Wednesday, 26 January 2011

“Excuse me, could you tell me the way to Lithuania please….?”

Players: Gareth, Barrie, Keith, Philip, Scott, Maynard, James, Paul, Tonio, Noel, Jon, Johan, John

13 IBG’ers hunkered down in the Riverview Room at the London Apprentice, including a very welcome return to Noel (who had left Tanya at home holding the baby…) who we hadn’t seen since before Christmas.

Tonight was definitely not an occasion to be a geography-phobe, as there were maps everywhere. Everything from modern-day Europe to turn-of-the-century North-west England, it was imperative that you knew your Danzigs from your Denmarks, otherwise you were sure to get your Runcorns in a twist……And to top it all, we have a challenger for Gareth’s title of ‘most rules wrongly explained in a single game’ – shocking……

First up, the early birds decided to catch some fish –

With Tonio tucking into one of the largest plates of food I’ve ever seen, the other 4 early arrivees had a go at ‘the game with the bell.’ This was new to James and Keith, but a quick recap from Jon (who had forgotten how to play his own game) and we were underway.
Scott started as he meant to go on, deliberately selling a fish type which caused others (ie Jon) to lose some of their own stock. Keith was somehow accumulating the UK’s fish quota on his own board, whilst Jon also managed to get some lobsters on ice. James looked bemused.
When all was said and done, Keith ran away with this one (probably due to his hand being about 3mm away from the bell at any one time), with Jon in a not very close second. Scott and James were the red herrings, bringing up the rear after just about having made a profit.
Keith £102; Jon £82; Scott £49; James £46

The next few IBG'ers to arrive decided to play a game to find out exactly who was -

The Boss (thanks Maynard for this report)
The Boss is an interesting deduction game that can be agonising to play, as each player is forced to give up information that can help their opponents. Having said that, there is a deep sense of satisfaction when suckering someone into making the wrong choices!
The game shows you a set of cities, each of which has a different group of cards associated with it. For example, Kansas City has three cards – one showing two “money”, one showing three “money” and one showing a gun. Detroit has five cards - four money cards from 1 – 4, but also one card with a gun as well. Each of these piles of cards is shuffled face-down and one card is chosen at random and put face-down under the city. The rest of the cards are shuffled and dealt out to the players to give them each a hand of five cards.
Each player has a group of gangsters – some regular which can be used each turn and some “occasionals” which can only be used once. The players use these to take over cities – the player with the most gangsters in a city at the end of the round wins the hidden card.
Maynard is The Boss
Each player takes turns to optionally place one or more gangsters on a city, and then is forced to reveal one of the cards in their hands. This reveals information about the likelihood of the hidden card being good, bad or indifferent – but it’s possible to bluff either by revealing misleading cards or by placing gangsters on a city in the hopes someone else will take it over. Each city’s cards are also different colours, so players have to show the backs of their hand of cards to give other players info about who knows what.
The game got off to a random start with Maynard taking a bet on Detroit and also aiming for a safe position in New York. Tonio went for Cincinnati and the others took over cities which weren’t obviously duff, resulting in one of Maynard’s gangsters being shot dead, Tonio being banned from Cincinnati and scores of 2 and 3 for Maynard, James and Paul.
Following rounds proceeded with highlights including: Tonio knowing whether Cincinnati was worth 3 or worth being banished, while unable to play there; Maynard failing dismally to sucker in other players but winning some points nonetheless, and Paul making some solid gains using Chicago (a special city where the most recent cards from other cities are collated and the controlling gangster gets half of any winnings).
Some lucky hands gave Maynard an additional advantage in the third and fourth rounds, battling with Paul for the lead. Tonio was far behind having failed to take advantage of some logic in the second round to take a city which was guaranteed to be a winner (assuming nobody was bluffing or playing badly!).
The final round saw a turnaround in his fortunes, picking up two cities for lots of cash and making a solid step forwards to avoid fourth place. Maynard and Paul tied for first, and after a quick check of the rules the victory went to Maynard due to him having a one more gangster remaining unused. 
Maynard 14 (won tiebreak); Paul 14; Tonio 9; Barrie 8

With the other table just having started The Boss, there was time for a short game that played with 6. Amid groans of protest from Scott, John B produced –

Travel Blog: Europe & USA
Just as Scott thought that he was to be subjected to 30 minutes of geography-induced torture, his knight in shining armour swept into the room in the form of Philip, clutching a copy of Race for the Galaxy. Moving faster than Speedy Gonzales, Scott was gone in a puff of smoke, which created just enough space for the newly-arrived Noel to take a pew. And everyone was happy once again.
Anyway, after the musical chairs had finished, John explained the rules to the game, which turned out to be fairly straightforward – plot a journey around Europe using the shortest route possible (with a few twists and turns thrown in for good measure.)
The first thing that became clear was that some people’s geography was much worse than others (step forward Jon), whilst other people just liked to take their time to carefully plot their route (step forward James).
The long and the short of it was that the scores were remarkably close throughout the game, but it was Noel who recorded the victory by a measly 10 Euros from Jon. He was undoubtedly helped by the fact that he is a ‘foreigner’ (well, he’s got an Irish passport anyway…) but it was probably fair enough considering his gentlemanly loss to Jon at Chinatown by a similar amount a couple of months ago….
Noel 310; Jon 300; James 280; Keith 250; John 240; Johan 200

As already mentioned, Scott had left the European travellers to travel further afield -

Race for the Galaxy (thanks Scott for this one)
Praise to Philip for saving Scott from the torture that is Travel Blog, not because it’s a bad game per se, but it involves knowledge of Europe or US States, neither of which ever appealed to Scott, or any form of Geographic knowledge to be exact. So instead we had a quick game of Race, for a warm up this week.
It was looking to be a rather fortuitous game for Scott, drawing the rebel worls with prestige for playing rebel cards and a handful of cheap ones to get an early lead in prestige and raking in most of the goals and collecting some suitable 6 cost developments as well. Poor Philip didn’t stand a chance:
Scott 64; Philip 31

With Brass still some time away, Gareth joined us for a second game and we quickly got him to sign some paperwork that confirmed he did indeed want to play Race for the Galaxy. Despite only having played the base game, Gareth seemed happy to jump in at the deep end and although he lost, he did well to keep up with all of the rules and icons thrown at him. Although I suspect he was more concerned with eating his meal than events happening in the game...
In this game Philip got his revenge with a much better starting hand of a doomed world, which was quickly replaced by something much more horrific and extorted prestige out of the game like wildfire. We even got the prestige game to end condition with Philip having 15 of it (although he had also ended it on building twelve cards). Luckily Scott had drawn and played one of the big Prestige scoring cards, keeping Philip’s score in double digits.
Philip 72; Scott 47; Gareth 27

Noel was looking for something ‘fairly meaty’ to play next, and with Brass already oversubscribed, his attention was immediately drawn to the incredibly dull box art of –

This was brought along by John, and was new to all the other players, so after the initial set-up, he explained the rules (well – most of them…!) This is fairly standard Euro fare – collect resources (wooden cubes of course) from an abstracted map of Europe in the days of Yore, to fulfill contracts to earn money to buy victory point cards. Throw in a few random factors and a couple of nice plums (!) and you’re away.
Noel started off as he meant to go on – selling one contract to buy a bonus card which enabled him to quickly start fulfilling other contracts. John also got his engine going pretty quickly, whilst Johan and Jon meandered around Europe picking up as many cubes (sorry – resources) as possible.
It was at this point that Jon worked out that the bonus cards that he had did not tie in with the locations of his contracts, which meant that he was simply picking up large quantities of largely useless resources. However, 3 of his contracts required a supply of coal, which unfortunately was being snaffled by Johan who was sitting on his right. As there appeared to be no way to get this resource, and with his other contract being for Newfoundland (very costly to travel to), meaningful progress was painfully slow.
Johan had by now started to fulfill some of his contracts by piggy-backing onto Jon’s recent trip to Bohemia, but Noel was racing away and had soon worked his way up to the level 8 contracts (only 2 short of the max.)
Meanwhile, John was raking in the cash in a single-minded kind of way. Sure enough, as soon as he had 14 ‘Taler’, he cashed this is for a bonus card which gave him a VP for every cube in storage. He then went on a cube-hunt, and hoovered up every spare resource he could find on the map.
Jon had finally got some iron, and on his final turn travelled to Italy to fulfill 3 contracts, but this wasn’t quite enough to lift him out of 4th place.
When the scores were totted up, John had scored a massive 18 points from his bonus card, to end on 54 points. Noel had scored 54½ (thanks to a bonus card that gave him ½ VP’s for something or other), but John insisted that this was rounded down – “You always round down in Eurogames…” being his mantra. Obligingly, Noel rounded down, so there then followed a quick flick through the rules to discover the tie-breaker (time-tokens), which as it happens, Noel had more of. A slightly less quick flick through the rules then revealed that ½ points do not in fact get rounded down, which left Noel the clear winner and Jon only ½ point shy of Johan.
Noel 54.5; John 54; Johan 38; Jon 37.5

(Postscript: A post-match analysis revealed that in the finest traditions of IBG, John had actually taught his own game wrong to the tune of 3 fairly important rules (including the fact that cubes could exchanged 4:1 for any resource to fulfill a contract). Don’t do that again, John, or you’ll have replaced Gareth as IBG’s most infamous rules explainer…!!)

Another main game being played on the next table came in a box about the size of a shipping crate -

Planet Steam (thanks to Scott again)
With a couple of hours to play and a game required to accommodate 5, Keith had kindly brought along Planet Steam in its giant (read: vastly oversized for its purpose) box that was attracting a lot of attention. Of the games on offer Scott proposed it and had to convince the masses that a game in such a big box doesn’t take a whole day to play, in fact we could do it in the 90 minutes it says on the box (read: probably, but you can’t put doubt in people’s minds when it comes to economic games). Tonio enquired as to the gameplay and Scott attempted a brief summary and Tonio finished with "Is it like Settler’s then?" "Erm..... yeah it’s a bit like Settlers" came the reply to keep Tonio’s interest high.....

If you want to find out what happened next, then Scott has gone beyond the call of duty this week and written a fantastic blow-by-blow account of this game, which is published in all its glory over on BGG (along with some very cool B&W photos taken by Maynard). Check it out here....

Final scores:
Scott 624; Maynard 580; Tonio 541; Paul 516; James 458

And on the third table was Game of the Month -

Brass (thanks Keith)
I think it's time for a little analysis of the players options in Brass. Rather than focus on the pricing I'm going to look at the two longer term objectives, income and victory points. This question was triggered by Keith's unexpected victory despite lagging behind on the income track for most of the game.
I'll compare the values of the Level-2 building tiles, since most players will build a large number of these tiles.

Option Actions Revenue VP's 

Canal/Rail 1 0 3-4
Coalmine 1 7 2
Ironworks 1 2 7
Cotton Mill 2 5 2
Mill & Port 3 8 4
Shipyard 2 1 18 (shown as two actions because an advance is needed)

Early in the game it's necessary to build up income and there's little demand for coal. So the obvious choice is to build Mills which yield around 2.5 revenue steps per action. However, from the beginning of phase 2 demand for coal appears and mines yield 7 revenue per action which makes them much more attractive.
Towards the end of each phase victory points become more important. So players need to focus on building ironworks (7vp/action) which will allow them the advances needed to build shipyards (9vp/action). If these are not available building additional canals/railroads is the third choice.
So, how does this relate to our game of Brass? During the canal phase of the game Phillip took out large loans to build several cotton mills and completed the phase with a double shipping action. So, despite being behind on the income track for much of the canal phase he ended up ahead at the end with cash in hand. The other players all borrowed £30 from the bank and finished the phase with very similar incomes and VPs.
At the start of the railway phase Phillip appeared to be in a strong position, with coal mines rapidly boosting his income. While Keith appeared to be lagging as he built Ironworks and failed to capitalise on some rail building opportunities. However, Phillip continued to concentrate on income development after the middle of the railway phase and failed to turn his strong financial position into VPs. Gareth and Barrie mopped up many of the other opportunities on the board with one building railways and the other constructing a shipyard.
In the final scoring, Keith's ironworks just weighed in ahead of Barrie's shipyard:
Keith 114, Barrie 106, Gareth 93, Phillip 90

And that was the end of that. I think we all learned something tonight - whether it be that Armenia and Slovenia are nowhere near each other, or that Planet Steam is nothing like Settlers of Catan - we all came away a little wiser.

More pearls of wisdom are to be gained by turning up at the Isleworth Boardgamers next week at the same time....

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

We've seen it all before........

Players: Vicky, Maynard, Scott, Steph, James, Paul, Tonio, Ian, Philip, Jon, Adam

With Barrie (“I’ll be there a bit late”) and Gareth (“I’ve got issues with an electrician..”) as late no-shows, there were 11 IBG’ers at the London Apprentice tonight for another night of great gaming. Nice to see Adam around again for the first time in several weeks.

The Isleworth Boardgamers are not renowned for being 'stuck-in-the-muds' and are always happy to embrace change, regularly trying out new games. But tonight, for the first time in a very long time (can't be bothered to work out exactly how long...) every game that was played during the evening had been played at least once before at the club. Maybe we're turning into a bunch of predictable, pipe-and-slippers, grumpy old so-and-so's (or maybe that's just Tonio...)

Apples to Apples was the warm-up act of the evening again (with Paul collecting a handful of quite unflattering adjective cards), but the first main game to hit the table was –

Paul and Tonio hadn’t played before, but James was keen to try out some of the expansions, so he threw in the extra paint colours and the deck of cards. As it turned out, these mesh in with the base game very nicely and probably don’t add too much to the game length (maybe another 15 mins or so.)
With several of the low value tiles removed, there is no guarantee that players will be able to paint on their first turn, and Tonio was the only player to do so. Consequently, he shot into an early lead. When he then mistakenly removed his scoring marker from the board, his retort was, “Well if some of you chaps would score some points too, then maybe it would be more obvious that it was a scoring track…..” Of course, this comment was to come back to bite him in the derriere later on in the game….
It wasn’t long before everyone else started to paint sections of the fresco. Paul picked up some useful cards early on (including gaining an extra point for using the bishop) whilst Tonio also picked up some helpful ones, which added to his income each turn. Jon and James were mixing paints furiously during the midgame, with both of them creating a couple of valuable gold (or brown as they appear) cubes of paint. However, the next turn, Jon was able to wake up at 5am (that’s what having 2 kids does to you…) and make it first to the fresco to paint 2 valuable sections. By the time that lazy-boy James had stumbled in, there was no use for his gold paint at all, and he was forced to save it to flog at the end of the game.
By this point, Tonio had somehow fallen behind by a country mile, and was reminded of his earlier comment with a certain sense of glee by the other players…
The end turn came suddenly, and Jon was able to paint the last 2 sections of the fresco, although as they were on opposite sides, there was no chance to get extra points from the bishop. James sold a number of cubes at the end, and with just the money to count, James, Paul and Jon were all in contention for the win. Jon had the most cash, but James had accumulated enough points to just pip Paul into second place by 2 points, with Jon a further 2 back. Tonio was apparently still on the scoring track somewhere…..
James 100; Paul 98; Jon 96; Tonio 78

With Gareth and Barrie having issues with even turning up this week, there was no Brass, and so Philip and Scott were at a loss as to what to play. Ian, with an excited look on his face happily joined the two of us for a quick game of -

Power Grid (thanks Scott for this report)
Scott picked the Central Europe map as it looked the most suitable for only three players out of the options brought. The slight tweaks are that coal is plentiful and there are some areas where nuclear plants are not allowed to be purchased if your cities are only in those regions. There is also one city which gives a discount to buying garbage, so for our game we played with two non-nuclear zones and the one with the garbage discount.
We all got underway with bidding and Ian got the cheap coal (#04), Scott the hybrid (#05) and Philip wanted early turn ordering so took the oil plant (#03). Ian started up in the North in one of the no-nuclear zones while Philip and Scott started in the middle and could end up blocking each other pretty quickly if they wanted to but connections were expensive so this looked unlikely.
Ian would establish himself as the coal baron, much to Scott’s discomfort as he was also pretty invested in coal so Ian made sure the prices stayed high but this would come back to bite him at the end game when he needed to buy coal at the maximum cost.
Philip exercised a balanced game using oil which no-one else risked competing with as oil would get expensive pretty quickly but Philip enjoyed the stable prices, he also was the first to get the garbage plants fired up, and by this point in the late game they were almost giving the fuel away.
Scott tried a mix of coal and nuclear but kept trying to stay early in the turn order and building fewer cities than Ian and Philip had lost out on some necessary revenue for later.
As we got to the end, Ian kindly pointed out to Philip that he could end the game if he had enough money as it was just the first to build to 17 and power the most, you didn’t need to power all 17, and Philip could only power 15. At this stage Scott had already resigned himself for another round as he didn’t have enough to end the game and resources were getting very scarce so first choice next round would be very important; however there wasn’t going to be another round as the only other player who could get to 15 cities was Ian who diligently did but having stocked up on two turns worth of coal had spent most of his money. Philip weighed up his options and built to 17 with the hope that he had enough money left to outshine Ian, and he did, by 8 electros. So a very well-played game by Philip and a shockingly poor performance by Scott - his performance review will highlight that he must try better next time.
Philip 17 cities (15 powered) – 19 cash remaining; Ian 15 (15) 11; Scott 11 (11) 101

The info for the next couple of games was provided by Steph (with a little creative flair from Scott...) -

Pinguin Party
A very close game in which Maynard won.

Funny friends
Short version: Maynard won and the game was funny.
'Scott-enhanced' version:
Steph was the stud among muffins, in some sort of reverse gender game. Adam and Maynard wanted to see what it was like to be a girl while Steph and Vicky saw the world through a man's eyes.
Apparantly Vicky was maybe too nice for the game as there were not many tales to tell but he had achieved many of his life goals. Steph had had a tumultuous time with the females at the table, getting in to a relationship twice with Adam but breaking up with her pretty swiftly too.
Maynard was then the next target of Steph's affections and they had ended up married with children. Steph had now been tied down and this was not suiting his goals while Maynard had gleefully sapped up her own in marriage bliss and handily won the game.
Adam and Vicky looked on with an almost complete outlook on life. Steph blames his troubles on the drink as he continued to try and wash away the pain.
Maynard - won; everyone else - didn't

Errrr...I'm confused, but that doesn't usually take much so I think that we're best off moving swiftly on.....

With Adam and Steph having left, Vicky and Maynard were left on their own, and were also about to depart, when James called out from the Fresco game, “We’ve only got 10 minutes left.” Vicky and Maynard looked unconvinced (wisely), but were suckered in by the suggestion that they stay around and set up a game of –

7 Wonders
Yep – it did take more than 10 minutes for the Fresco-Four to finish, but this time was well spent by Vicky and Maynard setting up the game and not (!) explaining the rules to Ian. Despite Ian’s protestations that he would just ‘make it up as he went along’, James did a quick rules run-through for him and then divvied out the starting wonders. Much to his dismay, his newly-arrived Mannequin-Pis did not feature, but as it is the most over-rated monument in the entire solar-system, it was no great loss to the game.
Vicky eschewed her usual science-collecting tactic and left that privilege to Tonio and Ian. Paul went heavy on yellow and purple cards, whilst James found himself without enough brick (between himself and his neighbours) to build his second level wonder.
Jon focussed on getting enough stone to quickly build all 3 levels of his wonder, whilst trying to stay at peace with his neighbours, Ian and Vicky, for at least one round. Ian was making a good fist of understanding what on earth was going on, despite having his bonus ability written in German on his board. Maynard built heaps of blue victory-point buildings, only to have 1 torn down in the final reckoning (thanks to sharp-eyed Paul) as it was a duplicate.
James and Paul amassed sizeable armies, and in the 3rd age, so did Ian, which resulted in Jon spending the last 3 turns recruiting even more soldiers to trump him. The game was over quickly (one of the beauties of it) and after some Agricola-like totting up, James revealed the scores in suitably dramatic fashion – with Jon just edging out Paul for the win.
Jon 55; Paul 52; James 51; Vicky 46; Maynard 44; Tonio 43; Ian 37

After the game of Power Grid, there was talk of another, but Scott was too ashamed and Philip’s suggestion of Race for the Galaxy was approved by Ian and so it was signed and dated and he is now officially a member of the Race for the Galaxy IBG club (sub-chapter of Isleworth Boardgamers) - 

Race for the Galaxy (thanks again Scott for these reports)
Ian warned us he might be a little slow and needed some teaching of the latest expansion, but he picked it up very quickly and was amassing Prestige like it was going out of fashion. The game almost ended on someone getting to 15 prestige (Ian with 14) which has so far been near impossible to achieve. Despite all of the prestige, and subsequent VP, gathering Ian had not played that many cards to boost his score and Scott with his range of goals and several 6 cost developments just eeked out the win from the prestige ruler of the galaxy. Philip was also playing and to be fair the scores were very close...
Scott 64; Ian 54; Philip 52

At this point Ian deserted us to build a wonder while Philip and Scott stayed to continue their more advanced galaxy colonization instead.

The first game went well for Scott, who had been playing lots of cards to speed the game up with Philip still thinking about his next turn, only to realise it was over and the score counting was required.
Scott 45; Philip 33

Then Philip found his feet and got back in to the swing of the game for the next two, both of which Scott held a steady performance but it wasn’t winning any prizes. It would probably help having a strategy that was a bit more focused and not fighting Philip for most prestige when he was gaining it faster.
Game 2: Philip 43; Scott 39
Game 3: Philip 51; Scott 39

We did however manage to play at a rate of one game per age in 7 Wonders, after which Jon reminded us that the only time he’d ever played RFTG it took an actual age - maybe we need to introduce more people to the RFTG sub-chapter...

Tonio was halfway out of the door, but it didn’t take much to persuade him to doff his scarf and cap and rejoin the 3 remaining IBG’ers for a quick game of –

High Society
This really is an excellent little filler game, which never fails to hit the mark. Tonio was new to it, and despite picking up the most points, was also the most broke at the end, which left Paul taking the win by only 2 points from Jon and James. File this one under – ‘Really must play it more often….’
Paul 14 ($26k); Jon 12 ($22k); James 12 ($21k); Tonio 16 ($6k)

And so it was time for Tonio to re-don his cap and this time make it all the way out of the doors of the London Apprentice. We may not have played anything 'new' tonight, but the 'oldies' certainly held their own and made for a very enjoyable night's gaming.

See you next week for much more of the same.....

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

There's something brewing with the IBG'ers...........

Players: Steph, Scott, Tonio, Ian, Philip, Gareth, John B, Vicky, Maynard, Daniel, Barrie, Paul , Jon

With 2011 well and truly under way, the numbers had grown back up to 13 IBG’ers tonight, including Tonio, who was a year older than this time last week (but didn't look it….)

Fortunately, there wasn’t so much Brass flying about this evening, so we were able to manage a slightly better variety of games played, including a prohibition-flouting game which gave Vicky yet another opportunity to express her undying love for long-suffering Maynard….

The evening began with a round of the ubiquitous Apples to Apples (whatever happened to Dixit?) for the early-birds, before a few other IBG'ers turned up.

Despite three copies of Brass floating around last week, this week it looked like there were none, Barrie who proposed the idea didn’t bother bringing his with a “oh, there were loadsa copies las’ week” but fortunately for the diehard fans, John came along to the rescue -

Brass (thanks to Scott for this report)
Philip was already sitting at the table and the rest of the room frantically tried to find a game to avoid getting a seat in the game, so it would be Scott, Philip, John and Gareth (who had called in his place but was running a bit late).
After a while Gareth ran to the table and sat down and was immediately thrown in to the game with just enough time to take his coat off. Everyone could remember the rules enough so off we began, with some clarifications on rules about loans and cotton selling getting income not cash.
Scott and Philip went for the early mill sales again, Gareth built lots of mills but selling them didn’t appear to be his priority, it later transpired that he thought you could sell as many mills to one port as you liked rather than requiring one port/mill, this would cause a few problems for him and spent much of the game taking loans and hovering between negative and slightly positive income. John, with the most experience at the table, was busy developing away his level one industries and before the canal age was over had built two level 2 mills and ports and sold them, mostly catching up to Philip and Scott in the income stakes and a fair amount of VP’s but with a big boost to the next phase as all those level 2 industries would score again. Gareth unfortunately at this point failed to sell much of his cotton through one port and ended up losing two unflipped level 1 cotton mills - he shed a tear inside (I imagine).
The rail phase was literally that, many actions were spent building double rails and by the end of the phase almost everywhere was full of rail and in a lot of cases, not a lot of industry. At one point Gareth manage to carefully time the use of coal leaving John the opportunity to overbuild Scott and Scott was also lucky enough to engineer two turns in a row and enable himself to overbuild John’s coal back again and refill Iron all with level 4 industries, this wouldn’t be quite enough to catch up with John who was easily adding on to his successful Canal Phase.
Everyone managed to get their cotton mills built and flipped before the end this time, especially Gareth who made it his mission not to lose any more ground. Philip was left the only one to bother with ship building and managed to get all of his built during the game (Gareth would have maybe built some as well but another rules mishap over Birkenhead, which has its only awkward rules, was to blame).
The rail phase was a lot closer and similar scoring throughout, plus John’s existing industries from the first phase was enough to catapult him into the lead.
John 134; Scott 125; Philip 115; Gareth 98

Maybe next week will be the game with all the rules correct? It was nice to play a four player game, as you have a lot more to watch out for as prime locations and connections will be made quickly so you have to stay on your toes to build the network you want. Developing early seems to be a good idea, or at least not letting one player get all the cheap develop actions is the best idea.

As an alternative to Brass, there was the opportunity to play a game with a somewhat different theme –

Paul brought along a copy of this out-of-print game about illegal alcohol production in 1920’s America, having played it once before (which included a major rules error…) He had no difficulty in recruiting a full-house of 6 players, and made a good fist of explaining the rather lengthy ruleset for the game.
The idea is that players represent ‘bosses’ of families who are producing and selling illegal whisky during the prohibition era. It combines a blind auction, some basic area control, some buying and selling, and a lot of negotiation.
No-one was quite sure what to do at the beginning, therefore most players bidded low in the first round, not wanting to have to make the first choice from the available cards. Vicky chose to be the first player to buy an extra truck, and ended up with lots of spare shipping capacity for several turns. Maynard dropped several mobsters into Texas Lil’s and ended up control of that particular Speakeasy, whilst Jon  started to place his family into Barleycorn’s (even though it wasn’t open for business yet). Paul expanded his ‘family still’ early on, which resulted in increased whisky production for him.
When producing whisky, Maynard turned out to be a useless distiller (marginally better than being a useless tosser a few weeks ago….) rolling only 1’s and 2’s for the first 3 turns. However, on turn 4, he really got it together and rolled a 6 – hurrah! Now he had whisky to spare - except that Vicky decided that now was the ideal moment to play one of her ‘thug’ cards on him, which resulted in all of Maynard’s hooch being poured down the drain. Young love, eh?
Everyone was starting to get a hang of the negotiations, and so whisky was being traded and trucks rented with gay abandon. Except that Barrie refused to accept Jon’s offer of allowing him to sell at the public dock of Barleycorn’s (which was now open, and firmly in Jon’s control), citing his previous experiences of Jon claiming to be a good dwarf during Saboteur. That was a long time ago, man! (April 2010 to be precise....) 
Anyway, as Barrie was starting to produce vast quantities of liquor, he decided that he would still patronise Jon’s premises, but at the safer minor dock. He also decided to upgrade its potential purchasing capacity with a couple of speakeasy improvements, which further added to Jon’s cut of the profits from all sales.
By turn 8, Jon had hoarded 3 cards which he played just as the trucks were pulling up at the speakeasies to unload their cargo. This enabled him to rent a truck, steal one of Barrie’s shipments to put in it, and then take all the profits from another of Barrie’s loads. This thuggery was enough to take him over the $100k limit and win him the game by some margin.
This was a really fun game that would almost certainly play differently next time (don’t let someone get early control of a Speakeasy then upgrade it for them…) now that everyone is familiar with how the game plays out. And Paul admitted that it was much better playing by the correct rules!
Jon $115k; Daniel $63k; Barrie $41k; Vicky $35k; Maynard $32k; Paul $27k (really? That’s barely more than you started with!)

Meanwhile, over on a third table, Ian, Stephanie and Tonio travelled Westward in a moderately Wild manner to arrive at -

Dice Town (thanks to Tonio for this one)
Stephanie and Tonio had been before but it was their first time as tentative guides. Ian obviously felt right at home because apart from the first two rounds and the very last round, Ian made himself Sheriff for the whole game.
Stephanie started the game the most confident. Holding the sheriff’s badge and rolling lots of queens (so as to steal other people’s cards) gave her a commanding opening game. Unfortunately, to make such a strong start can attract revenge beyond mere recompense. Tonio kept collecting gold nuggets but forgot to keep an eye on his dollars (of which he ran out a few times). There were plenty opportunities for him to sulk at being picked on...
Ian was served well by being able to adjudicate in his own favour as sheriff, and this worked well as a game plan. Stephanie was tactical, playing Queens and Aces to get as many cards as possible.
Some people don’t like games that are dice driven due to the luck element (and therefore supposed lack of skill) but the interaction makes this game. Players do have some control over what to keep and Stephanie remembered the pay-a-dollar-to-re-roll rule right at the end, conveniently.
After counting up the scores it was very close - Ian 38, Stephanie and Tonio on 40, but then Tonio remembered that he won the sheriff badge in the last hand (intentionally, of course) and with those extra 5 points final scores were:

Tonio (Grubby Gold Digger) - 45 (15 Gold + $2 + 10 bonus + 18 property)
Stephanie (Lady Cards-a-Lot) - 40 (7 + 1 + 12 + 20)
Ian (Mr Real Estate) - 38 (7 + 4 + 0 + 27)

Then to a tussle of words -

Lexicon (thanks again Tonio)
This is a word game (not Ian’s favourite type of game, apparently) with cards. Each player starts with a hand of 10 cards with letters that each have a value. The idea is in turn each player does one of four things with the aim of getting rid of their cards. (Play a word on the table; swap letter(s) from your hand for letter(s) in a word on the table; add letters from your hand to a word in any position; discard and then draw one card).
Rounds can be short because once one person is out then everyone else scores the points in their hand. It can also be vicious (well, vicious by word game standards...) It was agreed the game would end when one player goes over 100 and the player with the lowest score would win.
Stephanie, self-confessed word game fan, allowed Ian to win the first hand (to lull him into a false sense of security perhaps? To keep him interested?) but then won the next two. The fourth hand was Tonio’s first win, scoring 30 points onto Stephanie’s total.
And so was the pattern to be: Stephanie won another three hands and then took another big hit from Tonio’s second (and last) win; then won three more hands to force Ian over 100 points. She admitted that she did cheat in that last hand (“Quo” is not a word), but the game was dragging a little and frankly she should have won really!
Stephanie 80 (winner); Tonio 87; Ian 120 (also a winner, for having played through a word game!)

With Gareth’s collection to hand, he suggested that the Brass players should play a game of -
Saint Petersburg (thanks again Scott)
Everyone knew the rules, especially John who commented he always seems to play it when he comes to IBG (Stone Age next time then, and Gareth can go for tools instead of nobles...)
John, Gareth and Scott all played the 'collect as many nobles' game while Philip, wisely, decided to go for a building strategy and did so very effectively. With a long game and most of the stacks exhausted by the end, Philip had made the right gamble to invest in buildings for a long game and kept a balance elsewhere too.
Gareth unfortunately gambled on the wrong things at the wrong time, filling his hand with costly items and secured himself another last place, so all in all, not the best night for Gareth.
Philip 96; Scott 91; John 91; Gareth 69

And finally, the Bootleggers had left just enough time for another short game. And still being in the thieving and skullduggery mood, Vicky chose -
Daniel had left at this point, but the remaining 5 players sat down for a quick go at this fun pirate-themed card game. Vicky proved to be the most successful pirate, mainly as she was able to quietly send her own merchant ships to sea and attract absolutely no pirate attention whatsoever. Meanwhile, Jon's ships were being hustled as soon as they left port, while his own pirate fleet was about as effective as an inflatable dartboard.
Vicky 27; Maynard 20; Barrie 19; Paul 18; Jon
And that was all there was time for. Glasses were collected. Philip left. Tables were rearranged. Everyone else left. Philip returned to pick up his forgotten copy of RFTG....
See you next week....

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Brassed Off.......................?

Players: Scott, Gareth, Russ, Keith, Philip, Barrie, Jon, Tonio, Paul, Daniel

It was the first IBG session of 2011, and 10 eager gamers turned up this evening. Actually, Daniel turned up a bit late and was in the unfortunate and highly unusual position of finding all 3 tables mid-way through very long games. However, he provided some welcome moral support, wafted around some tasty aromas from his pub meal, shared a few pearls of wisdom, and then finally got to play a game at the end of the evening….

The remaining 9 IBG’ers got their teeth stuck into the industrial revolution in Lancashire (apparently more interesting than it sounds), and the grand-daddy of gateway games (which lasted longer than the industrial revolution itself...)

Without any pestering at all from Scott, somehow a heavy Martin Wallace game was picked as the game of the month, and it is a particularly good one to do so for it requires a few plays to get involved in the system -

Brass (thanks Scott for this report)
There were also lots of people in the woodwork with copies as we managed to have two before Barrie arrived with his; ending up with 6 willing participants for two three player games, with almost some more players who ended up defecting to Settlers for a warm up game (big mistake...)
We split up those who had actually played before, those being Russ and Scott, with Philip and Keith joining Scott’s table (I assume at their own will), with Scott remembering what he could to teach both tables at once to save some time and enable Russ to eat his food.
In brief, in much the same vein as Age of Industry that has successfully been hoisted on people in the past, you are building up industries of Cotton for sale through another industry type ‘Ports’ or to the external demand; building connections and higher level industries will also cost you either some Coal or Iron or possibly both so those two industries interlink with all the others. The last remaining industry being ship building but there are very limited places to put them and they require a lot of investment, they do however return a lot of VP value.
There are two phases to the game, the canal phase and the rail phase and scoring occurs at the end of each for every industry you own on the board that has been ‘flipped’ (used) as well as for canals or rails that you have built, which score VPs relative to the industries they connect to.
After the canal phase, all canal links and any level 1 industries are discarded so it can pay to get to your level 2 industries early so that they will score in both phases.
Getting your industries flipped is the aim of the game to earn their VP’s at the scoring phase and also increase your income which are usually inverse to the VP generation, you flip your industries by selling your cotton, having cotton sold to your ports, using up your supply of coal/iron and just building the ship is enough for it to be worthy of VPs. You rarely get time to dabble in everything so you have to watch the pace of the game and fill or create demand appropriately in an interlinked economy and map while ensuring you get to do what you planned to do before anyone else stops you.
So to the game, Philip and Scott got off to an early lead with Cotton Mills, Philip with a couple of level 1’s while Scott took out some loans and had a level 1 and level 2 mill before selling. Philip gaining the best bonus from the distant market for getting there first, there was a slight issue with the rules, Philip and Keith didn’t believe Scott that the distant market bonus was for income as it seemed too high, they thought it should be a cash bonus instead, a quick check with Russ deemed it a cash bonus which we went with (however, I have since confirmed it is an income increase so Philip was slightly disadvantaged by it). Keith started up business in the West and with a little help from Philip they got to an early start with some cotton selling/port flipping collaboration. Scott continued to expand over in the East.
The map is a bit more suited to four players so it was fairly open for us at the start and no-one seemed to have much trouble building what they wanted in the canal phase. Despite Keith being the first to develop towards shipbuilding, he was undercut by Scott who quickly followed development and took the only spot on the board available.
With the rail phase fast approaching, everyone started building some coal mines ready for building rails which use a lot of them.
After the Canal phase scoring, Scott was slightly in the lead with his high VP ship and the most level 2 industries on the board, already setting himself up for the next scoring phase. With higher incomes and lots of newly opened spaces, the rails were quickly built in important places and the map became a lot tighter and towards the end we had filled most of the spaces with only a few peripheral areas ignored.
Scott continued the ship building getting both level 2’s on the board and with a coal shortage managed to overbuild one of Keith’s coal mines (who looked slightly in the lead over Philip at the time), it almost came back to bite Scott but Keith unfortunately didn’t have the right cards to get revenge on the last turn. Philip made good use of restocking the resources and could be found making many a profit from it and was a long way up the income track at the end, but sadly sat with a pile of un-invested money in front of him at the end which converts very badly into VPs. Keith was kind of the odd-job man who went around Lancashire filling in gaps in the market but with quite a variety of industries didn’t seem to get to the real high scoring Level 3’s and 4’s, possibly some more loans would have done the trick.
A fun game had by all and the final scores were:
Scott 188; Keith 142; Philip 134

Now we all know how to play (well mostly anyway), let’s see how it fares for the rest of the month.

Suspecting that Brass could be ‘a long one’, Jon, Tonio and Paul decided to go for something supposedly shorter –

Settlers of Catan
After delving into Tonio’s multiple expansion boxes, it was decided to just add the Cities and Knights expansion to the base game. This does add a certain degree of complexity to the game, but with Tonio and Paul both having played with this expansion before, there did not appear to be any forseeable problems.
The map was drawn randomly, and immediately threw up some interesting formations of tiles. 3 wheat tiles were isolated on one coast with fairly poor numbers on them. On the opposite coast, wood and sheep were also clumped together. Jon took his initial placements around favourable ore and brick tiles, which were also within reaching distance of a 2:1 ore harbour (which proved to be not as useful as anticipated). Tonio decided to set up camp in the middle of a wood, whilst Paul hedged his bets in the centre of the board.
Tonio had been singing the praises of collecting many Knights before the start of the game, and was quick to get going with this strategy. Jon quickly upgraded his settlement so that he now had 2 cities surrounding his ore mine. This resulted in a surplus of coins (which he used to build up to a cathedral), but not a huge amount of ore, negating the perceived benefits of building to the 2:1 ore harbour.
Barbarians visited twice in quick succession - the first time they were defeated and Tonio was crowned ‘Defender of Catan’, but the speed of the second advance took everyone by surprise, and it was only Jon who had any active Knights to try to repel the invaders. Consequently, Tonio and Paul both had cities sacked and reduced to mere settlements.
Robbers came and went – Tonio being the first to target his opponents, but in retaliation, his wheat-fields were soon to also feel the thieving fingers of the black pawn. This further induced the famine of wheat in the game, and slowed up the production of settlements and cities.
By this time, Paul had built a large road across the middle of the island, which left Jon with little room to efficiently expand, but Tonio had the run of the other half. Unfortunately, Tonio did not have the resources for much expansion of his own.
As the game went on, Progress cards were earned, which resulted in the loss of resources and roads, and in Tonio’s case, 2 Strong Knights (he had warned the other players to make sure that they had a ‘basic’ knight on the board at all times to avoid this kind of loss…..)
And so the game went on, and on, and on…….. Paul built the longest road, and Jon built a city wall and a metropolis to protect a city and gain him 2 more points. Tonio had the merchant and was gradually building more cities.
It then got to the stage where Jon was a couple of points from victory and, understandably, the other players stopped trading and started targetting him. However, taking one person out of the trade cycle slowed Tonio and Paul’s development too, so everyone was relying more heavily on progress cards to achieve anything.
Jon finally hauled himself over the finish line by stealing one of Tonio’s Knights, building a final settlement, and then became ‘Defender of Catan’ on the next turn when the Barbarians (who appeared to have been having an off-shore Sabbatical) eventually arrived again.
Phew! That was nearly 3 hours (+ rules explanation) of trading, fighting and building in Catan. Verdict? Very enjoyable (except for the last hour) but far too long for what it is. I’m not sure that Cities and Knights adds enough extra ways to obtain victory points, to counteract the amount of ‘other stuff’ that it bolts on to the basic system, but I’ll leave that kind of analysis for another time……….
Jon 13; Tonio 11; Paul 9

And now for Brass mark II -

Brass (thanks to Russ for this one)
Finally a game of the month that I actually wanted to play! I arrived with one of 3 or 4 copies of Brass that were brought last Wednesday, and while I stuffed my face Scott explained the rules to the two groups planning on playing (with my interjection that iron was ‘magic’). Barrie and Gareth hadn’t played before and I’d played 4 or 5 times, all two players but one, so was interested as to how the 3 player game panned out.
The Canal phase started with much development from me with Barrie taking the opportunity to restock the iron track as a source of income and Gareth building a nice network of canals. None of us bothered much with building a nice income, taking plenty of loans to keep ourselves solvent. I’d already decided to try a mill-light strategy which I’d never done before, though I couldn’t get over some of my usual pre-conceptions (including my unnatural love of Bolton, which even if I don’t get the cards I head round there...) despite not getting the right cards for them.
The end of the canal phase loomed and I’d built the only port which I’d flipped, I thought Gareth had really messed up Barrie on the Distant Market, but we pulled both +0s and a couple of +1s meaning that there were 6 or 7 successful sales to the market! At the end of the Canal phase Gareth was winning with Barrie second and me last, though Gareth had built loads of level 1 industries which then disappeared.
I started the rail phase with the traditional 4 railway build flipping both of my coal mines on the board and catapulting my income into something decent (though I never caught up with Gareth). I managed to block out the northwest corner and crucially build both level 2 shipyards (though having to use a double card play for both meant that I couldn’t pick up as many points for rail as I might have hoped).
I had more money spare than I’ve ever had in Brass and Gareth was always flush, but Barrie ran out of money meaning he essentially missed out on his last two turns (I had remembered to remind everyone of their last chance to take a loan for once!)
Things ended up pretty close. I’d taken the opportunity to build a level 4 iron foundry over Gareth’s level 3 when the board was empty of iron which had clinched me the game.
Russ 163; Gareth 159; Barrie 141

I really enjoyed the game with 3; I found it interesting that the exact cards you get seem to be more important than in the 2 player as there’s a bigger area to build in and a bigger card pool. This means you are less likely to be able to pre-determine your strategy as I tried to do and as I normally do in a two player game. I can imagine the 4 player game is really crowded and would be very keen to give it a go.
I think everyone had a good time, though it was a shame Barrie managed to run out of money for his last two turns as he’d likely have been able to make 20 or so points from railways bringing the scores even closer.

With Dan awaking from his nightmare of coming to games night and everyone was playing long Euro’s without him, he yawned and brushed his eyes before joining the first Brass table for a game of -

Sneaks and Snitches (thanks again Scott)
Scott had initially suggested something light like Pinguin Party but if Dan was only going to get to play one game tonight, it wasn’t going to involve penguins!
Foolishly, Scott wanted to play this game again despite his inate ability to try and steal from where the other players are stealing from or where the police are waiting for him, for all but one turn in the game, this would be true, an even worse record than last time.
Keith was unfortunately on the same wavelength as Scott and was often found trying to foil the same treasure as Scott or would be the one to catch him, but he did pick up some good stuff of his own as well as stopping Scott, some sort of win-win situation.
Philip was the master of switching his gems and trying to capitalise on the blues but such focus on one colour didn’t do him too many favours by the end, especially when Keith had the last chance to switch stuff around and poor Philip was the obvious target.
Dan tried to go for all the easy VP’s and simultaneously stop others from getting them, this gave him a slight edge but nothing compared to Keith’s dominance:
Keith 11; Dan 7; Philip 6; Scott 1! (I think I got that for spelling my name correctly or something)

And there was still time for one more game -

Race for the Galaxy (thanks for this one Scott)
In a bizarre turn of events, Dan admitted he knew how to play Race for the Galaxy and that he enjoyed it, so now there were three of us in IBG. Keith was off home and so that left the three of us. Dan hadn’t played with the latest expansion so he was given a very quick introduction and thrown straight in to the game with everyone playing quite fast. Despite Dan’s cries of “slow down” he was often the one ready first so we liked his quick thinking.
Scott’s early prestige lead kept him above water in VP’s and cards, while leeching off of Philips production a few times to get plenty of cards to fuel such luxury items as Death Stars.
The game was all a bit of a blur and Scott reigned supreme (again!) while Dan just beat Philip by a measly point. It wasn’t looking like a good night for Philip’s scoring either. Scott as ever is a bit hit and miss (in scoring you understand).
Scott 65; Dan 46; Philip 45

And with everyone done for the night, the packing away commenced and Scott sat there waiting for another game. "Where’s everybody going?" "It's 11.20pm - home time Scott, you can’t stay here all night." Time really does fly when you’re having fun.....

And so an unusual night at IBG had drawn to a close. Next week, Brass is sure to make another appearance, but hopefully so will a few other games! See you then!