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,

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