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...

No comments:

Post a Comment