Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Lies, damned lies and games reports...

Players: James, Paul, Phil, Noel, Andy, Jon, Tom, Soren, Paul II, Tom II, James III, Chris

A good turnout tonight, with a warm welcome to another newcomer, Chris, joining us for the first time – who lives in Wimbledon but rather handily works just down the road at Gillette corner.
With Philip and James having newly returned from Essen, there were always going to be some new goodies on offer, but it was nice to see at least one familiar old title as well.
When reading tonight’s reports, just remember that history may have been re-written on at least one occasion – you have been warned…….

Colt Express (thanks Paul)
Each of the six players took the part of a bandit who boarded the moving train in the rear carriage, trying to avoid the Marshall whilst picking up as much loot as possible and engaging in shootouts and brawls with each other. Each player has various cards with actions on them which will let them move left and right through the train, climb onto the train roof (or back down), move the Marshall, punch or shoot a fellow bandit or pick up loot. The game consists of five rounds, and in round the players add these action cards to the deck in specific order, two, three or four times for everyone. The deck is then a series of actions which those no good cowboys much play out. Therefore the players must attempt to think ahead to anticipate where they will be on the train by the time their action takes place, where the other players and the Marshall will be and how to get their hands on the bags of cash and giant rubys that scatter the floor of the carriages. Of course it isn't that simple, because the other players can impact things before you even get a move, for example if another player punches you, you drop one of your money bags and and knocked into the next carriage. And the aggressor can decide which direction to punch you in.
It was a lot of fun. Soren was the first to the front of the train to collect the Marshall's bag, worth a whopping $1000, whilst everyone else was making do with the jewels and currency. Paul (2) did engage in a good standoff with Soren reeling of a salvo of several rounds. Chris seemed content to take it all in and pick up bits here and there. James of course was being wily and stayed at the back of the train whilst everyone else moseyed up front so that he could monopolise the cash back there. Tome was happy mid-train. Paul (1) went up front with Soren and punched one of his Ruby's clean out of his hands whilst they were wrestling on top of the train, using the deadly 'punch then collect' one two movement.
No one seemed to be too worried about winning, more enjoying the Butch Cassidy experience. Final scores revealed that Paul (1) had pipped James at the post by $50.
Final scores (not all known): Paul $2100, James $2050, Soren, Paul (2), Chris and Tom - all less than James.

Coup: Guatemala 1954
With the new and shiny being played by 6 players on one table, the next crew to
arrive pulled out Jon’s latest favourite, for a couple of quick games. This was new to Tom II and James III, but they soon picked it up and were attacking each other with glee.
Phil put in some early challenges in game 1 – and paid the ultimate penalty. Noel and Jon soon followed, leaving the newbies to duke it out (although this version doesn’t actually have any Dukes…) Jon turned around for a quick chat with Andy, and when he looked back, the game was over – apparently Tom’s Army laid waste to James’ characters pretty quickly.
Another game was set up, and this time it came down to James and Jon as the final 2 combatants. However, James cunning use of his Lawyer (take the wealth of any eliminated player) had meant that he had picked up a ridiculous amount of coins, and was able to coup / Secret Police Jon to his heart’s content.
Obviously a game for newcomers…..

Trains: Rising Sun (thanks Noel)
This game report is based on a true story...

Paul, Noel and Chris were keen to join Jon for a first play of his new Essen pickup, Trains:Rising Sun. It was Chris' first game of Trains but he looked like he could handle the Rising Sun 'experienced' deck and it was new cards a plenty for this game. Paul started in the centre while Jon took the NE, Noel the NW and Chris next to Paul.
Noel attempted his usual plan of initially ignoring the board and to Jon and Paul's surprise picked some of the new Attack cards that gave him points if the other players had waste at the top of their deck on his turn. Perhaps not a bad plan with Paul really testing the 'this new edition fixes the problem of players not playing on the board theory' by building everywhere and anywhere and filling his deck with waste. However, he did put some of the cycling cards to good use by discarding 2 waste to pick another card on most of his turns. The only trouble he was picking up more waste and cards that let him recycle it! Jon had a somewhat more balanced plan with some building and some attack cards. Chris also built to numerous stations and nearly built into Pauls high point cities in the centre of the board.
The game was approaching the end, Noel was close to joining into Paul's high point cities, Paul nearly had completed a long route that would have given him a total of 10 points, Jon seemed to be in the lead and Chris was also doing well. Paul could have taken a card that would then allow Jon to finish the game on his turn. Paul realised that if he did this then the scores would finish somewhere around Jon 26, Chris 23, Noel 18 and Paul 17 he wisely chose not to take that card frustrating Jon who only managed to pick up an extra 1 point yellow card. Noel then played from his final hand 2 attack cards picking waste points up from Paul and complete his build into Paul's 8 point city. Chris built another 2 stations and Paul did actually complete his long route on his next turn and finish the game. It transpired on final scoring much much later (maybe 4 days later) that Paul's decision not to take that card that allowed Jon to finish the game was absolutely critical to enabling him and Noel to get respectable scores, not be beaten by Chris playing his first game and ensure a 4 way tie. As we searched for a tie breaker all that needs to be said is that history is written by the victor......

Russian Railroads
“One-sentence Tom” reports thusly…
The game was Russian Railroads between me, Phil and Paul II.  All you need to know is that I won and that Phil will be bringing the "I defeated Philip Thomas at a Euro Game" sash for me to sport for the rest of the month.
Patchistory (thanks James)
So, the surprise hit of Essen 13 finally makes it to a table in Isleworth… the main question I’m asking is was the hype based only on the severely limited availability of the game last year (50 copies), or is the game itself a worthy addition to the collection…. the main question everyone else is asking, is will James share his plates of Sweet Potato fries, and can we be confident he’s worked out the rules correctly in advance (answers to both, probably no).
So the game works on a tile laying basis where you bid for tiles (2x2) and overlay them on your existing tile layout everyone starts with a 3x2 tile). Each square provides a certain type of resource and so the bigger the overall grid the more resources… but a number of rules enforce how you can build so your tile choices start to become strategic as you expand the empire. It’s a nice thematic match in that you are literally expanding your empire as the game progresses.
We were all new to the game, Andy (hoping for another variant on Through the Ages), Tom, James II(or Jim) and myself… I did my best with the rules (honest) and we started to bid and build… key early on was to add politcal points to the empire so as to activate a number of additional actions. Both Andy and Player Tom managed this early on but myself and Jim struggled and if I was honest, this felt like it held us up in an unbalanced way… I did spend a lot of time at this stage examining the rules to see what I had gotten wrong (yes I know, as unlikely as that sounds)… but couldn’t find anything… however I still not convinced…  So I went on a money spinning strategy instead while Jim seemed to struggle with a lack of funds. Andy and Tom has already ‘birthed’ some meeples and these wre now stomping around their empires adding additional benefits…
At the end of Age I (there are 3 in the game, how original !) it felt like Jim and me were behind due to the lack of political points. No-one had started a trade route yet though, and there was no warfare in place… something that felt like it should be a bigger part of the game but having played a third seemed like it probably wasn’t central as it took several moves just to get to this point. We also realised at this stage that we were going to run out of time (another thing in common with Through the Ages) so we agreed to go for a two Age only game… not the best option for Jim who’d picked up a ‘Wonder’ that gave 40 points if it was still standing at the end of Age 3, but only -5 for Age 1 and 2… them’s the breaks…
At the end of each age there is an interesting voting phase wherein 4 ‘bonus’ cards get voted one and the least popular is ditched… unless more than one are the least popular in which all get ditched. Andy decided in this case it was better than no one got to score any points so he manipulated the votes to ensure all the cards were scrapped… He’s a devious fella is Andy…
So Age 2 brought in some bigger and better tiles and things picked up. I decided at this stage that my main goal would be to explore parts of the game we hadn’t yet got to so my goal was to end up declaring war on Andy and to see what happened… to be honest declaring war on Andy also felt like a good strategy as he was winning… and also he was Andy, so this ticked all the boxes.
As you built up the patchwork empire each age restricted the size of your tableau. First age 5x5, 2nd age 6x6… so by now this created some very interesting strategic bidding as you needed to find tiles that fitted into your current setup. This part of the game is really the heart of the game, and it’s a great mechanic. If I’m honest I’m not convinced by the overall game, although the balance issues I mentioned earlier may have influenced this, but the bidding/patching/resource management side is a lot of fun, and a very unique element to the game.
So Age 2 progressed and I marched my army down the trade route towards Andy… others started to flex their military might this age and I was threatened a few times by Jim having to give up some hard earned resources…  I can’t remember much else to be honest. At one stage we realised Jim had built his empire illegally, but much like Russia we declined to take back the illegal territories and just redrew the boundaries… Finally my Army arrived, only to find themselves hopelessly outnumbered by Andy’s forces… so the war march became one of politely saying hello and offering to make tea…. Andy had none of it (maybe he doesn’t like tea?) and decided to push my army back… and that was that… to be honest the warfare bit isn’t that exciting after all the effort, but I think that’s intentional as the game isn’t really about that at all… else it would be called something like PatchWarfare, and Dan would probably own and love it.

Then we decided it was time to finish. Age 2 completed and we had another vote on the bonus cards… I managed to do quite well this time round, but not well enough and I think Jim actually won… I don’t know… we didn’t keep the scores. I’m pretty sure Andy didn’t win.. but then he might have… but I’m happy to stick with my memory that he didn’t. Let’s say that Jim won to make up for having a crappy first age with no meeples…
Feelings ? I liked the game, and the patching mechanic… but I’m not convinced by the overall package.
And I still have a nagging doubt that I got a rule wrong… however unlikely that might seem…

Noel had vetoed One Night Werewolf after a bad experience in the US (I think he was bitten by a narcoleptic dog or something…), so despite Paul’s slight misgivings, the Resistance was tabled to end the night. This was new to Paul II, and Chris had only played it once before a long time ago, but playing the “I’m new and don’t know what I’m doing” card can often be a good bluff for a spy……
And despite being a newcomer, Paul II declared at the beginning that he had already tagged Jon as an amazing deceiver (a description that Jon took as a sort of compliment…)
Anyway, Phil chose Noel for the first mission, and also gave him a plot card that enabled Noel to look at Phil’s character – which he declared was a good guy. The mission passed. Paul II then chose himself, Paul I and Noel for the second mission, and Chris got to look at one of the played mission cards. He chose Paul’s, claimed that it was a ‘pass’ – and then the mission failed. So – Chris and Paul were likely to have the same character, but which was it?
Jon still had his suspicions about Noel, which were obviously reciprocated, but he picked him for the next mission regardless - requesting that he reveal his character card to Jon in return. Paul and Chris had both voted against the make-up of this mission, which further heaped suspicion on them as the bad guys. Noel took forever to decide whether to show Jon his card, which he eventually did, and was declared as ‘a good guy’. The mission passed.
With Phil, Jon and Noel all but exonerated as honest Joes (although Noel still had deep-seated niggling doubts about trusting Jon), it was only a matter of time before Tom was outed as the final spy and the good guys romped home 3 to 1.
The great thing about this game is that, no matter how clear the evidence appears, if you’re playing with Noel, Jon or James, then nothing is ever 100% certain. Fabulous.
Noel, Phil, Jon, Paul II – won. Paul, Chris, Tom – lost.

And that was it for another fantastic night at the LA. Hopefully Neil's oral issues (?!) will have cleared up by next week so he can join us too.....

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