Wednesday, 27 April 2011

The week without a pithy and humourous title.....

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Players: Paul, James, Woody, Scott, Keith, Andy, Maynard, Tonio, Gareth, Ian, Vicky, Shirief

Relegated to downstairs in the conservatory with the normal folk, there was still plenty of room for gaming and not too many distractions (apart from a girl with a very annoying laugh....) It was a very welcome return to Maynard and Vicky after many weeks away from IBG, which helped bring the total up to a very respectable dozen.

Jon was again absent this week (instead preferring to wield an electric guitar at his church) so has relied upon the remaining IBG'ers to cobble together an account of this evening's proceedings. Which may be the reason why they are slightly lacking in quantity...

Egizia (thanks Paul)
Both James and Woody had played Egizia for the first time last week, with Woody being last all game only to carry out a barnstorming final scoring turn in order to swoop into first place. One of James' tactics from the get go seemed to stop that particular occurrence from repeating itself.
Paul had played once a few weeks ago and this was only Shirief's second time at IBG, let alone playing Egizia, although being from Cairo might have given him some slight clue as to what the game was all about.
Woody seemed to be content with sitting back as he had done previously, although as the game gradually progressed he seemed to be dropping out of the back door, being in negative points for at least the first two rounds. James was making sure he collected as many final round scoring cards as he could. Shirief was deep in contemplation. Paul was pretending to be in deep contemplation.
After round two, the order had established itself as Shirief in front, Paul in second, James pretty close to Paul in third and Woody, the rest of the players weren't sure that they'd seen Woody recently.
With more rounds gone, patterns were repeated, which didn't change the above order very much, but did mean that those players in first and last place were even further in front and behind. Shirief did lots of building whilst collecting scoring cards, Paul concentrated on pushing down the brick and victory point tracks while trying to build a bit too, James was still after more cards and on at least one round he mercilessly send the whole table into famine (although kindly didn't at another stage when he could have done - not sure where that left him on the karma scale, although that isn't measured in this game) and Woody was telling the other players that he'd left it too late for a momentous comeback, but none of them quite knew if they believed him or not.
At the end of the game, Woody was first to score and it transpired that he had indeed been very honest all game long, meaning that he stayed resoundingly in last place. James was next to score, which took him past Paul, but when Paul scored he then jumped into the lead. It was then up to Shirief to reclaim his leading position which he did quite easily having racked up loads of points during the game and then also loads more at the end, eventually lapping everyone apart from Paul. The losers were scratching around for some clich├ęd excuses such as 'beginner's luck' or 'homefield advantage' but actually had to concede that they were outplayed.
Shirief 115; Paul 83; James 62; Woody 57

Tichu (thanks Andy)
Having given their brains a pasting with a bout of Agricola, Scott, Keith, Maynard and Andy plumped for the card game Tichu. It's played in pairs and players try to win tricks and empty their hands as quickly as possible to score points for their team. The deck is similar to a normal pack of playing cards plus four special cards that each have a unique effect.
Scott teamed up with Keith, who said he wasn't very good at it, and Maynard partnered Andy, who were both new to it. Scott rattled through the rules with nary a pause for breath and play began with a a couple of practice hands.
These don't really warrant mentioning aside from the fact that Scott and Keith usually went out first and then it appeared as if there was some kind of rule dictating that anyone with the letters Y, D, N or A in their name must pass any tricks they won to their opponents and score no points.
When play began for real, Andy and Maynard still had rather puzzled looks on their faces and S&K won the first round without A&M troubling the scorers – 100 to nil. Keith's earlier claim of mediocre ability in this game wasn't proving entirely consistent with his play and after Scott went out first in the second and final round all things pointed to another whitewash when Maynard valiantly emptied his hand. However it turned out that Keith had a low single card left that he was unable to play and Andy was able to put down pairs of cards to just edge him out. This meant the team could finally keep some hard-earned tricks and thanks to the cards won by Maynard pride was restored with a 65 to 35 victory.
Final scores over the two rounds were 135 to 65 in favour of Scott and Keith, or 435 to 65 if anyone insists the practice rounds counted for anything.

Tikal
This was the first outing for Tikal as Game of the Month. It was played using the non-auction rules and it looks like the 3 gentlemen were not very gentlemanly to Vicky on her return...
Tonio 112; Gareth 108; Ian 103; Vicky 81
 
Apparently, there were also games of 6 Nimmt, Agricola and The Resistance, but with no scores or reports, you'll have to guess what happened....
 
Jon should be back next week, so hopefully he will be able to bully everyone else into revealing what happened in every game played.
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Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Deadly Sins, Wonders of the World, Dwarves, Itchy Years.....

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Players: James, Scott, Andy, Woody, Emma, Philip, Sam

With a ridiculous amount of Bank Holidays looming up, it was no surprise that numbers were down at IBG, with yours truly also being on the absent list (but instead enjoying lying on a beach in sunny Norfolk....) However, it was a welcome to newcomer Sam, and a welcome back to Tim (aka Woody) who is hoping to visit us a bit more often in the future, who helped to bring the numbers up to a cosy 7.


Anyway, here's a round-up of what went on during the evening.


Race for the Galaxy (thanks Scott)
While waiting for the last stragglers to turn up, Philip proffered his copy of RFTG for a quick three player game between Philip, Scott and his friend Sam who he’d dragged along to play some games as well. Sam had played before but not with many of the expansions, so a quick rules overview was given by Philip and we were off.
Unfortunately I made the mistake of giving the scores to Philip who was just about to jet off on holiday for two weeks; so the best of my memory puts Philip the winner with a strategy of getting a ton of prestige and some useful VP consumption, Scott came a valiant second with Sam trailing a little keeping up with learning the new cards as he went.

Parade (thanks Andy)
Early birds Scott, Emma, James and Andy settled on a game of Parade while waiting for the handful of other hardy souls to arrive. It's a card game with an Alice in Wonderland theme, for reasons that escape us all. If you'd like a handy explanation of the rules then see last week's blog.
Emma started very neatly and after several turns had picked up no cards, while Scott and Andy had a few each. James, on the other hand, insisted there would be some kind of bonus for collecting the most of all the colours so picked up furiously whenever opportunity knocked. There wasn't, and this strategy didn't turn out so well.
Andy regularly forgot to take a card after playing one, until Scott picked up ahead of him and declared, after looking at it, that he wasn't putting it back. Andy's memory improved dramatically after that.
In the end it was a comfortable victory for Scott, with just a handful of low scoring cards, and Andy and Emma in second and third. James the magpie lagged some way behind, but don't know if these strategies will work until you try them, eh?

Agricola (thanks again Scott)
Once we had everyone we expected to arrive, the big games came out, since Scott was the only person who actually brought any big games, those were the two that got split across the tables. However table two of James, Emma and Woody, who opted to play Egizia, didn’t know how to play, so Scott was recruited to teach them while Philip explained Agricola to Sam, with Andy raring to go with another outing of the farming game.
As is usual in this game, Philip plays as many cards and bonuses as he can, with the notable occupation of “the oldest occupation”, allowing anyone to pay Philip some food for a Family Growth action from round 5. The rest of us avoided this availability, partly to avoid the steep food cost and partly to keep our in-game wives happy; but Philip used it to great effect. He was a little late to the family growing but soon caught up and had 5 family members well before the end.
Sam got his food engine going early and starting plowing some fields and sowing some grain, with an early pasture and animals as well, this seemed like a good idea at the time until it came to growing his family and needing extra rooms which were a bit more difficult to fund with other areas of his farm improved so early.
Andy seemed to be off to a running start with extra rooms and family members getting their farm ready but in the intervening period they had struggled to find food to keep their energy levels up and had to go begging a little at one stage. They recovered by getting a plethora of Major improvements and racking up a big score in cards, much more than anyone else but by the end had ignored getting much played in the farm leaving 8 spaces still unused.
Scott went early hunting for grain and played a card to start multiplying it in the harvest even without planting it and continued his focus on getting the first extra family member. He then recruited a couple of boars, not just any old boars but truffle hunting boars so whenever he went searching for wood he’d also come back with 2 or 3 food as well. This quickly kept Scott fed as well as denying wood to many of the others for their fences.
The scores were a lot closer this time round but Scott remained victorious, unfortunately for Sam, the newbie is always at a disadvantage.
Scott 36; Philip 29; Andy 25 (looked very promising until all the negatives were counted up); Sam 14

There may be enough demand to keep Agricola ongoing - some sort of game of the year maybe...

The Boss (thanks for this one James)
If our other halves were around this would obviously be the shortest game ever, but as we had the night off the opportunity was there to take over several of the major cities in the USA without having to find excuses why we hadn't finished the washing up.
James, Emma and Andy all put on their worse Tony Soprano accents and after a few rules we got going. This is a great little bidding/partial knowledge based game, similar in that way to Felix, the Cat in the Sack, but there's more going on. This game lasted 4 rounds and despite James being the only person to have played before, Andy's lightning quick uptake on new games once again took him into the lead.
Emma seemed intent on owning Chicago each hand, Andy seemed to focus on 1 or 2 cities and regularly picked up a nice haul. James (it slowly became apparent) didn't seem have a strategy. As the last hand revealed itself (a nice aspect of the game is a hidden ending) Emma thought she might've snared victory but Andy's lead just held up. We're gonna have to stop inviting him soon if he keeps winning :)
Andy 16; Emma 15; James 13

Egizia (thanks again James)
So in an unusual turn of events we ended up with only 2 big box games on the table. Agricola was snared by the addicts so we were left with Scott's other game, Egizia. Luckily it turned out to be a great game and so Tim, Jim and Emma all enjoyed the experience. Firstly though we had to pester Scott to explain the rules... not sure of the effect this might've had on his success in the simultaneous game of Agricola he was trying to play but I'm sure we'll get the blame if he lost... (phew - you were lucky there then...)
Egizia basically is a worker placement game with a twist. Each round 8 ships for each player are placed downstream on the Nile for various rewards but once placed the next ship cannot be placed upstream, so there is a constant pay off between wanting to be first to some nice bounty downstream, but not getting there too quickly. Points are earned mainly through building monuments with a lot of points available at the end in bonus cards. 5 trips downstream and that's the game.
If you'd overheard us playing you might have thought there was a religious conection with the game... mainly cause Emma decided early on that one of the characters looked like Jesus. Given this was also a 'special' character in that he could involve other workers when you used him to help in building, the tag stuck and throughout the game cries of 'I'm going to advance Jesus' or 'I'm using my Jesus' could be heard.... not sure this was the game makers intention...
So Jim took the early lead in this game, and after the first few rounds was already streets ahead. Emma and Tim were both collecting cards though. Emma was focusing on building the pyramid (too many Indy Jones films?) while James and Tim stuck to completing Cleopatra's Needle. The game did go through several rule queries given none of us had played before but we just about go it right... and there was always Scott to throw a meeple at if we needed clarification. After 4 rounds James's lead seemed unassailable as he kept building most rounds, but the pile of bonus cards in front of Emma and Tim were growning while James only had a couple.
So the final round - James scored first and sat, slightly smug (but with an inward unease), waiting to see waht bonuses would come out. The game does finish a bit like Stone Age here in that bonuses play a BIG part in the scoring so it's hard to know who's winning until the end. Emma scored and was close... but Tim had a pile of bonus cards about as high as the pyramid and after reeling off several 7/8/9 pointers in a row jumped ahead.
A really good game, given that we had no real choice of what to play. Certainly worth it's high ranking on BGG and a game that would only improve after a few more plays as you became more familiar with the cards available.
Tim 112; Jim 104; Emma 97

Thanks to James for co-ordinating the reports this week. We'll see you all again after the Easter weekend....
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Wednesday, 13 April 2011

"Vengeance is Mine" - saith James.........

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Players: James, Scott, Dan, Jon, Keith, Philip, Gareth, Andy, Rob

Easter is nearly upon us, resulting in a seasonal dip in attendance at IBG. However it was great to have ‘smiley’ Rob back with us after a long absence, and his reward for returning was that we got to play 2 of his games. There had also been a bit of tarting up done in the Riverview Room, as all the tables had received rather a nice varnish. Lovely.

Tonight was the opportunity for some dastardly deeds of revenge to surface. James was not happy when Jon attached a rather large magnet to his butt, so in return he whooped Jon’s Trolls with his Amazons. Confused? Read on….

First up -

Haggis (thanks Scott)
With Scott and James the early arrivals again, James picked Haggis out Scott’s small collection of card games to save him having to read the rulebook for his own copy. A trick taking game that is designed for 2 or 3 players, each player has the same three wild/power cards and the rest is made up of basically a standard deck of playing cards numbered 2 to 10 (there’s five suits for 3 player games - thanks Gareth for your observations of it “just being cards”).
James played a cautious first game and Scott only won by a few points. The second game was even better for Scott as he came close to emptying his hand and James thought through the possibilities in how to minimise his losses; by avoiding one pitfall, he jumped straight in to another without realising it:
Scott 60; James 22

You are supposed to play until around 250 (James wanted to play until he won at least one hand which could have gone on all night....) but Gareth had arrived with his card game which was better than this deck of cards apparently so we switched to something else.

Parade (thanks again Scott)
Still one of Scott’s games that Gareth requested as he was keen to try it, we also managed to grab all of the stragglers walking in so were also joined by Jon and Keith.
The theme is a typical Knizia (non-existent), but the cards all depict Alice in Wonderland characters and there are six suits (colours) and range from 0 to 10. Funnily enough there is a line of cards in the middle of the table to start the game which is the ‘parade’, and on a players turn they will add a card to the end of the parade. The number on the card indicates how many protected cards it gives you. Past this protected number, if the number on the played card is the same or higher (or the same colour) than any non-protected cards then you add them to your score pile.
Every card you collect counts negative against you (or the lowest score is best) based on its face value, except where you have the most cards of a colour and then you only lose one point per card instead. So generally players seek to focus in a colour if they have to collect them and ideally want to avoid getting them at all.
Gareth started off as he meant to go on by trying to take back a move he did 5 minutes ago, the table protested and he wasn’t allowed, in revenge Gareth vowed that no-one could now take their turn back which hurt Scott, who despite playing his cards immediately on his turn (unlike Jon who, you know, needs a little time to get the gears in motion at the start of a Wednesday evening...) couldn’t replace the card he played 1 second ago. It wouldn’t matter though as he only picked up two cards while Jon possibly misunderstood the rules and was collecting them in vast quantities. Gareth and Keith were soon following his example. James played a cagey game and may have won if Gareth could have enacted any more penalties towards Scott direction.
Scott 10; James 12; Keith 21; Gareth 21; Jon 31

Frank’s Zoo (and again...)
Gareth brought back this blast from the past which if people recall we played every week for a while simply to get the rules understood. We played a quick hand of it to refresh our memories but it didn’t survive much past the learning hand, which if you are interested was:
Philip – out first; Scott – second; Keith – third; Gareth – stuck with cards still in his hand (he obviously remembered being better at it)

Agricola (thanks Scott for this report)
With some quick talking from Philip he managed to convince Gareth that he didn’t want to play Agricola, I seem to recall it involving a waving of his hand and Gareth reiterating “I do not want to play Agricola”. Andy was quick to jump in to the Hotseat for a game of something that he’d played before, as luck would have it, we wouldn’t be changing too many of the rules by playing the expansion as we were trialling the Gamer’s deck instead. This is a deck that was designed and play-tested by the Agricola online community to add a better balance and interest to the cards, and from the looks of it they have made a pretty good job of it.
So playing we had Scott and Philip, both eager to play again to be crowned Agricola champion or just to be feared when Agricola is mentioned, plus Keith and Andy who were both fairly new to it.
Scott was first out of the gate and played himself the occupation of Family Counsellor who grants a bonus food/grain/vegetable if you manage to keep all of your workers on the same piece of cardboard during a round, the more people you have the better the reward and Scott would make use of this almost every round of the game, easing his food requirements massively.
Philip seemed to play an endless stream of occupations and minor improvements and by the end of the game had a bonus for doing almost everything but had maybe spent too much time building bonus and less time utilizing them.
Keith went with an early grain engine and an oven to feed himself, everyone else however priotised building some extra rooms and managed to force Keith to be last to grow his family.
Andy got himself an early run in to vegetables and by the end of the game was using them extensively for food but seemed to be wary of growing his family for worrying about the mouths to feed and had an abundance of food at the end that could have been used earlier.
Scott ended with a little bit of everything, aside from an animal or two and had gotten the most points from his improvements and bonuses which other players occupations had provided (most grain/fields), although Keith and Philip had got in on the bonuses as well.
Philip had fallen short somewhere along the way as he managed to end the game with no fences, partly because Scott was cruel and blocked him from building any on the last turn. We assumed Philip had just spent too much time playing cards than using them as it seemed he had a lot of good effects.
Andy had a lovely looking farm, surplus food but had not gained quite as many points from cards/bonuses as everyone else.
Keith had been hampered by a lack of family members early on with a very constrained family growth action space for most of the game; it coming out late in round 7 was not particularly helpful either.
Scott was quite happily far and away the leader this week:
Scott 46; Philip 32; Adam 30; Keith 20

With the retun of Rob and the presence of Dan, it was a dead-cert that we were going to try out -

Junkyard Races
Rob decribed this as "Mario Kart the Board Game" and he wasn't far wrong. He took about 20 mins to 'remind himself of the rules' and then about 3 mins to explain them. This is basically Formula De but with oil slicks, bombs, rockets and jet fuel thrown in for good measure.
Gareth did his usual trick of moaning about the starting set-up on his Kart, until he was reminded that Jon had actually passed all 5 Karts to him and told him to take a free pick. Some people......
Jon, Gareth and Dan all had jet engines attached to their Karts, but unfortunately these required jet fuel to function, which was hidden under tokens that appeared at various points on the track during the race. James had a formidable arsenal of weapons on his Kart, but never really got in a position to make effective use of them.
After 1/2 lap (we were playing a 2-lap race) Dan managed to pick up 2 cans of the elusive jet-fuel, which gave him the opportunity to roll a bucketful of dice. Not only did this shoot him into the lead, it was also enough to enable him to jump across the stream, cutting off most of the second lap. As he was more concerned with having fun than winning the race, he then sat in one spot and fired off weapons at anyone in the general vicinity (namely James). James then retaliated by dropping a spring and a time bomb, but as he was caught in a cul-de-sac at the time, he only succeeded in bouncing himself back onto his own bomb and blowing half his Kart to pieces. Nice.
In all the confusion, Jon had also picked up some fuel, and raced past Dan to pip him at the post. Prior to this, James had just crawled over the finish line, and was very proud to announce that he had at least completed one lap and had therefore not been lapped. Unfortunately, Jon's last act prior to crossing the finish line was to attach a large magnet to his Kart, pulling James back across the finish line, and then roared past him to finish the race and lap him in the process.
The laughter was long and loud, but the look in James' eye fortold that this would not be the end of the matter.....
Jon - 1st; James - last; Dan, Rob, Gareth - somewhere in the middle

Both tables had finished at the same time, so Jon suggested to Andy that he should try another 'classic'. Suspiciously, James was very quick to also stake a claim at the table to play -

Small World
(Awaiting the report that details how James spent the whole game attacking Jon's poor defenceless races without mercy...)

Race for the Galaxy
With Jon suggesting such horrendous games like Small World, Philip and Scott decided to start up some Race for the Galaxy with Keith also eager to jump in on the fun (and it is fun despite what you may hear from Jon). We’re slowly converting one player at a time to get up to speed with RFTG and all its expansions.

Game 1
Scott kept to the name sake and sped through the game as quickly as possible, Keith and Philip seemed to be setting themselves up for some bigger payouts later in the game but in the absence of finding much of value Scott just played cards as quickly as possible and took as many goals along on the way for a quick win.
Scott 26; Philip 21; Keith 14

Game 2
Philip went for a bundle of prestige this game while Scott focussed on his military might and conquered all he could see. Keith got a little left behind in the dust this game, I wouldn’t recommend competing with people who know the game at the best of times but he did well to keep up and had a nice produce consume engine by the end but the 6 cost developments and goals are really crucial as well for all the added bonuses. Scott’s military/production combo won over Philips prestigious tableau.
Scott 70; Philip 62; Keith 34

Game 3
Keith had had enough punishment by this point in the night and left Scott and Philip to have one last battle, although Scott was less keen, seeing his impending doom from having won so many games so far, surely it couldn’t continue. You’ll be pleased to know it didn’t - Philip made good use of cards to grab plenty of goals and win out over Scott’s slightly less impressive performance.
Philip 60; Scott 56

Also played tonight was a rather bizarre 1984 Milton Bradley game - Thunder Road. All I know was that it played pretty quickly and is (according to Rob) a 'classic'. Ask Gareth if you want the real story....

And that's it for another week. I'm on holiday next week, but will be leaving the reporting duties in the capable hands of the remaining IBG'ers, so there will still be a seesion report to look forward to.

Happy Easter everyone!
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Wednesday, 6 April 2011

(Don't) Play it again Sam (Andy)...........

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Players: Scott, Ian, Philip, Jon, Andy, James, Tonio, Gareth, Barrie, Paul, Shirief

11 dedicated gamers made it out to the London Apprentice tonight, including a welcome to a friend of Paul’s, Shirief, who is apparently from Egypt and is a good backgammon player. Not sure if that will get played at IBG anytime in the near future but I’m sure that rolling dice and moving pieces around a board, whilst screwing over your opponent are transferable skills….

For the second week running, Agricola took centre stage, with peripheral appearances from some old friends and new acquaintances. Oh, and our new convert Andy has yet to play the same game twice (probably best to keep it that way, 'cos he looks to be a pretty mean boardgamer...)

First up -
 
Ra: The Dice Game (thanks Scott)
James was showing off his new purchases and with a quick read of the rules, Scott and James had a quick go. The game is very similar to standard Ra except you roll dice instead of draw tiles, and no auctions, which makes it significantly quicker to play, although a bit more luck dependant.
Apparently the dice gods smiled at Scott today as he managed to lead the game in pharaohs and monuments throughout, while James didn’t get much of an edge in anything except a few points from floods, before the final scoring he had less than he started with from civilization and pharaoh penalties.
Scott 63; James 33
 
Jon was keen to try out James’s new acquisition (whose origin is still questionable) –
 
Felix the Cat in the Sack
This game is like a cross between For Sale and No Thanks, with a rather novel element of not knowing exactly what you’re bidding on, thrown in for good measure. Considering the high possibility there is of scoring pretty badly, the end scores were all very respectable and pretty close. Scott was the most adept at deciding exactly when to cut and run, and came out as the top kitty in the pack. Jon’s prediction – this game could become a firm favourite at IBG.
Scott 56; James 48; Jon 42; Tonio 41
 
And now it was on to the meaty games for this week, starting with -
 
Agricola: Farmers of the Moor (thanks again Scott for this one)
Just three players keen enough for a real game this week, with the big showdown of the week between Philip and Scott, Ian also joined in and we ran through the extras quickly before beginning.
The three player game feels quite restricted compared to a lot of experience with the 4 or 5 player game and there were quite a few occupations and improvements played.
Philip got his hands on bonus grain, fuel and the legendary magic axe to build cheap rooms, somewhat scuppered early on by Scott’s Carpenter who also built cheap rooms and hoarded all of the reed, building a giant expansion in stage 2. Scott, however, made a schoolboy error in the second harvest by not having enough firewood around to heat his home and left two family members going sick. Ths put a rather large chink in the plans for the next harvest as well, and left Scott getting one of those begging cards that don’t usually get taken out of the box as you should never get one!
Philip in contrast took a late family growth in his stride and prepared his family for having an actual food engine and with one of the only early fireplaces had made good use of the sheep building up. Ian had relied on an oven to bake him some bread (with both ovens by the end of the game) but failed to realise sooner that there was an occupation he wanted to play earlier that would allow him to use his oven to cook animals as well as grain. Scott took the foraging route and was eating clay and wood as well, in their haste to grow their family they hadn’t put much foundation in the way of feeding themselves.
Ian had a focus for his game, horses, and by the end that was about all you could find there, and despite them getting quite a few points, he’d lost quite a few in doing so. Philip had built up his farm well with max fields and pastures and a stone house. Scott got himself a stone house plus a couple of fields and pastures but it wasn’t looking quite so impressive.
So Philip had won this time, but it’ll be no holds barred next round, or Scott is at least hoping to avoid any stupid mistakes.
 
And over on table 2, another game of Agricola was being played, but htis time it was the more newbie-friendly 'family' version -
 
Agricola
(Report to follow)
 
And on the third table, there wasn't a farmer or a bread oven in sight -
 
Mission: Red Planet (thanks James for this write-up)
Having never heard of this game up until a few weeks ago I managed to find someone willing to trade it to me and rushed it along on Wed evening for a first run.I hoped that the pictures of steampunk spaceships on the box would disguise the fact that the game mechanics were more el Grande and Citadels than lasers, space battles and wookies...
Speaking of wookies; Jon, Tonio and Andy all joined in for a game and required a brief explanation of the rules (does anyone else feel pressure from the expectant-eyes-of-doom gazing upon them when explaining games for the first time having not even played before themselves…? Just me then…and Gareth, surely)
So to the game. Each player has 9 cards (characters) and plays/selects one each turn (blind bidding style). These cards will populate space ships on the launch-pad and once full the ships take off for Mars to a pre-set destination. Each character also has an extra ability (blow up a ship, change the destination, launch a ship that is not yet full etc). Once on Mars the colonists decamp and the game turns into an El Grande style area control as each region supplies certain resources (scoring from 1-3).
At 3 distinct stages (5th, 8th and 10th rounds) each region is scored (simple majority wins). Rewards increase each scoring round and after 10 rounds that’s it. Oh and there are also bonus cards and ‘discovery’ cards which have modifiers for the regions… although these didn’t prove quite so popular as the game progressed.
And what did we discover ?
  • That Andy is very good at picking up new games. Wonder how he’ll get on playing Power Grid against Scott….
  • That, for once, Jon was unable to use his ninja like powers of persuasion to concoct a win
  • That Tonio likes to sulk when things don’t go to plan… (but soon perks up when he’s doing well...)
  • That James, despite proclaiming that he hadn’t read any of the cards before, seemed to have a good grasp of what was going on.
  • That for some reason everyone decided to scrap it out in the same Mars region except for James, a bad strategy in El Grande and indeed a bad one here.
  • That blowing up spaceships in this game didn’t feel quite as much fun as it felt like it should.
  • That twice Tonio selected a character that resulted in him being unable to actually do anything once his turn came around… (did I already mention the sulking?)
  • That Jon was all excited about his bonus card rewards of 2 and 4 points until he saw James’s bonus cards of 6 and 8 points.
  • That everyone decided soon afterwards that the bonus cards sucked (except for James).
So, with a tacit agreement to change the way bonus cards were used next time (there are a few variants already on BGG to this effect) we all came away enjoying the game(ish). It took us maybe 75 mins to play and would be less once we’re more familiar with the character cards. A lot of game squeezed into a short time, and one that I’m sure will come out again some week soon.
James 50 (or 36 without bonus cards.. who needs ‘em); Andy 29; Tonio 24; Jon 22

With some time to spare and all of the other tables deep in concentration for what looked like the rest of the night, the hardcore Agricola table had a quick game of -

Chicago Express (thanks to Scott for this report)
This is a train game and was brought along by Jon of all people - he’s slowly heading towards the dark side... Although, CE is more about stock manipulation than actually running trains.
Three player games can also be quite aggressive and unbalanced as the early leader was the blue company making a mad dash to Chicago, with two eager investors Philip and Ian who both had 50% each and all shares had been sold. Scott’s investment in the other three companies was rather lacking in comparison as they worked together to get it there quickly. Next up the Wabash was formed and Philip got himself full control of the company and worked to get its value as high as possible before jumping into Chicago for a big payout.
Ian kindly helped Scott back in to the game by assisting the green company into Chicago despite Scott having the higher share ownership. When the end came, the scores were very tight:
Philip 174; Scott 172; Ian 160

So Ian had helped the other players enough to earn himself third, while Scott was just short of Philip once more.

After some head-scratching and general procrastination, Tonio’s table finally opted for –

Fresco
This was new to Andy (as every game in the last 3 weeks has been so far!) but James did a good job of explaining the rules to him (actually I assume he did, as I was conveniently propping up the bar at the time…)
Jon started in 4th place, therefore was forced to be the ‘early bird’ for the first 2 rounds. Fortunately, this also enabled him to snaffle a card (we were playing with a couple of expansions) that allowed his workforce to instantly cheer up (they were probably allowed to watch Liverpool hammer Man City 3-0 at Anfield….) which was a relief.
Jon and James both started furiously mixing paints and both acquired gold paint in the same round. But as Jon woke up earlier, he was able to choose the coveted ‘24’ fresco tile to paint. Combined with a ‘17’ tile, this took him into a mid-game lead, but left him rather bereft of cash and paint.
Andy was doing really well for a first-timer, and mixed his own gold paint to steal another tile from right under Jon’s nose in the final stages.
During the last round, James found himself in the usual position of not quite having enough workers to do everything you want to do, but when the scores were totted up, they were exceedingly close. With only 8 points between first and last, Jon had just sneaked it from James, with Tonio and Andy very close behind.
Jon 94; James 91; Tonio 89; Andy 86

And to book-end the evening was the original incarnation of the popular -

Ra(Report to follow)

And that closed the evening. No Resistance, No Nanuk and no Saboteur. Sacrilege! See you next week....
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