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.

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