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…

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