept on to the board, taking out a number of Lost Tribes and declined Halflings in the process.
David reluctantly declined his mountain-hogging Giants and picked up some Spirit Ghouls, which pretty much finished off Jon’s Halflings and then declined immediately. This ghostly combination was incredibly powerful when in decline, but David only had a couple of turns left to take advantage of having multiple attacking races on the board.
While all this was going on, Tonio’s Elves had been largely left alone (a mistake that would come back to haunt the other players), as it always seems a bit of a waste to attack a race that never dies. He had been quietly raking in the points, but now declared that “I’m worried that I’m going to be too thin.” (Not sure that you should lose too much sleep over that one, Tonio.....) As a result, he declined the Elves and picked up the much-overlooked Merchant Dwarves, along with the stash of 5 coins that went with them. Now this combination provides only 5 race tokens, but by placing them alongside some declined races, and covering 2 mines, Tonio managed to accumulate 8 coins a turn from only 3 regions.
There was just time for Jon to bring on some Alchemist Wizards for a couple of turns, who bewitched a few giants off the board, and for Emma to have a go with some Mounted Ratmen. David tried out some Alchemist Humans for his final turn, and collected 16 coins in the process.
With the last turn over, the coins were totalled, and although Emma and Jon had tied for second place, Tonio had won by a fair margin, for his third victory of the evening.
Looking at the two races that he had used, you would be within your rights to question how they came out on top, but the combination of having ‘ignored’ Elves, only 1 decline and picking up bonus coins was what appears to have done it for him. Another great session of Small World - a game that never seems to grow stale.
Tonio 96; Jon 85; Emma 85; David 77

To round off the night, Scott, Steph & Johan played a couple of rounds of -

No Thanks (thanks Scott again)
Johan vaguely remembered how to play - “You collect cards, right?” “Exactly - most points wins….”
The first game was underway and Scott went with his usual strategy of collecting as many red chips as possible. This works well, as long as you don’t also take a lot of cards along with them. The other players sat idly by whilst Scott raked them in, trusting his luck for the right cards to come out. Johan correctly pointed out “You’re just gambling aren’t you?” Pretty much!
Unfortunately for Steph she bore the brunt of the large cards going her way, with no chips to avoid them, but Johan succeeded by playing it safe and letting the young lovers run away with too many cards.
Johan 47; Scott 59; Steph 62
For the second game everyone was avoiding running out of chips and it was fairly evenly balanced during the first half. Scott picked up some of the bigger cards, but few came out later to link them together.
The second half saw Scott gambling again on trying to force the deck of cards to produce the ‘right’ numbers. Sadly they never arrived, and instead he went for an all-time high score. Steph had been unfortunate on some of her own gambles and Johan’s luck had increased even more, leaving the scores as…
Johan 36; Steph 66; Scott 111 (ouch!)

Small World and Goa managed to finish within a few minutes of each other, so Gareth pulled out his second new ‘big group’ game in 2 weeks. After last week’s ‘success’ with Are You the Traitor? there were a few nervous glances as he brought out –

Jon had been primed by Gareth that he was bringing this game, so took the opportunity to give the rules a good scan prior to coming out, and then proceeded to try and explain it to everyone else. This is basically a souped-up version of Perudo, but with more interaction and potential for back-stabbing!
The first round of ‘boasts’ (as the rule-book describes the bids) was a little tentative, as players were unsure what would be an achievable amount to bid. However, as soon as it was Barrie’s turn, he had no hesitation in declaring “Doomed” in a loud voice. This made James the hunt leader, and a few minutes were then spent discussing who would be able to contribute to the hunt and whether it was feasible (7 birds in 2 days). There were a number of positive voices (most notably Gareth and Emma) but when it came down to it, everybody else chickened out apart from Jon. Unfortunately, he could only offer moral support for the hunt, as his hand was actually devoid of birds. Unsurprisingly, the hunt was indeed doomed.
The second round began with slightly more confident boasting, but again it was Doomsayer Barrie who decided that the hunters wouldn’t succeed. And it didn’t.
In the third round, Jon tried valiantly to whip up some support for the “5 deer in 3 days” hunt, declaring that he had 4 deer in his hand (when he only in fact had 3). Barrie and Tonio decided to join him, but could only muster a single deer between them, with no more being revealed during the hunt. This minor deviation from the whole truth led to Jon being identified as someone not to be trusted, and his subsequent declaration that he had 4 fish in his hand was met with disparaging incredulity (OK – he was telling a bit of a fib that time.)
Philip and David had to leave the game at this point, but the remainder of the team ploughed on. 2 more successful hunts now occurred, with the gallant hunters sharing a large pile of dead animals.
By the time that the final hunt was being organised, Barrie, Gareth and Emma were all way in the lead, whilst Jon, Tonio and James had only a handful of points between them. During this round of boasting, Jon decided to declare the hunt ‘doomed’, making Emma the hunt leader. This hunt only needed to collect 4 fish in 4 days, and everyone apart from Jon decided to join in such a simple outing. All the hunters played 3 cards to increase their share of the winnings, and as they were turned over, a veritable shoal of fish was revealed.
The excited hunters cheered vociferously and mocked Jon’s absence from the hunt, as the final 4 cards were dealt from the deck. The climax had arrived; the final card was flipped; and there, glowing like a beacon of hope in a dark world, was the glorious figure of a Nanuk (the polar bear), dooming the hunt, and giving Jon the entire spoils to keep to himself. A camera at this point would have captured some priceless expressions……
All that was left to do was to tot up the points, and reveal that this final Smorgasbord (see - I've learned something since last week...) of arctic delicacies had been enough to propel Jon from last to first in a single bound.
Jon 17; Barrie 13; Emma 12; Gareth 10; James 4; Tonio 3

And so the evening came to an end. Hopefully next week the tune machine will be back in action to once again provide a soundtrack to our gaming lives.

Thanks for taking the time to read all this (especially if you're from one of the 19 countries outside of the UK that have hit this site in the last month!)

We'll be back again next Wednesday for more of the same. See you then!

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