Wednesday, 26 February 2014

If Wishes Were Cardboard

If Wishes Were Cardboard

Final week of my ‘editing’ responsibilities you’ll be pleased to know!  Was trying to talk about my wishlist last week but digressed, unusual in my writing!  So, the games I’m really keen to see this year;

La Isla – Feld, great shape board, going to be good, no doubts.

A Distant Plain, and Fire in the Lake – two GMT games and part of their counter-insurgent series (COIN).  I have Andean Abyss and Cuba Libre, keen to, but yet to, play!  These are beautifully produced and the themes are of huge interest to me.

Babel – an early Rosenberg and recently reprinted.

New Haven – reading Spielbox magazine has been a real treat whenever it comes through the letter box.  This was at Essen last year but I didn’t see it.  They like it in Spielbox and so I printed off and read the rules.  Another tile-laying, area majority type thing but cleverly done.  I will be getting this sometime this year!

Some littler games I really enjoyed playing have been Sushi Go and Tenakee, they’re high on the list and have reached ‘BUY’ status.

Then there’s load of other Essen releases that I didn’t pick up at the time, unbelievable I know.  So I’m looking at L’Aeropostale, The Duke, Triassic Terror, End of Atlantis (Philip and I sat for a good ten minutes looking longingly at the round board but no-one came to talk us through it so we left!), are all ones I’d keen to try first, mainly because they’re a tad more expensive than others and play time is also substantial.  So, I’ve read the rules and am still interested.  There are several others where that’s the case too; Vinhos, Pret-a-Porter, Kemet.  Am I ever going to catch up here?  Are my expectations a tad out of kilter with reality, hell I should say!

Then someone recently mentioned that Wolfgang Kramer’s Expedition Explorers is good. I learned Asara over the weekend, another Kiesling and Kramer that is very impressive. Made me look over the other games of theirs I don’t have, and many are well thought of; Java, Maharaja, Mexica, Torres, the list goes on! Kramer has another new card game out too, Abluxxen, great name! 

Where next? A reprint is coming out of highly regarded family fave Vikings, Kiesling, it’s on the list.  And then there are expansions due out for 7 Wonders, Bruges, Carcassonne, Hansa Teutonic and Terra Mystica that I’ll just have to get.  Completely new also for 2014 I have my beady eyes on are: Panamax – shipping through the Panama Canal, bring it on!; The Ancient World, Brenn, Cuatro; Enigma (Touro); Escape Plan (Vital); Genesis (GMT); Guilds of London (Boydell); Han (Schacht’s China remixed, you can join this and that together too, hip hip…); Industry Giants; Istanbul; KanBan (Vital); Karten Kniffel (Feldkotter); Korrigan; Mensch argere Dich nicht (Kramer again); Nehemiah;  Piwne Imperium (Beer brewing); Rise of the First Dynasty (Clowdus); Spurs (a ks I managed to hold back from, it looks great and I love cowboys and indians, but…); The Gallerist (Vital); The Ravens of Thri Sahashri ; Xalapa; The Walled City: Londonderry; and finally there are those three new Wallace’s; Mythotopia, Ships and A.N.Other.

Jeeps, is that it? Only another fifty-odd games… and it’s only just March.  Roll on October! Oh yeah, forget to mention that I’ve pre-ordered the Brazilian-created version of Coup, with artwork much more referable than the current version. Collection: Essen. Gonna have to go for certain now.

Anyway, this week’s games, what a brilliant line up, much like the esteemed player line up: Scott, Charlotte, Dominic, Paul, Gareth II, Jon, Noel, Andy, Philip, John, John Bandettini and Mark.

Love Letter

Scott and Charlotte let me join them and Dominic for this ‘cult’ game, loved around the world, hated at the Apprentice. Perhaps it’s because it’s Japanese, diminutive, or maybe it’s because the ‘you have the princess card’ game-over-syndrome, who knows? Some games aren’t meant to be!

We played three hands, Scott and I looked at each other’s wizards, Charlotte specialised in protection, Dom played it cool with a double bluff to take his second consecutive hand. And then I won the third round and I couldn’t have been less interested if I was sat in the dugout at Carrow Road. Thank the Lord we’re all different, like different games. And thank the Lord that others soon arrived to drag me out of my stupor.
Tent Key ‘Tenakee’ (Jon’s idea, not mine. Ed)

The current opener of choice got another outing. I'm not sure if this game gets easier or harder with experience - or whether it's just a complete luck-fest! Whatever - in this particular game, Neil sat to the left of Paul (the 'gimme' seat) but for some reason failed to take advantage of this huge leg-up. And somehow, when the scores were totted up, it was the aforementioned Paul that had the highest score. Jon recounted his pile just to check, but for all his game-failings, Paul does at least appear to be able to count to 68 successfully. Where those cards came from is another question entirely though.....

Final Scores; Paul – 68, Gareth – 65, Jon – 49, Neil – 49, John - 33.


Gareth was keen to give this another run and Dominic was happy to learn another game, good man! After recent outings I decided to get into the buildings a bit more, and was also keen to get involved in bridges and gondolas. Except, so was Gareth, and doing better than me early on.

Dominic went for buildings and had a decent property portfolio quite quickly. He also had funded himself well although was missing out on placing councilmen for the area majority element of the game. Gareth quickly took the first area bonus despite me getting one majority in place. It was also time to switch a little to make sure Gareth didn’t get the second bonus – Tom had won both last games earning ten VPs and he’d won by five, lesson learnt!

As it happened it was pretty straight forward to get the other five VPs bonus as Gareth started upping his buildings. I also managed to get another two area majorities and was feeling pretty confident. Dominic had missed out in the areas, not placing at all in several which was an expensive miss. Thankfully, my areas scored well, cripes! I’d won!!

Final Scores;  Neil – 76, Gareth – 64, Dominic – 52.

Trains (thank you Jon)

John II hadn't played this before, although he had dabbled in a bit of Dominion, so the leap between the 2 games wasn't huge...

John started off with a board position all to himself on the west side, Noel set up camp in a southerly point, right next to a couple of juicy bonus point locations, and Jon began on the north edge of the board, above Noel.

The garage cards turned out to be popular, allowing players to draw 2 cards, and discard 2. However, Jon and Noel May have bought slightly too many, as on at least one occasion they were stuck with a hand of garages that then proved to be annoyingly useless. The wagon factory  was also used often, allowing players to trash a train card and replace it with a train card of a value of up to 3 higher. This also became largely redundant, once Noel and Jon had bought up most of the Limited Express trains between them.

It was soon clear that John was going to build a lot on the board, taking advantage of his isolated position near a number of cities, whilst Noël and Jon were looking to build a valuable deck to try to acquire as many skyscrapers as possible. Noel also played the 'leech' tactic, sneaking surreptitiously north to cosy in on some of Jon's cities. Jon tried to return the favour, but having failed to add any lay track cards to his deck, this proved too difficult a task.

John was still building at a fair rate, but his mountain of waste was preventing him being able to buy any more valuable cards, and he was constantly a couple short of being able to pick up his desired cards.

The game was fast drawing to a conclusion, and Jon finally drew the cards that enabled him to build track into a double-station city, that he had set up earlier just far enough away from Noël the leech to allow him to keep it to himself. In the process, he ran the 4th pile of cards out, and the game ended.

The end scores were incredibly close, with Jon's final move having just pulled his score above Noel's for the victory. John had almost certainly been in the lead for almost the entire game, and with a little more experience, would probably have dumped a few more pieces of track to end the game a couple of turns earlier. But he didn't, and the rest is history.

Final Scores; Jon – 40, Noël – 37, John – 34.

Luchador! Mexican Wrestling Dice

Dice. Me and Dice, not the best of friends but hell I’d played Love Letter earlier. And after putting Dominic through Glass Road and Rialto in consecutive weeks it felt only fair to give his Mexican wrestling themed game a go.

Better with four to get the full ‘tag’ element of the game, I was allowed to double up in the red corner, taking on the might of Dominic and Gareth in the blue.

There’s a square ring – why is it called that? – onto which each wrestler throws four dice. Any knocked clear of the ring are discounted, whilst the others allow for a hit, a block, a turnover, a pin or a miss. After the dice are paired off there may be some ‘hits’ to resolve, off to the green dice for a single hit which will reduce your opponent’s power by between one and three points, all start at eighteen. If you have two hits you can use the huge black Luchador dice; this hands out even greater damage, four, five or seven, but also might cause you to injure yourself, imagine!

Later in the game – after a wrestler has lost a third of his power – they become susceptible to being ‘pinned’ to the canvas. If you get the chance to pin your opponent they have three ‘yahtzee-style’ rolls to free hands on three dice of their four dice.

The tag element is thorough, and the artwork is superb. Great fun all round in fact. The first bout was closely contested with my two wrestlers keeping each other highly motivated. Until Gareth, with lady wrestler ‘Ice’ pinned me down, I mean who wouldn’t succumb under such circumstances. Bout over.

For the second, Dominic switched teams and bravely took on Gareth’s tag pair from the off. All a bit tit-for-tat for a while until Gareth hit the big dice of doom and we had no option but to tag… which we did repeatedly until both of us reached only three power each, surviving one pin action. And then, out of nowhere we found the ultimate strength, a pin in return. Unbreakable! Little Dog and the Bam Bam of Fire had achieved victory from the jaws of defeat! Oh yes!

Suburbia (thanks Paul)

"It's like Sim City in a board game" said John B. Count us in said Mark and Paul. I'd heard similar claims and although I'd had fun building cities in games before, none had quite hit the Sim City spot. And the benefit of playing it as a board game is that it'll be over in an hour (or so) - even if you want 'just one more go'... unlike its electronic cousin.

The object is to build the most attractive suburb so that you have the largest population by the end of the game. However you do need to pay for expansion, so you must manage your money too.

All players are building one suburb of the same city that everyone else is constructing, so there is some interaction, although not a huge amount. In a turn a play may select a hexagonal tile (or a longer edge piece) which they pay for and play down into their 'burb. However on playing a tile they must try to keep the right balance of earning income so that they can afford to do more stuff, and keeping their neighbourhoods attractive enough so that the people keep coming. Big points may also be won at the end of the game for 'goals', of which there are some assigned to an individual and some that are for the whole community.

Tile placement is very important as placing a factory right next to a residential district might decrease the attractiveness of the area and therefore the population might grow much more slowly (f at all). Whereas building nice residential districts next to parks and lakes would make for an extremely attractive region, although you'd probably go bankrupt before too long.
John started off by playing the long game as he firstly too a 'border' which allows him very good income. After that he made a point of collecting all of the airports and related tiles, plus many of the commercial areas.

Paul started with some heavy industry, which increased his income a bit, but then ended up pasting himself into a corner and he soon found that his suburb was turning into factory city. The money started to come in, but unsurprisingly the people kept away.

Mark went residential and soon too the lead in the people stakes, although his income was average at best.

John was the first the start bringing in the really big bucks, although once Paul played a tile to double the income benefit that he'd just received he got up the maximum income and started to milk it. Mark started adding border tiles and keeping with the residential strategy.

At the end of the game, Paul was ahead as he'd used his cash to construct some very attractive areas which bought the hoards in for each of the last few turns. However he was only just ahead of John and John had sewn up many of the hefty 'goal' bonuses (like having the most airports and commercial areas) which gave him a well-earned victory.

All players claimed high enjoyment factor and John was the press ganged into playing again with others who'd had their eye on it the first time round.

Final Scores; John - 120, Paul - 97, Mark – 83


Kingdom Builder - with the Nomads expansion (thanks again Paul!)

After the first round of games finished, some gamers went of the play others titles and five were left looking for something to while away the last hour on. 'Kingdom Builder' suggested one? 'That's only a four player game' was the reply. 'Not with the Nomads expansion' he was answered, and so Kingdom Builder with the Nomads expansion was laid out.

The players decided to play with only one map and one victory card from the expansion.

The regions and abilities were to play an extra settlement on a desert space, play an extra settlement on a grassland space, move an existing settlement to a space of the same type as is currently being played, and to move an existing settlement as many spaces in one direction as will allow without bumping into an obstacle, like a mountain, water, the edge of the board or another settlement (the Nomads new bit).

The victory conditions were extra points for placing next to a mountain, points for all settlements in a horizontal line and placing settlements next to other players’ settlements (the Nomads expansion).

It was noted early on that there were very few mountains on the board, and so that particular scoring mechanism was always going to be limited.

John's starting comment was that he always gets the first placement wrong. Later in the game he could be heard lamenting the same thing this time round. Paul set about capturing as many special powers as possible (with a preference for the new ones which allowed quick movement over longer distances) while concentrating on the longest horizontal line, which happened to be right at the bottom of the board. Neil was also placing down at the bottom so those two players complemented each other by laying settlements next to each other.

As five players were filling up a board which hadn't increased in size from the four player version, it became apparent that almost all tiles on the board would be next to another player, however not everyone would have laid the same number of settlements by the end of the game. Noel and John kept close by Jon, and were also going for a long horizontal line. The large amount of water in the mid-section of the playing area meant that for the first part of the game, Neil and Paul were in the south, with Jon, John and Noel all in the North. John seems to have the mountains sewn up, but had less of a horizontal line. Noel and John did okay for horizontal lines and both seemed to have a fair number of settlements down on the board. Neil had quite a few down, but it was Paul that used his many 'extra placement' powers to bring the game to a close, and as so often happens in these games, the person in control does best.

Final Scores; Paul - 78, Noel - 67, John - 67, Neil - 66, Jon – 55.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Design Me Fun, please!

Week three of my bogging duties… let’s refer briefly to that games wishlist I mentioned before (not too much though).  I guess one thing I’ve always done in my life is to find something I like and explore it, deeply.  Let me explain.  Musically, I’ll come across an artist or band that I like and have to buy everything they’ve ever released, everything.  Gradually, I’ve let the ‘lesser’ material go and yet I’ll still go out of my way to listen to anything new they do, just to make sure they haven’t returned to previous glories. 

It’s the same with authors.  I read a book I thoroughly enjoy and I’ll add the rest of their catalogue onto my Amazon wishlist, gradually picking them up and wading through the lot.  It’s a huge commitment is writing a novel, so if someone’s written one I like there’s fair chance I’ll like more of their work for certain.  If only that’s how it pans out for me!  And then film directors are the final spreadsheet I have.  Again, if they’ve made something I thought was special then I’ll go out of my way to get to see their other output.

With boardgames, it comes down to designers.  Here it’s a bit more hit and miss I think to some extent.  But, I still fall for a game and want to play others by the same designer.  Outrageously, I have thirty-two games by Martin Wallace.  Even more outrageous is the fact that I’ve only played four of them, arghh!  And on Treefrog – his own publishing company – at present, is an offer to pick up his three 2014 games, for £140, limited edition versions at that.  Now, I’m pretty likely to get them anyway.  And how can I miss out on those limited editions, his previous ones have been very nice?  But can I justify spending that much money when I’m cutting back?  Of course not.  So, it could be time to churn some of the collection, to fund replacements.  But I need to at least play them first right?  How the hell am I ever going to do that?

Next up in the designer stakes comes Stefan Feld.  Now, I have played a lot more of his games and do enjoy most of them a lot.  Yet, there are still six of the fifteen I haven’t played.  Alan Moon and Klaus-Jurgen Wrede don’t really count that much, their Ticket to Ride and Carcassonne families are all too similar.  So to say that I have fifteen and ten games by those two would be a little misleading, and yet there are differences in gaming experience in all of their games.  At least I’ve played the majority of theirs now.  Next on my favourites list comes James’s mate Wolfgang Kramer – the man who invented the scoring track around the game board no less! – and I own eleven of his games, played six, won one (Yeovil anyone?).  I think he may be my favourite in that his games vary considerably and yet are pretty straight forward and interesting.  Also around the ten games owned mark are Uwe Rosenberg, Richard Breese (hi buddy!) and Reiner Knizia.  Solid folks all.  Still need to play twenty of their games but am very keen on all that I have.

So, these eight designers make up 112 games in my collection.  In all there are forty-five designers I am currently looking out for, writing that down seems such a stupid figure.  Ne’er mind.  More ramblings next week!!

A welcome return this week at the Apprentice to a number of stars; Soren, dropping off a game for Tom, Dan II – Natasha – on a promise of Robinson Crusoe before Jon’s late cancellation left him high and dry looking for a ‘Friday’ to play with, and Dominic, back from travels and some Jon-style home decorating by the sound of things.  Great to see you all again chaps!
The remaining loyal band was made up of Scott and Charlotte, Amanda, Gareth II, Andy, Philip and me.  Scott and Charlotte had a game of cribbage going on when I arrived and I never asked who won, sorry! And other games played tonight were Through The Ages, Origin and Gluck Auf!

Granny Wars

This was a Martin Wallace promoted New Zealand card game I pledged on late last year and have played several times at home with it going down well.  Good to give it a first outing at the IBG with Scott, Charlotte, Soren and I picking up a granny each to support over ten rounds.  Basically, your granny is secret and you’re trying to give her as many positive point cards as possible.  You have a hand of ten cards which range from -5 to +5 and you get to play one on your turn, laying it beside the granny of choice.  Grannies of course suffer from eating too much sherry trifle, have unexpected visitors to call and even get to teach their husbands how to knit!
The interesting rules allow you to place say a negative three onto a positive three and ‘bounce’ that latter card onto another granny, so a six point swing straight off on one granny and another receiving the plus three.  The opposite works too.  Then there are ‘golden granny’ cards with special abilities and that allow even bigger influences to happen.

Kicking off fairly tamely in the first few rounds we managed to put all five – there’s one more available than there are players – grannies into negative positions.  I then decided it was time to nail my colours to Grandma Kelly and played a useful golden card allowing me to add a card face down.  That was almost the end for her though as she was then picked on unmercifully.

The remaining grans weren’t fairing much better to be honest, one or two points only here and there.  I was feeling pretty good though, sitting confidently with a plus six golden granny and the chance to add another plus five to Grandma Kelly before that too, until, Charlotte played her own golden card and stole my six, life for my granny changed forever.

The final round saw a few positive cards going down as everyone attempted to boost their final scores.  And it was down to Scott, and his cosy Granny XXXX to take the game by a single point from me. 

Final Scores; Scott: +5, Neil: +4, Soren: -1, Charlotte: -2.

Glass Road

Rosenberg’s lighter release of 2013 got its first outing at the IBG this week, I’m pretty sure it’ll be back again frequently.  I’d had a two-player run through at home and offered to teach the game to Dan II, Gareth II and Dominic, thanks for your patience guys!

All players start with their land board, all having three starting buildings plus six forests, two quarries, two ponds and two shrubberies.  They also get two resource wheels, one for glass production, the other for brick. Finally, each get a hand of fifteen character cards which are also identical.

During a round – and there are only four – each player chooses five of his fifteen cards to play. They next select one of these to play in the first of three turns, it’s placed face down in front of them. Cards are then revealed in order, any opponent who has a matching character card in their hand has to reveal this, both/all then take either of the two actions associated with the card. If the original player is lucky and no one has matched his card he gets to take both actions. And that’s all there is to it.

Except for your choices of course… not only are you thinking which five cards to choose of the fifteen each round, you have to decide which order to play them in, and which you may be able to get an extra action on through someone else choosing that card. You then have to opt for one or other of the actions unless you’re lucky enough to get both.

And then each action is, naturally, packed with further options. Which resources do you want, and when are you going to have to convert them into glass or bricks, and what are the consequences of that? You may want to undertake some deforestation, or close a quarry, fill in a pond, or even de-shrub, all to make room for buildings. Ah, the buildings. There are eighty-nine of ‘em, you’ll have a choice of at least twelve, and they all help in one way or another. Basically split into three categories: first, buildings that convert one resource into more of another; second, those that provide a one-time lump; third, those that produce victory points at the end of those four rounds.

Amazingly, especially if you’ve suffered my rules explanations before, we hardly referred to the rule book at all, despite the choices the rules are very clear and straight forward, hurrah! We did take some time however, to read all the buildings, and then to work out what combination of cards you’d need to play, and in which order, and to second guess how many actions you might actually get. That’s some thinking time. Whilst a tiny bit guilty myself, Dan and Gareth took their time to consider every possible alternative. Only to have their required double actions slimmed down to one more often than not.

To be honest I can’t remember who did what other than Dan was collecting ponds, or was that quarries? The latter I think, and he had amassed so many that victory was his by miles, impressive. We all managed to waste a few actions but they’ll be sorted out next time. And once you realise how quickly the game is over, and that you’re not going to build that many buildings, no doubt the problem-solving time will diminish too.

Final Scores; Dan II – 26½, Neil - 20½, Dominic – 17, Gareth II – 16.

Origin (thanks James!)

So on the top table this week were Soren, Amanda, Phil and myself... although fair to say I think Phil was somewhat forced into this position due to his late arrival and that games of Glass Road and Through the Ages had already kicked off... he was shooting glances at the other table in the same way a dog might suggest that you should share your dinner with him...
So in order we played Origin and Gluck Auf, both quick to learn and over in around an hour so perfect fodder for a Wed evening.

Firstly Origins, another Essen game, but one that seems to have slipped by both Neil and myself, so thanks for Soren for bringing it along. Pretty simple game really revolving around expansion out from a central position across a world map, mixing area control and set collection.
Players have set goals to earn points, while also picking up technology cards allowing for certain rule tweaks... but the real strength of the game is in the components. The components of this game are truly wonderful, almost worth owning for this reason alone. to slowly populate the board players place wooden totems of varying colours and sizes, and the result is a really eye-catching effect. Think of gigamic providing the pieces for a standard euro area control game and you might get an idea.

Anyways, to the game... to be honest we were all looking to beat Soren as he had played many times before... the rules didn't really become clear until a few rounds in, but after this it felt very easy to play... After about 45 minutes it looks like a 2 horse race between Soren and myself, and then he pounced at the end game (brought on by Phil) to double his points and eventually win by about 10...   I gotta say this looked better than a lot of games I came back from Germany with, I'm already looking to see how I can pick up a copy... for cheap of course :)
Next to Gluck Auf... Amanda had to leave at this point but that left the 3 of us. First time out Phil aced this game with a coal strategy so I was watching for this from early on. It was new to  Soren so my feelings early on was to watch Phil and I should be ok. I've played this about 5 times by now and I'm starting to see some useful ways to boost a score... you've really got to be paying attention to what others are collecting and then go for the gaps...  lots of 1st and 2nd places, and not trying to complete where it's not possible.  There's also a lot of points in  the last 2 phases, so checking out other's mines should give an indication what areas to go for.
By the end of the 2nd round I'd managed to push ahead using some of those thoughts above, and I could see that Phil was looking a little stuck as he was winning a few bonuses handily, but didn't seem to have much breadth in his completed orders. I'd managed to get into a nice position gaining lots of 1st and 2nd places so looks in good shape for the last round.

Which is kinda how it panned out. I ended up about 10-15 ahead of Phil who ended up similar ahead of Soren (although I might have Soren and Phil the wrong way round there... sorry, I don't have the scores in front of me...). I've played this before and it's been close but this one had a pretty big gap... it's always pleasing to beat Phil in a game, as he's usually one of the more analytical members of the club... once he get's his mind around the strategies, its tough to complete...  however this rare victory probably means I should never play this with him again... :)

22.10 Lancaster or Stone Age. Lancaster new to Dan and Dominic, go for it! Dan gave Gareth a full eight minutes to explain the rules and he did a great job of it.

I decided to go off to France whilst Dominic starting building up his own castle and Gareth was busy getting more and upgrading his knights. What was Dan doing? A little bit of this, plenty of that, pretty much everything.

Gareth certainly showed his ruthless side, no hesitation in zapping everyone else’s plans to pieces. I was still trying to collect earls to influence the laws, Dominic’s castle was earning him useful points via the laws, and Dan was still moseying along doing a lot of everything.

Wow, talk about speed Stone Age, speed Lancaster could be the way to go.  Don’t let Dan get going though, he’ll walk it.

Final Scores; Dan II – 55, Gareth II – 50, Dominic – 48, Neil – 45.

All the better bloggers were missing this week, so, as someone once said,

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Club Romance

With Valentine’s Day on the horizon, it was a nice number at the club this week.  Plenty of earlybirds and then, two members who had clearly concocted late arrivals to enable their relationship to blossom in peace.  Much more on that later.  Time for some digression before Jon, GarethII, Paul, Tom, Amanda, Philip, Andy and me get on to gaming.

Well, well, well… six weeks into the New Year and my curb on buying games is going ok IMHO.  James threw me an early curve-ball in the form of an original, Japanese, Machi Koro, but resist I did.  After all I’d already picked up Rokoko from him: too cheap to turn down!  The wishlist meanwhile, is growing, exponentially.  So, yes, I did get suckered in by the Livestock Uprising ks mentioned last week, and yes I bought the company’s first release, ‘LakeBilly’ an age 21+ (!!) card game of you buying a boat to get folk across the lake to a bbq/party, currency is beer, hurrah!  Still it wasn’t too much - £15 - and no customs charge to add thankfully.  I’ve backed the expansion to City of Iron and that was paid for yesterday.  Amazingly, that’s it for Kickstarter for now.  Nothing else on the horizon, which is great news for the loft.  Although, saying that, there are three done and dusted, just waiting production but not due until May, June and September respectively.

January did see a few boxes enter the Horahouse I will admit.  I’d added a few to the wishlist following Rahdo’s recent videos of underrated games and Joel Eddy’s ‘running through the shelves’ video [sorry can't find the link right now, might be part of his games of 2013 vid].   And then some geek spots that someone’s selling one of them on Amazon for £14 inc postage, not seen it under £26.99 so that was too good to be true.  So, my second ever space-themed game, whizzed its way, by mini-van, into my life; Star Trek Expeditions (Reiner Knizia no less), and I have to say the minis are nice.  But hell if it doesn’t have an expansion, with three additional character figures; Scotty, Sulu, and Checkov.  Bought.

Oh, and I ordered Franz-Benno Delonge’s ‘Manila’.  I think I’ll like his games – famous last words - and so have several; Container, Hellas, Dos Rios, but have yet to play any of them: how the hell does that work?  Same old, same old…  anyway, on the Geek someone had spotted a Chinese site DHgate which was selling the game for £24 delivered.  Hell, it’s €42 new on the marketplace for starters.  I checked the forum and all who’d ordered had received so took the plunge on that too. 

And just to make sure I was getting some gaming fix at the start of the year I bought some new cotton baggies and have some more BGG store promos coming for Nations, China and Triassic Terror.  Did I mention I bought China having enjoyed it so much at Tom’s?  No, well I did, and obviously it’s difficult to buy just one game at a time so I picked up the Alien Artefacts expansion for Race for the Galaxy!  Honestly, that’s it to date.  The two other pre-orders don’t count.  Not at all.
Ok, I hear you, here are this week's reports...

Battle Line  (thanks Jon)

Gareth was the lone early bird this week, until Jon showed up, so they had a quick game of this Knizia classic. This was incredibly close, going to the last card drawn from the deck, with Jon failing to find the Blue 5 that he needed and so Gareth was able to claim the final flag for a 5-4 victory.

This is the ultimate 'I've got 7 cards in my hand and I don't want to play any of them!' game. Good fun.


Next up for Jon and Gareth was stiff competition from Paul and Neil in this very popular filler, can’t believe James gave it away, generosity knows no bounds, as the cliché goes!

Rules were explained to Gareth and off we went, seven rounds of gambling, bluffing and the odd piece of fortune.  With Paul starting a cagey first round saw Jon picking up a useful 10 points or so.  Going first has some advantages if you can set yourself up to collect a reasonable return.  So I did in the next round, but Jon again capitalised pretty well.  Gareth played an interesting set of braves blocking all three totems and saw off a variety of cards. 

And then Jon took another useful set, how was this happening?  With the start player coming back around neither Paul or I managed to collect anything significant.  Jon on the other hand picked up a wonderfully tall totem and it was game over to be honest.

Final Scores; Jon – 72, Neil – 50, Paul – 44, Gareth II – 36.

Trains  (cheers Paul, great piccies again thanks!)

As we were still waiting for James and Dan to arrive, we decided to go for something that wouldn’t take too long, and Trains was a nice precursor to the meatier Railways of the World which was being eyed up by Andy and Philip.

The starting places showed the Philip would be in the West, Andy in the South, Neil in the East and Paul in the middle.

Andy started off by buying an express train and declining to build anything as he didn’t want to accumulate any waste. Neil started to spread North and South from his lonely spot far away from the others. Paul copied Andy. Philip copied Neil. 

As the game progressed, Neil was still on his own and was able to spread his wings without any impediment. Paul came South into Andy’s territory and West into Philips patch. He’d bought a very expensive subway excavation card to let him do this on the cheap. Philip pushed back at Paul, as he’d bought several subway excavations and near to the end they both had almost exactly the same placements on the board. By three quarters of the way through the game Andy had laid three rails, but had collected masses of end game points with many skyscrapers, having focussed on high scoring trains and cards to let him cycle the deck quickly.

When the scores were counted up, the main surprise having seen Andy gather up all the high pointers, was that he didn’t win by more. He demonstrated perfectly how to win while not laying too many rails on the board. 

Final Scores; Andy – 58, Paul – 49, Philip – 47, Neil – 46.

[yes I know, it's upside down... I turned it the right way up and the perspective made me throw-up, all over may laptop, mm]

Peloponnes  (thanks again Jon!)

Tom and Jon had been keen to play this with some of the expansions, and roped newbies Amanda and Gareth in for the ride too. Dan was also lined up, but following his opening bid, James turned up and Dan saw an opportunity for some 2-player action that would be a little more up his street - and so slid quietly away from the Civ-builders.

This game was played with the sea expansion tiles, and an extra building / land tile each round (which gives a few more options, and less chance of being totally shut out of an auction).  Amanda had a starting civilisation which gave her 2 population each round, which combined with her population-heavy tiles, was giving her a big income each round. Unfortunately, having to feed this mass of people proved difficult, and she saw a number if them die during the course of the game.

Jon was shut out of an early auction, and found himself playing catch-up from then on. He managed to avoid the plague, and was managing to feed his population as required, but was finding that his (lack of) tiles were not worth many points.

Tom's buildings were profitable for him, and the purchase of a sea tile also helped, but he was sometimes short of cash, and ended up with only 7 population.

Gareth invested in buildings that gave him immunity from disasters, and he took every opportunity to remind the other players of this fact. Unfortunately, he was almost part of a disaster himself, as he managed to toss one of the disaster tokens down the back of a radiator, which necessitated a lengthy break whilst everyone got down on their hands and knees to look for it. With the help of Paul's phone torch it was eventually found, along with a party popper, part of a Christmas cracker, a plastic sword from Pop up Pirates (!) and about 3 years’ worth of dust. Nice. Suffice to say, Gareth was consequently demoted from his role as master of disasters...

Anyway, the game drew to a close with Jon purchasing a sea tile in the final round in an attempt to boost his buildings total. Amanda also purchased a sea tile (her second), which had Tom muttering bad words under his breath. The plague took out 5 of her population, but she still ended with a healthy 10 people.

Gareth had not quite foreseen the final supply round occurring quite so quickly after the previous one, and was unable to feed all his population. And so, newbie Amanda produced the most balanced civilisation, scoring an excellent 30 points to comfortably win a high-scoring game.

Final Scores; Amanda - 30 pop (31 build), Jon 25 build - (30 pop), Tom - 21 pop (32 build), Gareth - 18 pop (28 build).


My fave game of last year.  I’m not very good at it but always enjoy the choices and selections you get forced to take.  Anyway, first time outing for Gareth, and Paul and Tom had played once before each.  We put Gareth in charge of shuffling and dealing out cards although he had a few problems counting to six, as some wit put it, ‘well, he does only have five fingers’.  Mm, indeed.

Tom, reminding us how well he’d done first time out, went for his ‘delay the vote’ building, and indeed used it to good effect.  In fact all the others collected a good number of buildings which give a solid victory point total at game’s end.  I decided not to this time and I was probably wrong in that strategy!

I managed to get the majority in three areas by game end although points totals weren’t high enough, I hadn’t won enough of the ‘bridge’ or ‘gondola’ cards to capitalise.  Indeed, Tom picked up these brilliantly to collect both 5 VP bonuses. 

The Doge track was more influential this game than I think it has been in my previous plays.  I started out well on it but then Paul took charge only for Gareth to sneak up on him, and then, just because of the way the cards fell in the last round I had no option but to take control of it at the end.  Tom kept out of everyone’s way.

Despite picking up some useful VPs during the game through bridges I was overtaken by Tom in the final round and he was clear.  Paul and Gareth made up quite a gap on both of us with some useful building and area 2nd/3rd place points to make the final scores pretty close.

Final Scores; Tom – 67, Neil – 62, Gareth II – 58, Paul – 57.

Railways of Mexico  (and again Jon, good man)

It's been 3 months since this game hit the table at IBG, but with Andy bringing it along tonight, he quickly found a couple of other willing participants in Philip and Jon. And with 3 players, the Mexico map is perfect.

Phil won the start player auction, and set up the first link in the north, at El Paso. Andy took the polar opposite position, and built between Veracruz and Salina Cruz. Jon had been perusing the cards, and picked the one that allowed him to place a locomotive on another player's track, and claim a point every time it was used. To Phil's annoyance, he chose Phil's track, which looked like it was going to get plenty of use early on. Jon's second and third turns were also used to pick up cards, including a Mexico City hotel, leaving him in the strange position of not having built any track (or taken any loans) at the end of round one, but having scored a point.

Jon then decided to actually build some track, and started up in the north-east at San Antonio. Phil decided to circumvent Jon's 'leeching' tactic, and built a second link to El Paso, taking out more loans in the process (Jon was certain that it wasn't legal to build the same link twice, but couldn't find it in the rules and it turns out that it is legal - sorry Phil! Asking Tom and Neil at the other table wasn't helpful either. "Who is Phil trying to screw?" they asked. "Jon" came the reply. "Then it's legal!!!") Phil then took revenge on Jon and also built the same link into San Antonio, to try to steal some of Jon's blue cubes (although he claimed that it was only to get a single blue cube to earn the 4 point bonus for delivering 4 different colours...) Meanwhile, Andy was happily building all alone in the South - until Jon decided to build into Salina Cruz for the newly revealed service bounty.

Phil had now left Jon alone and was starting to build down the west coast. Andy was also heading west, delivering some red cubes to Mexico City in the process (which Jon appreciated, due to his hotel) and picking up the bonus for the first 3 link delivery. Jon was heading down the east coast, upgrading his engine to level 2 in the process to continue to increase his income.

By the mid-game, it was quite tight, although Phil was lagging a little and also had more loans than the other 2 players. All the major lines were completed, with Jon picking up a handy 12 points for the east coast and Mexico City-Torreon routes, and Andy and Phil picking up one each. Jon's east coast network had a number of handy 3-point deliveries, and another service bounty (to Brownsville) helped him start to pull ahead.

The cities were starting to empty of cubes, and with Jon's lead, it was to his advantage to end the game as quickly as possible. This he duly did, delivering the last cube from Tampico, and although Andy had upgraded to a level 4 engine, he did not have enough available deliveries (or time) to make this advantage count. Phil had run out of worthwhile cubes, and needed to build more track in the final round to maximise his score. However, the number of loans he had taken reduced his score, leaving him in last place, with Andy taking a comfortable second.

All in all, another great game of this classic, with the Mexico map proving to be tight but very interesting for 3 players. Let's not leave it another 3 months eh?!

Final Scores; Jon - 50, Andy - 41, Phil - 29.

And I can hear you asking about Dan and James.  What a delightful pre-Valentines twosome they made.  Shuffling from table to table to find the best light to catch each other in, even allowing Amanda to try to re-instate some manhood into them.  Yet, the evening was theirs, and theirs alone.  Here is James’ story;
So my romantic quiet rendezvous with Dan was spoilt by the presence of a dozen other interlopers at the pub... a disturbing collecting of bald heads, beards and bumfluff. Still not to let that disturb us we managed to sneak away to find time for a few games, as well as allowing Amanda into our reverie to protect her from the horrors of an otherwise train filled evening.
First up was an introduction to Pax Porfiriana, a game that has been praised by many for providing deep game play within what is a small and someone incongruous box. No time for a full game, but a chance for Dan to teach me the rules, and in the process use his definitive advantage to try and sneak a quick win... but no, through a combination of cunning, guile and randomness (and mostly luck) I managed to hold out for about a dozen rounds and thus the game ended a draw.... I think I did some good stuff with loyalty and seemed to be getting lots of cash each round, Dan was trying to provoke fights with his army (you just can't stop him you know), and other stuff too, but to be honest I didn't really know much about what was happening. It's a complex game for sure, would be good to have a full proper game sometime, but I doubt it'll ever fit on a Wed with a 2 hour game time...
Next up we picked out The Little Prince: Make Me a Planet, a somewhat cutesy tile laying game, which feels like it's something that should be played with under 10's but actually has enough gameplay to keep 11 year olds (like Dan and me) also entertained. Players fill a 4x4 grid building a planet and being scored based on the tiles placed in the corners. Dan was going for street lights, stars and some other stuff, I was looking to build a big score by creating a zoo with some stunning sunsets... and, as it happens the zoo came out top with Dan losing some points by having too many trees. I think I ended up with the most volcano's but didn't make much difference... we both agreed the game is probably better with 3/4 players... but didn't want to invite anyone else in to ruin the ambience and magic we had going between us that night...

Then, some of the other games seemed to finish and like drunks piling out after closing time on New Year’s Eve those player slouched and mulled around, bemoaning their somewhat empty lives and looking with envy at the cosy thing Dan and me had going... A branch disappeared for some Rialto, I saw from the corner of my eye Jon launching the Railways of Mexico map on a table so Dan and myself welcomed Amanda to our coterie to play a couple of smaller games...

First up
Excape, a game of dice and luck, and luck and dice... and well mostly luck... but with dice. We played, I won, but I'm not sure quite what we were doing other than rolling dice to be honest... Still good to try something new!

Next up was a revisit of
Pickomino which I've taken a shine to so keep trying to get on the table whenever I can... having not won yet I thought my luck might be in this week... Dan seemed to get off to a hesitant start while Amanda picked up a few decent scores, quickly realising the main fun of the game was in taking tiles from other players, and proving deceptively good at it! I was feeling like nothing was really going, but seemed to be ok and in with a shout by mid-way... it was around this stage that I think Dan managed to switch in some loaded dice for his rolls as he started building a pile of tiles to dwarf the rest of us... and thus, despite the best ganging up efforts of Amanda and I, we couldn't seem to topple Mt Dan and I think at the end he had something like 7 tiles while we had none left. I'm not sure how he was switching in those loaded dice, but it's something to watch out for next time.

Amanda could sense she was becoming an unwelcome extra in Dan and my evening so bade the party farewell, leaving Dan and me to head to Jaipur and savour the eastern delights therein. Great little two player card game, and Dan picked it up quickly beating me comprehensively in the first round... before I remembered to mention to him it was a best of three game... oops... Game two was more successful for me, and then, despite game three being the closest, I was able to clinch the overall victory.

So, games completed and colleagues shunned we both at this point decided to jettison the squares left behind with their trains... Dan to head home for an early start and me to see if there were any roads above water in Egham so I could get home (answer - just about)...

So a different kind of evening for both of us... several small games and a shared collection of victories. We didn't fall out once as well, which is good for Dan and me, and after such a pleasant evening I wasn't surprised when I got home to find that he'd managed to slip his phone number into my wallet... I guess another display of those dice dealing skills he was showing earlier.
Dan, coy.