Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Barrie gets very, very excited (actually, he wasn't that excited but I just wanted an excuse to post a picture of a Housemartins record)........

Players: Barrie, Gareth, Maynard, Jon, Emma, John, Scott, Paul A, Philip, Paul, Andy, Woody, Karl, Ian, James, Russ, Fi

17 IBG’ers filled the Riverview Room at the London Apprentice this evening, including a very welcome return to Russ and, more importantly, his wife Fi. Last time she joined us she wiped the floor with everyone, so there was a general feeling of nervousness that went round the room when she entered… A complete newcomer welcomed to the group was Karl, another friend (yes – he has more than one….) of Paul’s.

Tonight saw another dice-fest, along with the arrival of 3 new games. One of them was a shiny new copy of Small World Underground, direct from the publishers to Barrie's hot, sweaty little hands. And as he was so excited about his latest acquisition, it would have been rude not to have joined in with his fun....

Tonight's first new game was courtesy of John -

Constantinopolis (thanks for the report, John)
Four intrepid merchants (John, Scott, Paul A and Philip) went looking for fame and fortune in Constantinopolis. One very important difference between this game and nearly all other games is that the track running around the outside of the board is for tracking fame points and not victory points. So how do you win the game you ask? By having the most fame points of course, so they are nothing like victory it?!
It’s a game about resource management, economy and trade that starts slowly and gathers pace as players get access to more and more resources and more options of what to do with them. The game lasts for nine turns.
Each turn starts of with a auction for player titles, which give an advantage and determine turn order. For the start of the game these were determined randomly. Though there are five titles with only four players, apart from the last turn of the game only the first four positions were used for the rest of the game - with people sticking with their starting position for most of the game. The positions give you extra contracts, one extra resource, 4 gold, buy a wall or two extra contracts and priority buying one building or two extra contracts.
Scott and Philip changed places a couple of times and John and Paul changed place late in the game as John tried to make sure Paul did not buy all the wall pieces (there were bonus points for wall pieces).
Everyone starts with one production building, which produces two green (cheapest goods), a ship and 30 gold. Main aim is to produce and sell / convert your goods. All the players bought another red building on the first turn so they could draw more contracts. (drawing as many contracts as possible is a very good thing).
There was some differences in the commercial buildings (put resources in get something out, usually cash and fame points). And utility buildings (sell goods for more, get building cheaper etc). There are also public buildings which cost a lot and give only fame points. There were some comments about these being expensive and probably would not be bought. (They were)
The game is about fulfilling contracts, in other words sending resources and passengers on ships to foreign ports to get gold and fame. So most of the game was spent building up to the last two or three turns. Scott was the first to buy a second ship which doubled his capability to fullfill contracts. Philip and Paul soon got in on the game buying Medium ships and getting the ability to make long voyages, which give extra fame points. John was the first to get a large ship which carries the most and gives the most bonus fame points.
Scott had got a nice little number going now where he could process some of his resources and then buy them back for less at the market and then use them to fulfil contracts. Philip was almost staying with him but John and Paul were starting to lag behind.
On the last couple of turns with quite large amounts of money coming in Scott and Philip started buying those expensive public building and racking up even more points.
When the game ends all ships at sea reach port and make money and score points so the last turn everyone bought a large ship and sent every ship they could to sea. When the dust settled it meant another economic game that Scott had won!
Scott 55; Philip 50; John 42; Paul 41

Following on from this, they then tried out this 'super-filler' -

Biblios (thanks again John)
Scott and John had played before, but Paul A and Philip hadn’t. Biblios is a game themed about collecting sacred manuscripts at a monastery. What it’s really about is collecting sets of cards in different colours. At the end of the game whoever has the most in each colour gets a die with a number between 1 and 6. The player with the most dice pips wins.
The game starts off with drafting. With four players each player gets to draw 5 cards one at a time and gets to keep one card, put one card up for auction latter in the game or put the rest of the cards into a common era that the other players can choose from.
Paul was the first player, but it’s very hard when you first play to know what cards are actually good ones. We had a couple of draws where the three cards in the common area were a 2, 2 and a 1 gold card. Cue a little bout of juvenile humour to the last player to choose.
Throughout the game Scott and Paul seemed to get most of the church cards. These are play immediately cards which allow you to add or subtract from the values on the dice. It’s quite hard to tell who is doing well in what colours during the draft as you only see some of the cards each player is getting, so it can be a tricky choice.
When the draft is finished the last part of the game is auctioning of the last cards one by one. If it’s a money card you bid a number of cards (Race for the Galaxy style), if it’s a manuscript or church card you bid money cards. You can tell a lot more about what colours people are strong in during the auction as you see what they bid for. There were a few cards where there was some heated bidding but the majority went quite cheap. Philip had been collecting money during the draft (or it seemed it) as he seemed to be able to bid more money that the other players. A couple of the 1 Gold cards did not fetch any bids.
At the end of the auction Scott, Paul and Philip all won one die and John won two. But it was not over yet. Although John had won two of the colours and so got two dice, the combined total was only five while Scott and Paul’s single dice were also 5. So it was a three way tie. The tie break is most Gold left, so it went to Scott with 7, John had 5 and Paul 3. Philip’s dice was only a one.
Scott 5 points (7 Gold); John 5 (5); Paul 5 (3); Philip 1

And now for some more dice -

Yspahan (thanks Andy for this one)
The latest in a line of games just asking to be pronounced terribly, Yspahan is about camels, souks and a big fat bunch of dice. Or is it a bunch of big fat dice?
Anyway, Paul set about explaining how the thing works to first time players Woody, Andy and Karl, a friend of Paul's making his first appearance at the club.
And the new boy made good early headway by managing to fill a couple of big scoring neighbourhoods to score some nice points and grab the lead. It wasn't too long before Woody was bemoaning his misfortune with the dice and saying he was playing for last place – nobody actually believed him, mind. Andy got a jump on the other players in the construction stakes while Paul leapt ahead of Karl by spreading his resources well. 
A severe camel shortage was affecting all players though, meaning construction and sending workers to the caravan was slow, which kept scores low.
However by early in the third week Andy had managed to build all six of the buildings on offer which provided a handy points bonus and helped give him a decent lead. Paul made maximum use of the supervisor and camels to send people to the caravan in the final few turns in a late bid for victory but came up just short in a photo finish. 
Andy 73; Paul 71; Woody 63; Karl 58

And now, even more dice -

Alien Frontiers (thanks James for this write-up)
Ian brought this to the table again after last week's initiation and quickly found willing accomplices in Russ and his wife Fiona… and at the last minute I managed to sneak in the 4th spot due to turning up late. So after a brief round of rules the game set off to seek out new life and boldly go where no man has gone before (or, as it is more commonly known,…. Hounslow).
Ian and myself had played before so the early advantage was with us. I lucked out going first which gives a big advantage in ones ability to take ore for a cheap price. Seeing this Ian and Russ triggered a few smuggler attacks early on, stealing lots of precious resources (mostly from me… grrr) which set up the tone of the game quite nicely… this is very much a bash the leader kind of game with several ways of stifling your opponents, ranging from mild (taking a docking station) to vicious (destroying a dice or stealing cards) .. nearly all of these I think were used on others at some stage in the game.
It was around here that the traditional Isleworth ‘at least one rule needs to be screwed up’ screw up occurred as we let Fiona use a dice at the Terraforming Station when she only had 3 dice available. Rules say you must have more than 3 to do this… D’oh… Sorry Fi. As a result she was left with 2 dice for several rounds trying to roll a double before we saw the error and gave her a dice back, somewhat sheepishly. It felt bad to have made this mistake… now we know how Gareth feels most games...
So Russ was first to the Relic Ship (extra dice) until Ian decided this was too powerful and slapped an Isolation Field on him to take it back. Soon everyone (apart from Fiona) was upto 5/6 dice and raking in the resources each move. One thing that’s nice about this game is that you can achieve a lot with just a few dice and some cards… although this can cause a bit of action point paralysis as players try to work out the optimum moves, especially as given the fluid nature of the availability of docking stations it’s not easy to plan much in advance.
By midgame Fiona was doing her best given her early setback, but it was looking hard for her to catch up. Russ hadn’t landed many colonists but was collecting any piece of Alien Technology he could find (or steal). However Ian and myself were pushing ahead with colonising the planet, picking up the bonuses and threatening to trigger the end game scenario.
I was looking at finishing quickly as I could see a winning potential in ending the game quickly and managed to get down to 2 colonists. Then Ian spotted this and triggered a multi player all out war on me (he’s actually a nice guy if you met him socially). I quickly found myself back down to just 3 dice, but only needing to get one colonist landed so it was clear the game would end in 2 turns at most. This is where the focus of the game changes quickly from getting resources and buying dice to maximising VP from the moon and from Alien Tech cards. I think the secret to doing really well in this game is to be able to recognise the exact point you need to refocus your goals.
So there followed a few frenzied rounds of landing colonists, trashing Alien Tech cards to use the more powerful bonuses, but when the dust had settled in the end no-one could stop me (cue evil laugh… ha ha HA) from interplanetary domination.
Personally I’m starting to really like this game, fun, interactive and pretty simple to play… probably the only flaw is the potential for longish gaps between turns… ah well can’t have it all.
James 9; Russ 7; Ian 6; Fiona 5

Tonight, Barrie had come along to the London Apprentice more excited than a schoolboy in a sweetshop. The reason being, that he seems to be about the only person on the planet to have got his hands on the latest DOW release –

Small World Underground
Jon had pre-booked a place at the table (and read the rules on Barrie’s behalf…) and was joined by Emma, Gareth and Maynard – all of whom had played the original game previously. The main differences between this game and the original are: new maps (with prety garish colours); a river running through the map which is crossable (at a cost) but not normally conquerable, and the main difference, the introduction of relics and popular places which confer special bonuses on their owners. Oh, and there are 15 new races and 21 new special powers to play with too - plenty to be going on with.
 As Barrie had most recently visited a cave (?!) he was designated start player, and chose the Royal Gnomes. These were immune from any special powers or race abilities, as well as having a single region that was totally immune from conquests. Maynard chose the Vengeful Mudmen, which received extra race tokens for each mudpool region occupied. Unfortunately, he soon maxed out on the number of tokens available so couldn’t take any more, and the Vengeful ability did not really come into effect as no-one was attacking him!
Gareth started out with some Immortal Ogres – a race which could conquer all regions at 1 less token than usual, and could not be killed. He used these to good effect and spread out quickly. Jon took the Flocking Drow (cue juvenile jokes) which gain bonuses for not bordering other races and staying in adjacent regions. Therefore Jon took up residence in a corner of the board and hunkered down. Emma was the last to start out and chose the Vanishing Shadow Mimes. Well, they weren’t orignally Vanishing, but the Shadow Mime ability allowed them to choose any power out of the 6 on offer.
During the first round, everyone attacked one of the monster regions, and were rewarded with either a Righteous Relic or Popular Place. Jon’s relic was the Flying Doormat, which he used to fly across the map and steal Gareth’s Scepter of Avarice (double the points gained from any one region) from under his nose. The fact that Gareth was in the toilet when it took place only added to the deviousness (and funniness) of this act.
As the initial races spread out a little, it was suddenly evident that very little attacking was going on. Barrie’s races were immune to powers or abilities, Gareth’s couldn’t be killed, and Maynard could bite back hard at any attackers on his next turn (as well as replenishing his army with further tokens). Combined with the fact that a number of the relics and places were conferring bonus coins, most players decided to sit tight and let the Victory coins roll in.
As he was gaining fewest coins, Gareth was the first to decline and picked up some Mining Mummies, which had been passed over 5 times already and therefore had a nice little bonus attached to them. There were stacks of these Mummies, but they required 1 extra token to attack any region, which meant that they started slowly but soon spread out. Emma had meanwhile also declined, and her Vanishing ability gave her an instant bonus but meant that she had no decined race on the board. (Gareth had taken advantage of this sudden exodus when bringing on his Mummies.) Her replacement army – the Shield Spiderines – rather ignored their arachnid ability in favour of the fungi-related special power, which probably limited their coin-earning abilities.
Not to be left out, Barrie brought on some Thieving Kraken, which obviously spread out down the river (again diluting the amount of confrontation). Maynard had become fed up with his stuck-in-the-mud Mudmen, and turned instead to some Magic Iron Dwarves. These accumulated some powerful offensive abilities, with the introduction of their Silver Hammers, so much so, that Maynard was raking in 17 coins per turn at one stage.
Jon was the last to try something new (as he had been successfully collecting 14 coins per turn with his single race), which was prompted by Barrie deciding to muscle in on his SW corner of the board. He brought on the Vampire Flames, and immediately started to use his lava-inspired ability to try to halt Gareth’s Mummy army. Gareth complained that Maynard should really be the target, but Jon pressed on regardless, over-running a couple of Popular Places in the process.
In the final round, Barrie announced that the Victory Coin stash had actually run out – an indication that the scores were going to be high. As the game drew to a close, no-one seemd to have an inkling as to who had won, although Maynard was seen as a likely candidate. When the coins were counted, the scores were indeed high, but also incredibly close. As it turned out, Gareth’s late surge with his Mummies had been just enough to get his neck out in front, and vindicated Jon’s decision to target him in the last 2 rounds! Emma’s lack of a declined race followed by a defensive replacement was probably what led her to falling behind a little at the end.
Gareth 118; Barrie 113; Maynard 110; Jon 108; Emma 70

This game had taken just over 2 hours to play – which is far too long for a game of Small World. However, all the races and abilities were new, and there was the added complication of the relics and popular places, which required constant reference to the player aids.
I found that the regions on the map were less distinct than in the original game, and the addition of all the relics and places on the board made it difficult to work out exactly what was going on (the ‘romantic’ lighting in the Riverview Room didn’t help in this regard either!) Perhaps 5-players on its first outing was ambitious, so I’m keen to give it another go in the near future, before I pass judgement on Small World’s latest incarnation!

With just under an hour to kill, Founding Fathers was unfortunately shelved in favour of –

Where this game stands in the Lost Cities evolutionary scale escapes me, but I think that it is something like the boardgame based on the card game based on the board game based on Lost Cities. Whatever, it is essentially multiplayer Lost Cities, and as such, is a cracking good game.
James explained the rules, but conveniently misinformed everyone on the game-ending conditions – fortunately this was rectified before it did too much damage…
All the players started 4 paths, apart from Woody who decided to go gung-ho for all five. Not a game-winning strategy…
Jon had a number of low-value brown cards so headed off on that path, which contained a few precious stones as bonuses. James somehow managed to lay numerous cards on each of his paths, and got 2 of his stones into the ‘game-ending’ section of the board. Paul was doing well until Woody suddenly drew everyone’s attention to the fact that one of his runs of numbers went down as well as up. Admitting that he had inadvertently ‘done a Gareth’ (the universal IBG phrase for having ‘bent the rules somewhat’…) he did his best to take back the advantage that he had received from this action.
Although Jon managed to get his ‘double your points’ token to the highest level, his other chaps had not quite climbed high enough to overhaul James’ impressive progress on 4 paths, which had benefitted from a number of ‘free moves’.
This was a nice way to end the evening, and Woody was keen to play again on another occasion, now he knew what not to do….
James 36; Jon 32; Paul 17; Woody 17

By this time, Scott and Philip were at a loose end -

Race for the Galaxy (thanks Philip for these reports)
In the first game I had Aquatic Uplift Road, Uplift Gene Designers, and the Uplift Goal was on the table, so New Sparta was an obvious homeworld and I went straight into Trade Produce, picking up Uplift Code. Meanwhile Scott had Galactic Developers and was busy developing away- in turn 3 Uplift Code and Galactic Power Brokers collided, keeping the Prestige even. I had meanwhile Settled Former Penal Colony.
By the time I settled the Gene Designers (claiming the goal) and Produced. Scott had gained 2 Prestige from Pan-Galactic Security Council (settle and consume). He now had a prestige recycling run of spend a prestige for 3 cards from GPB and then discard 2 cards for a prestige on PGSC. We decided this meant he was continually “gaining” a Prestige and so getting a card for it.
Despite this neat trick, Scott was mainly churning out cheap developments while I settled Blaster Gem Runners, developed Drop Shops, and settled Alien Battlefleet. My military power settled a couple of high scoring worlds (Rebel Home World, Alien Sentinel), before Scott’s expanding tableau ended the game. I was able to develop Alien Tech Institute on the last turn and the result was a comfortable - 
Philip 52; Scott 39

The second game saw my opening hand contain Alien Rosetta Stone World and Deserted Alien Outpost. With Alien Research Team as a home world and the Alien goal on the table I immediately went into Alien strategy with Explore settle, only to be distracted during Explore by Colony Ship and Imperium Blaster Gem Consortium. As Scott had called Explore-Develop I was able to Settle the IBGC before returning to the Aliens.
I think Scott was playing Old Earth, but he seemed to be still in Galactic Developers mode, calling Explore Develop for the first 5 or 6 turns of the game! He did manage to claim the “one power in each phase” goal on turn 1, which was impressive! My tableau developed slower than his but with an emphasis on quantity as Alien Rosetta StoneWorld and Alien Uplift Centre (which I discarded the Outpost to pay for) made their appearance and I began a trade cycle with the benefit of IBGC’s 2 cards and 1 vp.
Scott had developed various things such as Pan-Galactic Mediator, Terraforming Engineers Interstellar Bank and Galactic Markets - I also developed Galactic Markets, and then Pan-Galactic Affluence, which put me ahead in the prestige stakes. Again Scott’s expanding tableau ended the game a bit earlier than I would have preferred, but I was able to play Alien Data Repository on the final turn, and the result was an eerily similar -
Philip 49; Scott 39

The Alien Frontiers crew had finished their game and had decided to come back down to earth to finish off the evening -
7 Wonders
(Report to follow)
Also played tonight was Quandary (the over-produced version of Loco), but I haven't got any scores for that one I'm afraid.
And so, another Wednesday evening came to a close. The dice, cardboard and cubes were locked safely away until next week, when they will once again become the playthings of some of the finest minds in South West London....

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