Wednesday, 7 November 2012

"Time, It's All A Question of Time"

Time; I decide it is too controlling. I am not having it
any longer – except I cannot use ‘longer’. I try to sum
it up differently but hell it’s not easy.
Wednesday evenings have become sacrosanct. I love getting out and down to the apprentice now, eyeing up the potential, all those colourful boxes, full of promise, misunderstanding and
fun. I’m rarely fussed over what I want to play although space
and fantasy themes are my least faves. Recent expedition s to Planet Steam and Mission: Red Planet have certainly done
nothing for the former! Anyway, last week it was two more new games to me, Keyflower and Fleet. The former was sold as a good worker placement, earn/collect VPs, and even with two virgin players it shouldn’t take much more than an hour. John said that some games come with outrageously optimistic play times, but this was fairly accurate. Oh how James and I proved him wrong! And as for Fleet being a quick twenty minutes. I suppose an additional fifteen minutes isn’t too bad unless you express it as a percentage.
Anyway, we had a good turn out last week; Neil (that’s me), Gareth II, Woody, Paul A, Jeroen, James, Gareth, Philip, John, Jon, Dan, Andy and a very warm welcome to Michel, great to have you along!

The earlybirds had a close game of For Sale, well most of them were close in the final scoring, Gareth II decided close wasn’t for him so thrashed the rest of them, by a far old distance too, well-played! Final Scores; Gareth II 63, Jeroen 48, James 46, Woody 45, Paul A 43.

Gareth II went off with Gareth to learn all about Through The Ages (what again? Yes, again. Ed.), and Andy joined them. As per usual it went on a long time and the end appeared uncertain.

Jeroen and Paul D kindly hosted Michel over a game of Spartacus. Not sure of the outcome but everytime I turned round Paul was trying to talk Michel into joining him on some sort of deal, and Jeroen was practising his limited vocabulary of ‘Inglese Vulgaris’.

 Keyflower (thanks James)

Another Wed., another Essen experience; and this time one of the big guns with Keyflower on show after being pretty much universally acclaimed as one of the big gamers games from this year. As luck would have it (or bad communication, your call) we had 2 copies on show, and despite John’s being already tried and tested Woody wanted to smell the cardboard and cracked open his copy for us to sample. Initially, we were all lined up for a 6 player game with Phil, Jon, Neil, Woody, John and myself but then Dan showed up late to skew the numbers and so we switched to a 4 player game with Jon and Phil gracefully switching to another table.

Keyflower is, at its heart, an auction worker placement game. Players bid to either control a tiles, or to activate the tile using 3 different coloured meeples (meeples are used as cash in the game). It’s a great mechanic as (similar to Asara) you can only outbid using the same colour so bidding early raises your chances of winning; also, if you own a tile, then you’ll receive back any meeples spent to activate the tile. So ownership is a good way of increasing cash for subsequent rounds. And meeple cash is
tight in the game with only limited resupplies available.

John gave us a good run down of the rules and we were off for the Spring round. As usual players feeling their way early on and watching John closely given he was the only person to have played before. He seemed to want to go for bigger village tiles, so these were contested early on. I went to the idea of trying to win as many tiles as possible regardless of what they were offering, so was happy to let others pay more for other ones.

There are only 4 rounds in the game, and really only 3 rounds where you can gather tiles for actions as the last round only has tiles that give victory points. There doesn’t on the face of it feel like a lot of actions to take, but the game really flew smoothly once we all grasped the concepts, and there is minimal downtime between moves.

The 2nd round (Summer) and this time players started to use meeples to activate tiles for resources rather than just bidding. Woody was the first to claim some uber-green-meeples which gave him the advantage of a colour that couldn’t be beaten, but it didn’t go to plan as he ran out of options to use it and ended up with using it is on one of his owned tiles for the resources. John picked up some nice tiles that gave him extra meeples and then quickly started to gather lots of extra meeples as a result. Everyone
has a screen in the game to hide meeples so it’s hard to know how much anyone has, and of which colour, but it felt like John had quite a fortune after this round. Neil was looking to collect tools instead and kept using his tiles to turn 1 tool into more. At this stage I decided to compete with Woody for the green meeples advantage taking a tile that could give me 2 greens for 3 yellows, or something like that.

The 3rd round was probably the most organised in that we all had a reasonable idea of what to do (well, perhaps apart from Woody, who confessed after the game that he had got lost somewhere in the summer phase when he realised he wasn’t going to be allowed to trade any wood for sheep!) We tended to split into different strategies, with John again trying to grow his fortune ready for the last round with only VP available.
Neil was gathering tools like he was preparing for doomsday and I managed to pick up some bigger villages and a boat that allowed me to use any colour when bidding. Sounded useful, but to be honest I’m not sure it was.

The last round is all about VP. At the start everyone is dealt 3 tiles. At the last stage players can chose to place 1,2 or 3 tiles on the board so you can control what VP tiles are available. If you’re weak for 1 tile type that you have then you can chose to bin it meaning no one gets the points. Then, as before, players bid on these tiles and you only get the VP for the tiles you own. Bidding here was really interesting. I was having a battle with Neil over tiles offering good bonus’s for tools, while John had decided to finally obtain some green meeples so he could outbid Woody and me on a few tiles. As the dust settled, I’d managed to win 5 tiles which I think was my plan (did I have a plan ?), while Neil picked up a few good tool based tiles, and Jon had one he was after giving a straight-up 12 points bonus. A nice touch is that the tiles that were used throughout the game for 1,2,3rd player were not available for selecting for use in your own village, as were also the boats that were used for selecting meeples in earlier rounds. The gameboard actually cleans itself up as a built in mechanic of the last round. Even the first player marker can be used as an extra meeple if you need it for scoring. Clever stuff really.

So all that was left was to place the VP tiles and total up scoring. I had a feeling it was going to be close between John and me, as I knew I had a good bonus in store. As it happens it wasn’t so close, but I wouldn’t put must of that down to skill. I think my strategy of going to quantity rather than quality worked well this time out, but in another game perhaps not. Would definitely be up for another game of this sometime, so far for me it’s one of the better games out of Essen.

Final scores; James 72, Neil 67, John 45, Woody 29 (Great game in my book, Ed.)

In the Shadow of the Emperor (thanks Philip, and smartarse Tom re the photo!)
As the unlikely trio of Dan, Jon and Philip looked for a game to play, Dan picked out In the Shadow of the Emperor as one of the few euros he was willing to try. Since Philip had brought the game along that evening having recently acquired it he was more than happy to acquiesce.
Philip explained the rules and took on the role of Emperor for the first turn. The players represent families of aristocrats in medieval Germany. The family members contest for control of the seven Electorates, which in turn elect the Emperor. Each turn the family members grow older and may die, although aging can be reversed with medicine and other tricks. Families also produce sons or daughters and the latter can be married off to other families for victory points.

The first turn went fairly smoothly with no one contesting the Emperor’s position. In the second turn a fierce battle developed between Dan and Philip for the Kingdom of Bohemia (an electorate with 2 votes), which was won by Philip for the moment but rendered irrelevant when Jon declared the whole Kingdom excommunicated! Jon was elected Emperor with the support of Dan in return for the marriage of Dan’s daughter....
In the third turn Philip made a strong push for the throne with the Church Influence card, which requires control of one of the Ecclesiastical Electors (who must be unmarried). However, Jon excommunicated the Kingdom of Bohemia again and the casting vote was left with Dan, who decided to let Jon keep his throne.

In the fourth turn Dan made an even stronger push for the throne, which was very narrowly defeated by the combination of Philip and Jon. In the fifth turn being Emperor is only worth 1 VP so the throne was not contested, attention shifting to the Electorates, with some hard fighting in Bohemia (Phil and Dan, Dan won), Saxony (Jon and Dan, Jon won) and the Bishopric of Mainz (Phil and Jon, Jon won). The end result was closer than we might have guessed.

Final scores; Jon 25 Dan 22 Phil 20

Smash Up (thanks Jon)

Having played a Euro, it was obvious that Dan’s pores were screaming for Ameritrash action – just what is wrong with him? (ed.) - , so Philip and Jon obliged with this new game belonging to James. Essentially, you pick a couple of decks of aggressors (dinosaurs, ninjas, gnomes(!)) and shuffle them together. You then have a hand of these cards and then play them to various ‘bases’ on the table. Most cards have a numerical value, and when the total cards played to a base reaches a certain level, that base is scored. There are other cards which have particular actions (eg destroying other players’ cards / allowing the player to draw more cards etc). The 3 player game ends when someone has reached 15 points.

The decks are very different from each other, but there are several cards within each deck which are identical. This is maybe why the game felt quite repetitive. There is also a fair amount of text on many of the cards, which means that players must constantly check what has been laid down to see if they are affected by any new cards being played.

Anyway, after a number of bases had been scored, and Dan had reached 10 points, the consensus was – let’s play something else. A distinctly underwhelmed audience for this first outing unfortunately…


Epic Spell Wizards (thanks Jon)

If you’re going to play an Ameritrash ‘take-that’ card game, then this is the one to choose. Quick and lots of fun (and dice rolling too…)

Philip survived the first round, and Dan the second. Jon failed to survive at all, and was annihilated by Dan in the final round, for a convincing victory.

Final scores; Dan 2, Philip 1, Jon 0



Fleet was a game that had a good amount of discussion, posts, buzz on the Geek and for a time it had been on my wishlist. I like the fishing theme as my father was originally a fish auctioneer in Fleetwood and then Lowestoft as part of the British trawling industry, all those memories of stinky fish, mmm. So the chance to play it was good.

Each player receives 6 cards, each having multiple uses; cash, indicated by the number of coins on the card: VP values for the end of the game: type of vessel, such as Cod trawler, Shrimp, Processing Vessel, etc.: and the cost of launching that vessel. Turned upside down a card also becomes the Sea Captain you have to hire to launch your vessel. But obviously you cannot launch without the correct fishing license so each round begins with an auction of licenses, the winning bids being paid for in cards. Each license, as well as allowing you to launch a specific vessel, comes with end game VPs and  a bonus of some kind; eg. the shrimp license allows you to pay one less coin per auction or vessel launch.

Next comes  the option to launch a vessel or vessels; you need to be able to pay for this and provide a captain too. Providing you have all the necessary cards then your ship will bring fish out of the water, one unit per vessel up to a maximum of four. If you have a processing vessel you can ‘process’ your catch via that vessel, turning it into additional cash.

At the end of each round you take two cards from the draw pile keeping one in your hand. And off it goes again with the licenses being restocked. Game ends when the licenses run out.

With licences at a premium, we had quite a spread of perks being used. It felt as though John’s previous play was making him a sure fire leader although it was difficult to tell during game play, he picked up a couple of useful ‘pubs’ during auctions, worth ten VPs each at the end of the game. I stuck to cod and processing vessels and felt it was working out ok for me. James and Woody both went for a good mix of vessels, with Woody watching John closely and picking off a good number of licenses. As mentioned we went way over the anticipated time, and the final scores showed that Woody had just outdone John on the line.

So, for me it felt like a fairly standard set collection card game, the theme being irrelevant. As such it was ok, but not good enough to stay on the wishlist, my fishing then will have to stick with Subbuteo’s Angling game and a Polish thing called Mare Balticum which is very child friendly, as for the wishlist, ‘Swordfish’ benefits with a higher priority!

Final scores; Woody 59, John 58, Neil 51, James 39
So time remains an unestimatable – is that a word? - concept in gaming… but another good time was had by all. And I went home with a dozen eggs (one was a double yolker) and some quality chutney, mmm.

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