Wednesday, 15 April 2015

At the bottom of the deep blue sea, sea, sea

Players: Paul A, Soren, Peter, Paul D, Dan, Phil, Jon

With the particularly fine sunny weather it was a predictably quiet night for gaming at the Apprentice, although the downstairs bar was in contrast absolutely heaving with Chelsea fans. We continued the football theme upstairs amidst a developing SMS bromance between two of our regulars (how sweet). Join us as we recount an evening filled with square balls, cubist cubic cubes, beasts, dungeons, and naughty scamps in wetsuits.

Welcome to the Dungeon 

Wherein I proved that guts and glory do not always go hand in hand. I think we may have broken the game with five players, but I had the decency to annihilate both the Warrior and the Rogue in fairly quick succession to get the player balance back to four. I ducked out with the game balanced between Soren and Paul A, both with a treasure yet sporting a wound, and so will allow Paul A to enlighten us as to the means of the eventual victors magnificent triumph...

This anglo-ization of the provocatively named Dungeon of Mandom is great fun, although I'm in agreement that 5 players is probably too much. Soren got suckered into entering the dungeon multiple times but managed to trick his way through (with a healing potion) to eventually take the win. 

Peter would like to add...
Welcome to the Dungeon was so good I immediately bought a copy. And I never even got to fight. Great game. Soren impressively seemed to know just when the monsters were defeatable and deserved his victory.


Despite his recent rant against abstracts, Soren decided to bring along this abstract game about... erm... abstracts.Once again Paul A is on hand to tell us how it went...

Cubist has some similarity to Blueprints, in that you are rolling dice and trying to build shapes, except these are "cubist masterpieces" not "buildings". However it adds on sufficient complications and twists (a shared masterpiece, storing dice, buying special abilities) to make the game much more interactive and interesting. Enjoyed this a lot. Of course, Soren has immediately decided to trade it.

Peter also offers us his thoughts:  
Cubist was an interesting game. You build stuff with dice and building stuff is always an enjoyable activity in a game. But “Dice rolls sure are Assholes!” is most certainly true. My poor performance of 4 points vs Philip on 19 and Soren and Paul on around 12 must also have an element of incompetence thrown in, but the game is very satisfying to play however badly you play it. Paul spent a good deal of the game waiting for a 4 which he so desperately needed. Meanwhile I just enjoyed building a tower it turned out I had no chance of ever using. Dice rolls, they really are assholes.

Beast Bar (thanks Peter!)

Beasty Bar is particularly good when played in the advanced variant with reduced cards. That way it lasts around 20 minutes, just perfect. The intro game uses all the cards and runs a little long for its value, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. Soren won on the tie break through some earlier strong Skunk action. Good Skunk action is always a benefit in Beasty Bar.
According to Paul A, this has a cracked out theme (animals tying to get into heaven) but is a nice if chaotic "take that" card game.

Deep Sea Adventure 

Paul A tells us that the Cubist table finished with a Japanese hipster game from PeterD that was called something like "Deep Sea Divers Sure Are Assholes". The premise is that you are divers, trying to scavenge treasure from below. The treasure gets better the deeper you go but you are all sharing the same air supply. (Economics, I guess.) So it's a strange kind of shared push-your-luck game. We were all sufficiently imprudent / dickish such that almost every diver drowned. Also very fun and would play very differently with different numbers of players.

Peter is again on hand to provide us with with some further insight, including the proper name for this game...

Deep Sea Adventure should actually have been given the name Paul gave it. There is meta-game stuff going on where you can cooperatively dive deep together, or you can screw your fellow divers by taking early treasure and using up the shared oxygen and watching the others dive deep with little chance of getting back. Soren opted for the latter strategy to great effect. Paul and I were diving down unencumbered by treasure, meanwhile Soren was taking every shiny thing he saw. The result: oxygen was running out fast but Soren was so weighed down by his treasure he actually ground to a complete halt, a sad death drowning under the weight of his haul. Paul & I had been too greedy, diving too deep in an attempt to snap up the high value stuff, but Soren’s great intakes of oxygen saw us die deep in the ocean.
So you’d think on the second and third dives we would have learnt. Wrong! The second dive played out just like the first.
By dive three Paul had the good judgement to be less greedy and turned around early enough just to make it back to the sub before the air ran out. And he was the only one on all three dives to get a diver back. Just the one. But enough to get his treasure home. All the rest of the glistening stuff is sadly lying on the floor of the ocean.
Most entertaining.

Time of Soccer which Jon proved that he can indeed make snappy decisions under pressure, although not necessarily good ones; Paul disproved the theory that sitting to his left is advantageous; and we once again got the end scoring wrong (although the end result would still have been the same)
This is one of those games that I want to like more than I probably really do, and it has a distinct whiff of a being over-designed. There is a lot of really clever stuff in there and it is most certainly the closest thing to a football management sim in boardgame form that there is, however there is also an awful lot wrong with it at the same time. Driving the cars around to buy stuff is convoluted, brain-burny, and has absolutely jack-all to do with the football theme. It's not that it's a bad bit of game design as it's good enough that it could stand alone in it's own right, it just doesn't seem to belong with the rest of the game; something more direct like simple worker placement or an auction mechanic could have been used in it's place to allow more focus on the part of the game that deals with building the team and playing matches. Fortunately there are variant rules that make this part of the game much simpler so I think I'll try those at some point and see how it changes things.
I don't think that the random element is too strong as a good team will generally beat a poor one despite the occasional upset, and in fairness we played with the neutral teams set to a really easy level when the game is likely closer at the finish when using much stronger neutral teams - this would then make it a real struggle to win matches which would considerably increase the direct competition between the players (there are bonus points and cash for winning things and so the team that starts to win seems to then go on to win everything in convincing style).

Jon has provided his thoughts on the first ever play of this game at IBG:

Hmmmm...let's start with the positives.
- It had a great theme - I'm always up for a football simulation boardgame, even if it does use the dreadful term 'soccer' instead angry
- Having the league and cup in one game is great - feels a little more like a proper season
- Playing a game - any game - with Paul and Dan is always a pleasure, and a great way to spend an evening

- The mechanics just didn't seem to gel with the theme for me - what was all that driving around one-way streets all about??? And trying to connect those icons on the players seemed to be an abstract mini-game all on its own.
- Deciding the outcomes of games by the roll of dice is ok, but there didn't feel like there was quite enough dice-rolling to even out the luck, or enough ways to mitigate it. Rolling no 5's or 6's three times in a row meant 3 lost games despite having the stronger team on each occasion. Then again, I'm a Liverpool fan, so I should be used to such disappointment by now....
- I think that the game is too long to get away with so much luck in it - 60 mins would be fine.

Anyway, overall it gave quite a good feeling of running a football club - I just wish it felt a little less like a euro with dice thrown in for good measure.
Fun evening though!

Also played this evening: Red 7

On our Boardgamegeek guild page James has initiated an open Q&A session with a new question each week. Feel free to play along at home, and even if you are not a regular IBG attendee you are more than welcome to join in with your own answers!

Last weeks question: "So we never seem to get many abstract games out at the club on a Wed night... lots of Ameritrash (thanks Dan) and the obligatory 3 hour Euros... but I don't recall seeing the GIPF games ever, or games like Ingenious, Blokus etc... so here's a chance to ruminate on this and also suggest your favourite abstract game. What abstracts would you play...?"

John B: "I hate abstracts. If the designer can't be arsed to even try to make up a theme, I can't be arsed to play it. I give card games a pass, but I want theme in my board games."

Tomone: "I would disagree with John there (although I think that he may have tongue slightly in cheek). I'd rather play a game that the designer thinks that it can stand on its own two feet rather than have to justify by reference to a superfluous theme.
Have enjoyed my few plays of Clans.. Ponte Del Diavolo is good fun with my brother-in-law too. Samurai is excellent on IOS.
Personally would love to give The Duke a go too."

Paul A: "Abstracts always seem like a good idea to me ... but I just can't get them to the table. Maybe it's because they tend to be two-player. Maybe it's because after a hard day, there's an appeal to being a zombie-killer / gloomy medieval dude trading grain / whatever. Maybe it's because a theme is actually a useful thing to hang rules on, to make them more memorable. But these don't get in the way of many card or dexterity games.
It is a mystery. "

Soren: "Strictly defined, abstract games are two-player only with no hidden information and no randomness which are at least in pricinple solvable, so they are strictly one-on-one dick-measuring contests of who has wasted their life on internalising/memorising the most positions/moves which are ultimately futile when computers catch up to solve the game.

Anyway, Blokus is fun as a 4-player game, occasionally; and I also own and would not refuse playing Ingenious - if nothing else, to confirm that I still do not have a clue how to play this well."

Tasha: "If I wanted to play an abstract, I would play Chess.
Imho, it cannot be improved upon, and all 2-player alternatives in this vein are but pale shadows upon that greatest of games. "

Dan: "I wouldn't really describe what I bring along as Ameritrash, it's more family friendly light Euros and fillers these days. Then again, hanging labels on game types is highly subjective and I would say that some of the games that see regular play are arguably abstracts even though they are wearing a fancy dress for the evening. I would personally prefer to play an abstract over an abstract with a pasted on theme whistle"

James: "It's interesting that Through the Desert shows high on the ranking in the BGG list of abstracts where as similarly 'loosely' themed abstracts are not included eg... Santiago, Tigris & Euphrates, Taj Mahal... and, lets be honest, most of the rest of Reiner Knizia's output... a lot of the 2 player Kosmos range are also very abstract, Kahuna etc... but as they have a pretty board don't seem to be counted...

A good question would be to define what is an abstract game... Mr. Jack is quite abstract but not included whereas Hive is... I think China plays quite abstract...

Anyways, to answer the original question... I tend to find I play 2 player abstracts such as The Climbers, Aztec etc, but never really at the club... they're more an evening in kind of thing... "

Paul D: "I don't really have a problem with abstracts if the game really is good, apart from that I really really enjoy a good theme and any game without misses an opportunity to make it better. "

Jon: "Kingdom Builder is definitely an Abstract, but doesn't feel like one to me, maybe because of the modular boards, different scoring cards and expansions.
Apart from that, and despite the fact that I haven't played it in ages, Quarto! is a great abstract. Basically 3D noughts and crosses, but looks so pretty on the coffee table."

Peter: "Generally I don't enjoy pure abstracts as they are most often spatial games which is a type of game I personally have a sort of mental block on. Love card games though and they are essentially abstracts. "

Neil: "Abstracts. Mmm. Chess Natasha? I was the last one to lose when we played the posh Norwich school, is that good?
I like 'em, I like all games, nearly. Agree with Paul re themes but then I'd rather have an unthemed abstract than a space/fantasy/horror theme spoiling it for me.
I do believe that they offer a fine background for all games, being competent(ish) in chess, mah jong, bridge and others can only help, don't you reckon?
Funny that my highest ranked abstract is Rosenberg's Patchwork. Says more about the power of the designer than the game methinks. "

This weeks question: "Slightly different approach to this weeks question... but I thought it might be fun as everyone likes to make lists…

Rank the 10 games below from most to least favourite and feel free to add some comments to explain yourself.

• Dominion
• Ticket To Ride
• Kingdom Builder
• Machi Koro
• 7 Wonders
• Agricola
• Carcassonne
• Nanuk
• For Sale
• Small World

(and yes I have picked very different games, but all are amongst the most played at the club over the last few years, or well-known enough that most people have had a chance to play them)

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