Saturday, 11 May 2013

There was a big scare at the London Apprentice last week as it was a good forty minutes of leisurely conversation, witty banter and all round bonhomie before anyone began considering playing a board game.  Mind blowing!  Still, once the world had been put to rights some corkers came out.

Attendees; Woody, Neil, Jon, Paul D, Guest Man, Barry, James, Noel, Philip, Gary, Andy, Dan.  Barrie also flitted in with Agricola under his arm, just in case his meeting had lasted thirty mins rather than the three hours it did!
San Marco (thank you James!)
After owning the game (twice) and attempting to play several times with no luck I was pleased to see Noel laying this out on the table and quickly put my name down for a seat... It's an odd game that really only works with 3 players (effectively) which I think is one of the reason's it's never easy to accommodate. Keith took the other spot as he'd played before and we were off before anyone else turned up having seen the label 3-4 players on the box and tried to get involved...

In the game on each turn players will take a number of cards and arrange these into piles, and then add a weight to each pile (in the form of number cards - once someone has a total >10 then this triggers the end of each round). Then in turn order other players choose which pile they want leaving the player who created the sets to pick up the remaining one. This mechanic is the heart of the game and creates the basis for the results of the cards which is to take control of areas in Venice using cubes. This part is *very* reminiscent of El Grande in that cubes can be placed, moved around, switched in and out etc and that there are several scoring rounds for specific regions before a final round when all are scored... Nothing too special here, but the game really is all about the card selection that drives what can be done with all the cubes.
I was the only person new to the game, but it's not too hard to pick up. Early rounds had some bizarre card combinations showing up with no cube placement cards arriving until a few rounds into the game. I decided to opt for a bridge building strategy, based on... well nothing more really than that I liked the idea. Noel was aiming to control some expensive areas and I'm not sure what Keith was doing but he seemed to know himself so who am I to argue ! It also seemed that Keith was getting the worse of the decisions when players had to choose who to shaft... which is strange as normally Noel and I would be picking on each other with no thought to the end result...
The first scoring round was triggered by Keith and as a result Noel and I had an extra turn... which ended up with both Noel and myself in a comfortable lead and Keith lagging behind.

The 2nd round was similar. I think Noel triggered the final phase, but after points were totalled I was in the lead by several over Noel while Keith felt like he was just there as an observer... to make sure Noel and me didn't start kicking each other under the table or anything untoward like that.

So the last round... a much tenser (and slower) affair as we could all see the impact on moves and how this might impact the final scores... and herein I think lies my problem with this game... I think the mechanic is great and the game simple to learn... but with all information totally open it's really hard not to want to spend AGES over each move as you can effectively role play all other players in trying to determine the optimal selection of cards and weights for each pile. As the game draws to a close and the impact of each move becomes more obvious I found myself fighting the urge to analyse this to the nth degree... but still probably (ok definitely) took too long on my turns. the last round continued much as before but with a nagging feeling that Noel and me had been spending to long battling each other and ignoring Keith ... although he was still behind he had a lot more cubes in play that us and the final scoring was for EVERY region, of which he controlled several...
I managed to trigger the final scoring, (while spending ages trying to find a combination of cards that would enable me to recover 8 points on Noel...) but as scores started it became apparent that Keith might suddenly be in with a shot...
.. which turned out to be a total understatement as although I'd pipped Noel by 3 points, Keith won nearly all the regions at the end and finished about 10 points in the lead. A real-life tortoise and hare situation...
Lesson for the game, play a 3 player game with Noel and myself and you'll probably win (Note, rule does not apply to Jon, or Paul, or Woody...)

Final scores;  Keith 54, James 47, Noel 45

Tinners’ Trail (Cheers Woody!)

So .... digging for tin and iron in Cornwall whilst managing the water levels in your mines. Of course, because it is Cornwall, you may well stop from time to time for a Cornish Pastie!

Barry, Gary, Woody & Philip sat down for a game of Martin Wallace's Tinners’ Trail. Each round, the price of tin and iron is randomly generated and then players compete to take possession of areas to mine, acquire additional miners, ships, railways etc, all to improve productivity. At the end of each round, all ore mined is sold at the current rates and players decide how much of the cash generated they wish to use to buy VPs and how much to hang onto for the remaining rounds. VPs become more expensive each round but buying big early leaves you nothing to spend at the subsequent auctions. A close game with Woody short on mines and this showed in the end results ..

Final Scores; Barry 86, Philip 84, Gary 82, Woody 71

So I’d invested in the German version of one of Stefan Feld’s new games.  It was very cheap on and although there is certainly quite a bit of language dependency I did get ‘O’ level germerman, my wife’s degree is in it and I could always offload it to my sis’ who lives in Berlin.  Justification to the nth degree.  Anyway, played it three times at home and although you need the translations for the cards we’d found it not too tricky to play.

Joined by Jon and Paul we were just setting up when Andy arrived, amazingly none of us had taken his preference for red so he happily joined us.  There are quite a few rules but once you’ve played a round it’s as easy as falling off a log as the saying goes.  Each player is dealt five cards and you choose to use four of them each round.  Your options are to;

i.             take workers – used to build houses and action some cards

ii.            take money – based on Feld’s dice

iii.          reduce a threat – and score a precious point

iv.          build a piece of canal – costs money

v.           build a house – costs one worker of the right colour

vi.          place a person in a house – costs money - thus allowing you the chance to action the card, sometimes once only, sometimes at a cost, sometimes every round, and sometimes during game end scoring. 

The cards are in one of five colours and you have to stick to these when taking your actions, with the exception of placing a person in one of your houses.  The latter options drive your strategy really although there are still a few other scoring opportunities; moving up the prestige track, and having a majority position on that track, in canal building, and placing people.

Each round you have to look out for the threats though.  There are five of these and whilst not game ending you can’t afford to succumb to more than a couple.

I based my strategy around these on this occasion and ‘knock me down wiv a feaver’ if the dice played out with considerably less threats featuring than in my previous games!  Jon went for ‘Canal Mania’ and Andy built up workers like they were North Korean nuclear missiles.  Paul fannied around a bit and had a couple of epiphanies around the half-way mark, too late but he was keen to play again, immediately!

And then the final scoring, points are dished out for each house you have, and each person in a house – including any end-game bonuses, for canal building, prestige track advancement and for bonuses collected during play.  Jon’s canal strategy worked a treat – and copying it over the weekend worked for me too I have to admit!

Final Scores; Jon  61, Andy  49, Neil  49, Paul  42

Escape; the Curse of the Temple

James, Dan, Keith & Noel played, James wrote; “Not sure who's going to pen the Indiana-esque level of adventure that were the 2 games of Escape... I doubt I'll have time myself. It'll take longer to write those up that it did to actually play the games.”

So, I’ll make it up… Rather than pairing up the intrepid explorers decided to carry Noel through from room to room, until of course Dan and James found themselves nice and cosy in a cul-de-sac and stopped adventuring altogether.  Nobody got out to write a report so it must be assumed they’re still in there waiting for a gong to sound…. 

Kingdom Builder (many thanks Gary!)

“A Barrett Homes wetdream...”

Following on from a period of 19th Century mining in the South Western corner of the UK, land development activities next turned to the rather more extravagantly fantastical setting of Kingdom Builder. Gary and Woody were keen to show that the more lushly dramatic landscapes of Mr Vaccarino’s world were more to their liking than damp and dark underground tin and copper mines. Sadly it was not to be….

The paymasters for this particular era of settlement building were the fishermen (spaces next to water), knights (horizontal line) and hermits (separate settlements). The landscape featured a mixture of taverns (build on end of row of 3), stables (jump a space), towers (build on the edge) and farms (build on grassland). A nice combination offering a variety of options.

Philip found himself a nice patch of lake-dotted flowering meadows to settle (picture the scene!), pleasing the fishermen no-end. Barrie set about collecting as many towers and taverns as he could, Gary’s early game collection of a stable on some parched desert space offered the hermits plenty of encouragement that they would be well-catered for and Woody was exclusively building up his own corner of the board.

Philip’s lakeland paradise continued to grow apace and, in this fantasy world free of planning restrictions and green-belt, Barry spammed the board with settlements in a way that Barrett Homes can only dream of. Meanwhile, Gary and Woody could be heard grumpily complaining about multiple consecutive draws of the same landscape (two deserts in the first two cards? Pleeaaaasssee!!)

As the endgame approached, Woody was stuck marooned in a large forest area unable to escape. Gary finally drew the flower landscape that he’d been waiting for only to see first Philip and then Barry also reveal flowers landscape cards immediately ahead of him and block off both of his potentially lucrative building areas, and then (with head now firmly and forlornly down) compounded his error by forgetting all about using his tavern to build his knight-pleasing horizontal row! Philip had quietly and confidently spread across the board, but would his cold shoulder to the heavily armed knight prove his undoing? And then Barry suddenly built his last settlement… whilst everyone else still had around 10 in hand!

So to the scoring. Cities were evenly scored, Barry took the knights favour (Philip looked disdainful), Gary had used his stable to provide homes for all those hermits, but with a flood of points from his effusive fisherman, Philip took the spoils (landed the catch?!)….

The final totals were (something in the order of): Philip 50, Barry 44, Gary 42, Woody 35

As with Cornish mining, so it was with fantasy themed estate development: Philip heading Barry, with Gary and Woody trailing in behind. What a strikingly remarkable coincidence …. or perhaps not….


Felix, the Cat in the Sack

Time for a four player round of cat snatching.  Barry whizzed through the rules which was new only to Gary.  Philip and I set up.  After a good first round I went into meltdown and picked up two horrendous fistfuls of negative cats.  Philip went with his collecting mice strategy and I have to say it was impressive, picking up just one of the nine sets of cards, and very cheaply, for a good number of points.  Barry looked to be close until he was made to pay out big time on the last hand.  It’s a good filler this, plenty of bluffing, plenty of thinking you know exactly what’s going down, as my score reflects!

Final Scores; Philip 79, Barry 55, Gary 35, Neil 12

Kingdom Builder II, ‘Kingdom Builderer’ (thanks Jon!)

After a great deal of faffing around, and with 45 minutes to go, Jon, James, Noel and Paul finally sat down to the second game of Kingdom Builder of the evening. The map was characterised by a huge central desert, and the score cards for the game were: Farmers (score points for settlements in the sector that you have least settlements); Lords (players with most, and 2nd most settlements in each sector score 12 and 6 points) and Hermits (points for each separate settlement area).

These scoring cards gave an interesting amount of interaction to the game, as players were thinking about where they could gain bonus points from the Lords, without losing too many farmer points. Hermit points were going to be particularly tricky, as the bonus tiles on offer weren’t particularly helpful in terms of splitting up settlement areas.

Noel was most successful at splitting his workers equally between the 4 sectors for a good farmers score, whilst James was the only player to pick up the bonus tile which allowed movement of settlements already placed, so he scored better for Hermits. Jon managed to get buildings around several citadels and he and Paul also ended up scoring well for Lords. James managed to spend about half an hour on his final turn, but only succeeded in giving 6 extra points to Paul (due to the slightly dubious method of resolving ties for the Lords). This was enough to promote Paul into equal first place with Jon – which must have stuck in James’ throat somewhat…..

Paul opined that this might have become his favourite game, so we’re certainly likely to see more Kingdom Building in the future at IBG…

Final Scores; Paul 54, Jon 54, Noel 45, James 43


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