Wednesday, 18 September 2013

There's less to this than meets the eye.....


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

A great mix of new, old, 2-player, multi-player, co-op, head-to-head, Euro, Ameritrash, brain-burning and laughter-inducing games tonight - truly an evening with something for everyone!

And as you can read below, there was even an opportunity to become educated as to what the heck an 18th century fake Russian village has to do with a 21st century boardgame. Read on.....
Pitch Car
James arrived early and set up the wonderful manual dexterity game that is Pitch Car. There were several games played during the evening (it’s a fantastic way to kill 5 minutes whilst waiting for other games to finish) which saw wins for Paul, Jon, and possibly Tom…..
It was also characterised by less skilful occurrences, usually involving Paul’s car leaving the racing surface and continuing its journey around the floor of the Riverside Room….
Along with Tumblin’ Dice, this is a game that deserves to have a table permanently dedicated to it at IBG.
Saint Petersburg (or - Education and Idiocy in the court of Czar Peter - thanks Gary)

In 1703, Czar Peter the Great founded Saint Petersburg, which soon became known as “Paris of the East”. Exactly 310 years later, in the upstairs room of a Thames-side pub in Isleworth, four unworthy successors to the glorious architects responsible for that great feat, sat down to recreate, in boardgame terms, those illustrious times by recruiting workers, building buildings and attracting aristocrats to their own personal vision of St Petersburg. Jon, Paul, Tom and Gary were the unworthy but willing Isleworth Boardgamers.
In the first round, everyone recruited the two obligatory workers…. wait, actually no they didn’t. Both Tom and Paul passed up the opportunity of recruiting the final cost 7 Shipwright leaving Jon to recruit three workers from the off.
(Strategy interlude – the first point of strategy from the back of the rulebook explicitly states: “[b]In the first worker phase, each player should buy 2 workers![/b] A player with fewer than two workers will find himself running after his opponents with two. Workers have the best cost/reward ratio.” The bold is not my emphasis!)
The buildings were largely ignored first time around and a couple of aristocrats sauntered in to be snapped up by eager architects. In round two, Jon consolidated his position by picking up the Observatory and using it to pick up another extra worker – another Shipwright as it would happen. Things were looking good for Jon with plenty of income coming in from those workers and the Observatory giving him the opportunity at an extra worker (or later, aristocrat) each round. So confident of his position was he, that he indulged in a little educational aside by explaining the meaning of the Potjemkin’s Village card that he’d judiciously snaffled*.
Paul was taking a more balanced approach, bringing out a few blue buildings that produced some decent VPs and getting him ahead on the board. Tom had decided to turn his city into the trading capital of Europe, snaffling up all the cost 5 Markets going and backing it up with a Pub which he used several times to turn rubles into points.
I managed to get some decent income going early on, with a good complement of green workers and three or four aristocrats, including turfing out an Administrator for the Builder (paying out 4 rules each turn). I also took Czar Peter and upgraded him to the Wharf. Having been burned in previous games by building buildings too early, leaving me with no money, I was determined not to let this happen again and so my only building early on was the Warehouse, allowing me to keep four cards in hand. Half way through I was pretty happy with how my version of St Petersburg was going, even if it was lagging behind Jon’s. However, that was the high point for me!
Now, this is the third time I’ve played St Petersburg and it is something of a relief to turn up to a games night and not have to listen to a rules explanation. That’s the plus side. The downside is that I’m still rubbish at it. If Czar Peter had recruited me to help him build St Petersburg, he would have ended up with something more like St’Aines (no offence to anyone living in Staines, but I doubt it’s what Czar Peter had in mind).
Firstly, I managed to forget on one occasion that there is no income after the fourth, upgrade stage and left myself with insufficient income (two rubles) to pick up a worker (credit to Jon here who deliberately took the Gold Miner, in preference to the same cost Shipwright, given his burgeoning shipbuilding base, to stop me taking the one worker I could have afforded). I then miscalculated the round order and unnecessarily took a card from the centre row into my hand to create five spaces, thinking that I was the first player in the aristocrat round, when if fact it was Jon – so giving him the choice of an extra aristocrat! I also totally failed to take advantage of my Warehouse throughout – too lily-livered to pick up some expensive upgrade aristocrats and buildings that dropped to the bottom row. And then, at the death, decided not to use the Pub I’d built to get an extra 5 points for 10 roubles, forgetting how much income my aristocrats would generate next turn (an!
 d I ended the game with over 30 roubles unspent). If anyone wants a lesson in how not to play St Petersburg, I’m your man! It was Paul who, Asperger-like, called himself a “twat” for failing to pay attention to the round order, leaving himself without a choice on one occasion, but that moniker really applied to me several times over! On top of that, on my turn for first pick of the upgrades (when there were five coming out), none of them turned out to be the aristocrats that I was looking for to upgrade my duplicate Secretary, the fifth card being a green worker upgrade I couldn’t use!
So, what does one do when one is falling behind? Well, interfere in the plans of the leader by fair means or foul, of course. So we legitimately denied Jon the opportunity of building over his Potjemkin’s Village with a Firehouse and I tried to palm him off with a 10 rouble note instead of a 20 in the income phase (it was an accident, honest!).
Jon’s income was now growing apace – by the end his workers, including that battery of Shipwrights, were bringing in over 30 roubles each turn – and with the Observatory he was now picking up extra Aristocrats too. Paul had also picked up an Observatory giving him an added pick of Aristocrats and had switched from his building strategy to attracting those pink, priggish aristos to his city. Tom the Market trader had clawed himself back from the early strategic error of only taking one worker and had managed to keep his VPs ticking over nicely and had added a decent pick of aristos too. However, his decision to put a Gold Smelter in hand early on now backfired when the he saw the last of the Gold Miner’s snaffled in the final round before he could grab one to upgrade. I had now switched to getting out some VP buildings and managed to catch up on the VP track briefly thanks to St Catherine the Great’s Palace and a Firehouse, but through a combination of appalling play and some poor card draws, I just couldn’t add to my aristocrat collection.
In the final analysis, my St’Aines had attracted the fewest different aristocrats with 5, gathering a measly 15 bonus points. St Thomasburg briefly eclipsed St’Aines having attracted six different aristocrats, but fell back thanks to that one card left in hand. It was a close run thing in the end between Jon and Paul, but St Jonsburg managed to attract seven different Aristocrats to get an extra 28 points to St Paulsburg’s six and pull ahead in the final scores.
Jon 74, Paul 66, Gary 56, Tom 51.

* The phrase Potemkin villages was originally used to describe a fake village, built only to impress. According to the story, Grigory Potemkin, erected fake settlements along the banks of the Dnieper River in order to fool Empress Catherine II during her visit to Crimea in 1787. The phrase is now used, typically in politics and economics, to describe any construction (literal or figurative) built solely to deceive others into thinking that some situation is better than it really is. Some modern historians claim the original story is exaggerated. (Copyright Wikipedia – though actually I don’t think Wikipedia claims any copyright!)
The Palaces of Carrara (thanks Neil)
After the recent resurgence of Tikal at the club, the designers’ latest game, The Palaces of Carrara, got its first outing.  One of the three games nominated for the ‘Kennerspiel des Jahres’ alongside Bruges and Andor, it is a relatively simple game to learn but there’s good depth in strategy.  We played the beginners’ version, it comes with an advanced one that adds plenty of variety as well increasing the paths to victory.
There are only three possible actions for each of a player’s turn; buy bricks, use bricks to build, have your property valued for cash or VPs.  Where you build is the important part.  Only certain values of bricks let you build in the more rewarding towns, and if you can be the first to have the town valued then you have the chance of valuing some of your property twice, very beneficial. The game ends once all the buildings have been built, or three conditions have been met by one player; having 4 sets valued + buildings worth 25 VPs + collect 7 prestige tokens.
Each player begins with 1 brick and Barry started the game off by immediately building. James and I were a little bit more prudent collecting bricks from the wheel.  Whilst Barry continued to build a variety of lower valued buildings James started collecting Palaces whilst I concentrated on Libraries and then Villas.  Barry scored a couple of towns early on providing himself with a good bank balance and some prestige tokens, each worth 3 VPs come the end of the game.  James got a bit tied up with money shortages and I had to value buildings first rather than towns.
I thought Barry was looking very close to announcing the game end but it turned out his properties weren’t valuable enough.  I was then fortunate enough to be able to boost one of the more valuable towns prior to scoring it, and then took the last medium sized building before Barry grabbed it.  Despite his impressive collection of prestige tokens I managed to hang on the VPs I’d taken early on.  A close game.  I think James learned a lot about how to play it!  Maybe he’ll join Tom and I having another outing next week?
Neil – 113, Barry – 108, James – 78.

7 Wonders (thanks again Neil)
Another game that’s seen a welcome return over recent weeks, particularly good for me as I managed my second ever game!  A tight four man game with Andy joining the architects from Carrara.  After their military battles last time Andy and I left James and Barry to go for military might.  James won this part of the game, Barry and I eventually taking some cards to leave Andy a good way off here. 
Andy however continued to collect Civilian Structure cards and also had a large amount money.  He capped that lot off with some excellent Guilds – 23 VPs - to pull himself back into contention.  I also scored well on Civilians and matched Barry picking up 16 through Science.  Final scores were tight with Barry having an impressive spread across all cards.  Good game!
Barry – 49, Andy – 48, Neil – 47, James - 43.

Sentinels of the Multiverse (thanks Phil)
Sean was really keen to play Android according to the guild forum. Dan and Dominic were willing to play too but only if we got started quickly. So I set up Android (partially) and waited for Sean. Meanwhile Dan and Dominic opened up Sentinels. About the time I gave up on Sean and packed Android away, Andy pitched up. Andy probably wouldn't have wanted to play Android anyway, and all the other tables had started.
 So we started 4 player Sentinels. I picked Ra as apparently he is simplest. Just as we'd got through the rules explanation, in comes Sean. 5 player Sentinels it is.
Our Villain was Ambuscade. Dominic was Wraith, Andy was Unity, and I forget Dan and Sean's characters except that Sean's special power made everyone draw a card. 
Ra focuses on burning things to death. By midway through the game Ambuscade was cloaked (immune to damage), so I focused on blowing up his cloaking device. Sean told me not to do that, because it would damage everyone and he could do it much better on his turn. The Sun-God isn't known for subtlety however, so I just went ahead: boom! The explosion did 4 damage to everybody and every thing except for Ambuscade (he stays cloaked until the start of his turn). This included a rotating turret- which was itself destroyed, causing another explosion for 3 damage to everybody and everything except for Ambuscade. Among the casualties were Unity's entire collection of Golems and some creatures owned by Dan. Worse, there were now no enemy targets (Ambuscade still cloaked). So the other heroes couldn't use their attacks...
Once Ambuscade uncloaked it was pretty easy to kill him, however.

Andy left at this point for some euro-goodness. The four of us continued on the Ameritrash fix however, this time fighting The Dreamer, on the advanced mode. The Dreamer is a little girl with 6 Hps and killing her loses the game (she was down to 1hp when our game ended). She generates hideous projections and the way to win is to kill a bunch of them- first kill all the ones in play and the 8 more that come into play afterwards. 
Sean was playing Absolute Zero this time- kind of the opposite of Ra. I put out an ongoing effect that made all heroes do fire damage (and +1 fire damage at that), but Sean killed it because he needed to do cold damage for his special thing.
 Unfortunately the advanced mode proved too much for us and we all died, although Sean's Absolute Zero was within one projection of victory when he expired.

For our third game we switched back to basic mode and a conventional villain- Grand Protector Voss and his invading alien army. This was not a difficult game, I had a great combo going whereby heroes did fire damage (+1), I was immune to fire damage and could make everyone else immume, and I did +2 fire damage with all attacks but had to take 4 psychic damage every turn (the psychic damage was turned into fire damage, which I was immune to).
Unfotunately, once again Sean's Absolute Zero wanted to be doing cold damage. So he removed my ongoing effect that turned everything into fire, collapsing the combo. A revenge for my blowing everything up in turn 1.
Nevertheless we managed to win the game, thanks largely to Dominic's Wraith (who manipulated the villain deck) and Dan's character (who stored dead villains in a box and then used the box for maximum damage on the last turn).
So 2-1 over the game. No individual winners in this one.

7 Wonders (thanks again Gary)
Not a full report but in the second outing of 7 Wonders, Andy (50) beat Barry (47) beat Gary (45) (or thereabouts). Andy eschewed his normal pacifist tendencies in this game by adopting a successful military strategy and then used his wonder's (the Lighthouse?) ability to draw and build a card from the discard pile to complete a set of three green buildings on the final turn and earn a vital 10 points.
I completely wasted a turn by building up my military at the end of the Second Age having failed to notice that Barry's wonder (the Statue of Zeus?) gave him plus two on military in any event - the 15 VPs from my wonder (the Pyramids) were obtained, but that one extra wasted turn probably scuppered my chances (together with Barry and Andy denying me the free upgrades to my growing collection of VP laden blue buildings).
I think Barry had more of a collection of yellow and purple buildings, but they were on the other side of the rather dark table and, being short-sighted, I couldn't quite make them all out.... great game which would be even better if I wasn't so short sighted (literally as well as figuratively)!

The Saint Petersburg and Palaces tables finally merged, and created 3 groups, including Neil & Jon (if you can call that a group), who picked up Attika for a 2-player outing. Neil hadn’t played before, and Jon hadn’t picked it up for a couple of years, but the rules are pretty straightforward and the game was soon underway.
The game revolves around placing buildings onto a modular board, using resources from the board itself, as well as resource cards that the players can pick up. The goal of the game is either to complete an unbroken line of your buildings between the 2 shrines on the edges of the board, or be the first to build all 30 buildings from the player’s supply.
The trick of the game is deciding whether to build your buildings when you first pick them up (more efficient timewise) or to place them on your player mat and build them at a later date (often more efficient resource-wise). Placing buildings to block your opponent is also an important consideration.
Both Neil and Jon started out in the middle of the playing area, where the riches of the land could be best utilised. Jon then decided to hoard some buildings on his player mat, looking to build them for free on a later turn. However, Neil suddenly built several buildings in succession, and was one building space away from a ‘connection’ victory. Only a lucky building draw for Jon averted this loss, allowing him to construct an effective road-block at the last minute.
Jon then managed to add an extra tile to the landscape, which gave him a new path through to Neil’s shrine, which a lack of resources, Neil was unable to prevent this move, and Jon placed a network of streets to finish his connection.
This is a fantastic 2-player game, and has the strange characteristic that two 2-player games of it can be played simultaneously, due to the nature of the components in the box. Neil seemed to enjoy it too, so it may well see some more table-time in the near future….
Jon won (connection victory); Neil – didn’t….

The Speicherstadt (thanks James)

As opposed to the game of Saint Petersburg where a filler was being played as though it were Through the Ages, we decided to try and play Speicherstadt as a filler while we waited for others to finish.  We'd all played before (although Paul needed a quick refresher) so it was up and off without much trouble.
To be honest I can't remember many details of the game play although as usual in this game someone ends up with -10 points from having no firemen and this time it was Paul who went for the 'you can all burn' strategy... don't ever play a game of Flashpoint with him, the outcome is inevitable.
Around mid point I managed to rack up several contracts so had a foundation in place for a decent score... and around the 3/4 stage it started to become likely I would clinch victory. At this point Tom decided that although he might not win he was going to die rich and seemed to drop out of auctions with the view to stockpiling money... we were playing with the nice expansion coins (thanks Neil) so I can understand the tactile need to have a big pile of shiny metal coins to play with...
In the last round I managed to steal the highest firemen and as we tallied scores my only disappointment was that I was 1 point away from clocking the score track...  Paul managed to jump to a surprising 2nd given by closing a contract or 2 towards the end while Tom was left counting his coins and seemingly satisfied by the nice clinking sound they made when dropped together.
Paul 26; Tom 25; James 39

* Oh, and for those wondering I was sitting to the right of Paul, not the
left which is the preferred position if you want to gain any advantage :)

High Society (thanks again James)
Despite some terrible moves Dan managed to avoid coming last due to the least money rule...  I should've saved some from Spiecherstadt...
Despite only a vague understanding of the rules Tom came first.
Tom 15; Paul 12; Dan 7.5; James 0

Least money - James...  :(

Just like the old days – 5 players left at the end of the night, so time to net some birds and club some seals – it’s Nanuk!
I’ve never seen it happen before, but 4 hunts went down to the final ‘day’, which either revealed the magical sought-after creature, or the deathly silhouette of a killer polar bear. Cue many groans and cheers…
The actual scores have been lost to posterity, but it has been established that somehow Paul was the most effective hunter, almost certainly followed by Dan and James. The rest of the hunting party trailed behind, with Neil left wondering what he had been persuaded to play at the end of an evening, and Jon a mass of dismembered limbs, courtesy of the Lord of the Arctic.
Paul – won; Dan – nearly won; James, Neil, Jon

That's all folks!

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