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

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