Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Cheddar on the Choo-Choo.........

Players: Gareth, James, Scott, Steph, Iain, Keith, Jim, Vicky, Maynard, Paul, David, Philip, Tonio, Mark, Daniel, Johan, Barrie

"Excuse me, sir. I was just thinking that I would like to spend the evening transporting cheese, by train, through the Yorkshire Dales, but I seem to find myself stuck here in West London. Do you have any suggestions?"
"Why of course - come and join myself and my compatriots in this fine riverside hostelry, and you shall have all the cheese & train related fun that you like (and a few rabbits and hot air balloon races thrown in for good measure....)"

Whilst Jon was relaxing on the beaches of Norfolk (underneath increasingly grey skies...) the IBG'ers continued on regardless, with an impressive turnout of 17 gamers at The London Apprentice in Isleworth. So - while the cat was away, let's see what gaming adventures those 17 little mice got up to.....

Turn the Tide (thanks to James for this report)
New game from James, plays like a cross between 6 nimmt (in that you’re trying to avoid being the nth person in a sequence) and No Thanks (you’re bidding to avoid getting cards). Also has a nice mechanic in that after each round everyone passes their cards to the left and you play again so the game lasts for as many rounds as there are players and every gets to play every hand, good or bad.
This was one for the early arrivals, James, Steph and Scott, and new to all 3. It’s always fun checking out a new game, and even more fun when you discover that Scott really sucks at it… future game of the month anyone? (and not a dice in sight !)
Anyways, to the game. The first round was a disaster for Scott as the tide swamped his 6 lifebuoys and James managed to tie with Steph despite only starting with 3 to Steph’s 5 lifebuoys. Cards were then passed around with Steph taking Scott’s cards to try and do better… …sadly no such luck as she matched Scott’s performance to lose all the lifebuoys and take minus points.
The last round (slightly delayed by the arrival of dinner) proved decisive however as James (the new and proud owner of ‘Scott’s dodgy hand’) managed to avoid the negative points by 1 loss and clinched the win. Not a bad game - it plays 3-5 players. Although 5 might stretch the idea of a filler as would take 30-40 mins to complete all 5 rounds.
James 4; Steph 0; Scott -2 

(Off topic but during this game we also discovered, as other folks arrived, that we have 3 math teachers as members of the club. I’d like to suggest a future playoff game of Powergrid to determine the cleverest, with double homework for the losers…

Jim arrived just on 7:30pm laden down with the games from the Milan-Spiele order, to find that groups had already formed and games were under way. Fortunately Vicky and Maynard had also just arrived so Jim produced a new game -

Hoppladi Hopplada! (thanks for this report Jim)
This is a dice game similar in weight to Pickomino, but with a push-your-luck feel similar to Can’t Stop.
As the rules were explained, the table suddenly had 6 players and the game started. Fair to say that interest in the game soon waned to the extent that Gareth left for something meatier before his third turn. Jim and Dan consistently gambled down to the last die without success.
The result was not actually recorded but safe to say that the game is probably best played by not more than 4 people all of whom accept that it is, as with most dice games, more about luck than skill.

Last Train to Wensleydale (thanks for this one Scott)
After a few players eyed up the Last Train to Wensleydale box, Scott convinced enough players to join him for a game without last week’s dice-induced conscription. Those players being Keith, Iain and David, all of whom were new to the game.
As briefly as possible, the game looks like a typical pick up and deliver game with route building but works much differently to other similar games. Set in the Yorkshire Dales, there are two different goods (stone and cheese) and two types of passengers (green and red) to deliver. You can deliver stone and cheese if you have a railway connected to them or to deliver passengers you need to connect to them and be connected to either a red or green town to drop them off. Everything you deliver must be along your railway and you also need to rent trains for the mix of passengers and/or goods you want. Once you’ve finished delivering goods from a particular section of your track, you can have one of the large train companies (green and red) buy out your unprofitable pieces.
The game lasts four turns and at the end of the game you score for anything you’ve successfully delivered (1 VP each with a bonus 2VP for each set of 4 you have – rewarding diversity), plus/minus your company’s profitability less any track you have left.
The map is randomly generated with goods and passengers at the start and there is no way to add any more so you can plan in advance how you want to develop your network long-term but it will require careful planning throughout to ensure other players don’t block you.
Turn order is determined by who has the most influence in certain areas and there is an auction each round to bid on different sets of influence to improve the areas you need.
As it’s a Martin Wallace game, there are lots of little intricate rules with exceptions but you may be relieved to know that I won’t go into in detail.
After most of the rules explanation we began, Scott remembering an obscure rule or clarification here and there as we went along, hopefully in time to stop people running into a brick wall with their plans. After the auction round, Iain was first up for track building and began his network from the South (Red company) and making a run up the North Western side of the board. Scott was up next and overspent on track building to wrap track around from the East (Green Town) through to the middle of the board and blocking anyone from easy access to the central Valley which was ripe with stone and passengers. Keith didn’t want to give Scott too easy a run and competed in his Eastern area for stone and green passengers. With lots of space in the South East, David started collecting cheese. Everyone did well for the first round and all companies were profitable from their deliveries, not much track was sold off though leaving us all with a bigger burden for next time.
Round 2 stayed smooth, with everyone continuing in the area they started except for Keith who switched to start some new track in the South. There was little competition for resources and everyone spent all their train influence getting their deliveries made but it was looking a little bleak for Iain who ended up making a loss with his large amount of track. Scott had a lot of track too but stone is very profitable and keeping him afloat.
Round 3 began the problems, with everyone maxed out of train influence from last round and the influence available for auction this round looking particularly woeful, there was a lot of overbidding to get any sort of power with train buying. By the end of which everyone else scraped out two points while Scott had to settle for just one. With fewer trains, no-one expanded very far and shipped as much as possible although everyone made a loss, Iain’s being particularly significant now.
Going into the last round, a lot of the board was empty of resources, Scott and Iain needed the other colour passenger as Scott had built solely from a green town while Iain had done the same from the red. David and Keith had a couple of separate tracks and had already picked up a set or two. Last turn had also left David, Iain and Scott at the same point on the board and it seemed they all wanted to expand their network first to get where they wanted without being blocked. Bidding was tense and Scott just pulled out ahead so that he could extend his track south to connect up to a red town and deliver all the passengers from the Valley through the middle of the board. David was next up and he got to go further North and grab the goodies still awaiting up there, this hampered Iain somewhat who was best placed to just compete with David and get as much delivered as possible. Keith finished his southern connections though to the East to deliver the passengers that had been ignored in the expensive parts of the board. With extensive track building for some, the profits were low and most people broke even or thereabouts.
The game was over; all that was left was to count the points with the scores as follows:
Scott 30; David 27; Keith 23; Iain 17

Keith observed that Scott had been left to run away with it by claiming the route down the middle, most competition was with Scott though, stealing his stone and green passengers. David had done well collecting a tone of cheese located in the South-East and with the rest of his time collecting a few sets. Keith had set up in lots of small areas and had not quite got enough goods overall. Iain had unfortunately been running at a loss for too long and this cost him a few points at the end. Iain had also been on the receiving end of too much competition, particularly in the last round and sets were hard to come by being stuck on one half of the board. Overall it seemed to go down well so people can have a rematch sometime soon.

Settlers of Catan (thanks - I think - to Daniel...)
Everybody was terribly mean to me, even the usually genial Tonio who projects such an innocent schoolboyish aire but clearly can be trusted no more than an MP's expense claim form. Bloody Cylon. I actually blame him for being the ringleader, as even when he had an obvious stranglehold on the game I was constantly picked upon and endured the company of the bandit for the best part of the proceedings.
Everybody seemed to be fishing for bricks and assumed that I would have some, despite the bandit being parked on my quarry for virtually the entire game. I'm sure he was passing notes under the table at one point too. Plus the dice were clearly loaded to roll a four on every other turn.
Fortunately, I am far too mature and decent to publically complain on an internet blog about such awfully despicable treatment, so at least my dignity remains intact. Same again next week?

As the "Settlers" group wondered what and with whom to play next, Iain wandered over from his game group requesting something light but with some strategy. Jim proffered -

Verflixxt (thanks Jim)
Also known as 'That's Life', Jim warned that this played best with the maximum number of players (six), but 4 should be OK. Verfixxt is a simple "roll-and-move" game with a wee bit of screwage, although the expansions allow for even more players and screw-your-opponent options!
The original version was chosen to play and a brief explanation of the simple rules was given as the tiles were set out in the recommended layout. Once again, for such a simple game, there were often some disadvantageous choices and sacrifices to be made as people jockeyed for the favourable "lucky clover" tiles which turn a minus value tile into a plus! Guard pieces were ushered ever forward making the final run into the high scoring minus area more tempting but still fraught.
At the end, for once Jim’s experience of the game paid dividends with a win, but all saying it was an enjoyable experience for a simple game.
Jim +20; Vicky +13; Keith -4; Iain -11

With the players looking for another light and fairly quick game, Jim dug into his bag and produced -

Uptown (thanks again Jim)
Jim explained to the newbies that although the principal was simple, there would be some tactical nuances that would not necessarily become obvious straight away and that some thought was required to play the game well. The game had been played at IBG before, but Jim ran through the rules, emphasising that at the end of the game fewer groups (chains of one colour tile) were better than more groups with fewer minus points (other players’ tiles that you had elected to remove), that each player would have 4 tiles remaining at the end of the game, and that a single tile on its own was counted as a group – last time the game was played there had been a discussion about how a single tile can’t be regarded as a group!
Almost unnoticed, Ian build a continuous stream of yellow tiles from the start, eventually with Jim and Keith both doing their best to break his spread, but to no avail. Personally I blame Vicky for nibbling away at the end of my main group preventing me linking up to my satellite group, but to be fair I had been removing a few of her tiles too. And it also meant Vicky got 3rd place due to taking more penalty points than Jim!
The end was almost never in doubt from about ½ way through the game but all declared that it was another good lightweight game, this time with a little more thought required about tactical choices.
Iain 1 group (7 penalties); Jim 2 (3); Vicky 2 (6); Keith 3 (6 )

What have I learned from these two games playing against the same people? Only play Iain when his brain is fried; watch out for Vicky - her self proclaimed "blonde moments" are a disguise to cover her analytical mind; and Keith is genuinely up for any game proffered at him, simple or complex, whatever the theme or mechanic but never play him twice in a row at any game - he’ll probably beat you...

And before you ask, yes there is a Game of the Month for August -

El Grande (thanks again James)
So the first trial of the new Game of the Month… James and Steph had played before but new to Paul, Mark and Philip. It’s a lovely elegant game, nothing too complicated (despite James and Steph trying to make it sound more like Arkham Asylum with their garbled explanations) and always fun to play. 9 rounds of area control moving pieces onto and off the board (and sometimes into the castle) with 3 scoring rounds to make the most of. I always feel that it’s a real tactical battle this game, you’re constantly looking for the best option each turn but it’s really hard to derive a long term strategy as a lot can change from go to go. Despite the potential for long thought-out moves, the downtime between turns feels minimal and did I mention it has a castle… what’s not to like!
So for the first scoring round, not so good for James and Philip while Steph took full advantage of her experience to take an early lead… However this also meant round 2 was also ‘lets attack Steph’ time as she was picked on by all and sundry and by the 2nd scoring round Paul had overtaken her. James and Mark had caught up a little as well, with Mark taking advantage of the 8 piece mobile scorecard and Paul using his El Grande to good benefit.
So to the final 3 rounds. James picked up a Veto on the penultimate go to effective play kingmaker (hmm, so who do you think he might decide to use the veto on… any guesses?) Steph threw everything into a gamble on picking the right card, and Mark and Paul continued to take advantage of good positions. Philip by this stage was busy taking on the tourist role but I have a feeling that he’s spent the week (when he’s not cleaning his house) analysing the game to the nth degree and will trump everyone lights out next week…
So down to the last turn and James decided to gazump Steph’s last ditch attempt at victory (hey, who saw that coming) which left Mark and Paul to take it to the wire and to the very last province to be scored which gave Paul the win.
Finishing order was Paul-Mark-Steph-James-Philip… Scores, no idea… but then that’s what you get for going on holiday and leaving this to be organised by amateurs…

Also played at some point was -

Johan 59; Gareth 53; Maynard 47; Barrie 43

Balloon Cup (thanks again James)
Not sure quite the reason but by 10:30 everyone seemed to have had enough of the evening, leaving only a few die-hards ruing the lack of numbers for the traditional game of Saboteur. So James and Tonio decided for a quick flight of Balloon Cup, one of the Kosmos 2 player line of games. Players play coloured and numbered cards on either side of 4 place-setting markers that denote whether the highest or lowest total score wins the cubes on that marker. However you can only play cards that match the colour of the cubes on the card and you can play bad cards on your opponents side as well as good cards on yours… so quite an interactive and aggressive game but a simple concept and it plays well in 30 mins.
Tonio had played this many times, James just the once and it showed in the early stages as Tonio collected cubes by the dozen while James was avoiding them like the disease cubes in Pandemic. Tonio soon picked up one of the available trophies while James was still floundering, mainly being held back for the lack of grey cards available (Tonio was hogging them all). Eventually Tonio took pity on the newbie and dropped a grey card on the big scoring marker to help James out… only to find this turned into a disaster as James picked up these 4 cubes and some more soon afterwards and the game suddenly switched momentum.
Now I know how Jon feels when asking for assistance during Small World, only to pounce once the sucker has fallen for the ploy. The game came down to the wire at the end with whoever grabbed the next set of cubes taking the prize, and from nowhere James managed to sneak it at the end.
James 3 trophies; Tonio 1
I think that there was also a first outing at IBG for Bausack, and the thousandth outing for Mamma Mia, but who played them and what happened I have no idea.....
Thanks to James for organising the journalists in my absence - you did a fine job!

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