Wednesday, 6 April 2011

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

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 -
(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 –

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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