Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Ye Olde Isleworth Boardgamers step back in time......

Players: Jon, Gareth, Paul, Russ, Ian, Iain, Philip, Scott, James, Johan, Emma, Jim

Amongst the 12 IBG'ers gathered at the London Apprentice was a welcome returnee, Russ, who we hadn't seen for a number of weeks, and simply turned up to trounce us all at a couple of games. There was also an appearance made by the first comedy hat of the season - this year modelled by Emma, as opposed to our resident millinery expert, Tonio.

This week, the IBG'ers decided to abandon 21st century London, and instead transport themselves far back in time, with the majority of the games that they played based in the pre-1600's. This was a time of dubious haircuts, strange clothing, unintelligible speech and questionable personal hygiene practices. Right up our street then.........

Either Ian or Paul (or both) had suggested that some of the early birds have a go at the ‘yet-unplayed-at-IBG’ –

This was originally going to be a 3-player game, but after Jon and Gareth wandered in it was up to 5. Fortunately, both Gareth and Jon had played before (although a long time ago) which resulted in Jon asking for a quick rules recap. Gareth pooh-poohed this (“you must remember how to play this, Jon!”) and then immediately was caught out trying to take both money and cards as his action during an early turn. Hmmm....
Anyway, Gareth started the game in typical fashion, picking the assassin and thief as his first 2 characters. Paul began as the King (nobly admitting to being the oldest at the table) and this privilege rarely left him.
Russ played the early victim well, having been assassinated and ‘warlorded’ in the same turn. However, everyone else seemed to take pity on him and left him alone for the rest of the game (big mistake).
Ian and Paul got several buildings down nice and early, whilst Jon bemoaned the fact that Ian chose Jon's character to thieve from by default (it was the only one he could remember….)
Time passed (quite a lot of time in fact), and Paul finally built the magical 8th building. The scores were totted up, and it ended up with only 4 points between all 5 players – and it was ‘victim Russ’ that came out on top, having rebuilt his city to impressive effect.
This is a fun game, but the hour it took to play is just too long. Building to 7 buildings may be the answer…
Russ 28; Paul 26; Ian 24; Gareth 24; Jon 24

By a happy set of coincidences, not only was Emma at IBG after a wee absence but Jim had brought along one of her favourite games - 

Lexio (thanks to Jim for this set of reports)
Scott, eager for his “building game” fix, and a “curious passer by” in the shape of James were roped in and the rules and end round scoring were explained, a practice round was played and then the game proper were played.
It was not an exciting game with everyone seemingly having reasonable but not powerful hands, several rounds consisting of ever increasing single tiles being played, some raises only being the colour and not the value of the tile. So after the 5 rounds, the steady attrition and a couple of players being left with 2’s in their hand at the end round scoring resulted in a win for Jim (at last!)
Jim 210; Emma 158; James 123; Scott 105

With chants of “more”, Emma was clearly up for another game. James wandered away looking to play a different game and was replaced by Phil, Scot had a quick look around but returned to attempt to avenge his loss, Jim and Emma retained their seats.
All players having played before, their was no need for a rules recap but there was a wee delay as the players sorted out everyone again having 149 points in poker chips. Counting clearly not a strong suit for some.
If anything, although more raucous and with some interesting hands (Emma played a Full House of 2’s and 1’s early on in one round but that bravado proved her undoing taking very little part in the rest of the round), the players seemed almost evenly matched.
Jim had adopted a practice of waiting for everyone else to take their tiles and he would have what was left, and this clearly was a sensible tactic because the final scores revealed yet another win for Jim ("far out, man" - as we used to say in prehistoric times!)
So, this round resulted in the the same positions, with Phil replacing James. The observant among you will notice that the point total is 20 short of what it should be. Did I mention that counting was not a strong suit for some? Adding the 20 to any players score would make no difference to the result and not wishing for a repeat of the “who has too many chips” episode at the start of the game Jim sensibly kept quiet.
Jim 180; Emma 156; Phil 131; Scott 109

The players decided that because there were no other games finishing soon that a third game was in order. Could Jim come first again for a hat-trick of wins? Would Scott finish last for a hat-trick of loses? Would the 149 points be evenly distributed at the start of the game be evenly distributed without a recount?
Of course a recount was necessary to find the missing “2 points”. No names, no pack-drill but did I mention that counting is not a strong suit for some?
Once all players had 149 points, a much tighter but still raucous game was started and the level of competitiveness for some had clearly moved up a notch or two with most players determined to do better than the previous game.
This was demonstrated rather bizarrely by several players trying to offset their “bad luck” with tile selection by either selecting tiles for other players or “stealing” tiles from other players face down pool of tiles! It is just the kind of wild and crazy thing we do at IBG!
For a while, it looked like the “inverse tile selection” was having the desired effect. Jim was the one suffering as his points dwindled away. The hat-trick of wins looked increasingly unlikely.
The turning point of the game came mid-way through. Jim had a nice hand of lots of pairs and a low value single and had steadfastly refused to break them up passing on many turns. Suddenly Scott was about to get the lead and had 4 tiles ominously split into a group of three and a single tile to Jim's 12. Could he really have a three–of-a-kind and a single of any value? That would win the round and gain him many points. But Scott was such a bluffer (amongst other things!) as Jim had learnt to his cost last week playing Haggis with him. After some clearly painful thought process, Jim decided to break up a pair of 1’s and take the lead. Jim then “walked through” his entire hand playing out only pairs, then his remaining 1 tile and then finishing with his low value tile. And a good job because Scott really did have a three-of-a-kind and a single tile left in his hand! How close was that?
From then on, Jim could do no wrong in later rounds and won the game for a third time (come on – that’s what I’m talking about!). Scot had a much better game and Emma swapped places with him while Phil held his 3rd position with a remarkably similar score to the previous game he played.
Jim 196; Scot 152; Phil 136; Emma 112

Meanwhile, the 'final four' tried out this new (very old) game -

1655 (thanks James for this one)
Subtitled: Romanes eunt domus...or something like that. A neat little card bidding game based around gaining favour with carious cardinals (no, not in the ‘modern catholic’ way) in order to win the vote to select a new pope. Probably not going to be a big hit at the Vatican but worth a shout at the Apprentice for Iain, Johan and James.
So to start with players are given 2 ‘orders’ which, if fulfilled, give extra votes at the end. There are 3 piles of cards and a ‘first go/winner in a tie’ card. One pile are cardinals (worth 1 vote), one holds ‘political’ cards which can give you extra votes, extra cardinals etc and the last is action cards which allows rule breaking. 18 cards in each pile. 18 rounds in the game.
During each round players bid using gems with the winner picking first, loser picking last etc. At the half-way stage, players get some extra money and have to discard one order. When the white smoke appears (one of the last 4 rounds) then votes are tallied and the winner gets to control the Catholic church and spend the rest of their days waving from odd looking cars, kissing babies and wearing silly hats.
So, given this was a first experience for us 3 the game was slow to start while we grappled with all the icons (another day, another new card game, another 15 symbols to memorize…). The bidding also stuttered while we were trying to work out what made sense. But the game does move fast… turn over new cards / play action cards / bid / select cards… not a lot of slack in the game play.
At the halfway stage Johan managed to bag the most money from cardinals, both he and Iain were fighting over who could get the most King Philippe’s (bonus votes) in play while James was collecting other cards enabling the player to buy votes with gold at the end. This game also invites a lot of back stabbing play (from my understanding 1655 was chosen as a particularly bad year in terms of corruption at the Vatican) as the action cards allow players to kill cardinals, bribe them to swap sides, switch cards with other players etc… lots of room for losing friends.
James struck lucky at one stage as Johan played a card to steal one of James’s cardinals that was immediately counteracted by James’s card to get the cardinal back. Also action cards at the end were being played every round as it could be seen the game was about to finish.
And then the white smoke arrived… the western world held it’s breath as the new Pope was announced to be…James (by a point).
So pausing only to reform Christendom and to beatify Stephen Fry, all that was left was to search for all that hidden gold....
James 17; Iain 16; Johan 15

I think that we all liked the game, 30 minutes at most once you know what you’re doing. Worth another run out and I think the bidding will be a lot more ruthless now the relative values of available cards are known. Also I think with 4 it’d be an even more cut-throat game.

With the first games all finishing at similar times, the 3 groups took the unusual decision to all play longer games, the first of them picking a recent purchase of Russ -

Troyes (thanks Russ for this one)
Is it like Kingsburg? Well a bit.
A game where we revisit the desire of Pope Urbain IV to have a cathedral built in his home town of Troyes, one of the few games to sell out at Essen 2010 and a game that I had picked up primarily as it had the same designer as Carson City.
The central mechanic is rolling your ‘hand’ of dice and then using them in turn to fight the events and activate the characters in order to gain influence and victory points. Despite the dice this is a fairly heavy Euro, and the option to buy your opponent’s dice out from under them gives great interaction which I often find lacking in such games. Trust me, when someone buys your much needed ‘6’ for a measly 2 deniers it doesn’t feel like it’s been bought, it feels like it’s been stolen.
I finally managed to be free on a Wednesday and brought Troyes along to IBG as it was one of my favourites of the Essen 2010 crop (along with London and 51st State), Jim had already expressed an interest in giving it a go (as he has a pre-order in) and we quickly recruited Jon and Paul to join us. Sadly it plays a maximum of 4 so we weren’t able to accommodate anyone else. I launched into a rules explanation which was a bit haphazard, reassured everyone that I’d yet to win a game and we were up and running pretty quickly.
My piece of tactical advice was that I’d spent most of my previous games concentrating on the religious cards (which mostly mess with the dice rolls in some way) and that the winners had mostly concentrated on the events and the military card. I then proceeded to completely ignore that advice as I hadn’t had a chance to use the ‘Monk’ before (allows you to turn one white dice into 3 yellow of the same value), quickly showing the use of such cards by buying up a load of influence at the Pub and by the end of the game, 3 of us had men on it.
After a couple of turns I was noting furrowed brows around the table - it was clearly heavier than both Jon and Jim were expecting. Dice have a way of saying ‘Come play with us, we’re easy’, but they were frankly just teasing us in this game. Everyone but me had picked up a few points from events, the cathedral had barely made it past the foundations, mostly due to some shoddy building work by migrant workers and multiple interruptions of work. Influence wasn’t really short and the red dice seemed to not want to roll above a 3 so a lot of our dice were eaten up by the attacks, resulting in most events staying on the board for the whole game. Still I felt I was doing badly in the points war until the 3rd turn when the Sculptor was turned over and I still had 3 cubes on the Monk. Jon beat me to the 6 point slot with a group of yellow dice, but I jumped in next paying Jim 2 deniers for his white 6 and immediately scoring 11 points (Monk made the white 6 into 3 yellow sixes worth 6 VPs on the Sculptor and 5 VPs for the second place on the card).
The next couple of turns involved me stealing white sixes wherever I could find them. I say stealing as I’d been kicked out of almost all my buildings and had 4 dice and no white ones, and scoring another 12 points from the Sculptor alone. Other than me only Jon scored a good number of points from the Sculptor, though Jim did move in later (sadly missing out on the bonus points for being one of the first to get in).
The game ended after the prescribed 6 turns, (having taken about 2 and a half hours in total including the rules explanation) and our secret characters showed scoring for money, influence, numbers of men on cards and number of men in the main buildings. The final scores were:
Russ 45; Jon 43; Paul 33; Jim 27

My last action had moved my influence from 9 to 10 meaning I scored 2 more points from Jon’s secret character meaning that I didn’t have to look up the tie breaker – there isn’t one – and that I won for the first time (though of course against 3 people that had never played it before!).
In retrospect I think Jon played the best game, spreading himself out so he wasn’t dependant on any one colour of dice and doing a bit of everything while still earning points. I grabbed the Monk as I’ve always been short of cash in previous games, but the Sculptor allowed me to turn that early investment into a pile of points which of course was really lucky for me and had something like the Goldsmith come up I would have been second at best.
I’ve not seen such an ignored cathedral before and all of us (except Paul I think) lost some points for not being present on one level or another.
We had to rush out fairly quickly afterwards. I continue to enjoy it, some interesting things happened with a different group especially with letting the black dice go round the table as influence wasn’t seen as very valuable, though I think I’ll explain the rules better next time.
Paul said he enjoyed it and I know Jim isn’t cancelling his pre-order. Jon seemed somewhat bemused by his second place, but the more I play with him the more I think it’s all an act!
So more Caylus than Kingsburg, but certainly enjoyed by all.

Scores only I'm afraid......

Gareth 39; Philip 37; Johan 29; James 21

And finally, a very welcome return to an old favourite -

Power Grid (thanks to Scott for this report)
With Ian and Scott keen to play Power Grid (it not having been played for quite a while now), Iain was also persuaded but the other straggler James was less so. Luckily, James was interested in London and Emma was happy to swap and play PG instead (she really did offer, there were no bribes involved I swear...)
With maps aplenty, Scott picked one of the new Essen released ones, that being Japan. The defining characteristic being that the map is long and thin so players are allowed to start two separate networks. Some of the cities have two 10 slots (with just one 15 or 20) and some have only two available slots (10,15 & 15,20), which no-one seemed to notice until they became a hindrance later on.
Scott refreshed everyone’s memories and made Emma chuckle by referring to the cities as “sillies” (unintentionally). Scott’s vocabulary has obviously been tainted by Steph’s New Zealand twang and created a demon of pronunciation.
With everyone up to speed we began with some quick expansion early on by all parties. It soon subsided when the initial batch of cheap cities had gone and most people had opted to start a second network to extend their coverage later on. There were a lot of coal plants currently in use but costs hadn’t escalated too high yet; oil was becoming increasingly cheaper though.
Emma usually insisted on extending her network as much as possible even though she was beginning to struggle with powering them all or doing so efficiently when buying fuel last. Ian was doing well with a good capacity and efficiency and raking in more money than the rest of us. Scott’s expansion was struggling a little being hemmed in on all fronts by expensive connections and aggressive players, so he sat on less cities and hoped for the best in Step 2. Iain had diversified his fuel requirements but looked to be paying quite a lot to keep them going, he caught a break when the first big oil plant came out and Scott couldn’t afford to keep outbidding him, fuel prices for oil being rather low since there hadn’t been many coming in to the market.
When step 2 hit, Scott ploughed his savings in to getting some good territories, trying to clog up the middle of the board to stop players travelling through the centre, leaving himself with as many options as possible. Emma was now boosting her efficiency with wind and hybrid plants at the expense of capacity, Iain went for to higher capacity but was needing to spend more on fuel, eating away at this cash for expansion. Ian made a few more plant purchases but regretted them soon after, conflicting with himself over whether to buy plants or more cities.
Step 3 occurred pretty quickly after, and Scott had again found himself with the least cities which proved fortunate in the power plant market, picking up a big oil plant for cost, his capacity now at 18; however Ian was at 16 capacity and looked like he could build to 17 and end the game powering more than everyone else. Scott built as far as he could to 16 and Ian was just a few dollars short of getting to 17 so even if he could do so it wouldn’t be good if Scott had enough money to win on a tie-breaker.
We went in to a last round and unfortunately for Emma, her low capacity but efficient plants hadn’t been upgraded in time and her capacity was stuck at 16 which she built to comfortably. Ian didn’t have much choice and had to settle for just a capacity of 17 while Iain jumped all the way out to 19, paying heavily for a big plant. This would be his downfall - with such a big requirement for oil and coal which were now close to selling out, he could only build to 15 while Scott got to 18 and walked away victorious.
Scott 18 powered; Ian 17; Emma 16; Iain 15

It was fairly close, though Iain could have avoided upgrading his plants and raced for a victory earlier. Ian was just a few dollars short the turn before and Emma just needed to get her hands on a slightly bigger plant. An interesting map in terms of cities, even with two networks possible, it’s very easy to get caught out and be forced to pay a lot or avoid expanding.

And surprisingly, those were all the games that were played tonight. At least the last one ventured into the 20th century! I've also just noticed that tonight's offerings must have had the least inspiring box art that I've seen for a long time. Good job we don't spend all evening just staring at the boxes...
Next week will be our first session in December, and just a quick advance warning that there will be no games night on 15th December, as we are having our IBG Christmas Meal. If you'd like to come and haven't booked yet, then drop Gareth an email (see top of the blog page), post on our guild forum at BGG, or let us know on Wednesday.
See you next week!

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