Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Its too late for kisses now!

Wednesday 1st February

Contributors: David, Tom Juan

James B and I had time for a few games of Ivanhoe. I feel this plays best two player as it can drag on for far too long with three or four players. With two it's far easier to win tournaments and it often comes down to one or two game winning tournaments where both players go all in. I managed to win the first game by unhorsing James during a jousting tournament and changing it to a sword one which was the last tournament colour I needed to win. In the second game James crushed me comfortably even though I was stealing cards from him I didn't have anywhere near enough tournament cards to prevent him from winning.

After that was a game of Sushi Go Party with Jon, myself, James, James B and Tom. I love Sushi Go and was a bit concerned that the addition of new cards and more bloated rules might ruin what makes it so great. Thankfully it still retains the fast and fun aspect of Sushi Go and doesn't bog it down by being too gamey. It was fairly close scoring up until the last round and I was leading only to play three Miso Soup cards that were cancelled by other players on the last round as well as the minus six penalty for having the least puddings (I had none) to propel me into last place one point behind James. James B won I believe with either Tom or Jon just behind. I will buy a copy of this myself sometime.
The main game of my evening was Venetia. It's a great game but one I hadn't played for a few years. Both Phil and John showed an interest so we settled down for what turned into quite a long game. Each player is spreading the glory and influence of Venice throughout the region in three epochs, the rise, the apogee and the decline. Each turn various historical nations come into play and reduce your influence in certain regions as well as block sea routes. I went for an early strategy of spreading a lot of influence in the regions closest to Venice whilst John and Phil went further afield. By the end of the first epoch I found myself with a comfortable lead, both John and Phil ran out of time before they could exert enough influence.

In the second Epoch we saw rival kingdoms come onto the map and threaten our control, I was badly hit in Italy and Dalmatia whilst Phil was hit in Greece. Perhaps the most important part of the second epoch was John and Phil not preventing me from being elected Doge. I managed to score a lot of bonus points by being Doge at least three times and build monuments in Venice. I scored slightly less than the first epoch but still enough to keep in a comfortable lead.

By the last epoch I had managed to control most areas around Venice and remain Doge whereas both John and Phil also managed to increase their holdings it wasn't enough to compete with my large lead. I ended up winning with 61 points, John in second with 50 and Phil last with 35. It's one of my favourite games and even though it has been a long time since I last played it I knew what I was doing. It's not a complicated game but there are quite a few moving parts and minor rules. 


Sushi Go Party was played as a five-fer. James II won, followed by Jon and myself, and Dave and James I in last place following a Mexican pudding off. I enjoyed it but I do like the lean-ness of the original; I certainly wouldn't want to muddy its simplicity when explaining to gaming neophytes (the exact audience at which I feel SG is aimed!) Also, losing the tension brought by determining good use of chopsticks brought it down a notch too - Tea wasn't really much a replacement.
Dokmus (Dork-Mouse: Jonathan, you fool!) was played by me, Jon and Paul - brought in by my pitch of it being Kingdom Builderesque. A very good abstract with thinking hats required but not so much that Jon entered an AP induced fugue state. Jon just managed to pip Paul following a rather elegant last move, with me galumphing around in last place. Paul classified it as his favourite game of recent showings so that was nice!

After Dokmus, we moved straight into Dream Home, having been joined by Sandra. Once again, Dream Home delivered in spades even without the premium dickishness of the 2/3 player version. I triumphed thanks to meet all of my functionality bonuses and garnering a bright orange roof (with a window no less!). Finally, managed to put the Ice Cream maker to good use for once; ice cream sundaes all round!
Now for the main event: a two-fer of Temple of the Shrieking Mes and Insider. Trying to put the Temple fiasco into words will be difficult as I'm not quite sure how to put the sheer hilarity into words. Bullet points may be needed:

1. Paul looked at his identity card, proclaimed "I don't know which is which" and then checked the rulebook (written in German).

2. Paul proceeded to play a grand game with David called "let's find all the treasures between us", outing himself and David as adventurers.

3. Sandra showed her true colours, lying to have a fire trap set off, proving herself to be a guardian. Later, in the final round, James brazenly declared himself to be a guardian and said in no certain terms, "the other guardian, if you have a fire trap, please say so now so that we can win this game". Paul jokingly raised his hand and replied "I'm
a guardian and have the fire trap".

4. The adventurers win with the last roll of the dice having deduced that Sandra had the final treasure, the evil minx. The problem was: who was the final guardian?

5. Paul flips his card, pleased as punch having won the game with his crafty play. The card showed a guardian. You know: the woodland creature surrounded by mystical fire rather than the stock Nazi from Indiana Jones. Paul had somehow confused the two. James and Sandra were not pleased.

Insider: let's just say, if there is ever a game where Paul is the Master and Phil the Insider then the world will come to the end, akin to the meeting of two doppelgangers. Tip to would-be Masters: if a word, say for example "arrow", has two meanings - choose one!!

Wednesday 8th February

Contributors: Jon, David

Sushi Go Party! - this is the first time I've played this with 7 players, but it seems to work fine. It certainly makes some cards more risky (likelihood of getting 4 different Onigiris is slim) - but if everyone thinks like that, then you may end up with a bargain! Playing with large numbers has the same effect as in 7 Wonders - you know that you're not going to see any of the hands of cards twice. However, you need to pay a bit more attention to your opponents across the table than you do in 7 Wonders...

Dan stomped to victory here (although it was quite close at the end) by scoring big points in the first 2 rounds thanks to some tasty Soy Sauce! Sarah was hooked on Uramaki, and despite Jon's collection of Green Tea Ice Cream, he still had a shocker, scoring just 3 points during one round...
Habitats has seen a number of plays in recent weeks, and it really is a lovely tile-laying puzzle. This week we maxed out at 5 players, which creates more competition for the year-end bonuses. Tong focused on these, and had amassed 10 points or so before the final scoring. Jon managed to complete his tricky 6-point buffalo, but an unwisely placed road at the beginning of the game rather stymied his progress. Noel had planted a veritable field of flowers (ahhh - sweet...) and Sarah appeared to be building the squarest zoo possible. However, Paul scored well with his roads and watchtowers, and this was enough to give him the victory in what turned out to be a very close finish. 5 players may be one too many, but it's still a really fun game. Keep bringing it along, Paul!

Santorini. Kudos to this game's presentation. It really is a supermodel of a game, with gorgeous white plastic buildings, that grow into a stunningly accurate representation of the real thing. James and Jon decided to pit their wits (such as they possess...) against each other in this abstract puzzle. They played vanilla to start with, and then added the special powers for later games.

It was a learning experience for sure, and honours were probably about even at the end of the day. Each special power adds a heap of strategy to the game (both in how to use it, and how to counter it), and it could very well be one of the best abstract games out there. It supposedly plays up to 4 players, but I would have thought that 2 is the obvious player-count. The only downside I can see is the price - currently around £40 - which is a bit steep for my liking. Glad that Soren bought it though!


WWE Superstar Showdown I knew James B and I were arriving early so bought this along as I haven't played it for a while. We started with a showdown between John Cena and the Big Show. The first match was quite close, I was using the ropes to good effect bouncing off and hitting the Big Show with some powerful attacks. The turning point came when James threw me out of the ring and then pummelled me. It took me a couple of turns just to get back in and by that time I had lost a lot of my deck. James ended it by delivering a few blows and pinning me. I had no kick out cards in hand or on the turnover so James won.

The second showdown was a tag team match between James' Big Show & Roman Reigns and my Big E & Daniel Bryan combo. This match ended quite quickly and we didn't even have time to tag in our partners. I landed some early blows onto James but risked it by not tagging out. It proved to be costly as James landed three slams in a row crippling my deck. I tried to get into the corner but didn't make it before James finished me off.
Mai-Star was up next with Tom who had just arrived to see James finish me off in wrestling. From wrestling to Geisha. Players are Geisha trying to attract and guests into their inn and whoever earns the most money over three rounds wins. First thing to say about this are the Geisha cards, they are incredibly powerful and some seemingly more than others. 

I was hammered in the first round by both James and Tom and needed to pull off something special in the last two rounds to win. I couldn't as in the second round Tom scored well by inviting about five guests and having no cards in hand (which score you minus points). In the final round it was between Tom and James. It all came down to one card James played that allowed him to play a guest and discard his entire hand ending the round early. This left Tom and I with a big hand of minus points and gave James the victory. 

I really liked it, there is a lot of take that and it felt quite swingy with the Geisha abilities. We did get one rule wrong about the Sumo Wrestler guest, the rules state that "A card effect stating “target player” means that you may target yourself" which makes it a much more appealing card. Apart from that though I thought it was good, great artwork and nice theme. I didn't realise that Adventure tours is effectively a re-theme of it as I was thinking of buying that cheap last year. I think Mai-Star is the better game between the two now I've played it though.
Porta Nigra I've had this sitting around for a while and didn't have a chance to play it (well really I just couldn't be bothered to read the rules as it looked a bit bland). I managed to convince James B into playing even though he usually dislikes Euros and Phil who enjoys them. It's set in Augusta Treverorum in the Roman Empire where players are Roman architects building the fabled Porta Nigra (yeah I had to google what it was as well). The map is split into quarters and players buy bricks from the central market and then construct towers of differing heights in each quarter to score points. There's so many ways to score, from building towers, to area majority in the quarters to honour cards and building cards that provide bonuses. 

It was quite a close game up until the end game bonuses. This is where James crushed both Phil and I as he had managed to convert his four building cards into a high scoring honour card and then improved his honour card twice. It gave him a huge swing and the area majority bonuses at the end weren't enough to help Phil or I catch him. It's a really nice game, it looks visually interesting once all the towers are out and I really like how you use actions from a personal deck of cards. It reminded me a bit of Rococo in that regard. Only downside to it would be its length, it took us a bit too long as there's so many things to do that any AP can increase the playtime. It's a minor quibble really though as everyone enjoyed it, even James B who stated he's 'gone off Euros' before the game, maybe winning by a huge margin changed his mind.


Wednesday 15th February

Contributors: Daniel, Jon, David, Tasha

David and co. were already deep into a game so to get everybody else into the swing of things I picked out a cheeky little copy of Apples to Apples that was poking it's nose out of it's hidey-hole burrow at the bottom of the cardboard mound. It has literally been years since we played this at the club and was an enjoyably nostalgic romp for both myself and Jon who remembered the good old days when this had a run out on many nights as an early-evening starter - way back when people were still amazed by the novelty of deck-building in Dominion and hadn't yet considered shoving it into a shit game about Vikings, when kickstarting was something you did to a motorbike, and when the only salads on the table were the dubiously brown ones served from the pub kitchen.

We ended up with quite the crowd too, with seven of us playing. New to a bemused Sandra - it was the Ammerycun version after all so half the cards were a mystery (or just very badly spelled) even to us native Brits - and greeted in varying measures of suspicion by Tong, Sarah, Tomtoo and Tash. It is a testimony to the purity of the design that we all got into it lickety split and it did exactly what it's meant to do - break the ice and get everybody in a good mood for the evening.
The big game for the evening was Inis, which I am still digesting even now. I think that I liked it but there are some issues that I have with it. Tash and I had some interesting discussion at the end of the evening about potential flaws in the design and I think that there are a number of pinch-points in the design where it was questionable whether we were just very good at exploiting the opportunities on hand or things were fraying at the edges at a more fundamental level.

There was a weird finish to the game where Tash came back from nowhere to swing to a winning position in the space of one round; at the same time I also had a similar experience, but ended up just shy of being able to make a claim after Phil stymied me with the "oh no you don't" card for the third damn round in a row. We also kind of let him waltz into the victory after miscalculating Phil's own claim and thinking that neither could take the win as a result (much like Highlander there can be only one), but I don't think there was much that we could have done without me completely trashing my standing in the game simply to hold off proceedings for another turn (and even then I don't think it would have been certain).

It has this otherworldly feel of a long and complex game that plays like a short and simple one, where you are not quite sure which one you are playing at any given time - did we really wrap up so quickly and in only a handful of rounds? Did the balance of power really shift so heavily and rapidly? It felt like we had to battle against Phil's early supremacy time and time again but it was really only for a single round right?

Need to think about it a bit more before I can form a full opinion, but would certainly play it again.

I then joined Jon and Sarah for Ticket to Ride Nordic, another blast from the past game. This one has the reputation of being 'the nasty one' in the franchise, and with several key points on the map that can completely make or break your ability to reach your destinations it is a well-deserved accusation.

Most of my start cards were grouped in a relatively easy roundabout route buried in the South of the map and so I started with a clear plan of how to hoover up several of them with relatively few connections. However, they were all low scoring cards and I could see from the rapid North-South race that the others were indulging in, and the much more valuable routes in hand that was intimated by all this activity, that I would end up in trouble at the final count-up.

As I felt that I had all my current routes easily in hand I instead started to draw additional destination tickets. The first time I pulled out a doozy of another two that fitted into my current network with minimal additional work, but the second time gave me a tougher choice - I took a tiny three point build that I felt confident I could capture, but agonised over a much longer eighteen point route. I already had most of the network built for it but needed to snag three short routes that were in the heart of the area contested by Jon and Sarah. Deciding that I had to either go large or go home in order to win this game I kept the card and started to focus on bringing it all together. The first step was a river crossing, vital as there are limited spots to join up East to West and I had already claimed one of them (not in a place that I could use right now though). I then ploughed further ahead with a snaking coastal route that brought me within touching distance of my objective, a simple two-card step to assured victory. I just needed one more orange carriage to do it and was delighted when Jon turned two of them up into the market and Sarah decided to claim a route on her turn. And then Sarah started to put down her cards and it reminded me of that slowmo Poker reveal in Lock Stock and two Smoking Barrels, except infinitely more geeky. The first card came crashing down, one orange carriage on the table. And then the second card, another just the same, and my feet are swept out from under me as she lays her tokens down on that final route that I needed. I was smiling on the outside but inside... gahhhhhhh!

It was impossible for me to find another way around and so I resigned myself to pushing for an early finish in the hope that I could likewise screw everybody else over into holding incomplete tickets - alas to no avail. Just to rub salt into the wounds, at the final score Jon was thirty five points ahead of me.


Deep Sea Adventure - the usual mix of "stop breathing my air" and "why did you have to pick up another treasure when I'm still descending to the depths of the ocean, you oxygen-stealer..." This time it was James that came out on top, with David, Jon & Sarah gasping in his wake....

Trains - long-time-no-see for this Dominion clone. James hadn't played before, although he'd apparently played a bit of Dominion, but he made the schoolboy error of building a 'points' building early on, which started to clog up his deck a little.
Sarah stormed along, and although she didn't have much money, she was building lots of track, whilst picking up a couple of route bonuses along the way. She also used some evil 'discard lay rails' cards, which thwarted David and Jon's plans on at least 3 occasions.
Final scores were close, with Sarah winning by 4 points form Jon, with David 4 points further behind. Always a fun game this one, which fairly rattles along now we (sort of) know what we're doing!  


James B and I played a few two player games of Fluxx and Ivanhoe before Soren and Phil turned up. We then played a couple of four player games of Santorini. Soren and I on one team and Phil and James on the other. First thing to say about it is how beautiful it looks. One of the best looking games I've seen in a long time. In the first game we played with no god powers. It's a little difficult at first with a team mate as you're not sure what they are going to do which Soren discovered as I think I passed up a few opportunities he had set up for us. Eventually we did win though as Soren set me up in a way it was impossible for me to fail. In the second game with god powers we crushed Phil and James. Soren was using his double build ability to set us up for the win in a corner whilst I was ramming Phil and James off the buildings using my Minotaur skill which allowed Soren to build up the towers and give us an easy victory. It looks wonderful and I'm sure there are many different ways of blocking your opponent once you learn it more. I would like to see how it plays with just two players and would happily play again.
Trains with Trains: Rising Sun and Trains: Map Pack 1 – Germany/Northeastern USA was as described above in Jon's report although I was first rather than Sarah with Jon second and Sarah third with James a long way behind. I was only four points ahead of Jon and it was a single completed route that handed me the victory. I was the only player to have Limited Express trains which allowed me to buy a lot of victory point cards and James B (my nearest competition on the map) gave me too much room to expand cheaply. I really enjoyed it this time and didn't make the same mistakes that I have done previously. I also think I prefer it over Dominion now simply because players aren't cycling their entire deck making far less downtime between turns. It's refreshing to see players play five cards and pass rather than watching someone play action card after action card as they work through twenty cards in their deck.

There was also a game of Mundus Novus to end the evening with Gareth, James B, Sandra and I. I think I done goofed a rule so we'll pretend that Gareth's victory doesn't count! It's a nice game with an interesting trading set collection mechanism with an open market an upgrade cards that help you build up the perfect hand each round. 


On the positive side, I think that Inis is a really well thought out and attractive game that delivers just about the best "He's going to win stop him, now he's going to win stop him, now he's going to win stop him, no you stop him, no you stop him, oh God they're going to win, I won" gameplay of all those games that are like that. And there are a lot of games like that - all the way from Kill Dr Lucky to Cosmic Encounter to Alien Frontier.

It's better than the games I just mentioned because it reaches that stage of tension almost immediately after the game starts and presumably can carry on in that vein for as long as you can collectively be bothered to keep it going.

I think that is the essence of the negative of the game though. How long can you be bothered, and what is the point of it all? For all its exceptionally chromey-Celticky-leprechauny-Billy-Connollyey-themey chrome, with Epic Tales and Special Skills, more or less any action draws you inexorably towards one of the generous Victory Conditions and Soren's dripping-with-theme game introduction admitted as much - it doesn't matter much what you do in the first few rounds, he said, and my Round 2 bloodletting killfest which left me with 1 solitary living human did nothing to interdict my triumph two rounds later.

To win - I played no better than the others, and I'm not really sure there's much space to play better/worse. Just like Dr Lucky or Cosmic or AF, I was just the guy who was ahead when everyone else forgot to stop me / randomly ran out of stop cards / couldn't be bothered to keep stopping each other. I actually pulled a bit of a sneaky trick to win, with a bit of deliberate misdirection. It's not really what I look for in games to be honest, even though I do play a lot of Diplomacy. 


Wednesday 22nd February

Contributors: Peter

Great Western Trail was played in under two hours, which is the fastest I have ever played it by some considerable margin and ended even before the epic The Castles of Burgundy at the window table. 

Tong played a straight-up no messing rancher: his impressive Cow Collection was sufficient to beat the rest of us with our half-hearted attempts at building and engineering badly built railways. 

A great game which seems to just get better with every playing.


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