Tuesday, 29 November 2011

"Much I'd Spend to gain my End"

Perudo (thanks Scott)
Kicking off the night was the usual treat of Perudo with Scott, Amanda, Philip & Emma. Philip who usually employs a risky strategy of bidding very high and hoping everyone rolled the same number but today was a different tact and instead lady luck said no, even with reasonable bids he would be called out and just miss out by one die or call exact and there would be 5’s in abundance (five’s were called quite regularly). So despite the change of tactic, Philip was out first and in a bizarre twist of fate Scott had lost his touch, too many weeks without Perudo and was soon out next. Leaving Amanda and Emma to battle it out, but Amanda had the edge with the number of dice and would usually be telling the truth, much to Emma’s demise as she had been expecting otherwise.
We moved on to another light game beginning with P...

Pinguin Party

Actually I have almost no memory of this game. The usual pile up of different coloured Penguins ensued, with the Purple Penguins getting pushed out early in the first game because “you don’t want miserable people at a party”. Everyone took chips most games. There was one game I didn’t take any chips, which probably contributed to my eventual victory.
Philip- 4 chips Scott, Amanda and Barrie- 5 or 6 chips.

Last Will
Amanda and Scott were keen to play Last Will which was recently new to them (although Amanda almost deserted us to play Puerto Rico which she is also addicted to); Andy and Philip were convinced to join and make us up to a nice complement of 4, Philip and Andy both being new to the game and a quick run through of the rules ensued.

Unfortunately for all they were not warned to be wary of Scott (possibly this is written in the Isleworth gamers rules and regulations), Philip had a great start, a steward to look after his pair of farms and plenty of animals, however it all came unstuck when he need to start selling them off while Scott and Andy were ensuring the prices stayed high on farms, which was bad for Amanda too who was also frittering away her money in farmyards. Andy and Scott had gone to house where Scott had his chef, lady and gardener stripping his assets while Andy just let his rot away and depreciate.

It all seemed to be going quite smoothly but as we got down to the selloff, Scott had ensured he kept some hectic days and a large ball to attend to just break the bank sooner than everyone else expected who all wanted another round and still had a property on their books (Scott had missed explaining the rule about houses being worth 5 more at the end of the game but everyone was in the same boat so it didn’t affect the standings).

Scott – minus 2, Philip – 19, Andy – 27,Amanda – 31

After Last Will, Andy was keen to play his copy of Oregon that he had acquired in the works sale for a mere £8 and needed someone to teach him the game, so Scott kindly agreed after a little persuasion, this was new to everyone else. Amanda seemed most confused about the rules and confessed they just went in one ear and out the other (she’s started tuning Scott out already!) but seemed to survive okay with a few pointers along the way.

Scott got off to a great start by showing everyone else what they should be doing when a railroad, a saloon and a boatyard all ended up together, using extra turns and jokers to maximise the turn and then re-flipping the extra turn and joker markers to do the same thing all over again next time. Andy was quicker off the mark to join in and make most use of the spaces before Scott took them all, leaving Amanda and Philip a little in the dust.

Philip made a good comeback and assisted Andy and Amanda along the way by getting himself some big scoring while also scoring them a little too. Not good for Scott who was clinging on to his early lead by a thread. Scott rushed his cowboys as quickly as possible and soon enough had all 14 in play with just enough points in mine tokens to clinch the win.

Scott – 66, Andy – 63, Philip – 58, Amanda – 44
Elsewhere was another Euro...(thanks James)

I picked this up for a song a few weeks back, and after a trial run with the Missus (who beat me as usual) I thought it would be safe to unveil on a Wednesday as it hit the sweet spot of several gamers... quick rules, plays in under and hour, nice looking board... ok as it happens only 33% of these plans worked out, but still... it’s higher than my usual average...

A game of tower building, using worker placement, but with coloured cards instead of meeples. Players can choose to buy tower parts, obtain gold, or build... pretty simple but for one interesting extra. Once a coloured card is placed in a zone, only cards of the same colour can be used in that zone for the rest of the round... and this makes the game pretty intense as you’re trying to maximise the cards you have but not wanting to get cut out of an area by waiting too long.

So, a slightly harder game to explain than I’d thought, but we got there eventually and with only one rule being screwed up (again, better than my average) we started. Jon immediately recognising the value of white towers started spending big... but quickly ran out of cash. Emma went for black (closet Goth you know), Paul red and I took green... and so it began.

Round 2 and Paul and Emma both started building brown, while Jon was sticking to White with a Green tower to compliment. Some tower tiles were embellished with gold which earned bonus points. Jon, showing his previously hidden fetish for bling was snapping these up left right and centre to create a building fit for JayZ.

Round 3 and the end game started to loom. I was trying to make sure I only built once each round but used 5-6 pieces and had by now managed to construct a green tower to rival Jack’s beanstalk. Emma was completing with this, while Jon had come unstuck with the white tower strategy as it kept running out of cash... his new tactic to counteract this was to stock up with as much money as possible... as would become apparent at the end. Paul had decided that he was going to compete with my Green tower and was building a Red tower of similar height. After the last round there were several bonuses available for bigger tower, most towers etc, so plans were starting to be set for the end game

Last round and there was a building frenzy... apart from Jon who was trying to gather enough funds to buy Northern Rock. Emma and James both completed their 5th towers and Paul extended his red tower to match my green one (‘Tower’ envy is nothing to be proud of Paul...)... but It was clear at this stage that only Emma and James were in the race for the victory.

Final scores are sadly lost to the winds of time (or less romantically a trouser pocket at home somewhere), but I clinched victory with bonus points over Emma in a close 2nd. Paul was making up the numbers and Jon had learnt a valuable lesson that bling might get you noticed, but shouldn’t be taken as an alternative for substance.

So, I like the game, (and not only cause I won )... it's definitely in the family arena in terms of complexity, but there is enough going on for gamers to be interested. And despite being 1 1/2 hours for a first time run through, it should be under an hour for future games. Better I think with 4 than with 2, as the decisions seem a lot more intense. will have to bring along again for a rematch, although I'll wait a few weeks so I can savour the win a bit longer

Elsewhere the fare was lighter still...
Montego Bay (thanks Jon)
£7.99 from The Works – with lots of nice-looking bits so was worth an outing. This is quite a novel little game, where players have 2 workers that they use cards to control their movement around some dockside sheds. Depending on where the workers end up will dictate their ‘rewards’ in the form of barrels of goods, and possibly coins. The trick is that all movement is decided simultaneously, and workers that end up on the same square often end up being relocated. Players then use their barrels to load ships at the docks, and score points based upon majorities in each vessel.
The game claims to be playable in 45 mins, and this turned out to be exactly right. The ships leave the docks in a fairly swift fashion and the endgame is soon triggered. Although the decisions that players have to make aren’t particularly deep, there is enough in the game to cause some head-scratching (especially for Paul….)
It turns out that Jon was the best docker, but only by one point from Paul, with the last round being crucial in terms of scoring points.
I’m definitely going to bring this along again, as it fits into the ‘45 minutes with a bit of meat to it’ category, which is always a bonus.
Jon 41; Paul 40; James 33; Emma 25
Another light game...

Diamant (thanks Jon)
Long-time-no-see for this fun little gem-hunting push-your-luck game. We used to play this a lot at the end of the evening, but these 8-player games don’t seem to have come out quite as often recently. Never mind, this was rectified tonight, and we were soon reminded of why we used to enjoy it so much.
First up we have Gareth (on a rare pre-twins visit to IBG). His modus operandi is known as the ‘run screaming out of the mine like a little girl as soon as possible’ strategy. For the first few mines, he sat smugly back after he had collected 4 or 5 gems, as other more adventurous souls ventured further on, only to be often hit by misfortune and disaster. Barrie and Jon were the bravest gem-hunters, often dancing hand-in-hand into the darkness, only to be confronted by an effusion of foul-smelling green gas (maybe Gareth had ventured this way after all…..)
In the final mine, Gareth was joined in his usual early exit by 2 others, resulting in a paucity of scavenged loot. Once again, Jon and Barrie were the last ones left in, but this time fortune favoured the brave and they were rewarded by myriad gems. They both jumped ship after a particularly rewarding cave, which was not quite enough to give the victory to Jon, as Johan had quietly amassed a small fortune in precious stones in previous rounds. The other 5 players were separated by only 2 points, with Gareth coming in joint last. Maybe next time, he will be brave enough to venture into the mine with everyone else……..
Johan 44; Jon 35; Emma 25; Barrie 24; Paul 24; James 23; Gareth 23
Another push your luck game...

Nanuk (thanks Jon)
The evening finished with the game that, once upon  time at IBG, used to be the closer of choice. In honour of Emma’s last appearance at IBG, it was rolled out again, to send her on her way happy (even if she did come last). Tonight’s game was characterised by 2 events – Gareth was devious every time (no surprise) and Jon played it honest all the way through (maybe slightly more surprising). During one round, an unlikely alliance of James and Jon were left to try to source 8 deer by themselves in 3 days. With only 4 in their hands it was looking unlikely, although the first 2 cards from the deck did indeed turn out to be deer. However, the miracle hunt did not transpire, much to the relief of the other 7 players.
James then chose to side with Gareth in not going on the final hunt, which turned out to be an even bigger mistake, as it proved successful and profitable. The final scores demonstrated that honesty had paid off for Jon, with a narrow victory.
PS – if anyone can think of a better and quicker way of scoring this game, then please speak up – the current method is appalling…….
Jon 9; Dan 8; Barrie 8; Gareth 8; Lou 7; Tom 4; James 3; Mark 3; Emma 3

P.S The title is a quotation from Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

"In First and Foremost Flight"

After an unreported game of Perudo, I gravitated to…
Jeff was back, and as usual he had a shiny new game to play. Eclipse is a space empires game of the “4X” variety: Explore, Expand, Ex… and Exterminate. Players start in control of their own home system and take it in turn to take actions- you can take any number of actions but the more you take the more it costs.

The game began with everyone (Jeff, me, Barrie and James II) exploring neighbouring systems. Some systems were available for take over straight away- Jeff seemed to get lots of these- while others contained hostile aliens called Ancients- I was particularly favoured with these, though Barrie and James also had a fair few. Systems also contained bonus tokens- worth 2VPs or some other benefit such as extra cash or a bonus piece of kit for your ships.

Exploration continued in subsequent rounds, but we also conducted research and built and upgraded spaceships. Barrie was the first to attack the Ancients, with a fleet of Interceptors equipped with extra Ion Cannons. Unfortunately the Ancients blasted Barrie’s fleet to smithereens, but he received a VP token as a consolation prize. A little later I attacked a different Ancients’ system using two Dreadnaughts. Their greater size meant they could survive the Ancient attacks and win the day. The bonus token for that system gave me a Cruiser.

Meanwhile both Jeff and Barrie were running into overstretch problems due to having too many systems and not enough cash (In a clever mechanic, each system you control uses an action token, permanently increasing your costs). Jeff managed to survive by not doing very much, while Barrie was forced to lose systems to pay off his debts.

Technology tiles filled up three rows on a display near the board, with more tiles appearing each turn. One way to earn VPs was to buy lots of tiles in a particular row- a strategy I ended up following though more by luck than judgement.

Jeff and Barrie both researched Plasma Cannons- twice the damage of a conventional Ion Cannon- and Jeff and James developed shields, reducing the chance of his ships being hit. Due to some lucky bonus tokens, Barrie ended up with an extra strong hull and an Axion Computer on his cruisers- the Computer increasing his odds to hit. I developed Fusion Engines for twice the movement but never got round to installing them on my ships!

My Dreadnaughts and Cruiser next tackled a system with 2 Ancient’s ships in, losing the Cruiser but winning the battle. In order to reach the next Ancients system in one move I developed Wormhole technology- but then realised I could use said technology to attack Jeff’s temptingly defenceless system. 2 Dreadnaughts and 4 Cruisers sailed in. Jeff built 2 Star Bases, which proved their worth at static defence by taking out twice their cost in ships and leaving me with too few ships to take the system.

I decided to leave Jeff alone and return to the fight against the Ancients- which James and Barrie had also got involved in. Jeff then offered me an alliance- worth a VP and boosts both sides’ economies.  I accepted and James and Barrie swiftly formed their own alliance.
Jeff launched a fleet of interceptors against the central system, defended by a massive computer core, which easily shot down most of his ships- those who survived fled.
I was gradually making my way along the lowest technology row, picking up such things as Advanced Science (extra science income) and the ability to build Orbitals (extra science or money income) and Monoliths (each Monolith worth 3 VP).
In the penultimate turn James toyed with the idea of attacking his ally Barrie, but was discouraged by the 2 VPs Traitor card. In the last turn Barrie decided to get his retaliation in first and attacked James, prompting me to attack him.

Barrie was everywhere victorious, his Plasma cannon, super-improved Hull and Axion Computer equipped Cruisers destroying my unimproved Cruisers and causing my Dreadnaughts to flee (ironically…). Barrie’s fight with James was closer but still a victory. If there had been any turns remaining his fleets might have conquered the galaxy.

As it was however the game ended just in time…
Philip 32 Jeff 21, James II 21, Barrie 18
Meanwhile more earthly terrors were found on other tables…
Letters from Whitechapel (thanks James)
A dark night in smoggy London town and something strange, someone otherworldly is stalking the streets for victims.... the sobbing and screams of god-fearing women and whimpers of hysterical bystanders lie in the mythical creatures wake. Grown men reduced to tears and battle-scared veterans left wondering how something so vile could exist on god's own earth...

Oh, no, easy mistake to make... it’s just James with a moustache on his way to Isleworth.

Noel, Jon, Emma and James all liked the look of this relatively new game which is basically a Jack the Ripper re-theme of the classic Scotland Yard premise. One player is the criminal Jack, who murders a new innocent victim (somewhat disturbingly called “wretch” in the game) and needs to get back to their hideaway. Everyone else plays the inspectors looking for clues and aiming to trace Jack’s path to discover his base and make an arrest.

As I’d read the rules in advance it was decided I would play Jack for the first game as it requires the most knowledge... not sure I really qualify for that status but it was too late to make changes and I chose 87 as my base... mainly cause it was just off centre which seemed like a good idea at the time.
Night 1 - So after some hidden placement mechanic for the police and victims I made my first murder (death by haloumi fish and chips) and started a getaway. I was playing it simple to start with, and perhaps in the long run this was a mistake. The main clue detectives have early is where the murder took place, so the quicker Jack can get away from there, the better. Next time I’ll use coaches in the first two turns to get as far as possible but this time I was taking little steps, and spend most of the night with the detectives hot on my trail. I did try a few ‘sneaky’ moves towards the end but despite making it quite safely home I had given a lot of clues to the main area of the hideout.

Night 2- Everyone knew what they were doing this time round, and to try something different I chose to make my second murder (death by setting up one of Phil’s games with 10,000 pieces) on the far left so that few inspectors were near me at the start and to try and push attention away from the hideout. Early on this worked and I managed to give the impression of going north while shooting back south to take a central route... until some Columbo like detective paused, and changed the area to investigate and caught whiff of my tracks.. From here on it was a case of trying to throw them off the scent while making sure I could get back, and again I nearly managed it only to leave some clues behind (a few moustache trimmings perhaps) 2 squares from home which effectively pinpointed my base to 1 or 2 locations... A last attempt was to take an alley to get to the base to make them think it was nearby... however this move was to come back and bite me on the 3rd night...

Night 3 ... the double murder night... By this stage I realised that the game was probably up so wanted to keep close to the base to try and close this one quickly... However this rather obvious tactic was quickly revealed by the inspectors and despite playing coaches early in the move the net was closing in. Then, 2 places from home a hitherto unseen rule was discovered saying Jack couldn’t play a special move (coach, alley) to reach home... and given I’d done that last round I was forced to recant and reveal my crimes from the previous night... and from here all was lost. Jon, Noel and Emma quickly narrows by base down to 2 circles, and encamped inspectors around them leaving me with nowhere to go... I did try to slip Emma a bribe that I would bring along next week my game with cute baby dragons but to no avail. Jack was arrested, confessed everything and sentenced to either a lifetime in prison or a single game of Battlestar Galactica,... whichever ended soonest.

So, thoughts... it’s a good game. Very good in fact, although I’m not sure if it’s a 2 player game, or a 6 player one. Certainly 2 players would work just fine, 3 might allow for some debate, but 4 already started to feel like perhaps there wasn’t enough ‘action’ to go around for the inspectors. I’d like to play again, both as the inspectors to see what life was like on the other side, and also as Jack as I really didn’t do the role justice and have a much better feel for what to do (and not to do) next time.

Now I just need to work out who to accuse of being a Cylon so I can complete my sentence and I’m off... no, what’s that... The sentence has been revised to a best of 5 set of Battlestar.... ??? Noooooooooooo...

A slightly different perspective on the same game…
Letters from Whitechapel (thanks Jon)
This was played with 3 detectives (Jon, Noel and Emma) and 1 Jack (James).  James had read the rules and did a good job of communicating them to the newbies.
At first, it seemed really difficult for the detectives to get anywhere near Jack, but it soon dawned on the detectives that during the first 2 nights it was less about actually catching Jack, and more about narrowing down the position of his hideout. During the first night, the detectives picked up a good scent, and tracked Jack somewhere into the middle of the board where he disappeared and declared that he had reached his hideout. The second night saw the miscreant hot-foot it off in a carriage, leaving the detectives with a mere whiff of where he had been. However, they then converged on a large intersection and discovered the trail. Detective Leprechaun (Noel) had a feeling in his water that Jack was at a certain location and tried a daring arrest – but sadly failed, as Jack had changed direction and was heading South. With one detective chasing him, 2 others tracked around to try to cut him off. 2 turns later, they searched for clues and found Jack’s current location as he tried to sneak past. Jack moved once more and then declared himself ‘home’ – leaving a mere 5 locations as possible hideouts. James then realised that he had made an error, and used a special token to do his final move (even though he didn’t have to) which narrowed his possible hideout location down further to only 2 spaces. Consequently, the detectives quickly threw a cordon around this area during the next night, which Jack was unable to penetrate and was arrested within yards of his devilish lair.
Playing the detectives in this game was quite fun – discussing the possible routes that Jack may have taken and the best ways to track him down. It was often difficult to mute this discussion whilst James considered his moves, which was the sign of us being totally immersed in the game. We talked afterwards about it probably working best with 3 players, which would make it a bit quicker but still give a good co-op experience for the detectives. Definitely worth a re-run soon.
Elsewhere the game was rather less subtle…

Blood Bowl: Team Manager – The Card Game (thanks Tom)
Dan was keen to show off his new purchase of Blood Bowl: TM, a card game adaptation of the Games Workshop staple. Tom was eager to give it a try and Ian was roped in from the horde looking to play Letters From Whitechapel.

The players set down to choosing from the six teams available. Tom immediately picked up the Dwarves, Dan stumped for Skaven, and Ian ended up with Chaos after a brief flirtation with Orks, ultimately being won around once Dan had reassured him that he would have a Minotaur in his deck. Soon after, John B turned up and chose Humans, leaving Elves and Orks to be sampled another day. Lots of tackles, cheating and general rough-housing followed, during which Ian tried to draft in new blood, Tom drew an extremely useless four Dwarven Longbeards in one hand, and Dan steadily accumulated staff upgrades and team upgardes (a tactic which would ultimately pay off).

Having establishing an early fan lead after the first two rounds, John was unfortunately called away and the game dropped down to three. The game then descended somewhat into a grudge match between the Dwarves and Skaven with one particular highlight card being swamped by both teams, whilst Chaos was left to easily pick up some fans elsewhere. Unfortunately for Tom, Dan’s one successful attempt to use his Assassin ability on Tom’s star player, coincided with another Dwarf being sent off for cheating and Dan’s Skaven Blitzer pulling off a 3 star cheat, leaving the Dwarves bloodied and broken on the Blood Bowl field.

This left Dan and Ian to battle it out for Blood Bowl supremacy and Chaos briefly looked to have won it. In the battle for the Blood Bowl trophy itself, it looked to all that Chaos had triumphed by a point. However, rather belatedly, Tom realised that he got an extra star point for any downed player drawing him level. Dan having the tiebreaker button, naturally deemed the Dwarves to have triumphed, depriving Chaos of three fans.

In the end game, Dan revealed his card that granted him an additional fan for each staff and tactics card in his possession, which took him into the lead with 46 fans… three more than Ian. Despite the Dwarves having won the Blood Bowl trophy, Tom came third; a pyrrhic victory of sorts.

A fantastic game which looks like it will become even more fun once the players get used to the strengths and weaknesses of the various teams, Tom has already asked for a copy in his stocking this Christmas with a New Years’ resolution to better his micro-management skills.

Dan – 46, Ian – 43, Tom – 38, John B – 17 (DNF)
The players now enlarged their ambitions from Sport to world domination, in the same setting…

Chaos in the Old World (thanks Tom)
Having now had a taste of the Warhammer universe with Blood Bowl, the unholy trinity of Tom, Dan and Ian set down for a game of Chaos in the Old World. Dan and Ian were both seasoned players whilst Tom had never played it before, although he was eager to give it a try.

Whilst Tom gamely worked through some Isleworth Apprentice Roasted Pistachios (TM), Dan and Ian explained the rules and set up the board, despite Tom’s assertion that he could pick up the rules as he went along. Oh, sweet naivety.

Perhaps it was a clever ploy of Dan and Ian to have Tom play as the subtle manipulator and politicker, Tzeentch. Then again, they may simply have overestimated his tactical nous as first turn, Tom steamed into Bretonnia, despite Bretonnia being subject to the Skaven, restricting the number of chaos cards playable in the region. When Ian playing as Khorne, naturally, pushed some of his minions into Bretonnia in order to try and obtain some easy dial ticks by killing Tom’s cultists, Dan and Ian were perhaps even more surprised when Tom countered this, not by moving away, but by placing down his Lord of Change, based on the fact that he was a pretty imposing looking figurine. Dan commented that he had never seen anyone play as Tzeentch this way before; there was good reason for this as Khorne routed all in its path.

With Tom on his mad frolic, a more interesting tactical battle was taking place in Tilea with Dan as Slaanesh trying to flood in cultists with a view to ruining the province. He was ultimately successful taking 10 victory points, with Ian taking second place easily as Tom had not even sought to contest the province, engaged in his own brand of quixotic justice in seeking to ruin Bretonnia. Finally, Tom tilted at enough windmills that he succeeded but this had all been to Ian’s great benefit.

Dan sought to rectify the balance by gaining a stronghold in Estalia but to no avail, Ian obtaining the required 50 victory points after only four turns. Despite the somewhat baffled expressions on Ian and Dan’s faces, good fun was had by all and Tom certainly would be keen for a rematch, if only to occupy The Badlands so that he can make some poor Springsteen based puns.

Ian – 1st, Dan - 2nd, Tom - 3rd
After Letters from Whitechapel, looking for something reasonably meaty to fill the last hour was the order of the day. Jon didn’t want to learn anything new, so he forced Noel and Emma to learn –

Mykerinos (thanks Jon)
This is a fairly straightforward area control game with a few twists thrown in. Emma went slightly overboard in placing cubes to claim a couple of parcels of land each turn. Consequently she didn’t quite have enough patrons for points or special abilities. Fruity Noel picked up a few Lord Lemons, whilst James majored on Lady Blackmore. Jon picked up some early Sir Browns, and then used their special ability to reserve the ‘5’ space in the museum for them.
In the last round, James had shed loads of cubes, and was about to toss his final one away as useless, when Nol reminded him that he had a spare Sir Brown and could therefore place in the last spot in the museum. This increased his final score by 2 points and forced a tie with Jon, which could not even be broken with a tie-breaker. Rejoicing in their shared victory? Probably not……..
James and Jon 51; Noel 40ish; Emma 30ish

P.S "In first and foremost flight" is from the Gondoliers by Gilbert and Sullivan.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

"And his legs will take Root and his Fingers will Shoot"

A brief prelude…
Memoir ’44 (Thanks Jon)
Jon and Paul got to the pub early for a pre-arranged WWII adventure. This was a classic Normandy scenario, with Jon playing the well dug-in but sparse Germans, whilst Paul commanded the plentiful, heroic Allied forces. Both players had rather bad luck in terms of cards drawn (Jon had no cards on the left flank so couldn’t use his artillery or infantry outpost, and Paul kept all his forces in the centre and left – and then drew mostly right-flank cards.)
Paul’s first intervention was a successful air-strike, which wiped out half of the German forces in the middle section. Jon therefore decided that waiting to be over-run wasn’t going to be much fun, so he advanced to the top of the cliff to try to repel the invaders. The Allies quickly climbed the left flank cliffs but then appeared to get stuck, which gave the Germans an opportunity to take some pot-shots at the forces sruggling in the shallow water of the mid-section.
The Germans quickly gained 2 medals, so, in an attempt to press home the advantage, and in a complete deviation from the history books, they descended the cliffs, advanced onto the beach and engaged the Allies at the water’s edge. This proved to be successful, and they were soon only one medal from victory.
However, there were now no German troops at all in the mid-scetion at the top of the cliffs, so the Allied forces who had successfully climbed the cliffs now pushed across to try to claim the medals in the forests at the SW corner of the battlefield. This was almost successful, but as their thrust took them into range of the German artillery, they were unable to complete their mission. Which left Jon’s troops to celebrate their emphatic victory with a BBQ on the beach
Jon (Axis) – won; Paul (Allies) – trounced

The evening for those of us not starting with WWII began with a quick game of Skulls and Roses. About which the less said the better (at least from my perspective!). Unfortunately for me, Jon did a report…

Skull and Roses (thanks Jon)
It’s been too long since we played this simple but fun game that Woody introduced to IBG. It’s also been too long between playing the game and writing this report, which means that I’m not entirely sure who won.
It wasn’t me (even though I successfully scored a point in the very first round), and I’m sure that it wasn’t Paul (who lost his skull early on and then was a little more cautious about bidding). Also pretty sure that it wasn’t Philip or Maynard, which by process of elimination leaves Woody. Actually, that makes sense, as his world-reknowned poker skills make this an ideal game for him. It was fun though…….
Next up…
Betrayal at House on the Hill
Skulls and Roses completed, I suggested Betrayal, as James II ha brought it again. Barrie made the fifth player to the four who had played a few weeks ago-and he knew the rules as he owns a copy so we jumped straight in. Emma played the young woman, Barrie the little girl, me the little boy, James II the old man (Professor Longfellow) and Alex the young man (Ox).

Exploration proceeded in all directions, with my character running up the stairs, exploring the Upper floor, finding the Mystic elevator which landed him on the ground floor and ending up in the basement when the floor collapsed underneath him. Meanwhile 2 others had reached the basement , James was on the ground floor, and Emma on the Upper floor.

Emma was looking for the toy monkey she had found in the previous game. She found a lucky rabbit’s foot and a picture box which she couldn’t open- and it was taken away due to an event happening to James when he looked in the closet…which seemed to exercise a strange fascination.

Anyway, Alex’s strategy of exploring the omen-rich Basement paid off and he triggered the haunt by finding a flower in a book. The scenario, “Offspring”, called for the player on the left of the haunt finder to become the traitor. That was Emma. She wasn’t too pleased but went away to read her secret instructions.

This scenario featured an “Evil Plant”. Perhaps the plant was originally a human being…in any event it was sending out dangerous spores that inflicted 1 die of physical damage on player characters. To destroy it we needed to bring the flower Alex had found to the room with the Evil Plant and use our Knowledge to defeat it (the Plant, that is).

The first challenge was to get out of the basement, since the basement stairs had yet to be located. However, they were found relatively quickly and soon the heroes were charging towards the Evil Plant on the ground floor, holding their breath to minimise Spore damage.

The Traitor? She was still upstairs searching frantically for the Toy Monkey. All she found was various dangerous events and items, which killed her… the Evil Plant was on its own (apart from the Spores of course).

It proved relatively easy to reach the plant and pass three Knowledge checks, Professor Longfellow being gifted in that area and also wearing a Mask which increased knowledge but lowered Sanity…

The victory description for this scenario describes the stench of blood and burning human flesh- confirming my earlier suggestion of lost humanity.

More horror…
Panic Station (Thanks Jon)
Jon was the only player to have played before, but James came over and explained the rules (which are complicated further by having an official and updated official version).
Jon was the host, and after a little pussy-footing around, he decided not to give a gas can to Noel, thereby heaping suspicion on himself. He then managed to manufacture a situation where he got to trade 3 times in quick succession with Maynard, depleting him of gas cans and then infecting him. Unfortunately, Maynard did not try to bluff that he had been infected, so it was now obvious who the bad guys were.
Meanwhile, Johan had managed to get himself trapped in room with several parasites, and had his butt chewed off. Woody took himself off to a quiet area of the station by himself (don’t ask…) whilst Noel tried (and failed) to blow Jon’s brains out.
Maynard then had to leave us, so James took over. This resulted in Noel and Johan both being infected, and as Woody had no human left, the game was over. Even though Johan claimed that he wasn’t infected (slight misunderstanding with the rules!) this had not affected the end result.
This is definitely a game to play a bit more often with the same players, to try to develop some strategies of how to win. It appears to be difficult for the host to infect someone without drawing attention to himself, but we’ll have to see if that’s still the case after a few more plays.

Elsewhere a rather less horrific scene was unfolding...

Oregon (Thanks Woody)
Woody and Tonio had clashed before and with Woody arriving complete with crisp new copy, Paul and Johan (1st timers) were on board for a four way game.

Oregon is a people and building placement game with a card & grid operating model. Points are awarded for placing your people next to buildings and visa versa. Clusters of three of your people together also gains bonuses. Finally, points at the end of the game are disclosed for any mining activity completed.

Rules explained, game on ... Tonio was off to a flying start, maximising use of this joker and extra turn cards a couple of times. Paul was quickly mining and gathered undisclosed bonus points. Johan tried to cover the whole board whilst Woody made steady progress. In the latter stages, Tonio's lead was whittled away and when Woody placed two churches in successive moves, he jumped ahead. As Tonio played the closing moves, Paul was some distance behind: However, his mining points brought him within 1 point of Tonio.
Woody93, Tonio 71, Paul 70, Johan 66

Two of those players now moved on to…

String Railway (thanks Paul)
After filling up the available space with multi coloured spaghetti last week with a five player game of string railway, James, Tonio and Paul found out what is was like with three.

Actually Paul and Tonio were waiting for James to explain the rules of another game to another bunch of people, so they had a crack at a two player game first, but Paul got the special two player rules wrong (which involve each player using two colours) and it was abandoned near the end. Tonio might have been winning, I couldn't be sure.

James suggested that they make the playing area a triangle, so after some debate about it being equilateral or isosceles, the mountain was placed in the middle and one river between Paul and Tonio, which discouraged either from crossing it for the whole game.

It was a pretty close thing for most of the game, with most of the action in the spaces between James and Tonio and James and Paul, due to the above mentioned river.

Paul had saved his long string until his last move and managed to eke out enough points for a very close victory, due to landing on James’ base station, and then in James' last move he gifted Paul a point.

It was noted that it isn't a game for high level competition as the nature of the string doesn't lend itself to precision and there will always be a few question marks over the little movements in a string or the fact that a station was moved slightly, but overall it was agreed that it is a very fun game.

Paul: 31, James: 30, Tonio: 29

Meanwhile, the evil plant safely disposed of we decided to do some farming…
Despite Andy’s misgivings, Emma was correct in thinking we could play both Betrayal at House on the Hill and Agricola in one evening. Me and Barrie made up the four for Agricola and we mixed the decks and dealt 10 cards of each type to everyone, discarding down to 7. Emma and Barrie hadn’t played for some time (over a year in Barrie’s case), while me and Andy were more experienced.

Barrie started by taking the Wood, while Andy played the Wood Cutter. Emma played the Resource Collector and I played the House Goat. Barrie played Reed, Stone Food, Andy plowed, Emma took some Wood, and I took 2 Clay.

In the next round I played the Charcoal Burner and built the Fireplace, while others gathered Wood. Barrie played the Fishing Rod.

The third round saw Barrie lead with Village Elder while I picked up 3 Reeds and played the Dock Worker. After that my memory fades. I managed to roast sheep for the first harvest, while Emma was building early stables. Andy had a huge pile of resources. Barrie fished in the first harvest, but somehow ended up 2 food short at the second harvest, taking 2 Begging cards. I was perhaps more puzzled than the others at this point, since I held the Mendicant!

Meanwhile I played my third and fourth occupations- Bread Seller (who proved completely useless as no one baked bread the whole game long) and Market Woman (who earned me 6 Grain over the course of the game). I was also able to expand by 1 room and be the first to grow my family (family growth arriving as late as possible). My minor improvement with my 3rd family member was the Animal Pen- 2 food a turn for the rest of the game=14 food! It requires 4 Occupations hence my haste to put them down although it has to be admitted I’m usually keen on Occupations anyway…

Andy was next to expand his family, having built 2 rooms at once, and  produced a third and a fourth family member before I could get my fourth and fifth. Emma and Barry picked up a third family member at around this time. Meanwhile the food accumulated on the remaining round spaces as Barrie pulled off his Well/Water Carrier combo (but not before taking a third begging card!) and added a Herb Garden to it, and I played a Swan Lake. Emma had purchased a Cooking Hearth, Andy had gone from Simple Fireplace to Cooking Hearth minor improvement and added a Clay Oven at the end, but Barrie steadfastly refused any sort of Cooking improvement.

I was only able to plow two fields (in which I sowed Vegetables), but managed to build all my fences with the help of Mini-Pasture (also used by Barrie), and a couple of stables with the help of the Dock Worker. I picked up one of each animal and the main defect in my farm, that I had not renovated, was fairly solidly compensated for by the Wooden Hut Builder. I also built the Basketmaker’s Workshop which allowed me to eat Reed in the last two Harvests.

Andy had meanwhile built a substantial farm with no empty spaces, the approved variety of livestock and a four room stone house. Emma and Barrie were rather further behind, despite Barrie’s use of the Swing Plow and Emma exploiting that with the Punner. When the game ended it was found that me, Barrie and Emma all had 5 improvements, Andy having less, so the 3 VPS from Village Elder were not awarded to him.
Philip 45 Andy 38 Emma 24 Barrie 17.
Finally, a cathedral in France...

Notre Dame (thanks James)
So, despite the appearance of several shiny new games in the pile of boxes the older classics are still getting to the table, especially with the Work’s recent sale pushing copies of a few of them into new and eager hands. I think Woody brought this along, but it was Noel, Jon, Maynard and myself who played... Andy was all set to be the 5th until someone flashed a copy of Agricola his way, and before your could say ‘major improvement’, in a puff of smoke, he was gone. Still some would call this a minor improvement on the Notre Dame table as the game would be quicker with 4. First time for me, but everyone else had played before so trying not to hold things up too much Noel breezed through the rules and off we went.

Early strategies seemed to be to gather cubes, being new I was trying to follow everyone else but after a while I liked the idea of ferrying my wagon around the board to steel other peoples bonus points. Noel and Jon shared the first Notre Dame bounty due to a selfless act of sabotage by Jon... hmm, Jon, selfless... not sure those words have been used together in a game report before ! round 2 was more of the same although by this stage Maynard’s love of rats was getting the better of him and he spent most of the rest of the game struggling to keep below the penalty level of 9. Perhaps Paul should bring Rattus along next week where I think rats are actually a good thing to have ?! The last round and strategies changed to turn whatever anyone had into points. I was still crusing around the board, while Jon and Maynard seemed to be piling all their pieces into the bonus sector. Noel had already claimed the bonus VP sector a while back and was making the most of it. The final hiring round was a bit of an anti climax as virtually n rats appeared. Probably good given nearly everyone was on or around 9 and maxed out, but could’ve been interesting with 5/6 rats in the last round when everyone would be panicking to change their focus back to rat extermination.

So final scores... Jon and Maynard has realised they were out of the running a few rounds earlier, but when Noel and myself counted we both had 62... I’m pretty sure the tie breaker included something about victory going to the eldest player, but sadly that bit of the rules had gone missing.

P.S “And his legs will take root and his fingers will shoot” is from the Nightmare Song in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe. The unfortunate tradesman being transformed into a flowering plant then produces useful groceries rather than harmful spores, however…

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

"Capacity for Innocent Enjoyment"

A few games played tonight, lets start with some contagious diseases…

Pandemic (thanks Paul)

Tom and Louise were welcome newcomers to IBG but had not played any of the games on show before. Tonio and Paul were the only others not in the middle of another game and they only knew a handful of the games on display. Pandemic was plumped for as they decided it wouldn't be worth risking putting off our newcomers by not knowing the rules very well (a trap Paul falls into a touch too often). And a co-operative game is a nice way to start with a married couple - not giving them a chance to 'do a Vicky and Maynard'. [classic example of ‘doing a Paul’ here, ed]

Although they hadn't played huge numbers of games like this before, both Louise and Tom were up to speed in no time, which although Paul would like to think was down to his well crafted explanation, it was probably more down to the fact that said actuary and lawyer were very sharp.

East Asia was first to look vulnerable so we duly dispatched Louise's heroic medic, but after some attention in Ho Chi Min City and Bangkok, West Asia was starting to look a little too covered in black cubes.

In the first part of the game, cubes were kept well under control, but no cures had been found. This was noted, so more effort was put into discovering cures, with a black cure coming first courtesy of Tom's scientist. However the cards were being used very freely and half way through the deck only one cure had been found.

Red and black continued to wax and wane throughout the game, whilst blue and yellow were more or less under control until close to the end. With the last epidemic out of the way, cures for both red and blue were still needed. A plan was hatched, tweaked and discussed to put an end to the red disease, but the stack of cards was running low and while the outbreak counter was about half way, there were a lot of cubes on the board in dangerous areas. Tonio's 4 turn epic plan of shuffling cards around to the right person and lining up the optimal route to a research station was commenced, but as the turns went by chain reaction followed outbreak and this was followed by another chain reaction.

The result was that the game was lost due to excessive outbreaks even before the third cure was found, let alone being able to think about the final one.

An empty feeling all round, as the world wasted away under the scourge of black and blue contagion, but a good time was had by our failing disease specialists and we don't think that Louise and Tom were put off despite defeat.

Scores: Paul, Tonio, Louise & Tom - all lost

Something a little more constructive…

Kingdom Builder (thanks Jon)

True to his word, John had brought a whole bag full of  Essen goodness with him, and when asked to select his favourite, he picked this one. Jon jumped on board and Andy (eventually) arrived to make up a trio. The rules are very simple, and John did a good job of concisely explaining them in under 10 mins. The modular board contains a number of terrain types, and on a players’ turn, they must place 3 settlements in a terrain type dictated by the turn of a card. Pretty much the only placement rule is that you have to place each settlement next to a previous settlement if you can. Players score points based on 3 ‘points rules’ cards which are drawn randomly at the beginning of the game, ensuring  that each game plays out differently.

John gave some wise advice at the beginning of the game (“Be careful where you place your first settlement. Best to avoid that massive desert in the middle of the board.”) Jon, displaying the memory of a goldfish, promptly forgot that advice and placed his first settlement bang slap in the middle of said desert. (Actually, he should have built in a Chasm first, but mis-read the first terrain card…….)

Anyway, the game moved on at a fair pace – the first few turns were spent trying to pick up some action tiles, whilst trying to place settlements in places that gave you the most future options as well as scoring the most points. The scoring conditions in this game were: 1) 1 point for each distinct group of settlements; 2) 1 point for each 2 settlements in your biggest group; 3) 1 point for each horizontal row that you had a settlement on. The interesting thing was that the first 2 conditions were almost opposite – 1 encouraged multiple groups, whilst the second required one big group.

The game ends when someone has placed their 40th settlement, which comes around sooner than you might think, and then the points are totted up. A combination of Jon having a settlement on every horizontal line, plus a massive 32-settlement group in the middle of the ‘forbidden’ desert was enough to give him a reasonably comfortable victory , with John just pipping Andy into second place.

Opinion? Fantastic game! Easy to explain and understand but tricky to play. Perfect weight-gamelength ratio (45 mins). And plenty of replayability with differring scoring conditions and boards each game. Bring it again John!
Jon 51; John 37; Andy 36

They now turned to real estate…

For Sale (Thanks Jon)

Looking for a quick filler whilst other games were finished, For Sale fitted the bill perfectly. Newcomers Tom and Louise (as well as first-timer Andy) were quickly inducted into the straightforward rules and the game was on.

Louise proved adept at picking up some good bargains, whilst Tom rather overpaid ($10k) on the ‘29’ card. Paul constantly roved his inability to count up to 6, whilst Andy and John seemed to somehow part with hardly any cash at all. Jon also overpaid for both the ‘30’ and, bizarrely, the ‘1’.

After the second round had concluded, Louise had achieved her first triumph at IBG, with John pipping Andy for second place for the second game running. Paul confided that he had tried the Jon tactic of not picking up the ‘zero’ cheques. He ended up picking up both of them….

Louise 54; John 48; Andy 47; Jon 42; Tom 34; Paul 32

Meanwhile I was venturing into a distinctly unreal realm…

Mage Knight

Again I was slightly late this evening and missed out an opportunity to build robots. Instead I found Jeff setting up Mage Knight, an obviously fantasy game with an intriguing map and model of a dragon-like creature that I assumed was the final bad guy.

There was a slot spare so I reserved a seat and ate my croque-monsieur while we waited for Dan.

My meal finished and Dan still wasn’t there so Jeff explained the basics of movement and combat, which took long enough that Dan arrived so he could explain it all over again. Each player has a deck of cards, from which he draws a hand of five cards. Playing the cards allows you to move, fight, heal, and influence the locals. Each card has a normal effect and a special boosted effect you can trigger by paying an appropriate mana cost.

Mana is available in a dice pool for everyone and also in the form of tokens and crystals which belong to particular players. Tokens evaporate at the end of the turn, crystals don’t. Two of those new to the game misunderstood Jeff’s explanation and thought crystals were permanent resources usable once a turn, rather than being one shot items. This emerged about halfway through the game with no visible harm done.

We were assigned our characters- mind turned out to be the dragon model I’d noticed earlier. The characters get painted plastic models, the monsters are just cardboard tokens. This was an exploration scenario, starting with just one piece of the map visible. I was last in the (randomly determined) turn order. Players entered the map through a magic portal. Dan started by recruiting some peasants, defeating some orcs and quickly levelling up – getting an extra card in his deck, a special ability, and the right to command more troops. This led to him capturing a Keep, putting his flag on it, and recruiting more followers. Meanwhile the other players made slower progress, exploring and occasionally fighting. Everyone managed to level up before nightfall. Jeff was mauled by an Orc that summoned a bigger monster and generally had bad luck with his cards.

Night fell when Dan’s cards ran out. During the night movement rates change (easier to cross deserts, harder to cross forests) and gold mana cannot be used while black mana can be. Also, it is impossible to tell what enemies look like except by attacking them…
Turn order changed, with me going first. I captured a Wizard’s tower at the cost of a couple of wounds, earning me a spell (a healing spell, for obvious reasons) and a flag on the tower.

Meanwhile Rob looted a monastery (appropriately), gaining an artefact, and Dan went down a dungeon, flagging it and gaining another artefact. Most of us managed to level up again – this time getting extra armour and a new ability. Then Rob found a City- which was the end of the exploration scenario. It was now 10pm, so the game had taken at least 2 hours for one day and one night of the introductory scenario, nevertheless we were all keen to play again another evening!
Dan 1st Rob 2nd Philip 3rd Jeff 4th

We were just in time to watch the conclusion of …

String railway (thanks Paul)

This is a Japanese curiosity which had entertained James, Barrie and Paul one evening last Essen, but had been extremely difficult to obtain. James was the only one of the three to hit Essen again this year and he ensured that he picked up a copy.

The game is, as the title suggests, about players building railways from bits of string. It is probably something hatched in a school playground many years ago, only to have now been brought into the gaming world by Japanese games inventor with a good memory and the ability to turn it into a fun and utterly different game.

There is string and some tiles and a few cubes. But mainly string. The game area is defined by a very long black piece of string knotted to form a loop. Players add two blue bits of sting to form a couple of rivers and another knotted loop to represent a mountain - wherever they like in the playing area. Each player is allotted four short bits of string and one long piece, in their chosen colour, which form the rails in the players network.

Each player takes turns on drawing a station tile, each having different characteristics dictating how many other players may pass through that station, how many points are given out to the player laying the tile and then subsequent passes through by other players, and if there are any positive or negative effects to the original station owner when other players use their station. Once a tile is drawn the player puts the tile anywhere in the playing area and then places one of their bits of string down, starting at their base station in the first turn, but always maintaining a connection with their own network in subsequent turns. The players may twist and turn their string as much as they like picking up points for all of the stations that they connect. Points are deducted for crossing over other bits of string (a river, the edge of the mountains or another track).

A bit like Carcassonne, it's a landscape creating game, which starts off with little more than some rivers and a mountain, but at the end of the game there are many stations and tracks that were created through the game, which must make every game completely unique and gives a great feeling of satisfaction (to me at least). Actually, maybe most of the satisfaction is part way through the game, as with five players the game really does resemble multi coloured spaghetti towards the end.

Paul started with a station in the mountains - a double edged sword that gave some points but that he never did capitalise on later.

Jon and Alex were sat next to each other and occupied one end of the playing area, somewhere that neither would break free of throughout the game, choosing to focus on inflict damage to each other instead of seeing the sights of the rest of the board.

In Emma's first turn she set the scene for dominating the rest of the game by diving in with her long string and connecting both Paul and Alex's high scoring stations and taking a commanding lead. In doing so she did actually accidentally pass over the knot in the mountains. She gallantly did the right thing and gave up a point for it.

James plugged away next to Emma starting to build up his only network.

These themes continued throughout. Emma showed us just how to build a rail network in purple as she wiped the floor with us. Jon and Alex were in their own string world and didn't benefit from it. The main battle was for second place between James and Paul. The scores as they were counted up after James' final string were even, although it was pointed out that he'd ignore a string over the knot on the outside of the board (which may or may not have happened after it was placed - no one will ever know). The scores give James the benefit of the doubt and also show clearly that it didn't matter a jot to Emma - she was too far in the lead.

Emma: 28, Paul: 23, James: 23, Jon: 21, Alex: 19

“Capacity for innocent enjoyment” is from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance