Wednesday, 28 May 2014

The one with the wrong Ricky and lots of non-synergised camels....

Players: Neil, Philip, James, Scott, Charlotte, John, Jon, Gary, Natasha, Tonio, Gareth, Jeroen, Ricky, Amo

My last week of editing the blog for a while, so you'll soon be spared from my ramblings and navel-gazing for a few months.

Anyway, I left off last week by wondering why Railroad Tycoon is probably my favourite boardgame, when I seem to have a pathological intolerance for most games that last more than 75 minutes. Well, I've come to the conclusion that it's not just the length, but also the level of complexity and decision-making involved in a game that affects my enjoyment. I have gained a reputation (unfairly IMHO, but millions can't be wrong....) of taking my time to make game-related decisions, and I will admit that I do have a propensity to suffer from Analysis Paralysis. Therefore, a game such as Agricola makes my head hurt. As the game goes on, the number of possible options available appear (to me) to grow exponentially, and I'm afraid that my tiny brain just can't cope with them all. It just shuts down. Ok I admit it - I'm a mental weakling.

However, although Railroad Tycoon takes a while to play, the decision tree doesn't seem to grow much during the game - in fact if anything, it shrinks as the board fills up with track tiles, and the cubes gradually disappear. There are still decisions to be made about maximising points-scoring, but the actual options available remain the same, therefore I find it an enjoyable experience rather than a brain-melting one.

So, game designers, when you’re making a game for me, don’t give me a myriad of different options to choose from, just give me 3 or 4, but make those options interesting and meaningful.
There - I've successfully analysed my games preferences, and feel much better for it. So don't ask me to play Through the Ages with you, but do ask me to join in a game of Libertalia. And I also enjoy the odd game of Caylus (What???!!! Oh crap......)

Tonight at IBG, despite the absence of several regulars, there was a very healthy turnout, including a newcomer called Ricky, who wasn't the Ricky that Jon was expecting to come, but was instead the Ricky that is a 'friend' of Natasha's.
And for some reason, West London was also over-run with camels...

Love Letter (thanks Scott)
Not everyone’s cup of tea at Isleworth, but outside the bubble that is the London Apprentice it’s actually quite a popular game and so I will continue to ply it on to people and force them to like it, if for nothing more than its simplicity to start the evening.
Charlotte and I roped in Phil and Jerry; and fortunately for Phil he was saved by Tonio who came to his rescue after the first round, despite Phil having won it. Tonio hadn’t played before so a quick rules overview and we were off. Jerry was struggling to find his feet as the rest of us clambered to two points each, but a run of success soon found us all playing for the final point. A point that Tonio won in a close fought battle with Jerry, having won with such a low scoring Clown to Jerry’s Soldier.
Tonio, so joyful in his narrow victory remarked at the adjoining table, but his joy fell on deaf ears. They aren’t ready for Love letter yet Tonio… it’s too soon.
Tonio – 3 points; Jerry, Scott & Charlotte – 2 points
2 games of this quick card game. Players play cards to obtain tiles that have
values from -5 to +15.
First game, Neil collected just about every card going, and won by a country mile.
Second game, Neil failed to collect a single tile whilst Jon took over his previous exploits. That was, until Phil laid down his final 5 cards and took every tile left. And won. Easily.
Neil and Phil won; Gareth, Jon and Amo didn't
Galaxy Trucker (and again Scott...)
Tonio, Charlotte and I were keen for a game of GT, most of us having not played it in a long time and Charlotte had only played once before and wanted to try again. We started small and built up a little ship while the rules slowly flowed into our consciousness and I think by the end of the first round we had them remembered. Tonio just pipping us with his finishing first and an extra cube delivery, still plenty of time to recover. At this point James remembers where the club is and with no other options and a smattering of interest he joins us for round 2 with a small boost to his score to stay competitive.
Round 2 is a good time for me, with plenty of cube storage and a solid ship I managed to get the edge over the round, in particular I seem to be the only one really getting much of a crew together and can waste them on salvage missions, giving me the edge I’m looking for over Tonio. Charlotte is struggling with keeping her ship in one piece but is hanging in there with half a ship traversing space. While James gets his head around the rules since he kind of jumped in the deep end after we’d had our practice round, keeping his head in the game and nothing too disastrous. My huge haul of goods and finishing first gets me the windfall I was looking for but fairly good all round.
We opted for our Round 3 to be the interesting Star Trek style design and with just the base game components you pretty much need every tile in the right orientation to build a full ship, so we were all a bit lacking in some senses, particularly me who finished building last and had a significant number of exposed connectors and no laser defence on the left or right. Being at the back proved difficult since the early cards were all planets, and the others grabbed the useful cubes, followed by some open space that saw my lack of engines leave me straggling behind the others. But a few disasters struck for Tonio and he soon found himself without any crew, leaving his fully loaded ship lost in space (although he still gets half value), making me feel a bit more confident about keeping my score lead despite still being last in turn order and my ship falling apart at the sides due to several barrages of meteors from the sides that I thought would mysteriously never arrive. James’ downfall being his lack of guns so when the slavers showed up he was down to a skeleton crew and just stayed in to limp over the finish line, while Charlotte and I were lucky enough to still have enough guns on-board to defend our ships, although not to defeat them and get anything useful. I dodged the last meteor wave, although the pivotal central tile holding my ship together was so close to being destroyed. I managed to secure enough for a strong finish:
Scott – 92; Charlotte – 57; Tonio – 55; James – 41
Camel Up
Another week – another John B new game. And this time it was a SdJ 2014
nominee. This is a light race / betting game, where players compete to obtain as much gold as possible by betting on the outcome of a camel race. The race is decided over several ‘legs’, and players have the opportunity to bet on each leg as well as the overall outcome of the whole race. It has a unique dice-dispensing system, namely a sturdy cardboard pyramid, which spits out a single die at a time. A bag would have done the same job, but wouldn’t have had nearly the same eye-candy appeal.
After the first couple of legs, it appeared obvious which 2 camels would be bringing up the rear in the race, as the other 3 sped off at high speed. However, as it turns out, camels can catch up quite quickly if the circumstances allow, and the result turned out not to be as clear cut as first seemed.
Gary was down to only 2 coins at one point (and you start the game with 3!), but he was the first player to successfully bet on both the winner and loser of the overall race which gave him a big 16-coin haul. Both Natasha and Jon spent a leg putting all their eggs in one basket, which paid off for both of them. Jeroen started quickly but struggled in the last couple of legs, whilst John had the good grace to come last at his own game…
Although he didn’t score well in the overall betting, Jon had consistently accumulated coins throughout the game, which was just enough to pip Gary for the win.
This is a really fun little game, with nice components, and simple enough rules to make it family-friendly. Another winner from John B…..
Jon 24; Gary 22; Natasha 21; Jeroen 15; John 15
Goa (thanks Neil)
Rudiger Dorn designed this one, several years ago now too, 2004 to be precise. That’s about five centuries ago in board game years, a relic from the past. Gareth had recently invested in a new Z-Man edition, paying a fortune in shipping to get a copy from the US. Z-Man are one of the companies that annoy the hell out of me. Since the big buy out they release a load of great German titles in the English language. Result. Unless you live in England. You have to be a US citizen to pick up the English language version.
Funnily enough it was the Z-Man stand I rushed over to at Expo, to see how many copies of the recent re-release of Babel they had, exactly six. And the latest Agricola card pack, the Bielefeld Deck, even less, five copies. Bloody good job Agricola is no longer the most popular game in the world, supply and demand, basics, you know? It’s not as though the company is run by dizzy games enthusiasts either. You might forgive them that. But no, they simply seem to be incompetent. So no copies of Goa for the demanding UK populace. At Essen last year they quickly ran out of Glass Road, and Russian Railroads too. Hell, if you can only get one event a year right you might have picked that one. Obviously my trouble-shooter skills are much in demand… if only.
Where were we? Goa. Philip had played before, several years ago, and in that incredible way of his he immediately spotted the revisions to the board/game. Oh dear, we were in trouble. It was new to myself and Amo, a guest who was trading with James. I should say ‘this week’s guest dealing with James’. And Gareth had only two days earlier been teaching the game over in Richmond. Trouble.
It’s ranked 44 is Goa, pretty bloody high. Whilst not completely getting it the first play through for me was very interesting. I can see it as a good top 500 game but would need to play it many more times I guess to revel in the intricacies of the auctions, the opportunities they give you, and which commodities to concentrate on.
None of were able to set up a useful engine early on. Philip went chasing the money and ships, Gareth and I taking identical actions to gain additional colonies. Philip and Gareth traded the start position throughout and paid for each other to make other useful auction acquisitions. Amo and I could only watch on, although I rapidly developed a taste for cloves, yummy yummy!
The rounds seemed to whizz by, always a good sign of a game demanding more of you. And I never quite got on top of planning for the future. So the last round came and I only had one action - out of three possible - lined up. What a waste! Never mind. Gareth and Philip were well out of touch and Amo and I were fighting it out not to come last. As any respectful guest would he let me finish third, result!
Philip - 43, Gareth - 39, Neil - 30, Amo - 28.
Cheaty Mages
Natasha’s friend Ricky had turned up at this point (not the Ricky that Jon was
expecting, who had emailed him earlier in the day...), and there subsequently ensued a long discussion about whether to stay as a ‘6’, or to split into two ‘3’s’. Finally, it was agreed to stay together and Cheaty Mages became the game of choice.
There was much to-ing and fro-ing of judges and fighters, but in the last round, the Mana limit of the judge was cancelled, resulting in a long stream of cards on one fighter in particular. When the dust had settled, it was discovered that not only had this fighter won, but that its bounty had doubled from 6 to 12. And as Jon, Natasha, Ricky and John had all placed a single bet on it, they doubled their winnings further, raking in a cool 24 points each. John had just been in the lead at the end of the second round, so retained his lead to win the game and make up for his inability to back a winning camel…
John 30; Natasha 28; Ricky 26; Jon 26; Jeroen 13; Gary 10
Machi Koro (thanks once more, Scott)
Apparently the others might have wanted to play with us, but I’ve been to Isleworth before, I’m sure the general consensus is for us to keep quiet in the corner and not mess with their fun games. So when Tonio mentioned he hadn’t heard of Mochi Koro, or Japanese Settlers, we had to play it. As I explained the rules I realised I was setting myself up for disaster, in particular the 6 buildings which target players seem quite expensive with not enough pay-off but Tonio took this as a personal challenge. I went with a simple strategy of grabbing ranches and hoping for 2 while Charlotte went with the Forest and wished for 5’s (which I kindly obliged on several occasions), Charlotte became a big threat and Tonio devoted his time to become chief dick with all of the 6 buildings and regular thefts to keep us under control. Charlotte pushed in to getting furniture factories set-up, a single 8 on the dice would have secured her the game but sadly this wasn’t to be, Tonio kept stealing our resources while keeping a varied portfolio so a win by attrition. I never did roll many 2’s!
Tonio – winner, Charlotte & Scott – not winners
Now it was set-up it would be a shame not to have another quick go of it. I hadn’t learned my lesson of the first game and plied in to Ranches again, hoping for more 2’s this game. Tonio and Charlotte diversified but I got much luckier this game, the ranches paid off early, I quickly went with the 7 card to maximise them and with the power to re-roll the dice I had cleared the finish line before the others had a chance to catch-up.
Scott – winner, Charlotte & Tonio – not winners
There were more interested parties, so the game continued to stay set-up while Tonio, Charlotte and I attempted to collect our purchased games and leave.
John had been touting this game about since the beginning of the evening, and
Natasha and Jon decided to keep him happy and play along. It’s actually a really old game (1993), which was then re-printed by Queen Games in 2005, which is still a long time ago. Very unusual to see John “Cult of the New” with such a golden oldie. Basically, this is a deduction game, based in the camel-strewn deserts of Timbuktu (yes – more camels…), but this time the camels are not racing, but transporting various precious commodities.
Each player controls 8 camels, each laden with 4 sacks of goods. These camels slowly wend their way to the city of Timbuktu over a period of 3 rounds, and must attempt to avoid spaces in the desert where robbers lurk, waiting to steal the camels’ cargo. These spaces are pre-determined each round via 5 sets of cards, and players get to see 3 of these sets as each round progresses. Deductions can then be made about which spaces are safe to place camels on, and which are not.
However, if your name is Natasha, then your strong belief is that “I HAVE NO SYNERGIES!”, and therefore the game is completely broken and luck-dependant. Or another way of looking at it, is that Natasha “IS RUBBISH AT TRYING TO MAKE DEDUCTIONS BASED ON PARTIAL INFORMATION AND LOGICAL REASONING.”
Whatever – Jon proved to be the best at protecting all his ships of the desert from the nasty thieving types, whereas Natasha “HAD ABSOLUTELY NO SYNERGIES AT ALL….”
Jon 158; John 115; Natasha 101
Machi Koro (thanks Neil)
Two games to end the evening for Philip, Gareth and Neil. I decided not to go my normal cafe route and picked up some ranches instead but not enough. Philip seemed to progressing well until Gareth started buying forests. The original tree-hugger he must be. We let him buy all six of them. Giving him a little income every time anyone rolled a ‘5’. Which we then proceeded to do. Between us we rolled five 5s on the trot. And Gareth himself managed to roll four 5s on the trot too. To say that this helped fund his victory would be a good assessment. Philip was only a turn behind mind you.
Game two. Had we learned, never let anyone take control of one number? Had we? Not exactly. I decided this time it would be wise to go for my normal cafe routine. I won once about twenty games ago with this strategy so it must be due another victory some time soon. Philip went charging off this time with more ranches, and Gareth stuck to his forests. Once a lumberjack, always a lumberjack. I had time to expand into restaurants, what with the cafes I might have done alright if… not to be. The boy got wildy ahead with his bloody trees. Even the Philmeister hadn’t got going, impressive victory no.2!
Killer Bunnies (thanks again Scott)
Despite a plan of an early night, Tonio wanted to have a look in the box of Killer
Bunnies, since we’d both heard of it but never played it, this look in the box turned in to let’s try a few hands to see how it works and despite some protestations we ended up playing a whole game of it, although I’m not sure we played it anywhere near correctly. These killer bunnies are certainly vicious, we had a huge batch of them early in the game, only for them to be killed off and difficult to replace for the rest of the game. I made an effort to collect carrots although I wasn’t sure exactly why at the time. We got close to the carrot deck ending (the end game trigger), I set myself up with a bunny to play (you need one out to win) and then a card to grab the last carrot, but Charlotte saw fit to switch my cards clockwise, losing me the rabbit I needed (and only switched due to a misunderstanding of the card she’d played in front of herself, damn!), I held back grabbing the last carrot, failed to find any more bunnies while Tonio got out one and grabbed the last carrot himself.
I had a fair chunk of the carrot deck, all numbered, and apparently you just deal one randomly from another deck to see which is the winning carrot, obviously it was one of mine but with no rabbit to enjoy it I didn’t win, I think technically that meant we all lost? What a strange little game :)
Tonio, Charlotte, Scott – Didn’t win.
(Jon won for selling his copy of the game to Tonio??!)

Also played tonight was Thurn & Taxis, which you can blame James for not supplying any details about...

See you all next week, for more Rickys and less camels...

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Naked wrestling on the pebbly shores of the Thames…

Players: Neil, Phil, Andy, Gareth, Jon, James, Tom, Noel, Paul, Dan, Alex, James II

I’m getting older – there’s no escaping it. If the old adage is to be believed, then my life has actually just begun, but it certainly doesn’t feel like it. And as I slowly advance along the scoring track of life, I find that my tastes in gaming seem to be changing along with the number of candles on my birthday cake.

When I first discovered designer games (after previously dabbling in the usual fare of Risk, Axis & Allies and numerous party games), I was enraptured by the complex mechanisms and strategic options available in the classic eurogames. Step forward Tigris & Euphrates, Power Grid and then the monumental Caylus. Oh the joy of the tiles and little wooden cubes. Even my wife indulged me in some 2-player Caylus jousts from time to time. But then something happened. We had kids. And I’ve been permanently knackered for nearly a decade. And with this foray into fatherhood has seemingly come a change in what floats my gaming boat.

Nowadays, my first question when considering whether or not to play a game is often – “How long does it take?” If the answer comes back as 45-60 minutes, then I’m interested, but if it’s any longer than that, then for some reason I start to get all nervous and twitchy. Eclipse? Terra Mystica? Through the Ages? Not for me thanks. Obviously my ability to concentrate for long periods of time has receded along with my hairline.

Having said that, probably my favourite boardgame at the time of writing is Railroad Tycoon – hardly a 10 minute filler. I love laying down those brown or green track tiles (the correct ones for mountains and plains of course…), plastic trains and beautiful empty city markers, creating an efficient transport network as I go. But why am I happy to concentrate for 90-120 mins on this game, usually ending with a feeling of contentment and enjoyment of time well spent? I’ll have to have a think about that one…

Anyway - moving swiftly on from my inconsequential ramblings, to what actually happened at the London Apprentice tonight. It was great to see Alex (and mohican!) and James II back with us after a long absence, and also Noel (after having had a baby and a self-confessed ‘jolly’ to the US..)

A few classics and a few newer offerings played tonight, whilst Tom seems to have developed an unhealthy obsession with unclad grappling in the gravel…

Witch's Brew (thanks Tom)
Upon learning that Neil would be arriving at the Apprentice early, Tom gave his wife and daughter a quick kiss goodbye and sprinted out the door, speeding through red lights and past startled pedestrians.  As Tom sprinted towards the Apprentice, I saw a happy bearded face lit up at the window and smiled.  The door of the upstairs was flung open to the sight of Neil in all his glory.  Plus Gareth II and Phil.  Confounded at every turn!
Making the best of a bad situation, it was agreed that the four of us might as well play a game and by happy co-incidence Tom had brought with him the rather lovely (but for some strange reason out of print) Witches' Brew.  And thusly, potion making began in earnest.
Tom definitely explained to Gareth that he was able to simply say "So Be It" if he had the same role as another player; however, methinks think he derived a bit too much pleasure from throwing down his card and exclaiming "I AM RATTLES THE SNAKE HUNTER!"  Neil also had an aversion to sharing with the others but got away with it due to his natural Suffolk charm (Norfolk people take note).
In the meantime, Phil was trying to break the game by devising a strategy so that we ran out of available vials.  About 3/4ths of the way through, he admitted defeat and stopped picking the Fortune Teller.  Tom meanwhile was trying to play intelligently in terms of when I committed to a role; as a result, it soon became apparent that Tom was losing rather badly indeed.
So the fourth raven was collected and with a last throw of the dice, Tom attempted to hoover up the large batches of remaining ingredients in front of Gareth and Neil with the Begging Monk.  Alas, Tom was one ingredient short and, as everyone had figured out long before, Neil turned out the rightful winner although not by as much as suspected.
Gareth and Phil drew for second place. Naturally, the IBG tie breaker du jour of wrestling on the pebbly beach next to the pub was agreed upon.  Gareth hasn't been the same since. That's what happens when you take on Phil "The Lover" Thomas. (Note to Ed:  that's an Agricola joke) (Ed: thank goodness for that…!)
Neil 24,  Gareth 21,  Phil  21,  Tom 19

Agricola (thanks Philip)
A 3 player game with drafting from E,I,K and Gamer's decks.
I was going first again, with Andy second and Neil 3rd. Andy checked the decks to exclude things seen last week (by him, me, Natasha and Gary).
My first pick for the draft was Reed Collector and Ceramics, but neither were as important as the Market Crier and Wood-Fired Oven I took later.
I started with Market Crier. Andy predictably took 3 Wood and Neil unpredictably took 1 Reed (from the Reed accumulation space- there was only one occasion in the whole game when someone used the "Take One Building Resource" space). I Took "One Grain", Andy took 2 Wood, and Neil Plowed a field.
Somewhat surprised to be still on lead, I played the Inventor- in fact turn was just liked turn 1 except that Andy took Clay instead of Wood and Neil took Clay instead of Plowing.
I now took 4 Wood, Andy took 3 Wood and Neil gained 4 Wood from a Gamer's deck occupation which would give 3 VPs to the player(s) with the most animals. I Took "One Grain". Andy played the Market Stall, becoming first player. Neil went Fishing.
In round 4 Andy picked up 2 Reeds, Neil 3 Wood and I took start player with the Wood-Fired Oven for 15 food. My recollections now grow vaguer. None of us had any problem feeding, even through Sheep had come out on turn 4.
I played Reed Collector in Turn 5 and picked up 2 Reed in turn 6 as well as playing Carpenter. Neil used his wood to make a massive 6 space pasture, in which he then placed 3 sheep. Andy was ahead on expanding rooms and Family Growth (turn 6) although he had no Minors he could play with it (which was true throughout the game). He also beat me to the Clay Oven. I sacrificed the chance for family Growth in rounds 7 and 9 in order to pick up 6 Wood at once. I did however manage family Growth in round 8. Nobody grew their family in round 7. Andy had his second family member before Neil's first.

I played Ceramics and the Pottery and built a Schnapps Distillery while continuing to "Take one Grain" regularly- although Neil's late Field Watchman meant I had some completion for that. I built 4 Stables midgame but left Fences to the end. Andy played an Occupation in the mid-game but I can't remember what it was. He also Remodelled at some point.
I was only able to Plow twice- both with Plow and Sow. I sowed Vegetables as I had plenty of Grain. I build a Cooking Hearth quite late- Andy and Neil had Fireplaces before then. Andy renovated to a 4-room Stone House before the final turn, while me and Neil still had Wooden Huts. There seemed a shortage of Reed, even with the Reed Collector. At any rate I ended up using "Take One Building Resource" for Reeds in turn 13, although I could have just taken Reed. I also accumulated mounds of clay, enough that Neil had no Clay for renovating.
Which meant I could wait until the final move of the game to Renovate and Fence. My penultimate move was Lord of the Manor for 2 Bonus VPs (4 Vegetables, 4 Fenced Stables) I thought it was going to be 3 Bonus VPs (4 Pastures), but Andy pointed out I could fence 2 more spaces with 3 Pastures... which means House Steward was the better play. Anyway I had all 3 types of Animal, though Neil definitely won Most Animals.
Philip 46*; Andy 37; Neil 30.
*(I think it was 46 but it could have been as low as 42, my sums aren't adding up very well).

Heroes of Normandie (thanks Dan)
Let me transport you for a moment to a calm and gentle paradise of rich rolling meadows, punctuated with a tangle of boccage and humble stone dwellings. The remnants of a hazy spring morning are burning away under the golden rays of the rising sun. Birdsong soars in the air, a cow lows somewhere in the near distance, and there is the occasional staccato interruption of cockcrow. All is at peace and another long lazy day lies ahead. Go ahead, close your eyes for a moment and take a deep breath of the cool air, enjoy the feel of the warm sun that pierces through the soft morning breeze. Now let’s introduce a tank to this scene. A US army Stuart M5 to be precise; although it’s classed as a light tank it is armed with machine guns and a menacing 37mm main gun, the twin V8 engines and a revolutionary automatic gearbox making it one of the fastest and most maneouverable in its class. Now imagine all fifteen tons barrelling through the hedgerow, tearing the soft dewy grass into a mess of mud, leaves and engine oil, before it comes to an abrupt stop shortly after plowing through a German foxhole where the enemy have stationed their crack snipers. Then, the driver reverses the vehicle and drives back and forth across the shallow trench a few times just to make sure that nobody gets out alive. This unusual tactic will not go completely according to plan however, as a crazed German veteran armed with what must be an unlimited supply of Panzerfaust rocket grenades appears on the scene and turns the Stuart into something resembling an art nouveau chimenea. For his trouble, Helmut will then become the subject of intense suppressive fire, a hail of shots from high caliber machine guns that will send him scurrying up the nearest tree. He will become easy prey for the lantern jawed All American hero who is even now sharpening his combat knife in readiness for the desperate hand to hand melee that will shortly ensue. The twee melodies of this countryside setting have now been supplanted with the roar and clank of armoured vehicles, the boom of explosives, and the red faced screaming of combat orders. All around this happy montage can be found similar histrionics as the US 4th Ivy Division desperately attempt to break the German line. This is Heroes of Normandie, a self-styled game of Hollywood movie combat, where the action is intense and freewheeling, and risky and dangerous tactics are absolutely appropriate behaviour.

The first mission of the evening saw the two sides clash over a middling piece of ground that both headquarters had designated as strategically important. An early Bazooka assault on the German Panzer Luchs II resulted in a critical hit that saw the luckless vehicle explode in a belch of black smoke. The advantage swung even more heavily in the favour of the US after they managed to station troops in an entrenched position enabling them to shoot down the enemy as they emerged from their hiding place in the woods. There was a lot of attrition as both sides took to defensive positions then, in the final two turns, the US made a move into open ground to secure the objective. By this point the German forces were too thinly dispersed to be able to react in force and a suitably heroic charge by their commanding officer was caught short by a painfully effective counter assault in the final move of the game.
Daniel secured the objective for the US with enough of the boys left for a good ol’ Hoedown. Paul consoled himself with a tub of Stippgr├╝tze sorbet.

There was an escalation of hostilities in the second mission as US forces trapped behind enemy lines desperately tried to break through with support from a motley array of heavy vehicles. A wave of US tanks trundled into what at first appeared to be a field day for them. A machine gun group, comfortably dug in to a defensive position, ducked down to avoid a barrage of fire only to then be surprised by a Willys jeep cresting the lip of the foxhole, hanging for a moment in thin air with wheels spinning before it came crashing down on top of them. Another German fire squad, hiding in a hedgerow nearby, had the bushes cut from around them and scattered as a heavyweight Sherman M4 bore down upon them with guns blazing. The German commanding officer was separated from his troops and helplessly fired pistol shots as the parade of US armour trundled past the bushes he was hiding in.
However, things turned sour pretty quickly with the discovery of a German PAK 40 cannon dug into a defensive position. Coupled with support from rocket grenades, this beast effectively wiped out half of the US tanks in the space of two short turns leaving the early surge to victory crippled and broken. Despite the reversal of fortunes, the yanks refused to give up and pulled an unorthodox short cut to enable a flanking maneuver. The ground forces engaged and the Germans found themselves bereft of any leadership after a rather excessive, yet thoroughly enthusiastic, dogpile onto Major Gruber. This meant that Paul was unable to order more than two units a turn in the last few rounds, however both his Panzershrek and PAK 40 were still active and able to fire rockets at will from their opportunity fire positions. This led to an exciting end game with a succession of ever more desperate plays for victory and increasingly tense last ditch turns of cards and rolls of the dice. Eventually, both of the remaining US tanks were incapacitated with the game going right to the wire of the very last order of the very last turn. Gripping stuff!
Paul was able to stage his own mini Sch├╝tzenfest, whilst Daniel was left playing the Harmonica on the front porch.

Libertalia (cheers Tom)
All were delighted to see everyone's second favourite Irishman (after Graham
Norton), Noel, and to hear tales of his adventures in the 13 States.  Despite promises to himself, he had been lured in by the siren call of bargain games and arrived with a lovely new copy of Libertalia.  Jon had genuinely enjoyed his game last week and Tom had played a number of games online.  James was new to it and Noel had only played against Americans which apparently doesn't count.
Frankly, we all ended up with 21 of 30 potential characters, passing through our hands and I can't rightly remember all of the details.  However, if the action was played out in a classic movie montage (Team America style), it may have been like this:

-  Noel holding his hands out in a beneficent pose as Jon and Tom scratched their heads.
-  James looking confused.
-  Noel holding his head in his hands at his Brute's rather hilarious suicide run whilst Tom and Jon point and laugh.
-  The ghost of Natasha, face as red as a baboon, looming over Jon's shoulder, face locked in a silent howl.
-  James gazing down at his ship, dismayed at his ramshackle crew.
-  Tom pointing out the Cabin Boy's rather amusing likeness to a certain Mr Ricketts.
-  James looking at the barmaid, thinking that he's sure that she was Jack Bauer's daughter in 24.
-  Tom gleefully murdering his entire crew with his Mutineer, whilst protecting his craven Gambler at all costs.
-  Neil shouting across the room at Gareth II to stop his world record attempt at the loudest game of Puerto Rico of all time.
-  James fingering the French Officer (card) nervously not quite sure when to play him.
- Tom attempting to explain the reason why he played his Andy the Cabin Boy rather than the Recruiter as his final play whilst Noel and Jon look confused.
-  James with his head in his hands after realising that he chose the wrong time to play The French Officer.
-  Tom and Noel disrobing for their wrestle on the beach after their first place tie (Noel doesn't want to talk about the official tiebreaker)
-  A sheepish looking Tom as, at 11.30pm, Jon and Noel find his Quartermaster on the floor underneath his chair.  I swear that I took those eight doubloons off my total...

All round, Libertalia remains a smashing game.  Be sure to bring it again next time you grace us with your presence, Noel!
Tom  91,  Noel 91,  Jon 89, James 71
Stone Age (thanks Neil)
'Our ancestors worked with their legs and backs straining... in Stone Age, players live in this time, just as our ancestors did. They collect wood, break stone and wash their gold from the river. They trade freely, expand their village, and so achieve new levels of civilisation. This is exciting and interesting.'
Now, as part of my recent teaching to some creative writing undergrads I asked them to become more away of literal and figurative speech. To be careful around the use of cliches, to try and consider each and every word they chose to use. So let's have a closer look at the game of Stone Age through the marketing spiel as Philip, Andy and I played it last night...
First off, I have to admit that we hardly 'lived in the time as our ancestors did'. Philip and I had our glasses on for starters. What would those ancestors have made of them? With Philip on hol at the mo' only Andy had done some hard work during the day and yet, it is fair to say, he looked pretty refreshed upon his arrival. Our ancestors would have been proud of Philip's venison and black pudding dinner, maybe less so about my house salad.
Secondly, 'collect wood'. Now this is something we did do. In abundance. We collect timber shaped pieces of wood, meeple shaped pieces of wood, brick shaped pieces of wood... you get the picture. Was it 'just like our ancestors did'? Mm, not exactly. You know. Andy and I collected a lot of wood early on, indeed I also hoarded brick shaped wood and meeple shaped wood too, but the energy expended was, frankly embarrassing in compared to the stone age days.
'Break stone'. Can't say we did any of that. I dropped a couple of pieces on the floor was the nearest we came to that. But they both wooden bits. It might have been whilst the others were scrabbling around trying to find those bits that I rearranged the huts and cards but I couldn't possibly admit to such a thing!
'Washing gold from the river'. Nope, the Thames wasn't laden last night and never has been as far as I know, so, we didn't do that either. One of the dropped bits undoubtedly resurfaced covered in smashed chips but we just wiped it on the green blaze, sorted.
'Free trade'. If only. Every trade costs you know. Bits of wood, precious bits of wood that we'd been working hard to collect. And competitive it was too. The huts were in demand from early doors and although I picked up six of them it was tough let me tell you. The cards trade was even more intense. Those other boys were there collecting cardboard like it was the precious gold mentioned above. And then there was the 'free' element of the dice rolls. Always a gamble. Philip didn't get the rolls that Andy and I did it's true. His technique undoubtedly accounting for this, the determined use of the stone age dead animal smell dice cup turned swiftly upside down and planted firmly on the table. That was the most energy any of us consumed throughout this hard time, legs and backs decidedly unstrained.
Expanding our village. The player boards are difficult to expand. On occasion they got a little lumpy with bits of wood and cardboard on them. And my sixth hut had to be crammed in with my nine workers struggling for space amongst the food. Village expansion, not exactly.
'Achieve new levels of civilisation'. Now, this is where we did meet the job description. We were magnanimous in our skill sets, impressive in our competency range and unyielding in our capacities to collect all that wood and cardboard. 'Exciting and interesting', we flooded the whole room with our infectious, life affirming qualities; did you feel it Isleworth??
I love box descriptions. I was recently asked to write one for a Spanish designer. I carefully selected every word, thought through every phrase and sentence. He liked it... wonder if any potential publishers will?
Whilst Philip and Andy moved further up the food track, and collected all of the green civ cards between them, they didn't quite match my number of huts and points scored from those, as well as my great hoard of workers scoring at 5 points each. A close contest, all could have won or lost with one more item. But they didn't. I did, yippeeeeeee!!
Neil - 157, Andy - 149, Philip 145 (or thereabouts)

Sleuth (thanks again Tom)
I'm running out of steam here a bit (my punishment for actually winning a
couple of games for once).
After Libertalia, Slackey Jack and his crew of misfits decided to turn their attention to a recent jewel theft with Sid Sackson's Sleuth.  It's basically a cross between Cluedo and Sudoku or at least that's what my addled brain was saying after 45 minutes of hard thought.
Again, as everyone is basically keeping themselves to themselves other than posing the occasional question, it's not scintillating material for a report. However, Jon made the mistake of giving me the working sheets which I will now analyse with my Secondary School level qualification in Psychology:

Tom - Clearly reasoned with an almost flawless notation system.  No wonder he won with such gusto.  Impeccable handwriting too.
Noel - An elegant attempt at playing Noughts and Crosses with himself.  Appears that crosses won most of the match-ups.  Circles only present in the box for actual solution - not sure why.
Jon - Wrote a long boring stream of consciousness report on the plot of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels in his margin - lots of mentions of jewels. Draws a lovely triangle.
James - Simply wrote "I am a fish" a hundred times over his paper.  Clearly a Red Dwarf fan.

In the end, Tom was triumphant.  Noel has since noted that we misplayed the game insofar that you can identify the missing jewels at any time but it was agreed that I reached the solution just before him in any event.  Or at least I think I had, otherwise we'll need to have a rematch down on the shore.  I'm still finding pebbles in my shoes from last time.

Time for an end-of-evening filler, and this clever little card game was just the ticket. Apart from slightly dubious, although admittedly paper-thin theme (Jon has a distinct aversion to all thing occultish...) this is a great little drafting / bidding / mis-direction game.
Players are bidding to declare how many of each particular suit are in the game, but each time they play a card, they must change their bid for that suit. How close (or far away) a player is with their bid will determine how many points they receive (or give up!)
The first round, Noel and Tom did well, and Jon did ok.
The second round, Tom did very well, Noel barely broke even, and Jon did ok.
The third round, Noel did better, Tom still did well and Jon did ok.
It came down to the bid on the final card, which Jon was 1 out, allowing Tom to move his bid on his last turn to the exact number, with a subsequent 4 point swing in points.
Tom 19; Jon 16; Noel 12

Also played tonight was Puerto Rico and it's smaller (and better) brother, San Juan. But no reports. Let's pretend that Alex and his Mohican triumphed famously...

And so that's enough unclothed altercations for one evening. See you next week for even more tomfoolery (except that Tom might not be there, in which case it will simply be foolery...)

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

"I say, Lurcio, how did my blog go? Master - you brought the house down....."

Players: Phil, Gary, Natasha, Andy, Jon, James, Dan, Paul
Following on from last week’s blog, I posed the question about why certain games get played more than others at IBG. Well - undoubtedly the main factor is how often the game actually gets brought to IBG. For instance, I throw For Sale (30) and No Thanks (25) into the bag nearly every week, which increases their chance of being played, whereas I only brought Wasabi (1) once. This factor is proven by Philip’s insistence on bringing Terra Mystica (9) every week – only one more play for the magical double figures!
Linked to this, is the number of copies owned between members of IBG. There are at least 4 copies of Railroad Tycoon / ROTW (15) floating about, and definitely more than one Kingdom Builder (15), whereas I’m not sure if anyone other than James owns Letters from Whitechapel (2), making it less likely to make an appearance on subsequent evenings.
Many games that have only been played once fall into both of these categories – owned by one person and only brought along infrequently, which gives them almost no chance of repeated plays.
The second factor is the weight of the game. Fillers will likely be played more often, as you can fit several in during the evening, so they have more chance of turning up on different weeks, whereas the heavyweights take up the majority of the session with a single play. It’s going to be easier to find an audience for a quick 10-minute card game, than it is for a 3-hour brain-burner. However, it did surprise me a little, that of the 33 games played more than 10 times, only 14 I would class as fillers, or social games.

The third factor is perhaps the most obvious – the ‘quality’ of the game (how ‘good’ is it, or how much do players enjoy playing it?) This is naturally highly subjective, but it is interesting that the 6 most played ‘non-fillers’ at IBG are all in the top 100 games on BGG. It appears that the cream really does rise to the top. At the opposite extreme, I’m not sure that we have played too many real ‘stinkers’, but if a game receives a lukewarm reaction, it is unlikely to see repeated plays. For instance, Are You the Traitor? received such a terrible response from those IBG'ers unfortunate enough to waste 15 minutes of their life on it, that it would be highly unlikely to ever see the light of day again...
Anyway, moving on to tonight’s fare. There were 2 tables tonight, playing very different types of games. One of them proved that running away from an erupting volcano really is as difficult as it sounds (especially if you play by the wrong rules…), whilst the other proved that you can win a train game without building anything to do with trains….
Paul and Jon were the early birds again, and had completed one round of Blueprints when James turned up. Being the nice guys that they are, they abandoned their cosy 2-player, and started a 3-player game instead. (Actually, this was probably just as well, as Paul, despite answering in the affirmative 3 times when asked, had failed to grasp how the different coloured dice score, rather putting himself at a disadvantage.)
James managed to win the 3-point bonus in the first 2 rounds, which effectively won him the game. Jon constantly whined about how the scoring cards should not score the same numbers of points due to their relative levels of difficulty to complete. As if to prove his point, he deliberately tried to achieve the ‘6 dice of different values’ card in the final round – which he managed, but at the cost of being way behind with the points scoring.
No surprises with the end scoring, and Jon’s desire to house-rule the award cards probably means that he may not be Blueprinting any time again soon….
James 10; Paul 8; Jon 7
Agricola (thanks Phil)
A 4 player game, drafting with some Gamer's deck cards. I take Private Forest
and pass on Bookshelf and Swan Lake. Then a few cards later Patron is passed to me: I think this would go well with Bookshelf and Swan Lake and take it. However, neither Bookshelf nor Swan Lake comes round again.
Nothing daunted, I, going first, start with Patron, and follow it up with a moronic Private Forest (taking Start Player even though I am the Start Player, and using all my food in the bargain). Andy takes the other occupation, playing Clay Mixer and predictably taking 4 Clay. Natasha and Gary split the Wood between them...
I have Singer, so 2 Reeds isn't that attractive and I pick 3 Wood instead. Gary plays the Fisherman, which is destined to earn him an incredible amount of food. Andy picks up the Reed. Natasha takes Start player with a strange improvement allowing him to sow one room of his house. I play Reed/Stone/Food.
In Turn 3 Natasha pre-empts Gary by going fishing. For some bizarre reason I play the Businessman and take some Clay. From now on it all gets a bit hazy. I think Gary takes Start Player with the Raft.
Turn 4 sees me playing the Pilgrim for a net 3 Food. The Pilgrim gets me 1 or 2 food over the rest of the game so was marginally better than Travelling Players... I also take Start Player and use my Businessman for a Fireplace- I think Gary has the other Fireplace by now and Andy the cheap Cooking Hearth. Sheep came out in turn 4 so aren't taken by anyone. Gary puts down Hut Builder.
In Turns 5-7 I manage to grab 3 Reeds and begin taking Wood so I can build two rooms at once- meanwhile Andy takes his one room while he can get it- as does Natasha in the following turn. I manage to take 3 sheep, cooking 2. Gary fishes for 7 food. At some point I build a Cooking Hearth with Start Player. Natasha builds the Clay Oven and is in position for Family Growth when it final comes in Turn 7. Gary plays the House Goat.
Over the next few turns everyone manages Family Growth except me, although I do manage to build 3 rooms at once, plus a stable. I play the Cooking Corner. In a particularly egregious blunder in turn 11, I fail to notice Gary's extra room from Hut Builder and so take 4 Wood thinking no one else can use Family Growth. I build the Well with 4 turns to go, putting paid to my chances of ever getting Food from the Pilgrim.
Natasha meanwhile adds the Stone Oven to the Clay Oven and then replaces the Clay Oven with the Baker's Kitchen. Andy builds the Pottery and later the Joinery, with Gary building the Basketmaker's Workshop.
As the game draws to a close I manage to double the size of my family, fence and plow most of my spaces, grow some vegetables and breed a few cattle. However, I'm still living in a Wooden Hut, have no Sheep, Boar, or Grain, and only one Bonus point from some weird Gamer's deck Minor.
Final Scores Me 22, Gary 32, Andy 37, Natasha 43 (I'm not totally sure about Gary's score, but it was definitely higher than mine and lower than Andy's). Scores listed in turn order and (as it happens) loser to winner

The other group of 3 players had set up a copy of Stone Age (along with the worst named expansion in the history of boardgames), but when Dan turned up and showed less than a lukewarm interest in worker-placement, it was ditched in favour of -

The Downfall of Pompeii (thanks Paul)
Running screaming from flows of molten lava clearly sounded like enough fun for a game of Pompeii. Paul spent most of the game wondering if he was supposed to be playing Frankie Howard or maybe the wench.
People are placed in pre-eruption Pompeii in the various buildings, while the eruption is simmering and gates out of the city are few. Then at an unknown time Vesuvius blows, lava starts to rampage and the time to flee is nigh. Flee they did, some with more haste, not to mention better routes than others.
Jon took the victory which had been soothsaid from a few turns before the end, whilst, titter ye not, Paul was indeed revealed to be playing the comic part.
Jon 10, James 9, Dan 8 and Paul 6

Later Dan posted on the IBG forum that James had got the rules wrong (Quelle surprise! – ed), but I'm not sure that anyone was so entranced to give it another go. Not a bad game, but there are so many other good ones out there.
In order to keep Dan at the table, it had become filler-time. James took an early
lead with this one, only to see his precious tiles stolen from under his nose.
Jon proved to be the best clairvoyant, declaring that “Dan needs to roll a couple of fours with those 2 dice” – pre-empting this exact roll which allowed another theft from James.
The usual high-risk rolls at the end of the game saw Dan comfortably win, with Jon and Paul settling for 2nd place. Oh – and James got nothing….
Dan 10; Jon 4; Paul 4; James 0

Trains (thanks Gary)
After a hard day at the family farm, building rooms and fences, growing and baking, fishing, rearing cattle and feeding people it was time to finish off the evening on Trains.
In fact, after his win on Agricola, Dan was looking very sceptical about playing something as random as a deckbuilder, Philip wanted to cuddle up with a panda on Takenoko and Gary and Andy were somewhat ambivalent about the options – somehow Trains was taken up as the least offensive option on offer…
Anyone who has played this game with Andy before won’t be surprised to hear that he placed one cube on the board at the start of the game (as required) and then promptly ignored the board for pretty much the rest of the game…. and who can blame him since he has (as far as I’m aware) a 100% success rating at playing the game this way!
Dan “the Spam” took the exact opposite approach – immediately spamming the board with rails galore reaching from east to west before the rest of us had chance to say, “Konichi-wa”.
Philip wanted to build stations and lots of them – he also spotted that he could multi-chain the 4 cost, 1 coin Information Timetable and promptly set about taking the lot of them – his turns ended up taking about four times as long as anyone else’s as a result!
Gary tried to take a balanced approach – not building too early, grabbing a few Express Trains and some decent cards before building up his infrastructure. In particular, the Dump Site card (cost 5, 1 coin) provided the opportunity to Lay Rails and Build Stations without taking waste – given that Waste clogging is the major factor in the slow-down of your deck in this game, this seemed a good option. You do need the luck of the draw for this card to appear with your Lay Rails/Station Expansion cards, however...
Andy’s resolute disregard of the board led to him taking pretty much all the 6 cost Limited Express Trains very early in the game, allowing him to start collecting Skyscrapers (and waste). Gary managed to make use of his Dump Site on a few occasions to build into a 3 Star and 2 Star location and build up an exclusive 3 Station City, without taking too much waste on-board. Philip and Dan jostled over the central area of the board – but the waste was starting to slow them down….
Andy finally started to slow down with the accumulation of waste from building Skyscrapers and Towers, allowing the others a look in. Gary took a few Skyscrapers and Towers too – with that handy Dump Site helping out along with a Garage to replace some of the less useful cards. Philip’s chaining Information
Timetables gathered him a Skyscraper on one occasion too, but Dan was now stuck knee deep in waste.
Finally, Andy drew a Waste free hand of (something like) 13, taking the last two Towers and an Apartment and (with the Limited Express, Skyscraper and Information Timetable piles already gone) triggering the end of the game.
The scoring for this one was rather closer – Andy had picked up 35 points, almost all from his buildings, though he had expanded a little on his last cycle through to grab a few points off the board. Gary had 17 points from the building cards and an agonising 17 points from the board to finish one short on 34. Philip’s Information Timetable blitzkrieg wasn’t enough to quite compete, finishing down the line in the 20s along with Dan, whose impressive and extensive presence on the board was not matched by his score…. he can take comfort in the fact that no doubt the people of Tokyo will forever be in his debt for his track-building generosity.
This is still a game I like a lot – the combination of deck-building and a board is very good and gives the game’s theme more traction – it is just something of a shame that it doesn’t appear particularly balanced, in that ignoring the board is clearly a better option than going heavily on the board. Whilst my attempt at a balanced approach in this game came closer to competing with Andy’s straight up deckbuilding, it still failed – and that is with the use of the Dump Site which clearly gives a kick to use of the board. Obviously, much still depends on the actual cards chosen (and at least we didn’t have Tourist Train this time). Perhaps, the straightforward deckbuilding approach is a bit like the much criticised “big money” approach to Dominion – and we just haven’t played Trains enough as yet to better it? This is, of course, no criticism of Andy – who remains undisputed champion of Trains – it’s just that it feels somewhat unthematic that the winning strategy in Trains usually involves building the minimum amount of track and stations on the board as possible…..
Andy 35, Gary 34, Philip (approx) 26, Dan (approx) 24

Nicht die Bohne
A while since this interesting little card game was played – and after James’
showing, it may be a little while longer before it reappears.
With 4 players, it’s possible to make some educated guesses about what cards any player is likely to choose – and which cards can be chosen which will shaft James the best.
Jon managed to pick up a couple of handy ‘x2’ cards, and managed to negate a minus with another minus. James wasn’t quite so skilful / clever / intelligent / lucky, and was soon struggling to finish with a positive score. Paul stayed under the radar nicely, and scored what would have been, in normal circumstances, a competitive score.
However, it was Dan who bottomed out, with a minus on a ‘x2’, whilst Jon achieved one of the biggest blow-outs in the history of IBG.
Jon 92; Paul 41; James 7; Dan -19
Epic Spell Wars etc etc... 
James and Paul bailed, leaving Dan and Jon with enough time for 3 rounds of this simple yet incredibly fun card game.
The rounds went incredibly quickly, with both players casting devastating spells. At one-all, Jon had barely any life force left, but just managed to conjour up enough power in his final spell to win the battle. Great fun!
Jon 2; Dan 1

And that was all for another week. More lava-burning, non-train train games next week…