Wednesday, 27 October 2010

London Calling..........

Players: Barrie, Gareth, James, Scott, Steph, Maynard, Jon, Jim, Emma, Paul, John II

A very warm welcome to newcomer John II (sorry - didn't ask your surname, John...), who fought his way over from Twickenham Green to be with us tonight. Also returned, were our brave Essen attendees, laden with goodies and regaling us with tales of late nights, dodgy showers, drunk Dutch girls and plenty of gaming.
As expected, tonight saw the introduction of several of these new Essen games, many of which featured our very own magnificent capital city – London. So we spent most of the evening ravaging old London town with the plague, carelessly burning it down and then in a moment of remorse, rebuilding it again……

First up was a bizarre-looking dexterity game that James had picked up -

Bamboleo (thanks James)
Another of my Essen pickups from the second hand dealers… a dangerous place for any gamer to be if they’ve some spare cash to spend. Bamboleo is another of those dexterity games that from afar looks plain weird, but (kinda) makes sense once you start to play. Of all, I think this is most atheistic (really? A game that doesn't believe in God....!) looking as well, it almost feels like a science experiment more than a game at time… that is until the killer gamer instinct kicks in and then it’s every person for themselves and keep the first aid box handy nearby… just in case….
You place 30 small wooden shapes of black and red on a round yellow platter which then balances (defying all laws of gravity in the process) on a small cork ball. Players take it in turns to remove shapes from the plate which causes it to readjust its balance, until eventually some poor sap gets carried away and causes the whole thing to collapse.
I think this is one of the reasons why dexterity games are such fun to play, despite (most of us) giving off an air of mature intelligence who doesn’t like knocking things over…?
So Emma (who from this performance REALLY likes knocking things over), Steph, Scott, James and Paul (is that everyone?) all had a bash at this and later James and Gareth also took it for a spin.
There’s not much to describe except that Paul seemed to do ok, James used his slight knowledge of the rules advantage to the best of his ability by adding a few (forgotten) rules mid game and Scott showed once again that Power Grid skills don’t necessarily count for much when it comes to a steady hand… although I’m sure in future he’ll be practicing by making sure he picks up his power grid fuels meeples as carefully as possible… hmm, how about combining Bamboleo with Power Grid, so you only get to keep fuel items you can remove without upsetting the board… perhaps a Chernobyl theme with the collapsing board mirroring the disaster there… (hey, before anyone has any ideas © me...)
Anyways, I think Paul won… again we didn’t really keep score very well during the game… mainly cause we didn’t really know how to keep score very well… Hey, whatever, lets say Emma won. I came 2nd (cause it was my game) and, in revenge for several crushing defeats in Martin Wallace games, Scott came last. That sounds about right to me.

It was now time to spread some plague with a game of -

Rattus (thanks for this report Paul)
Rattus is a Z-Man early 2010 release, but picked up by Paul at Essen as he was determined to get himself a map-based game. It is set in the plague ravaged middle ages of Europe, with each player attempting to survive the disease more effectively than their opponents.
In each turn, a player may assume a role (peasant, knight, merchant, monk, witch or king), will move the plague across the continent which spreads the disease carrying rats further, and then the plague ravages populations in the region in which the plague has ended up.
Rattus is a simple game to pick up, and at first glance appears to be more tactical than strategic, but I have a sneaking suspicion that there is much more to it and a lot of subtleties may become apparent with several plays.
Players may have more than one role at any one time, and may also have no role. The roles have special powers but also attract the attention of the rats, so they are very much a double-edged sword.
There was a point in this game when Steph had four roles, and was wielding some major power round Europe, but also had rats chasing her people rapidly. At the same time Paul didn't have any roles, so was quietly minding his own business and the rats seemed happy to let him do that.
Jim seemed intent on being king for as long as possible, and safeguarding his yellow people in the palace. We weren't sure if he really cared if he won or not and was simply intent on being 'king for the day' or if he had the interests of his subjects at heart. Maynard was acting as the knight and taking giant strides across swathes of Europe at any time, and cunningly unleashing rats where his people were not.
The game was over neatly in 45 minutes, and on counting up the population cubes, Paul came out victorious with people thinly spread but far and wide. However as stated above, it is far for sure that this way of playing will always win, and could easily fall foul to other strategies in other outings of Rattus.
Paul 9 ; Steph 6; Maynard 5; Jim 4

The next game was one of James’ purchases at Essen and he had no trouble in drumming up support for –

The Great Fire of London 1666
James had apparently played this once at Essen , but with several rules wrong, so was keen to rectify that error tonight. The game is fairly unique, and as the name suggests, simulates the Great Fire of London.
Players score points for putting out fires, and for keeping as many of their own houses from being burned down as possible. Burning down opponents’ houses makes them lose points, but as several players often have houses on the same plot of land, this leads to some interesting decisions having to be made. Each player also has 3 ‘secret locations’, which if finish the game intact, will score more points for their owners.
The basic mechanic is playing a ‘wind direction’ card, which defines which direction the fire will spread, and then moving your player pawn and the ‘Trained Bands’ of firefighters to locations to try to extinguish the flames. This is one of those games where the rules explanation and the board set-up seems to take forever, but once you get going, the game is fairly straightforward to play.
Although the fire started to spread fairly rapidly, there were several Trained Bands on hand near Pudding Lane to put it out. Particularly keen to halt the progress of the fire was Emma, who appeared to want to treat the game as a co-operative exercise in preventing the fire spreading. So much so that she ended one turn having ‘capped’ 4 fires in a district directly adjacent to James’ pawn. James appeared a bit embarassed to be handed 3 points in this manner, and gallantly only took one of them on his next turn.
John was doing a good job in his first game at IBG, as the fire pushed slowly north and west (as per the real event). However, because there were a number of burned-out districts surrounding Pudding Lane, it never seemed to get particularly out of control. James was keeping more than his fair share of houses intact, a fact that Jon felt that he was obliged to bring to the attention of the other players. But as many of James’ houses appeared to be located on the periphery of the board, they would be difficult to successfully burn down.
Emma had located her pawn and some Trained Bands to the east of Pudding Lane, and managed to prevent the fire from reaching the Tower of London. This behaviour led the other players to rightly surmise that this district was one of her ‘secret locations’ – worth a not-to-be-sniffed-at 6 points.
Once the deck had run out, the game ended and it was time to tot the points up. James decided to use some strange count-back system of placing houses back onto the score-track to total up the points, except that he got a little confused between 2 colours and it all got a bit muddled in the end. However, it appears that Jon won and James probably came second, with John close behind and co-op Emma in last place.
Jon 40; James ?38?; John 36; Emma 32

After a mid-game rules re-read, it appeared that we were still playing one rule wrongly – a card that indicated a northerly wind direction could also fan the flames north-west or north-east, if the arrows on the board allowed it. This may have allowed the fire to spread a little more ‘creatively’ had we used these rules. This is an interesting and novel game (even if the choice of colours for some of the houses is a little silly) although I have no idea what I did right in order to win it. Maybe another game next week is in order…..?

Also fresh back from Essen, Barrie brought in some of his haul, so Scott and Gareth abandoned the burning down of London in favour of re-building it -

London (thanks to Scott for this report)
Scott has produced an excellent full report of this game which is garnering much attention over at BGG - check it out in all its finery here.

The highlights of the game were:
  • It's a Martin Wallace design (Scott was salivating immediately....)
  • Scott read and taught the rules rather than Gareth (which means there was a reasonable chance that the game was actually played correctly...)
  • "Gareth also made the mistake of not taking account of his cards in hand" (Sounds familiar - anyone remember a certain game of Loot last week....?)
  • Barrie and Gareth accrued much poverty (well, they do both work in the public sector...)
  • It was not a close result.....
Scott 94; Barrie 57; Gareth 5 (at least it was still positive)

And about as far from Martin Wallace as you can get, was -

Hamsterrolle (thanks Maynard for this one)
A simple dexterity game with no hamsters - in Hamsterrolle each player has the same set of seven wooden blocks, each of different sizes and colours. The focus is on a massive wheel, which sits vertically on the table. On the inside of a wheel are several black divider pieces, each of slightly different size and shape, which all point towards the hub. As a result the wheel has about twelve sections. To start with there's also a black cone piece which sits on the bottom of the wheel.
The aim is to place each of your pieces in the wheel, while avoiding other pieces falling out. There are a couple of limitations, however. You can only place your piece in the current active section, or one of the next two sections (in the direction of roll). You can't place the another block of the same colour twice in a single section, and the block you place must have one end further in the direction of roll than other pieces.
The rules are a little ambiguous but Steph, Jim, Maynard and Paul gave it their best shot, playing a team version where Jim & Maynard and Steph & Paul teamed up to help each other out.
An early casualty was Jim who picked up the dreaded cone and a few other pieces. Maynard played quietly, succeeding in getting rid of all his blocks before anyone noticed. Play continued, with Maynard helping remove some of Jim's pieces, and a couple more minor cascades were avoided by Steph who finished second.
Teamwork was going reasonably well until Maynard decided that he needed to replace the cone; this disastrously fell, knocking a good seven or eight blocks with it but miraculously staying within the confines of the wheel. Paul then finished off his stack, leaving Maynard finishing both first and last!

And for the second time this evening, it was time to release the rats –

Although he wasn’t playing, Paul introduced James, Jon and Emma to the game, and did a very clear rules explanation. The first observation is that the board is quite small (although perfectly adequate) and the role cards are huge (not quite sure why they’re so big….)
Emma took the peasant role early on and kept it for the whole game, giving her the ability to place heaps of cubes on the board. However, this also meant that she was reproducing rapidly in the most heavily-infested areas, and often suffered multiple cube-losses due to the ravages of the plague.
Jon and James had located themselves in western europe, with James setting up an enclave in Spain. He was also using the King’s ability to good affect, placing cubes in the palace most turns. Although he was also struck by the plague on several occasions, he was more blessed with good fortune than the other players (maybe his cubes had received their anti-plague innoculations recently….?) and retained much of his population.
The game turns simply sped past, and within half an hour it was all over, with James’ cubes reigning supreme.
We did of course play one rule slightly wrong (cubes can only be sent to the safety of the palace from ‘non rat-infested’ regions) but this probably didn’t have a great impact on the result.
For some reason this reminds me a little bit of Mykerinos – a lightish game that feels like a heavier game packed into a short play time. I just need to be convinced that the luck of the draw of the rat tiles isn’t the deciding factor in the game……
James 12; Jon 7; Emma 7

Fresh from explaining the rules of Rattus, Paul then became -

The Boss (thanks again Paul)
The Boss is a deduction game, where players assume the role of mafia bosses in 1920s America, sending their gangsters to different cities to collect the loot, but risking death, jail, hospitalisation or banishment at the same time.
There is a neat mechanic in which players are dealt cards that tell them something about the fate that awaits the winning mobsters in each city, but not all they need to know. Only when each player reveals all of the cards from one city is the outcome known, and therefore players must attempt to withhold information while indulging themselves in bluffing and double bluffing to send their opponents down a blind alley.
The number of hands in the game is determined by how quickly the police arrive, which will be between 3 and 5, but is unknown until the they actually get there.
Steph seemed to be good at gangster dispersal. Jim revealed himself as the biggest dark horse of the master bluff, but sending 2 of his boys to Boston, dispite knowing that all that awaited the winner of that city was a hospital bed, and successfully tempted Maynard to send even more guys in, leaving him not only short for that turn, but also damaged for a further turn. Paul was too often chasing blind alleys or being beaten to riches - obviously far too nice to be a real villain.
Steph 16; Maynard 12; Jim 8; Paul 7

Jon didn’t want to feel left out, so, despite not going to Essen, he felt the urge to pick up a new game this week too –

Sneaks and Snitches
Scott and Barrie joined Jon for what turned out to be a very enjoyable little game. This is essentially a blind bidding / set collection game that fits nicely into the 30 minute filler category. 6 locations are revealed each turn, with varying amounts of the 4 different types of ‘loot’ contained within each one. Players have the opportunity to secretly select 1 sneak (thief) and 1 snitch (grass!) to go to 2 particular locations. Everyone then reveals their choices simultaneously, and the outcomes are resolved. If a snitch is present, then nothing can be stolen from the location, if 1 sneak is on their own, then they get the loot, and if more than 1 sneak turns up, then they bungle the raid but get a small consolation prize each. Rinse and repeat until all the loot cards run out, and then score based upon majorities in each type of loot.
The opening draw saw a valuable 4-piece gold loot card come up, but a combination of snitches and bungled raids meant that it stayed there for most of the game. Jon started to pick up several caches of green artifacts, whilst Barrie went gold-digging.
Unfortunately, Scott’s sneaks had an uncanny habit of turning up at the same location as one of Jon or Barrie’s snitches or sneaks, and consequently went away with slim pickings. However, towards the end of the game he became much more proficient at criminal activities (maybe a knock-on effect of his morally-dubious behaviour last week…) and picked up a number of hauls.
At the end of the game, all players were tied on 6 points for their loot majorities, but Jon had picked up some ‘special items’ which were worth enough points to give him the victory.
This is a fun 30-minute game which will undoubetdly make an appearance in future weeks.
Jon 9; Barrie 6; Scott 6

And that was all there was time for at IBG tonight.
As was to be expected, the new Essen games dominated the evening's proceedings, but this is the first week since IBG started that every game played in an evening was new to the club. But after some favourable feedback, it is likely that we will see many of them reappear in future weeks....

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