Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Gambling, theft, bribery,'s just not cricket....(but it is IBG....)

Players: James, Ian, Jon, Gareth, Johan, Scott, Keith, John, Daniel, Paul, Tonio, Philip, Noel, David, James II

15 IBG’ers turned up at the pub this week, including newcomers David and James, who were trying us out rather than their usual Ealing group. James had the bad manners to have the same name as a current IBG’er, so he will be hereafter known as James II. (Let’s hope that his tenure at IBG is slightly longer than his Royal counterpart's reign…)

Tonight was not a night for the faint-hearted, as we did not play nice, caring-sharing, morally upstanding games. Our selection this evening included acts of poisoning, gambling, corruption, duelling, theft, extortion, blackmail, bribery and downright lying. ‘Twas great fun though……

Top of the pile tonight, a new offering courtesy of James' recent Paris trip -

Sobek (thanks James for the report)
Hey ho, a new starter game, and let’s be honest... anything to avoid another game of Penguin Party...! Scott, Ian and James as early arrivals all decided to give it a go, but due to the staggering of the respective entrances it meant that James had just finished explaining the rules to Scott for a 2 player game when he had to do it all again for Ian... d’oh...
Basically Sobek is a snazzy version of rummy. Players select cards from a 9 card market, but are penalised if they choose not to take the first card in the row by adding all skipped cards to their ‘corruption’ pile. Cards can be resources to collect, or character cards with rule breakers. Sets of 3 or more resources can be laid down for scoring at the end of each round and 3 rounds makes the game... oh and the player with the most corruption cards is penalised. All in all, nothing too complicated, but a nice little 20-30 minute filler once you know the makeup of the character cards. And not a penguin in sight.
So, despite the theme of buying and selling at a market I safely thought we were far enough away from uber-economics wizzo Scott’s comfort zone that the playing field was even...I thought wrong...
The first round was as competitive as a game of Agricola between Phil and a chimpanzee. Scott scored more in one set of 6 cards on the table than Ian and my full hands combined... It’s possible he did this while also solving Fermat’s Last Theorem and devising a cure for cancer, but I can’t be sure. The 2nd round we were ready though and provided tougher competition as Scott only managed to win the round whilst solving the world’s economic problems and mentally completing Schubert’s ‘Unfinished Symphony’.
At this stage I believe Scott offered to sit out the last round and see if we could assail his lead... an offer that was turned down, not out of having any hopes of us catching and winning but more that he should be forced to sit through the last round as well as punishment for doing so well.
Things were closer this time round, but I think Scott was distracted by the SMS’s he was receiving from Barack Obama to thank him for bringing peace to the Middle East. At the end I think James managed to at least tie Scott’s total score from 2 rounds, while Ian, no doubt distracted by making plans for how to wreak revenge at a later date in another game, lagged a little behind.
Scott 117; James 88; Ian 68...

So... next time... anyone up for penguins ?

Whilst waiting for more gamers to turn up, Gareth grabbed Jon and Keith and a copy of –

This was Jon’s Playroom Entertainment version which contains the very nice but completely superfluous cauldrons.
Keith was forced to take the first potions (blue) with Jon having to follow suit shortly after. Gareth was smugly adding cards to the cauldrons each round, making the totals reach 13 and causing Jon or Keith to pick up. However, this just allowed Jon and Keith to accumulate the most in 2 colours (which would not count at the end of the game), and with the endgame approaching, Gareth had run out of low cards and was obliged to pick up multiple potions, including a fair amount of poison.
“We’re not going to bother recording the scores are we?” he implored.
Hell, yes……
Keith 4; Jon 8; Gareth 16

It was time to pick the ‘main courses’, and Jon drummed up support for one of his recent acquisitions –

This is essentially a blind-bidding / area control game, where players are simultaneously and secretly bidding to influence various people within the town who grant a variety of priviliges. Many of these priviliges include adding influence to one of the 7 buildings on the board – and at the end of the game, whoever has the most influence in each building earns a substantial amount of support (VP’s!)
One of the interesting mechanisms is that all bids are lost, regardless if they are successful or not, and so the players can only use the bidding tokens that they have ‘won’ during the last round (although the bank will always top you up to a minimum of 5 gold). Bidding tokens come in 3 varieties – Force, Blackmail and Gold, with Force beating everything else, and Blackmail trumping Gold.
This leads to some interesting decisions – do you spread your bids thinly, in the hope of picking up a few cheap bargains, or do you focus all your tokens on 1 or 2 areas? Whatever you choose, whenever the bids are revealed there are invariably groans as players realise that their bids have cancelled each other out, whilst other areas have not been bid on at all.
James II started very strongly and was soon in a commanding lead in terms of influence in the buildings and points on the track. However, the wheels soon came off, and he found himself constantly being out-bid. Jon was dumping a number of cubes into the cathedral (which also earned 6 support each turn), whilst the Harbour was keenly contested between Ian and James I.
For several rounds, James had a very nice engine working, where he had 2 Force, which he used to gain 2 Blackmail, which he used to gain 2 Force again etc. However, this could not be sustained, and he soon found himself begging at the Bank’s door for his 5 gold agin.
The Spy and Apothecary were used to great effect in the later rounds, which allowed manipulation of the cubes already on the board. Jon had the choice of who to deny points to in the final round and tried to be diplomatic by choosing James I (to even out the scores as much as possible). James looked up with a curled lip and warned – “I won’t forget that…..” As it was still early in the evening, it was likely that James would have plenty of opportunities to make good his threat….
Anyway, thanks to some late-game cube manipulation, Jon came out victorious and wounded James came last.
Jon 150; James II 132; Ian 115; James I 86

This game is very easy to pick-up, plays in under an hour, has almost zero downtime, has quite a bit of interaction and elicits multiple groans and celebrations each turn. What’s not to like? (Except – don’t screw James over next time…)

Heavyweight-Euro of the evening was selected by Scott and crew -

Greed Inc (thanks to Scott for this report)
With John and Keith both getting a copy two years ago and not getting around to playing it, or very rarely playing it, they were excited at the prospect of getting a play in while Scott was happy to join in for the three of them to indulge in corporate shenanigans, syphoning off as much wealth as possible through blatant disregard of the running of your companies.
The game’s structure is fairly simple, there is a stock market of goods prices which will rise and fall throughout the game within particular boundaries. Each player starts off with a CEO in one company and a hand of assets to sell in to their own, or other players companies. These assets will either be raw goods producers like sand and land or they will convert goods, such as housing from sand and land. It’s pretty difficult to get one company everything it needs to be self-sufficient so players are allowed to trade resources around for whatever price can be agreed - this makes owning two or more companies in harmony very beneficial.
At the start of each round everyone selects one of their assets to sell and then a secret bid (from the companies) is made to purchase one. The highest paying bid gets first choice and whichever player owned the asset gets a seat in that company structure, filling up the lucrative board positions first before filling up empty spaces below ready to take-over the company once the current board is all, or in part, fired. And they will get fired because that’s the only way to get money back in your personal supply, accepting blame and getting a payoff is what makes the corporate world go round, and no sooner are you kicked out of one company do you move along to the next and do the same things all over again.
Money however is worthless at the end, you need to fritter it away on extravagant purchases in an auction against the other players, the purchases getting increasingly better each round but the minimum bid is always the previous winning bid so it can quickly escalate and only those who are continuously earning the big bucks will prevail.
All in all, it sounds quite extravagant but your options are pretty simple and there are a particular number of rounds before all of the assets have been distributed and sold which triggers the end of the game.
We all started the game cautiously and in the first round there were two producers of land and one converter to make houses but with no sand around, it was fairly useless. Still, Scott thought it would be a good investment or at least he thought it was not as bad an investment as Keith and John and sat doing nothing for a round. With no money in people’s hands at the start, there is a slow process to build up those first companies and get payoffs and so for the next couple of rounds we did just that. There were some cross pollination for John and Scott’s company as they appeared in each other’s boardrooms, while Keith was mostly building up a personal empire, but costing him double to recruit more of his own staff.
Scott managed to get some houses built with the help of John and Keith taking it in turns to provide some sand to go with his land while Keith got some personal conversions going from land to cotton to microchips or something strange like that.
Soon it came the time to see how much money the companies had made for the round, and surprisingly John had opted not to do so favourably this year, prompting lots of flying accusations in the board room and payoffs aplenty. Scott got in on a small payout while John had pocketed enough to start buying up VPs but no-one yet had enough to start a new company, the old ones staying under the same leadership without the whole board being replaced.
Once the ball had started rolling it was difficult to stop. There were enough assets in companies now for them to start making some useful monies and soon multiple companies were being run and all of the profits diverted in to one at the expense of the other. Scott profited from John and Keith both having a continuous chain of companies that they controlled so they couldn’t bid on a new one, leaving Scott to start a new company each round while completely destroying or passing over ownership of another. This was creating a heavy revenue stream for Scott and it looked bad for the other executives who could only afford one luxury yacht instead of two, how would they survive?
Keith locked himself up in companies who were making plenty of money but avoiding a falling revenue which put Keith out of sync with John and Scott and left him with little enough money to bid with until near the end, where it was a bit too late to catch up with the now sky-high price of VPs. He did however manage to convince Scott to process some goods for him on the promise that Scott would get some payout but then quickly shifted it to a different company with which Scott (the target) could not get any. I believe Scott started a lawsuit but couldn’t be bothered to appear in court in the end and continued to enjoy some well earned R&R on his private island.
Scott 54; John 44; Keith 38

Main game #3 was selected by Paul -

Lords of Vegas (thanks to Paul for this one)
I picked up Lords of Vegas at Leisure Games recently on the back of several 'this is A LOT of fun' reviews on the web. After playing it once before bringing it along on Wednesday, I hope that I made a better job of the rules explanation the second time round (during the first play, one comment from a player after my stuttering run-through was 'well I haven't got a clue about the game, but I'm willing to give it a go...')
Thankfully the rules aren't ever going to be an issue as Lords of Vegas is extremely simple and even after explaining the rules in Greek, anyone would pick it up after just one turn.
The scene is 1941 Las Vegas, a time when the place was a desolate desert town, and the glimmering neon city of today was merely an idea in the head of a casino boss or two. Each player takes the role of just such a casino developer and as the years unfold, casinos are built, expanded, taken over, traded and remodelled, all with the aim of making big money. Oh, and there's some gambling too.
Let's get one thing straight - there are a lot of random elements in the game. But before too many hardcore gamers start rolling their eyes and bemoaning a lack of skill, does that mean that luck rules the day? Not necessarily. As befits a game set in the gambling capital of the world, it is all about playing the odds and there are a lot of strategic elements at play.
The theme is very strong throughout, as all of the mechanics are based on that most 'Vegas' of activities - taking a risk. The banknotes ditch the normal portraits of Abe Lincoln and George Washington in favour of pics of Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Elvis, whilst the board is based on the main street in Las Vegas, 'The Strip'. Overall the artwork and components do a great job at keeping that Vegas feeling whilst facilitating the gameplay.
Cards are drawn which have specific real estate lots on them, which will be later developed into casinos. The colour of the card dictates which casinos pay out, but players can always see how many cards are left of each type of casino and play the odds appropriately. All actions have a monetary cost, and therefore players must assess the best use of their money in order to maximise their chances.
When casinos pay out, all casino owners get cash, but only the boss of a paying out casino gets victory points which are based on the size of the casino, so ensuring that you are the boss is critical. The victory point track starts off going up in 'ones' but after eight points it goes up in 'twos' (from eight to ten to twelve...) meaning that single unit casinos aren't going to help after a certain point. The jump between spaces on the points track goes up every few squares, and therefore the bosses must ensure that they control the size of their casinos carefully, otherwise they'll waste points, or won't go anywhere.
This game played out fairly evenly for the first few spaces, then Dan started to jump into the lead as he'd managed to grow a couple of casinos quite quickly. This is probably down to some 'sharp negotiation' / 'a little ducking and diving'.
The players always have the option of having a flutter if they can use the cash, and most players in this game decided to gamble at Noel's. The age old maxim of the house always winning was not lost on Noel as he didn't lose one bet placed at his house and grinned as everyone seemed to throw their cash at him, although towards the end he also got tempted to try a flutter elsewhere and took a taste of his own medicine by handing over a fistful of 'vegas dollars' himself.
Gold casinos seemed to come up quickly at the start, so Paul got some good payouts, but then aqua (yes - in this game 'green' is officially known as 'aqua') and silver casinos were bought up heavily allowing some nice returns from Dan, David and Noel.
Noel sprawled his casinos quite a bit, and got unlucky on more than one occasion as his units were taken from him. Unlucky - but he did know the risk he was taking.
One nice feature of the game is that players can take as many actions as they like within their turn, and can do them in whatever order they like, providing they can stump up the cash. Another is that trading can take place at any time, between any two players, irrespective of who the current player is, keeping players involved throughout the game.
A possible downside is that towards the end the number of options start to get limited due to the lack of available casino tiles in the appropriate colours. Because of this the last few turns seemed less fun and it'd be interesting to see if this was a normal feature of the game, or if we just got unlucky.
The games largest casino grew to ten tiles, and the last few turns allowed each player to attempt to gain control of it. David pulled off a coup in the first attempt even though he only had one die against several from Dan and Noel, but it eventually went back to Noel who, after all, had put in most of the investment, so it kinda seemed fair.
The final payout is always for all of the casinos right on the strip, and so Paul managed to edge ahead of Dan as he had two of sufficient size to move on a couple of spaces.
I really enjoyed it and I believe all players had a lot of fun. I don't believe that the luck element is actually a drawback, but more of a feature of the game, however it'll be interesting to see if in future plays the endgame slows down quite as much as it did here.
Paul 49; Dan 40; David 32; Noel 26

Over at the 4th table was the current GOTM -

Carson City (thanks Johan for this summary)
Three veterans against one first timer. Guess who loses....
After an excellent explanation of the rules by Tonio, Johan was the first one to start. Tonio, Philip and Gareth started claiming cheap land to build on, whereas Johan was trying to start building a mine, but immediately got into trouble by Gareth who won the battle for the $4 mine. Tonio and Philip started to claim cheap land for future building and so the game went on.
As it was Johan's first time, it took around 3 rounds before the idea of winning and strategy set in, but never mind, gaming is not only about winning...right?! Right...
Anyway, Philip was gaining lots of money, but not so many points in the beginning. If memory serves me right, after the first three rounds almost everyone (apart from Tonio), did not have any victory points.
In the last round, Johan simply was trying to annoy everyone into battles (he knew he was losing....) of which he won only one, but that stopped Gareth gaining some valuable points!Tonio 41; Philip 36; Gareth 35; Johan 25

With James vetoing any bidding games (goodbye Ra and Medici), there was a concensus on the Revolution table for –

Dice Town
James II had not played before, and Ian needed a quick recap of the rules, so Jon obliged. James was as good as his word and stole cards from Jon as soon as he could. Ian went heavy on gold nuggets whilst Jon cornered the market in hard cash. Both James’s consequently found themselves broke at one point in the game, although James I managed to rob the bank shortly after.
With almost the final action of the game, Ian stole a General Store card from Jon which enabled him to take the Doc Badluck action. This one act swung the game from Jon to Ian, who proved to be the biggest, baddest cowboy in the whole of Isleworth…
Ian 31; Jon 27; James II 27; James I 13

With 20 minutes to kill (which was not enough time to play Ra), before the much-awaited return of The Resistance, Ian chose –

High Society
This was new to James II, and he started off with the rather strange strategy of buying nearly everything available, with seemingly money no object. The other players twice reminded him that the player with the least money at the end automatically lost, but it seemed to make no difference.
Jon opted to pick up the -5 tile, followed by a “x 2”, which gave him a mammoth minus score for most of the game. Ian and James I had both picked up a number of status symbols, but, as it often does, the game came down to the wire with bidding on the final tile. James I needed to bid high in order to have a chance of winning, but knew that this was likely to almost bankrupt himself. James II was already out (he had only had 1 biddding card in hand for a number of rounds), Ian thought that he didn’t have enough cash and Jon realised that he was already consigned to ‘the worst score ever’. James bid high, but when the remaining cash was revealed, he had indeed overspent, but by only a measly $3k. Meaning, that with only $4k left in hand, James II had won his maiden game. A very strange game indeed!
James II 16 ($4k); Ian 8; Jon -8; James I 23 ($1k)

Two other tables had also finished, and joined forces for a quick go at -

For Sale
David 53; Gareth 50; Tonio 45; Philip 40; Noel 39; Johan 35

And now it was time for the much-anticipated -

The Resistance
There were 14 IBG'ers keen to play this game, but fortunately Gareth had brought another copy so we were able to split into 2 groups of 7.
In the first group, Noel played a blinder in the first game as one of the spies, ably assisted by James and Paul. James' strategy was - "Point the finger at Jon at every opportunity" - which is probably fair enough...
In the second game, it truly went down to the wire, with the last choice on the last mission. David and Daniel had been sniffed out, but unfortunately for the good guys, Noel had once again used his Irish charm to pull the wool over everyone's eyes, and turned out to be the snake in the grass after all.
What we learned tonight:
- This game is a LOT of fun
- Jon can actually be trusted occasionally
- Noel cannot......

Game 1: Noel, James, Paul (spies) - won; Jon, James II, Daniel, David - lost
Game 2: Noel, Daniel, David (spies) - won; Jon, James I, James II, Paul - lost

Resistance II (thanks Scott again)
With so much fun last week, it looks like the Resistance effort will be taking over many a closing game at IBG for a fun packed 10 minutes where you immediately want to play another game straight away.
On table 1 we had a few newbies (Johan, John, Ian and Phil), joining the newbies who knew the rules after playing last week but none the wiser on strategy (Tonio, Gareth and Scott). The rules were quickly explained and cards were dealt.
Scott would now find himself in a precarious position, that of being a spy three times in a row (and by the third game really wanting to join the resistance as it’s a lot of pressure trying to stay concealed, especially when your poker face is tired).
Unfortunately in game 1, Scott, John and Ian all drew spy cards and were sitting right next to each other (there was also a permanent grin on Ian’s face which wasn’t going to help during a Spanish inquisition), this was looking dubious for the spies already. Johan managed to pick himself a perfect team straight away, followed by Phil picking the same two for the next mission and had sealed two rounds for the good guys with no spy in sight; this was looking rough for the next mission which had to have a spy. Scott, as leader, talked his way on to the mission but once it failed, his cover was blown (i.e. if Scott was good, why didn’t he pick the same team members again that just passed mission 2?) There was no amount of saving the day and with a requirement of needing two spies on mission 4, it was near on impossible to ever achieve.

Resistance 1 – Spies 0

Round 2 was a bit more prosperous for Scott as the now permanent spy, he had Gareth on the team, and Johan! A perfect spy if ever I saw one. However, the rest of the table was very smart and a quick-witted Philip was hard to pull the wool over. Tonio always looked across the table at Scott with suspicion and John and Ian, as the now official resistance members, were joining in the chat to oust the wolves spies.
The spies gave some good talk and used the well-known tactic of rushing leader decisions and talking nonsense to confuse the group - and it worked! Scott and Johan had delved deep into a mission and only Johan had sabotaged it, perfect! Scott then was up for leadership and needed to get two spies. He was already held in suspicion but needed two spies at this point for mission 4, so Gareth needed to go (picking Johan would be far too obvious) and with a bit of sweet talking, Tonio was convinced and the mission managed to go ahead. Once it failed, Gareth and Scott were both avoided, but Johan was still held in high regard and was sneaky enough to plant the last bomb in resistance HQ and get a win for the spies.

Resistance 1 – Spies 1

Oh no, Scott was a spy yet again and was feeling the pain of talking himself out of accusations all the time; but with a spectacular shuffle had also managed to pick the same team of spies, who also must have been feeling the pressure as they would not be trusted twice (Gareth is rarely trusted once). Gareth opened with a dangerous ploy, he took Tonio on the first date (sorry - mission...) and sabotaged it. Tonio now knew for sure that Gareth was a spy and he always comes across as so likeable and believable (especially when he’s jokingly insulting you), it got an early win for the spies though, could they keep it up?
The resistance was getting smarter and they were wise to deducing the suspects now, especially with the same team members, they were forming a bond. However, this was completely broken when Gareth managed to talk his way back in to the good books and alongside Johan they both revealed themselves as spies on a three person mission. It was down to Scott and with a cunning ploy to go on a four player mission to secure his innocence and then be picked again for the last four player mission where he could wreak havoc on the unsuspecting victims.
Despite Tonio, Ian and Philip seemingly being fooled, John being the true resistance member not going on the mission fought his corner and in some sort of reverse logic, when Gareth, Johan and John (plus someone who has been lost from the records) all voted against the first attempt of getting Scott to destroy the last missions, this somehow confirmed to the non-believers that John was in fact good and he managed to get on the mission instead. It was close and no-one was truly sure what was going to happen until the tension mounted card turning had finished, although Scott, Gareth and Johan knew they had lost much earlier.

Resistance 2 – Spies 1

Tune in next week for more resistance fun and if Philip gets his wish, someone may explain the actual theme behind the game.

Game 1: Tonio, Gareth, Johan, Philip (rebels) - won; Scott; John, Ian - lost
Game 2: Gareth, Scott, John (spies) - won; Tonio, Ian, Johan, Philip - lost
Game 3: Tonio, Philip, John, Ian (rebels) - won; Johan, Gareth, Scott - lost

It was then time for this great night of gaming to come to a close. Not the most edifying selection of games maybe, but still a fantastic way to spend a cold February evening.

It will still be cold (outside) and it will still be February next week, so why not come along and join us....

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