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.

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