Wednesday, 2 April 2014

The Magnificent Seven

Standing up for the greater good by laying lives on the line and sticking up for the defenceless masses against a disproportionate number of bad guys is a little inappropriate in 2014 Isleworth, so this magnificent band of seven had to compromise and play out their adventures in a settings that relied more on cardboard, cubes, strategy in the mind, calculated risks (sorry… die rolls) instead. Looks like they still had fun though, and although a few people did fall by the wayside in their respective table top settings, there was the added bonus that they managed to all get up and go home at the end of the evening. 

I wasn’t there to join in, but it did sure sound like a lot of fun was had by all (even Neil when press ganged into a game that he's learnt to love). Enterprises were built in Japan, gems traded in Arabia, whole European Kingdoms were constructed, ancient temples were raided, German rail networks forged and (ahem) some kiwi Granny’s bashed each other into submission. Not a bad night’s work.

The brave souls who fought their way through the evening and came out the other side were: James, Lucas, Donald, Neil, Jon, Dominic, Andy and Philip

Machi Koro (thanks Neil)

Good to see James and his colleagues Donald and Luca as I arrived. James was trying to sell them on another, yes another, Japanese mini game that I’d never heard of. As keen as I was it wasn’t to be. Instead we played a different Japanese mini game, the wonderful Machi Koro which I must admit to thinking about during the last week, it’s been a while since its last outing.

Anyway, things started out quite sanely with each of us picking up fairly identical cards. Eventually something had to give and it was down to Donald to start picking up Corner Stores. Luca tried pinching two TV Stations but we all put him right on that one, although somehow, every time it was his turn he had ten money to spend; way too close to the bank for my liking!!

For absolutely no reason whatsoever I bought a Cheese Factory. People have won with this frequently. The fact that I hadn’t picked up a single Ranch, or anything else that might have been useful hadn’t occurred to me… anyway, on to the winning strategy, pick up loads of Corner Stores, and then continuously roll fours and the game is all yours. Donald managed this at least three times on the trot and it was game over. Fast ending. Well played Sir!

Sultan (thanks Neil)

Jon had introduced this to us some time ago and funnily enough I almost brought it along too. As it was there was Jon, Dominic and me setting up as Philip and Andy arrived so it was a full player version of this one. Everyone has a hand of fifteen cards (1-15 oddly enough), which are used to place one per round against the gem of your choosing. There’s only three gems available each round, so it’s tight, to say the least. Andy and I went pretty low early on and so after the first two rounds we’d collected nothing.

The different gems; diamonds, rubies, emeralds, lapis lazuli and frozen urine, are worth different values each come end game scoring. Bonuses for multiples of gems are available. Andy and I started going mad for the most valuable Lapis Lazuli (blue) and Emeralds, sharing them equally, not a good investment. John was picking up some rubies, a lot of rubies I thought, and Dom was simply making sure he got something every round. Philip, in true Philip style, was unpredictable but did seem to be collecting several gems.

The final scoring actually determined who was doing what. Or not doing what in the case and Andy and I. Philip and Jon were tied on 49 but way out in front was Dom with a massive 62, wow!

Kingdom Builder (thanks Jon)

3 players – new to Dom; and Neil has learned to tolerate the game too, which is nice. Jon had all the expansions available, and chose 1 tile from the Nomads expansion, and a mission card from that expansion too, which as it happens, really mixed the game up nicely. It did take Neil about 3 hours to find the baggies containing the appropriate tokens, but he got there eventually…..
The scoring cards for this game were Workers (1 pt for settlements around locations), Farmers (3 pts for each settlement in the sector with your fewest number of settlements) and Shepherds (2 pts if you have no empty spaces of the same terrain type next to a settlement just placed). The Shepherds score during the game rather than at the end, which is a nice change. The Nomads tiles (of which there were 3) award minor bonuses to the player that picks them up, but the new location (Quarry) was very interesting, adding the ability to place walls on the board, effectively blocking off areas.

The Shepherds scoring is very interesting, as it now matters in which order you place your settlements. Get it right, and you could score 4 or 6 points on a turn, which can be big difference in a game that is often decided by small margins. As it turned out, Jon made the most of this scoring, ending with 37 points from this card alone, as opposed to 24 to Neil and 22 to Dom.

Neil was doing a good job of spreading his settlements out between the sectors, to maximise his scores for the Farmers, whereas Jon had trapped himself on a small island in one sector, limiting himself to a mere 5 settlements there until the penultimate turn. By that point, he had picked up the second Quarry tile (Neil had picked up the first one early doors and was making good use of it) and used it to effectively block his access to a terrain type, allowing himself to spread out into the 4th sector. Dom was struggling to maximise his Farmer points, and only managed 6 settlements in his ‘fewest’ sector, although he did use up all his settlements first, bringing the game to a close.

With all the points totted up, Jon’s advantage in the Shepherd scoring proved to be the deciding factor, giving him a healthy lead at the end, from Neil and newbie Dom, who had picked up the strategies really well for a first game.

The Quarry tile, and the Shepherds scoring gave this game a very fresh feel, adding new subtleties and scoring opportunities, and I think that the 2 expansions have now made this a complete game, increasing its replayability and longevity. Perfect!

Score: Jon 89, Neil 68, Dom 54

The Adventurers: The Temple of Chac (thanks Jon)

It’s been far too long since this game saw the light of day at IBG. It’s one of those games that you wouldn’t want to play every week, but every once in a while is perfect. And it’s not really about mechanics and strategies, it’s all about the story…

And so it was, that 6 brave adventurers found themselves ensconced within the depths of the treasure-laden Temple of Chac, desperately racing to get out before being squished by the giant boulder of doom. The first room promised many treasures for those willing to linger, as well as clues detailing how to safely cross the lake of molten lava. However, the walls of this room were moving ominously (if somewhat slowly) inwards, hastening the adventurers exit into the corridor outside. Jon was the only adventurer to dwell long enough to examine all 4 clues, although his tiny brain struggled to fully understand their true meaning. Luka was the first out of this room, and then decided to take his life in his hands and start to cross the molten lava on the carved stones of disintegration. One step – all was well, and treasure was his reward. Second step – oh dear – his luck ran out and he plunged to his death. Fortunately, Luka had another team-mate who was willing to join the fray, albeit from a slightly perilous position once the boulder had passed. 

All the other adventurers raced for the alcoves of Yahtzee, to try to extract the treasures hidden within. Dom’s abilities to roll dice in a pre-determined fashion were strangely limited, whereas they simply tumbled out of Neil’s hands in perfect order, giving him the opportunity to greedily gather up the treasures within. James paused as he passed the molten lava – he had examined at least 2 of the clues, dare he take a risk and cross anyway? The answer was a resounding ‘no’, at least not until Jon had blazed a trail first. Jon used his carefully acquired knowledge to skip gracefully across the molten lava, picking up treasures as he went, which started to weigh him down and slowed his progress. Luka’s new recruit followed closely in his footsteps, not risking a second untimely death.

Adventurer Donald was feeling a little warm from his exertions, and decided to take a dip in the underground river, stopping every now again to scoop up some soggy treasure.
Neil (whose character was certainly no stranger to the dessert trolley), decided that the rickety bridge was his best method of escape, and just managed to stumble across, dislodging all but one of the planks (no – not the other players….) in the process. His reward was a valuable treasure hidden in a secret alcove – now all he had to do was puff and pant his way out of the temple.

Jon had let the boulder sweep past him (by now it had picked up speed and was bearing down on James, Dom and Luka) and also plunged into the icy river. Donald was making a good fist of scrambling out, and sprinting for the open door, and Jon hoped to follow in his soggy footsteps. The boulder had turned the corner and was approaching faster than a Norwich City relegation. The sound of squishing indicated that Dom, Luka and James had indeed perished, and as Jon popped his head above water, he was nearly trodden on by the size 12 loafer of Neil’s character lumbering towards the exit – dropping the odd trinket on the way to ensure his safe departure.

Jon dropped all but his most valuable treasures in the river in a last desperate effort to scramble out. All he had to do was roll 2 dice and as James helpfully remarked – “Don’t roll 2 ones.” And so what happened? Yes, you guessed it sports fans, he rolled 2 ones and plunged head-first into the bottomless waterfall, never to be seen again.

And so, Donald and Neil were the only lucky escapees. When they opened their swag bags it was discovered that Donald had collected the princely sum of 3 groats and a bag of humbugs, whereas Neil had the entire contents of Nigella Lawson’s expenses account upon his person, and was declared the winner. 

The moral of the tale? If you want to survive the terrible horrors of a dastardly, trap-infested underground temple, then learn to throw dice properly…

Ticket to Ride: Marklin edition (thanks Lucas)

After James and his accomplices robbed half of Germany stations, victory seemed all his.
Anyway, in the end honesty and hard work finally paid out as the French rail company Lucas Trains & Co strong connection between Bayern and North-West Germany finally got him the victory, by 7 points!
Scores: Lucas 172, James 165, Donald 125
(Ed - love the brevity and subtlety of Lucas’ writeup, if only I could do that on my scrawls - it typically takes me many paragraphs to do James down. Respect.)

Granny Wars (thanks Neil)

With five of us left at the end of the night it was time to a trip to New Zealand for this game of ‘tit for tat’. Six grannies are set up, and we each get to sponsor one of them. With a hand of ten cards you place one at a time against a granny. There are pluses and minuses, play the opposite but of the same value and you can bounce the previous card on. Then the ‘golden grannies’ come in with their specialities.

Feeling confident, having played this several times before, I played some pretty nonchalant cards against a wide variety of grannies. Donald and Luca nailed their flags to their grannies early on and were outdoing each other for several rounds. Jon and James were also playing the cards close to their chests but on the whole the grannies weren’t attracting many points. 

Saving a set of four golden grannies for the end I thought I was in with a great chance, until Luca’s golden granny allowed him to steal my best card. Damn! Jon and James finally showed who they were supporting but it looked too late for Jon. And that was it. To be honest, I was so shocked at my poor performance; minus three, that I didn’t pay attention to who’d won. I know Jon’s granny beat mine with a huge minus one. The others were all around plus eight or so. Good fun.

Rumour has it that 2 games of Splendor (that’s games called Splendor, not games entreated in Splendor, although they might have been, we’ll never know; read on) and Agricola were played. The truth will be consigned to the big cardboard box in the sky.