Wednesday, 5 September 2012

"Let them eat Yellow Cake..."

Players: Paul, James, Barrie, Gareth I, Gareth II, Jon, Philip, Richard

A warm summer's evening, and the IBG'ers were a little thin on the ground, but it was a warm welcome to newcomer Richard who joined us for the first time - and subsequently won his first game! His opening comments should have raised our suspicions though - "I haven't played anything very weighty - just stuff like Power Grid...."
So as it was such a pleasant evening, it was decided that all-out thermonuclear war was a good subject for a board game, and some of us also learned a little bit of history into the bargain (well, Paul did anyway....)

Die Sieben Siegel
This simple card-game (which is affectionately now referred to as “The Steven Seagal Game”) had received favourable reviews last time it made an appearance at IBG, so there were several willing volunteers for a re-run. Barrie was rather stung in the first round – Jon and Paul bid perfectly for zero scores, whilst Barrie racked up an impressive 8 points.
In the second round, Jon was picking first, and had such a middle-of-the-road hand that he chose the saboteur. He immediately forced most of the red (trump) cards out, which in turn seemed to precipitate some high scores – Barrie picked up another 6 points, whilst Paul had a massive 9. James was consistent, scoring just 2 points each round, but Jon had managed to bring his saboteur down to only a single point, giving him the victory.
It was a shame that there was only time for 2 rounds, as turn order may make a difference, and therefore a full 4 rounds would have been interesting. Maybe next time…
Jon 1; James 4; Paul 9; Barrie 14

San Juan (thanks Philip)
Gareth and Philip played this quick card game while waiting for Rufus to turn up with Lancaster (he didn’t). Gareth started with a Library which stood in him good stead throughout the game. Philip went for a producing and selling goods plan which would probably have worked better in Puerto Rico. In San Juan you can’t actually get any points for goods, so you end up converting them into buildings anyway. 
Philip kept picking Craftsman and Trader, Gareth kept picking Prospector (with Library this gave him 2 cards and Philip nothing) and Builder (a 2 card discount with Library). They both switched to VP buildings about halfway through but Gareth was rather more successful due to his final building, the Palace (1 extra VP per 4 VP total score).
Gareth 38; Philip 34

The Manhattan Project (thanks for this report to Paul)
After James had explained the rules for this classic worker placement game, Paul was still waiting to find out where ‘Manhattan’ came into it, and where the tall buildings were, not to mention Central Park and the Statue of Liberty. He asked James and immediately regretted it as everyone else at the table knew that The Manhattan Project was the code name for the american atomic weapon development programme and that, after all, was exactly the theme of this game. Paul was quiet for a few minutes after that...
Like many worker placement games, the workers came in several flavours: normal (the ‘real workers’), hard hatted (who do things like work in factories and make buildings) and bespectacled boffins (who do you think have the clever ‘nuclear’ ideas around here anyway?)
These workers can do many things, including attending universities to create more workers to give more options next time round (after all, a wannabe nuclear force obviously needs a classic euro mechanic to function), build buildings which each have unique capabilities, generate cash, tamper with the raw materials (in this case ‘yellowcake’, which is some kind of crude uranium), turn the yellow cake (and cash and workers) into refined nuclear stuff (uranium and plutonium), build bombs and launch attacks on others to disable their buildings so they can do less stuff.
Each player represents a country in the race for nuclear power. Points are gained for building, loading and testing bombs and the first one to 50 points wins.
James had played the two player game before and as he seemed to have emerged victorious from that world skirmish, decided to play a similar strategy at the start and as he went first, picked up as many ancillary workers as he could. The others knew what they were doing a little less and therefore also picked up some workers, but a few less as they didn’t go first.
And after the first round, different strategies started to play out.
The first action of great note was that Gareth II had accumulated some fighter planes and some bombers and decided that it’d be a good idea to use his threat, so both James and Jon suffered some building devastation, meaning that their hard work in the first few turns was now not showing any return for them.
Paul’s reaction was to firstly wipe his brow, utter a quiet ‘phew’ and be grateful that he was obviously not as threatening a target as the other two. His next step was to 'arm up' himself as he seemed to recall that during the real cold war, having lots of weapons meant that you didn’t get blasted.
James set about gathering all of the yellowcake in the game. Paul explained that it wasn’t edible, but he didn’t notice if that made any difference to James' strategy.
Jon was the first to collect and build bombs, and quickly followed this up by playing ‘the long game’ and testing it, meaning that he notched up six points, and meant that future plutonium bombs would also be tested and he’d get lots more points for them.
At this stage Paul had also accumulated some attractive buildings, and everyone on the board seemed intent on spying on him, using his buildings and consequently stopping him from doing so. It started to dawn on him that as they were playing a game all about nuclear weapons, and he had by now built up quite some army, that he should be using it as a deterrent. James, mainly due to suffering bomb damage himself, was next up and was eyeing up Paul’s buildings and licking his lips (maybe to get rid of some of those yellow crumbs, who knows?) Paul saw this covetous behaviour and said to James (aka Mr ‘no weapons’) coolly (maybe that part was just in Paul's head) that if he did actually send in any spies that he would ‘bomb the crap out of him’. This may or may not have made James think twice, but it certainly didn’t stop him from doing it, and Paul realised that if he didn’t follow through then his threat would be seen as empty for the rest of the game.
When his turn came round, he was left with no choice but to unleash the might of his armed forces or be seen as yellow himself, so unleash he did, whether it made sense to him or not. Most of James’ buildings were left smoking, and as Paul still had some weapons which he'd really only accumulated as a disincentive to be bombed himself, he decided that Gareth’s nuclear plants were a little too powerful so brought those down too. Jon had taken the sensible precaution of arming up, so Paul let him be. No points for being Switzerland in this game!
Gareth wisely spent the rest of the game trying to convince everyone to gang up on Paul, but James was unable and Jon focussed on his own stuff, so Paul escaped unscathed.
Watching from the other side of the world, Jon was accumulating quite a stock pile of plutonium and uranium, and it certainly wasn’t to build a time machine. Paul sensed that Jon was positioning himself for a meaty charge for the line, and calculated that he could build a couple of bombs and load them in two turns, which would bring him to a nice round 50 points.
During that time James was also trying to convince Jon to spy on Paul by stating that “it makes much more sense to use other people’s buildings”, to which Jon duly obliged by sending his trenchcoated workers to James’ factory instead. Paul hadn’t said anything during the process but took great joy in James’ second plan to backfire of the evening.
Gareth was also getting close but had been constrained by bombs and spies too, so Paul was able to get round to his winning turn and reach the winning points total. Jon would have managed to capture the win next time round.
The final order may be a bit misleading, as although Jon was going to get to 50 on the next turn, he had only scored his initial 6 points by the time Paul finished the game.
I really enjoyed the game. Both theme and mechanics are very important to me when playing, and the theme worked extremely well in this, with the need to build, but also the threat of being attacked hanging in the air at all times. The mechanics were as smooth as the theme with the result that all players left the table saying that they’d definitely play again, maybe even next week. Luckily, that’ll be a new game, so the slate will have been wiped clean by then and each player can start from scratch. After all grudges don’t get carried from week to week, and revenge doesn’t stretch that far does it? James....?
Paul 50; James 20; Gareth 15; Jon 6

Homesteaders (thanks again Philip)
Only one of the three games tied for Game of the Month on our online poll actually made it to the London Apprentice. Gareth me and Barrie played our second game of Homesteaders, the previous having been many months ago and with a fourth player.
In the previous game I had frequently dropped out of the bidding. This game I decided to try bidding more aggressively. In fact, I still ended up dropping out of the bidding quite often, but the average bid value was much higher. This basically meant everyone was taking on much more debt. Debt is worth negative points at the end of the game – the more debt the worse it gets. 5 debt is -15. 10 debt is -55. 20 debt is -210. Anyway, the first turn auction saw Gareth and Barrie paying $7 each for a Farm and (in Barrie’s case) a worker plus a step on the Railroad track: I received a step on the Railroad track for free.
Second turn I was able to buy a Farm for $3 and Barrie bought the Steel Mill, which gave him automated Steel production but was very expensive. In the third round I picked up a Trading Post and Gareth a Gold Mine.
That set up my basic position, producing Food, Wood, and Trade tokens. I was excluded from the next couple of auctions and then won the 6th round auction for $7, enabling me to build the Bank. The Bank cancels debt, but I incurred plenty of debt building it.
Round 7 saw me excluded again, with both Barrie and Gareth bidding $9, the highest bids reached all game. About this point Gareth quizzed me in detail as to how debt was scored and realised that he was sitting on a large negative score. He then systematically set about reducing this for the rest of the game. Barrie however missed this epiphany and continued to pile up debt while developing high value buildings that gave him points income.
In round 8 I built the Fairgrounds for Gold income, dropping out of round 9 and getting a valuable Circus in round 10. There is then a final round of income before scoring. I had a large quantity of food and wood piled up and an even larger quantity of Trade tokens, allowing me to sell off all the food and wood and write off some of my debt. Gareth had also been working hard at writing off debt and was only slightly behind me. Barrie had an impressive positive score before subtracting the debt...
Philip 41; Gareth 25; Barrie -71

There was also a game of Rattus played, once newcomer Richard had arrived. Nobody has told me what went on during the game, or even the final scores, but I do know that Richard stamped his mark upon the group by winning. Well done sir!

That's all for now. Hopefully we'll see a few more attendees next week for more fun and games....

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