Monthly Archives: April 2013

Newcastle Gamers – Saturday 27 April 2013

After a long day of herding buskers around Hexham (don’t ask), there was nothing I wanted more than to get over to Newcastle and play some games. Luckily, it was the right Saturday for that to happen, and I actually made it in time for the start of the session! With punctuality comes choice, so John F seized the moment (and me) to request Power Grid: Factory Manager. We roped in John S and Olly to make it up to the sensible maximum of four players, and we started setting up.

PG:FM has a rather tedious set-up, involving arranging the factory tiles on the main board ready for purchase, as well as sorting out the appropriate starting tiles for player boards, tiles for turn order (which are different for different numbers of players), tiles for energy price rises, selecting three “X” tiles to seed the first market… it drags on a bit. I usually like to explain bits of the game as they get set up, but PG:FM doesn’t really lend itself to that approach, so this time I made sure we could see all the bits before explaining anything. It’s a relatively simple game, so I hope I didn’t make too much of a hash of the rules explanation. I’d decided beforehand to explain the end of the round before explaining how the earlier parts of the round work, because everything you do earlier in the round is geared towards optimising the result of the Bureaucracy phase at the end. I think it was a successful approach, and it probably took roughly the same length of time to explain as it had to set up the table.

PG:FM is Power Grid in name only. Yes, it’s a Friedemann Friese game; yes, it’s got artwork by Maura Kalusky; and yes, it’s got the same paper currency. The only gameplay element that feels similar is in balancing two factors as you increase your capacities through the game – here, it’s Production and Storage; in Power Grid, it’s cities built and cities you can power. PG:FM introduces a nice little twist in that the auction phase (where you bid for turn order, rather than factory tiles) is carried out with available worker meeples rather than money. In principle, this makes it a short, tight auctioning round; in practice, it means that most turn-order tiles go for a zero bid. Bit of an anti-climax.

We ploughed through the game’s five rounds in about 90 minutes, including rules explanation, so it didn’t outstay its welcome. However, I quite quickly felt that we were playing relatively isolated solitaire games on our own player boards. Interaction was minimal (opportunities for opponent-screwage are limited to the aforementioned auction and buying tiles before your opponents can) and… well… it was just very dry.

Now, I don’t normally mind dry. Sometimes I take a perverse pleasure in enjoying a game despite its apparent dryness. But this was seriously dry. Dry like a snorer’s uvula. Drier than a vulture’s armpit. Like a lake of fun had been soaked up with a giant enjoyment-sponge, leaving just a cracked bed of ultra-dry game-mud. It was engaging, yes, but engaging in the same way that once I’ve started filling in a tax return, I can’t stop until I’ve got to the end.

You could dry it out a bit more by setting fire to it, I suppose.

You could dry it out a bit more by setting fire to it, I suppose.

So yes, the end. The winner is simply the richest person at the end of the game. John F won, comfortably into the 300s, with Olly and me hovering in the middle (304 and 295 respectively) and John S down in the low 200s. There was a general feeling of “meh” around the table, and I agree. I’m glad I got to try out Power Grid: Factory Manager with more than two players, but it’ll probably be out of the door when the next UK maths trade comes up on BoardGameGeek.

We toyed with the idea of Bios: Megafauna at that point, but I could see lots of hesitant faces, so I ended that discussion with the words, “Let’s play something fun.” And thus Myrmes hit the table. It was my first four-player game of Myrmes (having played a three-player game at Newcastle earlier in the year, and a two-player game online at Boîte à Jeux), and it played out similarly to my previous experiences: players who lose a nurse early in the game (in this case, John S and John F) by completing a challenge for the Council of Queen Ants end up lagging behind because they’re severely limited in the number of actions they can take per round. Meanwhile, the other players (in this case, Olly and me) can afford to create extra nurses, dig their nests deeper, leave bigger pheromone trails and just generally crank out the victory points. Myrmes doesn’t shy away from punishing early mistakes like that, and so we ended up with isolated battles between first–second and third–fourth places. It probably didn’t help the imbalance that Olly and I were diagonally opposite on the main garden board, so we didn’t really restrict each other’s pheromonal ramblings until very late in the game.

Olly (black) and I (red) dominate the board with our pheromone trails

Final game state – Olly (black) and I (red) dominate the board with our pheromone trails

I did manage to frustrate Olly’s plans for expansion in the last of the three game “years” – my five-hex trail on the bottom-left in the picture was exactly where Olly had wanted to put his, leaving his worker-ant options severely restricted – but that wasn’t enough to hold him back from the win. Some final-round challenge completion left Olly with 48 points and me with 42, while John S and John F trailed on 27 and 24 respectively. It’s a really enjoyable game, but horribly, horribly tight on resources and workers. Very thinky and very frustrating, especially when you make what seems like a good scoring move early on and it brutally punishes you for the rest of the game. Not one for the faint of heart.

A few games finished around the same time, so there was a slight reshuffle at the table, with Amo replacing Olly for a game of Spectaculum. I didn’t really know anything about it except that it was a Reiner Knizia design, but if I hadn’t known that, I would have been able to guess within thirty seconds of rules explanation. It’s so Knizia. Route-laying, buying and selling, values going up and down – it’s like several Knizia games thrown into one box, and it’s good fun. The travelling-circus theme is, of course, utterly superficial. It’s really a stock-trading game, with the coloured tokens placed onto the map board altering the values of the stocks, as well as creating dividend payouts and taxes (or, in the language of the theme, payday and sickness).

Stock market games aren’t really my forte, and I struggled to marry the price-manipulating route-building to the buying and selling until about halfway through the game. Once I’d got that sorted, I started doing OK, but it was a bit late by that point to do much about it. A fun game, ending in a very close win for John S (84) over Amo (83), with John F and I a little further behind.

Caption?

I felt like a bit of a Dizzy Dancing Bear myself for about half the game

John F was keen to get in his traditional play of Power Grid at this point. Now, I know I said last time that “I’m not one to turn this game down”, but, well… I was wrong. I don’t know if it was having already played Factory Manager, or just that I’d played Power Grid at the last Newcastle Gamers session, but I just didn’t fancy it. I think that when my gaming opportunities are as slim as they are, I like to get as much variety as I can at the Newcastle evenings, but I’ll probably be ready for Power Grid next time.

John S was feeling much the same (although I can’t speculate on his reasons), so we left John F and Amo scouting for more Power Grid players and set up for a quick round of vanilla Hive. Obviously, I’d played this too at the last Newcastle session, as well as in between, so maybe my reasoning for not wanting to play Power Grid is flawed… but it’s a very quick game, so that makes a substantial difference.

I felt like I had the edge from the start (probably to do with being White and thus having the first turn), but I had to engineer the rescue of my Queen at a couple of points through the game. Once I got onto the attack, however, there was a point where I still had six tiles left to place, while John was down to three, so I had much more flexibility in the later game. After foolishly placing a spider instead of an ant (and giving John an easy chance to block my win), I had to go for victory with a grasshopper placement instead, and I took the win a couple of turns later. Great game. Swingy, thinky and pleasantly short.

One grasshopper jump from victory

One grasshopper jump from victory

Olly had just finished London at that point (verdict: “It’s… alright.”), so he joined us for Survive: Escape from Atlantis!, complete with John’s newly acquired expansions: the Giant Squid, Dolphins and Dive Dice. We went all-out and threw everything onto the table, hoping for a newly chaotic experience. It turned out pretty similar to normal Survive, but the new elements did add a certain fun novelty. I’d expected the Squid to play a much larger role than it ended up playing – its power to eat meeples off adjacent land hexes and pick individual meeples off boats sounds outrageously powerful on paper, but I think we only lost two or three meeples to squid attack throughout the whole game.

It may have been that the sheer number of creatures on the board diluted the effects somewhat (we’d added five squid and four or five dolphins), and the Dive Dice meant that we were quite often able to manoeuvre the creatures away from our swimmers / rowers / unsuspecting squid-victim walkers. It might be best to go for one expansion at a time to retain as much “take that!” screwery as possible… or we may have just had an unusual game.

"Mmmmm. Your friend was tasty."

“Mmmmm. Your friend was tasty.”

Olly managed to rescue eight of his ten meeples for a total of 23 points, which was bigger than the combined total of my rescues (12) and John’s (8). Double-win for Olly.

The final game of the night was also from John’s bag of goodies: Fearsome Floors. In fact, being a copy of the cheaper German edition, it was Finstere Flure, but John gave a us a very thorough rules run-down in English. It’s a race game designed by Friedemann Friese, in which the object is to get your four young, delicious humans across the board from one corner to the opposite without them being eaten by a monster. The monster moves according to a simple set of rules after everyone has moved their people, so each round sees the players trying to strike a balance between moving towards the exit and guiding the monster towards their opponents.

There are a couple of key things that you need to get your head round to function properly in Fearsome Floors:

  • After a player piece has been moved, it’s flipped over to its other side for the next round. The movement points on the two sides of each piece add up to 7, which is fairly even for the pieces with a 3 and 4… but the 6-and-1 piece really needs some thought to be used effectively.
  • The player who moves the last piece of the round can make dramatic changes to the movement of the monster, so it’s a fairly powerful position to be in (typical Friese!).

One of the immediate joys of this game is the ability to create your own monster from various slot-together card body-parts. Lloyd was hovering near the table, with not quite enough time to play a game but not quite wanting to leave yet either, so he helped construct our monster. As a result, we ended up with a pink slime monster with a very dapper right arm and leg (complementing Lloyd’s après-dance waistcoat and bow-tie), as well as a top hat balanced on his eyeball head. Oh, and a second head as well.

"And tonight, performing the merengue... err... how do you pronounce this? Rrrffththlllaagaagahhhghh? Is that right?"

“And tonight, performing the merengue… err… how do you pronounce this? Rrrffththlllaagaaghhhghh? Is that right?”

And with the Frankenbeast assembled, we set about getting our humans out of danger. It quickly became apparent that I wasn’t going to do very well at this game. I could attribute it to fatigue (I think it was well after 11 pm when we started), but it’s probably just a personal weakness when it comes to spatial puzzling. I often don’t “see” things that others do – I’d made a few unforced errors in Hive earlier on – which is easily turned to my disadvantage. I got more of a handle on it towards the end of the game, but by then I’d had at least four pieces sent back to the start (which is what happens to them if they’re attacked by the monster in the first seven rounds), so I was well behind.

John got his second piece out of the exit before either Olly or I had saved even one. Given that the game is won when a player gets their third piece out of the exit, even after we’d got some pieces out, Olly and I had to join forces to try to delay John’s victory. I had everything sorted – I would sacrifice one of my gang to lead the monster through a secret passage to near the exit; meanwhile, Olly and I had cleared our pieces near the exit out of the way so that the emerging monster would turn and eat John’s piece. The only way it could fail was if the monster movement card that round was the one with a value of 5.

And, of course, it was exactly that card. Bum. John took an easy victory. It was a fun game, even if it wasn’t one to which I’m particularly well suited. It plays up to seven players, which is (a) useful for larger groups, and (b) potentially hilariously chaotic, so I’ll look out for it being played at future sessions.

It was well after midnight by that point, and there was only The Resistance being played, so I called it a night. I’m not sure anything stands out as a highlight this time. It was just a good, solid evening of quality gaming!

[Speaking of The Resistance, it was interesting to note that it was played a lot over the course of the evening. (You can always tell when it’s happening, because there’s someone loudly declaiming things like,”Everybody close their eyes… Now all the spies open their eyes…”. If it’s the Avalon version, it’s even weirder because they’re doing stuff with their thumbs.) I wonder if its recent appearance on the web series TableTop has resulted in more people buying and playing it. I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that it’s not really my sort of thing. It’s a “people” game rather than a “things” game, and I like “things” (boards, cards, wooden bits, bakelite invertebrates, whatever)… but I think if I could round up six or seven good friends – people I know really, really well – who were willing to play it, I’d probably love it.]

For once, I took all my own pictures, but I’ll point you in the direction of the Newcastle Gamers Google+ page anyway for promotional purposes. Second and last Saturday of every month, 4:30 pm until we drop at Christ Church, Shieldfield, Newcastle upon Tyne!

Corbridge Gamers – Sunday 21 April 2013

Having discovered through Newcastle Gamers that we weren’t the only gamers in Corbridge, John S and I often meet up between Newcastle sessions, so we get a nice, steady flow of solid gaming. Last night was one of those nights, so here’s a little mini session-report.

We kicked off with K2. I’d picked this up in Travelling Man a few months ago (it was a little self-reward for something or other… no idea what that something was, but I remember feeling justified in my slightly whim-based purchase), but hadn’t played it other than as a solo game. The solo game is… OK. Nothing special. But it had given me the hint that it could be a really fun game with more players, so we dragged it out (literally: it’s on my shelf under Pastiche, which weighs a ton) and tried it with two.

K2 is a race game, with each player attempting to get their two climber meeples as high as they can up the eponymous mountain, with the side-goal of keeping the meeples alive until the end of the 18th turn. The higher the climber reaches, the more victory points it gains, but if it dies… it loses all its points. Each turn consists of the players simultaneously playing three cards face down from a hand of six, then using the movement and acclimatisation points from the played cards to move climbers and increase their acclimatisation score (essentially a measure of oxygen levels – if it hits zero, the climber dies). That’s the basic gist of the game, although there’s a little twist in that whoever plays the most movement points in a turn has to take a “risk token”, which decreases the value of their cards by 0, 1 or 2 points. So those who aim for a big rush up the mountain may find themselves unable to achieve their goals, possibly leaving them exposed to the weather, which changes every turn and can have potentially severe effects on a climber’s chances of survival.

Before we started, John asked me if there was a good strategy. “Get your climbers as high as you can without them dying,” I joked… but there’s a nugget of truth in that flippancy. As a card-driven game, it depends on the luck of the draw. The fact that you play only half your cards each turn means there can be some planning, but you can be stuck for for or five turns waiting for the valuable 3-movement-points cards to come up so you can make that final dash to the summit without spending too long outside your tent.

As it happened, I had quite a few lucky draws, meaning I was able to get one of my climbers up to the summit (10 points if he survives the game) and back down to the safety of his tent with about six turns left in the game. John seemed to be fighting his cards a bit, but he did push both climbers up to just below the 8000m mark. I’d lucked out again though, getting just the right cards to jump my second climber over John’s and block his path up to the summit (in the two-player game, the uppermost spaces have a limit of one climber stopping in each space), also netting another 7 points for me. As long as he remained in John’s way, I didn’t need to risk sending him up one more space to the summit. The last couple of turns just saw our climbers sitting pretty in their tents, either unable or unwilling to move up or down the mountain, giving me a comfortable victory, 17–12.

If all this talk of luck makes it sound like I didn’t like the game, that’s not the case. It’s really good fun. It’s just that it makes it very much a turn-to-turn tactical game, rather than a long-term strategic game. I’ve got room in my life for both, and I’d definitely like to try K2 with more players. I can imagine five players being a particularly brutal crush, with the upper mountain spaces still highly capacity-limited, and player order would be a much weightier factor.

We followed that up with our jeu du moment, the very wonderful Keyflower. The tile draw ended up a little odd in that we didn’t get any tiles to improve our transport capabilities, but if I remember correctly, neither did we have any tiles that scored points for having resources on them at the end of the game (I certainly didn’t anyway, and I don’t think John did either), so that kind of evened out.

This time round (being my third play of Keyflower), I attempted to remember the rough distribution of John’s meeple colours once they’d been taken back behind his player screen. I didn’t do too badly with that task, but we did have a few of the tiles that magically convert normal meeples into the rare green meeples, so that threw my memory off a bit. And when I say “rare”… they really weren’t by the end of the game. In this two-player game, we had twelve green meeples enter play, which just goes to show how heavily the green-conversion tiles were being used.

I was occasionally profligate with my meeples for bidding, and I ended every season without a single meeple left in my house. I’m really starting to see the merits of holding on to a few to carry over to the next season, and that’s certainly something I’ll try next time round.

In the winter season, John placed the Craftsmen’s Guild tile up for auction, which gives 3 points for each tricolour set of red–blue–yellow meeples in the owner’s house at the end of the game. Once he’d irreparably outbid me for that tile (a bid of two green meeples, with no way for me to get any more greens), I knew he had the game, because I knew he had a really solid distribution of meeple colours, and plenty of them too. I had some pretty high-scoring tiles in my village (Sawmill for 10 points, a few 5s and 3s) and a bunch of gold, meaning I finished on 49 points, but John’s 24 points from the Craftmen’s Guild helped him to an easy victory with 60 points. Great, great game.

John attempted to leave at that point, but I detained him with a quick round of Hive. As promised after the last Newcastle Gamers session, I’d ordered a copy of Hive Carbon and it had arrived just the previous day. After John had recovered from the size of the pieces (he’d only seen the Pocket version, which is substantially smaller), we tucked into the standard base game. I’d like to get my head round the base game properly before I start adding the Mosquito and Ladybird back in.

It felt like a very different game from the ones I’d played with John F the previous weekend. I don’t know if it was that we were much more evenly matched, or that I was actually fully awake, or just that I’d been subconsciously grokking Hive over the intervening days. Whatever it was, I felt much more in control of what I was doing, and – to a certain extent – a little bit in control of what John was doing. We’d immobilised each other’s Queens quite early in the game, so it was a case of wrestling for a single turn’s advantage in order to mount an effective attack. I managed to get into a situation where I was pretty sure I could win by a single turn, and that’s exactly how it turned out. John managed to hold me off for a couple of turns longer than I’d planned by immobilising my pieces as I played them, but I had more pieces unplayed, leaving me a little more freedom to attack. And that was the key tangible difference from my games with John F – rather than playing a defensive game, which is never going to win in Hive, I actually went on a decent attack.

Still so much to learn with Hive, but it’s a fabulous game.

Newcastle Gamers – Saturday 13 April 2013

Having missed the previous Newcastle Gamers meet (it was an all-day session too – curses!), I was keen to get back in for this session. Keenness wasn’t enough to get me out of my family responsibilities, however, so I turned up around 6 pm, some 90 minutes after kick-off. Well… it turned out to be about 70 minutes after kick-off, due to a little hiccup involving a locked car park and a non-functioning padlock (or possibly just the wrong key) meaning that things at the club were about 20 minutes late getting started.

As always, there’d been a bit of discussion on Google+ regarding who was bringing which games. I’d mentioned Bios: Megafauna and Power Grid: Factory Manager, both of which got positive noises flung in their general direction (I also mentioned Outpost, which has been languishing unplayed on my shelf for about three months now, but no one ever seems interested in that one – it surely has to get played at some point, right? …right?), so I’d slung them in my bag along with an assortment of other gaming oddities. Of course, the problem with turning up late is that when you arrive, you can see that the people who might have been interested in tackling one of those games are already deep into other things, usually separately, and the chances of things synchronising are slim indeed. And so it was on Saturday.

Never mind. As luck would have it, in a room full of Caylus, Keyflower and Battlestar Galactica in full swing, Freddie and Graham were tucked away at the side of the room setting up Pergamon on a tiny table. I’d never heard of it before, but it turned out to be a lovely little archaeology-themed game, with push-your-luck worker placement and very pretty tile-matching mechanics. Somewhat criminally, I failed to get a picture of Pergamon – it was just far too engaging.

Each round consists of placing workers along a track denoting how much money you might receive and how far down through the five archaeological levels you can dig. The problem is that the money available in each round is limited (varying from 2 to 12 coins) and you only have a rough guide as to how much it might be (the backs of the money cards show the range of amounts within which each card falls). So if Red places his worker on a space that gains 6 money, then Yellow places his worker on a space to the right of that one that gains 4 money, and Blue to the right of that one again on a 1-money space… then the cards reveal that there’s only 7 money to distribute that round, then resolving from the right, Blue gets the full 1 for his space, Yellow gets the full 4, but Red only gets the remaining 2, potentially leaving him underfunded for the digging. Nasty!

Ah, the digging. Each one of the five digging levels contains artefact tiles (five new ones coming out every round), with the oldest artefacts placed towards the bottom levels. It costs more to dig deeper, but you can end up with some much older – and thus better scoring – artefacts. The trouble is that each tile only contains halves of two artefacts, so the aim is to create museum exhibits by matching up a string of halves by artefact type (masks, urns, rings, etc.), and the older the artefacts, the higher the score and the longer the exhibit will stay in the Pergamon Museum.

At first by accident (still fumbling around the rules and mechanics), and later by design, I managed to get a special bonus in every one of the four scoring rounds in the game. I even managed to get the maximum possible score for one of my exhibits as I placed it into the museum! This meant I eventually took a comfortable victory after the final scoring round (something like 38 points to Graham’s 31ish and Freddie’s 20-something).

It really was a lovely little start to the evening – an unexpected gem. It didn’t outstay its welcome, lasting only about an hour, even with the rules explanation. And so pretty – even the victory-point tiles were in the shape of torn museum ticket stubs! I’d definitely play it again as a perfect semi-filler.

One of the two simultaneous games of Keyflower had finished by that point, so there was a general reshuffling of gamers. We ended up with six people going spare, which is never the most comfortable number. After contemplating splitting into two threes, we instead sat down for a quick six-player blast through King of Tokyo to see if anyone else would be finished by the time we were done.

I hadn’t played King of Tokyo before, but I knew the general premise – giant monsters doing battle in and around Tokyo. That’s the thematic premise, anyway. The actual gameplay is basically Yahtzee with monsters. You roll six (enormous) dice, re-rolling as many as you like up to two times, and then carry out actions depending on what you’re left with. It could be gaining victory points, or gaining energy cubes (used to buy power-up cards), or it could be claws. Claws deal damage to whichever one monster is “in Tokyo” at that moment, but when a monster in Tokyo takes damage, it can choose to move out of Tokyo, forcing the attacking monster to move in… thus becoming the new punchbag for everyone else. The upside to being in Tokyo is that any claws you roll deal damage to everyone else, so it’s not all bad.

This was actually a whole other game of King of Tokyo that was played on the same night. We didn't use the Power Up expansion as pictured here, so no pandas for us. :-(

This was actually a whole other game of King of Tokyo that was played on the same night. We didn’t use the Power Up expansion as pictured here, so no pandas for us. 🙁

It has virtually no depth and a lot of luck, but King of Tokyo is really good fun. I can imagine my kids loving this game when they’re old enough. The six-player game ran a little long for me (with a couple of monsters getting killed off pretty early on), but I did at least manage to stay in the game long enough to be one of the last two monsters standing. My beautiful Gigazaur (non-branded Godzilla clone) was destroyed without mercy, leaving Jérôme’s weird spiky alien thing victorious. At least, I think Jérôme won. I was having enough fun to not notice.

Another reshuffle left me with Graham, John S and John F, with John F keen to get in his traditional play of Power Grid. I’m not one to turn this game down, so we picked Brazil out of his box of boards and got going. Graham was a Power Grid virgin, so I took it upon myself to explain the rules. I’m not sure why – the other two are much more experienced PG players than I am! But I think I did a reasonable job, and he seemed to get into the rhythm of the game after a round or two.

After a few rounds, on the transition into Step 2

After a few rounds, on the transition into Step 2

There’s nothing odd about the Brazil expansion (apart from a heavy reliance on garbage-burning plants, here re-themed as “biogas”), so it was perfect for a beginner. It seemed fairly tight all the way through, with no one developing much of a lead or lagging much behind. I spent quite a lot of the game in the last couple of positions in player order, meaning I could snaffle up plenty of cheap oil (which is plentiful in Steps 1 and 2, trailing off in Step 3) and build pretty much where I wanted. I’d started off on my own in the relatively expensive Amazon area on the western side of the board, while everyone else butted heads around the cheap coastal areas, so expanding my network was relatively straightforward (if costly) in the early game.

The Flux Capacitor promo card (burning three of any fuel to power 6 cities) had come out relatively early in the game, and it seemed like it was going to make its way up into the current market on several occasions, but it got held back in the future market for ages. Finally, the stars aligned and it came up at just the moment I could grab it for face value, leaving me free to buy whatever was cheapest in order to power it. A really handy power plant!

Towards the end of the game, we were all pretty much level, going into the final round with two players on 14 cities and the other two on 15. After the final auction (in which I was sorely tempted by the fusion plant, but let John F take it in the hope that it’d leave him unable to build all 18 cities he had capacity to power), the last round of building left everybody on 17 cities built (so it had paid off to let John F take the fusion plant!), with everybody able to power all 17. A pretty unusual endgame result! The tie-breaker is money left in hand, so we counted up. The two Johns and I all had single-digit amounts remaining, while Graham was counting, “10, 20, 30…”. He’d won his first ever game of Power Grid!

During the final round. My yellow network had finally reached the coast, while my original Amazonian stronghold had remained relatively untouched by other players

The final round. My yellow network had finally (just) reached the coast, while my original Amazonian stronghold had remained relatively untouched by other players

It was a good game, as always, but I did find Brazil a little… unexciting. Having experienced the United Kingdom and Russia maps in my first couple of games of Power Grid, I’ve got used to the little oddities and unique factors in some of the expansions. Maybe Japan next time…

Graham had to leave at that point, and Andrew was taking refuge from a game of Spartacus: A Game of Blood & Treachery that was kicking off in another corner of the room, so he joined me and Johns S and F for a spot of Dominion. This game doesn’t get played much at Newcastle Gamers (I think a lot of regulars burned out on it a year or two back), so it was a nice change of pace. I nipped out to grab a drink before the Sainbury’s next door closed for the night, and returned to find they’d decided on adding some cards from the Cornucopia expansion (selected by randomiser). I’d only played Cornucopia once before – just a few weeks earlier in a little Corbridge session, when I utterly demolished John S by repeatedly battering him with the Young Witch, filling his deck with Curse cards and with no way to trash them – so it was interesting to see a different subset of that expansion on the table. No Young Witch this time! We still had quite a few different Attack cards though, so we knew it would be a highly interactive game.

After a brief rules rundown for Andrew, we set off. I concentrated on the Jester from the outset, getting a few of them into my deck. It may not have been a smart move, but it had its moments, giving out a few Curses and allowing me to pick up a few interesting action cards and Golds. John S, however, built up a nice little engine, using Horse Traders as a Reaction card to expand his hand to six cards on virtually every round. He had enough Golds in his deck to quite often have the 8 money required to pick up a Province, so once things got going, we ploughed through the Provinces at quite a rate. John S took the victory by quite a margin – 32 points, I think, to everyone else around 20ish.

I always enjoy Dominion. This was no exception, although the Attack-heavy card selection made it a bit “Thief… Thief… Jester… Thief… Jester… Thief…”, with everyone cycling through their decks pretty quickly and cards often changing hands. I missed the Young Witch though…

Andrew drifted back over to Spartacus to replace a home-going gamer, so John S suggested Hanabi for the three of us remaining. John F had never played it, so we had a quick rules explanation and then we prepared a cooperative firework display. It became apparent pretty early on that we might have an extra obstacle in this particular play.

Colour-recognition problems (mainly red–green colour blindness) occur in around 8% of men. Our table bucked the statistics a bit, with two out of three of us having colour issues. I have mild trouble with red/orange/brown/pink under many lighting conditions (which had caused me problems playing Village in a previous session at Newcastle Gamers – I was waiting for a cube colour to come out of the bag when it didn’t even exist), while John F can’t easily distinguish blue and green under artificial light. The colour suits in Hanabi are red, yellow, white, green and blue, so I had no problem at all. John F, on the other hand, couldn’t tell the difference between the green and blue suits, so we lost an early 2 card.

Hanabi

John S has a brain meltdown, John F ponders his move and I smile wryly because I have no idea what any of my cards are

Once we’d sussed the problem, John S and I pointed out the shape symbols that accompany each colour on the cards and we were fine from that point. Still, it was a lesson learned for the future – a well designed game has symbols as well as colours for a reason, and we should always point them out to new players in case they haven’t been able to see the colour differences!

I love this game. I hate its tiny, evil, black heart while I’m playing it. It’s so tight in terms of “resources” (clue tokens) that it feels like the harshest of Euros. John S insisted that we play without being able to ask what each other remembered about their cards (remember, of course, that in Hanabi you can’t see your own cards – you can only see everyone else’s). This is absolutely in the spirit of the rules, and I agree that it’s the way the game should ideally be played… I just find it really difficult, because it involves remembering not only what I know about my own cards, but also what everyone else knows about their cards as well. As a result of not being able to remember who knew what, we wasted a couple of clues. I was also in the situation late in the game where I had been told that one of my cards was a 5, and from what I could see in the discards and the others’ hands, I deduced that it was a white 5. Of course, not everyone has access to all the same information, so nobody else knew that I knew it was white, so another clue was wasted telling me that.

Such a wonderfully designed game, and such good fun. We managed to scrape together a score of 18 out of 25, with an evaluation of “Excellent! Charms the crowd.” Not bad, especially considering we finished after midnight!

John S slipped away into the night. We looked around; everyone else was engaged in games, so John F said, “Do you know Hive?” I replied that I’d played it a bit on iOS quite a while ago, but it had almost entirely slipped from my mind. He dug out his copy of Hive Carbon (which, for me, is a hundred times prettier than the original coloured version) and refreshed my memory. It was all tucked away somewhere in my mind, so it didn’t take long to get the basic rules back.

It’s a wonderfully simple game, reminiscent of chess on an ever-shifting hex-based board. It’s also a wonderfully deep game, and John has (obviously) had a lot more experience in exploring its depths, breadths and… well, all dimensions. He could have utterly obliterated me in our first game, but he gently guided me through a few good and bad choices here and there in that game, meaning I almost managed to hold him off. Almost. Once he’d taken my stabilisers off, I felt distinctly wobbly in my reasoning and move choices, but the key points he’d shown me helped to guide my choices. Naturally, he surrounded my Queen Bee and I lost.

We’d played that first game with the Mosquito expansion piece (which sucks the movement power of a piece it’s adjacent to). We then played a second game with the Ladybird(/bug) expansion piece instead (which moves in a very specific but potentially quite powerful way). I’m going to attribute this to fatigue (remember we’d finished Hanabi after midnight, so we must have been knocking on towards 1 am by the time we started the second run at Hive, plus I’ve got a 7-week-old baby – yep, I’ve got all the excuses lined up), but I completely sucked the second time round. I knew I was sucking hard too, but my brain just wasn’t functioning in the right way to do much about it. After a few rounds of extremely sub-optimal/bad/illogical moves, I don’t think there was anything I could do to hold John back.

Watch me lose! For those who don't know the game, I'm playing the black pieces with white insects. Those who DO know the game won't need telling.

Behold me losing! For those who don’t know the game, I’m playing the black pieces with white creatures. Those who do know the game won’t need telling.

Some people don’t enjoy games they don’t win. I loved this game. Just playing it made me want to play it more, to improve, to uncover the strategies and tactics. And oh, the tactility! The pieces are beautiful bakelite chunks, with a wonderful heft in the hand. Every move feels imbued with meaning, every clack represents a new attack or an attempt at defence (usually a failed attempt in my case). Wonderful. I’m going to get hold of a copy of Hive, play it with everyone who’ll play it (preferably outside, just because you can), play it online, brush up on some better play and actually offer some challenge to a more experienced player.

I don’t usually get excited about abstract games like this, but… yes. This one has it for me. It had wormed its way into my head. I said to John and Olly (who was watching me flounder like a beached… er… flounder) that I’d have dreams about Hive that night. It happens every time a game really gets under my mental skin on the first play. Puerto Rico, Power Grid, KeyflowerThunderbolt Apache Leader… all have entered my dreamworld in some way. And I did indeed dream about Hive.

That was the last game of my night, seeing as it was about 1:30 am, so I left the remaining gamers to enjoy The Resistance and trundled back to Corbridge… with only one functioning headlight. Not much fun once you leave the bright lights of the city.

Highlight of the night for me… well, I guess it would be Hive. I wasn’t at my best while playing it, but it was fantastic. Pergamon was also a bit of a highlight, in that it was such an unexpected treat.

All photos by Olly and me, shamelessly stolen from the Newcastle Gamers Google+ page.