Wednesday, 23 April 2014

You play board games…? Like Monopoly?

The conversation can often go like this: “What am I doing tonight? Meeting some friends and playing board games” with the sound of excitement in my voice.  But often what follows is a look of disbelief, sometimes it is possible to see the various thoughts going round people’s minds when I tell them what I'm up to.

“You mean, like Monopoly?” is a very typical reaction, often accompanied by a smirk, a sneer or a look of disbelief. If the person that I’m speaking to has played Risk, there might be a modicum more knowledge about the subject, but invariably I then need to make a decision on whether explaining what I’m really up to and just how much fun playing board games is for me, or whether I just smile and walk away. 

This post is for those that might ask me the question in the first place. Let's hope it doesn't go into a rant, but hey, as I'm editor as well as author, who's to police that;)

Firstly, yes the games involve a board, like Monopoly, and pieces, like Monopoly, and even some form of scoring, also like Monopoly. But board games have evolved so much since 1906 (the first incarnations of what became the world’s best known board game - or at least so wikipedia claims) and think how far other media and forms of entertainment have changed in over a hundred years. So no, in many ways, not at all like Monopoly.

Secondly, as seasoned board gamers will know, Monopoly gets a bad press from regular gamers, although I have happy memories of playing it as a kid and I don’t want to use it as an easy target for bashing. Actually most people play a watered down version of Monopoly and it is supposed to be quite a good auction based game if played ‘properly’, but I've only ever played that diluted version so I’m not qualified to make a proper comparison between the ‘real’ Monopoly and the board games that this site is all about.

Thirdly, there is a whole sub culture of board games which, are very unknown to the majority of people; a new world waiting to be explored. Hundreds of new games are published every year, many of which are very, very good. They have evolved massively over the millennium since Monopoly to be challenging, fun, subtle. Maybe simple, maybe complex. Some tax your brain, some ask for your skills in diplomacy or negotiation or even hand / eye coordination. You will be challenged to make decisions, to compete against your fellow players or to co-operate with them whilst aiming for a joint victory. Some are simple, others are complex. Games might use pawns, cards, dice, tokens, money or any other item a creative designer have woven in. You may be transported to an Indiana Jones style adventure, you might be tasked with acquiring stocks and shares, you might find yourself part of the a Mafia family where the only way to survive is to be the last man standing or you might be building a city, a kingdom or an empire - the variety is endless, with something for all tastes. But, generally, the quality is excellent nowadays providing a great gaming experience.

Fourthly, playing board games is a very social activity. This is my favourite bit. In what other pastime can you sit around a table with friends - real people, in the flesh - enjoying a drink, a conversation whilst doing something you all enjoy? This is often the opposite of peoples perception of the board gaming community. It certainly isn't unique in this respect, but given the massive popularity of sitting in front of a computer screen, this one seems far more ‘normal’ to me and certainly more ‘human’.

Lastly, although playing board games amongst adults is less common in the UK, it is much more popular in other cultures, such as Germany, where it is widely accepted as a very enjoyable way to spend time. The good news is that it is growing in the UK so maybe, if and when a critical mass is reached, the answer to my statement ‘I'm playing board games this evening’ will be greeted by 'Sounds great, can I come'.

So to summarise my shortened version, the games we play are not that much like Monopoly (which is in itself not too shabby), but games have evolved over many years to become a wonderful way to spend an hour (or four), they are a very social activity and is on the up. So read on, and if you aren't a regular attendee or player, then invite yourself along… you’ll be more than welcome and it might open up a whole new world for you.

Players: Paul, Simon, Soren II, Neil, Tom, Dan, Andy, Jon, Philip

AbluXXen (thanks Neil)

Is something in German that means something. It doesn't translate very well apparently although it could be like 'nicking' the ball off someone in football. Anyway, it'll be called Linko in English although that's supposedly Esperantu for links. Sprechen Sie Deutsche?

Right, glad that's sorted out. This is another Kiesling and Kramer game, man are those two a right pair, geniuses! This is a simple set collection where you're just trying to lay your hand down in front of you and score a point per card. The problem is the next person can nick your pile, or make you discard it, or take it back again, damn!

We didn't quite follow the rules, nothing against Tom's explanation, it's simply one of those that's straight forward after a turn or two. Towards the end of the game Jon took over from Tom who was trying to negotiate peace in the Middle East or at least something more serious... Jon played badly on his behalf, costing Tom the game. Never mind. Being as polite as Tom, Paul, Simon and I were we let guest Soren II win by one point. 

Scores: Soren II 16, Neil 15, Tom 14, Paul 12, Simon 1 (yes, one!)

Heroes of Normadie

Dan and Soren had prearranged to play this recently kickstarted game.

There is no write up, but they did come back for another game after the first one.

It is understood that Dan, playing the third reich, took victory in the first game. Even less is known about the outcome of the second game.

Glass Road (thanks Neil)

This week's committee to try and prevent Mr Thomas from another victory included Andy, Tom and myself. With no Office coming out early it looked slightly easier to stay within touching distance of the man.

He still went for his Feudal Lord with some regularity though. Plus plenty of resources and processing buildings. It looked ominous the more of these he took, that last round was going to be something else.

In the meantime I couldn't decide what to concentrate on. I was able to help myself to the Mason's Guild, and tried to collect some valuable buildings but only ended up with one, the Sandstone Factory. Tom was looking out for expensive properties and did that better than me getting the Hot Springs and Sand Screening Plant to go with his Forester's Office. Andy went off processing with the Clay Basin, Shingles Manufacturer and the Inn, and although he collected some hefty resources he wasn't able to score them very well.

Which is where Philip excels of course. He'd picked up the Joinery and Kiln to gain food and clay and then the Slipway and Storehouse which scored him for wood and food. To finish with such a huge score, so far ahead of the rest of us was very impressive. Frighteningly so!

Scores: Philip 28, Tom 19 1/2, Neil 17 1/2, Andy 15.

Kingdom Builder (with the Nomads expansion).

The special abilities were the ones to let a player add one to the desert, add one to a line of three, add one to the edge of the board and the place walls. Scoring was based on settlements in each horizontal row, settlements next to water and also for placing the initial three settlements in a row of three, scoring two instant points.

Simon picked it up pretty well, but he and Paul both found themselves a little stuck, partly due to Jon wisely surrounding the ‘wall building’ spot and then using it to help himself spread nicely. By the end of the game Jon had most of a board-high horizontal river surrounded on both sides, scoring him points in many ways.

As always Kingdom Builder continues to provide very different gaming experiences and tonight Jon made the most of what came out, whilst the others did not.

Scores: Jon 64, Simon 55, Paul 49

San Juan (thanks Jon)

With Simon having to leave early, Jon and Paul were left with some time to kill, but fortunately there were several good 2 player options available. Paul plumped for San Juan, which plays excellently with 2, the only difference being that the Governor gets to choose 2 roles each round rather than 1.

Jon started with an early Tobacco plant, whereas Paul chose a Prefecture to begin his town. Jon therefore focussed on producing goods to start with, whilst Paul opted for the Councillor and Prospector roles to pick up more cards. After a few rounds, this switched around, as Paul had placed a coffee roaster and Jon had saved up his hard-earned pennies to indulge his passion for literature at the Library. This doubled his bonus for one role every round, making the Builder and Prospector particularly attractive. Paul continued to add to his wealth of production plants, and would obviously be looking for a Guild Hall to maximise his points. Both players were building at a similar rate, but Jon’s acquisition of a Quarry and Carpenter, when combined with his Library, were now making his buildings ridiculously cheap. This enabled him to pick up both a City Hall and a Palace and build them in successive turns, whereas Paul could not locate the elusive Guild Hall, despite numerous Councillor attempts.

Jon ended the game with Paul only on his 11th building, and despite Paul having scored a highly respectable score that he was pleased with, Jon had totted up a massive 40 points. He admitted that he had managed to build almost a ‘perfect storm’ of buildings in just the right order – Library, Quarry, Carpenter, Prefecture, Chapel, City Hall, Palace – which rarely happens, but is a veritable points-feast when it occurs. A great game for 2 players, which plays easily in 30 mins.

Scores: Jon 40, Paul 21


This game of Trains ended up being the shortest game that I’ve been involved in.

The quickest deck to disappear was the Limited Express Train (the one with the most points) which Philip cunningly manoeuvred himself into a position of acquiring one for most of the first few rounds, with the others noticing what he was doing a little too late, and powerless to peg back his awesome engine collection. Andy attempted to lay some track, only to realise that it wasn’t getting him enough points. Paul tried hard to keep up with Philip but his engine was a few ticks behind the mighty Philip. Tom did well in his first game but didn’t quite keep on top of Philip. 

With decks disappearing in no time, Philip looked at the board and could have easily brought the game to a close more quickly, but he waiting until he was a little more certain of his lead by gaining one or two points on the board.

As it happened the scores were closer than anyone imagined as Philip was indeed the convincing victor.

Scores: Philip 29, Paul 28, Tom 24, Andy 17

Agricola: ACBAS (thanks Jon)

No-one wanted to play with Jon this evening (understandable…) but Neil took pity on him and agreed to another 2-player game.

Last time, Jon had had his butt whipped by Neil, who had expanded his farm to gigantic proportions – battery chickens and intensively-farmed pigs – so this time he made sure that he grabbed an expansion board or two himself. Jon was the first to create some capacity, and was able to grab a couple of large sets of animals that had built up on the supply board.

Neil decided to build the Assembly Hall, which enabled him to place fences for free at any time, as long as he gave Jon an equal number of fences. He used this after Jon had built his own fences, and meant that he didn't have to use the 'build fences' action at all throughout the game. He also picked up the Farm Well, giving him a free feeding trough for the last 3 rounds. Jon had considered purchasing this simply to fill up another expansion board, but had been too slow off the mark!

Jon had built plenty of capacity at the start of the game, and was now filling it up with sheep and pigs at every opportunity. He had not managed to acquire more than 1 horse, as Neil had accumulated a veritable team of them (yes, that's the correct collective noun!)

As always, the game ends about 1 round too soon, but there was just time for Jon to upgrade his cottage to a Half-timbered House, which Neil had also had his beady eyes on. Neil had to settle for the Storage Building, to generate points from his abundance of unused building materials.
The points were tallied, and Jon's collection of sheep and pigs were enough to provide the win, although the scores were, as usual, pretty close.

With the variety of buildings available from both expansions (and the fact that no more than 1 person can be found at any one time who is willing to play with Jon) this game has the potential to stay on the radar for a long time to come.

Scores: Jon 47, Neil 42.5

Nanuk (thanks Jon)

End of evening; 6 IBG’ers still seeking entertainment; it must be time to go and hunt a few wild animals in the frozen wastes. It was all new to Soren, but to be fair, even the experienced old hands struggle with this one.

Philip and Dan benefitted from an early polar bear assault on the other 4 brave hunters. Philip then shafted Dan and Jon to further increase his hoard.

And thus it continued - "10 seals in 5 days?? You are surely doomed!" Philip always seemed to have 2 birds in his hand (although none in the bush...) and Jon and Soren never seemed to be able to pick the winning team.

Nevertheless, this one is always good fun, and a great way to round off the evening.

Scores: Philip 17, Tom 12, Neil 12, Dan 12, Jon 7, Soren 5