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!

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