Wednesday 14th September
Contributors: Jon, David
Letter of Marque
Hmmm - it seems to get panned in reviews, but actually, it isn't terrible. Basically a bluffing game about sending treasure ships out to sea, some of which may be protected by cannons. Get points by retrieving your own ships and attacking other players' ships, which you hope are undefended. So, do you do the obvious thing and protect your highest value ships, guaranteeing a reasonable return, or do you bluff and protect your weak ones, hoping to slip the high value ones back into port before anyone notices?
As most of us were learning the game, we did a bit of both, and it turned out that Jon was the best bluffer, or luckiest pirate or something.
As Noel pointed out, it has the same feel as Skull but without the tension / "Oooooh" moments. Which reminds me - someone bring Skull & Roses to IBG again soon!
Railways of the World
Noel brought it along on the off-chance, and Phil jumped at the chance. Jon needed no second invitation so it was a happy threesome that sat down to the UK map. This has a propensity to be a little loose with 3 players, but there was a fair bit of interaction this time.
Phil took out 3 Bonds just to win the first start-player auction, due to there being a very juicy Service Bounty in a prime position in the Midlands. Noel joined him in this area, and Jon headed along the South coast for the whole game. The cubes weren't great for Jon, but he did have the area all to himself, and despite a very slow start, he started to pick up the pace later on.
Noel & Phil picked up most of the route bonuses between them, and Noel had soon shot off into a commanding lead. Jon ended the game as he was running out of viable cubes to deliver, but Noel's lead was unassailable, winning by 6 points from Phil, who was 1 ahead of Jon.
Always a great way to spend 90 minutes...
I played the first of two games of Vienna, a quick (30mins) dice allocation filler. Think, a shorter leaner Kingsburg. Players travel around Vienna placing dice in ascending (usually) order and claiming the benefits of any location they allocate dice to. From money to victory points with special cards and characters adding other options. In the first game John pipped me to victory, his continual scoring of characters was enough to see me off. Sarah came a little way behind, there's not much time to catch up or build a little engine when someone is scoring regularly. It's over after 4 or 5 turns. I really enjoyed it, as it's so quick the pasted on theme and obvious choices don't spoil it. It also has lovely art by Michael Menzel. although the reverse of the board, Vienna at night is a cosmetic change only. Which is disappointing.
After that was The King is Dead, John, myself and Sarah played this whilst waiting for the other tables to finish up. It's a remake of König von Siam. Players are competing for favour of the three factions fighting over control of Britain after the death of King Arthur and Mordred. There are 8 turns in which one of the 8 regions are fought over. Players only get 8 actions for the entire game which can be used during any turn. It's incredibly tight, knowing which faction to back and when to relinquish control of a region to an opposing faction. The small number of actions makes them all critically important with every action a really difficult decision. John won this one by backing the Welsh, which I also did seeing my hopes of the Romano-British claiming the crown diminish as I lost a couple of important regions. The Scottish, who Sarah backed, made a late play but it wasn't enough. It came down to who had the most Welsh followers and John won by 5 to my 3. We also played a few games of Tsuro at the start of the evening. I much prefer this to Indigo which feels a lot more mean spirited, even if it's pretending not to be. As for Tsuro Philip and I played a few 2 player games where I managed to force him off twice. Not a lot happens in two player until the very end but the last few turns are worth it. Then Neil and John jumped in for a 4 player game. John was off first, with Philip and I off together leaving Neil to win.
At the end of the evening was a game of Codenames: Pictures with Neil, Noel, Jon and myself. My performance was, err, mixed as I directed Jon to the assassin in the second game and then gave some rather vague clues in the third game. I'll try and pretend it didn't happen although the game was nice, with plenty of pictures open to interpretation in more ways than the word version.
Wednesday 21st September
Contributors: Peter, Daniel, Jon
So we played The Pillars of the Earth and what's more there were five of us which meant we got to play the The Pillars of the Earth: Expansion Set! Now this is the best way to play this great game. With the expansion board there are a few more interesting options, and with five players the spots available are really limited and there is a real struggle to get the things you want. Five people is the sweet spot for this game. This game is ten years old this year, and at the time of publication was pretty revolutionary in the way it introduced Worker Placement into the gaming world, almost simultaneously with Caylus. Yet despite its age it still feels fresh, smooth and engaging.
The scoring started all fairly slowly as it often does in Pillars, but within a couple of rounds engines were starting to rumble and move up a gear. David got a little crushed by missing the potter, Tom was holding back before a MASSIVE last round almost took him to victory, Alex was investing in a ton of metal and doing wonderous things in the Cathedral with it, I had a stone thing going on (well, it is a Cathedral after all), and James was doing a little of this and that including some mean Carpentry. It as very close in the end with my many-game experience only allowing me a short lead over Alex and Tom very very close behind.
It was a real pleasure to play with four other engaged players who I think all enjoyed it. The sequel, World Without End, will be coming along next time I make it along.
First up was Coup: Rebellion G54. Always good fun this one, especially with some of the expansion roles which add some extra spice into the mix. This time, it came down to Phil & Jon duelling it out, with Jon managing to assassinate Phil at the last moment to be last man standing.
Next was Tom's copy of Cacao, played with Mauro, Jon & John. This is an inoffensive tile-laying game, where your workers are printed onto tiles that you place along with market and harvest tiles to score points. This felt like a fun, light game, that was moving along at a fair trot until you get to the last 3 tiles, which we were then able to place on top of other tiles that had already been placed. Cue 20 minutes of AP (especially from Jon...) as we tried to max out the possible scoring combinations.
Mauro ended the game on top, thanks to a timely addition of the most valuable market, next to an equally generous harvest space, which he was then able to hammer again at the end of the game.
I really liked the game up until the last few tile lays, and would happily play it again. Just need to make sure that the ending doesn't drag on so much next time.... Ticket to Ride: UK next made an appearance - this is the map where you must buy 'technologies' to enable you to lay all but the most basic routes. Mauro warned us at the beginning that he felt that one of the technologies (choose to take 3 blind cards each turn) was overpowered. It was decided to play with them anyway, but perhaps it was significant that the 2 players who managed to buy them (John & Mauro) came in first and second!
Tom probably bought too many technologies, which slowed down his route-building. Mauro used his card-drawing technology to accumulate an enormous hand of cards, and then build the 40 point line to New York. Jon did a bit of everything, but was frustrated with drawing unhelpful extra tickets from the deck. John, however, drew ticket after ticket, many of which were 'long' and most of which were in the areas that he had already built track - leading to an impressive victory.
Good map this one - maybe Mauro's warnings were well-founded - that technology may need a tweak (or omission) next time...
As for Secret Hitler - Dan has said it all. We had fun, but there really is no need to use this theme in any non-wargame. Too soon? Definitely....
Wednesday 28th September
Contributors: Daniel, Jon
For some reason 'twas the night of the social deduction game for me - I couldn't stay for long but ended up sat in on four in a row after a quicky Deep Sea Adventure to start the evening off.The first one up was Timebomb, one of James' manga games where you are cutting wires on a bomb. I had no idea who the two traitors were but both David and Noel seemed like they were OK and they trusted me when I told them not to cut my wires as I had the bomb so it worked out for us. David was pulling his 'poker face' throughout so I thought he was actually a traitor but I don't think that he was... can't quite remember though... it's unfortunately an instantly forgettable game.
I finished off with two rounds of Deception, one as the investigator with James as the murderer (so we were pretty much stuffed from the off - it does bear mentioning though that we learned a key difference between David and myself; I believe that love equates to a diamond ring, whereas David more closely associates it with panties...), with roles reversed in the second (I thought I was being clever by picking items that very closely matched things in both David and Raj's tableaus, only for James to have the perfect storm of clue cards that narrowed down on my clues so quickly and firmly it was a done-deal on the first guess). Finally I got to enjoy a decent game last night!
After a quick Deep Sea Adventure (where David was the biggest a@&*$*# after gulping all the oxygen and then surfacing like freaky Seaworld orca), Jon, Paul & Amanda brought out the perennial deck-building favourite, Trains.
This was a great example of different strategies being viable to win. Paul chose to build across the map, picking up a bonus route and muscling in on Jon's cities as he went along, whilst also trying to create a train-heavy deck. Amanda was a relative novice, and although she was scoring nicely on the board, she did clog her deck up a little bit with waste from unnecessary track building. Jon sat in a corner (of the map) and built a little but was focussing on accumulating as many trains as possible in an effort to build the much sought-after 6-point stadiums. His deck only revealed the necessary 11 coins once in the game, but he did manage to collect a number of lower value Towers to boost his score. And the final count revealed a dead-heat between Paul & Jon, with Amanda not far behind.
3-player Trains really buzzes along, and the variety of cards and maps mean that this is going to keep coming out for a while to come...Then it was 7 Wonders with the Great Projects expansion and 5 players. This is the ideal expansion - adds something new, a bit more interaction but without lengthening the game much.
Neil got aggressive, Raj & Noel got all scientific, James hedged his bets and Jon thought he was still playing Trains and just built structures for victory points. Only 5 points separated the top 4 players at the end, with Jon's erections just overshadowing Noel's cultured explorations by a single point.
Another slightly older game that has legs - who says that we're all about the cult of the new..???