Wednesday, 21 August 2013

"Hot August Night"

Another warm evening, but a good one!  In attendance this week; Jon, Paul, Woody, James, Tom, Alex, James II, Philip, Amanda, Dominic, Gary, Andy, Rob Harris (welcome back!), and Gareth too (Not Gareth II, the first one, who popped in with games for Rob and me), and oh, forgot someone… me of course!  And boy did we get through some great games, phenomenal list; Agricola, Biblios, Chinatown, Felix the Cat in the Sack!, Jaipur, Mice & Mystics, Santa Cruz, Die Sieben Siegel, Star Wars – X Wing Miniatures Game, Ticket to Ride – India, Tikal.  Without further ado, here’s what happened;

Jaipur  (cheers Jon)

Paul and Jon were the early birds this week, so opted for this highly-regarded 2 player game. Players collect sets of cards which they can then trade in for points chips. The more you trade in, the more bonus points are available, but the earlier you trade in, the higher their potential value. Very simple, but the mechanics work really well together ("elegant", if we really must use that adjective...).

Paul started strongly, trading in 2 diamonds for 14 points, whilst Jon replied with a set of 5 spice cards (which enabled him to pick up a 10 point bonus chip). There was then a general back and forth, with first Paul, and then Jon picking up multiple camels to give them some flexibility with card acquisition. The game ended with the 3rd stack of chips running out, and Paul was quietly confident that his 70 points was enough for victory. Unfortunately (for Paul) Jon had just pipped him with 78 points, having achieved the extra 5 point bonus for having the most camels at game end.

This game would usually be best of 3, but with other IBG'ers arriving, it was left at a solitary round. Top game though...

Final Scores; Jon – 78, Paul – 70.

Die Sieben Siegel

After Paul and Jon pulled out of Jaipur early we went off in search of seals with five intrepid adventurers, Woody, James and myself joining Jon and Paul.

James gave me a thorough run through, sounded a lot like Bridge to me, handy, played a lot of that back in Suffolk.  Bidding was interesting with everyone feeling pretty confident, more bids than rounds available didn’t bode well for somebody!  I went one under what I thought I would win due to this, but did take seals from Woody and Paul giving them ‘wild’ seals.

Early on Jon was unfortunate to collect an unexpected set of Yellows whilst Woody realised he might have bitten off more than he could chew – love a good clich√© now and then!  Not sure if Woody was generous allowing me to win my Yellow as he discarded Green rather than taking with a Red trump, but from then on I knew I was safe although certain to take an extra set.  Thankfully, others struggled making their bids and when I jumped in with four cards remaining to take the last four rounds I escaped with only one black seal worth 3 points, while others were all higher, hurrah, an early victory for me!

Good enjoyable game, certainly a useful intro into Bridge.  We didn’t see the saboteur played this game, I’m told that’s Philip’s preferred strategy, would be interesting to play against him.

Ticket to Ride: India

Perfect timing by Amanda to make up a four with Paul, Jon and I.  Both Amanda and I were taken through the rules tweak for this map new to us. 

Four tickets, keep a minimum of two.  Mmm, always keen to give them all a go, three worked okay but the fourth was a little out of the way although only worth 5 points so I opted to be brave and keep the lot.  Jon kept two and persuaded Paul to keep his four as he was deliberating between two pairs he liked!  And off we went, choo choo! 

Jon started building small routes immediately and gradually Paul and Amanda followed.  I had my eye on two long ferry routes so went on a hoard cards strategy, until… it was time to get going and within three turns I’ moved into a substantial lead.  Paul then scored the longest single route and Amanda picked up some useful smaller routes as the centre of the board got a little congested, she was looking good for the Mandala bonuses of completing tickets by two separate routes.

Maybe Paul and Jon were still somewhere near Jaipur… Jon then realigned his strategy and built up an absolutely colossal hand so I decided it was time to get rid and get out.  Paul picked up more tickets so I thought that was him out of it… Thankfully I’d built my main three routes as Paul and Jon blocked me from constructing a huge circle, but I was looking good for the longest train bonus so failing in my smaller ticket wasn’t too bad.  As the end scores were calculated Amanda and Jon scored Mandala bonuses and all overtook me until scoring my 28 ticket plus the 10 bonus points took me comfortably clear again.  Hurrah!  (Two out of two, NEVER done that before at the club; call me invincible I thankfully wasn’t heard to mutter!)

Final Scores;  Neil – 106, Jon – 81, Amanda – 77, Paul – 77.

Mice & Mystics  (thanks Philip!)

After seeing Dominic, Alex, and James play this last week I decided to join them for chapter 2. They had been playing with 4 mice anyway. James chose Ned, Alex Maginos, and Dominic gallantly took the captured Lily. I was Filch. We were allowed to keep an item from last week- I kept the Spear. Lily took First Aid on the theory we'd need it once we'd reached her.

Chapter 2 sees Lily in a mousetrap on the far side of the board, and the other three trying to reach her. For the first board we decided to let the Rats come to us as otherwise we could be pecked to death by the crow. So we all searched while we waited. The rats were easily slain and we avoided the crow in our race to flip the board over. Lily was still fighting a cockroach so we continued underground with more rats appearing. Just before crossing to the second tile I decided to search rather than enter, causing a piece of cheese to be added to the wheel. Alas, Ambush was drawn, so when we entered the second tile we were immediately surprised by Greedy Cockroaches. The cheese built up to cause a surge, bringing more rats, and both Ned and Filch were captured, although Maginos' Chain lightning finally cleansed the tile of enemies.

We burst through into the final room to rescue Lily, only to be confronted by 3 more rats and the awesome Skitter-Clack, a giant centipede. Maginos had built up loads of cheese and kept casting Chain lightning, but it just bounced off Skitter-Clack's carapace as his constricting grasp tightened on Lily. Once again the cheese build up was too much for us, and although Filch managed to reduce Skitter-Clack to a single wound, Skitter-Clack rolled a final cheese in defence, ending the game in triumph (for him!).

It would perhaps have been better to give someone else First Aid, then we could have healed before the final room...or maybe if I hadn't lingered to search we could have survived...

Chinatown  (many thanks Woody!)

Accommodating the five remaining players encouraged an adventure in Chinatown.

A rules explanation by James set things in motion and off the famous five went. Over six rounds, players acquire plots of land and businesses to build on them. Revenue is generated each round based on the size of the businesses partially or fully constructed. Considerable negotiation is required to swap plots, businesses, buy & sell. Tom and Andy had decent sized businesses up and running early whilst James & Gary completed smaller ventures but negotiated well for money and plots. Woody's misfortune with widely spread plots held him back early with little to negotiate with. The game progressed and in the final round, James & Gary held all the remaining key options which they fulfilled or sold handsomely.

Final Scores;  Gary - $940,000, James - $930,000, Tom - $840,000, Andy - -$770,000, Woody - $760,000

Agricola  (many thanks Philip)

Gary me and Andy set off for a three player game with Gamers’ deck shuffled in with the regular cards. 10 cards were dealt of each type, discarding down to 7. Gary had only played before on the ipad.

Gary went first with 3 Wood and I put down Village Elder for 4 Wood. I think Andy took the 2 Wood, anyway my next move was Starting player, playing Stone Exchange. In turn 2 I took the 2 Reed, and Andy put down the Grocer.

The game continued with my taking Day Labourer and Fishing in round 3, while Gary put down Market Crier and played Guest.

In round 4 again I took the 2 Reed and was able to play Axe with Start Player. Gary managed to take Clay, build a Cooking Hearth, and Cook Sheep thanks to his Guest. Andy took Day Labourer and some Wood (where Andy's move isn't stated, he's normally taking Wood!).

In round 5 I forgot where the Build rooms space is (thinking it was coming up in round 6 or 7!), allowing Andy to take 1 reed from the 'take 1 building resource' space and then build a room (he obtained another reed via Grocer, thus getting the first family growth in turn 6. Still, I managed to gather some wood and play Pieceworker - and I built 2 rooms in turn 6, also taking Start player with Wooden Bridge (a questionable play!).

My minor improvement with Family Growth in round 7 was a Gamer's deck card that allows you to swap a Grain for a Sheep (or vice versa) each harvest. I somehow found enough food (helped by Gary's Market Crier) and the game rolled on with Gary being next to grow his family.

I had built a fireplace by the next harvest, which, with the benefit of a Grain from the Crier turned into a Sheep, and also the drip, drip of the Well was again just enough to feed me. I then speeded up, building the fifth room, making the fourth and fifth family members, and playing Layabout to avoid feeding for the 4th Harvest.

This gave me the breathing space to start fencing pastures (2 pastures covering 6 spaces) and gathering animals, something Gary and Andy had already begun. I also played a Gamer's deck minor improvement called a Seed spreader, allowing me to sow one field when taking the Plough 1 field action.

In the final three turns of the game I renovated to Clay, picking up a Cooking Hearth, played a Land Agent, ploughed and sowed 4 fields, and build a Basket-Maker's Workshop after being blocked from renovating to Stone by Andy- who renovated his Wooden House all the way to Stone on the last turn. At the end I had the most improvements, which was worth 3 VPs from Village Elder.

Final Scores; Philip – 44, Andy – 38, Gary - 21.

Felix: The Cat in the Sack  (thank you Paul)

A mid-evening filler as we waited for other games to catch up so we could mix and match players, if desired.

Paul bid too high early on and ended up without enough coins to do anything other than take two coins for most remaining hands in the game. To him it seemed like everyone else had vast vaults of coins for most of the game, while he could only scrape enough together for an opening bid.

There were some high prices paid by several players (at least three hands went for > 20), usually making it worth their while, but only just. Amanda took the honours, timing her late entry into the ring perfectly in her first outing.

The main surprise was that Rob managed to come behind Paul.

Final Scores; Amanda - 52, Jon - 48, Neil - 42, Paul - 36, Rob – 25.

Santa Cruz  (wow, comprehensive Tom, thanks!)

Following the end of the world's longest game of Felix: The Cat in the Sack, Rob was able to escape to the island of Santa Cruz where James and Tom were already waiting on the beach with their cokes and Tom's bright red shorts.

Santa Cruz is a design by Marcel-Andre Casosola Merkle - designer of IBG favourites Verrater and Meuterer (together with other well received designs such as Attika and Taluva).

The idea behind the design is that Merkle wanted to create a world where the players were able to firstly explore the island (the first round) and then interact with the island (and with more knowledge of the available objectives, the majority of which are hidden at the game's start; the second round).

There are three methods of transport around the island: road, river and ship. Each player takes one of four decks of seven cards, three of which focus heavily on a particular form of transport and the other being more balanced. They are also given three hidden objective cards which they are able to choose to score (rather than move) on their turn - the twist though is that the scoring cards affect all of the players. Therefore, if you have the sheep scoring card and delay playing it, other players (usually without knowing it) may move on to a sheep tile meaning that you will have effectively gifted them points.

50% of the game's scoring is provided by these hidden objective cards - the majority of which relate either to commodity tiles (sheep, wood, gold etc), movement around the island or proximity to tiles near to the island's two volcanos. The remainder is provided by the island tiles themselves and bird tokens. The bird tokens are provided when players explore certain tiles - these tokens are upside down and chosen randomly leading to a windfall of between one to three points (the equivalent of the majority of the island tiles). Any bird token scoring is hidden from the other players which can allow for a last ditch surprise comeback as happened in this game.

In the first round, Tom took the road deck and soon explored four adjacent areas which he was able to score alone. This was pure luck on his part as his bad play provided James and Rob with two opportunities to scupper this objective. To compound this, Rob then blocked Tom out of the only readily available wood tile - preventing Tom from achieving both elements of his wood/sheep card. Tom also failed to allow in his route for use of his sole river card. James inadvertently helped Tom's cause by playing his Volcanic Eruption objective which destroyed Tom's two buildings in the area but also freed a river route back into the volcano area and a further bird token.

The first round ended with James in the lead with Tom and Rob somewhere off the pace. Rob took Tom's hand, Tom took James's (stating his evil intention to use the volcanic eruption himself) and James took Rob's.

James's position was further assisted by drawing the Gold 10 point objective (which hadn't been in Rob's first round hand) and scoring it alone. However, Tom scored very well on two Fishing objectives - thanks to possessing the two high value fish tiles on the island (which provide bonus points for fish objectives) and was acquiring a large number of bird tokens.

The game finished with James in the lead, Rob 2nd and Tom 3rd with only the bird tokens to count up. James only had one bird but Tom had almost double figures. Tom proceeded to then turn over his large mound of tokens one by one slowly moving his marker up the track. With one more token to go, Tom had moved past Rob and was two points off James. A three point Parrot token was turned over and Tom had won by a point. Amazing stuff.

In the post-match chat, all three players agreed that this game appears to be an absolute gem. Hope to have a number of more plays over the next few weeks.

Tikal  (many thanks indeedy Paul!)

If at this point you scroll to the top of this blog, you'll see that the backdrop the the 'Isleworth Boadgamers' title is what appears to be a vivid green with some triangles, barrels and red squares. Take a leap of imagination and the green becomes Mexican jungle as if is cleared for adventure, with tents pitched and explorers scurrying round tombs as they are excavated. Yes, it's Tikal, the classic game which gives the IBGers our flavour graphic. One assumes that it is chosen due to its status as one of the all-time classics, as opposed to the realism of the tents, but that's another tale, maybe lost to the mists of time (actually we could ask Jon, but I prefer to dwell in the mystery).

Woody was the only inexperienced Mexican jungle explorer, so Jon ran through the rules for his benefit, which are elegantly simple enough for this not to take long. The previous week's Tikal played three rules which contradicted Jon's understanding, so the manual was checked and the Tikal-veteran himself had to concede that James (who wasn't even playing) was right on each occasion. With either Jon or James having to be proved wrong, Paul was onto a win-win situation and simply sat back to see which of his friends would have to eat humble pie. Joyous.

Jon set off after temples, while Neil and Woody started hoarding treasure and after a short number of turns Paul pitched an outpost tent to give a shortcut to the jungle.

Jon and Neil set about trying to outmuscle each other in one section of the board, whilst Paul busied himself at his new tent. Woody took a few turns to get the lie of the land, eventually getting a far flung section of the board for himself.

Paul took a slight lead for the first two scoring rounds, but ran out of steam and was overtaken convincingly by Jon. Neil eventually suffered due to lack of treasure and being mercilessly picked on by Jon.

Final Scores; Jon - 92, Paul - 85, Woody - 82, Neil – 66 (ed: whoops!!)

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