Sunday, 8 January 2012

"What Progress has been made in Modern Gunnery"

An action-packed evening...

Memoir ’44 (thanks Jon)
First up, an early doors session of Memoir ’44. This was played using the Omaha Beach scenario, with Paul playing the heavily dug-in Axis and Jon playing the gallant Allies. Having not played the game for a couple of months, Jon needed to constantly reference the terrain cards which explained the different workings of the barbed wire, hedgehogs, bunkers etc, which definitely slowed the game down to an almost Real-Time simulation…

This is one of those scenarios which is completely ‘attackers vs defenders’. The Allies have to try to break through the gaps in the cliff to get to the victory medals in the towns behind, before the Axis forces obliterate them from the safety of their cliff-top bunkers. This resulted in the rather odd situation where Jon launched very few attacks, but instead tried to use the maximum range of his infantry to push forward on both flanks. As in real-life, Paul’s forces simply sat in their bunkers and took pot-shots at Jon’s exposed troops, hoping to achieve the 6 medals victory condition before the inevitable breakthrough happened.

Although, this felt like an impossible task for the Allies, they eventually broke through in relative strength on the right flank, but with only one infantry member on the left. After mopping up a couple of Axis units, they were within one hex of 2 towns which would have given them the victory, but Paul called on his off-board big guns and launched a barrage at the horribly exposed Allied infantry, wiping them out within smell of the baguettes and soft cheese that would have greeted an Allied victory. A long game (sorry Paul!) but looking back, it was actually well-balanced and incredibly close. As Santa was on the ball this year, the next game may bring the Russians into the war…..
Paul (Axis) – 6 medals; Jon (Allies) – 4 medals
A card game followed

Verrater (thanks Jon)
If appearances are anything to go on, this game shouldn’t even see the light of day. For starters it is simply a small deck of cards, but takes 45 minutes to play. Secondly, it is completely in German. Thirdly, it only really plays with 4 players. However, underneath there is a great little game involving conflict, bluffing and the obligatory traitor. Players start out representing opposing factions (Eagles / Roses), and each round there is a conflict between landscape cards controlled by each faction. Each player gets to secretly select a role to help them each round, which includes the traitor who switches sides at the last minute. The role selection element to this game is identical to Citadels, but feels a lot more subtle, as there are less roles which directly affect the other players. Woody was the unfortunate soul to find himself on his own after one of the other players (Paul) played traitor, which was compounded when he played all his supply cards in an attempt to score big points, only to fail by a single point. This left him short of supply cards for a couple of rounds, which meant that there was no real incentive for any of the other players to play traitor. James cleverly got himself ahead by several points going into the last round, by turning traitor at an opportune moment, but had to choose his final role carefully, as there was still the possibility that Jon or Paul could overtake him. James chose to build an office (giving him 3 points), whilst Paul switched sides (again!) which meant that allied with Woody (who by now had a massive stash of supply cards) maxed out his potential score. Jon gained maximum points (6) from his 2 offices, and along with the points from taking the Strategist role, he came within a hair’s width of catching James – but not quite. A really close finish. Personally, I really enjoyed this game (although Woody may have a contrary opinion) – simple, interactive and with plenty of difficult choices. Once you’ve learned the different roles, the German text makes no difference, and it feels more like a board game rather than a card game. Not bad for something that is small enough to slip into your pocket!
James 28; Jon 26; Paul 25; Woody 15
Painting next...

Pastiche (thanks James)
So, by a equal measure of cunning and threatening to throw a strop if it didn't happen I persuaded Paul, Woody and Tonio to try out one of my new Christmas games... Pastiche... a game i've been after for a while and that I had high hopes for given the relativly simple rules, family friendly theme and quality components... read the review below to get a feel for my optimism for this game.

So... it's never a good sign when you go over the rules, and although quite simple keep discovering little extras as you review. Generally a sign of tweaking... and generally adding needless complication.

Players play hex tiles to match up primary colours and create secondary and tertiary colours. The aim being to have the right colours to finish masterpieces and earn VP (first to 35 triggers the end game). There's also a bit of trading involved (other players and the bank) and some bonus end of game points. There's a slight settlers vibe to the game, but we quickly realised that the trading element seemed a bit superfulous with other players as it was hard to get the 'hard to get' colours and so no-one was really up for trading them.

Tonio enthusiastically (have those 2 words ever been used together before in a session report ?) started creating minor masterpieces... a degas here, a rembrant there... quickly building up a small gallery but not banking a great deal of points. I was focused on the more complex but higher scoring paintings (for some reason the Mona Lisa is not a high scoring picture in this game?). You can switch potential paintings with a gallery of 4 to try and target specific colours or artists, but I think I was the only person to remember this rule (or more likely forgot to mention it in the rules) and so noone else seemed to be taking advantage. The spirit of Gareth lives on!

Paul was also going for the high scoring pictures, but Woody seemed to be struggling with his painting. His Da Vinci's looking more like Kandinsky and his Van Gogh more like Vandalism...

It's not a long game. 45 minutes on the box and I think we took about an hour. I brought the end game on finishing my 3rd picture and hitting the 35 point level sopt on. At this stage Tonio only had 24 on the table and Paul and Woody not much less. Bonus points are awarded for anyone with pictures by more than one artist (not a good rule in reality as the paintings available are pretty random, and chances are noone will complete more than 3/4 during a game). No one had anything here. however the other bonue allows payers to partially complete any of their paintings with paint in hand. This took my score to 38 and Tonio suddenly realised he couldn't made some bank deals on his last go which would've given him a score of 38 as well... history doesn not sadly record what happened next but lets say that in one alternative reality Tonio indeed scored 38 points for a tie of first place... but in the real world he came a gallant 2nd... Paul 3rd with 32 and Woody by this stage was doodling stickmen on postit notes and trying to win the Turner prize.

So, for me disappointing. Tonio seemed to like it (apart from the ending), but overall a kinda meh feeling... the mechanics look great, but in reality it's hard to plan ahead so there was a lot of downtime during turns, and the number of colours available made each move quite hard to see when choosing what tile to play to match what colours. Could be a good 2 player game I think (less downtime, easier to plan ahead), but fell flat with 4.
James 38, Tonio (real world) 34, Tonio (alternative) 38, Paul 32 Woody 24
From paintings to aristocrats...

St.Petersburg (thanks Noel)
Noel joined Tonio, Barrie and Laurent who was preparing for his first game at IBG. St Petersburg was a good choice, easy to pick up, some interesting decisions and strategy and quick playing. And so it proved. Noel started slowly in the points department and was still on 3 when all others were clustered around 20. He had however been steadily building his cash flow with green workers, helped by the mistress of ceremonies. Tonio decided to pursue an alternative cash poor strategy and some grumbling later collected plenty of workers to earn the benefit from the tax man...which unfortunately stayed unplayed in his hand of cards until the end of the game. Barrie and Laurent developed a balanced collection of each cards with Laurent upgrading to a useful palace for points and cash. After 4 or 5 turns Noel's cash flow allowed him to buy up the best buildings and upgrades and he shot past the group. The momentum was with him and when the end of the game came quicker than expected due to a clear out prior to the aristocrat phase he took the win. Noel 96, Laurent 70, Barrie 66, Tonio 61.
A very quick card game next.

Loco (thanks Noel)
The same group also played a 2 minute game of loco. This ended even quicker than expected with no one realising the end game conditions of one colour completed except Tonio.
Noel 25, Tonio Barrie and Laurent all had 23

A rather longer game was in progress elsewhere.
Scott, Andy, me and Amanda played as Terrans- my faction had the Planta on the reverse, cue various jocular remarks on sentient plant life being the most attractive part of the game.

The usual exploration began with all of us coming across habitable systems and no aliens on the first turn. Andy picked up a discovery tile worth 8 cash, which allowed him to expand a little faster than others. Pretty soon Andy and Scott ran into each other and agreed an alliance. Amanda researched shields and plasma cannons early while I saved up and bought advanced economy and later advanced labs. By now the Aliens were appearing and with a couple of cruisers I was able to defeat them, one ship at a time. Amanda had a little more difficulty against groups of two Alien ships but her shields protected her sufficiently.

As booty from the Aliens I found a Conformal Drive (move 4 hexes, cost 2 energy) and an Axion Computer (+3 to hit, costs no energy), both of which I installed on my Cruisers. I was now preparing to attack the Galactic Centre, I just needed an Antimatter Cannon. Andy bought the first one to become available and before I could buy the next one Amanda had entered the Centre and destroyed its guardian.

Meanwhile Scott had been fitting out his ships with Improved Hull, Plasma Cannons and Proton Computers. Benefiting from a timely Artifact Key for +15 raw materials, his large fleet successfully drove Amanda from the Galactic Centre on the penultimate turn.

For the final turn Scott began to invade my territory. However, Amanda counter-attacked at the Galactic Centre, paralysing Scott’s invasion fleet. I was able to gather all of my fleet (4 Cruisers and one Interceptor which I’d started the game with) against about a quarter of Scott’s (one Dreadnaught one Cruiser) and the battle was still quite close, with my Antimatter Cannons certainly showing their worth.

Back in the Galactic Centre Scott defeated Amanda. Andy had stayed out of the battles, since he could only reach Scott and he didn’t want to be the Traitor. Meanwhile I had ploughed my spare science and raw materials into researching and building 2 Monoliths for 3 VPs each.
Philip 40, Scott 30, Amanda 29, Andy 23

From Space to Sky...

Airlines Europe (thanks Jon)
Noel had brought this Union Pacific re-make along, and found 3 willing newbies in the shape of Barrie, Jon and newcomer Lauren. It is pleasantly simple to understand and play, with only 4 possible options each turn. It has a slight feeling of Ticket to Ride (card drawing and routes) Chicago Express (share collecting) and Alhambra (scoring rounds). And it plays in around an hour – which is just about right for the weight of the game.
Noel used his prior knowledge to start laying shares into his portfolio, as well as starting to increase the value of his holdings by expanding a number of routes. Jon and Barrie completely misjudged how quickly the first scoring round would come up, and both of them had only 2 shares in front of them at this stage. Jon’s grand total of points after 1st round – 1!!! The game skipped along at a fair rate, with Noel extending his lead and Barrie and Jon gradually clawing their way back in to it. The last scoring round held off just long enough for Jon to squeeze out the majority in the valuable Abacus shares, which gave him 2nd place by a tie-break from Lauren. The result was actually very close (apart from Noel being way above in the clouds…) Well worth another play.
Noel 90; Jon 56; Lauren 56; Barrie 52
Not air but time travel  next...

Mansions of Madness – Forbidden Alchemy (thanks Tom)

Following a brief but satisfying game of Penguin Party between Tom, Jeff and Andy (who was visiting from his regular jaunt at the Epsom Games Club) – Jeff mentioned that he had brought along Mansions of Madness, together with its new expansion, Forbidden Alchemy. Being the one game that Tom really wanted to have a crack of the whip at, Tom eagerly agreed, with Andy brought along for the ride.

Due to Dan’s absence and the lure of Eclipse and Pastiche (although the latter didn’t appear to be particularly satisfying for its participants in the end), a three player game was begun with Tom and Andy (both new to MoM) as the investigators, and Jeff the “Mansion Master”, if you will, due to his knowledge of the game mechanics.

The scenario chosen by Jeff was “Lost in Space and Time”, a phrase that will cause dread to any erstwhile Arkham Horror players. This was preferred over the two other new scenarios introduced by Forbidden Alchemy, “Return of the Reanimator” and “Yellow Matter”.

In brief, the scenario revolves around a mysterious Dr Sine, who during a conference in 1925, introduces to the public the ability to bring the dead back to life, not by way of any elixir (as favoured by Herbert West, the Reanimator himself), but by the manipulation of time and space.

Having put together the modular game board (and been informed by Jeff of the controversy surrounding the various errata in the FA expansion), Tom and Andy chose their investigators. Having been informed by Jeff that a good balance of health and sanity was necessary, Tom stumped for the hobo, Ashcan Pete, and his trusty dog sidekick, Duke (with his excellent +2 modifier to strength and dexterity for combat). Andy, on the other hand, adopted for the equally balanced, Vincent Lee (a new investigator to the MoM game), picking the Field Medic and Grays Anatomy cards in the process.

Upon our intrepid odd couple entering the mansion’s garden, the investigators were informed that they had stumbled upon an open grave showing signs of gruesome operations having been undertaken upon human subjects. Tom’s obvious Hobo response was to jump in the grave and try and solve the puzzle box located therein – this would prove more difficult than originally anticipated due to an unlucky tile draw, coupled with Ashcan Pete having a few IQ points less than Duke.

Whilst Pete tried to open the box by repeatedly bashing it on the gravestone, Vincent (i.e. Andy) began to investigate the garden area, ultimately heading into the western entrance to the Mansion. The Mansion being roughly designed in a linear U shape, Tom and Andy had decided that they should split up to investigate the two halves of the layout.

Finally, Pete’s repeated bashing of the box brought him to the attention of a flesh eating zombie. The zombie was easily despatched by Pete (with the assistance of his canine pal) through that trusted combination: rip off left arm; claw eyes; rip off right arm. No need to destroy the brain here. Soon after, the box was opened, revealing a very useful combat knife.

In the meantime, Vincent located an old safe that had been looted of its contents, with a large hint being dropped that its contents may be accessible in the past. The safe would have to be left to its own devices for now. Further ahead, Vincent came across a stone slab in the floor of the generator room of such size and weight that the only acid would burn through it. With no acid to hand, he was forced again to leave this tantalising aspect behind.

Having obtained a completely useless magic slate (Hobo’s are notoriously useless at magic), Pete moseyed up the attic stairs only to find them shape and shift underneath him, sending him hurtling back down headfirst. This not only resulted in damage to his health but the onset of schizophrenia. It was at this time that Pete heard the voice (sounding rather like Jeff, who was being nice to the newcomers) that perhaps the laboratories or operating room may be worth visiting, considering the human experiments and so forth.

Vincent and Pete then begin to head towards the laboratory area, whilst Jeff continued to draw and place trap cards, and generally to try and throw the investigators off the case with various interruptions, such as illusions of never-ending hallways. One of these interruptions resulted in Vincent becoming a bit overzealous. After having searched most of the rooms in the area (including a surprisingly quick solution of another picture puzzle by Pete), a time machine was located by Pete in the laboratory, giving rise to the unique mechanic of this particular scenario: the ability to travel between three separate time periods of the past, present and future.

Upon discovery of the time machine, a rather blatant clue was dropped in respect of the kitchen – leading the investigators to conclude that the clue was in the looted safe. Luckily, Pete had somehow come across the combination to the safe on his travels. A trip to the past was therefore in order but it was decided that this should wait, in case any monsters appeared on the way – one of the side effects of time travel being that any monsters must stay in their current time period.

It was decided that Vincent would make the trip to the kitchen whilst Pete would mooch around investigating the hallway outside the hidden laboratory. The combination, together with two magical items, was handed over to Vincent with a couple of evade related items passing the other way. This would prove to be a mistake on Vincent’s part, although he wasn't to know it at the time.

Thanks to a Mythos card, Jeff triggered an event which caused a flying Byakee to appear on the rooftop ready to ambush Vincent as soon as he stepped outside on the way to the kitchen. Vincent was duly ambushed and the risky decision was made to stave off going back in time, with the intention being to let Vincent try and kill the Byakee with his newly acquired Plague of Locusts spell. Having duly failed his horror check (and in the process acquiring the debilitating new mental affliction of rage), Vincent’s Plague of Locusts spell was a bit of a damp squib, leading to his being roundly pummelled by his winged assailant.

Whilst Andy was busy rolling to avoid Vincent being ripped to shreds, Tom’s idle curiosity got the better of him as he asked Jeff what the card was that costs a healthy three threat points (threat being the Mansion Keeper’s currency that must be paid to undertake any action). Reading the card, it was noted that if the card was played in the same round as a change of time, a Hound of Tindalos could be put on the board at any locked door. Jeff duly set aside three threat tokens in his stockpile with undisguised glee.

Soon enough, Vincent could take no more punishment and it was decided that the time machine should be activated, sending the investigators back into the past. Although Vincent was saved for the time being, Pete was in a whole world of trouble.

Cue a real humdinger of a fight as Pete went head to head with the Hound of Tindalos in the storage room adjoining the hidden laboratory. The fight was going rather well for Pete due to his having done some decent damage with his handy knife when Jeff decided to spice matters up by introducing to a Cult Leader to the board... in the same room as Pete and the Hound. The Cult Leader went immediately to his special attack of a fireball, which Pete dove out of the way of. The room was now on fire, which immediately did two damage to both the Hound and the Cult Leader. A stab to the side by Pete and the Hound was dead; unfortunately, the room was still on fire and Pete hot-tailed it out of the room (passing his evade check). He was quickly followed by the Cult Leader who threw another fireball. The fireball was again avoided and the hidden lab was now on fire as well. This was getting ridiculous! Fortunately, the Cult Leader had been hoist by his own petard and soon perished in the flames, allowing Pete to escape to the hallway and safety.

The only problem was that there was a potential clue in the storage room, which Pete could access but only with the consequence of four fire damage, which would probably leave Pete with only four health remaining. The bullet was bitten, the clue was obtained and it was a locked cabinet... to which Vincent had just obtained the key. Disaster! The decision to draw the Cult Leader into the hidden lab (although the best option at the time) had proved very costly indeed.

Whilst this battle for the ages went on, Vincent came across a chemical trap in the hallway to the kitchen. Having solved the puzzle with ease, Andy simply had to roll a seven or below to avoid it. A nine was rolled, curses were yelled, and Vincent had gained a nasty mutation. Luckily, Andy had a card that would let him remove any such side effects and the mutation didn’t hang around long.

In the kitchen safe, Vincent found a seed together with a clear hint that the next clue would be on the rooftop and accessible in the future. 2+2 = plant the seed in the garden next to the rooftop and climb up the plant in the future. This was duly done, allowing Vincent to scamper up the beanstalk to a vial of acid and a clue relating to the generator room. “Back to the stone slab!” was the cry.

Unfortunately, it was here that the investigators’ quest ended. Just prior to the necessary shift to the future, a Mythos card had been turned which placed some disembodied hands in the past, two cultists in the present and a massive Shoggoth in the future. Jeff naturally placed this behemoth in the same room as poor ol’ Ashcan Pete, who by this time had acquired some very nasty internal bleeding. The Shoggoth charged. A willpower roll of 6 was required. The die was rolled. It teetered for seconds on the edge between 2 and 8... before landing on 8. Hit by the bulldozer charge, Pete took four damage and died. At this point, Tom enquired about the health of Duke and got no reply. The assumption was made that Duke was absolutely fine and would enjoy his time in this post-apocalyptic future, listening to Bob Marley – like the dog in I Am Legend.

As this point, having read out a rather gruesome description of Pete’s death at the amoeba-like appendages of the Shoggoth, Jeff revealed that he had satisfied his winning condition which was to feed one of the investigators to his pet Shoggoth in the future period.

The intrepid investigators never really found out why it was necessary for Dr Sine to turn them into the equivalent of Shoggoth Pedigree Chum, but it was still a rather satisfying conclusion to an adrenaline pumped game. “Return of the Reanimator” next time anybody?

Rounding off the evening...

Code 777 (thanks Jon)
It was 10.45pm, and there was time for something quick to finish the evening. Jon suggested Code 777, as it was very quick to explain, and nobody knew differently in order to put up any objections. With the benefit of hindsight, this was maybe the right game, but definitely at the wrong time, as it takes more brain burning than is generally acceptable at this time of night. The basic premise is that each person has a 3 digit code which they are trying to guess. You can see each other player’s code, but not your own. Each player takes it in turn to read out a question and give the answer from what they can see (eg can you see more red numbers, or blue numbers) The other players then use this information to start deducing what their own code is. The trick is in how you record the information that you have gleaned on your notepad – and it wasn’t until about halfway through that the penny dropped about the most effective way of doing this – by which time it was too late! Hence, we have learned: 1) Don’t play this at the beginning of the evening; 2) Remember to distinguish between tiles that you have seen, and tiles that have been deduced; 3) Don’t trust Jon to pick an appropriate game at 10.45pm.
Jon 2; Noel 1; Barrie 1; Lauren 0

P.S “What Progress has been made in Modern Gunnery” has been taken from the song of the Major-General in Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance. Antimatter cannons are currently top of the range J

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