Tuesday, 31 January 2012

"Playing Card He Lightly Chooses"

Ora et Labora
Another three player game, with Gareth the only person who’d played before. Rules explanation was fairly swift and Gareth was randomly determined as starting player. He began by chopping wood, Andy took peat, and I also chopped wood (using the Joker), then Gareth built the ‘Cloister Courtyard’ which allows you to turn 3 different goods into 6 goods all of the same basic type.

Andy now built the Priory, which allowed him to use a building occupied by a Prior-  the Cloister Courtyard being the only available choice. I built the Spinning Mill, which gives coins for having sheep without using up the Sheep.

I was looking to spend my coins on an extension to my property, but Andy was faster. Play continued with me planning to place all my workers before buying another building. In this I succeeded, and after buying a bit of seaside was able to build and use the House Boat (a relative of the House Goat in Agricola?). The others were building away too- more rapidly than me because not so concerned about recovering all their workers.

Soon we got to stage ‘A’, one of five stages in which everyone can place a building from their hand which costs food and fuel. I built a Fishing Village next to my House Boat. The game continued with Gareth building the Stone Merchant, which is the only way to get Stone in the early game- unsurprisingly both me and Andy were soon paying Gareth for its use. Andy beat me to the ‘False Lighthouse’ and I ended up buying a monastic building which converted clay and stone to pottery and wrought Iron, both worth VPs. Gareth meanwhile had bought some hills and mountains and a Peat Charcoal Kiln.

As stage ‘B’ appeared, with me building an Artist’s Quarter next to the Fishing Village, Andy and Gareth stormed ahead of me on the building front, with stone circles, shipyards, scriptoria and the like. I concentrated on accumulating basic goods- particularly Sheep to help my spinning mill. I was able to take Sheep myself using ‘Joker’ and pay Andy to take Sheep in the following round, leaving me with 12 sheep at one point, several of which went into making the Hamlet in stage ‘C’, just above the Artist’s Quarters.

The appearance of the Quarry heralded a new source of Stone, if someone could afford to build it- it would cost 5 coins to buy the mountain required and another 5 to build the Quarry. I started saving coins by use of the Spinning Mill, and by building the Fuel Merchant, but Andy built the Quarry ahead of me. I was now making frequent use of other player’s buildings since they had built more than me- I picked up some books from one of Andy’s at about this time.

Stage ‘D’ came and I built the Village- it was already apparent that Andy was a little behind in this area of the game as he hadn’t saved enough food and fuel and had to be content with less valuable settlements. I piled up even more Coins on the 10 I had saved for the Quarry and purchased a 20 Coin building which allowed me (for a whisky, which I’d obtained from Andy’s False Lighthouse a little earlier) to use an occupied building- including other people’s without paying for them as a quick rules check clarified. In fact I used it for a very mundane gathering of Grain via Gareth’s Farmyard. Shortly afterwards Gareth built the Whisky Distillery, increasing costs on using buildings.

We were now getting into the final stages of the game. Andy built the Castle, allowing him to play another card from his hand. Gareth concentrated on building as much as possible and also on gathering sheep and grain so he could turn them into meat via his slaughterhouse- a technique I also used- both of us looking to build the Hilltop Village at stage ‘E’ for 30 food (and 3 fuel).

Going into the final turns Andy built a valuable Round Tower, forcing me to build the Guesthouse instead. Actually the Guesthouse won me the game- it allows you to use one of the unbuilt buildings, and I was able to activate it twice, first to turn 6 different goods into an 8vp chalice and then to turn chalice, wrought iron, pottery and book into a 30 VP sacred painting. Both me and Gareth played the Hilltop Village, while Andy had to be content with Shanty Town.
Gareth 191 Andy 198 Philip 202

Ticket to Ride: Asia (thanks Jon)
This was a 4-player game played using the ‘Legendary Asia’ side of the board. The unique feature of this map is that when building sections of track through mountains, the danger of this process is simulated by having to give up a certain number of extra trains. However, you do receive 2 points for each of these trains, so there is probably a viable strategy in using these routes to burn through a lot of trains and finish the game before other players have completed their routes.
Also, in order to humour Paul, we allowed him to use the rather strange “Alvin & Dexter” expansion, which introduces aliens and a Godzilla-like creature to the board. Actually, this does add some interesting new strategic options, and could be quite cut-throat if you know what the long route cards are.

As no-one was familiar with the route cards, no player took any extras, despite Jon and Dan both finishing off their initial hands with several trains left. Shamu suffered from this being only his second experience of TTR, and failed to achieve 2 of his routes, which, had he completed them, would have given him a competitive score. Dan’s 15 point bonus from moving Dexter the most proved to be decisive, as he came out on top by 9 points from Jon. Paul was a further 12 points behind, but was just glad to have been able to bring his new toys to the table….
Dan 121; Jon 112; Paul 100; Shamu 72

Last Will (thanks Jon)
Another of John’s games, which as usual, he explained clearly and succinctly. Although with this game, however clear the explanation is, you need to play it a second time after you’ve eventually worked out the best card combinations.
Jon majored on properties, and managed to lose all his money (the object of the game!) with one round to go. However, he fell foul of the ‘can’t go into debt whilst you still have property’ rule, and was forced to waste a couple of his last actions. Dan had a more mixed portfolio of loss-making activities, and managed to also go into debt in the last round. David and Shamu fared less well, and were left with money in the bank at the end of the game. John used his inside knowledge and took a card which, combined with multiple actions, allowed him to blow a stack of cash in the last round, and come out on top. And to be fair, it probably should be the case that an experienced player wins against newbies, so Dan and Jon can hold their heads up high that they got as close as they did!
John $-8; Dan $-2; Jon $-1; David $12; Shamu $15

Outer space next...
Eminent Domain (thanks James)
More deck building goodness (now I think about it I wonder if the word domain was chosen in the title for its proximity to Dominion ?). I managed to *finally* find time to learn the rules to his during the week so brought it along, and Noel, Paul and David were all up for the inaugural game.

So, it's a space themed deck building game. Each turn players take 2 actions, one just for them, and one which others can also do as well. These basically involve discovering planets, colonising planets, raising an army to invade planets, trading or researching. As the game develops planets get settled which gives bonus's or research uncovers more powerful cards and each player’s deck grows differently. During the game you can trade for VP, and settled planets (and some research) also get VP... Most VP at the end wins!

 There's more a touch of Race for the Galaxy in this rather than Dominion-style deck building. It's quite simple once you get the concept down, although seemed to play a bit clunky (probably us more than the game).

So, right away I was struggling...unable to colonise in the first round while everyone else was it felt like catch up from the start. David seemed to be on a colonial frenzy, while Noel and Paul were both researching and improving their decks. Paul seemed to be playing a 'pick up 3 cards' action every other turn. The part of the game where you get a chance to repeat another players 2nd action suggests a good strategy is to make sure your tactics are close to other players (so you can take advantage of this)... This seemed to pass me by as I decided to go for a warfare strategy on the basis that no one else seemed to be doing it... or maybe I'm just naturally anti-social?

Despite themes of warfare and trade there is VERY little interaction in the game apart from the 'repeat' action phase. I found myself wondering if you could almost play this solo with little difference, which is not really a positive thing to be thinking... I'm sure that future expansions will aim to modify this as there is little point having cool spaceship bits if you can't invade someone else’s space... I mean I'm hoping to play this with Jon one day, and how's that gonna look if we can't plan to spend the game picking fights with each other?

The game ends when 2 decks ran out, and Noel brought this to a close taking the last research while David had previous used up the colonise deck. One last round (again, I was 4/5 towards trying to do something and was scuppered by this quick finish) to maximise points and that's it.

David took the win, and seemed to be ahead for most of the game from my perspective, Paul nipped me into 3rd place and I was surprised to see I was ahead of Noel as I'd thought he was doing well... hard to say for sure though as the game does feel like multi-solitaire and so you're not focused much on other players while you try to work your own 'game engine' into shape.

It's quick, maybe this 1st game took a tad over an hour, but to be honest I'm not sure anyone other than David felt too enthusiastic about it (and he won, so his opinion doesn't count ) I think a 2 or 3 player game would be better... less downtime, less chaos... but the game really does need some interaction. Even Dominion has curse cards!
Scores David 21, Paul 18, James 17, Noel 15

A little painting follows

Fresco (thanks James)
Despite a previous weeks less-than-enthusiastic game of Pastiche, the painting theme hadn't put people off. Noel showed an interest in the game, and I'm always up for this one so with the addition of both Pauls we quickly abandoned the rest of the club to fighting over wills and set this up on the table with the best light before anyone else could get there first...

I've explained this game several times already, so it's not too hard to teach. The theme works so well that you just tell the story of the game and it all seems to click. With the complexity of Stone Age and great components, this game really should be in everyone's collection.

After a quick double check of the rules we just added the extra paints expansion as this adds to the game but with minimal extra rules... and we were off.

Noel quickly finished a tile in round 2 before realising that it affected turn order... it's something you need to adjust to in this game as there is a price for taking the lead early. However soon everyone was grabbing the high cost paints and trying to take the higher value tiles before they all went. I think I managed to nab the big 24 in the middle, but everyone seemed equal early on as the lead switched several times.

The middle game was a bit cat and mouse... the odd tile here, some early starts, to grab the best tiles from the market... the tiles were being slowly removed but no one seemed ready to make a move.

Then Paul decided enough was enough and made a dash for the finish line completing 3 painting tiles in 1 turn and taking a healthy lead... and from here on it was a game of catch up as there would only likely be 1 or 2 more rounds and existing paints needed to be used up. At the other end of the scale the other Paul had run out or paint cubes at this stage, and Noel seemed to keep the pace, but in the last round I managed to convert all my remaining cubes at the altar to pull within a few points. So it all came down to money...

I thought I had a shot, but as it turned out Paul had been sitting on a nest egg, and managed to steal the win by 3 points.

Great game, always fun to play and lots of decisions going on. I'm going to put Paul's win down to beginners luck... anyone up for a rematch next week?
PS. I've left it for you to work out which Paul was which. Mainly to protect one of them from the humiliation of the scale of his loss...

Paul #1 108, James 105, Noel 70, Paul #2 58.

More Euro goodness...
Santiago De Cuba (thanks Tom):
John B had brought along Cuba's little sister, Santiago De Cuba, and managed to find willing participants in Tom & Louise - Tom being halfway through a game on Yucata despite having no idea what he was doing!

Despite making somewhat of a hash of his one and only property purchase (whilst John B cornered a particular colour, including the all important shipping building), Tom managed to keep up with the others through a focus on the black and red commodities. However, Tom's chances of a win were somewhat thwarted by John's decision to send out a ship with no cargo, leaving Tom left with 4 lonely black blocks in his warehouse.
In the meantime, Louise slowly accumulated victory points through an intelligent use of the various vendors. This coupled with a tidy 8 VP haul for the sale of a large batch of citrus pushed Louise into a unassailable lead with John and Tom tying for second.
Louise 47, John B 41, Tom 41

And finally another deckbuilder...
Ascension - Storm of Souls (thanks Tom)
John had also brought the new expansion to Ascension, which Tom was willing to try out having played the original (plus The Fallen) on iOS. This made Louise the only one without any experience of the deck builder. Not that this stopped her from wiping the floor with the other two.

Taking advantage of a continuous stream of monsters in the centre row and a void event granting an additional honour for each centre monster banished, a large pile of red honour tokens had soon accumulated before her. John's strategy of accumulating constructs soon began to bear fruit and Tom managed to eventually create a decent draw engine using The Dreamer's Glass; however, it was soon clear that their efforts were again a case of too little, too late with Louise winning at a canter.

Louise 67, John B 60, Tom 56

P.S “Playing card he lightly chooses” is a quotation from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Grand Duke [The person who draws the highest value card wins the duel, a slightly simpler game than the ones described above...]

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