Wednesday, 9 October 2013

3 x 3 = 9

Nine gamers this evening, happily splitting up into three groups of three for the evening for some games with little downtime to fly along at a good pace.

The evening did look like it might turn into a cheesy line fest during Felix, which was played early on and spawned a succession of 'Amanda folds quicker than an origami stork' type lines, but thankfully for everyone, they faded out. [Ed - "and they faded quicker than the dot in the middle of a 1970s TV"... oh come on, I thought we'd put a stop to that!]

Players: Paul, Jon, Tom, Neil, James, Gary, Dan, Gareth, Amanda


Jon had brought along an old two player Reiner Knitzier classic that Paul had never played before, but it proved simple to pick up so they were going in no time. The game is set in nine battles taking place conveniently in one horizontal line. Each battle can only be won by one player, so the first to five victories wins, or one player that takes three adjacent battles.

There are six suits of cards, each numbered one to ten. Players hold seven cards, playing one and drawing one each turn, with up to three cards accumulating on each side for each battle, with the best poker hand winning each one.

There is more than a striking resemblance to that other Knizier game, Lost Cities, but this has certainly stood the test of time well, with Jon and Paul soon engrossed in the agonising decisions that Battleline forces upon the players.

Paul got lucky with an unbeatable 8, 9, 10 flush early on to take one strategic middle placed battle, but Jon rallied and for a while it was neck and neck. Eventually, with Paul trying to achieve his fifth decisive battle, Tom who was watching declared Paul the winner as he'd got three battles in the eastern most three locations, but was so set on his plan that he didn't notice.

Great game, simple and deep.

Score: Paul won, Jon lost

Felix - the cat in the sack (thanks Jon)

Just time for a quick filler before the main crowd all arrived (note to self – this game actually plays a bit longer than everyone thinks – not a problem, but don’t try to sneak it into a 10-minute gap that you have…)

Amanda proclaimed her ineptitude at the game, but was swiftly reminded that she actually won last time she played, and was instantly tagged as a ringer…

Jon picked up a nice little earner early on in the game, but this also wiped him out of cash, and with a couple of rounds passing with no cash on the cards, it took him a while to get back into the game.

Paul, Tom and Gareth were piling up the cash, waiting for the moment to unleash hell. Amanda picked the wrong moment to bid big (stung into action by the jibes that she had previously been folding like a cheap umbrella…) – picking up a nice fat minus-score haul of cats for her trouble.

The last round saw Jon outbid Paul for the final bag of cats, netting him a further 6 points, and when the scores were totted up, it was revealed that this late bonus had helped him into first place (he claims that this was his first ever win of this game – a claim that has yet to be verified…)

To her credit, Amanda salvaged a positive score (just), but maybe she was doing this just to lull everyone into a false sense of security for next time….?

Scores: Jon 56, Gareth 53, Paul 53, Tom 29, Amanda 1

Spyrium (thanks James)

Is this the official start of the new Essen games? Tom managed to bag a copy of this freshly released game, small in the sense the game mainly consists of cards and meeples, but complex in it's gameplay. Neil and myself were keen to find out if it should be on the shopping list next week !

So, despite sounding like the theme should about subterfuge and spys, the game is actually about factories and production (good to see games exploring new thematic avenues... whistle)... a 3 by 3 grid of cards is laid out each round (6 rounds in total?) and players place meeples between the cards. Cards adjacent to meeples can then be activated and the cost is dynamic based on the number of meeples around the cards... its a nice concept, and feels similar to Keyflower in that the costs of actions varies based on the popularity of the action.

Didnt take long for Neil and me to grasp the rules and we were off. I went for a meeple collection strategy, based on not really knowing what else to do but liking the idea of having more turns than anyone else. Tom was already collecting cheap resource (the 'spyrium' of the title of the game refers to the mineral being produced by the factories). Neil was collecting factories... early on he picked up a bonus card giving cheaper building costs for factories and bonuses for the number built so for most of the game he turned into a buidling fanatic.

Around the halfway stage I got lucky as I managed to create an engine from the cards I had picked up to not only provide a supply of Spyrium, but also turn this into vast victory points... the extra meeples had come good. For the last few rounds I was able to score about 20-25 a round, which is a big score.

Tom, at this stage, was starting to wonder if he should try a new strategy of not explaining the rules so well to newcomers so that he could take an advantage into the early part of the game... arrrh

So the game came to a close, it looked like a landslide for me with all the extra points, but I was aware that Neil had a number of bonus points as yet unscored... Tom, indeed had staggered to a respectable, if forlorn 57 points.. I had bagged 74... and after a few recounts Neil managed to get 72... a close game, and much closer than expected.

I have mixed thoughts on this though. The game is fine, works really well and for people who like their euros it will hit a sweet spot... For me though it just felt like there was nothing new. solid mechanics, but another in the long line of Feld-style games that feel more like a puzzle than a game... Won't be on my list for Essen, but I have a feeling it'll be a pretty bit hit on the BGG rankings.

Score: James 74, Neil 72, Tom 57

Stone Age (thanks Neil)

Ug, ug, mm, ug...

hope that's ok! [Ed - no, come on Neil, good use of theme but please try harder to put your creative writing masters to better use than that]

if not, better have the translation... [thank you]

After his Spyrium success James was up for a sprint through this one. Tom and I were out to stop him! Tom decided to go the tool route but got blocked in picking up the tool worker cards, not sure who by though. James was out for resources and consistently threw ridiculously high die, leading to much hut investment. I decided to get some cards early on (must have been me blocking Tom then!), and then moved into huts, including the love hut…

James carried on picking up resources, did I mention his fortune with the dice? I managed to block one hut purchase but it wasn't anywhere near enough. Tom’s tools were coming in handy but he never quite got on top of feeding his workers so didn't pick up the resources that might have benefited him. I got along the food track but wasn't able to collect many cards to really hit the worker bonus at game end. I honestly thought I was closer to James but he’d strolled it!

Final Scores: James 178, Neil 147, Tom 125

Trains I

Trains had made a welcome first appearance a few weeks ago and made a welcome return this week. Dominion meets a very simple Steam - who could resist?

The main delay in getting going was the card selection, but once this had been worked through, placements were made, cards drawn and off they chugged. Paul was in the north west more or less on his own, whilst Gary and Jon were more central. The special cards needed a bit of getting used to, with Gary and Paul going for the landfill to dump their waste; a strategy quietly ignored by Jon who was happy for his waste to build up. Paul went for the tourist trains, which gave him marginally more points throughout the main gameplay. Gary snaked his way towards the cities that Paul had his eye on, so Paul had to spend more resources to cross the river and eventually realised that the game would end before he managed to execute his plan. Jon busied himself on his todd in the south, and started to collect sky scrapers from a very early point, which eventually became too many for Paul or Gary to compete with, especially as Jon realised this and brought the game to the close before the waste that he'd accumulated took too much toll. Gary looked like he was closer to Jon from his network on the board, but Paul was further ahead with points from the tourist trains; either would've needed several more turns to peg Jon back as he best judged the length of the game.

Scores: Jon 42, Paul 35, Gary 30

Trains II (thanks Jon)

It’s a rare event at IBG, but sometimes a game captures players’ imaginations enough that after the first play through, they immediately want to reset for another go. And in the case of Trains, this was the case.

The set-up didn't take nearly as long the second time around, and the game was soon underway. The Tourist Train was still in play, but most of the other cards were different. They included the very popular Station Master (I think) which seemed a bargain at a cost of 2, allowing the action of money, a card or discarding a Waste.

Paul started the game in the North of the map, and quickly started to move towards Jon who had set up camp in the North-East. Gary, therefore, had the whole of the Central and Southern areas to himself.

This game played very differently from the first. For starters, all 3 players had now become more familiar with the layout of the cards and the overall goal of the game, and therefore turns passed much more quickly.

Jon built very little track or stations, but picked up a few bonus points from reaching the bonus hexes in the North-East. This gave him a lower number of points on the board, but he used his lack of Waste to buy up as many high-value Trains as possible. Paul had picked up a couple of Tourist Trains again, which helped him to eke ahead as the game wore on. Gary made the most of his unchallenged position on the board to place as many stations as possible.

Jon then started to buy up Skyscrapers with his formidable wealth, and with no easy points available on the board was desperate to end the game quickly. The interesting thing about purchasing the ‘points’ cards, is that they come with added Waste, which means that Jon’s deck was clogging up quicker than a drain in a Chinese restaurant… [Ed... Jon!!!]

He finally had a turn with 6 coins, which enabled him to buy the last 3 Express trains and close the game out – although he was far from sure that he had got his timing right…. The scores were totted up, and turned out to be incredibly tight, with Jon just pulling ahead, courtesy of his 4 Skyscrapers. Had the game on for another turn or 2, Gary and Paul would have almost certainly overtaken him, as they had many more options on the board and plenty of  Rails and Station cards in their decks.

Another fine game, and had it not been nearing 11pm, they might even have ventured into Trains III !

Scores: Jon 39, Gary 36, Paul 35

Dan, Gareth and Amanda played a game or two of innovation and then Dan and Gareth pushed on with Sentinals of the Multiverse.