Saturday, 13 July 2013

Independence day- down with Kings (and Things!)

One man’s ... is another man’s ...
Poison (Thanks Jon)
A chance for some early Knizia card action, with this clever little “don’t make the cauldron go over 13” game. Philip, James II and Barry were forced to pick up cards early on, and subsequently decided to ‘shoot the moon’ with those particular colours (with varying degrees of success!) Alex was only required to pick up cards right near the end, but Jon managed to entirely avoid picking anything up, so scored the magic ‘0’. Ideally, this game should be played over several rounds, but other sparkly things were attracting people’s attention, so one round it was!

Jon 0; Barry 2; Alex 4; James 5; Philip 10
Into the poisonous world of show business...
Show Manager (thanks Jon)
This game has been played several weeks in a row now, and it’s certainly proving to be a fun little set collection game. Barry and Jon joined owner-Dan, and James II also expressed an interest and took the 4th seat.

Jon put on a shockingly bad show to start with, and immediately showcased it in Stockholm. This would minimise the points loss as well as allow him to take out some capital when required.

James started as he meant to go on by staging some excellent performances - he was managing to attract some valuable actors and was obviously going to be the one to catch. Barry and Jon found themselves competing to hire the same actors towards the end of the game, and Dan was taking pleasure in flushing the cards to prevent them having anything too nice to choose from!

In the end, James had produced enough fine shows to romp home at the head of the red carpet. Jon played best supporting actor, whilst Dan & Barry will have to wait for another time to claim any awards…
James 61; Jon 48; Dan 40; Barry 20
From there to Ronald Reagan?

Founding Fathers (thanks Jon)

In honour of tomorrow being Independence Day for our transatlantic cousins, Barry, James and Jon decided to re-write the American constitution – or something…..

After a quick rules refresh for some very rusty memories of playing many moons ago, the game was underway.

Jon picked up the first 2 influence tokens for the Federalist faction, which had already attracted a few Articles to score at the end of the game. Unfortunately Jon misunderstood the scoring for this, and thought that each token would be multiplied by the number of Articles – instead of it actually being a simple 5 points for the faction with the highest number of Articles passed, 4 for the next etc. He blamed John Bandettini, who had taught it this way the first time they had played!

Barry and James were fighting it out for majorities in the Assembly room, and James had also been picking up odd points here and there by using the special abilities on the cards.

Jon ended the third round early using George Washington, which probably advantaged Barry, but as James was miles ahead, helped both Barry and Jon to close the gap a bit.

The last round drew to a close with James still as way ahead as you can be on a score track that only goes up to 30 (always nice to pick up the card that gives you 2 points if it happens to be the last round!), but with the Article scoring, Jon crept within a whisker – but not quite close enough.

With the relative low scoring in this game, there is definitely something to be said for using the special abilities to pick up odd points here and there, which gradually accumulate over the 4 rounds of play. However, there is certainly a large luck element as to which cards you pick up (“get 3 points if you’re in last place” is a great card to pick up if you’re in last place at the time…) and this can swing things a bit. 3 players was also a bit weird, in that voting in the Assembly room was not really contested, as 2 players would usually vote on a particular side, making it pretty much a given that that result would happen. Maybe 4 players is an ideal number?
James 26; Jon 25; Barry19
From politics to tournaments

Ivanhoe (thanks Tom)
A run-through of the Knizia super-filler to begin the evening.
 Essentially, a climbing game with take that action cards thrown into the mix, the winner is the first to win tournaments in four of the five suits (one of which, Purple, also acts as a wild card).

The action cards add a real fizz to the gameplay (probably more so once everyone has a general idea of what these cards can accomplish). There is also strategy in terms of when to commit and when to pull out of tournaments as hand size is key. It also includes somewhat of a catch the leader mechanism as the leader will have naturally committed to more tournaments and will therefore have less cards than the others, limiting his or her available options.

The game was won by Tom with an all or nothing five card gambit in the first round of a Yellow tournament to which Gareth II (the only remaining opponent) had no reply.

Tom - Won; Neil, Gareth II and Paul - Lost
Into the commercial battle
Nieuw Amsterdam (Thanks Tom)

After Ivanhoe, Gareth II left to play his copy of Kings n' Things with Phil and Alex, leaving the three Ivanhoe veterans to crack out Neil's copy of Nieuw Amsterdam - Tom having heard very good things about the game.

In short, it's a system of three separate mini games: an area control game set on Manhattan (with presence in the available sectors allowing the players to undertake mini actions without charge); land development (which provides wood and grain to construct the buildings and feed workers, whilst at the same time providing an escalating scale of VPs for each parcel cleared by a player); and fur trading (essentially a case of acquiring a large number of matching pelts and then selling them for VPs plus cash & goods).

Each players ability to involve themselves in these mini games is based on an initial auction each round, based on a random allotment of tokens which are then bid upon. Between two to three tokens (plus an additional cash incentive) are available in each auction lot. The auctions also determine player order as the player starting the bidding on a particular lot will thrown in their player marker for good order.

It's one of those games which seems complicated at the outset but plays very fluently. It is also assisted by the fact that it is strictly limited to six rounds so there is no need to continuously monitor how quickly it is progressing towards game end.

In terms of the three mini games, you cannot simply commit to one. Well, you can but I imagine that it would be a bad idea. There needs to be a balance between at least two (if not all three) although having some presence in the buildings appears to be key as they provide a steady income, can provide large VPs (if a player decides to hold an election - the instigator receives VPs for each area in which it holds a majority), and allows mini actions to be carried out free of charge. However, over exposure in the buildings without some form of grain income (supplied by land development) will likely see a large amount of money being invested in purchasing grain, weakening the player's bargaining power in the auctions and sometimes skirting the edge of a VP penalty and loss of key buildings.

The importance of fur trade should not be overlooked either as it is a self contained market (providing a good degree of certainty) which provides a large amount of VPs, particularly towards the end of proceedings. The constant goods income can also be used a makeweight in auction bids if cash poor. Indeed, Neil's hedging his bets with the fur trade was probably the key to his victory.

In the game itself, Tom and Paul concentrated early on in establishing a number of majorities in Manhattan whilst Neil (having acquired three land actions) cleared land. Neil having a very early grain income (together with a couple of wood windfalls) was then able to move aggressively into the buildings and was soon fighting his corner against Paul with Tom a somewhat distant third.

Tom realising this made a token attempt to gain some joint majorities but looked to focus on clearing as much land as possible with a view to some big end game VP bonuses. Tom also conducted a few fur trades providing him much needed cash which he could then use to pay for grain.

The game was in the balance for a good while with Paul seeming the favourite, having a good presence in Manhattan and being resource rich. However, Neil had been stockpiling his cat and beaver pelts and in the final round pulled off two trades which netted him 30+ points giving him the win. Paul having significantly more cash and resources than Tom took a remarkable 19 extra points which pushed him into second, despite Tom's 36 VP bonus for his country estate.

An excellent under the radar game. The bidding for three players works well and it is a relaxing way to spend 90 minutes. A game with more players will likely be a lot more tense and constrictive but it will be interesting to see just how much the dynamic changes.
Neil - 1st; Paul - 2nd; Tom - 3rd

Ending with the worst...
Kings and Things
Missed the eurogame rush and Gareth II produces this motley looking game- roping in me and Alex. We played his copy of Titan a few months ago and I said this looked like a cheaper version- he did point out it was published earlier.

Ok, so Gareth explained the game, at least the basics, the rest we kind of worked out as we went along by looking at the rules. We all had only two types of Terrain in our three starting hexes- with me specialising in Frozen Tundra. I had a couple of Frozen tundra critters and three jungle critters who I decided to bluff with...also a 20 Gp treasure chest and a Silver Mine, which was lucky because my third hex was Mountain.

Then we were off- Gareth deciding to recruit the Marksman, but failing- Alex spent gold trying to recruit Sir Lance a Lot but also failed. I however rolled an 8 for the Jungle Lord, therefore gaining the ability to use Jungle creatures for real, albeit only in the same hex as JL. I spend my 20 gold treasure on extra draws during Thing Recruitment- getting mostly rubbish but I decided to add a couple more bluffing creatures onto the board.

I'm not quite sure whether the following happened in one turn or two:

Over the first one or two turns Gareth explored cautiously with a single stack, finding some monsters, running away, and then gaining a single hex. Alex explored more boldly with several stacks, picked up a couple of hexes and decided to find out what this fighting lark involved, getting into a couple of combats. I also explored boldly, with single creatures which were often bluff, and I was lucky enough to gain 2 hexes straight off the bat and another on turn 2. Noticing that one of Alex's combats was near enough to reach with my Jungle Lord stack, I charged in.

Alex had drawn combat magic chits- but he wasted them on the other combat and was killed anyway (he had only had one creature in that). Then he was crushed in the three-way combat. I bribed one of the monsters to go away and soon had that hex too.

Things just went from bad to worse for Alex after that. I was able to wallk over his practically undefended hexes with my super stack-to which I added the Grand Duke in turn 2 or 3. By turn 3 or 4 I'd stormed his intial tower hex (which had been built up a level and had a village and he had almost nothing left. Around this time the 20 gold treasure chest again appeared in my hand and I was able to build 6 towers that turn. This gave me enough income for the Citadel. Keeping a small force under the Grand Duke to complete my conquest of Alex (who was holding on by expanding away from me) I began to bring my Jungle Lord Stack home.

Meanwhile Gareth had a respectable position and was clearing out the last of the monsters between his troops and my troops. Once I had built the Citadel Gareth was able to launch a powerful attack on it with a stack of 10 units (=the stacking limit) including an Archmage. In reserve he had a stack of 6 units. He'd also attained enough income to buy a Citadel that turn.

However I had the 20 gold Treasure Chest again. I recruited Sir Lance a Lot and plenty more things, so that I also had a stack of 10 in the hex with my Citadel. But that was little more than a smokescreen, because I had been holding Defensive magic for several turns. Defensive magic forces attackers to retreat one hex. Because Gareth had attacked across a narrow front, he was now faced with having to eliminate six units- at which point he resigned (Coincidentally I had finally eliminated Alex's last troops in an earlier battle on the same turn).

However, Gareth could have chosen to play on- he had the money for a Citadel and then the rules say you need two Citadels to win. Fortunately we were spared the horror of another hour or more of the game by Gareth's common sense.

The game is incredibly random but I suppose that is what it says on the tin. More seriously it has a strong snowball effect- once Alex lost those two initial battle he was pretty much dead: and my rise to power was almost effortless (although 60 gold in treasure chests probably had something to do with it) I think we probably played the pinning rules inconsistently and I guess an experienced player wouldn't have done what Alex did. Nevertheless, I don't intend to experiment further...

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