Wednesday, 28 April 2010

"Can I give you a Chilli for your Stink?..................."

Players: Iain, Steph, Ian, Jon, James, Vicky, Maynard, Russ, Jim, Scott, Tonio, Emma, Barrie, Gareth, Paul, Keith, Malte

17 IBG'ers turned up tonight, including a return from Jim after several weeks away, and a warm welcome to Malte, who is studying in the UK after having come over from his native Germany. At last - a visitor from the spiritual birthplace of quality boardgames.....

A paying function had unfortunately turfed us out of our usual room, but 4 large tables had been reserved for us in the Conservatory, and once the landlord had brought over some spotlights (and the kids had left), we were happy little gamers again.

Russ and James were the earlybirds this week, and took the opportunity to have a go at -

Twilight Struggle (thanks Russ for this report)
James and I had arranged to arrive early to play the short Late War scenario for Twilight Struggle; unbeknownst to us we would be doing this downstairs in plain view of the general public. Surprisingly enough (well surprising to me) we weren’t drummed out of the area for being geeks and freaks when I unfolded my custom printed map for Twilight Struggle and started setting up with a pile of little gem dice to mark influence.
The first problem arrived almost immediately - the Late War scenario is designed to represent the historical influence in 1975 with the fall of Saigon and there’s a lot more US control than you’d normally find if you’d played up to that point, I was almost out of dark blue dice! The deck is set up with most of the Early and Mid War events removed and a few continuing events in place, including the damnable hippies (Flower Power)—just wait till Reagan gets his hands on you. This leads to a pretty heavy US bias in the event deck as James was about to discover as he lined up to engineer a graceful decline of the Soviet experiment.
The victory conditions are a little different as the auto-20 victory condition is removed and in order to win the US must have 20 points after final scoring or if they play Wargames (so would need to be 26 points up before playing it), DEFCON and Europe control wins are still possible. The other interesting thing about this scenario is that the US start with the Eagle Landed and hence the ability to take an extra action round and no opportunity to drop cards onto the space race, whereas the USSR start at Space Walk so they can only drop 3 ops or greater (and in most cases will want to fail the first roll so they could drop a 2nd 3 ops card as it takes a 4 ops card to move to land on the Moon).
My opening hand was fairly neutral, no 4 ops, but a few 3 ops and the only really bad card was ‘The Reformer’ though it got a lot worse when James headlined Red Scare; thankfully I’d headlined Asia Scoring so at least I didn’t lose an action round to play it later. Opening turn scoring cards were Mid East where I managed to score a few points with the help of Camp David, Africa which put a few points back in the red camp and Central America for scratch.
In fact James had either been cunning or incompetent (he claims the latter) as he had signalled heavily that he had South America scoring through checking whether he could use Five Year Plan to discard a scoring card at the end of the turn. Not only had I not taken the opportunity to secure domination in Central America before the scoring card was played, I sent the Russians into Afghanistan to force him to play it rather than get to play Five Year Plan! Tear Down This Wall went onto the Space Race unsurprisingly, in this short scenario it’s probably one of the most damaging cards for the USSR. Notably the Polish Pope popped his head up as played by James which was rapidly followed by my play of Lech Walesa to turn Poland to the side of capitalism.
The second turn turned up a much better hand for me, but not so for James (at least that’s what his face told me), highlights included KAL (my headline), Ames, Nuclear Test Ban and East Europe Unrest. I figured I’d have a go at using Unrest to leverage my way into East Germany after dumping my 4 headline points in there, this met with some success especially as James had to play Maggie making my SocGov safe and had Chernobyl and two scoring cards. In doing so I’d abandoned South America and James managed to get that back from US control to no points scored. The turn was rounding out with James holding Europe Scoring, Five Year Plan and Grain Sales and with me in control of Europe. As a last ditch effort he played the Plan and I picked Europe Scoring keeping him in play for the moment.
The final turn was a scrap over Europe unsurprisingly; I had enough ops to ensure I kept control after headlining Junta to keep the DEFCON at 2. I rapidly managed to achieve a point of overcontrol in the battlegrounds and with the scenario setup controlling more countries than the USSR wasn’t a problem. On his last action round James found himself left with Grain Sales and Duck and Cover and no safety valve as the Space Race needed a 4 ops card at least. Just goes to show that without Gorbachev (neither the Reformer nor Glasnost was played) the US would have much increased influence across Europe, but that his trigger happy replacement would have blown up the world in response!
All in all we both enjoyed the game, especially as the card mix gives a much different feel with the USSR having more worries about US event control rather than the other way round. In retrospect the more experienced player should probably play the USSR, not least because of the DEFCON gotchas, but the requirement to win by 20 points for the US made me think that it would be harder for the US to win. I would have been nowhere near the 20 points at final scoring if it had happened, and I reckon quite a few of the US wins in this scenario will be DEFCON or Europe Control. It left me keen to try it again, especially as with setup we got a good taste of Twilight Struggle in 75 minutes.
Russ (US) - won; James (USSR) - didn't

After last week's epic games, 3 other early starters obviously hadn't had their fill of -

Through the Ages (thanks Ian for this one)
This was Iains first play and Ian’s 2nd try, being a glutton for punishment - a 4 hour game last Wednesday hadn’t been enough. Steph had played a few times before, coming off a win in the previous week. Big thanks to Russ for lending us his copy with the shiny resource cubes, and apologies from the players for mixing up the cards in the rush to pack up at the end……
The game started with Ian taking Homer as leader, who gives an extra culture (VP) per warrior in your civilization. Iain took the pyramids as starting wonder and Julius Caesar as leader, Steph grabbed the hanging gardens (can’t remember who her early leader was) and Ian the Library of Alexandria as a wonder.
With Homer Ian started racking up several culture per turn, getting up to 4 per turn towards the end of Age 1, which helped him into an early VP lead. Iain and Steph grabbed the 2 iron mine upgrades available leaving Ian struggling for resources through Age 1. Steph was building up a strong economy but was behind on VPs. Iain struggled a bit with the juggling of the various resource types, falling into the same trap as James the previous week of filling up his hand with technology upgrades before he had enough science being created to be able to play them. Once he’d solved this problem he found he was behind on food production so didn’t have any workers available.
The problem with TTA is being able to manage a lot of different resources (8!) and realizing that your lowest one will likely constrain your growth, so you really need to keep them in balance to some extent, and it seems easy to get stuck in a catch 22 if you are not careful.
Steph cruelly picked on Iain while he was in this conundrum, playing a war over science on him and with a large difference in strength stealing 6 of his hard earned science points. She upgraded to a new government that gave 7 civil actions per turn and then also had Newton as leader which meant that every time she played a technology card she got the civil action for it back again! Effectively this meant she had almost unlimited actions and soon had a big lead in science per turn, and was catching up on VPs.
Ian had also upgraded to a constitutional Monarchy and had several civil actions and 4 military actions per turn, and managed to build the Ocean Liner wonder that gives effectively a free population per turn, so was hanging in in the lead going into Age 3.
Iain gave up on trying to keep up on military, and took Gandhi as leader meaning it would take double military actions to attack him. This effectively kept him safe from Steph who only had 2 per turn.
As the last few turns approached Steph took a gamble and played a war over culture on Ian who was still in the lead on VPs, then built up her strength as far as possible and hoped for the best. Ian managed to add 15 strength in one turn by adding an extra army with a high value tactics card (1 infantry plus 2 artillery= 9 extra strength) and turned the tables, winning the war and taking 6 culture points from Steph.
Steph built a fast food chain wonder on her last turn and pretty much managed to catch up on VPs, leaving the win in the balance between her and Ian. Iain had gallantly stepped aside by this point in the interests of getting to a result with limited time before pub closing.
On the flip of the Impact cards it was very close, with Ian finally coming out the winner on 155 to Steph's 153. I estimated Iain would have been around 130 or so if we had had time to count him up, which was a very creditable performance - hopefully he won’t be put off by the experience! Without the 12 point swing on the war over culture Steph would have been comfortably ahead, so in the end a gamble that didn’t quite pay off!
Also, I believe we may have played Homer wrong (doh!), apparently the culture bonus only applies to a max of 2 warriors – so this should probably be a moral victory for Steph since this must have gained Ian 6 extra VPs at least!
Ian 155; Steph 153; Iain 130
Now that the 'crowd' had turned up, 2 more tables started up - the first of these had a go at -
Birds on a Wire (thanks Tonio)
Birds on a Wire is a game of collecting tiles and matching groups of three in the same way as you do in the card game "Set". Jim identified rather early on that it wasn't really going to be Scott's kind of game (i.e. before we even started) but Emma was keen to give the game a go because of the cute birdies!
Tonio set Scott up to collect an early Zap tile and, although Emma was clearly putting together a very high scoring card, Scott decided that his Zap tile was best used against Tonio, his benefactor, in an attempt not to come last. Unfortunately he still came in last! Ho hum.
Final scores were Emma won and Scott lost - the actual scores have been mislaid.
A light game, with opportunities for stitching people up, which has more strategy that the average tile drawing game. I think it's fair to say Scott isn't in a hurry to play it again...
Emma - won; Jim & Tonio - next; Scott - last
Having finished Twilight struggle, James and Russ were now joined by Jon, Vicky and newcomer Malte for -

The Adventurers
After Russ and Vicky had finished their in-depth discussion on the relative merits and demerits of a variety of different types of anaesthetics (get a room, guys...) we were able to return to the business in hand.
Jon and James had played before, and were able to offer some ‘advice’ about not staying in the first room too long, to prevent being squashed by the swift-moving boulder. The newbies therefore followed this advice and exited pretty swiftly, stopping only to consult a few glyphs and (in Malte’s case) pick up some treasures. Of course, sod’s law then dictated that the walls to the room failed to move at all, and the boulder advanced about as quickly as an asthmatic ant with some heavy shopping.
Russ was the first to venture into the lava room, and started to pick his way across the glyph-stones. Vicky followed suit and Jon brought up the rear. Russ used the knowledge gained in the first room to storm across the glyph-stones……straight into the lava pit. He had not looked at all the glyph clues in the ‘walls’ room, and therefore proved the old adage that ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’.
The way that the dangerous glyphs were laid out prevented any adventurer going straight through the room, but Jon was able to use his special ability to hop diagonally out at the end. James and Malte had both stopped to try to pick the locks along the temple wall. After 1 failure, Malte succeeded, but James thought better of it and instead headed towards the rickety bridge. Meanwhile, Russ was awaiting the arrival of the boulder at the corner of the lava room, so that he could bring on his second adventurer. He managed to finish reading War and Peace and succeeded in isolating the Higgs Boson particle while he was waiting….
Jon decided to head for the 9-point treasure at the far end of the temple, whilst Vicky plunged straight into the river, picking up numerous treasures as she went. The boulder finally started to pick up speed as both James and Malte successfully negotiated the rickety bridge. Jon got a lucky dice roll on his second attempt and grabbed the 9-pointer.
Vicky and Russ both jumped out of the river without losing any treasures, and with an energetic sprint down the final corridor, all the adventurers escaped before the boulder could trap them inside. For the second game running, it was the adventurer(ess) who jumped into the river first who ended up winning, whilst James managed to top up his score nicely by rolling a double-6 for his 2 'mystery treasures'.  This had been a very different game from the previous one, with the boulder ambling along, and the adventurers all having 4 or 5 actions each turn. I suspect that this was unusual, and a more ‘normal’ distribution of dice-rolling would result in a tenser experience. Having said that, it was still a great way to kill an hour at the beginning of the evening.
Vicky 33; James 26; Jon 20; Russ 18; Malte 15

Meanwhile, the birdie-lovers (or haters) tried out -

Lexio (thanks to Jim for this one)
Jim produced Lexio, a game new to all the others, explaining that it was a (much) simpler version of Tichu but played with tiles instead of cards and that if you could play rummy or poker, you could play Lexio.
At this point, Tonio tried to escape to play Princes of Florence, but the cramped room and a surplus of willing players for that game caused him to return. Emma was demanding to play "a real game" as well, but despite this less-than-enthusiastic reception to the proposed game, Jim, fool that he is, stuck to his desire to play the game or better still, Tichu, but Scott wanted to be selective about his partner if we played that game, so Lexio it was.
Jim explained the simple rules, and after a practice round (which only took a few minutes and that Emma stomped everyone at!), Jim divvied out an equal amount of poker chips to all four players for scoring and the game began in earnest.
All five rounds played quickly with the occasional rule clarifications on the way but with no one being able to get a truly "knock-them-dead" hand to make the big points (points are obtained from each other by the difference in the number of tiles in each player's hand after one player has played all their tiles), it came to a count.
Originally everyone had 70 points (about ½ the recommended starting number) and by the end there had been a small redistribution of the wealth.
Emma wanted to play again right away (a convert) but everyone else wanted something "meatier". So the game was packed away and the general feeling was that the tactile tiles helped the game, which, despite it's quick play time was both fun and interesting with everyone wanting to play again on another evening.
Scott 86; Emma 70; Tonio 62; Jim 62

By this time, the 4th table was also up and running with -

The Princes of Florence (cheers Gareth for this report)
The new game of the month ‘The Princes of Florence’ was tabled by Gareth and he quickly found four volunteers to join in. The game was new to most of the table and Gareth hadn’t played it for over twelve months so the rules were run through at a quick pace to get everybody up to speed.
The players encourage artists and scholars to their Palazzo and inspire them to create great works (this is achieved by playing profession cards). The better their Palazzo, the more impressive the work. Buildings and Landscapes are bid for or bought outright. The game is played over seven phases with one auction round at the start and two action rounds. With any works played producing either money or prestige points or a combination of the two. The winner is the player with the most prestige points at the end of the game.
At the start of the game, Maynard and Keith took an early lead, winning the best works for these rounds. Barrie and Paul held back on their works, collecting jesters and property for higher scores later on, and Gareth just tried to keep up with everybody else.
By the mid game, Maynard had taken a strong lead followed by Paul who had now moved up the scoring track, with Barrie and Keith in 3rd and 4th and Gareth languishing at the back, quickly running out of money after paying an extortionate price for a lake!
By the last round it looked as if Maynard would be the clear winner with a commanding lead, but he ran out of profession cards meaning he had no way of scoring. Barrie played some strong bonus cards to close the gap and Gareth who had now run out of money, was spending valuable prestige points to play his final two works.
At the end of round seven, prestige cards were played and Barrie narrowly took the win by a point from Maynard and Paul who came in equal second followed by Keith and finally Gareth. A close fought game to be tabled again next week.
Barrie 49; Maynard 48; Paul 48; Keith 39; Gareth 35

It was now time for something 'meatier' at Scott's table -

Power Grid (thanks to Scott for this one)
With other tables still engrossed in games, the four of us at the table thought about what to play. The offer of Power Grid was put forward by Scott, and to his surprise both Tonio and Emma were excited at the prospect, I’m pretty sure Jim likes it too.
At hearing the possible maps to play, Tonio heard Italy and that was that decided. With 4 players, we needed four areas and chose a straight line of them down the middle, cutting off some expensive connections to Sicily and cheaper connections in the North-East.
The differences for Italy are that there is slightly less fuel in the starting market for oil and coal but more garbage making early garbage plants more viable.
After a quick rules summary we were under way with Jim up first and buying the #06 plant (1 garbage for 1 city), Emma took #07 (3 oil for 2), Tonio took #05 (2 oil/coal for 1), and Scott deliberated a little but settled on #04 (2 coal for 1). With more expensive fuel, the first resource round was mostly just get what you need so you have money left for building cities.
Scott put his first cities in the North, at the centre of a large cluster of cheap connections. Tonio started slightly south of Scott, Jim slightly west and Emma to the east; luckily this still left a bit of breathing room for all.
For the rest of Step 1, Scott got lucky and landed himself plant #20 (3 coal for 5) while not many other coal plants came out helping to keep the coal costs under control. Emma went heavily into oil plants, Jim went with a renewables and uranium strategy and Tonio had a bit of everything.
With city building, Scott managed to get up to 5 cities to make the most of his power plant but everyone else conspired against him to surround every other city so he sat there collecting his money while the other players continued on to 7 cities and Step 2. This was triggered by Emma, who couldn’t resist buying cities if she had the money to do so and was competing with Jim, who was leapfrogging all over the board and had connections across almost all of Italy.
Tonio was mostly concerned with making sure his relatives were involved in getting some electricity - I’m sure there was the mention of a Godfather in there too...
Meanwhile, Scott had been sitting there saving his elektros, to which Tonio commented that he had loads of money. Scott, in a half impression of Harry Enfield, repeated “loadsamoney” and a surprised Tonio didn’t think Scott was old enough for Harry Enfield to be known. Maybe Tonio’s just a bit younger than we all thought...
Scott spent his life savings and rocketed into 1st place in cities with others happy to sit behind him through choice or maybe just lack of money.
Jim’s strategy of going renewables was showing its weakness as the lower capacity plants were preventing too much growth, while Tonio and Emma got into a fight over garbage and put prices to the top, hindering both of them.
It had taken a while for us to get to Step 2, and with the power plant deck looking quite small, Step 3 was upon us. Tonio and Emma continued their fighting, but this time over the #50 plant (no fuel for 6) which Emma bid all the way to 81. At this point Tonio asked himself whether a bid of 82 would be worthwhile or not. After concluding that he didn’t know, he bid 82 anyway. Emma had seemed so keen to get it before, as she had done similar bidding for other plants, not letting anyone else have them at any cost when she liked the look of them. However, here she cried “Ha! I made you pay too much - have it for 82, I’m getting you back for ruining my garbage plants!” So all of the overpayments she made before had been for this one hustle bid on Tonio. I don’t know how effective that is as a strategy?!
Jim turned against his earth-friendly stance on power and got in to some hybrid and oil plants to ramp up his capacity to 18, although his cities unfortunately fell far short of this target.
Scott also got his capacity up to 18 and Tonio realised too late that the last round had approached. As Scott was heading for his 18 cities, Tonio made a valiant attempt and got to 17 while Jim and Emma maxed out on cities with 11 and 13 respectively.
Tonio felt that the ending was maybe a bit of a let down as it’s often known what's going to happen when you reach the last round, while Jim and Scott thought it was a good part of the game requiring a need to plan for it. I don’t know what Emma thought - I think she was just happy to have got revenge on Tonio...
Scott – 18 cities powered (18 capacity); Tonio – 17 (17); Emma 13 (17); Jim 11(18)

With all the other tables electing for heavyweight Euros, the Adventurers decided to opt for something a bit lighter and co-operative, namely –

Castle Panic
This was new to James, Malte and Russ, so Jon did his best to explain the rules and apologise to everyone that players would have to delve into Tonio’s pants to pick out the tokens (sorry Tonio – that’s the last time I mention that – promise!)
The game did not start well for the brave defenders, as a boulder and then a Troll took out 2 towers early on. James was pulling some lucky tokens from the bag (2 ‘all monsters in red move inwards’ in one turn, when there were no monsters in red, and an ‘all move clockwise’ immediately followed by an ‘all move anti-clockwise’) which helped keep the onslaught manageable. In fact, the walls were soon rebuilt and the defenders continued to defend the towers with relative ease.
A quick flurry of monsters appeared near the end, but they simply presented some target practice for the Archers and Knights. The penultimate token was the ‘reveal 4 more tokens’, which was the ideal time for that one to come out, and so the ending was somewhat anticlimactic (apart from Russ and Jon choosing not to trade with Malte, so that no-one got the final ‘kill’).
Whilst the scores were totted up, James went off to get more drinks, returning only to ask if he’d won the Master Slayer title. Jon absentmindedly replied “Yes”, only to burst James’ bubble by adding, “oh…hang on…no - Russ did….”
On reflection, the tokens had come out of the bag in an almost perfect order for the defenders, and it’s unlikely that such an easy victory would be won ever again. It might be fun to sometime try the variant where one player takes control of the monsters and chooses in which order they come onto the board. Watch this space….
Russ 18; James 16; Jon 14; Malte 8; Vicky 6

And to keep it light and fluffy, it was time for -

Bohnanza (thanks to Russ again)
The evening finished with a game of Bohnanza, one of the first games I bought, back when I could fit my games collection into a hold-all rather than a U-Haul. Jon had chucked it in his bag, but didn’t seem that keen to play initially, but Malte was keen and I’m always up for a bit of bean trading so he was persuaded. I went through the rules quickly, emphasising not rearranging your hand and the importance of trading.
Malte was discombobulated when I mentioned the ‘no harvesting single bean fields if you don’t have all single bean fields’ - apparently he’d always missed that rule, and though he initially trusted us, later on he insisted on checking the rulebook!
One thing I love about Bohnanza is how different people are with their trading. Jon quietly accumulated large fields of low value beans while I was described as a second hand car salesman as I tried to get rid of the beans that were so lovely that I didn’t want them myself. Vicky was generous in her trades, much to the occasional consternation of myself and Malte. James surprised no-one by being a cunning trader determined to get the best value possible (no surprise he’s always got a pile of games he’s picked up for a couple of quid on eBay or the car boot) and Malte had a big premium on the high end beans, getting a pile of cash from Cocoa and Garden beans.
The game sped along nicely and it was an incredibly tight fimish. Apparently the tie-breaker is cards in hand and Jon and myself both had 4 (Malte had 1) so we rejoiced in our shared victory!
Jon 15(4); Russ 15(4); Malte 15(1); Vicky 12; James 10

Now I know for a fact that the Princes of Florence crew also had a go at The Adventurers, but we currently have no scores or report, so who knows what went on.
(My best guess is: Gareth got one of the rules wrong; Barrie attempted to break the game by riding the boulder down the corridor; Maynard drank coke 'cos he was driving; Keith wore leather trousers 'cos he's that kind of a guy; Paul won the game with a smile on his face....)

Anyway, that was the end of another very enjoyable evening with the Isleworth Boardgamers. And after venturing down into the real world for a week, we are planning to be back up in the Riverview Room next Wednesday.


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