Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Pre Christmas board gaming 2014

Folk had a lot of before Christmas, or at least those of us that turned up to play board games on Wednesday told ourselves to salvage some self esteem and not take things personally. The pub was super quiet, so it backed up our line about people being with friends and family or at work bashes.

Also, it meant that in reversal of last week's post, I played in all of the games that hit the table and therefore everything is based on events as they actually happened. Honest.

Board gamers: Paul, John, Dan, Gareth, Tonio, Tim (Tonio's mate)


Tonio arrived at the pub early with some teacher work mates who had no intention of playing games, as they were just going to drink, talk, eat nuts and do stuff that people normally do in pubs. But one left and the others were a long time in arriving so Tim found himself on his own and was invited to join in with Hanabi. Turns out he lived in Japan for a while, knew that 'Hanabi' means 'firework' and even how to pronounce it. This sparked a conversation about the Japanese word literally meaning 'fire flower' which we agreed actually makes more sense than 'firework', but as the game as about as abstract as can be, it had no bearing other than for your interest.

We didn't do that well. And we didn't do that well even with some potentially rule bending hints from the more experienced Hanabi players around the table. And from Dan, who wasn't playing but helped anyway. All to no avail though, we thought we were doing okay, but then realised we were about to run out of cards.

Score: Tonio, Paul and Tim 17


We played John's Italian version, which allowed Tonio to translate some stuff and clarify an order of play which may have been done the wrong way round in the original plays at IBG. Although it didn't really have any baring on the results.

We didn't do that well. Dan used his ghostly presence to his best ability, which meant that he could give some clues but with the cards available he couldn't do much more and we floundered trying to match some images.

Score: John, Dan, Paul, Tonio and Gareth lost.

For what it's worth I went into this game thinking that I'd been harsh on it previously, with an attempted open mind. And I came away thinking that I loved the artwork and the concept but the gameplay it utterly limited and therefore my previous opinion is that whilst everyone loves it right now I'd be staggered if people are taking it seriously as a game in a few months. There's just not much to the gameplay - look at a card and try and guess what the nearest picture is to it. And guess what the link is. And guess what the ghost is thinking. And guess when it's going to end. And guess... well, you get my drift.

Council of Verona

The Capulets and Montegues spread themselves between the Veronese council and exile at the will of the players and their bets. Simple, but ingenious fun. It even got John B's vote of approval as it wasn't like lookalike hidden identity games as he feared that it would be.

Can't remember the result other than I din't win.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig

Tonio left and this super popular game came out, even though both John and Dan confessed to liking Suburbia more. Gareth was the only one who hand't played it previously, but had been eyeing it up and being an architect he didn't take too much convincing that building a castle for the rest of the evening might be fun.

John went for round rooms and all of the rooms that had run out. Dan built some very big cellars and tried to corner the market in yellow rooms, staircases and corridors. Gareth had a good mixed bag. Paul tried for round rooms, gardens and lots of money which he blew in the last round as finally there were some tiles that he fancied.

Scores: John 121, Dan 117, Gareth 112 Paul 109

And so the evening came to a relatively early close, and with a quirk of the calendar the next two Wednesday's are on Christmas Eve and New Year's eve, there is no Wednesday gaming at the London Apprentice until 2015. Tuesday the 30th December has been floated but it remains to see how much interest there is between Christmas pudding and New Year champaign.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

The Mystery of the Mysteriumless Evening

This is almost the only Wednesday in the year when I’m guaranteed not to attend the London Apprentice and play games, as Big Tree Night in Shepperton calls for some local participation, so along for some carol singing and street food I went leaving the fun of board games to everyone else.

Of course it gives the games players that did turn up the chance to write their own reports, but when they don’t exercise this right I’m left with no option but to create fiction.

I’ll include all the facts I’ve been given and employ my piecing together skills, finely honed from last week’s Mysterium, to fill in the blanks. Forgive me if I’m a little off the mark. Make up your own minds what was made up.

Players: Neil, Tom, Tom II, Jim, Gareth, Arturo, Philip, Jon, Andy, James and Natasha


In preparation for building stately gardens of King Ludwig later, people were tending their own garden patch with Tom’s floral filler. As everyone gathered for the evening, flowers fell out of the sky with the players attempting to use them to their advantage. Tom used the discard pile to assemble a colourful garland which he presented to the eventual winner (name withheld) who wore them proudly for the rest of the evening, only for Tom to have to wrestle them from him at the end of the night so that he could re-box them to take home.

St Petersburg

Tom managed to get his two games to the table in quick succession, with the new edition of St Petersburg hitting the green baize twice. A big hit in the early days of designer games, it’s been dusted down, expanded to take five people and includes a new phase. Once the original rules had been explained to those that hadn’t played previously and the new rules to everyone, two games ensued.

The first was a battle between Philips seemingly random strategy and Tom’s ‘It’s my new game’ keenness, with Philip proving not to be so random and taking the honours with lots of orange cards.

The second was played with a little more known about the new phase, and so Natasha battled with Andy for victory. It ended up being a dead heat, a wholly unsatisfactory result for Natasha who ‘did a Jon’ and delved into the rule book to unearth a rule that simply wash;t there in the first time of reading, but that no one could argue against and therefore he took the game, if not the award for good grace.

Takamatsu (thank you Neil)

With no Paul to set up Tom II, Jim or myself I took the glory on of king making. Takamatsu with three isn't quite as chaotic as it is with five. In fact we had two clusters of samurai dragging each other around the board with seven or eight room movements becoming usual.

As tutor I let the boys see how the game works by taking a couple of early home runs and quickly reached a score 10, half way to victory! Jim cottoned on pretty quickly despite me stuffing him with a -2 card and was hot on my heels.

As frequently happens when you're nearing old age you start working no end of plans out based on your usual colour of preference, purple. Except that Tom II was playing that, except that I forgot that too and thought I was stymieing Jim who I believed was scoring well by now. Oh dear!

As it was the boys picked up all five 'blind' scoring cards between them and so I knew that I had to push on. Unfortunately, by this time the samurai were getting too well connected and being able to move them where you wish became very tricky. I did manage to get another -2 score card into the arms of Tom II, once I'd realised that he was playing purple although we then realised he was already on 15 points and had won the game the round earlier. Well played sir!

Castles of Mad King Ludwig (thanks Jon)

Jon was late arriving due to attending his daughter's Christmas play, but managed to reach the London Apprentice just in time to take a place at this recently popular game. It was new to him and Tom II, but Neil's patient and methodical rules explanation helped them get started. Despite the game appearing to be quite complicated with lots of moving parts, once you get going it's really quite straightforward.

The details of the game are lost to the mists of time, but the highlights were:
- Jim putting together some very impressive combos of rooms, allowing him to build several in a turn
- Tom building a highly compact castle, that was probably very efficient to live in
- Neil moaning that Jon was constantly taking the rooms that he wanted
- Jon having the ugliest castle ever constructed, and failing to pay attention to any of the scoring bonuses on offer

Once the final scoring had begun, Jim swept into an impressive lead, having scored heavily with the 'downstairs rooms' bonuses. However, to everyone's surprise (including his own) Jon's focus on his personal bonus cards had paid off, scoring a large amount for square rooms, large square rooms, and sleeping rooms, which allowed him to pip Tom by a few points for the victory.
The game finished in 90 minutes, and was a really enjoyable experience. This could well see a few more plays at IBG in the future....

Scores: Jon 108, Jim 100, Tom 96, Neil 78

Zhanguo (thank you James)

Here’s a photo. Surely enough for you Mysterium fans to gets everything you need. Well, it’d better be - it came to me in my sleep and it’s all I’ve got. What you can’t see from the electronic version is the greasy sweet potato fry finger prints that came on the original, leaving me to suspect that James has already doctored the evidence, but I’ve lost my password to the master police database so I just can’t prove it.

Macho Koro

Gareth, Jim, Tom II and Jon decided that Machi Koro was just about the right size to take them to 11 o’clock. Jon explained the new ’10 card’ rules which everyone thoroughly approved of, as the new players did the game - how can you not. Jon attempted to win using a one dice strategy, but Tom II and his cheese factories won the day.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

The mystery of the mysterious mysts of Mysterium (does not contain actual mists)

(Title plagiarised from Dan).

Back on blog duty for December, I had some ideas for what to write, but the way the evening panned out last Wednesday got me thinking along different lines, so I’ll reserve those thought for another week in December and follow an indulgent diversion.

The overriding flavour of the evening was one new and highly original game: Mysterium, which probably broke records for the number of plays on it’s first outing as it was brought to the table four times during the evening and one of our number seemed to enjoy it so much that he played it every time. The feedback from around the room was overwhelmingly positive with claims that it’d go down as the hit of the year.

I was on the other side of the the room whilst the first two plays happened and although I was very much enjoying my games, it was impossible not to get the buzz of excitement from the Mysterium table and did indeed manage to get a game in before being thrown out of the pub.

So what was it that caused such a stir?

James, the games owner had posted earlier on our on-line forum with the claim that his new game was supposed to be like a cross between Dixit and Cluedo. Genius. Which board game player could fail to be intrigued by such a thing. Dixit when it was released, was extremely popular at IBG, not to mention winning the Spiel des Jahres and receiving some high plaudits for both the gameplay and the artwork, and maybe more importantly the way the artwork was such a crucial part of the game - without it, Dixit just would’t be. And Cluedo is a game that I don’t think has ever made it onto a London Apprentice table, but that everyone knows and most remember fondly from their childhood. There can’t be many board gamers that don’t get turned on by the idea of solving a murder, even if the mechanisms of Cluedo are very dated.

So a combination of the two? Such completely different games, both with their own level of popularity. Bringing them together is a hugely original idea and the game gets a massive tick in the originality box. And in these halcyon days of board game design where there are so many new titles (I heard that over new 700 games were released at Essen this year), anything original is more and more difficult to come across, so Mysterium is set apart.

So, okay, it’s original, but what else is there to it?

Well, the theme is super strong and really well woven into the play. It’s difficult to not imagine oneself in a mansion, with a murder having taken place and with images flashing into your head of possible suspects. See Dan’s writeup below to get a better flavour.

And this is partly due to the artwork. Dixit had superb art, which not only looked good but was rich in the themes each picture combined. At first look, Mysterium has equally high quality artwork, which supports the theme fully and creates an atmosphere for the game to be played.

The gameplay is original too. Narrowing down your guess on the guilty party, place and weapon by looking at these cards.

And by the end of the evening, all ten attendees had played the game, most of whom were raving about it, probably more than any title I’ve seen unveiled.

So it’s created a splash on week one, let’s see if it also passes the test of time over the next few weeks by being played week after week in the same way that Agricola and Trains are.

Personally, whilst I enjoyed the game, I have doubts over it’s sustainability as I’m not sure the gameplay has enough to it, but I think that it’s a cracking theme with awesome artwork, so I hope I’m wrong.

Players fr the evening: James, Dan, Chris, Jon, Noel. Tom II, Jim, Arturo, Tonio, Paul

Mysterium (who else could have written this but Dan - many thanks)

Look there, high up on that hill by the stream that winds its way down into the village proper, the creepy looking house that has fallen into disrepair? The one that is almost falling to pieces, it has remained empty for many years as nobody is prepared to stay for more than a handful of days. They say that there was once a horrible murder in that house and that the murderer was never identified. A ghost walks the halls of that house, they say, and gives terrible and confusing dreams to any who will brave the night. Nobody has lived in that house for long and, eventually, nobody lived there at all.

Although benign in nature, the ghost will never rest easy until the truth about the murder has been revealed. The current owner of the land has humoured you, a group of self-declared psychic investigators, with just one week to amuse yourselves in that creepy old place. While you are there you hear doors slam shut in distant rooms, unusual smells assault your senses, and a prickly, crawling sensation floods over your skin when you enter certain parts of the building. At night, you hear the wind whisper half-heard snatches of words, or is it just your imagination? Knowing what you know about the other side there is clearly more to this than the cold weather whistling through the rickety broken patches in the walls; something – someone – is trying to break through the veil, to tell you things that are important, vital things that only you are able to successfully articulate.

You have no fear, and sleep soundly, experiencing strange and vivid dreams. When you wake, you discover that your fellow investigators have also had a similarly unusual night. As you walk around the building discussing how best to interpret your dreams, the things that you see remind you of half remembered moments from your night time visions. Was the ghostly presence trying to tell you something about this or that particular room? Is it the colours that are important to interpret, or the shapes, maybe a recurring object is the key?

The group of you congregate in the drawing room and spread out the case notes of the murder on a big table. There are suspects, fingered by the police who initially investigated the terrible crime, all of whom were cleared on various technicalities but had both the motive and the opportunity to be the killer. Something tugs at the back of your mind, an unconscious and ethereal finger pointing toward the files in one corner of the table. But who exactly is the finger of blame pointing at? None of you can be totally sure at this stage, so you each make your choice of who you believe the ghost is trying to identify as the murderer before retiring for the evening.

Tonight, you will have another dream.

Maybe it will be so vivid that you will be sure of who you think the murderer was, and can begin to focus on the where and the how.

Maybe it will simply involve more confusion, leading you to change your mind on your initial choice.

This pattern will continue until all of you start to share the same dream, and can all agree decisively on what happened on that fateful night long ago, allowing the tortured spirit to finally be at rest.

Or maybe your time will run out, the hauntings will continue, and you will all return to your normal lives, ridiculed, dejected, and exposed as frauds.

Seven days is all you have to solve the case, ending the mystery, and once again bringing peace to this house.


Our investigators tried four times in a row, haunted by a different ghost each time. The first time around we were haunted by James and unable to complete any of our initial investigations and were sent packing with a sneer and cries of being a bunch of psychic conmen.

The second attempt was better, with all the investigators succeeding in completing their initial predictions despite my best attempts to confuse the heck out of them, however time ran out on formally identifying the true circumstances of the murder. All we managed to do was to stir the pot of conspiracies surrounding the crime. Noel was particularly good at guessing correctly the first time on each of his cards.

Third chance was better still, and we even had our first shared dream delivered by Tom Too. However, we were unable to successfully determine the murderer on our last night in the house, so close and yet so far, but at least we headed home with our reputations mostly intact.

On the fourth attempt, ghostly Jim rushed things along as closing time at the bar was imminent. It seemed to help as we had our first success of the evening, correctly closing the case on Day 6. I guess we just sat in the garden and drank beer all day Sunday then.

Players: erm, just about everybody at one point I think? James, Daniel, Paul, Jon, Noel, Tom Too, Jim, Chris, Tonio, forgive me if I missed anyone out. Our ghosts with the mosts were James (Rentaghost), Daniel (Ghost in the Shell), Tom Too (The ghost of badly wrapped Christmas presents), and Jim (Ghostrider, but not from the first film which was a bit rubbish. Actually, come to think of it, the second one wasn't much good either)

Machi Koro (thank you Jon for the writeup)

Paul and Jon were looking for a quick 2-player game, and as Jon had recently bought an English copy of the game, it seemed like a good choice. This was played with the 10 card variant, which basically means that the entire deck is shuffled together, and then cards are revealed until 10 unique piles are created. This means that not all the types of cards will be out at the same time, making players adjust their strategies accordingly.

Paul picked up an early lead, looking good for the win by rolling several 4's on the trot to make good use of his convenience stores, whilst Jon appeared to be resigned to rolling useless 6's, which wasn't making the best use of his myriad bakeries. However, when Paul moved to 2 dice to try to benefit from his Cheese Factories, Jon picked up a couple of Family Restaurants which let him steal some of Paul's wealth on a roll of 9 or 10. This allowed him to build the Shopping Mall which gave him a big bonus for his bakeries which finally started to pay off.

As always, the game rushes to a finale once the players have some big-scoring buildings, and it was Jon who rolled in the most cash and built his 4th building first.

This game definitely works better with the 10-card variant, and with the Harbour expansion coming out soon (which apparently includes this variant as standard), Machi Koro may be due an IBG resurgence.

Scores: Jon won, Paul 2 buildings

Trains: Rising Sun (thanks to Tom II for his first session report)

Second game and already writing a session report! I don't even know what I was doing! I thought I could escape doing these reports for a while longer, but since I won, I was given the "privilege" of writing it. I will try to do my best!

Me (Tom II), Jon, Paul and Noel sat down and we set up the board and cards and were ready to go!

It started with me and Paul very close together with Noel in the corner and Jon at the top of the map.

Most of us started in a familiar fashion. Me and Paul ended up sharing a lot of land with Noel completely safe in the corner, amassing points no one could take from him. Jon however, started in the mountains, building up his deck with cards, refusing to build tracks.

As the game progressed on from starting tactic of collecting the trains for coins to buy other trains, I could see Jon gathering the yellow (point) cards and Noel was gathering his station army in the corner. Me and Paul were playing quite similarly and still taking each others land with tracks, which usually this would of caused a lot of waste, but due to some card that negated the extra waste (Ed: The Viaduct - no extra cost for building on cities), we were both safe... for now.

After doing this for a while I managed to pull ahead and gather the two completed train paths for extra points! Jon had also moved from the mountains and started moving into Cities for points. It was a different tactic that I hadn't seen, (apparently similar to Noel’s usual) which was not to play on the board much at all. It was all about hoarding the Yellow point cards, and with skyscrapers on the table, Thats a lot of points to be hoarding!

Mid way through, Paul decided it was time to buy a politician, a card that makes every player pass a card to their right, which didn't work most of the time and people were mainly passing waste to one another, however me and Noel managed to ONCE, get a card each that wasn't waste. Maybe it isn't a card you should buy. But what do I know after two plays.

This all continued with us passing waste to one another, Paul building up tracks in the corner and building on cities for points, Noel building stations and stations, Jon collecting cards and points from cities, and me, also building the skyscrapers and building tracks to Noels station land to get some final points, as we all knew the game would end soon.

Noel then decided that he wanted to complete his station army and the game ended. Noel, also having completed a station to station track, looked like he would be way ahead being in several cities all worth 5 points and his millions of stations spread about. It was tense..!

However after calculating the final scores we all ended up very close.

Scores: Tom II 58, Noel 55, Paul 50, Jon 50

I didn't think I would enjoy a game about trains, but after seeing the game out on the table for many weeks beforehand I gave it a go, thinking I was missing something. And I am glad I did. I have to say I really enjoy this game, which surprised me. I really like the combination of a deckbuilder and a board.


Another outing for the dinosaur themed game of guiding your species through the perils of scarce food and completing carnivores.

This week it was our resident vegetarian, who no doubt could’t resist the irony of becoming the main meat eater in the pack. The flavour of the game was that James was the main carnivorous species and therefore he attempted to minimise the communal feeding pool to press hem his competitive advantage. A few attempts were made to take him on, but they largely failed, so other players scavenged off his scraps, hid up trees, down burrows, warned their fellow players that James was on the prowl, or they got eaten. And this time round, the meat eater won the day. Next time it’ll be interesting to note how evolution works again as I suspect that the other players will learn and meat will be on the menu for more next time too. Just like what happened in the real world all those millennia ago.

Scores: James won, Paul, Tom III, Chris all lost

Also played during the evening were Council of Verona and Agricola.

Image from creative commons:

Haunted Mansion II © Andreas Overland