Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The night the girls beat the boys

With our glamorous Essen attendees coming back to their roots, bags of goodies under their arms, desperate to play with their new toys, it was like Wednesday evenings were back to normal at IBG.

Other than an array of sparkly new games to play, the notable event of the evening was that both Noel and Jon had convinced their respective wives to come along and join in pushing coloured cubes around for a couple of hours. Tanya had been before but is was a first for Rach - and welcome to them both. I'm not sure why, but the board gaming hobby, certainly in England, doesn't seem to attract as many gals as it does chaps - a big loss for everyone. My observation is that this is different in other countries, having gamed in both France and Germany.

Now, I wasn't there on this particular evening, but I'm willing to bet that as a result of the ladies not being as avid and regular gamers as their opponents, they were probably looked upon as easy victims by some of their more competitive opponents. If this is the case, (I said 'if', okay), then it made my editing this blog entry all the more pleasurable to see the results as they came into my in box. Please read the reports below for the full details of the trouncing that the husbands took. It'll be interesting to see how quickly the better halves are invited back, and when they do make a return trip if it's simply seen as a chance for revenge.

Gluck Auf (thanks Philip)

AKA "Coal Baron"

The hotel we stayed in at Essen was on the site of an old coal mine, with mining equipment still visible around it and some postcards looking very like the artwork for this game. However, we didn't get round to playing the game until we were back in England and at the club.

Players were me, James, Neil, and Andy (who hadn't been to Essen). The game is yet another worker placement game, on the loads of workers end of the scale- but you only get to place the workers 3 times (3 turns). Refreshingly there is no way to get more workers. All spaces start off costing 1 worker but increase by 1 worker per use. Some spaces are obviously better than others (e.g there are 5 ways to get money which, for the same initial cost, get respectively $6, $5,$4, $3 and $1.

The basic idea is to mine coal (which strangely can be bought in trolleys and comes in 4 different colours), take the coal to the surface and load it on 'contracts' which are shipped to market. Each contract earns points and then you get points for various categories of contract at turn end (and in the final turn for empty trolleys). You lose points at game end for unfulfilled contracts and "pit imbalance".

Game starts with players choosing 3 starting contracts. I had the "Gluck Auf" to pick first, and concentrated on black coal contracts with horse-and-cart transport, although one contract was for 2 brown coal. The others were more varied- Neil picking up a one-of-each-colour contract which has the advantage that you start with that coal in your mine.

I then started worker placement by taking $6. The others started to buy trolleys and so I was able to take $5 as well. I would have carried on taking the money but James now took the $4 space so I switched to buying trolleys full of black coal (at $4 per cube). I took another horse-and-cart transport but realised near the end of turn I wouldn't be able to get all my contracts to market so ignored the 2 brown coal contract, eventually just sending the black coal and (I think) some grey coal. End of round scoring saw me score 5 points for most black coal contracts.

Neil started the next round (because he had most workers on buying trolleys spaces) by taking money- everyone followed suit. I obtained more black coal contracts and also grey coal contracts- these ones using lorries, and shipped them to market. In round 2 I scored 5 points for black coal, 7 points for most horse-and-cart and 8 points for most lorries.

I started round 3- again by taking money. I didn't get very much done in round 3, only shipping two contracts- and having 1 unfulfilled contract, the 2 brown coal one I had started with. However, everyone else had at least 3 unfulfilled contracts- in James' case because I had unwittingly blocked him from shipping (by placing 2 workers on the locomotive shipping space when he had only 2 workers left). I round 3 I scored 5 points for black coal, 15 points for the 2 modes of transport I dominated, and 13 points for most empty black coal trollies.

It was already obvious that I was dominating and the penalties for unfulfilled contracts and pit balance only increased my lead.

Black coal seems pretty good- there's a solid 28 points there if you can maintain dominance through the whole game and black coal contracts are worth more than other types of coal. However, it is more expensive and I think if I hadn't been able to take money twice in round 1 I could have been in difficulties...

Scores (approx): Philip 120, Andy 105, James 90, Neil 80

Followed by a few games of...

Machi Koro (thanks Philip) - not sure what order these wee played in

"I Mine in my mine and what's mine is yours..."

I suggested playing this after Gluck Auf! James immediately said it was too short, so I countered with Russian Railroads. After Andy had admiringly examined Russian Railroads and marvelled at the wooden girders James said Russian Railroads would be too long. We then compromised on Machi Koro.

Previous Essen plays had suggested Ranch+Cheese Factory as a winning strategy. So three of us tried for that. Neil struck out for a leeching strategy of Cafes, Family Restaurants and (later) Mines, only rolling a single die. He was greatly assisted by building a Stadium on his first turn and rolling 3 6s shortly thereafter.

The rest of us, realising Cheese Factories wouldn't earn enough now we had evenly split the Ranches, moved in various directions. James built a furniture factory, Andy started into Convenience Stores and I went for Mines (as did James, since it helped with the furniture. But if I rolled a 9 for my Mines I would immediately lose a good 9 coins to Neil's Family Restaurants...

The last thing Neil built was the 4 coins double dice one, winning the game.

The other table had finished playing and after a quick discussion we split into Resistance and Machi Koro- Gareth having expressed interest in the latter. Turned out to be a 2 player Machi Koro. I explained the rules to Gareth and played through the first game almost symmetrically- Gareth matched me purchase for purchase, ensuring no one dominated any particular area. However, Gareth rolled better and was able to squeak to victory. The others were still playing so we had another game. This time I went for Neil's strategy of Cafes and Family Restaurants- but it worked a lot worse in a 2-player game and Gareth won easily.

Machi Koro (thanks Neil)

Amongst James’s haul of Japanese games from Essen we were blessed to play Machi Koro early on. It has dice – not my favourite thing in the world – and cards, which I’m happier with. The artwork is very pretty, the box like a smart xmas card box with snow and everything!

You’re basically collecting cards to get income to buy more cards to win the game. The cards are all buildings/land; Wheat Field, Ranch, Café, Mine etc. They have a cost in coins from 1 to 8. They are numbered from 1 to 12, some being dual-numbered e.g. 2/3. Roll the dice, take the action related to the card with your number. if you have a green card this provides income for yourself only. A blue allows everyone income. Red means you have to give money away. Purple is for a 6 and there are three alternatives; take 5 coins from another player, take 2 from each, swap a card with another player: all very powerful.

In the two games played in Essen a strategy based around collecting Ranches in association with a Cheese Factory - I know, humour me, like we did James – won both games. So in the explanation we made sure that was apparent to all. A similar strategy looked possible based around the Furniture Factory and Forests and Mines. James had a go at this and picked up 27 coins on one turn; you need a total of 42 to win the game.

However, whilst the others picked up a few Ranches each, Philip going for Wheat Fields and that Cheese Factory again, I decided to try the one dice / steal everyone’s money plan. So early on I picked up a Stadium: take 2 coins from each player when I rolled a 6, two Cafes: on the role of a 3 pay the café owner 2 coins, two Family Restaurants: roll 9 / 10 pay the restaurant owner - 3 coins. My first bigger building was the Shopping Mall, allowing me to double income from my Café! I also picked up two Mines which on roll of 9 gave me a further 5 coins each. Well I rolled 6s liberally, James and Andy obliged with 3s and then 9s and I had money, stacks of it. Despite Philip’s close attention, and managing to avoid handing over too much to me, I had enough rounds to take the game. My spread of cards was pretty light but with the dice in your favour then even I could win, hurrah!

Cheaty Mages (thanks Neil)

We didn’t get to play this in Essen, despite it being cards, in a small box, and Japanese.
An interesting game this. A column of five fighters - Japanese wrestlers I guess, certainly not sumo wrestlers though! – have certain powers and are worth fixed amounts. You place your bet on one, two or even three wrestlers and then play your hand of eight cards to tweak the fighter’s strength. There’s one more feature, the judge. He/she has the ability to add or take away certain parameters relating to the fighters, clever!

We played three rounds, three of us choosing the same fighter in the first although I was the only one who’d gone with a single bet and therefore earned an 8 coin return. Jon and Noel both took home 4.
Round two took a little longer and we all played a lot more cards from our hand; you don’t have to play all eight, especially as you’ll only get another four in the following round. Everything was roses with it looking like three of us had an interest in the second fighter. Jon destroyed James’s “double points” card but James still decided to make sure and so added one final card, +3 strength, but also +3 mana. The judge had set a limit of 15 mana, our man was over and thus disqualified, damn you!! Jon collected on his rather wimpy looking fighter.

Round three, all to play for. Some clever holding back of cards here. Until James locked down his fighter. We couldn’t touch him, couldn’t tweak him, just had to stand and watch him. Noel and I realised we were both on the same man, Noel added that one extra card to ensure the power was high enough. Yip, you guessed it, over the judge’s limit, disqualified. James won the round but Jon picked up a couple of points. They tied. After all that excitement. No tie break either!

Scores: Jon 16, James 16, Neil 10, Noel 6

Paris Connection (thanks Jon)

With Jon's wife, Rach, joining him at IBG tonight, (and with Noel's wife en route) their opener was
this simple but interesting stock-collection game which probably qualifies as a super-filler as it usually comes in at under half an hour.

Noel played the role of super-spoiler, choosing to burn a number of trains once he felt he had the advantage in a couple of colours.

Rach ran into the classic problem of not having any trains that she actually wanted to cash in, as what remained was worth less than she already had. Jon also committed the cardinal sin of not collecting enough trains, and when the dust settled, he only had 12 as opposed to Noel's 14. These 2 trains turned out to be the difference in scores, although the race for second place was incredibly close with only 1 point separating Gareth, Rach and Jon.

This is such a good game - easy to explain, with subtle strategies, and plays quickly. Oh, and it has trains in it too - what's not to like?!! [Ed: Good job no one's asking Jeroen's opinion at this point]

Scores: Noel 145, Rach 127, Gareth II 127, Jon 126

Around the World in 80 Days (thanks Jon)

By now, Noel's wife Tanya had also arrived, so a 5-player game was
required - and this OOP offering fitted the bill nicely. The mechanisms are nice and simple - select train / boat cards of differing values to move between locations as you recreate Phileas Fogg's famous round-the-world adventure. The player who returns in the fewest number of days is the winner (except that the player who gets back to London last in real time is eliminated). Throw in a detective who can be moved to any location to slow players up, some random event cards and a hot air balloon that may allow you to travel faster (depending on the roll of a die), and you have a fine medium-weight game.

Rachel (after declaring proudly that she had won this game last time she played) started as she meant to go on, and shot off at quite a pace. Noel was more circumspect in his approach, choosing to collect (and discard) cards to maximise his travel options. He also attempted to fly by balloon on a couple of occasions, which was rather thwarted by his patent inability to roll anything other than a 6 (when a low number was far more beneficial...)

Jon attempted to keep pace with his wife, but was taking much longer to complete each leg of the journey. Gareth was hanging about in the middle of the pack, and Tanya was consistently drawing Storm cards (completely against the odds) which slowed everyone down and caused much muttering of bad words.

Rachel arrived back in London first in real time, and in 69 days in game time. Jon was next back to London in a Fogg-equalling 80 days. Gareth was slightly more tardy, taking 83 days, but then Tanya snuck back to the Reform Club also in 69 days. However, the tie-breaker is the first person home in real time, so Rach took the victory.

And Noel? He was last seen attempting to cross the Atlantic in an impossible 2 days, but as he was last home, it was all in vain for him anyway....

Scores: Rach 69 days, Tanya 69, Jon 80, Gareth 83, Noel - last home

And next week... return of the Horablog (a week of so late for Halloween, but I'm certainly trembling while I wait for it).