Wednesday, 3 February 2010

The Night of the Co-op...........

Players: Paul, Vicky, Maynard, Daniel, Emma, Johan, Tonio, Scott, Rob, David M, Stuart, Barrie, Gareth, Jon, James

There was a welcome return this evening to Rob and Stuart, after long absences from the regular Wednesday night meet-up.
In total, 15 IBG'ers managed to negotiate their way to the London Apprentice tonight, despite the road outside the pub being closed - which seemed to have caused traffic chaos throughout the whole of Isleworth.

Thanks to Barrie, the speakers in the Riverview Room were once again pumping out their eclectic mix of tunes - meaning that Emma did not have to endure another 'quiet night'........ 

The usual “first through the door” comment doesn’t really apply tonight, as David and Stuart arrived at 4.30pm to fit in a game of Space Hulk! This had been finished and cleared away by the time that the rest of us mere mortals started to turn up, so the first ‘official’ game of the evening was –

Katzenjammer Blues
This was another of Gareth’s seemingly endless supply of quick card games. It seems to be a cross between Circus Flohcati and Frank’s Zoo. Players are bidding with cards to gain more cards in order to make ‘melds’ of 4 identical values. These allow you to take a certain number of mice (‘victory point counters’ to you Euro-gamers) of which there are only 24 up for grabs.
As per usual, Gareth hadn’t read the rules to his own game, and even after he did, he managed to somehow miss out an entire page. Fortunately, there were others on hand to ensure that the game could progress smoothly.
There is a nice little rule that states that whoever uses the most jokers loses 5 points at the game end, which is supposed to add a bit of tension as the game goes on. However, Emma played 5 jokers almost immediately, which basically gave everyone else free rein to do what they liked.
Jon managed to collect a set of 5’s quite early on, whilst Barrie laid down several low-numbered sets. Everything was quite tight until Scott suddenly unleashed his masterstroke of laying down 4’s and 5’s in a single turn, picking up 9 mice in the process.
This was enough to easily win him the game, whilst Barrie was able to pick up the final mouse in order to secure equal second. More importantly to Barrie, it denied Gareth a single mouse, leaving him in last place (a theme that would be repeated throughout the evening…)
Scott 9; Jon 5; Barrie 5; Emma 0 (5-5); Gareth 0

Several IBG'ers had been sampling some of the London Apprentice's fine fare, but had now finished stuffing their faces and decided to start playing games; in this case -

Pirates (thanks James for this report)
Avast there me hearties, shiver me timbers, yo ho ho and a bottle of The Apprentice's finest real ale. Land lubbers listen to my tale of daring do’s on the world’s oceans and ... and ... and ... I'm going to stop there before I use up all my pirate-talk in the first paragraph...
So Tonio provided the first game of the evening or should I say the first game for those of us who are not students and therefore able to turn up at the pub at 4pm and play Space Hulk while drinking themselves into a stupor in preparation for later. A strategy that might've worked if the later games had included beer and pretzels. I'm not sure if Stuart's preparation included any bottles of rum but either way it was pirate time.
This game was new to everyone apart from Tonio but pretty simple to pick up. You takes your 5 trusty pirates, jump on top of other players unsuspecting pirates to raise a crew and then, when you've press ganged enough unwilling sailors into a motley crew, you can pillage one of the available ships, grab the booty and spread the pieces of eight amongst your now grateful shipmates before returning them home for more adventures.
With new games the best initial strategy is usually to watch what the people who already know the rules do and try to copy them, however as this would mean copying Tonio, the idea was universally ditched early on and so several competing strategies seemed to develop.
Stuart was collecting crews at a similar speed to Russ picking up games at Essen, Paul was collecting bonus rewards (with a apparent fetish for candelabras); David was infiltrating other crews to take his share of the spoils (while letting everyone else do the work); James was trying to raid the bigger ships, and Tonio was generally talking one strategy whilst doing something different... either as a way of confusing the rest of us, or because that’s just what Tonio does...
As to the details of the game, many ships were boarded, money was grabbed, cutlasses were brandished and virgins were sacrificed (no, sorry that’s another game). Then, with one ship left, the game took an interesting turn as no-one seemed to want to take it, and so we ended up with crews being built up higher and higher as all the available sailors were taken.
We were down to just 2 players (Paul and Stuart) and 4 crews of 6/7 before eventually Stuart’s will broke (or perhaps decided he couldn't wait any longer before buying another beer) and he claimed the last ship.
And thus it was time to check the scores. James had the most by a point over David and thus claimed the role of Capt Pugwash to David's Cutthroat Jake. Tonio's middle ground bestowed on him the role of Tom the Cabin Boy, while Paul and Stuart finished joint last which, I believe, officially wins them the roles of Seaman Staines and Master Bates…
James 79; David 78; Tonio 65; Paul 59; Stuart 59

Cleared of the detritus from the 'feasting four', the other table had now been laid with a games cloth in readiness for the return of -

Cuba (thanks Gareth for this one)
Gareth brought this along again for a second game since Xmas with a new group of players. The rules were explained as quickly as possible but did take around 30 minutes. Dan, realizing he was in for a two hour euro game, made his excuses after 20 minutes and was replaced by Paul.
Once the game started things moved on quickly and everybody seemed to have picked up the general idea. Gareth went into an early lead by loading the first ship up with goods, but this was short lived. He proceeded to buy the Cigar Factory and Café, but didn’t place them well on the board to optimize the tobacco production. Towards the end of the game he also purchased the large bank, but it was too late for the additional money to have much effect on the game.
Paul on the other hand went for alcohol production, buying the Distillery, Rum Café and an extra Warehouse and then proceeded to hoard sugar. Johan went for the Dam and Golf Course strategy and by mid game had also bought the Inn and Town Hall giving greater influence on any new statutes passed.
Finally, Scott went for a bit of everything with the Cigar Factory, Hotel, Lighthouse and Small Bank.
Paul moved into the lead by the mid game and held the position through to the end. With only three points between second and fourth place it was a close game. Gareth’s experience of playing the game previously seemed to have little effect, as he came in last place (for the 2nd time tonight...) Definitely a game to play again.
Paul 72; Johan 65; Scott 64; Gareth 62

After playing musical chairs at the Cuba table Daniel joined with the group who had just finished Pirates for -

Space Alert (thanks to Daniel for the next 2 reports)
With the sudden arrival of Rob there were just a little too many to play Space Alert, so Daniel took the role of game explainer and moderator, watching the game unfold and providing support, advice and occasional abuse from the sidelines. Fortunately Space Alert is one of those games that is almost as much fun to watch as it is to play!
Seduced by the Intergalactic Peacekeeping Force And Interstellar Gourmet Coffee Chain's advertising slogan “Be a real man/woman/multi-tentacled blob, see the universe and blow stuff up,” five foolhardy (ahem, I mean brave) cadets enrolled and the excitement was palpable for their first supervised training mission.
James was forcibly volunteered as Captain with his crew consisting of First Mate Stuart, Communications Officer David, Security Officer Rob and last but certainly not least, Tonio as the Ship's Mascot. Induction and training by veteran combat commander Daniel was quickly dispensed without too many blank stares and the crew declared fit and ready for their first journey aboard the good ship Sitting Duck.
After being flung through hyperspace deep into the centre of enemy territory James immediately displayed the unique credentials that made him stand out as officer material. “Uhm... so what now?”
Fortunately the ships computer left little time for hesitation and reported an incoming Pulse Ball off the starboard side that would rip through the ships shields unless handled effectively. Remembering the strategic advice offered during training the crew immediately decided to launch a combined attack with both starboard cannon. So keen were they to do so that the entire crew ran to the same weapons control unit together, presumably fighting amongst themselves for the inestimable honour of pressing a big red shiny button. Realising that there may be a slight tactical error in their current plans the crew continued a lively debate on who should go where whilst the computer announced a new threat, this time a heavily beweaponed Destroyer heading directly for the ship.
The crew were so involved in strategy discussion that they missed a fleeting opportunity to exchange action cards and by the time that a deadly Stealth Fighter was reported on the Port side the first action phase was drawing to a close without anybody placing any orders! Realising that this would mean they would be milling about on the bridge arguing whilst under heavy attack, the crew pulled themselves together and set to countering the Pulse Ball as a priority.
The second action phase ran more smoothly with the crew settling into the pace of the game and rushing about the ship on various jobs loading shields and priming weapons for attack. Precisely seven minutes after arrival, the Sitting Duck returned home and the crew were able to replay precisely what had transpired during their maiden journey. Working through the game turn by turn the crew did an effective job of wiping out the Pulse Ball almost immediately after it appeared with a full broadside attack. The rest of the enemy ships were quickly dispatched with only superficial damage breaking through the the red sector shields.
Although the port side shields were enthusiastically yet unnecessarily powered up it didn't impact on the smooth running of the main cannon. With three trophies of war and a safe return home James and crew had good reason to celebrate.
James; Stuart; David; Rob; Tonio - all won

Pleased with how well they handled their first outing the crew immediately re-enlisted for mission #2...

Space Alert
Due to his success James accepted promotion to Air Marshal And Chief Milk Frother, stepping aside from the general running of the ship in favour of new Captain Stuart. Emboldened by their previous rampant success the crew ventured out into new territory gleefully chanting the Space Corps battle motto “operor vos quoque volo amicus” (eh?)
Confidence was high and this time round the crew we're keen to combine their efforts to ensure that good energy flow around the ship would be a priority. Some crew members were keener than others in this respect although the implications of this wouldn't show until the replay.
David immediately latched onto the best way to cope with the Energy Cloud that the ship was flying directly into, and manged to avoid making the rookie mistake often made at this point by holding fire on the Pulse Cannon until the threat was within range of this particular weapon. Unfortunately for him none of his crewmembers managed to man the main battery at the same time so his attack was overall fairly ineffective and the ship was quickly enveloped by the cloud - which stripped away the shields that Tonio had just primed to capacity.
Determined to single-handedly save the ship, Tonio immediately reloaded the shields on his next turn, although the crew were less than amused when doing this emptied the reactor thus rendering the starboard cannons inoperable, allowing a Cryoshield fighter to wreck havoc as it closed in for the kill. Amid cries of “Cylon!” (the IBGers once again confusing their games) Tonio continued to load the non-existent shields from the empty reactor whilst James and Rob watched the cannons they were trying to fire remain disappointingly quiet.
David did his part to rectify the energy crisis by feeding energy rods into the main reactor, but once again his actions were fruitless as most of this energy was wasted and not pumped through to the crucial side reactors.
Meanwhile James had danced across to the other side of the ship and with Stuart in the bowels of the red sector they tried to get the port side weapons operational. For some reason this mainly consisted of running up and down the stairs a lot but eventually they were able to get a couple of shots in although sadly too little too late.
The massive cannons of the incoming port side Gunship, in combination with the detrimental effects of the Energy Cloud, tore into the unprotected hull of the Sitting Duck. With both wings of the ship ruined and most of the crew vapourised, contact was eventually lost.
Unconfirmed reports have surfaced from the ship's last moments before destruction that Tonio was heard crying the words “Gazpatcho Soup!”
James; Stuart; David; Rob; Tonio - all lost

With most of the table keen to settle down to play the totally-not-anything-remotely-like-Dominion-honest game Thunderstone, Tonio bowed out to play Small World with the other girls. Little did he know that later events during Saboteur would cement his reputation of being IBG's 'Official Cylon'...

Thunderstone (thanks David for this info)
A small number of brave militiamen, equipped only with a few daggers, torches and rations, ventured out in search of the fabled Thunderstone, facing dangers lurking within the Dungeon that included abominable Abyssals, dastardly Doomknights and odious Oozes.
Rob and James managed a few early dungeon kills, before joining the rest of the players in the village. After some shopping/hero-hiring they were able to again enter the dungeon to kill some more monsters and acquire XP, rapidly followed by David (each monster killed inevitably being followed by a cry of ‘Damn! I was going to kill him!’ from at least one other player).
These three continued to make regular trips to the dungeon, whilst Stuart and Dan became increasingly familiar with the inhabitants of the village. (oo-er missus...) James in particular looked to be doing well, with Rob’s and David’s visits to the dungeon slightly less frequent.
By the time the Thunderstone itself appeared in the darkest recesses of the dungeon, Dan and Stuart had still not been able to score a kill. With the end of the game approaching, David was able to make one final trip to the dungeon to kill a powerful monster worth 6 VPs, and moments later Stuart was able to end the game by claiming the Thunderstone itself on his first and only dungeon expedition.
Having acquired the assistance of a motley collection of hired heroes and what supplies and spell scrolls they could purchase from the local village, the militiamen fought their way, at great cost, through armies of undead, hellspawn and other horrors before finally acquiring their prize.
A final count of the VPs revealed the surprising conclusion that David’s final kill had been decisive!
David 21; Stuart 5; Rob 16; Dan 2; James 18

Meanwhile, back on the first table, several other IBG'ers were also participating in a bit of co-op action; of the chaotic castle-defending kind -

Castle Panic
Only Jon had played before, but the rules are quick to explain. The only thing that comes as a surprise to new players is that the monsters move nearer to the castle on every turn. Combined with the constant introduction of new monsters, this certainly helps to provide the ‘panic’ element to the game.
As Barrie is a real-life crack-shot with a bow and arrow, he seemed to be an ideal compatriot for taking out the monsters at long range. By the time that each player had had a single turn, however, the monsters (and a giant boulder) had already managed to knock down 3 castle walls. Things were not looking good.
The monsters were relentless, and it seemed that whenever a cunning stratagem had been formulated by the defenders (“I’ll trade this card with you so that you can kill the monster in the green sector next go”), a token would be revealed that moved the monsters around and scuppered those best laid plans.
Maynard was forced to use his Barbarian prematurely, which, being the only one in the deck, was being saved for a rainy day. However, despite the loss of more walls and a few towers, and Emma’s initial reluctance to trade any cards in case someone else killed a monster instead of her, the brave quintet were still in with a chance.
There were 10 tokens left to be revealed, when Emma managed to turn over a combination that led to 7 monsters being added on a single turn, instead of the normal 2. Cue more panic.
After much swordsplay and bow-twanging, the team were left with two towers standing, a 1-strength monster inside the castle (who would die when it brought one tower down) and only a couple of trolls still advancing. The smell of hope was in the air. Against all the odds, it seemed that the defenders would prevail. Until – the last but one token revealed another Giant Boulder. The words “Don’t roll a 3 or a 4” had hardly passed Jon’s lips when Emma rolled……….a 4. The sound of falling masonry heralded the collapse of the penultimate tower, and without another Barbarian or a “Drive him back!” card, it was left to the Troll Mage to suicidally bring down the final edifice, and with it the hopes of 5 war-weary players. Maybe next time….
Jon; Barrie; Emma; Vicky; Maynard - all lost

Maynard had the choice of next game, and decided to revisit –

PowerGrid: Factory Manager
Maynard set the game up whilst Jon explained the rules for Small World to Vicky, and Barrie got the drinks in. Finally, the 3 players reconvened, and Barrie was taught the rules. This is quite a tough game to pick up on the first play, so Barrie did a good job of hanging on in there.
Jon decided on a new tactic (for him) of upping production and storage as quickly as possible, without worrying too much about keeping down energy costs or manpower requirements. Consequently his energy use quickly shot up to 9 and his workers to 5, although he was starting to rake in a fair bit of cash.
Maynard quickly built some labour-saving machines, and therefore had more workers at his disposal for bidding, buying and jiggling his factory around. He didn’t seemed too bothered about going first in the turn order though, until later in the later in the game, leaving that privilege to Jon.
Barrie was obviously trying to feel his way into the game, choosing not to compete for first in turn order, as well as unfortunately buying a robot that ended up being redundant for most of the game. He was also initially finding it difficult to get a good cash flow going, preferring instead to treat the game as a kind of “credit crunch simulation.”
After a couple of rounds, Jon decided that he needed to pull back on his power costs, or else the National Grid might collapse, so he bought an expensive computer which also helped automate some of his production. An upgrade and removal of an inefficient production machine also helped.
Maynard had now started to get his production line going, although he was slightly annoyed (when he finally did choose to bid to get the first-turn tile), that Jon did not bring down the hardware that he would have liked into the market. Being the gentleman that he is, he chose to voice his frustration by calmly uttering – “I am disappointed that your objectives do not fully align with mine.” (And then proceeded to beat Jon over the head with a metal bar…)
Moving into the final round, none of the players had yet used any of their factory extension spaces, and as Jon and Maynard had already used up all their other spaces, there were a number of calculations being made as to whether any further machine purchases were actually going to turn a profit. After a (lengthy) pause, Jon decided ‘no’, and chose simply to sit on his $145 collected from previous turns.
Maynard did a little more jiggling, and Barrie took the opportunity to catch up with everyone else’s production and storage capacities. When the totals were totted up, Maynard was pleased with his “higher than previous games” total, but suffered from a slightly low production output in the end.
Barrie had actually done really well for a first game (ending with the highest production capacity), and if it hadn’t been for the early redundant robot, would have undoubtedly done even better.
Jon’s strategy of “get the cash quick and then sit on it” seemed to have worked in this particular game, although it’s questionable whether or not he would get away with that again.
Jon $335 (100 prod/100 storage); Maynard $223 (80/80); Barrie $181 (110/100)

As previously mentioned, Tonio had joined the ladies for some war-mongering -

Small World (thanks to Tonio for this info)
Jon did a super job of going over the rules before the game began. Emma started the game off by skipping the Mounted Trolls and playing with the plentiful Heroic Ratmen, taking control of the NW of the board. Tonio took the free coin and the Mounted Trolls (interesting concept) and entered the world from the SW to maximise the number of hills and farm regions (which cost one less to attack with the "mounted" ability). Vicky paid a few coins and started her play with the Beserk Dwarves. Entering from the uncontested Eastern side of the world and with the helpful "beserk" dice, Vicky's dwarves were able to conquer 5 regions including two mines. A lovely start and at this point Vicky had already got Emma and Tonio worried.
The extra reinforcements from the Trolls' lairs meant that Tonio spread the Trolls out thinly, and Emma's Ratmen were able to slowly eat into their number.
Meanwhile, Vicky continued to play a strong game taking on the Swamp Sorcerers. The Sorcerers entered the board from the West and so were able to benefit from turning lone Ratmen and Trolls into Sorcerers.
Having out-served their usefulness, Tonio declined the Trolls and went for the Merchant Skeletons. The Merchant ability also served him well last week, giving an extra coin for every region controlled. Now with Skeletons (that can increase in number when the defeat two occupied regions) he looked like he was developing a strong position. However, he tried to convince Emma that Vicky was definitely winning, to get the heat off his own back......(how chivalrous...) 
Emma declined her Ratmen and went for the exciting sounding Pillaging Ghouls. Emma's gameplan would be to decline them as soon as possible, but the coins that come from pillaging were also an incentive to play them for a couple of rounds. Emma went on to play Wealthy Amazons, who proved quite formidable. Unfortunately, she did manage to take out some of her own declined pieces, which was probably due to her having too many in one area.
Tonio eventually declined the faithful Merchant Skeletons and adopted the Flying Tritons for a last push.
Tonio 113; Vicky 102; Emma 90

With Cuba finally over, this table chose to stay together and bring out the ever-faithful -

Ra (thanks again Gareth)
No rules explanation was needed, as all the players were familiar with the game.
Paul took an early lead in the first round, having a good selection of civilization tiles.
In round two Gareth’s Nile and flood tokens went into double figures giving a well needed boost to his score, but he was still in third place due to his very poor first round.
Scott and Johan continued to build up their monument numbers and by the final round it looked as if Johan would be the clear winner. Unfortunately for Johan, Scott just managed to edge past, going from last place to first with a massive twenty six points to Johan’s twenty.
A great way to spend 45 minutes on a game that is sure to be brought out again soon.

Having lost Tonio, the other Space Alerters decided to push their luck even further -

Diamant (thanks Rob for this report)
In this game the hazards came thick and fast and the cowardly prospered. In the first tunnel Rob signalled his intent and scarpered just as a rockfall crushed the rest of the group.
The next two rounds ended quickly and horribly for the adventurers. The fourth mine seemed the most promising with Dan and David venturing furthest. With gems spilling out of his pockets Dan skipped back to camp just at the moment David was killed. (“Why did it have to be snakes?”)
The stage was set for a tense final round. Unfortunately everyone died within three cards of the entrance to complete the least successful expedition since Scott of the Antarctic (bizarrely, the first of 2 mentions for this explorer, by separate reporters this evening!)
Rob 23; Dan 21; James 12; Stuart 10; David 0

This table was now joined by the girls (sorry...Tonio and the girls), in order to have a full house for even more mining exploits -

Saboteur (thanks to Daniel again)
The game began in typically high spirits with accusations flying around the table. Maps were played early by James, Tonio and Daniel and the miners began creeping toward their goals.
Although Tonio was first to come under suspicion with some unusual tunnel arrangements, the mind games at the table were going nowhere and Daniel was the first to openly reveal himself as a Saboteur, 'rockfalling' one of the tunnels, only to be promptly blocked out of the game when the wheels came flying off his mining cart.
Vicky quickly joined him with a broken lamp after she also made life difficult for the miners. Despite wholehearted agreement that Tonio would be the third Saboteur it eventually transpired that that honour belonged to David, who had quietly been discarding cards out of his hand for most of the game.
The miners fell hopelessly short of achieving their goal and round one went to the Saboteurs. How Tonio managed to be on the miners side whilst seeming to be completely the opposite all game long can only mean one thing - he really is a Cylon after all...
Round 2 started off quickly with plenty of tunnels being dug, however they ended up going round and round in circles and eventually nowhere useful.
As the miners' frustration increased, James quickly became obvious as the first Saboteur then yes, you've guessed it, Tonio was the next to "reveal". Rob followed soon after although he made a hash of trying to block the tunnel with an illegal card placement.
The endgame took some bizarre turns when Vicky (our resident strawberry-blonde) had a self-confessed ‘blonde moment’, missing a chance to end the game in the miners’ favour, whilst Daniel suddenly realised that he was holding two broken lamp cards that could have been used to slow down the Saboteurs.
The finish was close but a lack of crossroad cards meant that the Saboteurs were once more successful in foiling the miners’ attempts to get the elusive gold. With the pub wanting to close, there wasn't enough time to play a third hand, so the game was ended prematurely.
Daniel 3; Vicky 3; David 3; James 3; Rob 3; Tonio 3; Stuart 0; Emma 0

And to close proceedings, after a successful first outing last week, it was a welcome return to another large-group game –

Johan couldn’t be persuaded to join in, so 6 players started the game. It was new to Paul, Maynard and Scott, but the rules were quickly explained and the players were soon off hunting.
Scott was the first to utter the famous cry of “Doomed!” leaving Maynard to lead the first hunt for 5 seals in 4 days. He managed to recruit Barrie and Paul, who then proceeded to catch a whole herd of seals and avoid the Nanuks to successfully complete the first hunt.
The roles were reversed for the 2nd hunt, with Maynard this time proclaiming Scott’s hunt (7 birds / 3 days) to be doomed. Captain Scott failed to recruit any other hunters, and his ice-bound journey therefore proved to be as fruitless as his famous ancestor’s (see?!)
Gareth then ended up being hunt leader for the next 4 rounds, with Paul and Jon taking it in turns to doom the hunt. After 2 unsuccessful attempts to catch seals and deer, Barrie uttered the immortal words, “Gareth – you’re the worst hunt leader ever….” and so (unwisely) chose not to follow him on the final hunt, which turned out to be a cakewalk of catching 6 birds in 1 day.
Although the deck hadn’t yet run out, the clock had caught up with the players and it was universally agreed to call it a day after 6 rounds. Paul, Maynard and Barrie had all chosen the successful side in 5 out of the 6 hunts, but Paul just squeaked home by a single point from the other two.
The other three players shared 4th place (i.e. joint last), which helped to cap a fine evening of bringing up the rear for Gareth.
Paul 11; Barrie 10; Maynard 10; Jon 5; Scott 5; Gareth 5

As we are good little gamers, we like to tidy up after ourselves and put the tables back in their rightful places. Unfortunately, Daniel's interpretation of 'rightful place' meant right in front of the door to the staff quarters. With that kind of forward planning, maybe it's just as well he wasn't able to play Space Alert......

And so that's it for another night of gaming fun in West London. Catch you next week for another installment.....

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