Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Rage against the Machine

Wednesday 2nd November
Contributors: Daniel, Tash, David

We started with a real time game of Captain Sonar, good fun shooting at James' sub which I shall now dub "The fish in a barrel." Our magnificent vessel, "Jurgen Prochnow's Last Hurrah", entered the fray with a simple strategy to load and fire torpedos as rapidly as possible. We had a whale of a time driving in big circles to confuse James II who was on navigation duty for the opposing side and when we inadvertanly caught them in the blast from one of our salvos we spiralled in closer behind them taking chunks out of their hull like a cartoon dog biting the seat out of their trousers. I couldn't have done it without my magnificent crew, although clearly in this case success followed great leadership.


So, Last Friday. I was pretty disappointed with my performance as the Maniac. I'm just not sure I'm really entitled to cut loose on the game, because my feelings are coloured by the thought that I played the Maniac badly and therefore gave everyone a nofun game as a result. I suspect the designer would respond to any criticisms of mine with "That wouldn't have happend if you had played better". So I apologise for that.

I feel like Dan gives a good account of the disadvantages I faced and the general tedium that I experienced in the game after the brief excitement of Phase 1. Listening to four good gamers debate your every possible move is NOT a lot of fun when every three turns you have to tell them EXACTLY WHERE YOU ARE NOW. So the prize for a brilliant escape (Mr X style) is to INSTANTLY REVEAL WHERE AND HOW YOU ARE SLIPPING THE NET, before you can actually get away.

It was probably my fault that in Phase 2 I didn't realise that committing suicide on turn 1 would have had far, far better outcomes for the Maniac than actually escaping the campers as instructed, allowing them time to clear away all obstructions and lay down a vast and sprawling latticework of defences. That might not be true in all games of Last Friday, but it was true in ours.

It was probably my fault that in Phase 3, entitled "Massacre" and billed "Protect the Predestined and run run run from the horrible maniac!!" I didn't realise that without meticulous Maniac planning, campers can push the Maniac around and generally pin him in corners with no ill effects. 

What I think is most wrong with Last Friday is an equal problem for Maniac and Chasers - everyone's behaviour is totally mechanical and predictable.

You know how in Scotland Yard, if you're Mr X if you can just get to the bus stop you can get around behind the guy and get away, except that you'd put a bus ticket down on your tableau so they'd know that you've gone by bus and that would give them a big fat clue as to where you were, so maybe if you do get to the bus stop you should go the other way on the bus, would that keep them guessing? Would they fall for it? And if you're the detectives you'd better NOT use the tube again Dave or we'll be out of tickets you daft bastard and have to wait for Mr X to use some and Oh My God Sally WHY ARE YOU GOING BY TAXI because I am saving bus tickets WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH YOU WE HAVE SO MANY BUS TICKETS etc etc etc

Yeah there's no buses in Last Friday, or tubes. You get to cross the lake occasionally, that's it. The Maniac moves number to number and the campers move dot to dot. Very occasionally you can move an extra number or dot. Some territories are good for dots. Some are good for numbers.

So I know where you can go, you know where I can go, nobody can go very far, nobody can go very fast, as long as you crunch the data, the variables are pretty low. This actively increases the analysis time as you can actively appraise all the possibilities both in terms of past and future moves in just a few minutes.

Let's cross the map, me chasing you! Plod plod plod. Now it's your turn to chase me! Plod plod plod. Surprise! I popped up right where you least expect ... no, no I didn't do that. Nope. Didn't. Unless I spam these tokens I've got. In which case it's not really me is it? It's just a special power I used that one time. Aha! I totally outwitted you by... no, no I didn't do that either. Because a well-trained vole could probably crunch finite permutations available given the time. And he has the time. All the time he needs. Zzzzzzzzz


The Pillars of the Earth: Builders Duel This was an incredibly close game between James B and I with the winner being decided on a tie. I didn't like the first few games I played of this due to the flipping mechanism of the seals but I've grown to really enjoy it as it retains just enough elements of the main board game Pillars of the Earth. I played as Bishop Waleran and went first, James then didn't manage to wrestle control from me as first player until the last round of cards which turned out to be a pivotal move. We both managed to build every part of our castles with James building two parts on his last turn in thanks to a powerful ally card. So it came down to who had the most money. James had 2 and I had spent all of mine so James won. A very close game with some luck for James on the last turn.

Captain Sonar: This was a fiasco from our side and some luck from the other side. We had James as captain who unfortunately had a rather motley crew that consisted of James B who struggled with navigation, myself who didn't have much of a job other than to tick boxes and Philip who worked the engine room but whose directions didn't make it to the captain. Added to this the opposing teams first missile to test the waters hitting us and it was just a matter of time before we were caught and destroyed. The only person who can hold their head up high on our team was James, I fear we as his crew let him down. I think I would prefer the turn based variant, more strategic, less shouty. Although it was fun.

Imhotep: Everyone was rather keen to play The Last Friday (ahem!) so that left James B, myself and Jon to play Imhotep. This was light and very fast. It probably only took us 30-40 minutes but still had plenty of decision making and limited control over where your (nice big chunky) blocks end up. Much to my consternation that's what happened to my blocks on more than one occasion thanks to James B, although he was returning the 'favour'. The scores were fairly close until the end game scoring where Jon raced into the lead mostly due to his collection of statues which we really should have stopped him collecting so many of. In the end Jon won by 10 points over James B and I was last two points behind James. 

Flamme Rouge: I'll throw this out there now that this is the most fun I've had with a new game for some time. I think it really nailed cycling without going overboard and even though it's a simple card driven experience there's a lot of choices to make. Stick with the pack and hope to race to victory on the final straight, or race into an early lead and hope you don't run out of steam. This is what Alex (who had just arrived in time to join us) did. He went full pelt and made a dash for it. I thought he would run out of steam early on but with a bit of luck he was using his exhaustion cards on the down hill sections and it looked as though he might hang on. Jon, myself and James meanwhile worked our way around the course in a pack up until the last incline where both Jon and James made their moves. Something I didn't expect and left me to catch up. Alex meanwhile was finally running out of momentum with only two spaces to go. We rounded the corner and on the last turn it was a sprint. Alex crossed the line first but not far enough, Jon then raced past which looked like enough to win however James than beat them all as he past Jon by a single place. I meanwhile chugged over the line and took third place from Alex. What a great game.

Deception: Murder in Hong Kong: We ended the evening with three games of this. I started as the forensic scientist and had to finger Alex as the murder. It was close but Jon somehow managed to work out that my clue of 'perversion' meant a video recorder and caught Alex. Second game James B managed to escape detection partly in thanks due to the poor clue cards Alex was dealt. In the last game I managed to catch Alex working out quite quickly he was the murderer. Played this a number of times now and it doesn't get boring. Good stuff. 


Wednesday 9th November
Contributors: Daniel, Jon

Crazy Carts and Fabled Fruit were all on the go so it looked like an alliterative evening of great games, mad moments and tremendous times for all. We had a quick fling with Avenue while the fruit chasers were finishing up. The game was notable for an extended stretch of grey cards in the midgame that then resulted in the last three rounds finishing incredibly quickly. Both Raj and James exploited this well to set themselves up for big scores and continuous builds, whereas the rest of us simply floundered. Raj somehow managed to better his big mid-game scoring round to get a huge step ahead, and James also did very well by playing the game properly and extending his routes each time rather than producing a mad scribble. One of them won, but I can't remember who so choose your favourite.

I rather hilariously blocked out one of the castles in my first two moves which rewarded me with the doofus of the night award, although I still managed to score more than either John or David despite my best attempts to ruin my own scoring. 

Tom had brought along Dream Home (formerly, and in fact still currently, known as Domek) which I have had my eye on for some time so was delighted to get in on a game along with Jon. It's a swift and light game with a charming everyday setting that is very appealing and beautifully presented. In comparison to other recent featherlight family games such as the big box ones Haba have been putting out, this has the decency to keep the gameplay short and engaging and avoids becoming a repetitive activity as a result.

The nicest aspect is the core mechanism of planning the market for the round. In a family game I can see this taking on the angle of making sure that everybody has access to something that they want, so almost a co-operative edge in helping everybody build their 'dream home'. However, when you sit down with grizzled gamers it takes on a whole new edge of tactically screwing each other over, resulting in bitter enmities and simmering grudges. As of such there is an edge to this game so dark that it could have been crafted by Frank Miller in a gloomy room in the middle of an overcast night.

Tom went straight for some basement rooms, digging out a big garage to fill with all his junk (like all those boxes of failed filler games - ahem hem), and while Jon was making Laurence Llewyllen Bowen proud with his tastefully decorated living room I chose to focus on what I am sure you will all agree is the most important part of any home - the games room. Despite hitting the wall in the mid game with a shabby half-finished basement (thanks Tom, you total git) I was able to string together a few scoring combos although hampered myself a little with my amazing walk-through pantry in the middle of the kitchen. Tom won in the end after Jon forgot to put a roof on top of his house, turning the entire top floor into a rather elegant swimming pool.

The three of us then moved onto Imhotep, an old-school Euro design that is basically an entire game based around point-salad scoring. It's like a Euro-gaming orgasm where you literally just push cubes to score points. 

You either stick a block on a boat or sail a boat that is ready to leave, and when you sail a boat you decide its destination. All the blocks unload in order with some locations giving an immediate score, others at the end of every round, and still more that score only at the end. Every scoring mechanism is slightly different with the one commonality that the order that the blocks go down is absolutely crucial. There is enough tactical consideration as to when and where you think boats are likely to go to keep the game interesting to play without being overloaded by nonsense decision making, and a deck of bonus scoring cards that you can sometimes pick from and which can be surprisingly pivotal if used well.

There was a little bit of that typical points counting drag going on in the final round trying to gauge which variation of one or two points here or there was going to make more of a difference, and this is definitely in flag-waving Euro territory, but I quite liked it all the same as it had the feeling of getting back to the root of good Euro design circa ten years ago before the animal started to eat itself.

Jon had a convincing victory with both Tom and I tied a few points behind - I think that Tom overscored me at one point and he actually came in ahead but then again I totally failed to digest one of the scoring mechanisms and completely cocked up a couple of moves that ended up being fairly awful for me. Can't really tell you much about what happened in the game itself as it's not the sort of game that is filled with thrills and spills - you are literally just moving cubes to score VPs after all - but I would definitely play again, maybe with one or two of the alternate scoring boards which, despite being a mixed bag, looks like there a couple of gems in there.

7 Blunders followed - even better than last time I think as we started experimenting with different strategies. Dave went for all-out military which we had mused would be a great way to buy into non-scoring cards that nobody else wants in return for an affordable 18pt hit. The upside of this appraoch is that the lack of resources means you get to force yourself into selling cards a few times which is great as it's only a 1pt hit each time you do that (my suggestion of a build is that you keep any sold cards to the side and take additional VP according to the era of the card, although all the free builds do tend to mean that it isn't easy to put yourself into a position to sell cards very often). It worked well for him alhough he couldn't quite keep up with Jon's glorious failure to score many points which led him to success.

I came in second last after experimenting with heavy blue, but cashing in at an average of four or five points per card isn't great and I was hindered by a 20pt hit as a result. As the Colossus I would have been far better off going down the military route. I also see that there is a lot of value in collecting science so long as you never make a full set - with two matching cards they are only hitting you for 2pts each which is a great return. Really loving this variant as there is so much more to think about than the regular game, and looking forward to another play!

We finished up with two rounds of Temple of Shrieking Tommies, which is a superior upgrade on Time Bomb in every single way, mainly due to the simple yet pivotal change of putting a second fail card into the mix. This tiny change utterly transforms the experience from a ho-hum anti-climax as it's the point where you think you've fingered one of the guardians/bombers/werewolves/whatever that things get interesting from the perspective of social deduction. It's madness to suddenly stop the game right there and then. Would play this over the original any day, but at the same time think I would still much prefer to be playing Saboteur, Diamant, Good Cop Bad Cop, or Nanuk for a big end of evening game. It's good to know that we have another option available though


After a slightly underwhelming first shot at Fabled Fruit a couple of weeks ago, Tom & Jon were keen to give it another go, but this time progressing further into the deck. They co-opted Phil, and then TomToo, and ended up playing 3 games - and this time it was loads better.

It turns out that the 6 starting decks of cards are fairly uninteresting, and are there to just get you started. Once the other decks start appearing, with the market starting to come into play, it gets much better. One card allows you to steal from the player with the most cards, which helps to curb the 'collect a fistful of cards and then just buy fabled juices in consecutive turns' strategy. It also gets more difficult to collect the right cards to buy the juices, as Tom & Jon both found when they had plenty of cards, but couldn't match a single fabled juice recipe.

Definitely a game not to 'reset' back to the starting decks, unless you are playing with a group of non-gamers for the first time. We got up to deck 12 I think, so shed loads more to explore - and I'm looking forward to it... 


Wednesday 16th November
Contributors: Tom, Jon, David

Jon - please bring Fabled Fruit to every game night. If you do, I will happily say bollocks to marking, planning or parents' evenings. It's a glorious thing especially as things become more difficult with managing your hand (damn that kangaroo) and blocking strategies make themselves more wildly known (Tom 2's pineapple loving tapir is no longer safe). One of my favourites of the year so far - along with Avenue which made a very satisfying closer.

In Avenue, I thought that I was doing rather well until I saw Jon's rather miraculous loop which seemed to take him through every grape field. The less said about Phil's atrocious attempts at road building, the better.

Dream Home was great again - Sarah bought lots of decor, Jon managed to actually build a roof and my house looked a total mess. All I can remember is that I lost - convincingly.

Flamme Rouge was tremendous fun too. A rules light concoction with a lot of tension. I managed a win with a late sprint despite Jon having reached the brow of the gigantic final hill one turn ahead of me. I look forward to playing this again very soon - the one thing that I am concerned about however is how much I am playing the game and how much it is playing me.


All told - a five star evening of gaming! Actually, make that six stars as I got a hug from Neil. 


Fabled Fruit
Thanks to Tom's enthusiasm, this game came out again for another couple of rounds. It really does become more and more interesting as it progresses, with new cards coming out that work in different ways. The bonuses from most cards also appear to be getting more marginal, which makes the choice of where to go much more interesting. More interaction has also been added, with advantages often gained from having a low number of cards in hand - all adding up to create a nicely evolving system. Could be a good evening-opener for a few weeks to come...

Long time since I've played this. I'd forgotten how lovely the chips were to clink in your hands. I'd also forgotten how incredibly 'samey' each game feels. Don't get me wrong, I did really enjoy it (and won, as it happens), but I would happily put it back on the shelf for another few months before playing again.

Dream Home
3-player house construction with Tom, Jon & Sarah. This super-filler is lots of fun, with gorgeous artwork. This time, Tom had a bit of a mare, Jon at least stuck a (albeit multicoloured) roof in place, but Sarah was the best home planner and took the win.

Flamme Rouge
Great fun seeing Neil's sprinter attempt a breakaway over the mountains, only to come puffing to a relative standstill and get overtaken by the entire field before the last hill. Really close finish between Jon, Sarah and Tom, with Tom just crossing the finish line first after an epic race. Lots of legs in this game - I'm 8 games in and just want more.

Karuba with less pieces. Jon managed to complete a lovely circular route in the last round and mopped up most of the grapes in the region. Phil's path was a little more 'fragmented', - have we finally found a chink in this man's gaming armour??? Fun game that is also very portable in a 'holiday-friendly' kinda way...


Neil kindly bought along Splendor as I mentioned it was one of the games I was eager to play on my geeklist that had somehow passed me by. In the first game with Neil, myself, Charlotte and James B I managed to beat James by a couple of points. In the second game later in the evening between myself, James B and Phil I came second behind James this time. It was nice to finally have played it and what a lovely game. So simple and never outstays its welcome. 

I also played Key to the City – London thanks to Neil again as it was another game, well Keyflower, on my geeklist that I expressed a desire to play. It looks great and as someone who loves London the theme is perfect. Would like to try regular Keyflower at some stage but I think Key to the City – London is the version for me. Phil won this with a hefty score of 99 with Neil not far behind on 96(ish) James B and I then came someway off in the 60s. Even though I ran out of steam on the last turn I enjoyed it immensely.

There was also a game of The Great Dalmuti with a few of us at the start of the evening. We need a special hat for the The Great Dalmuti to wear. He would also need to order the peasants about more to fully get into character.  


Wednesday 30th November
Contributors: Daniel, Tom, Jon

Last night started well with the always excellent Plus Minus, then followed by Cat-in-a-Box or whatever, an offbeat quirky filler which Tom was all excited about playing (never a great sign). My thoughts on this one? :flush:

I then twisted Jon's arm into teaching me Flamme Rouge which I will for now briefly sum up in one word: Exceptional! This is totally heading for my game of the year, what a wonderful and fun game that cleverly eschews obfusciating proceedings with convoluted rules and instead sticks very firmly to weighting all the decision making and considerations into the actual gameplay - how novel!

We got on our bicycles for two games in a row, in the first I was pipped into second place on a tie-breaker to John and in the second by a nose to Jon. In the latter race Jon only got ahead of me because I redundantly raced my Sprinteur into the home straight which dragged him along in the peloton - if I had kept my Sprinteur back in the pack then my Rouleur would have cruised firmly into first place, so lots to learn in this one and a ton of fun along the way.

Jon and Phil then joined me for World's Fair 1893, which seems to play very differently depending on the player count. The scoring isn't particularly intuitive but once you get going there are plenty of challenging decisions along the way. With three players, compared to my previous experience of this as a two player game, there is the unknown buffer of how things shift between each of your turns that is harder to account for in any long range plans. Depending on how the tickets come out you might only have two or three actions at most in a round so need to be quite dynamic in your choices - this clicked for me in the last round where I focussed very heavily on getting a clear first or second majority in the three areas that would allow me to build a second complete set of attractions. Getting the helper characters into hand was pivotal for this approach so I took mainly sub-optimal choices in the last round purely to load up cubes on the areas that I needed. This gave me a clear victory margin of twenty-odd points along with the stack of rosettes that I collected as a by-product of this strategy.

Finished up with Temple of Shrieking Tommies again. The first couple of rounds were fairly uneventful with everybody seemingly honest about what they had and a good balance of a handful of treasure and a single fire trap coming into play. By the third round the evil gravedigging gold hunters looked like they were getting too close to finding all the gold so, as a proud downtrodden native, I bluffed that I had treasure and let them waste a couple of turns digging into my uselessly empty coffers. When I figured I had pushed the ruse as far as it would go I tipped my hand by testing out Jon who claimed he had fire, alas to no avail and putting beyond doubt that I was on the opposing side.

The final round came down to a cliff hanger. Raj knew that I was one of the natives along with 'Mr. Cool' Phil who had snuck under the radar right up until that final round, and was convinced that one of us had the final treasure. With the very last card of the game he had a one in four chance of getting it right and of course I was delighted when he came after me as I had two empty rooms sat in front of me. A default win for the natives then, and a fun time again with this flavour of the month end of evening favourite filler.


I think me being excited about Cat Box may be over-egging the pudding. A decent filler game which may work better with smaller numbers. Not one for the club though I fear.

Whilst Dan was being bitten by the Flamme Rouge bug (don't worry my Boys, I'll be back with you soon enough), I was having a rather delightful game of City of Spies: Estoril 1942 with Raj and James II. A deck building, area majority hybrid which a cracking spy theme, we all had great fun with this one. At the end, my Zsa Zsa Gabor seduced Raj's chess nerd Alexander Alexhine to go for a pleasant walk along Devil's Chasm before pushing him into the Atlantic. *splash* Unfortunately, this wasn't quite enough as Raj pipped me for one point after we shared a few mission goals. Damn it, Zsa Zsa, you were supposed to kill the Spanish diplomat!
Following this, was a nice runthrough the new card game hotness Honshu which plays out like a cross between Pi mal Pflaumen (i.e. when is a trick taker not a trick taker?) and Limes. It cantered along very nicely with James II being the ultimate victor. I lost by one point again when James gazumped me on the final auction and stole the high scoring fish factory card; he didn't even want the bleeding factory but was bolstering his building of the behemoth Lake James II. Grrr.

Another lovely evening - bollocks to marking and planning lessons etc. etc. etc. 


For the 23rd, my memory isn't great, but I do remember a few rounds of Fabled Fruit (gets more interesting with each play) and the ubiquitous Flamme Rouge.

However, this week we tried Flamme Rouge with 3 players, which, if anything, made it even more tactical. With 3 players, it is less likely that the peleton will consistently slipstream along as a single bunch, and there is the risk that riders can be easily dropped off the back and pick up exhaustion cards. We played the routes with some tricky mountains, which make the decisions even more interesting. Dan was a definite convert, so this game isn't going into the 'Where are they now?' vault anytime soon...

Dan then pulled out World's Fair 1893 with the words "You'll like this one, Jon." I wasn't so sure, as when I'd seen people playing it before, it looked a bit complicated with lots of cards with lots of text on them (which is one of my gaming turn-offs - gulp ) However, it turns out that all of it is flavour text, and that the game itself is a brilliant but simple sub-hour euro. Place a cube in a certain area. Pick up the corresponding cards. Maybe play a special advisor card. Your turn is over. Hoppity-skip, even for an AP-prone curmudgeon like myself.

Dan clearly knew what he was doing, and used his special advisors to very good effect, winning a lot of majorities and plenty of points into the bargain - romping to victory. And he was right - I did like this one...! (but as always, I did have to check the rules later, and found that we were playing a couple wrong. In James' absence, even the ever-reliable Dan feels the need to eschew the rules as written for a more free-form experience shake

Ed - Yes indeed, the rules that we specifically misplayed were placing a worker on every area at the start and not being able to keep helpers beyond your following turn (although I'll let Tommy take the credit for the latter boo-boo). I hereby declare my magnificent victory null and void for all those counting at home (Gareth), but I suspect the final score would still have been the same