Wednesday, 15 July 2015

A Farewell to 'erm's

Players: James, James II, David, Phil, Gareth, Sarah, Dan, Paul D, Paul A, Andy, Neil

I'm in a particularly reflective mood today, most likely caused by this being my last turn as blogmaster after six months of my particular brand of hot mess marbled with cold indifference. Looking back at my previous rambling prefaces there is a common thread of sorts, one where I rather introspectively attempt to unearth the driving reasons behind all of this; why I indulge in this hobby, and why I find myself in the recreation room of a local pub every Wednesday night instead of chanting lewd epithets from the terraces of a sports stadium somewhere, or even simply downstairs giving my brain cells up to Bacchus halfway down the umpteenth cold pint. As you can see, this hobby has become such a fundamental part of my life that I'm not even sure what normal people get up to on their midweek evenings, or even if whatever it is makes them any more normal all the same. 

I've attempted to touch into some topics that question the motive forces behind Why We Play; from questioning our foibles and dividing opinion on game design and the associated mentality of hanging labels on everything (rather appropriately putting things into boxes), through to more sensitive subjects such as the impact of the collecting mentality driving a rash of lower quality, dissatisfying, products, or common attitudes to 'outsiders' in contrast to our general easy readiness for inclusivity and acceptance.

So what is it about this hobby that attracts our interest and brings us together? I've seen many eloquent postulations on the subject, pointing out that it is fundamentally a highly social pursuit, that we come together due to high-minded and lofty desires to better ourselves and to test and be challenged on an intellectual level. So many of these arguments sound like a clamouring for justification; people seem to often be slightly embarrassed about what they get up to, and these highly conceptual reasons are bandied around as if they bring credibility to the hobby when all that is really needed is honesty. 

After six months of navel gazing I have come to a simpler conclusion.

We play because we like it. It's fun and that's enough, no reason or explanation required.

The Capitals

Gareth collared me from a seat at what shall be quietly known as "The Extreme Biker Mayhem Table" to make up a table of three and this is what we plumped for. Phil wandered in and was ambushed into making it four which stretched the play time out a bit but at least we had a few laughs on the way.  
It would be easy to brush this off as Suburbia with some extra bits but, well, that's precisely what it is. Gameplay is very similar except in this one you have a lot more to manage and balance, with resource tracks for several elements of your city as opposed to the simpler two-stage economy of Ted Alspach's "box of hex". Otherwise there is the usual rigmarole of tiles that activate when you build them, others that trigger off other buildings in your tableau, and something completely different with tiles that you power up in order to activate them; although you can also send tourists to these tiles instead of energy which creates the uncomfortable inference that visitors to your concrete eyesore of an industrial wasteland are either being kidnapped into slave labour or bundled into the furnace at the power plant.
Having played this a couple of times I was quite far up the learning curve, which I think is fair to describe as a bit of bitch, at least to get over the first big hump and then it's fairly simple when it all clicks into place. But you've got to learn how the game all fits together before you can really start to implement any form of strategy, and the rather dense amount of symbols on the tiles creates an entry barrier to the game similar to that experienced with Race for the Galaxy. 
Sarah started to put together some good combinations that would allow her to create a steady stream of residents and workers (which need to be kept close in number as unemployment has a negative impact), but at the cost of slowing her infrastructure to a crawl. Phil raced ahead on the culture track which enabled him to kidnap attract victims tourists to his town of museums and statues. Left with little choice in the first couple of rounds (I was third or last in player order at the beginning) I played the long game by selecting tiles that would give me building bonuses throughout the game, a solid start on infrastructure, and a solid step forward on the population tracks. My cash economy was wrecked and delivering me handfuls of negative VP chips but I felt I would be able to easily brush off what appeared to the others to be a poor start. That's another thing about this game that people sometimes struggle with - you start off losing and it keeps getting worse until you somehow turn a corner and begin to erode your negative score. Gareth... was doing his own thing, it looked like he was focussing on a strong cash economy but then he abandoned it after a couple of turns and started chasing culture before switching again to emplyment, as if the game was a platter of cardboard tapas.
As the game progressed Gareth changed track again, moving into the energy business in a race with Sarah to build bigger and better power stations. Phil lost momentum on the culture track and was flummoxed by stagnant population levels that kept the negative points flowing in. Meanwhile, my quiet game began to pick up pace and some complex combos I had built allowed me to ramp my cash right up to the top for VP bonuses in several consecutive rounds, which also enabled me to regularly afford first or second pick. I used this position to gradually improve each area in turn and to get a full set of purple bonus buildings into play for some big scores. 
At the end it was a runaway victory with eighty-some points, Sarah was second with a couple of dozen points and the other chaps just about managed to clear into positive point scores.

Sons of Anarchy: Men of Mayhem (Thanks Neil)

So, the pinky bikers of James II took on David's Chinese dudes and Neil's Mexicana gang. It's tough in town, life affirming decisions about whether to go after the lolly, the dope or guns, and then maybe have a bit of gang warfare on the side.

At its heart Sons of Anarchy is a worker placement game where you can fight for the options. The town is full of useful buildings, and each round there are one-off options available too. You're constantly churning the resources to try and win with the most cash. There were some obvious places to go each round, but also a bit of bluffing and negotiation too, "Yeah, I'll leave this whorehouse to you but I want some dope to do so."

James's effeminates got hammered several times while David and Neil looked out for each other. Neil spent a bit too much money early on while David was busy discreetly stockpiling. A final round showdown between James and everyone else lead to him dropping behind. David stymied Neil with a sneaky ploy to stop him selling too many guns, but he'd already won it in fact: Chinese Biker Dudes victorious! I enjoyed the game play and it was a pretty tight design too. The banter was great, a superb experience.  


With Gareth and Sarah heading off home, I coaxed Phil into a quick two player game of Evolution, the second play of the evening for this game of gluttony where the only thing that matters is how much food you can stuff into your bag. So, it's a bit like Supermarket Sweep except without Dale Winton (or Guy Fieri if you're reading this in a more Western timezone). Although Guy Fieri is considerably less camp than Dale which loses some of the 'knowing wink' fun of what is fundamentally a terrible idea for a TV show. Then again, Guy does have an irrepressible natural charisma, managing to sound upbeat and excited even when faced with an obviously terrible mound of greasy deep fried fat smothered in barbeque sauce. I'm spending too much time talking about daytime TV shows and not enough about the actual game here; anyway, my greedy dinomals were out-scoffing Phil's for most of the game, and when I lucked across the one-two-three sucker punch of intelligent pack-hunting carnivore scumbags in hand it was rude not to tear up his innocent grazing herds for a couple of turns until he could respond. 
The final score was heavily lopsided. I'm still on the fence of thinking that I like this game but some of the combos just seem so broken, as if the stakes keep escalating without a natural overlap or ending. It's easy to get a march on your opponent and then hammer down on them, and by the time they can react you're already moving on. In this game I couldn't be stopped even when Phil managed to second-guess me several rounds in a row, blocking my carnivore attacks but resulting in starvation across the board as I simply picked off the smaller morsels and allowed my population to thin slightly each round. The Jury remains out for me on this one I'm afraid....

Also played: Greed, Fresco, Too Many Cinderellas

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: "What's your favourite sports based board game...? Is sports a theme you like to play? Who's the worst sport at the club at losing?"
Neil: "Favourite sports based game.. Subbuteo, Subbuteo Rugby, Subbuteo Cricket, Football Express, and Owzthat! Played mountains of each as a nipper. Modern games and sports based: none that I've played so far, very sad. Must be scope for loads of interesting games I'd have thought.
Who's the worst sport at the club.. there's certainly a few candidates who are very keen to win but I have to say that I can't think of any really bad losers [Woody]."

John B: "My two favourite sports games are racing games, not something I am that interested in, in real life. Turfmaster, which is fantastic horse racing game and one of my top ten games of all time. Fantastic fun with 7 or 8 player. (It will play less). And Thunder Alley, such an innovative and brilliant racer."

Paul A: "Best sports-based game? Leader 1 by a country mile. It's a clever, neat engaging game with novel mechanisms that actually simulates the sport well.
I have an affection forThe Really Nasty Horse Racing Game as well, but it's more about psychology than the sport. "

Soren: "The best sports games are definitely Leader 1: Hell of the North (a significant improvement on the already great earlier Leader 1 and Giro d'Italia: The Game versions) and Race! Formula 90. Both games really capture the essence and feel of the sports. The gameplay in both games is all about advanced resource management and positioning and timing and offer real strategic depth."

James: "No love for The World Cup Game ? I always feel this should be played more than once every few years when there is an international football tournament on and everyone remembers it !
I'd be up for a game of leader on by the way if someone wanted to bring it in... I did have a copy of this Giro d'Italia: The Game once, but sat unloved and unplayed for 2 years so it's gone. I do still have the card game though Giro D'Italia Card Game - anyone know if this is any good ?"

Dan: "Subbuteo would be the all time king of sports games, I don't think anyone can argue with something that is a hobby in it's own right to the extent of there being a regular world championship.
Modern sports games seem to mostly be racing games of one type or another which are often hamstrung (geddit?) by being roll & move with some additional bells and whistles, and the cracks do show. Either that or they try to 'Euro-ise' them into resource management sims which just feels a bit off.
Very rarely do sports games actually communicate any feeling of the sport itself. Horse racing games come close I guess, but then they are games about gambling rather than sport. I tought Time of Soccer made a good fist of emulating a football management pc game but there were too many elements that were gamey and overall a bit shit. Plus again, not really bringing to life the sport itself.
Although it's not based on reality, Blood Bowl: Team Manager has a nice aspect of recreating just the highlights of pivotal games from a season of sport, a really neat idea that adresses another one of the main issues of sports games; that they often take longer to play than the actual sport itself. That would probably be my personal pick although it's way down my list of favourite games. I played the heck out of second edition Bloodbowl as a teen, and I guess it did actually feel like a sport of some sort was going on."

Paul D: "The game which I remember that feels the most like the sport is subbuteo cricket. Subbuteo football is good and I pined after subbuteo rugby but never managed to play it. But cricket was the best, even though I'm not a huge cricket fan.
I kinda had fun with Time of Soccer and it came close to being very good, but more of a game and less of a sport.
Race games are probably the easiest to simulate as a board game, Resulting in lots of them. I enjoy Ave Ceasar - simple but works well. Does chariot racing count?
But I love the idea of good sports games, so would be happy to try any that come recommended. "

This weeks question: "What is your favourite auction game? Is there a kind of auction mechanic you like/don't like...?"

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