Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Return of the Resistance...

Players: Neil, Jon, James, Noel, Paul, Dom, Barry, Gary, Philip, Sean, Andy

It was a welcome return to Gary, after his recent defection to the Monday night Richmond club (which has been forgiven after he agreed to write a report for the blog) and also to Noel's brother Paul, who is in London for the next couple of years. Hopefully he'll find the time to come along a bit more often to beat up on his big brother...
Tonight saw a mixture of gaming goodness - everything from classic Euro worker-placements, to unfinished murder and conspiracy, to psychological spy-hunting, and even a 15-card Japanese game with about 3 rules. Plenty for everyone then....

Kobayawaka (thanks Neil)
So, you turn up at the club and James is there alone, do you 1. rush back down to the bar and wait for someone else? 2. dash out to the loo? or 3. sit down. I chose the wrong answer, 3 of course. He proceeds to explain a new game he’s found in this week’s massive investigation of Japanese games. It begins with a ‘K’ is all he remembers. Oh, and it sold out at Gen Con. It’s a game with 15 cards, numbered 1 to 15. (and it sold out at Gen Con?) James has picked one suit out of his Steven Siegel game. (hold on, doesn’t that have five suits of cards numbered 1 to 15?) So if it sold out at Gen Con it’s obviously going to be extremely popular at Essen; how to make sure you get a copy? (wait up, let’s buy the whole lot up and then cause humungous demand, returning the next day with 100 copies of Steven Siegel, splitting those up and selling 500 games at a mammoth profit. Wow there, that’ll never work…) Before we get to the game James cracks open his recently acquired Speicherstadt expansion, Kaispeicher, taking out the beautiful real coins. These are apparently needed for the game of ‘K’.
Right. Fifteen cards get shuffled and each player is dealt one card. Top of the draw deck is turned face up. Round one consists of each player drawing the next card off the draw deck and either deciding to keep that card or the one they were dealt originally, the discard being placed face up in front of the player. Alternatively, they place the drawn card face up, on top of the face up one. Round two allows the player to bid one coin in the first six rounds and two in the final round. All those ‘in’ then reveal their card, the winner of each round is the player with either the highest card, or the player with the lowest card, that is higher than the highest card when added to the face up card. So if I hold the 13, Jon 10, Dom 8, James 7, and the face up card is a 9 then James wins the round.
Play should be pretty swift you’d think. But the considerations are incredible, and with each revealed card the calculations increase. Jon was thrown early on by being the ‘2’ in three consecutive hands, as James shuffled again he went to find the 2 and stick on the top, but, of course, it was already there… looks like Debbie McGee may be getting a new man. Despite taking the first hand and then passing a few times James and Dom both won rounds with the lowest card option. It was going to be close.
Final Scores; Dom – 8, James – 7, Neil – 7, Jon – 5 (I think!) As it happens the rules actually state you don’t choose which card to keep, you discard first and take the top one. I think I prefer James’s version! James, great game, hope you manage to pick up a copy in Essen!!!
Jon decided that it was time to sweep the dust off this old classic and give it another airing as a ‘learning experience’ for some newbies. Neil had played once before, and Noel supposedly hadn’t played before (although he knew a suspiciously lot about the rules, and also played a successful but unintuitive strategy, so methinks he had done some serious homework first…)
Despite other interest (sorry Barry!), it was limited to 3 players to try to keep the game-length down to 90 mins. As it actually clocked in at 2 hours even with only 3 players, this proved to be a judicious decision.
First things first – the rules error! The Provost and Bailiff were placed 2 spaces too far down the road to start with, which shortened the game by at least 1 turn. But as that affected everyone evenly (and slightly shortened the game), Jon was forgiven for that one.
Neil started off by constructing several buildings, including the profitable Mason, which garnered him several points during the game. Jon and Noel delivered several batches to the castle, ensuring that the dungeons were nicely built, and then Jon decided to demonstrate how important it is to make sure that you have enough resources available to activate your buildings (by not having a cloth to activate the Jousting Field). Nice of him to waste a turn and a Denier to help his fellow-players out…
As soon as he started to gather Royal Favours, Noel made straight for the lowest favour track (building), which is very unintuitive move. Read any good strategy articles lately, Noel???? He used this track to very good effect, starting to get a number of buildings of his own onto the board. Although neither Jon nor Neil followed Noel along this track, they made the mistake of not constructing the Lawyer or Architect until it was too late, leaving Noel free to construct Residences and Prestige buildings.
With the Bailiff 2 spaces from the end, and with Neil pretty much out of cash and resources, he chose to push the Provost along and ensure that the game ended. This enabled Jon to utilise both the Lawyer and Architect, which had been precariously located at the end of the road. Despite this, Noel handed in enough batches at the castle to give himself multiple favours, giving himself another Prestige building also. A rules count-back later revealed that Noel had illegally used 2 favours on the same track in the same phase by building a building that granted him further favours (what?!), but as Jon and Neil had sanctioned this at the time (probably due to extreme mental fatigue by this stage), there can’t be too may complaints.
Noel’s canny building strategy landed him the game, with Jon’s late surge taking him into second place. Neil had run out of money and resources at just the wrong time, but had been in contention right up until the end.
So what did we learn? Number one - never trust Noel if he says he hasn’t played a game before. Two – Caylus takes a long time to play – but it’s a cracker of a game, with zero luck. Three – it does make your head hurt a bit….
Noel 89; Jon 81; Noel 74

Android (thanks Phil)
This was my second game of Android, though my first with my own copy. Sean and Dominic were new to the game. I spent an unholy amount of time explaining the rules and setting up. I picked Louis, the corrupt cop, although as I mislaid his "moods" card until the end of the game I didn't get the full experience. Sean took Floyd the android and Dominic Raymond the private investigator. We were playing the starting scenario-Mr Brown has been murdered, 2 weeks to solve, wider conspiracy, etc.
My starting plot involved my wife leaving me. Sean was being sold to the NAPD, and Dominic was haunted by the ghosts of his past as a soldier in the Martian war. I opened with what was partly a demonstration turn. I followed up a couple of leads, killed Tanaka (the evil lieutenant of the kind mafia boss Mr Li) and moved towards Memories of Green with the vague intention of cashing one of my Mr Li favours for some good baggage.
Dominic's first turn began with Sean forcing him to waste 3 time in a nightclub. Sean also had a bad card for me, but it relied on Tanaka being alive. The game continued with me deciding Memories of Green was a bad idea and using the streetwise Oliver to remove two pieces of evidence from Thomas Haas- one of which I had deliberately planted there earlier as a bluff.
I'm not sure Dominic or Sean noticed this, because they were diving deep into the conspiracy, using it to extract favours. Dominic in particular had fixed on a strategy of picking up Street favours and connecting Human First to the conspiracy to increase their VP value.
On the third day Sean managed to play a card on me which forced me to travel to Gila Highlands before I could pick up any clues. Gila Highlands was a long way away but at least I managed to spend some quality time with my wife en route, ensuring my plot took a positive twist. Better still the new chapter of my plot had me benefit from being in Gila Highlands!
Dominic's plot didn't resolve until day 6, while Sean, who had choice about his plot, decided to break his "3rd Directive", meaning he was now NAPD property and didn't have to report to his manufacturer on the moon. On the other had he could only have 2 favours. I mistakenly ruled this didn't include special favours.
On we went, with the other players turning back to the murder for a while although Sean managed to connect the conspiracy to the Mining Bosses. A little later I mentioned that Sean had earned 4 VPs for completing a row, column or diagonal of the conspiracy- a rule I had forgotten to explain! It was about this point that Dominic's favour collecting strategy went south, because I played a card making him lose all his favours.
At the end of the first week my plot and Sean's ended successfully with +7VPs and my wife pregnant. Dominic had equal amounts of good and bad baggage and so his plot took a turn for the worse as he was unable to investigate his past as much as he'd like. Meanwhile one of the suspects, Noise, started hacking into the police files with the aim of erasing all the evidence.
Fortunately I was in the area and, after a detailed interrogation, returned Noise to police custody. My new plot was "On the Take" and I was able to play some cards I'd been saving, including collecting another favour from Mr Li.
However it was now approaching closing time so reluctantly we decided to end the game after everyone had taken an even number of turns. Sean, going last, was able to plant the crucial final pieces of evidence to implicate his guilty hunch and so won the game by some record amount (he had several 4 VP tokens from the conspiracy and his Director Haas favours counted 3 VP each).
The consensus seemed to be that it was a decent game worth playing again although maybe a bit long for one evening. Then again, if we already knew how to play, maybe we could manage it?
Strasbourg (thanks Gary)
Stefan Feld’s Strasbourg is a game of many parts (aren’t they all). There’s primarily bidding, but there’s also area control (sort of), buying and selling goods and there’s even completing objective cards (a la Ticket to Ride). How would it play with five players?
Barry, Andy, Gary and Paul sat down to a rules explanation from James for this five player game. The theme is nothing new, gaining advantages from getting into guilds in medieval Europe – the mechanics aren’t anything particularly new either (bidding, placing meeples/tiles etc), with something of a kitchen sink feel to them.
Everyone starts with 24 bidding cards and at the start of each round (there are five in total) everyone decides how many bids they wish to make and how many cards in each bid. Then, in the order dictated by one of five round lists, various positions/actions are auctioned off. They include the position of King/Bishop (which gets you a place on the guild, plus either the ability to place a valuable building on the town plan or a less valuable chapel), the right to sell your goods or the right to participate as a member of one of five guilds. In relation to these guilds, the winner of an auction get to sit in the guild chamber, place a meeple on the town plan (if, a big IF in my case, they have the funds) and take a goods token of the relevant type. Second place gets to place a meeple and take a good, and third place can do either one of those two things only. Winning bid cards are now discarded – however, if you have bid and failed to win anything you can take back one of your bid cards to the bottom of your bidding card pile as compensation.
Points are scored by reference to number of people on the guild council (each round) and at the end of the game by reference to the number of people on the town plan, with additional points for being next to a chapel (1 point) and/or those valuable buildings placed by the King (between 2 and 6 points) – but only if you are orthogonally next to them (or orthonogonally next to them in James’ case). Also points are scored for completing objective cards and lost for failing to complete them. Majority on the town council gained a player a “privilege” which could also be traded for a VP or used to delay voting in a round.
It all sounds a bit much, but actually the game play itself is very quick and straightforward – choose your bidding cards for the round and then bid on items as they come up. Actually, it’s rather more involved than that, since it is important to have some kind of strategy in mind when choosing what you are going to bid for – but my description reveals my highly random approach to the first couple of rounds until I got a feel for the play (by which time one of my objectives – place three people in the brown district – had already gone for a Burton, as the Brown district guild came up twice early in the first two rounds and I’d failed to amass any money to place a person the second time around!).
And so it started… Paul seemed intent in winning lots of early bids and with five people involved there were plenty of ties on bids too. Here is where we made the one (to our knowledge) rule error. James had told us that the starter person for any particular bid could adjudicate between any tied bids – unfortunately he seemed to be the person most badly affected by this rule as his own largesse was not reciprocated! Then we discovered it should simply be the person closest to the starter player that wins the bid in the case of a tie in any case…. James was to have sweet revenge in any case on those that shunned his advances!
Barry managed to surround his meeples with a forest of chapels, Andy managed to produce a few interesting shapes on the town map, I’m sure that I surprised quite a few with some unorthodox meeple placements (an objective card requiring me to place a number of meeples in corner spaces being the culprit), equally James appeared to be ignoring the potentially lucrative placements next to those King’s buildings. Nearing the end, Paul had used most of his bidding cards, leaving others to catch up with town placement and allowing some very low bids to achieve third place guild status on quite a few occasions. Those “1” cards weren’t totally useless after all.
In the final analysis, scoring was tight until the secret objective cards were revealed. James had managed to complete all three of his, adding around 15 points to his score and taking him well clear (a total of around 35). Everyone else failed at least one objective if not all of them!
Everyone agreed that this was a fun game for five people to play. The number of players doesn’t add much to the length of the game since you go through the same number of auctions whether you have three, four or five. Decisions post auction are pretty quick too. The decision making comes in setting up your deck for bidding and deciding what you need to bid on. And here’s where I’d really like to give this another play (or more).
One of the really major factors is the distribution of the five bidding lists. These require some close analysis in advance before you set your bidding objectives. They impact hugely on your ability to meet objectives (especially where placement into the costly brown and blue districts are required) and also repay close analysis in relation to your ability to retain places on the Guild Council. If only I’d appreciated that at the start of the game!
7 Wonders (thanks James)
...or as we played it, 5 slightly crumbling edifaces...
Barry, Paul, Gary, Andy and myself were all keen to give this popular game another whirl. It's certainly stood the test of time given it's not over 3 years old... which in board game years makes it about 76...
So Paul and Gary were both new to the game, something I failed to take advantage of by sitting opposite them and thus, in 7 Wonders speak, they didn't exist for me in the game... After a quick run through, and the usual slightly confused faces at all the iconography, we were off.
Early stages and the game is usually cagey.. noone generally cares much for the green ones, and military build starts slow. However I think by round 3 Paul had already decided he would take the Stalin approach to world domination and the arms race began with some serious border disputes between Paul and Barry the end result.
Myself, Andy and to an extend Gary all tried to keep things civil and focused on other achievements... I had built a stack of resources meaning I should be pretty self sufficient for the game. Andy was picking up cards to give him a chouce of resources and to be honest I'm not sure what Gary was doing because in 7 wonders you tend to only focus on players left and right... I'm sure he was making good decisions, but I don't recall much of it... sorry Gary !
As the 3rd age turned (and after a brief review of the possible guild cards) it was clear that all out warfare was underway between Paul and Barry. We had all built 2-3 pyramids by now and a rush to collect those green science cards had started with Barry, Andy and Paul all involved. Andy picked up the coveted 8 point bonus card.
And the guild cards started to get distributed....and as usual with this game, suddenly everyone realises they only have 1 card left to play and have mistimed their entire strategy... ok when I say everybody I mean me... but you get the point. So with just enough time for Andy, with his last card, to declare war on the peace kingdom of James it was time for everyone to take a 5 minute break whlie I did the scores.
No big scores this time. Barry was last on 42 but had the biggest army so swings and roundabouts there. Paul next on 44.. I had 45 and tied for the lead were Andy and Gary on 49... we were just about to clear up when Andy noticed Gary had a duplicate green card and after adjustments and the usual fisticuffs Gary dropped to 44 points leaving Andy victorious. That last, traitorous declaration of war had made the different with a 10 point swing between us... boo.
The Resistance
There was just time at the end of the evening to fit in this “used to be played all the time at IBG but hasn’t hit the table for ages” game. Noel, Paul, James, Jon, Neil and Barry were the protagonists, with Barry and Jon being dealt the role of spies.
Neil picked the first team of Jon and Noel (on the basis that they are always the most suspicious characters) and unsurprisingly, the mission succeeded. The second mission also succeeded, leaving Jon, Barry, Noel and James on the vital 3rd mission. Having failed to secretly communicate their intentions, both Barry and Jon failed this mission, meaning that Paul and Neil were in the clear. Barry then looked at James’ character card and outed him as a spy – meaning that one of them definitely was. Paul was unsure, and maintained his early assertion that James and Noel were bad news (actually, I think that he would have accused his brother Noel, even if he’d seen his character card…)
However, some creative thinking by James left Jon with no option but to fall on his sword in the 4th mission, revealing himself to indeed be a spy.
And just as the final mission was being debated, a plot card enabled the good guys to verify James’ assertions that he was cleaner-than-clean, and the rest was history.
Victory to the good guys, although had Barry and Jon only put in one fail card in the third mission, it could have been oh-so-different.
Great fun – let’s play again soon!
James, Noel, Paul, Neil – won; Jon & Barry – didn’t
So, plenty of great stuff played tonight, with a fine 100% report-rate as well. See you all next week for more fun and games!

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