Wednesday, 9 April 2014

The Boardgamers Ride Again

I didn’t make it last week for the second week in a row, which might have been penance for my heinous counting error on the last blog, but actually it was just that I could’t make it (my 17 month old can count up to eight with less mistakes). Bless the uncredited villager for attempting to allow me to fade into obscurity.

What happened on Wednesday night? Although I can't be perfectly sure of its accuracy, my understanding from afar, is as follows…

"Some locals were enjoying a quiet drink downstairs at The Apprentice, with a wind blowing down the river and the smell of rolled dice in the air.

At 7.00 on the dot, Tonio rode down Church Street on a grey burro, sporting a sombrero and handlebar moustache to make a reappearance having read about the cowboy heroics the previous week. Andy and Dan, uncharacteristically early, were settled in upstairs where the action would take place, chewing on cigar butts and competing at spitting over the balcony. Under his wide brim, Dan had the look in his eye of someone bursting for an outlet, somewhere to let out the words he’d been letting simmer inside him for the many, many months (since his last games report). He didn’t want to play games, but he needed to get the words out lest they fester for longer. He needed a fix, an escape; he needed to blog. The double doors burst open and in strode Neil, the imposing figure that quietened the locals chatter to a few scared whispers when he looked menacingly left, then right. The whisper went up ‘it’s him, the one from the board game. It’s really him’. And it was. John B challenged Gareth II to a ‘who’s got the most games’ duel (where was James when he was needed?) The bar staff smiled meekly when Philip asked for a salmon linguine and asked bravely if he was sitting upstairs for the 164th consecutive week. Then in walked Jon, aiming to round up this rabble, have them choose their games of choice before 9.45 and mercilessly get everyone to write a report. The scene was set, and no one quite knew what was going to happen next…"

Players: John B, Jon, Gareth II, Andy, Dan, Tonio, Neil, Philip (more than likely plus some uncredited villagers as I’ll almost certainly have missed some)

Qwixx - the card game (thanks Jon)

Trust John B to be able to bring out a neat little card game that takes only a few minutes to play but has enough decisions to make it interesting. This is the card game version of the SDJ 2013 nominee (more on that later) and involves playing cards in either ascending or descending order and marking them off on a natty little scoresheet. Once played, a player cannot use a card lower / higher in that colour (think Lost Cities) which gives a nice push your luck feeling to the game.

As usual, the game's owner misrepresented the likely winning scores (see Glass Road a few weeks ago...) by claiming that 90 was his highest ever score and a winning score was likely to be much less than that…

Suffice to say, John's experience shone through, and he succeeded in beating his previous highest score. Whilst Jon and Gareth were only 1 point apart (a long way back!)

Scores: John 92, Jon 70, Gareth 69

Qwixx (thanks Jon)

With the other table still attempting to use their skill and cunning to co-operatively beat a deck of cards, John brought out the original game, which is very similar to the card game, but uses dice. It's essentially Yahtzee for the modern generation - nothing to go crazy about, but simple and quick enough to be able to play with the whole family, which makes it a winner for those of us in a certain age bracket.

This game very much followed the patten of the first, with John steaming out ahead, and this time nothing between Jon and Gareth. Jon and John were up for another round, but Gareth was pleased to see that Hanabi had finished and hurriedly exited the table of fluffy little fillers!

Scores: John 82, Jon 65, Gareth 65

Hanabi (thanks Neil)

Over an extended weekend in Suffolk I'd played two games of this co-op and, unbelievably, we'd scored 25 both times, the first times ever. Better take it to the club I decided. Three newbies, Andy, Dan - watch out for some mentions of his amnesia - and Tonio. Must have had a good tutor as we got four of the five 1s out pretty quickly and moved through the blues and whites as well.

Despite his incredible intellect Dan managed to prove that his memory is made up of nine parts amnesia. 'This card is red, and this one's a 3. Or maybe the other way round.' As it was it was down to me to discard a rather useful red 2, thankfully we got away with it! 

Eventually the green 1s reared their heads and we picked our way through quit comfortably. That I had three of the 5s meant it was down to me to complete our incredible success. For a first game it was impressive. In fact if you ask Dan about it I'm sure he'll have it tattooed on his brain, just below the yellow stickie that reads 'dementia'. Respect.

Final Score: We got 25 out of 25, CLASS!

4 Monkeys (thanks Dan - feels good, huh?)

The monkey game was called 4 Monkeys, it's sort of like mixing Ligretto with filing a tax return. We were all completely terrible at it although John B seemed to do alright in the last round. We didn't keep scores but he must have won even though he finished the first round with the kind of negative score usually reserved for Alan Davies on QI.

Escape - Curse of the Temple (thanks Dan, that’s better, let them out)

We lost twice at Escape, the first was down to our complete inability to function as a working team. In the second game Gareth II "did a Tonio" by being the last man left behind in the collapsing temple, which was funny seeing as Tonio was the one who abandoned him to his fate. There may have been some inadvertent cheating going on too, but it's not the sort of game where anybody cares much.

Railways of North America (thanks Neil)

Always up for some train action, Jon, Philip and Andy helped Neil unpack not only his Canada map but his main box too. Philip's cube distribution was notable for the proliferation of yellow cubes on the Western side of the map. Apart from that everything seemed ok. The main differences with the map were 1. The introduction of the snow line, north of which each track build costs an additional $1,000 per hex, 2. Ferry hexes to connect a few towns offshore, plus 3. Mines which cost $10,000 each and you get to put between one and five different colour cubes on a grey town, quite a gamble but when money becomes no problem it's good value. The major routes are few and only of four or five point value.

The initial auction for first player was quite high, Jon taking it for $13,000. He picked up six points for it and it looked a reasonable return. Whereas he'd begun laying track in the north-west Andy started south-west. Whilst not inevitable that they would meet it did happen. Philip started somewhat differently picking up three cards in the first turn, unusual. I went for two hotels amongst the close-knit Ottawa, Montreal & area, and began building there too. It was pretty profitable keeping away from the others and I managed to only take three loans all game. I had a poor return on my first attempt at a mine but the second proved beneficial. One more turn would have been good for me as the others were running low on deliverable cubes.

Philip built some impressive stretches of five hexes utilising one of his magic cards. Andy went for the bonus for first to
build their four engine and ended up with a 'sizer' which he used twice to take him away from the rest of us. Jon had added points for delivering the first three cubes but his initial lead had been reined in half way through and despite his concentrated efforts he couldn't compete towards the end.

An intriguing map which looked quite small for four but performed brilliantly. It's certainly expensive to build above the snow line and there are a mass of grey cities needing expansion. Scores were close at the end but victory was Andy's, very good!

Final Scores: Andy 50, Neil 45, Philip 39, Jon 38

Damage Report (thanks Dan, same time next week?)

DR is set in a disintegrating spaceship but was more like a pick up and deliver game, moving bits around the ship as required by cards in each of the board sections. I think we sort of broke the game in the second outing as we just piled up a huge amount of stuff in one of the rooms and kept turning over the repair cards until we reached one of the victory conditions. 

There's a neat but annoying mechanism where you use sand timers to delay your next turn and the delay gets longer based on some shonky logic to do with life support systems. It's real-time so there is a pervading sense of calamity all the way through; each of the characters has a fairly specific role to play so I'm not sure how much real collaboration is going on and how much is led out by the game itself.

And so, the brave board gamers had put their lives on the line, survived, and will live to shuffle another day.