Sunday, 21 October 2012

"Empty Chairs At Empty Tables"

“Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”
Today’s report combines the events of 10th and 17th October. 10th October only generated 3 Session reports and 17th October 6. 17th October had a good excuse as some people were at Essen, 10th October not really. Today’s title comes from Les Miserables:  fortunately for the Isleworth boardgamers, our chairs and tables were only temporarily empty!
Starting with a quick card game...
6 Nimmt (thanks Noel)
Noel arrived just in time to make it for a 7 player chaotic game of 6 Nimmt. Philip had decided it was time to forsake his random blind card playing and focus on the best possible choices. Not sure how different that makes the outcome with unexpected cards being picked up by Amanda early on and a huge set of bulls hit (:-)) Woody's hand shortly after. After all the chaos Noel and Dan rejoiced in their shared victory.
Noel and Dan, 7; Philip, James I Scott, Amanda, Gareth all lost, Woody lost harder.
On the 17th we started with a longer card game:
Modern Art
One of Reiner Knzia’s classic auction designs, the secret of Modern Art is putting the correct value on the intrinsically worthless. The thematic content is much enriched by reading the flavour text in the rulebook, which is also quite funny. Anyway, me Noel and Richard battled it out, with myself employing a consistent formula that a fair price for a given painting was 50% of its expected sale value that round. Noel more or less followed my lead while Richard used a higher fair price measure, meaning he bought most of the paintings.
Bad news for me- I was using the wrong formula. The correct fair price is 66% of expected sale value (I leave the reasoning as an exercise for the reader). So Richard won easily.
Richard 586 Philip 487 Noel 385.
Amun Re
Noel, Richard and I moved onto another of Dr Knzia’s auction games, and we were joined by David and Andy. The game was quite lengthy as people put a lot of thought into the auctions, which was ok for four of us but Richard was thoroughly bored by (at most) halfway through. It is a credit to his sportsmanship that he stayed the course.
The Old Kingdom started off with all three camel provinces being auctioned, which lead to a consistent low sacrifice pattern for this part of the game. I was playing a high sacrifice game and therefore ran out of money by the end of turn 3. Andy and Noel gained the 5 point bonuses at the end of the Old Kingdom and were clearly in the lead, though David had made the most money.
Lots of money was spent on provinces during the new Kingdom, except by me since I had (almost) no money. Curiously this meant my financial position improved sufficiently to have 2nd most money at game end- most money going to David. David also had the most Pyramids, with Noel close behind him.
David 47 Noel 41 Philip and Andy 38, Richard 32.
Going back in time to the week before, another classic game, not by Knizia this time.

El Grande (thanks Jon)
Tonight saw a 5-player outing for James’s copy of this classic game, which was new to all but Philip. The rules were fairly straightforward and easy to comprehend, but it’s the action cards that add the complexity.
The 2 cards that allow movement of a player’s Grande came out very early, which meant that everyone was soon tied in to their bonus regions. Jon and James were vying for the northern region that James had his Grande in, whilst Noel’s central region was being challenged by Philip. Woody laid claim to the East side of the board, and changed one of the scoring tokens to boost his score.
Mid-way through, Noel was out in front, with Jon a little way behind and James lagging a bit at the back. The thing with El Grande is that there are a lot of action cards that mess with other players, so it essentially means that whoever is out in front should be taking the brunt of the ‘take that’ actions. However, James claimed that he was being screwed over regardless, and Woody always complains even if you look at him a bit strangely… (quote of the game [after Jon had just moved some of Woody’s cubes] – Woody: “Look at how Jon just stabbed me in the back!” – Philip: “Actually, I think that was more of a stab in the front…”)
Going into the final round, James had saved his ‘13’ card for a cunning masterstroke. However, Noel had also done so, and as he was first in turn order, James was relegated to 4th in turn order, so we will never know how cunning his plan was… Woody was storming up the leaderboard, courtesy of having the majority in two ‘8’ scoring regions.
Jon and Woody had dumped many caballeros into the Castillo, and as it scored twice at the end, it gave them both a boost. It all came down to the final placement of caballeros out of the Castillo, and when the final region was scored, Jon had just pipped  Woody to the post by a couple of points.
This was a long game (probably down to what Noel describes as the ‘first game dither’), and with 5 players felt a little out of everyone’s individual control. With so many ways to mess with other players, there is very little point in racing into an early lead, as you just paint a nice fat target on your back…or your front (as Noel found out to his cost). Maybe with less players there is more control? Tbc….
Jon 98; Woody 96; Noel 92; Philip 84; James 84
Another game played on 10th (and our last report from there)
Quandary (thanks Jon)
This is Loco or Botswana, but with nice Bakelite pieces. James was a bit distracted by the results of the latest Maths trade being published, but he still came in second (although if he’d chosen a different tile for his last action, he’d have won…)
As it was, this was a really close result – shame there was only time for one round. No picture as only Botswana images seem to be available!
Woody 30; James 29; Jon 28
Another quick game, this time from the 17th.
Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper (thanks Jon)
With 20 mins to kill before Andy arrived, a quick filler was required, and this fitted the bill. However, Andy arrived in double-quick time, so there was only time for one hand. Unusually, it was won by Jack escaping, as all the victims were revealed very early in the game. Jon was the player to play the ‘Ripper Escapes’ card, and therefore scored the 35 points. It would be nice to have time to play several hands of this game one week – any takers???
Jon 39; Dan 5; Mark 2
More cards...
Biblios (thanks Jon)
Andy had arrived, but the Euro-crowd were still up to their necks in Knizia auctions, so he joined Jon, Dan and Mark for some manuscript-collecting.
This game was new to Dan and Mark, but it’s easily explained and the game was soon underway. Several ‘dice adjustment’ cards came out early, which resulted in the sets having very unequal values. As is usual with this game, there are a few tense decisions, as you decide whether to take an early card, or to wait in the hope of turning over something better (you never do…) Everyone was trying to sneak off cards of certain sets, although Dan seemed bent on amassing a small fortune in gold…
When the auction pile was turned over, it was discovered that everyone had been stashing a lot of gold cards there (it was surprising that there were any left after Dan’s hoarding tactics…), so there wasn’t so much of interest to auction. However, the result is always in doubt until everyone finally reveals their cards.
Andy had clearly won the Holy Books category for 5 points, and Dan had pipped Jon to the Forbidden Tomes for 4 points. He had also been largely unchallenged for the 2 points on offer for the Pigments. Jon had collected 4 points for the Monks category, so it all came down to the Manuscripts, which Mark and Andy were tied for – but Andy had the card bearing the initial ‘A’, so took the set, and the game.
This is always an enjoyable game – it rattles along at a nice pace and has just the right amount of tricky decisions for a game of this length. It’ll be around for a while, I’ll wager.
Andy 8; Dan 6; Jon 4; Mark 0
And now for something altogether more exciting...

Fury of Dracula (thanks Jon)
With 5 die-hard euro freaks being magnetically attracted to more Knizia fare, it was left to Jon to turn to the dark-side and join Dan and Mark for something altogether trashier. FOD is essentially Scotland Yard with more depth and theme. Mark chose to play Dracula, so Dan and newbie Jon took control of 2 Hunters each.
The Hunters spread themselves out to start with – Jon took London and Madrid, whilst Dan was covering central and eastern Europe. It took several turns to pick up Dracula’s scent, by which time another vampire had appeared and given Dracula a third of his required victory points. As night became day, this increased to half the points needed.
All 4 Hunters now converged on South East Europe, where Dracula was certainly hanging out – only for him to play an ’Evasion’ card, which allowed him to magically transport to any other location on the map. This was effectively the nail in the coffin (or stake through the heart) for the Hunters, who, although they eventually tracked Dracula down to England’s green and pleasant land, did not have enough time to destroy the dark Lord.
All players collectively agreed that the ‘Evasion’ card should be removed from the game, as it essentially resets the game to the beginning, giving the Hunters almost no chance of winning. There was also no combat at all in this game, which made the multitude of weapon cards redundant. Maybe this will get another outing and be slightly more balanced next time…

The fantasy theme continued...
Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards (thanks Jon)
Well, the other table’s examination of Knizia’s ancient Egypt was nowhere near ending, so Jon cheerfully resigned himself to more light-hearted Ameritrash. This was a card game that Dan had brought along, with the longest and most unmemorable title ever. However, the gameplay is simple, but strangely engaging. It’s basically a ‘last man standing’ game – a la King of Tokyo – where players use a hand of cards to cast spells on each other, trying to cause damage and eventually death to their opponents. If you can be last man standing twice, you win the game (a la Skull & Roses).
Dan and Mark both seemed to be experts, and probably took it easy on Jon, who won the first round. No such favours were extended second time around, which ended in Dan standing proud at the end. Mark then told some sob story about how he never wins the game – Jon fell for it and took out Dan in the second round, only for Mark to triumph leaving all players with one win.
The last round was therefore a decider and really went down to the wire. In the penultimate phase, Jon had only 1 health left, whilst Dan and Mark had 3. Somehow, both Dan and Jon survived that round, and with Jon going first in the last round, he had enough power in his spell to kill off Dan and take the victory. It was about as close as you could get, and made for a really exciting endgame.
So is Jon converted to Ameritrash? Not completely, but if this game came out again for 3 players, he’d probably jump in with both feet. High praise indeed….
Jon 2; Dan 1; Mark 1

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