Tuesday, 21 August 2012

"In Prophecies, Witches and Knells"

Something of a supernatural evening...

To begin the evening, five early birds sat twiddling their thumbs wondering how to pass the time: Neil; Tom; Paul; James II; and Rufus. It was decided to start with the usual filler and the brand new Murder of Crows was chosen for this task.

The premise of the game is simple. The deck consists of six different cards which consist of the letters M,U,R,D,E and a wild Crow card. Each player draws an initial hand of five cards and thereafter will draw one, play one (or if they wish draw two only) with a view to spelling out the word Murder before them. The principal mechanic is that each different letter card when played triggers a particular effect: a M allows you to steal a card from another player's Murder into your hand; a R allows you to draw an extra card etc.

Each letter card has one to three crows in the top left hand corner. Players can avoid the effects of the active card by either discarding a card with the same number of crows as the active card or discarding a Wild Crow card. The Wild Crow card can also be played as a normal wild card (which can only be cancelled by other Wild Crows) or to remove a stack of letters in one Murder; the latter is useful as players can stack cards to avoid being too disadvantaged by the M or D card effects. This is a long-winded way of describing what is essentially a set collection game with take that elements which appears to be somewhat similar to Braggart in visual style, especially with the great artwork and flavour text creating a scene as each player's Murder builds.

The game as played swung between each player with James II especially close to securing a win at one point. In the process, there was a lot of gnashing of teeth over the merits and disadvantages of discarding cards in hand to save those in Murders. However, in the end, Neil proved victorious and then read out the Murder that he had created - the details of which have been lost into the mist of times except for the use of poodles as the instrument of death and the unfortunate victim, Mike Miserbean.

Good fun appeared to have been had by all. The game is very quick to pick up and learn. At the same time, any luck elements are downplayed by the general abundance of resources brought by the limited card set, the respective card powers, discarding to avoid effects and the sheer power of the Wild Crow. It will certainly be staying in the games bag for the foreseeable future.
Neil won, Tom, Paul, James II and Rufus lost
More players joined the throng and we split into two groups.  There were two games of out next item, but the first game doesn’t seem to have been reported...

Kingdom Builder
After the first game, everyone seemed to have enjoyed it so much that they were more than happy to play again. An hour or less and the game provides the feeling of having played something substantial, without being draining. An understandable Spiel des Jahres winner this year.

After the first game, we drew a random selection of four segments of the playing board and ended up with exactly the four that weren't used for the first game*. This dictated the 'special ability' tokens that are available to collect and meant that in this game we could add an additional desert tile, one to the edge of the board and could also move one of your tiles to the same terrain as the terrain you're laying.

We also drew three totally different scoring cards, which meant that scoring would only happen for the number of different groups of settlements, your longest horizontal row of settlements and your largest settlement.

It quickly became obvious that it would be a totally different game - a high level of re-playability being one of the attractions to Kingdom Builder.

James II's strategy was to build the largest kingdom possible, for which he was rewarded handsomely at the game end.

Paul went for a bit of everything, and worked out somewhere near the game end that he could 'split' some of his kingdoms with his 'moving' card therefore creating multiple separate kingdoms which each scored him point.

Philip seemed intent to show everyone that it really was best to lay down as many tiles as possible, although he was not the one to put down the most, with Rufus drawing the game to the end first.

Both Paul and Rufus had forgotten that the scoring mechanism allowing the player with the most settlements in a quadrant to score big was actually from the last game, and Philip and James II seemed very happy to watch them vie for position in one sector, all for no points, which seemed to affect Rufus more than Paul in the final scores.

Rufus and Philip were concentrating on the edge of the board which became very congested.

At the end some very different strategies yielded some close scores, but it was the 'little bit of everything' that edged out the 'one big kingdom' by just one point.
*editorial ahem: that was no random selection, though Paul could be forgiven for not noticing my stacking the deck!
Paul: 43, James II: 42, Philip: 39, Rufus: 27

Meanwhile Rats and Witches stalked medieval Europe...

Jon and Andy’s first game of the evening, with Jon being the only player with previous rat and Black Death experience. There were initially two distinct strategies with Jon and Neil favouring the far east of Europe and Tom and Andy sticking out to the west. The plague marker swiftly moved from Germania and found itself circling between Hispania, Anglia and Gallia. This didn’t seem to be having too much of an affect though, too few cubes were being removed. Andy picked up the King early on and had a strong bent towards placing his minions in the castle. Neil got rather stuck with the Witch and whilst this allowed him to gain valuable information he used it poorly. Jon steadily introduced his cubes and by joint use of the Merchant and Peasant cards was able to spread his minions far and wide. With all the rats suddenly all over the board the game finished for a final hefty outbreak of death, wiping away much of Tom and Neil’s minions. Jon’s strategy had paid off although he played down his win by declaring that ‘having played a game before it would be morally wrong not to win’. On such sweeping generalisations are true legends born. Oh and Andy loved the size and quality of the influence cards and the expansion characters that we hadn’t used as well.
Jon 10, Andy 8, Tom 5, Neil 5

The witches move centre stage with our next game...

The crow theme established earlier in the evening continued with Witch's Brew. Although out of print, Tom managed to uncover a brand new copy in a shop whilst up in Manchester over the weekend and was keen to try it out. The game has been played previously at IBG but apparently not by any of the Rattus boys so a Tom rules explanation was required. This is never good.

A simple role selection game at its core, it was a fun, chaotic game which was perhaps assisted by Andy's lowering of the tone from the very start by dubbing the potion vials as resembling prophylactics. When they weren't playing "Name That Tune" whilst listening to the Apprentice's tasteful sound collage and humming along to Wax's 1987 hit "Bridge to Your Heart" a number of last minute acquisitions of roles, declarations of vengeance and bawdy banter ensued.

Jon managed to acquire a number of cauldrons and shelves at a steady pace throughout the game until the fourth crow cawed. This coupled with his sizeable pile of "condoms" meant that he was the winner by some margin and it was declared that he was the Warlock (coo coo catchoo).
Jon 21, Tom 15, Neil 15, Andy 14

Sticking with the supernatural theme, although no overt witches...

And so the final game of the night. Jon takes Andy and Tom through the rules, neither having played before and Neil listens intently as his amnesia has struck despite having played once before. Tom immediately starts rolling the dice and isn’t happy that the game doesn’t actually include that mechanic. Andy has doubts about the amount of luck that seems to be involved in this set collection exercise. And off we go. If only we’d have known that within the 7 discarded cards the ‘brown’ set had lost both a ‘3’ and ‘4’ value then it could have been so different. As it was the first half of the game went pretty smoothly with Andy clearly keen on collecting blues, Tom reds and Neil greens. We were all a little unsure what Jon was doing but then he had played before and presumably he had all the brown and orange cards. There was the usual dice influencing resulting in only the orange ending higher than the starting position, the others all sitting at 3 for the auction. This kicked off with Andy and Tom keen to outbid each other for more blues and Jon going for the final dice influencing card to increase the orange dice up to 5, ok, so he’s certainly going for those then. And as always with Biblios it’s over before you know it, a good feature of the game (any game I guess!). And then the revelation that despite being on top form all night Jon hadn’t won… he was only collecting oranges, it was Andy all along who had the browns. Those together with his blues made the victory his. Tom had scuppered Neil’s red collection by 1 point so they finished best of friends in joint last place.
Andy 6, Jon 5, Tom 3, Neil 3

P.S ”In prophecies witches and knells” is a quotation from Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Sorceror”

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