Wednesday, 2 June 2010

"You never told me that rule.....!"

Players: Paul, Emma, Steph, Scott, Ian, Philip, Daniel, Jon, Gareth, Barrie

10 IBG'ers came out to the London Apprentice on a very pleasant balmy June evening. This must have affected their choice of games, because they played very nicely together, building castles, Moorish gardens and Moaïs on Easter Island. Although - the evening did end with some bloodthirsty seal-hunting, but I guess you can't have it all...

“Are we playing something light and fluffy?” asked Steph, at the beginning of the evening. “Sure” came the reply, “why not come and have a …” –

Piece o’ Cake
A full 5 players is definitely the way to play this one, as it gives everyone one opportunity to split the cake up. Barrie left the gaming area to buy some food, Paul snuck into his seat, Jon explained the rules, and the game was underway.
Jon plumped for chocolate and strawberries, Paul was eyeing up the cherries, Emma started collecting a veritable fruit salad, Gareth had a table full of gooseberries and Steph was eating cake like it was about to be rationed. It turned out that Steph’s strategy of collecting the lower value fruit whilst eating everything else was successful, although with only 5 points between first and last, there wasn’t a lot in it.
Steph 23 (16 eaten + 7 collected); Gareth 20 (8+12); Jon 18 (7+11); Paul 18 (6+12); Emma 18 (0+18)

Steph's desire for something light and fluffy appears to have been instigated by the appearance of -

Race for the Galaxy (thanks Scott for this report)
Philip kindly brought along RFTG with all of the expansions, including the latest one. With only a few people arriving early, Philip, Ian and myself got stuck in to a game (Steph was there too but the prestige scared her off). We’d all played before, but not with the latest expansion, and this was Ian’s first time vs. real opponents as opposed to his imaginary friend (the AI).
So we got under way and Philip started off with a military route, previously selecting that we play the game with conquering on. Both Ian and I avoided getting much military and let Philip go all out without us being attacked. I had one of the new start worlds that allows you to put one card under the home world whenever you develop/settle from the cards you spent to purchase it, you get to retrieve them whenever produce happens; this seemed really good to get a delayed discount on every purchase. I primarily made use of it to hold back military cards that Philip would really like and this paid off well once his military was out of control and he was searching through the deck vociferously, even using his deep search ability to pull out a Rebel Homeworld.
Philip got some early prestige and the 1 vp/ round seemed very powerful, with a military strategy seemingly going quite well it looked like we were going to be dominated by our new galactic overlord, but towards the end Philip was struggling to find anything useful to play, despite having the 6 cost development to score for military strength and exploring every turn. This gave Ian and myself a chance to catch up. I got underway with earning some prestige points and took the lead from Philip, Ian was going heavy on claiming goals (although possibly this was incidental to his actual strategy) with a lot of late 6 cost developments, primarily scoring for developments and before Philip got to capitalise on his military, the game was over, much to everyone’s surprise.With both of the large goals (for explore, consume powers) and some high point scoring developments just in time, Ian had clinched the win; as usual he seemed the most shocked about it.
Ian 52; Scott 49; Philip 47

So, from an early point of view that Philip was running away with it, the balance was brought back and it ended very close, so it seemed the game still had quite a lot of balance in it until we played a second game...

Unfortunately I don’t remember much about Philip or Ian’s strategy for this game as I was fully focussed on a spectacular produce/consume cycle, which went something like this:
I started with the mining discount start world and early on picked up a planet that would produce a gene good as well as a prestige, I played this in to my tableau early and produced to get that prestige point and start earning a vp/turn. Fortunately, Philip and Ian hadn’t gone in to production worlds so I wasn’t helping them at all.
Next I came across a 6-development (which I had also played in the first game) to earn 1vp extra at game end for each prestige and it also has a consumption power to get more prestige. With my discounts to mining worlds, I was cranking those out to get lots of goods to use in the cycle. So I was earning prestige with each produce and each consume phase, ensuring that I stayed in the lead and received an extra card at the start of each turn. I also acquired powers that gave me a prestige whenever I played a development and a different power to give me a second prestige if it was a 6 cost development. Along with a planet that scored based on the number of prestige I had, resulting in each prestige now being worth 3vp each.
After a few produce/consume x 2 (the last one being a x3), the game looked like it was going to end on the next round as Philip was up to 11 cards; I had also drained the VP’s down to three and a quick look around the table showed I was the only one with any chips (33 to be exact) and 9 prestige. With all of my mining worlds, any cards to boost those scores would be perfect for me and as it happened I had been holding two 6 cost developments for mines, along with the new Death Star (9 cost/ 9VP development) for quite some time, I had even showed off the Death Star earlier but hadn’t purchased it, as wisely, no-one had picked develop in a long time. So I picked develop for the last round and bought myself a nice mining card earning me 2 prestige in the process. So, before counting the rest, I was already at a score of 66 for 33 vps and 11 prestige.
Scott 97; Philip 52; Ian 49

So the others had kept balanced at around the 50 mark again but I was almost double that, this expansion does allow for some crazy scoring, I certainly enjoyed it but then I don’t know how Ian or Philip felt, I doubt I would like to be on the other end of that sort of game.

Following last week’s inaugural Puerto Rico session, it was time to bring out another ‘classic’ –

This was the first outing as Game of the Month, and also the first time that IBG ‘founder members’ Gareth, Barrie and Jon have played a main game together for months. Daniel also joined in to make up the quartet. None of the players had played for some time (Barrie erroneously claimed never to have played before) so Jon explained the rules (all the rules….)
The first round started in vicious fashion, with Daniel moving the Provost back almost to the bridge, to prevent the other 3 from being able to activate their workers. Nice.
In the second round, Gareth chose to build in the castle, but found himself with one food and 2 wood as his batch. “Er…you actually need 3 different resources Jon reiterated.” Barrie and Daniel nodded in agreement. “You never told me that rule – can I take my turn back?” pleaded Gareth. At which point, the remaining 3 players held a conflab of which the UN would have been proud, and ruled that Gareth could not take his turn back (which would have effectively meant starting the whole round again), but that he would be let off the 2 VP penalty for failing to provide an appropriate batch to the castle. Gareth begrudgingly accepted this wise judgement, but was subjected to the ubiquitous ‘Raising of the handbag in a camp manner’ mime at several appropriate junctures during the game as a result.
The game itself turned out to be quite strange in a number of ways. Firstly, Barrie seemed incapable of remembering to pay his workers whenever he placed them (remind me never to work for Barrie in the real world...) Secondly, very few resource buildings were built, meaning that castle batches and buildings in general were in short supply.
And thirdly, the bailiff moved along 2 spaces every round, leaving no time to erect residential or ‘blue’ buildings (although Barrie did manage to place one residential building on the penultimate turn). This was mainly due to Gareth wanting to finish the game as quickly as possible, and hence placing in the Merchant’s Guild on practically every turn, to push the Provost forward. At least it meant that every building was in play every round (thwarting 'Evil Dan's' plans...)
Hence, the game ended quite suddenly, and the VP’s gained from Barrie’s buildings just managed to help him pip Jon and Dan at the post.
Gareth was left to relocate his playthings into his perambulator in time for next week’s game.
Barrie 57; Jon 55; Dan 52; Gareth 29

This week, Paul had been browsing in Ace Comics, the closest thing to a games shop close to Isleworth, when he came along a copy of Giants, a game he'd had his eye on for a while, for £14.99 (normally ~£40). A good reason to be cheap, so up it was snapped, and along he went to Wednesday evening at the London Appentice with it under his arm -

Giants (thanks Paul for this one)
Who could resist a game based on the historical truths and mythology of Easter Island - the chance to quarry and transport 20 metre tall statues to their final resting place on the edge of the island, keeping a watchful eye on the harmonious living of a civilisation that flourished for over a millennium before succumbing to famine, internal squabbling and probably a few bad rolls of the dice? Well, Emma and Steph couldn't, although it is possible that this was also down to Paul's over-earnest "would you like to play my new game?" or a lack of other options... a mystery that will be consigned to the mythology books, just like the moaïs (giant statues), ahus (foundation platforms to build the statues on) and rongo tablets of the game.
Paul gave an overview of the rules, and as the players were in an unusually uncompetitive mood, they agreed to 'learn as they played', so pushed on with the rulebook not far away.
The game turn has five stages, repeated until one player has placed seven statues around the edge of the board.
- production, in which dice are rolled to see which statues are quarried
- auction, when players bid blind for the statues using both tribal markers and workers
- placement, where each player places workers, chiefs (very strong workers, who get the ability of a sorcerer if a tablet is broken), and sorcerers who can mobilise more workers, harvest transportation logs, reserve spaces to build the statues and other such clever stuff
- transportation, when players move statues and headdresses around the island using the tribesmen that they placed
- recovery, where all pieces from the board are reclaimed for the next turn to begin.
The game looks a bit like Tobago (it's on an island), and plays a little like Steam (you transport things around the hexes to gain points, and you can piggy-back off other people's placements, but give them points in the process).
Apart from the known game flaw, where the headdresses and tribal markers don't fit snugly on the moaïs heads as the rules would have you believe, the game has brilliantly designed and conceived components which are very much nicer than the game NEEDED to have. Often a game with such brilliant bits doesn't deliver the gameplay, so the question loomed: IS THE GAME ANY GOOD?
After one round, most of the rules were flowing, and only the odd referral to the rule book was needed, apart from Emma occasionally claiming that a rule had not been made clear. She was only right sometimes.
The first round saw only 2 statues produced, which were claimed by Steph and Paul, so Emma started to build up her resources. Both Paul and Steph started the long haul to the other end of the island, where more points were on offer, Paul with a middle sized Giant, Steph with a really big one.
When Emma got in on the action, her strategy was to get as many statues as possible and move them all to the nearest destinations as quickly as possible. Steph stuck to the 'the farther away the better' routine, while Paul took the middle ground a did a little of both.
After a couple of slow turns the game passed very quickly, and Emma unsurprisingly brought it to an end after placing all seven of her statues in her own back yard. At this point, Paul and Steph had only placed 3 or 4 statues each.
Scoring was done by working round the island perimeter and allocating points as each statue came up. When the scoring had got about half way round Emma could be seen running around the game room, head in hands, exclaiming "I got the strategy SOOO wrong", as it became apparent that quantity was not going to win out vs quality this time round. Steph claimed victory with some impressive hauling of large Giants to the high scoring spaces, including one for 35 points - almost half her eventual total.
Steph 74; Paul 67; Emma 31

And to answer the question "Is the game any good?" I think the jury is still out as it takes more than one game to get a strategy in place, and the verdict was that the potential is there, but it needs more playing to be proved.

The RFTG crew now decided to come back down to earth -

Alhambra (thanks Philip for this one)
Played by Scott, Philip and Iain. Scott began by reminding us of the rules and we were off collecting money and purchasing buildings.
I picked up some Green and Purple buildings while Scott and Iain garnered Blues, Browns, Reds and Whites, but more important was that I was picking up open plan pieces with few walls whereas both Scott and Iain were picking up pieces with many walls. This gave both of them a distinct advantage in the first scoring.
It then became something of a disadvantage for Scott, as he picked up many pieces which he could not straight away place in his garden. The pieces built up in storage until there were at least half a dozen there.
The 2nd Scoring card was not in evidence yet, and Scott was able to place many of his stored pieces during later turns. Meanwhile Iain had also run into difficulties caused by too many walls, in that he found himself with only one viable spot to place a tile. He collected a couple of pieces in storage before working himself out of the difficulty by some skilful replacement work. Meanwhile I had continued to build a fairly open plan garden with no walls to the West, although I did manage to build a reasonable length of Wall around the eastern and Northern sides.
The 2nd scoring came round at almost the last possible moment and I drew slightly ahead of the other two. Because the 2nd scoring was so late the tiles were exhausted for the third scoring very shortly after the second. It turned out to be important that I had the most money in one of the categories, which gained me a crucial Brown building to take me into the lead in that colour.
Philip 139; Iain 131; Scott 124

A quick filler was needed on the Caylus table, before everyone joined up for a final game, so out came –

For Sale
Jon was roundly mocked during the very first auction for paying $7k for the ‘30’ property, but prices generally began to sky-rocket when the properties started coming out with big splits in values.
As always, it comes down to the blind-bidding of the second phase, which saw Jon avoid the low cheques and come out victorious. $7k for a space-station proved to be rather a bargain after all…
Jon $65k; Barrie $58k; Gareth $51k; Daniel $48k

And to round the evening off, a welcome return for –

Everyone joined in, so there were 10 players in all.
Philip started proceedings with one of his legendary ‘which planet are you from?’ bids, which actually turned out to be only 1 seal short of a minor miracle.
Polar Bears seemed to have been affected by climate change, and none of the hunts were interrupted by their presence. Ian played a master stroke at one point, searching the pile of cards being divvied up following a successful hunt to find a double-deer which he noticed had been inadvertently placed at the bottom of the pile. Cries of “We didn’t know that was there!” from the other side of the room were largely ignored...
At the end of the game, Gareth turned out to be the canniest hunter, whilst Paul managed to be on the losing side for every hunt, and ended up at the bottom of the pile. Maybe he should consider representing the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest next year…
Gareth 11; Emma 10; Philip 8; Steph 6; Barrie 6; Jon 5; Daniel 5; Ian 4; Scott 1; Paul 0

A fine way to end the evening. We'll be back in the Riverview Room again next week, for some more fine gaming.

See you there!

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