Friday, 30 December 2011

"Hold on high their shameless heads"

After our Christmas meal the week before, only six people turned up for the meeting before Christmas. Light games were the fare.
Gloria Pictoria
Jon, James and me began with this fairly simple card game. Build up sets of cards in various colours, score points for having the most cards in a given colour during the 3 scoring rounds (whose timing is unpredictable), lose points at the end for cards in hand. The one complication is the fox, who prowls around rendering useless one set of cards. On your turn the fox starts with you and automatically joins your neighbour when your turn ends, however you can send him on ahead for a price.
In fact, the price never seemed worth having and, as chance would have it, the fox struck a different player each scoring round, roughly evening out the bad luck. Jon was ahead early but once I realised the importance of starting as many sets as possible I was able to take the lead...(scores may not be totally correct).
Philip 17 John 14 James I 12
From foxes to guns...

Ca$h 'n' Gun$ [thanks Andy]
Our festive funsters settled down for a game about shooting your friends and running off with all the loot. What could be more seasonal?
It quickly became apparent that if you want to do well at this game you should play with people that others would really like to plug with a bullet. So it proved as James, Jon and Gareth all found themselves staring down the barrels of numerous revolvers and the brave (Gareth) quickly found himself nursing injuries while the cowardly picked up shame tokens.
Paul's Bang Bang Bang card gave Andy a wound while he was preparing to finish Gareth off, thus saving Thomason's skin. But when it came down to the final reckoning Andy had kept his head down long enough to accumulate just enough cash to win.
Final scores: Andy $70,000; Gareth, Phil and Paul $65,000; James $50,000 and Jon $45,000
Not robbers but Indians next...(postive numbers in Coyote are Indians).

Coyote (thanks Jon)
As this was ‘party-game’ night, there wasn’t too much grumbling when Jon brought out a game that involved everyone wearing a headband to attach a card to their heads. Nice.
The game is basically a deck of cards which mostly have numbers from 1-5 on them, but also have some 10’s, 20’s and wild cards (-10 / - highest other card etc). Each player takes a card, and without looking at it, attaches it to his head, so that everyone else can see it. Therefore you can see every card apart from your own. Players then begin bidding an amount which they think that the total of all the cards doesn’t exceed, until someone decides that it is too high and challenges the previous bid ( a la Perudo). Players who have bid or challenged incorrectly then take a token (also attached to their head!) and when they have 3 tokens, they are eliminated. Last man standing wins. It sounds simple, and it is, but there is something very amusing about seeing another player with a “-10” on their head which they don’t know about, but something equally as frustrating about not knowing what’s stuck to your own forehead! Philip and James were the first to depart the game, closely followed by Gareth and then Paul. It was then left to a showdown between Jon and Andy, which Jon won in the final round.
This is actually a really fun game, and one that I enjoyed more than Perudo, as there is a lot more knowledge available. Definitely an enjoyable way to pass 20 mins, and worth it just to see Philip wearing a red headband.
Jon – won; Andy – 2nd; Paul; Gareth; Philip; James
Less bluffing, more fighting in our next game.... 

King of Tokyo (thanks Jon)
At the beginning of this game, there was a general rumble of discontent as several players appeared to be playing for the ‘points’ victory, rather than beating seven bells out of each other in Tokyo. However, this eventually changed when Andy was able to take out 4 other players in a single turn, leaving him in a fight-to-the-death with Jon, who was currently on 14 points and 3 health. However, a fortunate roll of the dice allowed Jon to pick up 3 points from rolling 3 two’s, getting another point for not attacking, and having enough energy to buy a card that gave an instant 2 points in return for losing 2 health. 6 points in one turn, and the victory was his. So much for having disdain for points victories……
Jon – won; Andy – 2nd; James; Gareth; Phil; Paul – all died

Linq (thanks Jon)
Trust James to bring along an obscure little word game that is actually rather good – although I’m not sure that Gareth was that impressed… Anyway, the concept is simple – players are secretly dealt a card, which either contains a word, or ??? on it (only 2 players have a word, which is always the same). Players then take it in turns to say a single word, and then a second word, and that’s it! The trick is that the 2 players with the words are trying to locate each other, whilst the others are trying to locate the ‘wordists’ whilst trying to get others to incorrectly identify them. Think - Dixit meets the Resistance (sort of….) We only had time (or the inclination) to play 3 or 4 rounds, but I really enjoyed it – a neat twist on word games. Can’t remember who won, but it wasn’t me……..

P.S "Hold on high their shameless heads" is from Gilbert and Sullivan's Ruddigore

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

"In for a Penny in for a Pound"

For me the whole evening was bold as...
I was eager to play this Martin Wallace game again, and Keith who had brought it was of the same mind. We roped James II and Shamu as new players. Keith explained the rules and I noted any little differences from my previous understanding.
Shamu was randomly chosen to start and, as Keith suggested, developed while Iron was cheap. So did James, while Keith and I built cotton mills.
I think Keith played the first Ironworks and he also made the first cotton shipment to the external market, neatly timed to balance his loan. I endured a couple of turns negative income before shipping two cotton mills at once, one to my port and one to the external market. Meanwhile Shamu shipped using James II’s port.
The canal age proceeded more or less prosperous with me and Keith putting down several level 2 structures and James II putting down a level 2 port. In fact my port, James’ port and Keith’s cotton mill were all flipped during the canal age, thus scoring twice. James II was clearly ahead after the first scoring, but his income was looking low.

With the coal mines already in place, railway building made an early and rapid start, especially as I had funds enough to build 2 railways in one action on a number of occasions. James II took out a second loan and began constructing shipyards, by dint of considerable effort cranking two out before the game ended. Meanwhile the Iron and Coal disappeared and indeed fell so low that I was able to replace one of James II’s Coal mines with one of my own as almost the last move of the game.
The final scoring revealed that my strategy was too heavily income-biased, while James II’s Shipyards paid off handsomely. Scores may not be totally accurate- James II took the scoresheet!
James II 110 Keith 103 Philip 100 Shamu 96
BRASS (thanks James).
A couple of weeks ago my friend Jess came over to see me. Among other things, she wanted to play a board game. She liked the box art on Troyes and said she'd like to try it. I said (for her being a non-gamer) it was quite complicated. Nonetheless I set the board up and proceeded to explain the rules. Jess has the shortest attention span of anyone I know and five minutes in she got bored and started to throw the pieces at me. So, the day after, it was good to go to The London Apprentice and play a game with some actual gamers.
        Keith had brought along Brass. Now a game based on the industrial revolution in the north of England isn't one I'd normally jump at due to the theme, but it did indeed look interesting.
        The game consists of two phases – The canal era and The rail era. It's played on a map of the north of England and players score points by developing industries in the major industrial centres of the time. To start with, only certain types of industry can be built. These in turn can provide resources (some of which can also be purchased from the open market) to develop more advanced industries. These can also go on to provide goods which can be moved along canal or rail routes to be sold for revenue. Also, your industries exist in a stack. As you develop industries and progress through the stack, the industries available to you become more valuable. The play is partially card-driven. The cards that you possess (more are drawn in  each of the players turns) determine which industries you are allowed to build and the locations in which you are allowed to do so. If you want to expand your empire (and do not have an appropriate location card), you must use your already built canal (rail in the second phase of the game) routes to move your your industrial influence to another location on the board. These routes, as I mentioned before, can also be utilised to move goods. The difference between these two actions is that to expand your empire to a new location, you can only use routes that you have built. Where as, when moving goods, you can use routes that other players have put in place. Thus building routes is an advantage to progressing in the game. In addition to this though, at the end of each of the two phases, canal or rail sections give you points. The more industries they link to, the more points you get.
        At the end of the game with the final scoring taking place, I managed to secure a slim victory, I think due to developing a couple of ship yards in the last few turns, which I fortuitously had the appropriate cards for.
James (me):112. Keith 104.Phil:100.Shamu:    97.
That game took all evening, but others had wisely started with a filler...

Felix the Cat in the Sack (thanks Jon)
The first 5 arrivees had a go at this popular filler. To my shame, I didn’t record all the details at the time, but I do remember scoring exactly the same as I started with. Paul, Noel and Andy also played and scored varying amounts of points (one of them scored less than me – but I can’t remember which one….!) but Mark was the victor, dropping out quickly in a number of early auctions only to collect a whole load of cats later on. Sack-tastic!
A little more brain burning in our next title...

Tikal (thanks Jon)
I don’t get to play this very often (which is probably ‘cos I don’t bring it along – it’s right at the bottom of my pile of games and would take an engineering degree to get it out…) However, it is definitely my ‘overall’ favourite game. It just seems to work beautifully – the rules are simple: place a tile, take 10 action points, score your position 4 times during the game. The theme fits really well, and the pieces look great (hence the background to our blog title). It is also a work-out for the brain, which can result in some serious AP if you’re not careful. Anyway, that’s enough gushing……
In this particular game, Paul and Andy were both brand new to Tikal (hence not playing the auction variant), but picked it up really quickly. All 3 players collected similar amounts of treasures, but Jon used his experience to cap a couple of early temples without losing too many workers. This resulted in him being about 12 points ahead of the others after the second scoring round. Paul and Andy both set up camps further into the jungle, and used these to good effect, to take control of nearby newly-discovered temples. When the last scoring round occurred, the rule of ‘last place scores first’ was used, which is a neat little ‘catch the leader’ mechanism. This resulted in Jon going last, but thanks to the last-minute placement of a camp and temple tile, and the fact that Andy had run out of new workers to bring onto the board, he was able to do a swift last turn and win by a few points. It had been a long game (c 2 hours) but very enjoyable and engaging. Note to self: must play it more often……
Jon 112; Andy 105; Paul 103
Our final report, is, after all...

Small World (thanks noel)
On noel's arrival mark was eagerly setting up Small World anticipating the arrival of dan, Lou and tom. Noel joined to make a possible 5 but despite the early prep we ended up with just Mark, Noel and Dan contesting the small world. Noel asked lots of reminder questions and was then deemed first to go by duty of his undoubted leprechaun lineage. Firstly he chose the Stout sorcerers and duly scored and used their special ability to immediately decline, picking up the seafaring skeletons. Mark started with the Trolls and established lairs in the north which were to give him some regular early victory points. When mark declined the trolls a turn later he picked up the pillaging amazons, putting him into an obvious early lead and a target on his races. Dan led the onslaught on the amazons with his wizards and giants while Noel got his seafaring skeletons to conquer the lakes, giving a regular additional 3 points per turn, before declining to pay full cost for the Bivouacking Ratmen. The Ratmen were able to decimate the remaining amazons which were still hanging on and there was too much to do for Mark’s flying dwarfs to regain the lead. Victory for the rat swarm.
Noel 111, Mark 96, Dan 92
NB: "In for a Penny in for a Pound" is from Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe. If you take a loan in Brass, you'd best take the biggest loan you can!

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

"When there Was Any Fighting"

The evening kicked off with some monstrous action...
King of Tokyo
I arrived slightly late and took on the role of Alienoid, while Tonio began a gruelling round of staying in Tokyo- he made it but at the price of very low health. My arrival as fifth player added Tokyo Bay to the mix and everyone was soon flitting in and out, earning Vps. Someone managed to roll four threes for four VPs, and there were a few card purchases although I removed Wings from the agenda by refreshing the cards- I’d heard Wings was broken... (and support for this can be seen in a later session report) 

Anyway we reached the stage where everyone was on fairly low health and on my turn a fire blast (costs three energy, does 2 damage to all other players) became available. I quickly bought it, immediately killing Tonio and Paul and damaging the others enough to make finishing them off easy.

Another game followed, without me
King of Tokyo (Thanks Scott)
With new arrivals dropping through the door every minute, we started up a quick game before anything else.
Barrie, Paul, James II & Scott were keen on King of Tokyo and newcomer Shamu was roped in to join us.
Apparently Paul is an expert at this game, if only dying as quickly as possible was the goal, I hear he had about three turns in two games, after this game where his triumphant effort of being greedy in Tokyo early on led to a very swift death; Scott was riding Paul’s coattails to earn some points from Tokyo but left the battle just in time to recover some much needed health, then shortly after he set everyone back by buying a card to deal a nice chunk of damage to everyone, killing Shamu who had just had a spell in Tokyo, with James following soon behind with an aggressive Barrie on the loose.

The battle then changed and Scott was soon fully healed with Barrie keeping his head above water through his bonus healing abilities and it became a race for points, Scott had the advantage of some wings to avoid damage and enough health to sit tight in Tokyo. So despite Barrie’s best efforts to lose Scott points through cards, Scott soon acquired the 20 to win with Barrie stuck at around 13.
Scott 20, Barrie 13, James II (dead) Shamu (dead) Paul (dead – very quickly)
From Monsters to Real Estate...

For Sale (thanks Scott)
With more main games being started, Andy, Barrie and Scott decided to wait for the Kingdom Builders to finish, with Jon and James playing we should have anticipated it would take a while.
Rule 1 of For Sale: Don’t play with Barrie.

It was quickly observed between Andy and Scott that Barrie was going to be a real wildcard (and even Barrie admitted he was a crazy For Sale player), spending all his starting cash on just a couple of properties leaving Scott and Andy some tastier morsels for cheap as Barrie was handed the lowest cards for nothing because he had no money left to bid for half the property auctions. Fortunately for Scott, he had also grabbed some good properties early on so Andy had a balanced portfolio, Scott a reasonably good one and Barrie’s pretty poor.

This reflected in the cheque phase with Scott winning the majority of the top ones but there were some close calls, particularly the 26 that went for a song, poor Andy.
1st Scott – 99, 2nd Andy – 82 3rd Barrie – 66

From Real Estate to dice...

Perudo (thanks Scott)
Continuing with the lighter games for a moment longer, Andy hadn’t played Perudo before, we tried to explain that it was a bit like Nanuk but he hadn’t played that either so a quick rules summary and we were off. Andy was quick to lose his first die but got it back immediately with a successful call of “Exact”. Barrie and Scott were doing particularly badly while Andy held his own, Scott was first to a single die but survived long enough to see Barrie lose all his dice. Andy had 4 to Scott’s 1 and with a call of one four, Scott thought it would be safe to call exact but sadly, Andy had two of them.
1st – Andy 2nd – Scott 3rd – Barrie

Meanwhile, I had set off in a rather different gaming direction from Scott- long and rich rather than short and simple...

Players, from first to last in the turn order Dan (Louis), Mark (Rachel) Tom (Floyd), Louise (Caprice), Me (Ray)
Dan had played before and everyone except me had a basic grasp of the rules. Dan explained them to me and we started with the standard scenario. The game consists of 12 turns or days, with each character getting 6 units of Time to spend each turn (well except for Floyd who has 7 and Caprice who fluctuates between 5 and 7). Time is spent moving about the vast board, which shows locations on Earth, the Moon, and a space elevator between the two called the Beanstalk. The characters are investigating a murder. The idea is not so much to find out whodunit as to plant the evidence on the suspect you’ve already fingered as guilty. There is also a Conspiracy to unravel, which works a bit like a jigsaw puzzle.

Characters also have their own individual subplots and their own decks of light and dark cards. Light cards are played by your character for his/her benefit, dark cards from a particular character deck are played by the other characters to that character’s detriment. A neat little mechanic means you want to be playing dark and light cards with roughly equal frequency.

My character, a troubled private investigator who is struggling to deal with the suprising appearance of an old flame, has a special ability allowing him to draw 2 cards for 1 time once a turn- normally it costs 1 time per card. I used my ability almost every turn and always drew 1 light card and 1 dark card (rotating the latter between my opponents' characters). The increased card flow meant I played cards more often, which in turn meant I was messing with the other characters more often- which quickly made me unpopular.

For example on Dan’s turn 2 I played a light card which enabled to follow up a lead Louis was investigating. Later on I played another card which caused Louis to forget his wife’s anniversary and lose valuable favours. I forced Tom’s character (Floyd) to lose 3 time (half a turn) chatting to a priest, and also to jump off a building (Floyd is an android or ‘bioroid’ so he wasn’t injured, but it damaged the street!). Mark’s character Rachel is a bounty hunter and I was able to force her to lose money a little, although Floyd also helped out here by making Rachel lose an entire turn! I was less successful with Lousie's character, Caprice, because she was cautious about managing her cards.

Of course, I attracted a similar amount of fire against me, losing my entire turn, getting beaten up, being moved to the middle of the Beanstalk, and so on. Meanwhile the investigation into the murder and the conspiracy continued apace. My strategy tips said I should concentrate on the conspiracy. I did, but since everyone else was as well my efforts were not very effective. I wasted a couple of chances to place on “digging deeper” which allowed me to place a theoretically better piece. The conspiracy occupies a quarter or so of the vast board, starting with a piece in the middle with an ominous looking eye (which Mark claimed wasn’t present in his edition).

From the eye the conspiracy radiates outwards to locations on the edge which give a VP boost to certain things if they are connected to the centre. Also, any completion of a row of 5 pieces is worth 4 VPs to the person placing the final piece.

The conspiracy grew rapidly and was soon connected to most locations and became impossible to expand further. However, one of my light cards allowed me to rotate a piece before placing a new piece, which meant I made it possible to place pieces again, at the price of cutting off the conspiracy from the “VPs for political favours” location- cue anguished howls from Dan and Mark who had been collecting those favours. However, the new lease of life didn’t last very long as shortly afterwards Dan placed the last piece.
This was rather annoying since my subplot gave me “good baggage” for placing conspiracy pieces. All subplots accumulate baggage and if good baggage outweights bad baggage on the day the subplot resolves (usually 3, 6, 9 and 12) you get a better subplot and (at the end of the game) a hefty chunk of VPs.

Meanwhile the murder investigation went badly wrong for me when I was a little too obvious with my setting up and my evidence was revealed by a reporter hired by Caprice. Since everyone now knew who I was fingering for guilty, I abandoned the struggle and concentrated on obtaining good baggage the only way possible for me- buying favours at one location and spending favours at another for baggage.

A brief moment of hope surfaced when one of the suspects started hacking the police computers, threatening to wipe out all the evidence planted so far, but despite Rachel’s best efforts Caprice was able to apprehend the miscreant.

The game ended just before the pub closed and scoring commenced. The suspect I wanted to be found innocent was found guilty so I scored no points on the murder investigation. I did however complete my subplot, telling the old flame to leave, which got me more than half my VPs. Dan and Mark had been weighed down by bad baggage, some contributed by me, and it was Tom and Louise who competed for the victory.
Dan 31 Mark 28 Tom 61 Louise 59 Philip 25.

More Science fiction on another table...

Core Worlds (thanks John)
Although it's a deck building game it does not feel so much like one. You play ten rounds only and at the end of it, whoever has the most points win. You get points from acquiring cards either by buying them with energy or invading them if they are planets. You won't get to see most of the cards you acquire during the game more than a couple of times.

John, Scott and Andy settled down to play, what was a first game for all of them. Each player gets there own starter deck, which is the same apart from a hero card, which is different for each faction.

The game is a constant struggle to get military units into play and invade worlds which get added to your war zone and increases you energy. (The currency of the game). John was the first to get a second world (you all start off with a home world). All this meant though was that Scott and Andy got an extra energy from their power surge cards.

Everyone seemed pretty close at the end of the first sector. (There are five sectors, you play two turns in each). In the second sector a really juicy world came up. John could have taken it but he got greedy and tried to use a medibot as well which allowed Scott to snatch it away from him.

By the third section John and Andy had managed to get a lead in the energy stakes from Scott, but Scott was not too worried as he was getting more of the high scoring cards.

In the fourth round the players found they almost had more energy than they could spend, John and Andy not being able to use all of it.

The fifth sector is pretty different from the rest as it's the Core Worlds themselves and all about points. As well as some big scoring worlds there are lots of bonus points available. Even though the bonuses are written on the player boards no one had really looked at them closely and planned for them. Everyone grabbed as much as they could and then the game was over.
Scott's tactic of just going for the highest scoring card every time paid off in the end. Andy commented it was the third game in a row that John had finished with 1 point more than him.
Scott 36, John 24, Andy 23

Back to Earth now, but beware the Monsters!

Ticket to Ride with Alvin and Dexter (thanks Paul)
Having bought along my newly acquired Alvin and Dexter expansion the previous week, with no takers, I was prepared to do some convincing if I was going to get it to the table.

After all, Ticket to Ride is an excellent game in so many ways, which are recognised by its many fans, but one couldn't accuse it of being frivolous with its theme. After all, building railways is building railways and this game does it just fine, so why on earth would the official designer and publisher want to introduce an expansion that involved an alien in a flying saucer called Alvin and a godzilla-like creature named Dexter? Let's keep railways to Ticket to Ride, and creatures of that ilk can stay in games such as King of Tokyo. That'd obviously be the sensible thing to do, and after all, being sensible is what playing games is all about isn't it?

Certainly that seemed to be the consensus as Paul's invitations to join in were met by many unbelieving looks and 'well, it's just wrong...' comments.

However Paul was thrown a couple of lifelines by newcomer Shamu who was up for anything and also James who was a confessed Ticket to Ride fan and Paul had a suspicion that he'd be open minded enough to welcome the unusual mix of themes. So the three started to lay the board out and then benefited from Johan arriving and being very happy to join in with the game.

The rules for Alvin and Dexter are pretty simple. After the normal set up they are placed on cities chosen by the last and penultimate players in turn order. Once a city is occupied by the alien or monster they are then officially a 'city on chaos' and no track can be built to or from that city. Either can be moved on a players turn, in addition to a normal move by playing one or two locomotive cards and then moving the creature up to three or six spaces, respectively. Each time this happens the player that moves the monster collects a card for their efforts and at the end of the game the players with the most Alvin cards and the most Dexter cards receive a bonus of fifteen points. Also at the end of the game any routes that contain Alvin or Dexter have their points halved - both positive if the route has been achieved and negative if it has not.

Apart from being good clean bit of 'theme mixing fun', the expansion does add quite a lot to the strategy of the game. There is the obvious additional 'gotcha' element, but locomotives become far more valuable and there are more ways to win points.

These additional points actually swung the game for James as he ended up with the most Alvin cards and tied for the most Dexter cards with Paul - a haul of 30 which allowed him to take the game.

This time the game was actually fairly 'bitty' with no hugely long networks being created and North Eastern Europe in particular becoming very crowded. Alvin and Dexter occupied Central Europe for most of the game, making a few diversions to London and then over to Warsaw.

Shamu was new to the game and got into the swing quickly, being the first to take new routes. Johan made the only 8 track route collecting the whopping 21 points for doing so.

Before the final points were totalled up Johan was well in the lead, followed by Shamu, James and then Paul.

In reverse order Paul totalled up first, having achieved quite a few routes, the longest route and picking up one 15 point bonus, managed to put himself into a very healthy position. The other three didn't do as well with their routes, actually achieving a lower than typical total. The overall winner was James, who surprisingly only managed 2 small routes, but had picked up good points for laying long track, had no negatives and then picked up both Alvin and Dexter bonuses to give him the victory.

Overall it was agreed that the new expansion did add a lot to the game although we didn't really explore it fully and all players said they'd certainly play it again. Most of the naysayers from earlier did pay a visit to the game as it took place to casually ask how it worked and was it good, with some tell-tale looks that they may in fact enjoy it when they saw what it was all about.
James: 106, Paul 100, Johan: 89, Shamu 78(ish)

More fantasy for our last session report- after all, it is a...

Small World
Small World came out in the second half of the evening. The Ticket to Ride players were joined by Amanda so five players were competing for the overcongested world.

It was new to Amanda and Shamu, who after having played King of Tokyo and Alvin and Dexter must have thought that all of our games were monster themed. It's not true Shamu - hope you come back and find out.

Johan started off with some ghouls that stuck around for a long time in this game. He therefore declined his civilisation at the first opportunity and started to rake in large points.

Poor Amanda was nailed from, both sides, more by poor luck than vindictiveness. This is more than can be said when the players took Jon's advice (no he wasn't playing, but did display an uncanny sixth sense in pointing out to all players that Johan was on to attack), which everyone seemed very happy to do as he did take some good points hauls early on.

The momentum shifted to James who then started racking up big points, although it was obviously fun attacking Johan as he was still the main victim of attack.

Paul's points were never spectacular but were never low.

Shamu was in his first game of Small World but had played a lot of risk before, which may have stood him in good stead as towards the end of the game he was the one who strung together many rounds of 13+ points.

The end game proved decisive as Shamu racked up a win in his first trip to IBG.
Shamu: 88, Paul: 84, James: 73, Johan: 71, Amanda: 67

"When there was any fighting" is taken from Gilbert and Sullivan's the Gondoliers. Sadly there is no evidence Gilbert and Sullivan based their lyrics on King of Tokyo.