Wednesday, 13 June 2012

“The evening when Subbuteo became a board game”, or "Memories of an age where he was a bit simpler”

Players: Scott, Paul, David, Quinland, Amanda, Jon, Andy, Neil, Philip, James, Noel, Jeff, Dan, Jeroen, Gareth (II), Jeff

This was a night of some reappearing faces. David and Quinland came back, investing their vacation time in Blighty with some good boardgaming; Jeff held good on his promise to be here more over the next few weeks, Scott came back after far too long and with him Amanda. Added to this were the new faces of Jeroen and Gareth (yes, there is another Gareth) and we had a good complement of players.

As the Euros were on, James brought along a blast from the past with Subbuteo – at least there appeared to be some Subbuteo players sitting on top of the Bungle Bungle mountains …

(thanks Jon)

Well, it’s the middle of the Euro 2012 football (“soccer” to any transatlantic readers…) tournament, so James decided to bring along his Subbuteo set. However, there were 1 or 2 ‘issues’. Firstly, the pitch hadn’t been ironed, so it resembled a ploughed field rather than a Premier league pitch. Secondly, none of the tables in the Riverview Room were large enough to accommodate the pitch, so there was a rather precipitous drop where the touchline should have been. Thirdly, each team had only 10 players (Subbuteo players are rather renowned for their inability to stand up to being crushed by a size 10 boot…) Oh – and everyone had a different recollection of the rules.

Anyway, it was Jon who demonstrated signs of a very mis-spent youth, trouncing all-comers (including, for posterity, James and Paul) 4-0. Memories of a simpler age…… [Ed – Jon must mean ‘Memories of an age where he was a bit simpler” because Paul only played one game and got beaten by James – which is clearly nothing to be proud about, but posterity should at least be correct].

Agricola - All Creatures Big and Small 

After the flicking football action, James and Paul took advantage of the fact that some more players were definitely still going to arrive and dived into a shortish two player game – farming for two with Agricola – All Creatures Big and Small.

James and played before, but was able to explain the rules to Paul, which were pretty easy as he was familiar with the original Agricola. It is much simpler – the points are mainly won by collecting as many animals as possible, with no vegetables in the game. Additional points were also picked up from some of the buildings and by completely filling up each expansion field. There are also no character cards and no family expansions.

The game was certainly quicker than the original, but it also had a less painful feeling throughout – great game though it is, every game of the original Agricola is wrapped up in an overwhelming feeling of huge scarcity, making each move tense. Although All Creatures Big and Small didn’t have this feeling, it certainly wasn’t one not to think about, and we both though that the balance was achieved very well.

James had been beaten by Jon recently who’d collected lots of sheep. Any prizes for guessing what James’ strategy was in this game? Well no prizes for originality and lots for lots of sheep gave James a comfortable win. Paul had collected and filled up all of the expansion fields apart from one, which went pretty much according to plan, although his plan didn’t take into account the number of points that he was going to earn, especially at the expense of points gained through animal collecting and breeding.
Both players plus a few observers that had played it previously agreed that it did hit the sweet spot very well, and was an excellent new little addition to the Agricola family.

Scores: James 60something, Paul: 40something

Power Grid

With Scott making an all too rare appearance and our American guests David and Quinland keen to play Power Grid, Paul was convinced although it wouldn’t have been his first choice and he hadn’t played it for a couple of years.

This game was played on the America map to give our transatlantic friends a feeling of home.  The active regions were the northern and eastern states, leaving California and the South West to generate their own sparks for the evening.

Paul took pleasure in warning both David and Quinland of Scott’s mighty Power Grid reputation, but the writing was still on the wall fairly soon into the game. Scott went largely for the western states and even though they were more expensive to connect, he was the only one that wanted to go out there so faced far less competition.

Paul and Quinland both battle it out over the wind power, with Paul, Quinland and David competing for the eastern cities.

The last turn saw Scott manage to build up 20 cities, although he was just showing off because he could only power 16.

It was a great choice of game and Paul realised what he’d been missing out on for so long. The interaction between players on so many fronts works so well that he finished the game promising to play it again soon.

Scores: Scott: 16, David: 15, Paul: 14, Quinland: 13

No thanks x 2

After Power Grid, there was only time for something light so we dived into 2 games of No Thanks –  both fun, both light and exactly what was called for to end the game playing for the evening for the Power Griders.

Game 1: Scott: 46, Paul: 49, Quinland: 66, David: 72
Game 2: Paul: 39, David: 55, Scott: 85, Quinland: 85

Chaos in the Old World (thanks Philip)

Ian had brought along his new copy with the expansion. However, he hadn’t actually opened the expansion box yet, so we did some quick component assembly while waiting for Dan to arrive.
We had the full five players: Philip and Ian and Dan and Gareth II and Jerome. We drew for Chaos Gods and luckily found ourselves seated in the correct order. Philip was Tzeentch, which he hadn’t played before. Gareth II, who hadn’t played before, was Khorne.
There are all new decks of spell cards and upgrades for each Chaos power with the expansion, as well as the extra skaven player. Our initial event brought in three heroes with one dying at the end of each turn.

Khorne opened with a Bloodletter in Kislev. Dan as Nurgle stalled and I stalled with a spell that makes all countries adjacent to the country the spell is played in (Troll Country in this case). Ian as Slaanesh added a 2nd spell to Troll Country which would give him a power point every time an opponent summoned a figure there. The Skaven stalled with a spell adding a Skaven token to the map.
The turn continued with Khorne summoning 2 cultists into Kislev, 1 into Troll country, and a Bloodletter into Tilea where the Skaven had been gathering. Nurgle built up cultists in Brettonnia, Slaanesh in Brettonnia, the Empire and Estalia, and Philip stalled. Eventually he had to stop stalling and put cultists in Troll Country, the Borderlands, and the Empire, where the Warpstone was. Ian was able to play all his cultists because he was getting power points from people playing into Troll country.
Khorne flunked his attack roll in Tilea and didn’t get any dial ticks, everyone else had one or two except Slaanesh with three dial ticks, which gave Ian an Upgrade which allowed him to get even more dial ticks...

Turn 2 saw a Bloodthirster appear in Estalia and a Khorne spell attracting cultists into the region- they all ran away afterwards. Philip continued to stall and was able to place enough cultists in the Empire to ruin it, with Slaanesh coming second. Nurgle ruined Brettonnia, again with Slaanesh coming second. Khorne did kill someone this round for a dial tick, and Philip achieved three dial ticks, but nothing could stop Slaanesh with four... another upgrade followed allowing him to take control of enemy cultists when summoning Demonesses. Philip received an upgrade of his own which allowed him to summon Horrors for free when casting spells with the magic symbol.

The Old World event for turn 3 added two Warpstone tokens to Kislev. Philip continued to stall by playing 0 cost spells with magic symbols- now allowing him to summon horrors in the bargain. There was quite a fight in one region where Khorne played a spell that prevented everyone else’s figures from leaving the region and added a Bloodletter. Nurgle added the Great Unclean One and there was a Rat Ogre there too. Ian moved into the Borderlands, taking over one of my cultists with a Demoness.

Meanwhile Philip had played his hand of spell cards, the last one moving 2 corruption from the Borderlands to Kislev. He then had 5 actions in a row, everyone else having spent all their power. He was able to put just enough cultists into Troll Country and Kislev to ruin both and come out ahead on corruption. Khorne had Bloodletters in both but missed in the Troll Country and only succeeded in killing my Horror in Kislev. The third and fourth region were ruined, tipping him over the fifty points mark and winning me the game, as no one reached a dial victory. Scores are approximate.

Scores: Philip: 55, Ian, Dan and Jeroen: 30, Gareth II: 28

Biblios (thanks Jon)

After picking this one up for £8 at the recent UK Games Expo, Jon found 3 willing volunteers to give it a run out. It’s basically a set-collection card game, but with a neat drafting mechanic where each player in turn decides to keep a card, give 1 to each opponent to pick from, and then stashes one for a later auction.

Noel was very obviously collecting the monks, as he was desperately advancing their scoring die – which was equally quickly brought down again. In a 4-player game, everyone has a good chance of picking up the most cards in a single category, but it’s all about who picks up the second one. In this case, it came down to the penultimate card in the auction pile, and both Noel and Jon wanted it. Jon eventually won it with a massive bid of 7 coins, and left Noel hoping that the final card was in the same category. It wasn’t – but no matter, he was still 1 ahead of Jon and won the category anyway, which gave him a winning total of 3+2=5 points.

Nice quick filler – definitely worth a re-run.

Scores: Noel: 5, Neil: 4, Scott: 3 (most coins), Jon: 3

Pandemic (thanks Jon)

Amanda, Jeff, Jon and Andy decided to try to beat the IBG curse of never having won this game at the club. They were hampered somewhat by Jon having constructed the draw deck before distributing the initial hand cards – resulting in the first couple of Epidemics coming out a bit early. And before you could say “coughs and sneezes spread diseases”, a chain of outbreaks ended the game and everyone was sad.

But it had played out nice and quickly, so we re-booted, and this time Jon did everything properly. In fact, so well that the disease cubes were spread far and wide, rather than being in clusters like in the first round. This gave the team lots of time to cure all the diseases, just before the outbreaks became unmanageable. Therefore, the curse had been lifted and the game was won! Now we just need to move onto the hardest level…..
Notre Dame (thanks Jon)

With an hour to kill at the end of the evening, Andy was keen on something fairly meaty, so it was decided to try to squeeze in a game of Notre Dame – with Neil being a willing newbie.
Amanda and Jon went coin-heavy in the first round, and soon had enough to almost see them through the whole game. Andy was left to attend Notre Dame on his own, which provided him with a juicy 10 points.

Rats were a constant problem (as always), but everyone managed to fight them off in one way or another. Neil was raking in the points from early on, whereas Jon sat back and built up his cube supply and “+1 points” ability.

In the last round, Andy was scoring “+2” points each time, but when it came to the final totting up, there was genuine uncertainty about the result. And with good reason – as there were only 2 points between the top 3 players, with Neil pulling out a well-earned first-time victory. Well done sir!

Scores: Neil: 58, Andy: 57, Jon: 56, Amanda: 31

Discworld: Ankh Morpork (thanks Noel)

With Paul permanently scarred by watching a rubbish Discworld film and still not ready to get involved with Discworld: Ankh Morpork it was left to Noel to convince James and Neil to join a 3 player game.
With the hidden roles dished out James (Vetinari), Neil (Vimes) and Noel (a Lord) quickly got into the to and fro of 'take that' card playing. Noel took most of the that and was successively bankrupted by both Neil and James and within the first three turns had his size of hand reduced from 5 to 3 for the rest of the game.

Neil's quick cycling through the deck and picking up more cards to add to his hand, made it possible that he was Vimes but more cards is generally useful for most of the characters so it wasnt clear. James and Neil certainly made the most of their extra cards and placed minions and buildings a plenty. Noel managed to eke out a small opportunity and at one stage after about 20 minutes, did control the 5 areas he needed to to win the game. Unfortunately for him, Neil played one card just before Noel's turn to tie an area and prolong the game. Noel was out of it from then on but played the 'picked upon game owner' role well. James spread his minions throughout the board and was close to the win before Ankh Morpork was visited by a passing Troll party which took control from some of his areas and allowed Neil a few more turns to cycle through the deck. With only 4 cards remaining, James managed to have minions in each of the 10 areas required to just take the win from Neil. Noel and his handful of faithful minions were fortunate to just about control the muddy Ankh Morpork sewers.

There is much more to this game than just a thematic experience and James gave it a resounding 'much more fun than I thought it would be' seal of semi-approval. It's a quick moving, 45 minute, possible 'gateway' game with some interesting decisions amongst controlled chaos and the fun theme and one that Paul will definitely enjoy more than he thinks. ;-)

Alien Frontiers (thanks James)
After the usual political scramble over how to split 10 people into various games... Noel, Phil, Gareth II and James managed to sneak away to the largest table in the room to play Alien Frontiers. Phil and James had played before so the rules were a relatively simple process... although James is pretty sure we still got something wrong (although, luckily without Jon playing no one is likely to pick us up on it later...).  This game can be simply described as dice meets worker placement. Dice equal space ships, and using what you roll you can dock your ships at various orbital ports... The aim is to colonise the moon... with the aim to grind your opponents into the lunar dirt...  

In the early rounds everyone (apart from James as his rolls were pants) started picking up other ships... the more ships you have, the more dice you can roll, so it's an obvious strategy, similar I guess to getting more meeples in Stone Age. Phil in particular was going after ships with a passion getting up to the max of 6 in no time at all.  Other than this everyone was feeling their way a little with the other options. Gareth was looking to speed up his colonial goals and before long had 3 colonists on the moon... which given that the end game trigger is to use up all your colonists, then this was probably a pretty good plan. However James was happy that no one had yet colonised the area granting an extra die, and given James was lacking in dice/ships from earlier he took this which helped even things out for him.

The game tends to play in 3 parts... firstly a dash to grab some extra ships... then trying to colonise the untapped bonus's on the moon.. .before finally when all the moon is taken people start to get mean and take over other players areas to grab those last few vital victory points. Phil and Gareth we both swapping territories on the moon in this way, while James shored up some defence for the extra dice realising he couldn't afford to lose this. 

The end game was a flurry of tension we could all see it coming, but no one was able to trigger it. The Noel suddenly spotted an opportunity and after some extra long thought out planning took the lead on the score chart... He was just about to claim victory when he moved his arm and noticed he still had a colony to launch...   Next was Gareth who didn't get the rolls to finish the game... same for Phil, which left James to move 2 colonists to the moon on the last turn and sneak ahead by a point.

James reported to have mixed feelings about this game... on the one hand it's really good when it's your turn... you can use dice in multiple ways, create multipliers... in a way it's a bit like Dominion choosing which dice to use first and where...   but the game does suffer a lot from downtime. As you can't tell what you'll roll, it's very hard to plan anything in advance. Imaging playing dominion, but not seeing your cards until it's your turn... and then each card could be used in multiple ways... 2 or 3 is probably the limit so that the game flows quicker...  James say that he’d certainly play again, and perhaps with 4 seasoned players the game moves quicker... but can't help but feel a little frustrated with the slow speed of the game every time he’s played it so far.

Scores: James: 9, Gareth: 8, Noel: and Phil: 7