Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Time to get the Turkey ready..

So, another missed week by me last week, my attendance record is fast becoming my non-attendance record. Never mind. Here’s what I got told about, many thanks to some new authors this week, fantastic chaps!!

In attendance: Paul, Paul II, Tom II, Tom III, Dan, Arturo, Noel, Philip, John B

Bucket King 3D (thanks Noel)

A simple game brought along by John that involves playing cards in sequence around the table and if you didn’t have a higher card in that colour you had to flick out one of the buckets in your pyramid of 10. Person with the most buckets in their pyramid at the end of the game wins. 

A little bit of thought goes into your pyramid stacking and the direction you send the round when playing first and it didn't outstay its welcome as an enjoyable filler. Paul II was the victor. Noel was first eliminated and Arturo second. 

Castles of Mad King Ludwig (cheers Paul)

Not a week goes past since Essen without this game being played at least once. This week was no exception and by now everyone knew the rules (although John challenged one that we'd been playing since we'd been taught it by our official Essen trainer Neil. Philip looked in the rules book and ended up agreeing with John. I went along with it all). [John was right... I got it badly wrong! ED]

Philip went underground and lived up to his corridor wondering reputation by maxing on corridors. John spread out and seemed to have lots of bug rooms of all shapes. Paul created wonderful gardens looking out in all directions.

Philip edged ahead during normal play, but John and Paul had been completing orange rooms and therefore gaining more bonus point cards only to be revealed on completion of the Castles.

So after the initial scoring, Philip was in the lead. When Paul totted up his bonuses, he overtook that mad pretender Philip, but then when John did the same he leapfrogged everyone and took the crown.

Still a lot of fun, and Paul was delighted not to be trailing a long way behind as he had in his previous castle building attempts.

Scores: John 139, Paul 132, Philip 121
Evolution (many thanks to Paul)

A joint rules explanation by Tom II and John B educated us in the ways we could evolve our dinocreatures to grow, feed, protect ourselves and even turn carniverous and chomp on other players creatures.

This game involves everyone starting with one creature way back when the earth was very young and man had not yet invented the internet. Everyone is dealt several 'ability' cards which, if played in the right way, allow the creatures to evolve into having this ability, which then allows them to do good stuff, like use their long neck to get food more quickly, use their tree climbing ability to scurry off when predators are on the prowl, or indeed use some unstable DNA to spawn more dinocreatures.

Each turn involves gathering at the watering hole for food, and in the initial turns life is good and grub is plentiful. But as time marches inevitably on, food becomes scarce and so each creature needs to develop in order to survive. One way of developing is to turn carnivorous and start to eat other creatures. But in doing so, a meat muncher must be sufficiently bigger than it's pray, so growing very big is a valid defence mechanism, as is growing horns or shells, or the ability to climb or burrow your way our of danger.

To start with only Noel fancied some prime rib, but as the game went on the necessity of having the eat meant that many creatures followed suit.

Philip was quietly bringing in a good number of points each round, and was my favourite to win, but Tom II has used his stock of unstable DNA to create a horde of species which all clocked up points each round and ended up winning comfortably.

A very fun game, with a strong theme and it played six players comfortably within 45 minutes. I suspect this'll be played many times again providing John B brings it. Or James has a copy (or course!) 

Scores: Tom II 55, Philip 46, Paul 40, John B 40, Noel 39, Tom III 39

Trains (cheers Paul II!)

Paul II and Arturo asked Dan to explain a second new game to them. Its just like race for the galaxy fell on newbie deaf ears. After a brief explanation about cards, hands and discards we were off.

Dan led the way going for the top right of the map, Paul II the bottom left which left the unfortunate Arturo stuck in the middle. After a few rounds everyone got how to play and given the newbies were copying Dan initially it was all still to play for.

Dan and Paul II's geographical advantage enabled them to snaffle up more cities and bonuses. Its hard to know what Arturo could have done so possibly a flaw in the game map?

Dan majored on cards which enabled him to recycle trains quicker and was happily buying up bonus cards rather than bigger trains. Paul II got the upgrade cards first and then was regularly able to afford the 8 cost bonus cards. Dan's lack of big trains left him with 7 to spend a few times which ultimately cost the victory as Paul II snuck the win by 1 point.

Approx final scores: Paul II 46, Dan 45, Arturo 25 

San Juan (thanks Arturo!)
Since we played 4 games and that might be too much work for Paul, I am going to help him with one of them: San Juan. In addition, it is the only one he played that night that he was not able to win, so I am glad to review it myself (now you might think I won it, but I am afraid not; see below).

San Juan is the cards game version of his big brother Puerto Rico (or the other way around, who knows). No board, no checkers, but plenty of cards with basically the same: production buildings that produce goods to sell, facilities to help and monuments to get extra VPs.

At the beginning we all had an eye on Dan, who was the only one that had played this game before. He built a carpentry, so Paul did the same. I was not that eager to be original, but with no more carpentries available I decided to concentrate myself on production buildings. Later on I got a card that allowed me to perform really nice prospecting, collecting a lot of cards.

But Paul and Dan were also building their stuff, so even if I decided to end the game by building my 12th facility, Dan scored far more points than us (mainly with a card that gives points based on the amount of production buildings). At the end experience is always a plus. 

So it was a really funny game, easy to learn and containing far more strategy than I expected from a quick cards game.

See u next week there!

Sentinels of the Multiverse (thanks again Paul II)
Dan heroically then explained a third game in one night to Paul II and Arturo. Cooperative games are especially difficult to teach without coaching so special thanks to Dan for cutting us loose.

We were three superheroes fighting just one bad guy. After Dan had patiently explained each of the twenty available options we ignorantly picked the ones with the coolest name / picture!

Arturo had a big gun, Dan a box of tricks and Paul II good armour to soak up damage. So by pure chance a very good mix and the bad guy (and the multiple minions he summoned) were destroyed with ease.

Jury out to whether this game is excellent or not due to ease of win but I'd like to try facing off against another tougher baddie so definitely a fun game.
Libertalia (cheers again Noel)

Noel, Giant Tom and Normal Height Tom won the polite 'after you' negotiation about who was going to play Libertalia. (we should play Genoa or Chinatown again!) 

Noel had played a number of times before but it was new to the two Toms. The first campaign was fairly close but memorable for Giant Tom's Brute knocking himself out. Noel pushed out into the lead in the 2nd campaign while Giant Tom was again unfortunate when he chose to swap his Spanish soldiers for booty tiles but drew some cursed booty instead. 

Noel had a healthy lead in the 3rd and final campaign and Giant Tom helped him out by deciding to attack his namesake instead. (Noel smiled and reminisced about every 3 player game he plays with little brother Paul) 

Final Scoring: Noel 63; Normal Height Tom 56 and Giant Tom 45

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Le Havre
This week’s report is being filed from the Channel. Yes, I have run away catching a ferry at noon from Portsmouth today, dumping my entire games collection overboard on the trip to Le Havre. Whether I return or not is yet to be decided!

Anyway, last week. Mrs Hora took priority for Wed evening entertainments and I missed the chance to play some great games, damn. Rumours and gossip abound and here’s what I garnered from it all..

Attendees: James, Gareth II, Paul II, Tom II, Tom III (now to be known as ‘mitten’! [WHAT??], Dan, Natasha, Tonio, John, Jon, Philip, Arturo, Dom, Jim.

Playlist: Splendor, Essen: The Game Spiel 2013, Imperial Settlers, Terra Mystica, One Night Ultimate Werewolf, Deus, Valley of the Kings, Forbidden Desert 

One Night Werewolf (thanks Jon!)

Noel had previously vetoed this game on the basis of a poor experience with it in the US – however, he was not here to pour cold water on it this evening, so James managed to get it to the table – with Jon, Tom(s) and Dan being the other protagonists.

The premise is simple – everyone gets a role (Werewolf / Villager / Miscellaneous idiots) – and then a night phase occurs (i.e. everyone closes their eyes) when various characters can do various things with various other role cards. The day begins, and the ‘good guys’ have 5 mins to winkle out the werewolves, who in turn need to throw suspicion on others.

Out of the 3 games played. The werewolves won once when, ironically, there weren’t actually any werewolves in play, but the paranoid villagers still managed to sacrifice one of their own. To be fair, with James, Dan and Jon all playing a hidden role game together, the level of suspicion does tend to run rather high….

I’m not sure about this one. It’s quick, which is always good news, but I’m not sure about how replayable it is. The strategy for the villagers appears to be – get everyone to reveal as much info as possible, then get the seer (if there is one) to confirm if anyone is obviously lying. Then decide which of the 2/3 dodgy players you believe most. I’m sure that there’s more to it than that, and when the more complex roles are introduced, there will likely be multiple levels of suspicion and misdirection. However, I think I would still err on the side of the Resistance or Mayday Mayday when it comes to social deduction games. And whatever happened to 2 Rooms and a Boom?!

Not as bad as Noel had made out, though……

Essen 2013 (cheers Jon)

Having both been at the Essen Spiel in 2013, this was a trip down memory lane for James and Jon – and Tom II joined in for the ride as well. This is heavily thematic, with players having to race around the fair, buying too many games for far too much money, and then taking them back to the car-park to cram into Neil’s car. It was almost like being there….

There are big bonuses to be had for picking up games that are on your ‘shopping list’, as well as picking up certain numbers of different game genres. The crowd of gamers will also randomly turn up on your location and slow you down to a crawl – and if you’re already crawling due to a bursting bag of games, then that pretty much means coming to a halt!

The game plays relatively quickly, although the last couple of days were characterised by a bit of min-maxing, as players (Ok – mostly Jon) tried to calculate exactly how many games they could pick up and still return to the car-park in the same turn to unload and return to the fray.

In the end, James pulled comfortably away from the rest, as would be expected by the ‘Master of Essen’, with Tom and Jon sharing 2nd place together, after having failed to pick up quite as many bonuses as James.

The verdict: great theming, and a real nostalgia trip, as the game contains the actual box art from many of the new releases from Essen 13, as well as the publishers’ stands being in pretty much the same place as they actually were at the event. The game itself is pretty fun, and the random nature of the games’ appearances should make it replayable. There were a few random elements (crowd / shopping list cards) which could really affect players’ actions and scores, but otherwise, it was fairly solid. I think that the turn order needs looking at (clockwise from the player with the least games in his bag) as this can give an advantage to the player that already has the most actions in a particular round, and a disadvantage to the player on their right, but I think that this has already been noted on the BGG forums. Anyway, definitely not worth throwing off a ferry. The only things missing from a true Essen 2013 experience are the marvellous range of Jacket Potatoes on offer, and the gorgeous blonde playing Mayday Mayday. Sigh……….

Terra Mystica (thanks Philip)

Myself, Dan II (aka Natasha), Paul and Arturo playing the expansion. Arturo's first game ever, Natasha's first game with expansion, Paul's 2nd game ever (and 2nd with expansion), my 3rd game with the expansion and first 4 player expansion, previous plays being 3 players.

There's no doubt the game is better with 4 than 3. Water cult tiles in the first two rounds lead me to suggest the Mermaids for Arturo. Natasha saw the Yeti's obvious power (and picked Wasteland as his terrain): Paul I think was just attracted by the look of the Darklings although much the same could be said of me and the Acolytes (I picked Forest although it doesn't matter except for my starting locations. Mountains or Desert would have worked better in terms of limiting Natasha's options). The extra VP goal was "most settlements" which I hadn't played before.

I only worked out when taking my first round income that the Acolytes get shorted a worker: ouch. That made my double temple strategy not only hard to achieved but fairly dumb: reducing your income to two priests is bad enough for most races but when you don't get a basic worker income it is worse still. Myself, Paul and Arturo all took the Water 2 temple so as to benefit from free spades in round 1 and priests in round 2. Arturo combined this with the priest starting tile to reach space 8 on the Water track in the first turn.

Natasha kept saying he had miscalculated, but he was going from strength to strength: he completed his stronghold in round 4 after which he had good access to all resources.

I was not very skilled in the masterful manipulation of the cult tracks which the Acolytes require. I refrained from terraforming much early and found I had burned too much power compensating for that missing worker in round 1. My stronghold power helped but not enough given that I downgraded 4 priests to workers in order to build it.

Arturo played well for a beginner, taking the two spades power action to terraform two tiles at least 3 times and easily establishing two towns, one of which was the 2 keys town. Paul's Darklings were not as successful, partly due to one of his starting dwelling's isolation in one corner of the board. He did manage to correctly time his Stronghold so the conversion worked. 

As the game ended we competed to build isolated Dwellings so as to win the "most settlements" goal. Natasha easily won this with me and Arturo joint second. Paul hadn't managed to connect his two sets of buildings and neither (more surprisingly) had Natasha, so I came second there. I scored ok on the cult tracks but Arturo scored better. The game ended with me last and Paul just ahead of me, Arturo about 10 points ahead of us, and Natasha about 20 points ahead of Arturo- Yetis proving their worth again.

I have seen Acolytes lose three times now: possibly there is a strong way to play them that we're missing. I'd like to try the other Volcano race at some point although they also look oddly weak- Natasha pointed out that they only start with 8 power...

We used the variable passing order which worked fine. 

‘Very enjoyable game of Terra Mystica, particularly given that we played the first 40% of the game in two and a half hours, and the last 60% in one hour! I heard the Deus players pretending to enjoy themselves, but I presume that was just out of spite.’ Natasha [paranoid]

Forbidden Desert (and thanks to Jon again, top reporter!)

As Jon’s copy of Valley of the Kings was being played on another table, Jon decided to postpone his imminent departure and break out a quick co-op instead. Tom and James (sort of) joined him in trying to locate the legendary flying machine and escape a sandy demise.

It turns out that the boys managed a relatively straightforward victory, despite James being distracted for most of the game by talking to anyone else who would listen about something probably related to game trades. Having said that, there were only a handful of sand tiles left when the great escape was made, and another turn would probably have seen the 3 of them entombed in sand forever. Which would have put paid to James’ latest trading exploits for a bit…..

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Those that were present: Gareth II, Paul, Jon, Tom III, Tom II, Jim, Arturo, Neil, Chris II, Paul II, Dan, Philip

What those played: Coup G54, Trains: Rising Sun, Agricola, Terra Mystica, Cash ’n’ Guns, Castles of Mad King Ludwig, Cash ’n’ Guns II & III, Port Royal, Castles of Mad King Ludwig II

Trains: Rising Sun

With Paul and Jon locking horns on this last week both were keen on a rematch and it was good for myself and Tom II to learn the revised game.

Having been selected start player I took THE best position on the map and there was no way anyone was going to prevent an inevitable victory. Whilst Paul and Jon built up their hands Tom followed my example of laying rails, collecting waste, filling that board up. Everyone had avoided each other pretty well until first Jon started impinging on my borders, and the Paul decided to do the same. As it was I slipped nicely through to pick up one of the town to town bonuses and felt that my empire was going to be strong enough, I just needed one more sets of rails into either  or . But it wasn’t to be. 

Jon had been hoarding the yellow buildings and Paul snuck through some last minute stations. A close game all round but that inevitable victory was on hold..

Final Scores; Jon - 42, Paul - 39, Neil - 38, Tom - 36.

Coup: G54 (Cheers Jon)

An early evening foray into the world of Central American politics - with only Tom (3!) not having played Coup before.

This game saw an interesting mix of cards, as two of them took affect after players had lost lives. The Intellectual could be claimed in order to take 5 coins when losing your first life, and the Lawyer could be used to take all the remaining coins from a player that is eliminated. The other roles were Farmer (take 3 coins and pass 1 on), Newspapers (take a coin and swap a card with the deck) and Judge (give 3 coins to a player and then kill them!).

Tom was the first to depart, after wrongly accusing Gareth of having Newspapers. Philip followed close behind (he likes to play this game fast and loose - bravo!) and then Gareth was 'judged' out of the game by Jon. Neil was the only player claiming the Lawyer' and raked in a fair bit of cash from these eliminations, but a combination of a Coup and a judging by Paul took him out too.

So it was left to Paul and Jon to duke it out, both with 1 role left. Paul had been claiming it was the Judge, which Jon suspected was true, and Paul was also 1 ahead on coins. 

Therefore it seemed a straightforward race to 7 coins and a Coup by Paul. The only slim hope that Jon had was to dive into the deck and hope that he picked up his own Judge, which he could use against Paul's Judge, if Paul chose to use it rather than Coup'ing. And as it turned out, this is exactly what happened - Jon got lucky, picked up a Judge, and was able to successfully claim it when Paul tried to assassinate him.
That almost makes up for Paul winning at Trains last week......almost....

Cash 'n' Guns (thanks again Jon)

6 foam guns, plenty of bravery, some stupidity and a lot of fun.

Game II - Tom II 95; Jon 85; Neil 80; Paul 75; Dan 55
Game III - Jim 85; Neil 85; Tom II 60; Jon 60; Tom III - dead

Port Royal (cheers Jon)

This hasn't been out for a few weeks, but Tom and Jon managed to fudge a reasonable rules explanation together for the other 2 players.

Tom III became Mr Money-Bags, but was then hit with 2 taxations in quick succession, which certainly stymied his immense purchasing power.

Tom II finished the game first, taking himself to 13 points, which only Jon was able to match. The tiebreaker is apparently coins left over, but as neither player realised this until after the count-up, the game was declared an honourable draw.

Jon 13; Tom II 13; Jim 9; Tom III 6

Castles of Mad King Ludwig II

Despite having played the game once already Dan was happy to take on Paul and me for a quackish three-player. Dan didn’t quite go for his downstairs strategy that had won him his earlier game although he did have some nifty room placements to isolate some late purchases of sleep rooms to prevent me from taking one of the King’s Favours.

Paul picked up some good lengths of hallway although it was his outdoor rooms that scored well for him. Despite not being able to pick up on any additional bonus cards - Dan pilfered those successfully - I was able to concentrate on the livings and size 400 rooms that were my main incentive. The living rooms additionally meant I won the King’s Favour of external entrances.

Throughout the game I managed to stay ahead with some juicy points for those living rooms as well as some high paying activity rooms. Final scoring would all be down to those bonus cards. It was tight. It was so tight that Dan and I tied on 82 points each. Tie breaker? Couldn’t remember what it was.. cool, total room size of your castle, surely my bigger tiles had this? Damn, wrong again… Dan’s extensive network of stairs and hallways paid off, his castle was 4,900 square feet, a whole 250 sq foot bigger than mine, double damn!!

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

It’s All A Question of Time


Paul, James, Jon, Tom II, Jim, Arturo, Neil, Philip, Dan, Paul II.

Games Played;

Trains: Rising Sun, Jaipur, Takamatsu, Council of Verona, Rolling Japan, Imperial Settlers, El Gaucho, Castles of Mad King Ludwig, Jaipur II, Witness, Subdivision.

Topic of the Week;

Length. That is, the time it takes to play a game. Within the IBG there’s a distinct split between those willing to spend up to an hour on one game and those for whom that’s a minimum requirement. No problem, we generally cater for both camps, in abundance. 

I sent a short set of questions round this week to a couple of our group - it’ll be your turn soon, don’t fret! - and here are my findings:

Jon said that he tends ‘to gravitate towards games that last an hour or less - see my previous blog post for details!’ His examples included, Trains, Small World, Kingdom Builder, Libertalia, Coup Guatamala 1954. ‘I sometimes don't mind a longer game, if it's a good co-op and I'm immersed in the theme - step forward Robinson Crusoe and Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective. I think that Paul may have other opinions though, as he genuinely fell asleep during one game of Robinson Crusoe that we played.’

For Jon ‘mechanics also play a big part - cube-pushing really turns me off nowadays whereas I'm being more drawn to 'social interaction' games such as Coup, Mayday Mayday and Saboteur. Throw in a traitor or 2 and I'm as happy as Guy Fawkes.. Theme also makes a difference - for some reason trains seem to float my boat (although I have zero interest in them in real life) - whereas space, fantasy or super-heroes don't do anything for me.’

James replied that he’s happy to play for 60-90 minutes but time is obviously precious for him, ‘not enough time to play games as it is so need to be sure 1) I’m going to like it, and 2) it won't outstay it's welcome... anything over 90
mins starts to feel like a LONG time... If I had a whole day available to
play games though then would be happy to play Twilight Struggle... but this
is rare.’ He listed his favourites as Snowdonia, Fresco, Chinatown, Small World, El Grande.

I know Jon also loves Railways of the World and Tikal and both play well over the hour so I asked what it was about those two that worked for him - ‘ROTW, this game just gives me a buzz. Maybe it's the map, or building routes - I don't know - but I just get a feeling of satisfaction out of playing it. I like the fact that it doesn't get more complicated as the game goes on. Tikal also has a soft spot in my heart. It's one of the first 'proper' games that I bought, and I just love the look of it. Brings back exciting memories of having a game collection in single figures and thinking "Once I get to 10 games, I'll definitely have enough." Hmmmm..’ Don’t worry, we’re all in that boat!

Dan’s response to my questions was very interesting with him considering down-time in all its glory, ‘Time spent on gameplay/interactivity is more important than overall game length to me. A 1 hour game where you spend 45mins looking at your shoes because there is nothing else to do is way more painful to sit through than a 2 hour game where you are invested in each others turns. Being invested in the other player’s turns can be through:
• Interactivity, where what the other players are doing has a direct impact on changing your personal game state/tableau/pieces on the board, or their actions activate things that you have in your play area e.g. Suburbia, Council of Verona
• Shared turns where everybody takes their action at the same time e.g. Diamant
• Decision and response games where the turns are all the same, it is just a different person leading out each turn e.g. Nanuk
• Co-Ops where you manage your own turn while it is still important to discuss the shared strategy and the intent of ones actions in fulfilling the strategic milestones e.g. Sentinels of the Multiverse
• Negotiation/trading/traitor mechanics where watching the other players closely and commenting on their actions is a fundamental part of the gameplay e.g. Battlestar Galactica
• Dynamic planning where I can occupy myself with working out what I need to do in my upcoming actions while the other players take their turns. As a caveat, this sort of game usually goes completely the opposite way with people who struggle with formulating and activating multiple strategic plans, and who wait for their turn to tick around before considering what they will do on that turn e.g. Trains, Imperial Settlers’

Additionally, he touched on two further valid points and I know that Dan II / Natasha is with him all the way on the first of these with his “8-min rule sessions”. As Dan puts it, ‘Rules explanations are also significant. I have gravitated towards games that are straightforward to get started, no matter how complex the emergent gameplay may actually become. If I have to sit through half an hour of rules explanations before I even get started, then I’ve already lost interest. Going against this, I do still like games with complex systems that can be started quickly with detail added as and when situations crop up during play e.g. Pax Porfiriana’

Dan’s second point on player numbers also makes some sense, ‘The number of players also has an impact on game length; I’m leery of joining a five player game of anything unless it’s a genuinely interactive game, short even with lots of players, or preferably both. Three seems to be the magic number with most games, both in terms of interaction as well as game length.’

I asked James about games that go against his preferred time scales, he replied that he ‘loves 15 minute fillers, but couldn't eat a whole one. Machi Koro, The Resistance, Verona, One Night Werewolf, would play more Twilight Struggle if I had the time.’ And other influences for him were, ‘always better when playing games with the crowd that I consider friends, but that feels too cliquey from a club perspective. Would hesitate to play a LONG game with complete strangers... Get frustrated with long down-times between moves...

For myself, as a writer, I love the challenge of trying to hold a story across the length of a novel. Maybe since leaving full time employment I no longer allow deadlines to rule my existence. Both of these factors undoubtedly mean I’m happy to spend as long as possible in playing a board game. Clearly, I’m not going to log as many plays as I would concentrating on the 45 minute game but for me the investment in time is one I can afford. It is testament to the current board game market that there are still many games being produced with an estimated play time of 2 hours or more - I picked up 8 in Essen for instance: Arkwright, Kanban, Fields of Arle, Panamax, Swedish Parliament 2014, Clinic, plus the ‘remixed’ Power Grid Deluxe and a trade for last year’s Madeira. Thankfully too, I only collect games, no expectations of actually playing them!

My final question this week was around James’s recent purchase of, not one but two, game timers. Jon defended his ‘reputation’: ‘Interesting that my (once) justly ascribed reputation for taking my time over game moves still persists, when we actually now have even greater criminals at IBG, including Sinden himself! He might have to be careful, though, that he doesn't find his bleeping cube inserted into one of his bodily cavities at some point.’ 

James himself commented: ‘It has potential... just not sure if the potential is as a game timer or a door stop.’ Top quote!


Trains: Rising Sun (Thanks Paul)

Jon and Paul rocked up early and rolled out the new Essen-fresh 2 player Trains board. There were two to choose from and the one they chose turned the game into a bit of a race, with the three starting positions at the bottom of the board, and the routes to complete and big terminal hexes all in the top half.

Jon started off the quickest, beating Paul to some of the juicier cities half way up the board and looking poised to complete what he'd started. 

However a neat one:two combo allowing Paul to spread into multiple hexes with no extra costs on either allowed him to leapfrog Jon right at the top of the board and swoop off to complete both available routes. He then beat the 'master of quick finishes' to his own game by bringing the game to an end first, suspecting but certainly not knowing that he'd got the most points. At the end two points was the difference and pupil beat the master.

Nice combinations of cards and a very different frenzied feel to this game made for yet another completely different game of trains.

Final Scores; Paul won, Jon lost.


Looking for a quickish 5 player this hit the table for its first run out. ‘Looks like Ludo’ was Paul’s immediate assessment of the board and the samurai figures that start out on their coloured spaces and score only when they circuit the building and return to their colour of room.

In a five player game each player begins with 5 samurai, 3 in the outside rooms, 2 in the inner. 

The rules are simple. You have to move 1 of your own samurai. If there’s 1 samurai on a space he can move 1 space. If there are two they both move 2 spaces. If there’s more than 2 then you have move at least 1 of yours plus 1 of someone else’s (if there is 1 of course) AND you must leave 1 behind.

Early on you keep your own fellows together, but after a while interaction is inevitable. And that’s when it all gets very messy. I scored a couple of early points but from then on in everyone took every opportunity to destroy my moves, dragging my samurais all over the place. Arturo picked up some useful points and Paul made a huge move taking all 5 of his samurais to within 1 space of his room - except it’s then impossible to move only 1 space. And that’s how you get to learn the game.

Except that in concentrating on his own men later on he suddenly left Arturo with the perfect play to get 4 samurai home and to storm the game with the rest of us miles behind! So, a double learning game for Paul.  

Not sure of the final scores, James and Jon did ok but there was no beating Arturo who played nice and steady.

Rolling Japan (Thanks Jon)
James is fresh back from Essen, so what's likely to be in his bag? A Japanese game in a small box of course! And this one doesn't even pretend to be anything else - the clue is in the name…

Paul, Jon and Arturo joined him to find out what it was all about. Basically, players have a scoresheet which has an abstracted 'map' of Japan, divided into coloured sections, and sub-divided into boxes. Coloured dice are rolled, 2 at a time, and players must write these values into a box of the corresponding colour. The trick is, each box must only contain a number which is no more than 1 higher or lower than any neighbour. So, a box with a '4' could only have neighbouring boxes containing a 3,4 or 5. There's also a wild die which can be placed in any colour. If a player can't legally add a number, he must place an 'x' in a box. Fewest x's wins the game.

To report, or even try to remember, how the game played would be an exercise in futility, but suffice it to say that there were a few groans and expletives muttered at different points in the game. The final scores were incredibly close, but no-one is quite sure if that made all the players equally competent, or equally incompetent…

Not a bad game, but I much prefer Qwixx for a quick dice-rolling, number-crossing experience, which has much more of a 'push-your-luck' feel.

Final Scores; James - 17, Arturo - 17, Paul - 18, Jon - 18.

El Gaucho (Thank you Paul!)

Rounding up cows on the Argentine Pampas and selling them for as much profit, by way of some dice rolling, decision making and rustling other players cattle.

A light - mid weight game, part dice rolling, part worker placement and part set collecting.

At the end everyone probably felt they were in with a chance apart from Arturo who proved the eventual winner, adding another win to his successful evening.

Simple and fun.

Final Scores; Arturo - 55, James - 49, Jon - 44, Paul - 42.

Council of Verona (Thanks again Jon)

More Romeo and Juliet shenanigans at the end of the evening. 2 rounds were played by Dan, James, Arturo and Jon. I can't remember the exact scores (not helped by the fact that no-one was writing them down...) but James, Dan and Arturo all scored points each round, and Jon didn't. Enough said.

Dan had taught Paul II how to play this popular game and following Castles as Philip nipped down to the bar Paul kindly taught the game to me. We played a couple of rounds and I managed to score pretty well to win both. A very neat set collection game which plays very smoothly, easy to see why it’s sitting at 101 in the BGG hit parade. And even better I managed to snag a copy from Rakuten for £12 delivered during the week!


Another game I was ‘trained to teach’ at Essen, although I didn’t actually do so. The inevitable comparisons to Suburbia are only going to harm this light weight tile laying game. However, it’s simple to learn, few rules but plenty of strategy and enough going on for a good 45 minute game.

Each round of 4 has players simultaneously drafting 4 ‘zone’ tiles to place on their board. These come in 5 types: civic, commercial, industrial, luxury and residential. If you place one next to an existing tile then you activate that one and are able to add an ‘improvement’ to your board. These come as tiles: lakes, parks, roads or schools, or as wooden sidewalks. 

Initial placement is determined by a roll of the die, although you can pay to override this. Each parcel on your board comes with a minus figure on it from -1 to -3 so you want to cover as many parcels as possible. End game scoring comes in various guises with parks scoring for each connected tile, schools needing to be built 3 tiles high, sidewalks for each different zone they run through multiplied by each different improvement. Each zone scores high points provided it is connected to the main highway by roads or empty land parcels. And money is worth something, but not much.

Tom and Jim were happy to give it a go and were soon in the swing of things. Bonuses are available each round and these influenced Tom into a Park Life strategy while Jim and I both tried building up our roads. All switched to sidewalk building during the second round as the plots of land started filling up, and then schools for round three.

As the parcels get filled the board gets more difficult to complete and you don’t want to be blocking out any zones from roads or the highway. This cost Tom at the end of the game but Jim managed to max out and thus win the game.

Final Scores; Jim - 115, Neil - 104, Tom - 92.

Witness (Cheers James!)

Pssst.... witness.... pssst.... we failed.... psst... to manage even... psst... the beginners cases… Psst... fun game....... psst... not sure we're... psst... clever enough to play it…

in slightly more details. This is a simple, if very unique, game, based around the concept of Chinese whispers. Everyone owns part of a solution to a problem and has to whisper their clues to a neighbour. They then then whisper the clues they've heard and their own clue to their neighbour and so on until all the clues have had a chance to disseminate around the table.

At this point 3 questions are asked on the 'case' and everyone has to work out the answers. If everyone gets all 3 right you did well... if not then you fail... more or less... no prizes for guessing how we did first time through...

So the first case involved some footsteps and a murder in the snow... we all could identify some of the footprints, so initially it all made sense... but then I know I forgot something when I told Dan... which basically scuppered his and our chances... At the end Jon guessed correctly, I got 2 but the rest was disaster.

Case 2 was based around identifying spies around a dinner table... I'm confident I passed on everything correctly here, but somewhere, something went skew-whiff. I managed to identify one spy, but had the names wrong. I don't think anyone was was any more successful...

Case 3 - last one for the evening was a murder with the victim and culprit all sporting Movember moustaches... there was something about a fu-manchu... and bushy tashs... but I wiped out complete on this one... as a team we got 5/12 points.

So.... to conclude the case. We sucked... I'm holding up my hand as someone who sucked at least as badly as anyone else. These were all beginner cases, god help us when we get to the diabolical ones.

As to the game... it's.... different ! It's certainly a filler, each case only lasts about 10 minutes, so you can play a few in a row if time permits. It only plays 4... no more no less, so you need to have the right people around... and also it's bizarre/different enough that not everyone is going to 'get' it... 

For me it feels like a great christmas, post dinner game... and could go down a storm in the right group... preferable after a few drinks.

So, end results... we lost... more Clouseau than Poirot...