Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Simpler times at IBG............

Players: Jim, Keith, Gareth, Ian, James I, Jon, Emma, Scott, Philip, James II, Alex, Tonio, Paul, Andy

14 IBG’ers congregated in the Riverview Room tonight, including a welcome rare appearance from Jim, who I believe took advantage of some annual leave to grace us with his presence. We also welcomed newcomer Andy for his first (and hopefully not last) appearance at IBG.

As well as the usual mix of Euro, dice, card, and of course, hidden identity games, the presence of boardgame-virgin Andy also allowed us to bring out some classic ‘gateway’ games that had hitherto not made contact with the green baize at IBG. A joyful reminder that sometimes the old simple ones are the best. Just look at Barrie....

First up was a Chinese (but thankfully language-independent) version of -

Felix the Cat in the Sack (thanks James)
Felix - the cat in the sack, or in this case Felix – 北方/官話 as James had brought along some dodgy looking Chinese version while protesting it was a legit release and not a copy… (it is… honest !)
Scott (as usual the only person who had previously played this) made short work of the rules explanation… a little too short for Jim perhaps who resigned himself to the ‘lets just start and I’ll work it out eventually’ approach…  and so James, Emma, Scott and Jim started bidding for some animals stuffed in a sack. (Incidentally, there’s no truth to the rumour that the English edition was going to be called ‘Felix - Cat in a Wheelie Bin.’)
Each round players place a face down card each into ‘the sack’. Initially only one card is turned up and then Players bid a la For Sale for the pot. At any stage a player can pass for a small cash reward and the remaining players then get to see another card and carry on bidding. Last person left gets all the cards in the sack. However some cards are good, some bad, so staying in could be a bad move. It’s a great little filler this with some tension, bluffing, and lots of opportunity for groans and woohoo’s as the final value of a sack is revealed to the highest bidder.
The first few hands went to Scott and James, James’ lucking out in the first hand being last and so the only player to know the full value of the cards he picked up. However, Jim realised that James had spent most of his money in this move was able to cut James out of the next 3-4 rounds by outbidding what meagre money he had left. 
Oh, had I already mentioned that money in this game is called ‘mice’. A touch that Emma especially liked to the extent that she asked why we were playing with tiddlywinks for money instead of little mice… the ones from Mouse Trap would be an idea! 
Scott got landed with a few negative hands, and Jim finally worked out how to play the game and picked up a few. Emma seemed more intent on collecting tiddlywinks. James was basically living off his early haul but eventually managed to rake once again in the latter stages and ran away with the game. Scott pipped Jim into 2nd place while Emma came last but with the largest amount of mice… which for her was a kind of victory in itself...
James 57; Scott 35; Jim 31; Emma 27

It didn’t take long to bring out the current blue-eyed boy of IBG –

The Resistance
This was at the beginning of the evening and my memory has already failed me as to what exactly occurred, but the salient points are:
It was new to Emma. Jon unfortunately picked 2 spies to go with him on the first mission. It was all downhill from there. The spies won 3-0. Even when the spies revealed themselves, Jon still appeared unable to work out who was who…
James I, Alex, Philip – spies won; Jon, Gareth, Emma, James II - lost

With Jim and Scott starting to set up their new favourite game, they tempted the rest of the group and Paul and Ian eventually wandered over to join them in -

Egizia (thanks Scott for this report)
The rules were taught in a sort of double-act fashion and I’m sure this is what Ian and Paul would say confused them or maybe they’d just been working too hard that day - the rules are fairly simple but a little unintuitive in places.
The game looks like your typical euro set-up, you have ships which select your actions along with the Nile. There are cards with abilities on them to collect, such as food and stone production, spaces to increase your workforce and building areas for the Sphinx/Obelisk and Graves/Pyramid and Monument.
The trick is that as you take your actions along the Nile, you have to place your each subsequent ship further along the Nile as you cannot turn back upstream. This creates quite a tension between the players to balance whether to jump ahead to get a card you need and miss other spaces you like or hold back and let someone else jump ahead instead and pick up the options further back. There is already quite a balance to fight in increasing your workforce (to build more), to produce enough stone to build what you want and enough food to feed your workforce.
The buildings primarily involve placing one or more of your stones on the buildings and spending a workforce team (you have three different teams to manage plus a joker that can be added as well) that is high enough to build them all and that same amount of stone, you then score that many VP’s as well. The trick in the building area is the sphinx which isn’t a building as such, it is a collection of VP scoring cards that convey a lot of benefits to building the other buildings, the more you build at the Sphinx, the more cards you get to look at and secretly keep one to score at the end of the game. Knowing the cards and using them wisely is a big part of the strategy which Jim always likes to point out.
You play five rounds (five times down the Nile), with turn order determined in reverse VP order so going out in the lead early can lower your options down the Nile next turn.
There is a learning curve and experienced players usually have the edge; so Jim and Scott were left to duke it out while Paul and Ian got the hang of the game.
The danger of playing this game five times in the space of three nights is that my memory decides to ignore keeping any sort of discernible track of what happened in which game. Suffice it say, Jim frequently jumps out ahead and stops Scott from getting something he needs, be it food or stones. He’ll also collect as many special cards as possible, freely jumping ahead and making it work every time. Scott will happily let Jim jump ahead and pick up the options left behind which always feel like they should work but they don’t always cut the mustard.
New players will fumble around trying to spend more than one workforce at a time, Paul especially, “So currently I have 8 workforce and 8 stone so I could build….”, “Actually no, you have a 1, two 2’s and a 3 joker, you can spend at most five by combining the 2 with your joker”, “Oh Really?! I’m sure you did mention that before, it sounds familiar”, “That’s because we’ve told you every round........”
There will also come a point when they try to build something useful on one of the Sphinx cards that they might not be aware of (thus gifting points to someone else). Scott or Jim will be quick to point out the dangers and risk giving points to their competitor (if they have the card and are currently losing, they’ll probably stay quiet and complain about the poor misfortune of their win later.)
By the end of game 1, Jim had been declared champion because IBG hadn’t seen him for a while and we were being particularly nice:
Jim 99; Scott 96; Ian 81; Paul 64

5 IBG'ers had settled down to the first of the 'gateway games', but a sudden appearance by newcomer Andy (10 minutes later and he would have been stuffed...) meant that they instead split into two 3's, with Tonio, Gareth and Emma remaining with -

Ticket to Ride (thanks Tonio)
Being a busy teacher (don’t anybody dare mention the 2 weeks he’s about to have off for Easter…) Tonio decided to produce a contemporaneous report, which is transcribed here in all its glory:
Gareth and Tonio stitched Emma up. Gareth was a jammy @*%!$!* and got two high-scoring cards on the same @&%!$£* route. He also got the longest route by sitting on Emma’s train. Tonio won the inaugural ‘most scenic route’ award, and would have won the game if this had come with any associated points (which it didn’t….)
Gareth 148; Tonio 116; Emma 79

Meanwhile, Jon and Keith had inducted Andy into the wonderful world of boardgaming with a classic -

Carcassonne (thanks Keith for this one)
Carcassonne is over ten years old now, but it remains an excellent starter game, particularly for three players. Three makes for interesting dynamics, with large cities and the farmers being hotly contested while monasteries and roads make slow steady progress. Large cities typically need two players to complete them because a single player is unlikely to draw enough finishing tiles with two people trying to stop him. The third player then has two options - to join the city, and thereby stop further building, or to hinder the builders as much as possible without wasting his own meeples.
This game was also played with the Inns and Cathedrals expansion, which doesn't particularly add to gamelength or complexity, but does add a little variety to the scoring.
This game followed the usual pattern with one huge city (Mega-Village One) being built. Keith and Jon competed for ownership at first, then pushed ahead with building while Andy tried to stop them. Despite Andy adding a couple of cathedrals, they managed to complete the walls and grab a 60 point lead. With Mega-Village One complete Keith and Jon started battling again, this time over the farmers. Things were looking good for Jon until the final turn when Keith picked up a crucial tile to link in one final farmer and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
This game was a rather unequal as both Keith and Jon had played Carcassonne before whilst Andy was new to the game.
Keith 153; Jon 143; Andy 70

James had been itching to get this one back on the table again for a number of weeks, if only to try out his 'print and play' expansions -

Kingsburg (thanks Philip for this write-up)
I had played the original version before but not the expansions, James I (the game owner) had played the original mostly but some expansions, and we had 2 new players, James II and Alex.
We played with the deterministic combat, the event cards for each year, and the expanded buildings sheet. The event cards continually poured extra resources into the game- an extra White die for everyone in turn 1, bonus resources on specific spaces in turn 3 or 4, extra stone for everyone (on a roll of 4+ each season) in turn 3 or 4, and the ability for all players to exchange one good for one of a different type each season in turn 5. The exception was turn 2, where we all got to reserve a space.
The expanded buildings sheet was mainly used by me and Alex. I used the bottom row to get to recruiting centre (+2 tokens can be used as goods), while Alex used the top row, generating gold through his Sawmill and Quarry.
The deterministic combat seemed to make it easy to defeat the invaders. All of us won or drew all the combats except Alex in turn 4, which was disastrous for him as the invaders burned down his Goldsmith, crippling his strategy. The points for chits left at the end didn’t make much difference.
The pattern throughout the game was for the experienced players to roll high and the less experienced players to roll low. Both new players invested heavily in soldiers during the early turns, which held them back on the buildings tracks. Experienced James and I both managed to crank out one building a season for most of the game -  although 'experienced James' fell one building behind in turn 4 or 5. The two new players built much more slowly, between one and two buildings a year.
Helped by the flood of extra resource from event cards and the recruiting centre’s ability, I was able to manage a resource-heavy building pattern of: Inn, Improvised Defences, Recruiting Centre; Market, Guard Tower, Blacksmith; Farm, Barracks, Wizards Guild; Merchant Guild, Statue, Chapel; Church, Cathedral, Training Camp. Experienced James built in a similar way, but without using the bottom track or building Farms (instead getting extra military vis the Palisade track)- he therefore reached Cathedral ahead of me. New James got as far as the Church, while Alex only managed the Chapel, both with a few other buildings in columns I and II.
I won, followed by experienced James, new James and Alex. An enjoyable game for me, though perhaps less so for the two new players!
Philip 55; James I 45; James II 27; Alex 14

(Moments after writing the above session report I realised that I had made a serious rules error. The Recruiting centre allows you to spend +2 tokens as resources in phase 7 . I failed to read the phrase in italics, and so was happpily spending +2 tokens as resources in all phases.
The actual wording makes a lot more sense - you can use the +2 tokens to buy soldiers, that is why it is called the Recruiting centre. Using +2 tokens as any resource for buildings is just a little bit broken, which is why the real rules don't allow it!
So my victory was in fact built on a false premise, making James I the real winner...)

In a rare moment of unity, 3 tables finished at the same time, allowing a little bit of musical chairs -

Lords of Vegas (thanks again Tonio)
Being a busy teacher (don’t anybody dare mention the 6 weeks he’s going to have off in the summer…) Tonio decided to produce a contemporaneous report (again), which is transcribed here in all its glory:
This was Keith’s first game. Paul gambled too much on re-rolls. Keith and Paul did not co-operate enough as Tonio was allowed to grow in the ‘C’ block and his early lead was unassailable.
Keith’s first impressions: “Nice game but a lot of time doing the same thing (maybe you should have done something different then…) By the end, we had lots of money, but very limited options as all the tiles had run out.”
Tonio 49; Keith 32; Paul 23

Looking for another game which wouldn’t cause Andy to run screaming out the door, Ian made the welcome suggestion of –

Emma had apparently been persuaded that Ra was preferable to Egizia or Lords of Vegas, and joined Jon, Ian and Andy for this auction-based classic. Jon took on the role of rules-explainer, which does take a little time, but is worth it in terms of giving newbies a reasonable game experience.
Once the game began, Andy seemed to have got a very good handle on what to do, which is always gratifying for the ‘rules-guy’! Ian started strongly, by picking up a 7-tile rack which included a number of monuments. Andy also got himself into the game with some monuments and Nile tiles, whilst Emma began with a good haul of Pharaohs. Jon however, had a mare of a first Epoch, gathering only a handful of tiles from his one successful bid. The Ra tiles appeared in quick succession to end the Epoch before he could effectively use either of his remaining sun tokens, and he finished with a neutral score.
Ian had scored well courtesy of some Niles, and Emma, unsurprisingly had the most Pharaohs. Ian’s collection of monuments had grown to such an extent that he had amazingly collected a complete set of 8 mid-way through the second Epoch. With these points in the bag, he was able to focus on other ways to increase his score.
2 strange things happened in the second Epoch – firstly, all the Flood tiles seemed to have dried up (ahem….), and secondly, many of the disaster tiles came out in the same rack. Emma was suffering from the lack of irrigation, and Jon was catching her up in the Pharaoh department. Andy was doing a good job of keeping his points ticking along, and during the final round completed several sets of 3 identical monuments.
When the final scores were totted up (quite a challenge due to Ra’s bizarre VP tokens), Ian had scored a mammoth 30 points from monuments alone, and took a comfortable victory. Andy had proved to be a quick learner and took a well-deserved second place, whilst Jon’s collection of Pharaohs had caused the wheels to come off Emma’s one-trick-pony-cart….
Ian 54; Andy 43; Jon 35; Emma 25

Meanwhile, another table was also ensconced in the land of the pyramids -

Egizia (thanks again Scott for this one)
Without much delay, Jim and Scott set-up for a second game while Ian and Paul mysteriously vanished, but then in a puff of smoke Gareth appear and granted us three wishes. Jim wasted them all on asking Gareth to play Egizia with him before Scott could utter the word "Ferrari".
The double act taught Gareth too, and he seemed to grasp it well. Anyway, he tends to be a good sport (now) about not getting the rules understood first time round - I wonder why that could be....?!
This time Scott got himself a win and forced Jim to ready the duelling pistols for tomorrow at dawn:
Scott 112; Jim 110; Gareth 84

It was getting towards the end of the evening, and since Jim is a Resistance-hater, we had to find something else to play. Emma was easily persuaded into a game, along with Philip, of -

Lexio (thanks again to Scott)
Scott’s tradition with the game is not good and he proclaimed that he’d never won before - that may or may not be true but he has certainly lost a fair number of them quite badly. Could today be any better? Well yes it could actually!
In a first round spectacular, Scott had two sets of five and a pair along with a couple of other tiles that were played early on, leaving him to play out his hand in record time before any dust could settle. Jim and Philip were particularly hit due to still having a 2 or in Philip’s case a pair of 2’s giving Scott the windfall he had been dreaming of.
The next four rounds were all a bit closer and everyone got rid of their 2’s as quickly as possible when someone was looking low, except Philip who would just play the pair of 2’s he seemed to draw every round quite early.
Scott doesn’t need to play ever again now to save tarnishing his record:
Scott - over 200; Emma and Philip – around the starting hand of 150; Jim – less than 100 (poor Jim...)

There was also just time for a second outing of -

Felix the Cat in the Sack (thanks again James)
This time Alex, James II and Phil joined James I in a  game while waiting for others to finish up so that the traditional game of The Resistance could be started... James I ran over the rules and the battle to collect fluffy cats began anew.
This time things didn’t go quite as smoothly for me. My first sack was all negative and the 2nd brought my total to about -40. It was around this stage that I realised I might not be winning this one. In the meantime t’other James, Alex and Phil all battled tooth and claw making the most of the fact that after 3 rounds James had already taken most of the negative cats from the round.
Eventually fangs were put away and points were tallied. James (me) managed to drag himself back into a positive score (+7) by the end with the money I’d been picking up, but was still way off the pace. Anyone else could’ve won this, but at the end James (not me) managed to clinch with a score of 57 to Phil’s 54 and Alex’s 49…  Good game, but I have a feeling we were playing a rule wrong (well I would say that wouldn’t I…)… hmmm…
James II 57; Philip 54; Alex 49; James 7

And to round off the evening (sans Jim) –

The Resistance
Andy was persuaded to stay and was consequently inducted into the mysteries of The Resistance.
Gareth was the first mission leader, and not only took James I on the first mission, but also gave him a plot card. Very suspicious. However, the mission passed and the leader’s mantle passed to Jon.
Despite the success of the first mission, Jon trusted neither Gareth nor James I (based on past experience…), so picked James II and Alex to go on the second mission. A single failure-card doomed it.
After James II’s choices had been rejected, James I then used his plot card to make Alex play his mission card face-up for the 3rd mission – which revealed him as the first spy. 2-1 to the spies and still 2 undercover agents at work.
However, the 4th mission required both spies to ‘fail’ it, so after a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, a cohort was selected by Andy that proved good and upright. At this point, Andy took a peek at Ian’s identity card (using a plot card that Ian had just given him), and declared him to be ‘good’. This was a little suspicious in and of itself, but when Ian then inexplicably chose not to take himself on the final and vital mission, his cover was blown (and Andy’s with it) and the Resistance were able to identify the 4 good guys to save the day.

Things we learned:
  • Alex is always a spy;
  • Gareth and James I can occasionally be trusted after all;
  • 11pm is too late to play this game if you don’t want your brain to suffer a complete meltdown.
Gareth, James I, Jon, James II – Resistance won; Alex, Andy, Ian – spies lost

And that was it for another highly enjoyable night at the LA. Good to see that we’re still attracting new faces to join us at IBG, and even better that some of them actually choose to come back again!

See you all next week……

1 comment:

  1. Legit expansions for Kingsburg... check the box ! :) With the chinese version of Felix in play too I'm trying to avoid getting a reputation !