Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Grand Designs

So, it's the last IBG of the year.  Seven hardy souls ventured through the cold to the welcoming embrace of the Apprentice.  Your erstwhile editor was not in attendance but has received various reports of tidings and joy; the first two of which come from the pen of Mr Dawsey.

Stone Age

We knew Jon was coming, but he texted to say he'd be late, so we decided to try and squeeze in a game of 'speed Stone Age', however that seems optimistic in hindsight as it was only Paul's second game and Amanda's first.

Amanda shot into quite a large lead by going for the buildings. Paul expanded his family and went for civilization cards. Gareth on the other hand went for a mixed strategy of tools and civilization cards. After a few rounds of accumulation of points by Amanda and cards for Gareth and Paul, Amanda asked what she was missing. Cards, mainly, for bigger end game scores, although there are many ways to win at this game.

Gareth spotted that towards the end a lot of his cards provided bonuses for extra people so he mated like crazy for the last few turns. Amanda tried to pick up some cards but realised that it was too little, too late. Paul was going for a bit of everything.

Jon looked over a few times with a disparaging 'call that SPEED Stone Age?' - probably a fair point.

Only in the final scoring did Gareth reveal that he'd collected all eight of the technological advancements, giving him a whopping 64 bonus points, and this was in addition to the big bonus he got for his horde of people. Paul didn't do badly on buildings and food bonuses, but nowhere near enough to live with Gareth. Poor Amanda did well for a first go, but really was investing in her Stone Age knowledge so that she can come back stronger next time.

Scores: Gareth 212, Paul 190, Amanda 142


Amanda had to disappear but was eagerly replaced by Jon who'd waited (mostly) patiently for them to finish. Due to us making him wait, we gave him the choice of what to play and Trains pipped Kingdom Builder plus expansion for the table space. 

Jon could have sat in the space opposite Paul, but made his way round the more hairy route to sit to Paul's left. Not sure it made too much difference in the game, but Paul's reputation makes old habits die hard.

The cards were selected during set up and the key points to note here were the inclusion of the notorious Tourist Train (a previous winning strategy on more than one occasion) and no cards to expand the active cards by any number, so 5 was the maximum that anyone would get to work with.

The Tourist Train strategy was pointed out to Gareth, although for some reason both he and Paul then let Jon pick up too many of them which certainly helped him to his fair share of VPs. Although there were no expansion cards, there were plenty of cards to cycle through the deck more quickly, so Jon's strategy was to pick up tourist trains, not bother with laying too much on the board and get as many cards to help him cycle through his deck faster.

Paul was placed in the middle of the board and employed almost the opposite strategy to Jon, by laying rails and building stations everywhere possible. He picked up the corresponding waste and tried to combat this by also getting a few cards to help him cycle through or discard the waste, but it did slow him down a little later in the game.

Gareth was over in the East of the board and seemed to be going for a bit of everything, and his waste collecting certainly did impede his progress.

The fact that everyone could only get a maximum of five cards in the deck meant that there were only a few possible Skyscraper purchases (for the big points) and this helped Jon's Tourist Train strategy more. Paul could have closed the game by laying his last track, but instead decided to push his luck somewhat, get some high value trains and hold out to try and collect some of those Skyscrapers. As it turns out, he didn't manage to get them and Jon picked up one or two more instead.

By the end of the game, Jon had laid very little on the board, but no one was surprised by the final score.

Scores: Jon 76, Paul 61, Gareth 57

Now on to the other table where Neil, Phil and Jen took on the roles of building contractors and leaders of dwarven settlements although not at the same time.  Neil provided the two reports for Blueprints with Phil doing his customary in-depth run through of Caverna.


Ahead of some Caverna action, Philip, Jen and I had a little opener in the form of Blueprints. Take a blueprint, roll a load of dice and off you go. There are three rounds. On each turn you choose a die to build your blueprint. Dice have to be equal or higher in value to be placed on top of another die. The dice come in four colours, each scoring in different ways. It's also possible to pick up bonuses for different combinations.

Having played three previous games I obviously had quite an advantage. You need to make sure you build your blueprint to the exact specifications.  You then need to ensure every dice earns you three points at least.  Finally, go for one bonus, and if you can make two then you'll win.  Easy!

If your opponents haven't played before you have show them how it works!

Final Scores; Neil - 18, Philip - 7, Jen - 4.


This was our (me, Neil and Jen's) second game of Caverna. The first had been four player and won by Natasha's strategy of building loads of rooms and eschewing adventure. Both run-throughs were with basic buildings only. 

More changes between three and four player Caverna than between three and four player Agricola. There seemed to be less resources entering the game, which makes sense I guess, although there were also four different spaces accumulating wood. Start player in four player accumulates food and gives you a ruby. In three player it still accumulates food but it gives you two ore, which is a lot worse than a ruby.

I also discovered that you can't build rooms with rubies. Oh well...

Neil and Jen favoured early game Agriculture (both crops and farm animals) with Adventuring once it became possible (from turn 2). Meanwhile I struck out on a slavish imitation of Natasha, hollowing out caverns from the Rock and building the Carpenter, Stone Mason and Builder Rooms, meaning that I could build a 2 Wood 2 Stone Room with nothing more than two Ore (It also gave me a use for the Ore which I had to pick up when I took start player). 

My food supply wasn't too good, since you can't eat dogs, but I managed to pick up three rubies in the third round, and a pile of food on one of the agriculture spaces in round 4. In round 5 I built the "Couples Dwelling" and began breeding my dwarves. In round 6 I built the Slaughtering Cave, which significantly helped my food problems. The other player's had now levelled up to the point where they could build rooms and started to do so. In round 7, need for children flipped to urgent need for children and in round 8 I skimped by buying a simple dwelling for a fifth Dwarf.

With my excess number of Dwarves I was now able to start solving my agricultural problems, and I also picked up donkeys and sheep with cheap fences (thanks, Carpenter). Neil was definitely ahead on the animal breeding front though. Both my opponents managed a third Dwarf, but I was now able to build the sixth Dwarf Room and produce the sixth Dwarf (who isn't in a player colour). I also began building points rooms: one room which gave me 10 points for the sixth Dwarf; another room which gave me eight points for no adventuring dwarves; a third room which gave me two points per points room; and a fourth room which gave me one point per stone (I had 15 Stone at the end of the game). 

At some point I started planting crops, turning a Ruby into a Vegetable, and by the end I had quite a few of them. I was also able to breed all four types of animal at the final harvest, though I had to leave my crops in the field to do it.

Neil had built his favourite "cancel seven negative points" room, and was also accumulating gold. He also had a room which allowed him to eat weapons. Jen had the VPs for warriors with weapons room. Both had failed to fully excavate their caverns but completed the agriculture side of the map - as did I, although it was a narrow thing.

Final scoring was slightly enlivened by my inability to add, causing me to declare a very close one point lead over Neil. However, closer examination saw the final scores to be not so close after all.

Philip 106 Neil 85 Jen 62

Blueprints:  The Sequel

So with Philip on fire in Caverna, it was decided to end the evening with a reprint - geddit?!! (Ed:  you're fired)

Now that they knew what was going on things played out very differently. Philip and Jen both scored much better in the first round. I got something back in the next, although Jen did too. All down to the final round: I was happy with five matching dice, four of the same number... but then so was Jen, and she outdid me both times on the tiebreaker.  Damn, must have taught her too well! 

I should have written how kind I was being as it was Jen's last visit to the IBG from Yorkshire. Her work's finished down here, no more Jen, very sad. Hope to see you in Brum and Essen!

Final Scores; Jen - 7, Neil - 5, Philip - 4.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Machi Miracles

We have all asked ourselves that all important question as extemporised by my friends, Insane Clown Posse (above): magnets, how do they work?  As ICP concluded, it's a miracle (like long necked giraffes, hot lava, and pelicans eating cellphones).  Much like magnets, Paul Dawsey can create miracles: such as when he wins two games of Machi Koro in a row.  Other stuff happened last week but first let us bask in the brilliance of Paul...  Now on to the reports which include trains, a Feld which left Phil unimpressed and a gigantic amount of dice rolling!

Over on the window table it was a Game-Lite Nite.  Gary, Andy, Noel and Dan started with a game of Dominion on a track that is Trains

The game was new to Dan, but is quickly picked up. Andy struck out with a heavy investment in Tourist Trains, which he coupled with the Temporary Timetable to drag them regularly back into his deck and set himself up with an early lead. Gary tried to run a heavy infrastructure engine, building tracks and stations galore and accumulating lots of waste. Noel and Dan had more of a mixed approach with some train investment and some track/station. However, Andy’s focused approach and waste-lite deck proved too powerful – his Tourist Trains steadily picked up the points and he was able to acquire Skyscrapers and Towers. In fact, he never built any Rails and his only presence on the board was his original lonely red cube. Andy was a runaway winner with a frankly obscene number of points – something like 70 (if that is possible). Dan and Noel competed for 2nd and 3rd and Gary was left languishing in the station on about half the number of points that Andy had accumulated!

Gary provided a rather succinct summation of where it all went wrong for him: "My approach was never going to compete in retrospect (though I’d like to think there must be some strategy that can compete with the Tourist Train – other than buying some up to prevent one person getting too many), but was well and truly scuppered when my Temporary Timetable managed to discard three potentially valuable Station Expansion cards in one go. A painful lesson in ensuring that the cards you buy really do work well with the rest of your deck and your strategy!" 

Next up was Machi Koro. Gary is our reporter on the scene for the next two reports.

Strategy and careful planning may not be my strong point, but give me some dice and I can be lethal! In fact, my strategy is simply to roll like a demon! Anyway, as we started off, the number 3 appeared to be rolled rather regularly so I decided to acquire some Coffee Shops, which soon turned into a chain of Coffee Shops to rival Starbucks (without the offshore tax planning, of course). Everyone likes coffee and everyone seemed to like rolling 3s, which made me happy, but left everyone else sweating on the roll of the dice (well, actually everyone was sweating from sitting near to the radiator under the window which appeared to be fuelled by nuclear waste!). My growing Coffee Empire prompted Dan, Andy and Noel to “level up” to two dice as quickly as possible – but to no avail. Dan’s first roll of his two dice produced a 2 and a 1 – more coins for me! Fortunately, my coffee shops had given me the money to expand big time into the Convenience Store market, which produce 3 coin on a roll of 4. I managed to build the Shopping Mall quite early on too, giving me effectively 4 coin for each roll of a 4 on my turn and decided not to expand to two dice at all. With 4 Convenience Stores and two consecutive rolls of 4 on my turn, the game was over before Noel could get his emporium of newly purchased Cheese Shops competing effectively.

Finally came CV - more dice, yippee! - a new game to all of us apart from Dan (seemed only fair). Lots of head scratching and rule reading too on a first play of this one for the rest of us. I went for an excess of $ on this one, choosing the Lottery Winner and a “Pension Payout” starter cards. However, this meant a slow start and as the game moved from Youth to Middle Age, I was awarded a free card for being so far behind! Andy seemed to be rolling lots of dice, but suffered a couple of mid-life crises with the unhappy faces – who wouldn't with Twins - as did Dan, even when only rolling four dice! Noel was rather hampered by sticking with his starter Bicycle card for a long while (contributed to by a rules error that initially suggested only scoring points on the top face up card), before he eventually upgraded to a Porsche and Home Cinema. Eventually, my money cards came in, however, and when bolstered by a “Start my own business” card lead to the purchase of lots of yellow goods cards and an accumulation of valuable possessions. I was way behind the others in the Relationship, Knowledge and Lifestyle cards, however. In fact, I only had one Orange Lifestyle card going into the final turn of the game – which seemed a bit of a bad move from a bonus points perspective. However, with this last turn I used the “Visit to the Zoo” I had been saving from the start to roll six dice. I combined that with the “Visit to Essen” card I had picked up to acquire six happy faces. The two “free cards” were the Orange and Purple double counting cards and I also managed to pick up a further Orange card for a combination of four of each (equivalent). This was just enough to pull out a win with around 70 points, with Noel and Dan just back and Andy in the rear this time (a straight reversal of the Trains scoring from the first game).

The Nuclear Radiator Posse (that's a good name for a band - although not as good as Bandcastle) were not the only mob to play Machi Koro with two games also enjoyed by Neil, Paul, James (and Philip for the second game too).  Thanks to Neil for both reports.

Machi Koro I

Yeovil fans Paul and James were still celebrating back to back wins for the Greeny Ones, and so I'd benefit with an easy victory of course. Best laid plans... no chance! I tried to go with my strategy of 'steal' their money and whilst my cafés were productive the restaurants were avoided by neither Paul or James going for the double dice option.
James went for a mass of options under 6, joining me in the cafes, and Paul went for Cheese and Furniture Factory strategy, picking up some hefty lumps of money. Despite me stealing his Cheese Factory a couple of times he refused to roll a 9 or a 10 which might have seen me home.
And then it was over. Paul romped home although we were all within a round of victory. Damn!

Machi Koro II (Machier Koro)

Joined by Philip who matched Paul card for card on the Ranch, James attempted to hone his strategy further by selecting as many of the lower value green cards as possible, giving money to him alone, plus some café action again, and I persisted with my 'steal it' approach.
With me watching only what Paul was doing rather than concentrating on everyone, he picked up some early 6 cards as well as filling his boots from the factories again. Philip got caught by the cafés a few times and found it difficult to buy anything with no funds. James kept picking up his self-enhancing Range and was actually pretty close until Paul's factories and a good run of 6s took him through to a second victory.
Blimey, I thought Yeovil winning twice on the trot was impressive, Paul winning twice on the trot and we must be in miracle territory (Ed:  Paul was to the left of himself - inconceivable!)!! Well-deserved though, I'll give him that. 

After Maching Koro, it would appear that our intrepid dice rollers were to become even more intrepid explorers with Stefan Feld's latest design for Queen Games, Amerigo, the sole purpose of which appears to be to use all of the Shogun/Wallenstein dice towers hanging around Queen's offices.  Phil reports on this one.

All four of us were new to the game with James explaining it to Neil, myself, and Paul. There were snide remarks about the resemblance of the map to the Americas and the thematic resonance of the name.

The red cubes went into the tower and mostly came out again. Then the blue cubes went in and came out with a red cube. Neil, going first, took the red action and everyone else took the blue action. With a full six blue cubes I was able to steam into the middle of the map and land at two large islands, while Paul picked a couple of small islands and James landed at one island I'd chosen and a nearby small one.

Now the black cubes went in- and only three came out, with a variety of others. Everyone except me went for the other actions since Pirate strength was known to be 0 next round. In went the red cubes and we all took out plans, then the brown cubes and we all took techs: Neil took +2 blue, I took +2 pirates for everyone else, Paul +2 Green, and James the red=green tile. Green cubes next and all over the islands buildings sprouted, with James completing a small island for bonus points- Neil of course had to do something else since he hadn't established any settlements. Yellow cubes were next and we picked up trade good multipliers - except I think Neil (naturally) went blue this time. White cubes next- turn order shifted but I can't quite remember how. 

The end of the round came and went with the Pirates stealing 2 VPs from everyone except me. Then we were back to blue cubes...

I'll skip the boring bits. Suffice it to say that James was able to complete the large island he was sharing with me with four settlements there in round 3, scoring about 30 points, and that he was also able to complete the other large island I had landed at the end of the game for rather less points (he'd deliberately isolated a space so only he could get to it so either I let him finish the island or it would go unfinished and I wouldn't score my settlements...). 

Neil completed his own big island but with only a couple settlements. Paul completed several small islands and then got stuck midway through turn 3 with nowhere else to go. In fact by turn 4 there were no harbours left so blue actions were useless. Me and Paul compensated with plenty of yellow actions so we scored well on goods at the end. Everyone made it to the end of the brown track with 4 techs. Mine were the aforesaid extra pirates, +5 gold, 1 extra VP per gold, and +1 yellow/black. We all got about halfway along the White track - in James' case he leapfrogged to the top player's position using a tech.

The pirates gradually built up, going 0,0,1,4,3. Mostly the other players just lost the VPs although they were able to defend on the final turn since there wasn't much else use for cubes by then. Neil and James made best use of the buildings whilst I had several left over at the end of the game.

Final scores - well James won and took the score sheet. But I think it was a pretty convincing victory, can't remember the player order apart from James was first. 

As you may have gathered, this was a less than fascinating game for me. Not quite so bad as to rule out playing again, but definitely not one I'd pick to play!