Wednesday, 25 July 2012

The one where Paul admits to being beaten by a little girl...

Players: James I; James II; Paul; Jon; Gareth; Andy; Richard; Philip; Woody; Sophie; Rufus

11 IBG'ers at the London Apprentice in Isleworth tonight, on a warm, sunny (and surprisingly windy) Wednesday evening. We also had a bit of interest from some of the more 'normal' people in the pub, who came up to have a look at what we were doing. Woody did a fine job of engaging them in conversation and selling our hobby in the finest tradition of an individual who runs a games company... 
Tonight was a rel mixture of games - co-op, 'gateway', traditional card, cube-shifting, and the ubiquitous never-ending Euro which turned out to be never-ending...

10 Days in Europe (thanks Paul)
James lent Ten Days in Europe to Paul on the premise that it is a simple game, more appealing to Paul's wife, Nirosha than those that require lengthy rules explanations. Spot on James! She did like it and commented that she'd play more board games if only they were all that simple. During the tenure of the loan, Paul also had two of his friends' daughters to stay for a weekend, so decided to try it out with them too, which they loved. It turned out to be slightly embarrassing for Paul though, as twelve year old Isabelle won three times to his twice. Moving on...
Paul returned the game to James on Wednesday, meaning that it was available as a 'quickish and simpleish' one to try at the start of the evening. Paul and Woody were laying out the bits while James and Gareth arrived, so the four of them set off for a short frolic around Europe.
For those that haven't played any in the series (most continents have a 'ten days around...' version), it is one of Alan Moon's (Ticket to Ride) first games and has some similarities with his other games but is much simpler. Each player has a rack with ten slots, representing each of the ten days on a planned trip. Each slot holds one card which has a country, a body of water (the Med, the Atlantic or the Baltic) or a coloured aeroplane. The object of the game is to arrange the cards on the rack in such a way that the ten days are a seamless trip. The trip must start and end with a country and 'sea cards' and aeroplanes can link appropriate countries. The catch is that you can only swap cards in and out, but cannot rearrange them on the rack.
This game turned into one where everyone was drawing the wrong cards for their plan. Paul decided it was worth rerouting as he was waiting for Ukraine to come to finish his route, and it might have been a very long wait. He then picked up three cards in succession to allow him to be the first to complete.
Which means that if Paul won and he lost to a twelve year old games newbie, his previous embarrassment can be transferred onto the others and multiplied, can't it? Surely that's how it works.
Paul: Won; Woody, James, Gareth: Didn't win

Infiltration (thanks Philip for this report)
After some discussion Rufus, Sophie, Woody and I went for this new push-your-luck game set in the Android universe. The premise is that we’re a gang of hackers breaking into a top-secret facility and trying to download as much data as possible before being caught. It is a competitive game- the person who has downloaded the most data and managed to escape wins, but there is a limited amount of co-operation as far as not tripping the alarm goes.
I was playing “the Muscle”- a veteran of the war on Mars with metallic hands. Rufus played “the Brains” aka Mr.White. Sophie was “the Assassin” and Woody “the Tech guy”. There’s a nice paragraph of flavour text for each character but sadly the characters are completely identical for game purposes... something that does make a difference is each player is dealt 4 items, and the items do a very wide variety of things...
The first room was “the Incinerator”, allowing players to retrieve an item from the discard pile at the price of being wounded. Of course, at the beginning there are no items in the discard pile!
I opened by playing Jet Pack, enabling me to fly two rooms ahead. The others also pushed ahead. The first room contained a ‘tech lock’ which would release more data if we destroyed it and the second a lab worker- ditto, somewhat unimaginatively but in keeping with the noir theme. The following round Woody decided to shoot something with one of his items (a pistol)- the tech lock was his final choice. Its destruction blasted everyone in the room two spaces backwards. Technically this would have ended the game for everyone except me (I was in the next room). So we decided that they were only moved 1 room back and also that Sophie could choose not to carry out her “retreat” action.
The game continued with more rooms revealed. I decided to set Semtex in one room, which would detonate on the following turn destroying things in that room and the adjacent rooms and wounding any players in the room. This had the desired effect of holding the others back although it also blew up a robot in the next room which could have been useful to activate (activated robots move methodically through the building shooting everything except the players).
We continued past the last room on the ground floor, the loading bay which allowed one person to ride a lorry to freedom (something we all ignored at this point), and into the second floor rooms which contained even more data. More than half the time had elapsed and then someone tripped an alarm, accelerating the game end. Rufus and Sophie pushed on while Woody and I ran back. I was able to grab the lorry ahead of Woody thanks to judicious use of Stims, and all three of my opponents were still in the building when the time ran out. The last room, which we peeked at after the game, was the Executive Elevator, another one-person escape route.
Philip 23, Sophie, Rufus and Woody doing time in the lunar prisons...

This was one of Paul’s purchases from Essen 2011 which, after a couple of plays, never seemed to see the light of day again. Which is a shame, as it’s a very nice, fast-moving 45 minute game. Anyway, tonight it had a reprieve…
The character card which locked one cube into the castle (securing definite points for the end) was very popular with all players. Jon concentrated on dumping as many cubes onto the board as possible, then spreading them out. Paul made an enemy of James II early on, but as it’s the sort of game where everyone gets picked on, it didn’t come back to bite him too badly.
As James I pointed out, it isn’t immediately obvious what a good strategy is, and everyone commented that the Witch wasn’t used once.
Jon’s strategy of putting as many cubes as possible on the board (even though a lot were later removed) seemed to pay off, as he got lucky with a couple of final plagues to come out on top.
Ideal game length / weight – definitely up for another go….
Jon 10; Paul 8; James I 6; James II 5

Die Sieben Siegel
To fill a 15 minute gap whilst the Infiltration table finished, James I brought out this little German card game. It’s basically Spades / Whist / Trumps etc, with a neat little twist where players take tokens at the beginning of a round to specify how many tricks they will take in each suit.1 player can also be a saboteur, whose task is to make other players collect unwanted tricks.
There was only time for a couple of hands, with James trying out the saboteur role in the second hand, which was only semi-successful. James II had a bad first hand, but scored the ultimate zero in the second round.
Two hands wasn’t really enough time to fully get to grips with the game, but hopefully there will be a chance in the future to give it a proper run out.
Overall verdict: simple, but interesting and strangely intriguing (a bit like Jon…)
Paul -6; James II -6; James I -7; Jon -8

Yspahan (thanks James I for this one)
After several months looking at this game on and telling myself I needed to learn it, the opportunity finally arrived as Paul brought this along and Jon, Woody and myself all agreed to give it a spin. Woody had a steely glint in his eye, which at the time we mistook for a nervous twitch, but in retrospect...
A game with a real mix of mechanics, dice rolling, set collecting, area majority... but not so complicated to pick up once you get the idea. Woody went over the rules for me (being the only person new to the game) and we were off.
Early stages and Woody started to regale us with tales of how many games he'd played online... the reason for his enthusiasm was starting to become apparent... although the real game has a few rule changes which seemed to throw him at first. As a newbie I was doing the obvious thing and taking over buildings, thinking this was a good idea... well it looks impressive anyways, but as the wiser heads were telling me, the game is more about the long terms goal and it's nearly impossible to win without sending people on the camel train.
Woody immediately built on the 'get a card when you send someone to the camel train' housing... which should have sent a message to us about his intentions. He was also explaining the virtues of building on the intersections, which when coupled with this strategy would mean cards galore... Everyone who had played before mentioned that cards were nearly all good to have, so Woody's plan seemed clear from the start.
Jon was in a building frenzy picking up more camels than is healthy for a normal person and spending them soon after. This strategy was looking good although ran a little out of steam in the last area of the game as his supplies dried up.
Jon seemed to have a good balance , but Paul and me had opposite problems. I kept picking up money (if only this were true in the real world) but could do nothing with it as my access to camels was limited. I ended up spending several on extra dice, if just for the buzz, but nothing much came of this. Paul had the opposite problem and was struggling to get any money throughout the game.
Throughout all of this Woody was just sending his folks to the camel train, soon joined by Paul and the 2 of them filled up the 3 rows by the 3rd round by themselves.
In the last round, Jon and myself were busy trying to squeeze as many buildings as possible on the board, with the "+2 for each completed set" being a nice bonus to make this look like a useful strategy. Paul and Woody were focusing on the camel train.
So to the final scoring... Woody was out in front already and was looking like he would be hard to catch, while the rest of us were close. Paul took a good bonus from the camel train, and Jon and myself took a bounty from the buildings and completed sets, but Woody then sat back... a satisfied look on his face and announced bonuses of something like a gazillion points using up a dozen cards in the process...
Final thoughts? It's a good game... a little busy possibly in my view with almost too many competing mechanics, but it plays smoothly enough. Also resources seem a little too hard to get hold of if the dice don't play fair - camels usually go first so if you get a bad camel roll on your turn you're in trouble. Also not sure if 4 persons is too many, as each round is 7 turns one person only gets 1 turn per round which feels lop-sided. 3 players, or 2 might be better for the game. Saying all that though, I'm glad to give it a try and I'm looking forwards to the future when one day I'll get to beat Woody on and I can retire from this game knowing it'll not get any better than that :)
Incidentally, the expansion in the Ystari Box seems to recognise some of the weaknesses and proposed some new rules (seemingly all devised to thwart Woody)
1. you cannot move the supervisor back to the same place they started in the same turn
2. When someone owns the 'get card when you send someone to the caravan' you can only get 1 card per turn regardless how many you send
3. Draw a card allows the player to take 2 cards and select the best one (discarding the other)
I kinda like these... I'm thinking Woody might not :)
Woody 87; James 69; Paul 67; Jon 66

Also played tonight was Through the Ages, which lived up to its name and lasted longer than the 3.5 hours available, and never reached a conclusion (and as Scott wasn't playing, there was an opportunity for someone else to stand on top of the podium...)
Race for the Galaxy was also introduced to James II, but with no details available, we'll never know how he fared (or even if he survived....)
By the time you read this, the Olympics will be in full swing, with events takig place less than a few miles from our very own cauldron of intense competition - the London Apprentice. Stay tuned for more reports of boardgaming excellence and medal-winning performances...

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