Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Play by the rules (if you can)........

Players: Johan, Gareth, Jon, James, Daniel, Tonio, Keith, Scott, Noel, Tanya

A cosy 10 IBG'ers at the London Apprentice tonight, including a very warm welcome to 2 newcomers - Noel and Tanya - who had finally managed to co-ordinate a babysitter and a Wednesday night.

Tonight was one of those nights which reminded us that the rules to board games can be tricky pieces of literature. Properly compiled, studied and understood, they are the magic key to a fabulous gaming experience. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. This evening we had the case of the badly read rules and the badly written rules....

For the early birds, the first game of the evening was -

Loot (thanks for this report James)
A new filler so it must mean another Reiner Knizia card game. Scott, Keith and James were the volunteers to walk the plank this time with a game themed on attacking merchant ships with pirate cards, but in true Reiner Knizia fashion could just as easily be about rabbits playing volleyball or dancing zombies... or more likely both at the same time.
However given a game with no cubes meant we had a chance to beat Scott the lack of realistic theme was excused. Players either take a card or play a card. And they can either sail a merchant ship or attack/defend existing ships. If a merchant ship goes a round without any further attacks then it can be taken by the largest number of attaching pirates and the winner is the one with the best merchant ships at the end. Add some rules based on colours and a few pirate captains and that's the game.
In the first game James managed to trounce (I repeat the word to emphasize it's rarity) trounce Scott - although the proof of this has somehow since been 'lost' (conspiracy theorists might want to take note...)
In the 2nd game Keith joined in, and suddenly the complexity of the game doubled. I think it played much better with 3, a four player game might also be good to try sometime.
With more than 2 there is an added subtle psychology at stake ion trying to persuade other players to counter attacks so that you could gain cards against everyone else. Again Scott failed to make much headway and James took advantage of his one game of experience to win again. I think Keith was last seen nodding that it was a game worth checking out again, while Scott was last seen reaching for a copy of Tempus with thoughts of revenge...

It’s been a while since Gareth brought out one of his little card games that he doesn’t know the rules to……..

Gareth read out / explained the rules to what turned out to be fairly typical Knizia fare – a set collection game with a vampire theme (why?!) tacked on. It also has some of the most indiscernible colours in any game I’ve played, with grey and purple almost merging into one. The game does have a nice little ‘push your luck’ mechanism (do you lay your set down now or wait for possibly more cards later?) and also penalises the player with the lowest value in each colour.
It was as the game was drawing to a close that Scott and Jon noticed that they could not apparently lay any more sets down from their hands, as there were no cards left in the middle to pick up on their turns. However, they still had to lay down a card to the middle, so the next player was able to use this to complete a set. This seemed a trifle odd for a RK game, but it was shrugged off and the scores totted up. James (25) had won narrowly from Gareth (23) and Keith (22), with Scott (18) and Jon (16) bringing up the rear.
Unhappy with the strange game ending, Scott decided to read the rules a little more closely, and discovered that we had been playing it completely wrong all along. He breathed a sigh of relief as he realised that his poor showing in the game was due to a rules aberation rather than his own inadequacies. Phew…….

Meanwhile, Tonio had nabbed Daniel for a quick 2-player game -

Trax (thanks Dan)
This is an ultra-quick and enjoyable abstract filler with the added benefit that it plays straight out of the box. The game consists of a stack of identical double sided tiles where the player colours cross over or avoid one another. You take turns laying the tiles, sometimes forcing additional tiles into play, until somebody creates a loop or a line and receives undying adulation from the crowd of spectators.
Gameplay is vaguely similar to connect 4 or tic-tac-toe in that you are closing down your opponent’s opportunities to guarantee a win whilst trying to set up your own unstoppable endgame position. It’s more a game that you lose rather than win, either by missing your opponent’s game winning position or by accidentally creating one for them.
We played a few games which all ended fairly quickly then got caught up in the whole "what if?" scenario and started rolling back game losing moves to play on, turning it more into a co-op experience. By the time we had almost exhausted the tile stack we agreed to define the score as a Gentleman’s Draw.
Tonio 3; Daniel 3

With Philip otherwise engaged, Johan and Gareth decided to have a couple of attempts at the latest Game of the Month in 2-player mode-

El Grande (thanks Johan)
In the first game Gareth got the better of Johan by one point, which quickly prompted a 'revenge' match, which was won by Johan. The second game was much more tactical and psychological when Gareth made a crucial mistake at the beginning of the game and Johan afterwards became very adept at blocking Gareth.
Both were good competitive games games though and El Grande is surprisingly quite a good game with two players.
Game 1: Gareth 101; Johan 100
Game 2: Johan 84; Gareth 67

Meanwhile, James had drummed up some support for a little husky-racing -

Snow Tails (thanks again to James)
Another race game, this time on sleds pulled by husky dogs. James, Jon, Dan and Tonio grabbed their hounds in this race across the snow and ice. Being foolish men we of course opted for the hardest course rather than the beginners course to start with, lined with ragged chicanes, tree-lined ravines, rock filled ice slides, and finishing with a terrifying leap of death.
But none of these fears compared with the horror of trying to navigate the rule book trying to decide how sideways movement worked.... another good game that shoots itself in the foot with a rule book leaving more open to interpretation than the Conservative election manifesto. After several early (and somewhat sketchy) moves we finally reached an agreement on how things worked and from there the game played smoothly.
Cards can be played (from a hand of 5) on either one of the husky dogs, or on brakes. These cards decide how fast the sled goes and if it moves left or right. Hitting walls, corners, trees or each other causes dents (eg replaces a card in the hand with a dud) and having a balanced sled gives bonus movement. Quite simple once we'd worked it out, but still deceptively hard to control the sled from only 5 cards... as Jon will attest having driven into the wrong end of a sharp bend early on and picking up 2 dents early in the game.
Then Dan got too close to a tree on his way through a forest which left the way for Tonio and James to take the early lead. Everyone struggled through the thin ravine before Tonio's huskies look like they stopped to allow Tonio to write his name in the snow on the last bend and gave James a chance to take the lead. This was a lead he didn't relinquish clearing the leap of death like it was a hop of horror to claim first place.
Tonio followed to take silver and just behind was Dan in 3rd. Jon finally limping in last place having stopped en route to build a snow man and make angels.
Not a bad race game despite the frustrating start, and would be good to try this again now some of the pitfalls have been identified.
1st - James; 2nd - Tonio; 3rd - Daniel; 4th - Jon

Looking for a quick filler whilst the other games finished, this was a chance to have another go at –

Adios Amigos
For members of IBG and regular readers of this blog, you will be cognisant of the fact that certain IBG’ers do particularly well at certain types of games. For instance, Scott is a genius with little wooden cubes, Jon is the master of pointing the finger at others, and Daniel can think faster than any creature on this planet. So is it any wonder that in a game that is based solely on making instant calculations and shooting your opponents, that Daniel should triumph with ease?
Each round would go something like this – Jon and Dan (who were sitting opposite each other) would have a swift duel, usually resulting in Jon’s premature demise. This would be followed by Tonio and James staring at each other for a bit, whilst Dan picked them off too. (Actually, that’s a bit unfair as Tonio was pretty quick on the draw himself.)
However, Dan even had enough points in the bank to make a mistake during one shootout, requiring a payment of 3 gold to Jon. The moral of the tale? Don’t ever challenge Dan to pistols at dawn (or a game of Santy Anno or Galaxy Trucker for that matter…)
Daniel 24; Tonio 18; James 15; Jon 14

With all the groups now finishing at the same time, and with a few early departees, it was time to split into 2 groups for a mid-weight game to close the evening off with. For the first group, it was a trip to Egypt for some archaeological explorations –

This was new to James and Gareth, and Johan had played once before in the dim and distant past. It’s basically an area majority game where players are trying to achieve majorities in certain regions in order to be able to claim ‘parcels’ of land. With this land comes points and the assistance of a patron in future rounds. Players also have to decide if they wish to exhibit their artefacts in the museum, which will make their finds more valuable at the game end. It plays in 4 fairly quick rounds, and definitely comes in at under the hour mark.
Gareth and Johan pretty quickly got the idea of using the pyramids to block other players (ie Jon) - they had already spent the first part of the evening on an area majority game, so were well warmed-up! At the end of the first season, Johan had picked up the most patrons, whilst James acknowledged that he hadn’t done so well, as he had the fewest patrons and no cubes left either.
Gareth chose to major on collecting Sir Brown, who gave the benefit of being able to place cubes into the museum during the ‘digging’ phase. He also managed to nab the most valuable room in the museum for displaying Sir Brown’s artefacts, so was well set for a big end scoring. Johan managed to also book several valuable rooms in the museum, and was steadily racking up points as he went along. Jon tried to collect Miss Lemon, but was thwarted a little so instead went for an all-round strategy, whilst trying to pick up parcels with the most points on them. James also had several Miss Lemons and was quickly coming to terms with how the game worked.
When it came to the final scoring, Gareth’s Sir Browns did indeed give him a large score, but as he hadn’t quite managed to pick up a full set of patrons, he fell a few points short at the end. Jon and Johan were neck and neck, with Jon just pipping him at the post, courtesy of gaining the majority in a contested parcel in the last round to win a Lady Violet patron with 3 points attached. This is a fun little game, which packs a lot into its short playtime. Definitely worth re-visiting again.
Jon 46; Johan 44; Gareth 41; James 32

It's at this point that we leave our regularly scheduled programming, for a station announcement from our very own master of musings - IBG Dan..........

"I want to take a slight diversion to talk a bit today about Being a Bad Ass. This is partly due to playing Castle Panic with Tonio as the Evil Overlord, but mostly due to having watched Enter The Dragon a couple of nights ago. There’s that scene near the start of Enter The Dragon where the three main Bad Ass protagonists are musing on their reasons for joining the competition and, in the process, just how Bad Ass they are.
John Saxon tricks you with a day dream about this game of golf then gets back on track by knocking out three random banditos halfway into his par four. Bruce Lee goes all emo on us and plots vengeance for the death of his sister but that’s okay because you only have to look at the guy to know that he’s as Bad Ass as a whole truck load of Chuck Norris.
Then Jim Kelly dispenses any pretence of giving a damn and just thinks fondly of the time he whipped two redneck cops and went joy-riding in their patrol car.
Based solely on our game of Castle Panic, if Tonio were in one of those water taxis he’d probably be thinking about his favourite flavour of ice cream while humming "Baby Elephant Walk". I dread to think what would happen to him when he got to Han’s island but it probably wouldn’t involve a deleted Nunchaku scene. I’ll let Scott fill you in on the details but suffice to say all those games of Dungeon Lords don’t appear to have honed Tonio’s malevolent instincts a great deal..."

And now.... on with the show -

Castle Panic (thanks Scott)
Tonio and Dan were keen to have a go at saving/destroying a castle from/with Trolls and Scott and Keith were happy to try it out having never played before. Tonio is a firm believer in the Evil Overlord option and wanted to be the evil one this week (I’ll spare the obvious joke to save Tonio from pretending that he is deeply insulted by it)
The rules are simple but Dan and Tonio were at loggerheads from turn one as Dan refused to follow turn order and discarded and drew a card after trading a card. *Shock Horror*, Tonio couldn’t break his programming from being the game master while Scott and Keith just kept quiet.
The first half of the game was smooth sailing, a troll here, a boulder there, a bit of damage but easily repaired, at which point Scott enquired as to when the Evil overlord was going to do anything to try and attack us. With monsters so far being fairly easy to tackle we didn’t feel much panic, which may have had something to do with two barbarians played in subsequent turns with a bit of trickery from Dan (playing it before the deck was reshuffled and then shuffling it to the top to be used again). Tonio was suspicious...
But Scott had to eat his words quickly, as he had already been expecting after his sarcastic remarks, as Tonio pulled from the bag a couple of “draw three extra monsters” in fairly quick succession resulting in the board being ambushed. Dan, Scott and Keith fought valiantly to fight them off but four remained in the red section. Tonio pushed them all forward with 'red monsters move' and took away all our swordsmen with which to battle the monsters banging on the front door.
We were doomed - two castle pieces left in the middle and with only one potential barbarian to fight them away, it was over, all hope was lost. Yet Tonio was not satisfied with such as easy win, he wanted more damage, to show us he’s the boss and never to mock him ever again. Our people would tell tales throughout the eras of the Evil Overlord and never again get in his way. So he sent in a boulder. Despite all of his minions being in the same space on the board, he ordered it be rolled and with Mankind’s last hope, Tonio rolled the die and destroyed all of his own minions in one fell swoop. The people rejoiced, the Evil Overlord embarrassed in front of all his strongest monsters. With a quick check of his resources, Tonio had but a few tiles remaining in the bag and the castle was rebuilt in as much glory as it could regain with the couple of monsters strolling by being killed for fun.
While enjoying the feast of victory the heads were counted and Dan had scored most. Scott and Keith hadn’t sacrificed the integrity of the castle to get some selfish kills of their own, knowing that Dan was picking off all the easy targets each turn and drawing all the barbarians out of the deck and players hands...
Dan approx. 20; Scott 15; Keith approx. 10; Tonio – defeated.

To wind up the night, Tonio found another willing victim to play -

Trax (thanks again Scott)
There are symmetrical tiles with white and black tracks on them which you need to place to enclose an area with your colour or have your connected track stretch across eight tiles. Tonio pointed out the obvious losing moves you can get yourself into but how much attention Scott was paying was unknown, or it was too late in the night, since he enquired whether you could play it with more players, to which Tonio replied “there are only two colours?!”
The games were underway and each turn seemed to be a case of, one player tries to set themselves up for a win next turn, so the other player sends their track off in the opposite direction. Scott managed to get his track going across the board when eight tiles were hit and had won the first game.
A second game ensued where we had both got in to a winning position in two turns. Tonio had missed this fact about Scott and went on to place a tile so that he could get his track across eight tiles next turn but Scott enclosed his area and won the second game. It was too late in the day for Tonio as well.
Scott - 2 wins; Tonio – nil

Also played tonight were Traders of Genoa and No Thanks, which we await scores and reports for....

...and here they are! Thanks Keith for both of these:

Traders of Genoa
Traders is a game involving delivering messages, fulfilling orders and collecting resources. But primarily it's a negotiating game. Victory is determined by the most money after a number of rounds.
On their turn a player can choose up to five actions depending on their randomly determined start point. However, they can only take one (or sometimes two) for themselves. The remaining actions can be sold to the other players for money and/or goods and/or cards. But the actions taken might be affected by the negotiations. Here's an example...
Active Player, “I've rolled 3 and 2, so I'm starting here in Metals, and probably ending up at the Guild Hall. Anyone interested in the Post Office?”
Player 1: “How about 10 for the post office?”
Player 3: “I'll offer a split on Metals. I don't mind which I have”
Player 2: “I'll pay 30 if you go via Villa Collini”
Active Player: “OK – I'll take the split on the Metals and 30 for the Villa Collini. What am I offered for the Park?”
Player 1: “Nothing, but I'll pay 20 for the post office and we get one message each”
Active Player: “Sorry, I'm going to the Guild Hall”
Player 1: “How about 10 for the Park”
Active Player: “OK”.
After the negotiations have finished, the Active Player goes through their turn step by step, completing all their deals. So if you don't like making deals with other players it's really not the game for you.
Of course like most negotiation games there's also the option to form cartels and exclude the player who appears to be winning, but I don't believe any of us were far enough ahead for that to happen. In fact, we got off to a bit of a slow start. But after a few turns we were getting a feel for the value of actions and seeing a few competitive bids for resources. Then we got a couple of rolls where the active player started in the Marketplace. This has the side-effect of shortening the game by one turn, which got everyone rushing to deliver large contracts and messages in double quick time.
After a few rather frantic rounds the final scores were remarkably close:
Keith 520; Noel 510; Scott 495; Tanya 475

Tanya's score was artificially low because of a misunderstanding of the rules which left her collecting silver and copper which were worthless at the end of the game.

No Thanks
The goal of No Thanks is to avoid accumulating points, by paying score reducing tokens into a pot. So a card with a value of -19 will be played and people will keep adding +1 tokens until someone thinks it is worth taking along with the accumulated tokens. However, if you subsequently take an adjacent value, say -20, you would only score for one of them. This has the effect of giving cards different values for each of the players later in the game.
When we played, the scores seemed pretty even, with bid tokens sloshing back and forth among the players, but the final card made a huge difference. For Keith the card changed his score by -1 point, but for everyone else it was worth -39. So he was able to sit back and let the counters pile up and take it after 30 points worth of counters had piled up, for a differential of 37 points against each of the other players.
Keith -19; Scott -54; Tanya -61; Noel -61

And so the evening drew to a close. Archaeologists, Desperados and (not so)Evil Overlords would have to once again return to the real world for another week until next Wednesday, when they could return in order to once more adopt their infamous alter egos......

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