Newcastle Gamers – Saturday 9 February 2013

I’d again made tentative plans prior to Saturday’s session at Newcastle Gamers, this time to play Eclipse with Olly and John S, so we managed to avoid the awkward standing around and got stuck straight in to a bit of 4X fun. Well, not straight in – the setup and brief rules run-down (John and I being Eclipse newbies but having read the rules) took just over 30 minutes, and that was mainly just setup. There are a lot of bits in this game. Tiles in bags, tiles in piles, tiles in boxes, cubes and discs on player boards and on hexes that make up the main playing area, plastic ships in three sizes, player aids and more. We had to enlist a second table to help us accommodate everything. Kyle joined us to round out to four players, all playing human factions – no aliens for the first time out – and we set off into the void.

It felt very much like a learning game for me. For the first few rounds, I found it hard to judge how many actions to take and how best to deal with the results of my actions. As a consequence, I kind of hobbled myself for the remainder of the game by almost entirely cutting myself off from everyone else (which I thought would help keep me safe), while at the same time drawing (and keeping!) lots of hexes that didn’t give me the types of income I needed. I struggled for money for nearly the entire game, although a few lucky discovery tiles (three +5 science resource tiles!) gave me a research boost in the early rounds. Yes, I had “turtled”. And no, it didn’t work out well for me.

That's me, the red turtle in the bottom-right corner. Yep, the one who's had to remove influence discs in order to be able to pay his way because he hasn't got enough money. *sigh*

That’s me, the red turtle in the bottom-right corner. Yep, the one who’s had to remove influence discs in order to be able to pay his way because he hasn’t got enough money. *sigh*

Meanwhile, Olly was quietly exploring the bits of galaxy next door to me, amassing a wide area of influence and boosting his income in the three resources. Kyle quite quickly built a terrifying war-fleet, with dreadnoughts and cruisers armed (and armoured) to the teeth, and he set about taking out the various Ancients’ ships that had cropped up in the early exploring. John did the same, in a slightly more subtle manner – lots of interceptors and cruisers were his preferred space-navy.

Which brings me to the dice-based combat. For me, this was one luck-based system too many in the game. I may be subconsciously slightly biased against it because my only combat in the entire game was a terrible, failed attempt to take on the Galactic Centre Defence System, but on top of the luck of the hex draws when exploring and the luck of the technology draws at the end of each round (for which we didn’t draw many of the dice-mitigating shields and computers), it just felt like a bit too much of a luck-fest. It’s a very Euro-ish space exploration/combat game, which made the dice-based combat between vast piles of plastic miniatures feel just a bit tacked-on.

[EDIT: Olly’s pointed out to me that it wasn’t bad luck that thwarted my attempt on the GCDS; it was bad planning, and I just wasn’t ready. He’s right of course, and I knew that before I tried it, but I felt a bit hemmed in and I thought I’d just give it a crack, with something like a 99.7% chance of failure. Lesson learned.]

I watch as John rolls 12 dice and they behave perfectly, offering up exactly two sixes. That didn't help him much though.

I watch as John rolls 12 dice and they behave perfectly, offering up exactly two sixes. That didn’t help him much though.

So, back to the action. Everyone else managed to blow up some Ancients, and Kyle and John settled into a little light warfare over the galactic centre hex. Meanwhile, I researched more and more technologies in an effort to pick up a few VPs where I could, given that I didn’t have the money or the physical grunt to get involved with the big boys. At the end, Olly sneaked a win, having built two monoliths (and thus 6 VPs) in the very late stages of the game. I finished last on 20 points, 15 points behind the winner (and a fair way behind John in third place). Given my complete lack of combat, I don’t think that was too bad a showing.

Don’t get me wrong; I really enjoyed Eclipse, and I’d definitely play it again… if only to see if I could manage the early rounds a bit better and have a more involved game, rather than trudging out the last few rounds in relative isolation. The BoardGameGeek rankings put Eclipse up there at number 5 – that’s right, the fifth best board game ever – so I feel like I should give it at least another go. On top of that, I recently backed a Kickstarter campaign for a game called Hegemonic, which has many similar elements (almost all dealt with in a slightly different way) but no dice, so it’ll be good to have some Eclipse experience under my belt in order to make sensible comparisons between the two.

I’d also made plans to get in some Power Grid with John F, but he was just getting embroiled in a first run of his new acquisition Fortuna as we finished Eclipse, and Kyle had to leave, so John S pulled out his copy of Survive: Escape from Atlantis! and we sat down for a bit of 3-player screwage. As it were.

This is a wonderfully simple game, in which you have to get 10 meeples off the sinking island of Atlantis, across the sea (past man-eating sharks, boat-eating whales and omnivorous sea monsters of indeterminate genus) to the safety of the corner beaches. Meanwhile, all the other players are trying to stop you by commandeering your boats, sinking bits of the island you’re standing on – first beaches, then forests, then mountains – and controlling the movements of the sea creatures (not sure how that fits in thematically… perhaps your meeples are, in fact, marine park animal trainers, or maybe wizards).

It was a hilariously brutal game, with around half of the population of Atlantis being devoured by marine fauna (or, in a couple of cases, drowned in a whirlpool). It seemed like a slightly more straightforward – and shorter – session than the one time I’d played it previously. Last time, there had been a lot of to-ing and fro-ing of creatures and boats, and we’d sunk nearly the whole island by the end of the game. This time, most of the meeples were dead before we’d sunk half of the island. Utter carnage.

The Atlantis cruise and beach holiday didn't turn out quite the way they'd hoped.

The Atlantis cruise and beach holiday didn’t turn out quite the way they’d hoped.

I was delighted to have rescued the most meeples when the game ended… but then comes the twist. Each meeple has a number printed on the bottom, which you can look at at the beginning of the game, before you place them on the island, but you can’t look at it again until you score at the end. In the intervening mayhem, you’d have to have a will of iron and a memory of… umm… iron?… to keep all the meeple values in mind until the end. I don’t even try. And that showed.

It turned out that I’d rescued the six lowest-scoring meeples in the bunch (1, 1, 1, 2, 2, 3), giving me a measly 10 points. I can’t even remember who won, but I know I came last. It didn’t matter – it’s the fun of the game that’s the draw with Survive. Brilliant.

So… how was John F getting on with Fortuna? Nearly done; a couple more rounds. Just enough time for a quick round of Hanabi. John S, Olly and I were joined by Camo and Brad to make a table of five. To cut a long, memory-failure-ridden story short, we scored 13. We were badly hampered by the first yellow 1 not appearing until very late in the game. I was in the wonderful (from my perspective) position of clearly not holding much worth worrying about, so I didn’t have to use too much memory to keep up. It’s a beautifully designed game, and one I’m always keen to play (although the 2-player game is a bit too brutal to be quite as much fun as with larger groups).

Was the timing now right for Power Grid? It was! I changed tables to find that John F had set up the Russia board, and was waiting with Melissa and Chris for me to come and join in the network-building, fuel-consuming, auction-bidding fun. Also joining us was another John. Possibly even another John S. At Newcastle Gamers, we’ve got more Johns than a Friday-night brothel, so it’s hard to remember who’s got which surname. My apologies to John if he reads this, but he’ll be John X for now. Anyway, 5-player Power Grid, only my second time playing the game and the first on the Russian map. [EDIT: Olly’s confirmed that John X is indeed another John S. Too many Johns. I might have to start renaming them arbitrarily in future posts.]

The Russian map has quite a few densely packed clumps of cities with cheap connections. We eliminated the most dense area (using only five of the six map areas for five players), which we knew could make things a little more interesting as the board got more crowded. When the time came to build our first cities, we ended up with four players all clustered on the western side of the map, while the other player was all alone in the eastern area. Who was that lonely player? Me, of course; I had turtled again. Inadvertently, this time – I’d built mid-round, if I remember correctly, so I didn’t know I wouldn’t be joined out there – but still pretty turtlish.

After a slightly shaky start, I soon found my pace. Slow and steady was the name of my game. I still feel like I haven’t really got the hang of the way everything interacts in Power Grid. At some points, it’s really handy to be first in the turn order; at other points, it’s really handy to be last. I spent most of the game somewhere in the middle, which may have worked to my advantage as the game wore on. There were some very powerful power plants in early auctions, and I ended up with a 3-coal-to-5-cities plant very early on. The fuel market fluctuated wildly, with coal being horribly scarce in Step 1, so most of us went through some drastic changes in our fuels of choice throughout the game.

As we got into Step 2, the fuel situation eased up a bit, and the trash-powered plants looked much more appetising. I was still completely alone out in the eastern steppe, making good use of the cheap-ish connections and the fact that I could take the €10 space in every city I reached. Meanwhile, the western side of the board was getting jam-packed, with all sorts of blocking going on and big money being spent just to get a toehold in some zones. My cheap connections enabled me to bid a little recklessly in some auctions, but I got the power plants I needed, giving me capacity to power 17 cities with two oil, three coal and three trash. They weren’t cheap fuels, but none of the fuels were cheap in this game.

My despotic yellow hold over the eastern side of the map.

In Soviet Russia, board game plays you.

As we neared the end of the game, I could see that John X could power 16 cities (15 cities being the end-game trigger), so I knew I had to build at least 16 cities to be in with a chance of winning. Having passed through the last couple of auctions, I had cash to spare and fuel stored on my plants, ready to go. John X went just before me in the building phase, and then I knew I had it in the bag. He’d built 16 cities and could power them all, but he’d spent his very last elektro doing so. I could get up to 16 cities (and only having to build into already occupied cities in this very last round!) and power them, while having 1 elektro left over. Money remaining is the tie-breaker, so victory was mine!

Or was it? Well yes, because John had already made his decision about how to connect and how much to pay, but he realised afterwards that he could have made a connection 1 elektro cheaper. A tie! He also realised that if he’d built across in a different direction, he would have blocked me and easily won the game. A loss! All three possibilities of victory status, embodied in a single game.

Final scores (and thanks to John F for recording these in his session report!) – Me: 16 / John X: 16 / John F: 14 / Melissa: 12 (although 14 built) / Chris: 7

It was about midnight, but that’s rarely stopped me from playing one more game, so John F and I joined Olly and Camo in a bout of Pandemic (with the purple mutated virus from the On the Brink expansion). I love Pandemic, and I love losing almost as much as winning. Well, we lost, but in the least exciting way possible. It was the anti-climactic “oh, the cards have run out” defeat, rather than going down in a blaze of outbreaks. Still, it was a good game, with our self-satisfied air of “yeah, we’ve got these diseases under control” very quickly giving way to “SWEET HOLY MOTHER, WE’VE JUST HAD FOUR OUTBREAKS IN ONE TURN”. The cards didn’t go our way, and we only managed to cure the red, purple and black diseases, with Olly eradicating the black disease as a last middle-finger to the game before we all died horribly of the yellow and blue diseases.

"Hey, look, three cures – we're doing OK!" Nope, you're dead.

“Hey, look, three cures – we’re doing OK!” Nope, you’ll be dead in a few turns.

That was it for me. A great evening of games, with the highlight for me being Power Grid. It’s probably my favourite game that I don’t own… which means I’ll probably end up owning it sooner rather than later.


The addiction continues…

Eclipse and Survive photos taken by Olly and shamelessly stolen from the Newcastle Gamers G+ page.

2 thoughts on “Newcastle Gamers – Saturday 9 February 2013

  1. Pingback: Newcastle Gamers, 9th February | John's bit of the web

  2. Simmo

    Apology accepted ;). John X is perfectly good – makes me sound like a human rights activist; or at least a boardgamers’ rights activist…


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