Monthly Archives: May 2013

Corbridge Gamers – Sunday 26 May 2013

The One Where We Play Twilight Struggle

It’s happened. I’ve played the best game ever made.

That’s not my opinion; it’s the opinion of the users of BoardGameGeek, where Twilight Struggle has reigned supreme in the rankings for a few years. This alone makes it a must-play for many gamers. How could I not want to play the highest-ranked game in the database? What could have elevated it above such classics as Agricola, Puerto Rico and Power Grid? I had to find out.

I’d held off buying it for ages, but a confluence of circumstances and inspiration had led me to throw caution to the wind and pick up a copy. Why the hesitation? Well, it might be the highest-ranked game on BGG, but it’s also a fairly brutish-looking recreation of the Cold War, involving a world map, a deck of 110 cards and more cardboard counters than you can shake a stick at. It’s only for two players, and a single play can last anywhere from two to six hours. It’s also nearly a wargame. I mean, it’s a wargame in the sense that it’s a game about a war (of sorts) and it’s published by GMT Games, who specialise in wargames… but when I think “wargame”, I think hexes, terrain and stacks of unit counters with austere symbology and inscrutable information moving across a paper map to engage each other in combat:

Unmistakably a wargame – Red Winter: The Soviet Attack at Tolvajärvi, Finland: 8-12 December 1939

Unmistakably a wargame – Red Winter: The Soviet Attack at Tolvajärvi, Finland: 8-12 December 1939

Twilight Struggle is nothing like that. It’s a game of influence and control, played out on a global scale on a map where every country (or group of countries) is represented by a pair of boxes. This is an ingenious representation of the nature of the Cold War, which was more about winning over the minds of leaders and nations with ideologies than it was about military operations. That’s not to say that Twilight Struggle is without military operations; in fact, they’re a necessary part of the game, resulting in penalties for a player who doesn’t carry out enough military action during a turn, but they’re abstracted to a simple “coup” action and the occasional “war” card.

Twilight Struggle – definitely a conflict simulation

Twilight Struggle – definitely a conflict simulation, but probably not a wargame

So… it’s a beast. An intimidating beast, but one with a reputation for greatness. That meant it wasn’t hard to convince John Sh to come over and recreate the Cold War on my kitchen table.

We tossed a coin for sides and I ended up as the USSR, pushing the communist agenda across the world. John, as the USA, would be trying to win the hearts and minds of nations with the promise of freedom from tyranny. And so to business… and immediate bafflement. From the outset, it became clear that this is a game that needs both players to know the cards before they can form much of a coherent strategy. I mean know them. There’s a basic card list on the back of the player aid card, but that only gives the title of the card, its Operations value and whether it’s USA- or USSR-aligned.

And that last thing is the brutal kick in the face to every great plan you might come up with. Yes, I might have a 4-ops card, enabling me to take control of three countries in Europe in a single turn… but if the star at the top is white the USA-aligned event on the card is triggered, which could undo all the good work I’ve just done for the USSR… so maybe I’d be better off playing this card instead. Or I could play this other one for the event rather than the ops points. It’s easy to get paralysed by the options, especially with the map board being an open sandbox.

We managed to get into a rhythm after a little while, and I took an early lead in the first few scoring rounds. The USSR card “The Cambridge Five” helped me find out which scoring cards John had in hand on a couple of occasions, which meant I could plan effectively for the scoring rounds that had to come within that turn – you can’t hold scoring cards from one turn to the next. I was feeling pretty comfortable with the game after the first three turns or so… and then we hit the Mid War. At the beginning of Turn 4, the Mid War deck is shuffled in with the Early War deck you’ve been using up to that point. Suddenly, it’s not just Europe, Asia and the Middle East that can come up for scoring – the whole board becomes important as the Africa, Southeast Asia, Central America and South America scoring cards join the game, on top of the original three. And there’s a whole raft of new cards to contend with, many seeming a bit beefier than the Early War cards.

I drew the OPEC card, which awarded me 1 VP for each country I controlled out of a list of six or seven oil-rich countries. By also having a card (I forget which) that allowed me to rifle through the discard pile and retrieve the card of my choice, I managed to get hold of OPEC again and score 9 VPs over the two plays of that card. John’s domination of Europe pulled my lead back a touch when he played Europe Scoring, but I swung it back within a few action rounds. With a few strong operations in Asia, I managed to dominate that region even though Formosan Revolution was in play and John was holding Shuttle Diplomacy (together effectively reducing my battleground majority by two). John couldn’t pull Asia back before I played Asia scoring in Turn 6, pushing me up to the 20 VPs required for a victory. Proletarii vsekh stran, soyedinyaytes’!

The end of the game – clearly, marshalling my influence tokens into serried ranks was the key to victory

The end of the game – glorious Soviet strength in Asia and the Middle East, while the USA looks happier in Europe and the Americas

So that was Twilight Struggle. It was mentally tough. It was pretty long – about three hours, and we only got up to Turn 6 out of a possible 10. But it was very, very good. Completely engaging. Borderline overwhelming the first time out – I cracked out a beer around Turn 5, just to give my brain a break – but the great game was plain to see. Incredibly tense, which only escalated as the game went on and the key areas of activity expanded, but not without some humour (the Kitchen Debates card allows you to poke your opponent in the chest while scoring points, for example). There was never enough opportunity to do everything I needed to do, which felt very much like a good eurogame. We both went away with the game thoroughly stuck in our heads, which to me is the sign of a good gaming experience. Rather than feeling like I’ve “ticked one off the list”, it feels like I’ve only just begun with this game.

I can see why Twilight Struggle is the top-ranked game on BGG: it’s a game of great depth and replayability, with a theme that’s relatively accessible as far as conflict simulation goes (most gamers lived through at least part of the Cold War, and it was part of everyday life). I’m not sure how often I’ll get to play it, so I’ll probably never be particularly good at it, but I’m already looking forward to playing it again.

Newcastle Gamers – Saturday 25 May 2013

In the two weeks since the last Newcastle Gamers session, the four of us who played Agricola and own iPads (plus Graham) have been playing a game of iOS Eclipse online. We’ve got about halfway through in those two weeks, and it’s turning out to be an interesting little game. (That’s code for “I’m about to be royally shafted in galactic combat”.) Pete sent out a request for a real-life game at Newcastle Gamers, and I was happy to join the fray. This was partly down to the fact that I knew I’d be late to the session (and thus coincide nicely with the arrival of John Si for Eclipse at 5-ish) and partly because I’ve got a lot more comfortable with Eclipse since the iPad version came out a few weeks ago.

The only other time I’ve played Eclipse, I didn’t have a good game. Having blasted through a fair few games on the iPad, I’ve got a much better handle on the pace of the game, how to manage resources and when to play aggressively/defensively, so I entered this game feeling relatively confident. We distributed player boards randomly, then each chose whether to play as humans or aliens; clockwise around the table, we ended up with:

  • Me (black): human
  • Camo (red): human
  • Pete (green): human
  • John Si (yellow): aliens – Descendants of Draco
  • Graham (white): aliens – Mechanema

John had ummed and ahhed about using the Descendants over the humans, but he went with it in the end. The Descendants can’t engage in battle with Ancients, so their chances of good reputation tile draws are lower (fewer battles throughout the game), but they can coexist, influence and colonise in tiles with Ancients, and gain 1 VP per Ancient ship left on the table at the end of the game.

We got underway with the usual rounds of exploring and researching, and we all realised the other advantage of the Descendants – when exploring, they draw two tiles and choose which one they want to keep. This meant John could pick and choose systems with major benefits (he ended up maxing out his money income by round 6 or so), and he pushed towards Pete’s green territory quite quickly. Pete, on the other hand, had some dreadful tile draws, leaving him very short of money and desperately needing to expand out into others’ territory. I struck up a diplomatic agreement with Camo to my left (with absolutely no intention of sticking to it, but I hoped to lull him into a false sense of security), while Graham’s tile draws and orientations set up a wall between us on my right. Neither of us were heavily drawing science planets, so chances were that neither of us would be able to afford the Wormhole Generator technology – I felt safe on that side.

Pete geared up his ships and pushed out, engaging Camo, John and me (and maybe an Ancient ship). He was beaten back every single time – mainly through extreme bad luck on the dice rolls – leaving him battered, bruised and insolvent. By round 4, Pete realised his actions had left him completely unable to afford his empire’s upkeep, and he had to uninfluence all his sectors and resign from the game. So then we were four. Meanwhile, I’d moved round to block Camo’s exit from his corner of the galaxy and invaded his home sector, John was spreading like a disease across the far side of the table and Graham was in his own little world, surrounded by Ancients and building up a fairly fearsome armada of souped-up dreadnoughts.

I'm just about to reduce Camo to a red smear across the bottom corner of the table. Note John's expanding yellowness across the back.

I’m just about to reduce Camo to a red smear across the bottom corner of the table. Note John’s expanding yellowness across the back.

I was still very science-poor, so it was a lucky set of circumstances that allowed me to blast Camo into smithereens somewhere around round 6, leading to him also resigning from the game. John and Graham were doing much better in the technology race, but Graham made what turned out to be a grave error – Plasma Missiles came up for purchase and he could afford them, but he didn’t take them. Straight away, John leapt on them and ended up kitting out his dreadnought blueprint with four Plasma Missile tiles. That’s eight dice per ship, dealing two damage per hit, firing before anything else happens in combat. Combined with the +3 and +1 computers, those missiles were hitting on a roll of 2 or more on a D6 by the end of the game. John’s dreadnoughts had become unstoppable. They literally dreaded nought.

Having dealt with the red menace, I concentrated on bolstering my front line. John was clearly going to take the galactic core with his mega-über-dreadnoughts, and it looked like he and Graham might have a face-off. They were certainly both gearing up for heavy battle, so I quietly slipped a few souped-up cruisers round the side and towards Pete’s old home sector, now occupied by John. He responded in kind, making a run for my home sector to try to deny me those 3 VPs. John’s huge empire had left him overstretched for influence discs, even with Quantum Grid and Advanced Robotics (granting three extra discs), so he didn’t have much opportunity to defend himself from me. In the final round, I managed to successfully defend my home sector; I also got lucky and took a sector from John. At this point, I influenced the sector and placed colony ships. There was still one battle to go for me, in a sector with 3 VPs for ownership and a discovery tile worth 2 VP under an Ancient ship. To win, I’d have to defeat not only John’s cruiser but also the Ancient ship, retaining my damage from the battle with John. I didn’t fancy my chances, which was why I’d influenced the sector I’d just won. I lucked out again though, meaning I could have influenced that sector and taken more VPs.

The final round, with the last battle still to play out

Near the game end, with battles still to play out

I’d done really well with reputation tiles from battles (ending up with two 3s and two 4s), and I’d been lucky with drawing discovery sectors (giving me 6 VPs), and with my final push I ended up scoring really well. Camo returned to the table to do the final tally…

Final scores – Me: 37 / John: 36 / Graham: 25 / (Camo and Pete both on 6)

Wahey! A win! Handshakes all round!

But… wait! We forgot the Traitor card. The one I picked up in round 2 or 3 for stabbing Camo in the back. That’s -2 VPs for me. BOOOO. Let’s try that again…

Final scores – John: 36 / Me: 35 / Graham: 25 / (Camo and Pete both on 6)

A win for John, and a well played win at that. I actually lost in three different ways:

  • Traitor card for -2 VPs;
  • I drew Conformal Drive on a discovery tile early on and took the tech rather than the 2 VPs, but I couldn’t power it at the time so it was left on my board. I never got the chance to fit it, so it was a wasted tile;
  • Had I influenced the final sector I won instead of the previous one, I would have had several more points.

This game of Eclipse played out much better than my previous one, but although I’ve come to accept the dice-based combat, the luck of the sector tile draw still niggled at me. That’s what pushed Pete out of the game so early on, and I’m not keen on player elimination. I was so short of science income that I couldn’t compete with John in the arms race, so it was down to blind dice-rolling luck that I wasn’t reduced to dust. And when I can nearly win a game through blind luck… that just doesn’t sit right with me. Still, I had an excellent time playing. The four hours flew by.

Blind luck was exchanged for “you’ve only got yourself to blame” in my other game of the night, Trajan. A recent acquisition of mine, this feels like the stereotypical “points salad” Stefan Feld game, apart from one key factor: the mancala. On your turn, rather than rolling dice or playing cards, you select your action by moving coloured “action markers” around the six bowls of a mancala printed on your personal player board. The six bowls each relate to an action, which each relate to a region on the main board: military, construction, seaport, forum, senate and the eponymous emperor. (That’s what the rulebook says, anyway. In reality, this is the embodiment of the wafer-thin theme in a eurogame. Even the rulebook doesn’t attempt to disguise it much.)

How much choice you’ll actually get over which action you take is entirely up to how you manipulate the action markers around your six bowls. Given that this was the first game for three of us (Lloyd, Jon and John Sh) and the first real-life game for me (I’ve played a few on Boîte à Jeux), we generally didn’t do very well at getting what we wanted out of the bowls. It’s a skill in itself, and the rulebook makes a point of saying that your first game will be very much a learning experience. It’ll all get better with time.

Yes, there are genuinely four distinct player colours there: red, green, blue and brown. Seriously. Who in their right mind makes red, green and brown three of the four player colours?

Bits! Bits everywhere!

There’s not a huge amount to say about Trajan, except that I really, really liked it. There’s no emergent narrative. There’s little player interaction. There’s barely any notion of theme. I tried to tack on some extra theme during the rules explanation… at the end of the day, it’s just points, points, points. But it’s really engaging. The pace and length of the game is controlled by the number of action markers moved by each player on their turn, but even if you slow things right down, there’s still not enough time to do everything you want to do. Perfect euro frustration.

I failed to prioritise the senate, meaning I didn’t pick up many tiles to grant me scoring bonuses at the end of the game. That meant I had to rely on picking up those points, points, points all the way through. I’d made an early grab in the construction area, so I knew I had a 20-point bonus tied up for final scoring. Making sure I satisfied the people’s demands for bread, games and religion (re-themed as either rocket propulsion or flame-throwers in our game) became paramount to maintaining the points I had, and the biggest penalty I picked up was 4 VP. But in the last few rounds, Jon went nuts for shipping, bringing in point after point after point, and it just got him the game.

Final scores – Jon: 122 / Me: 120 / Lloyd: 102 / John Sh: 93-ish (thereabouts)

Great game. I was concerned it might outstay its welcome, but after 20 minutes or so of rules explanation, the game ran for only about two hours. And it was very logical to explain; just like Feld’s Castles of Burgundy, what initially seems like a terrifying plethora of components, rules and options quickly boils down to a few semi-intuitive concepts. The only (very minor) quibble I have with Trajan is the sheer number of components and the fiddliness of setup. There are 125 bits of wood, 60 cards and 214 card tiles (in nine different varieties which all need sorting into various piles). It’s not enough to put me off, but it might be enough to put someone off when they see all the different bits coming out of the box. Also, in a two-fingered gesture to colour-blind people the world over, the four player colours are red, green, brown and blue. In poor light (and the bulb had blown in our corner of the room), I struggle to tell the difference between the red and brown, or between the green and brown. I can (thankfully) tell red from green, but I know there are people with blue–green problems. Surely publishers are aware of the problems of colour recognition? Surely black, white, red and yellow will solve colour problems for all but the most heavily afflicted?

And that was that. Midnight had been and gone, so I headed for home. Only two games played, but both great in different ways. Eclipse was a sprawling epic with loads of good table-talk, while Trajan was a heads-down brain-melter. A very good night of games – to be very quickly followed by another excellent evening of gaming, more on which later…

All photos by Olly and me, shamelessly stolen from the Newcastle Gamers Google+ page. Newcastle Gamers is on the second and last Saturday of every month, 4:30 pm until we drop at Christ Church, Shieldfield, Newcastle upon Tyne!

Newcastle Gamers – Saturday 11 May 2013

Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Jo(h)ns

One of the wonderful things about Newcastle Gamers is the variety of people there, from all sorts of places and backgrounds, and with a huge range in gaming tastes. One of the slightly more confusing things about Newcastle Gamers is the fact that every other person seems to be called John. Even the ones who aren’t called John probably have it as a middle name (and I’m one of those). The upshot of all this Johnnery is that, every so often, you’ll hear something like this:

“Whose turn is it?”

“Oh, it’s John’s.”

“Ummm… John..?”

“Oh, yeah. THAT John.”

The evening started at DEFJOHN 5, with John S and Olly teaching me the microgame of the moment, Love Letter. Featuring only a deck of sixteen cards (sixteen!) and a small bag of score-keeping tokens (in this copy, borrowed from club treasurer Nick, said tokens were little red hearts… awww), it’s as simple a game as I’ve played since Hungry Hippos. Our nominal aim is to get love letters to the Princess and win her heart. In reality, we each hold a hand comprising a single card. One card! On your turn, you draw another card from the deck, then play one of the two cards to the table. The eight ranks of card have varying powers, from number 1, the Guard (name another card rank to a player – if they have that card, they discard it and are out of the round) to number 8, the Princess herself (the highest rank, but discard the Princess and you’re out of the round).

Not exactly the most photogenic game in the world... but I was winning at this point

Not exactly the most photogenic game in the world… but I was winning at this point

It’s super-simple, there’s a fair dose of luck in it and a little bit of bluffing, which makes it a nice little filler. For me, it wasn’t quite the amazing experience that it’s been made out to be on BoardGameGeek and the like, but it was a fun way to kick things off. After taking an early lead, we finished on 3 hearts each for John and Olly, with me on 2. So I lost. The game is intended to play until someone has 5 hearts, but there was a good reason we’d decided to kick off with a filler… and the reason is creeping into the top of that photo.

Yes, Agricola was on the cards. Pete had made plans to play it with another club member, and Olly, John and I had joined in to round things out to the maximum five players. We played Love Letter until our outstanding Agricolan arrived. Naturally, that “other club member” was called John. Now at DEFJOHN 3. In fact, it was another John S – the same John S with whom I’d played Power Grid in a previous session. Clearly, new nomenclature is called for. John who’d been playing Love Letter will be John Sh for the remainder of this post, while the new arrival will be John Si. Phew. So. Agricola. With Pete.

I’ve played Agricola quite a few times, and I know it well. I know the rules, I know the basic strategies, I know the rhythm of the game. Pete, on the other hand, knows all the cards. All the cards. The base game has 169 Occupations and 139 Minor Improvements, and Pete knows them, knows which ones work well together and has strategies to make his cards work for him no matter what he ends up with. Pete is a formidable opponent in any game, but particularly in Agricola. Indeed, there’s a running joke with Pete’s regular gaming group that everyone who isn’t Pete gets 10 extra points to level things up.

This was my first time drafting Occupations and Minor Improvements at the start of the game, so that was a novel twist for me. We had a straightforward mix of E and K decks, so I’d come across a lot of the cards before, but there was still a lot to take in when we picked up our hands to pick the first card. I didn’t time it, but I reckon we must have spent at least twenty minutes just drafting our cards. It was also my first time with five players, so I spent a couple of minutes getting my head around the slightly different actions available with the full player complement.

So we played. The start-player marker spent a lot of time flitting back and forth between John Si (seated directly to my left) and Pete (two seats to my right), so after a couple of rounds as start player early on, I ended up being either third or fifth in player order for much of the game. In hindsight, I really should have grabbed start player more often, but with only two workers for the vast majority of the game, it seemed like a weak option at the time. Lesson learned. As a result of being late in player order, I often took my second- or third-choice actions, bringing out a raft of Minor Improvements and Occupations rather than… y’know… actually farming.

Some of them were great though. The Clay Deliveryman gave me 1 clay per round from Round 6 to the end of the game, while the Fishing Rod allowed me to take 1 extra food (or 2 extra from Round 8 on) when taking the Fishing action – very handy when you’re not growing anything or raising any animals. My surfeit of clay (or, as it was described at the time, “a f—ton of resources”) meant that it made sense to renovate to clay very early in the game, and in combination with the Clay Supports Minor Improvement (pay 2 clay, 1 wood and 1 reed to build a clay room, rather than 5 clay and 2 reed), I ended up with a five-room clay house. And still no crops or animals.

Meanwhile, John Si was ploughing and sowing like there was no tomorrow, and he brought forth the oven to end all ovens – the Bakehouse. Worth a massive 5 points at the end of the game, the Bakehouse can also convert 1 grain to 5 food… twice per bake action. 10 food in one bake. Once John had his baking engine up and running, he was never short of food. Olly had utilised his Hedge Keeper Occupation to build all fifteen fences in one go, so he was going heavy on the animals. Pete was creating a nicely balanced farm, with crops, pastures and animals everywhere. John Sh had played the Wet Nurse, a card so powerful that many people refuse to play with it – when you build a room, you can pay 1 food to create a baby worker therein. It’s a potential starvation trap, but it’s well worth it if you’ve got the food to back it up. John did indeed have the food, in mammalian form. I’d ploughed a couple of fields and built two stables, but nothing was sown and nothing was living in the stables. Not looking great for me.

After breaking for a little food after Round 8, I resolved to get my act together and get some points. Once “Plough 1 Field and/or Sow” came out, it was my best friend, and I managed to get five fields planted with a mixture of grain and vegetables. I knew the vegetables would largely get eaten (1 veg for 3 food in my Cooking Hearth), and I had enough to sustain me to the end of the game, thanks to the Greengrocer Occupation (take 1 vegetable when you use the “take 1 grain” action) and its reciprocal Occupation, the Land Agent (take 1 grain when you use “take 1 vegetable”). After renovating again to stone and making sure I had the maximum five family members by the end of the game, I’d made about the best I could of a bad job. 3 unused spaces, no sheep, no cattle (and only 1 boar), so quite a few -1 points.

You can see my slightly bare-bones approach to farming in the upper right, just behind John Si's despairing head

You can see my slightly bare-bones approach to farming in the upper right, just behind John Si’s despairing head

In the end, John Sh and Olly had quite sparse but balanced-looking farms (although Olly was without fields, if I remember correctly), John Si was awash with grain and vegetables in a landscape of ploughed fields, Pete had a farm that looked nice but without boar (mitigated by his having played the Horse Minor Improvement, giving him 2 points for one animal type he lacked) and my farm… well, there was a nice, big farmhouse full of people (and with an Outhouse for 2 points), a few fields and crops, and a single pig. Again, not looking great for me. Of course, being Agricola, there can be some surprises in the final reckoning. Enough of a surprise for Pete to not have won?

Well, no. But not by much.

Final score – Pete: 37 / John Si: 35 / Me: 32 / John Sh: 25 / Olly: 25

So Pete won by a Horse. I was pleased with how I did, given it was my first time (a) drafting, and (b) with five players. Ah, Agricola. Always a pleasure.

Olly had to leave at that point, so after the traditional break for standing around and wondering what to play, I pulled out Snowdonia and we set up for a five-player game. Who replaced Olly at the table? Yep, we’re going to DEFJOHN 1. Well, OK. Not quite a John. This time it was Jon. So – just to clarify – that’s me, Pete, John, John and Jon. Glad we’ve got that sorted.

I hadn’t played Snowdonia in a while – which is a crying shame, because it’s great – and neither John Si nor Pete had played it at all. These two factors combined (along with my immense fatigue) to create one of my most shambolic rules explanations ever… but the whole thing gave rise to the renaming of the start-player marker as the “SEXY TRAIN”. Glorious.

I played an absolute stinker of a game. It was interesting to note that the three of us who’d played before were the ones who didn’t build a train until quite late in the game (certainly after the “train maintenance” event), and I didn’t build a train at all. Pete had Moel Siabod, which is cheap to buy (1 steel) and comes with 2 coal, but has no benefit beyond the third-worker capability. John Si had Snowdon – again, a cheap buy, but this time with 1 coal and 9 points at the end of the game. Just like in Agricola, I was late in player order for most of the game (with only myself to blame), so I ended up taking a contract card with bonus points for getting my surveyor high up the mountain, and concentrated on doing exactly that, building a few bits of station and laying the odd piece of track along the way.

John Sh built the Padarn engine, granting him an extra build action after all other build actions are finished, which was pretty powerful, and Jon controlled the timing of the game end by building Ralph, thus giving him +1 to the track-laying rate. By the time the final track was laid, I had indeed managed to get my surveyor all the way up Snowdon, but so had Pete… and he’d built a lot of station sections on the way up. Yes, Pete had grasped the game immediately and pulled out a solid win.

Final score – Pete: 94 / Jon: 89 / John Sh: 83 / Me: 80 / John Si: 71

The SEXY TRAIN takes pride of place in the coal stockyard while I do the final scoring

The SEXY TRAIN takes pride of place in the coal stockyard while I do the final scoring

Pete and John Sh had done extremely well off station spaces, while Jon and I did well from our contract cards (my surveyor got 15 bonus points on top of the 21 for being at the summit; I also got 15 bonus points from two track pieces laid and 4 points from 2 coal picked up in the final round). Considering how badly I felt I played, I could have done a lot worse. I really, really should have built a train, but resources and iron–steel conversion did seem quite tight (which is part of the reason the game flowed nicely – there was no resource-hoarding and the white event cubes came out relatively slowly). I was pleased to hear John Si and Pete say how much they’d enjoyed the game; it’s a little gem which deserves a much wider audience than it’s had so far.

After four of us had arranged to play an online game of Eclipse on iPad (we’ll see how many weeks that takes us…), Pete and John Si called it a night. With three of us left gameless and 11pm looming, I suggested Eminent Domain, and John Sh and Jon were happy to give it a whirl.

John describes this game as having taken Race for the Galaxy and Dominion and mashed them together. I haven’t played RftG, but I can imagine that’s about right. It’s a space-empire-building deckbuilder in which your deck gets more and more specialised in doing the things you do most often. This can be really handy when you want to survey new planets and attack or colonise them to benefit from them, but then when you want to do things to generate more points (like producing and trading goods, or doing technology research) your deck and hand are clogged up with survey and warfare cards. So it’s a neat little balancing act.

It’s a simple game to explain, so we got Jon up to speed and set about taking roles, following, dissenting, colonising planets… there’s not a huge amount to say about it, really. John and Jon went for the colonisation route to take control of their planets, while I went military and attacked all of mine into submission. I had an early boost from my second planet giving me +1 to my hand limit, which meant I could end up with eight cards in hand if I dissented on both the others’ turns. This allowed me to quickly expand my empire and indulge in a little production and trading.

I entirely failed to get a picture on the night, so here's a vague reconstruction of my empire on my desk at home

I entirely failed to get a picture on the night, so here’s a vague reconstruction of my empire on my desk at home

The three-player game has the same game-end condition as the two-player game (one role deck is depleted or all the VP chips run out), so it seemed to have come around pretty quickly when John took the last VP chip and declared the end of the game… but wait! Everyone gets an equal number of turns, so Jon had a turn remaining. He colonised the last planet in his tableau, giving him the last few points he needed for victory, snatching the game from John and me. Only just, though!

Final score – Jon: 26 / Me: 25 / John: 24

As close as can be! Eminent Domain isn’t an amazing game, but it’s a solid game and it plays reasonably quickly (about an hour this time round) so it’s definitely got its niche in my collection.

And that was the end of the night for me. The highlight was definitely Agricola. Frankly, the highlight will probably always be Agricola on evenings when it hits the table. Such a great game. The low point of the night was forgetting that the easternmost end of the A69 was going to be closed on my way home, so I took a slightly circuitous route around the western suburbs of Newcastle before finally making it back to the A69 and trundling home.

All photos by Olly, John Sh and me, shamelessly stolen from the Newcastle Gamers Google+ page. Newcastle Gamers is on the second and last Saturday of every month, 4:30 pm until we drop at Christ Church, Shieldfield, Newcastle upon Tyne!

Pandemic – Bad stuff's going down in Essen

My Gaming Year So Far

As we hit the beginning of May, I feel oddly compelled to mark this point with a round-up of what I’ve been doing game-wise through the first third of 2013. So, without further preamble, I present my plays from 1/1/13 to 30/4/13, as logged on BoardGameGeek. First, the games I played with other actual living, breathing humans:

  • Pandemic: 8 (twice with the purple virus from On the Brink)
  • Hive: 4
  • Loopin’ Louie: 4 (this is grossly inaccurate – the actual number is more like 40 or 400)
  • Hanabi: 3
  • Keyflower: 3
  • Age of Industry: 2
  • Dominion: 2 (oddly, both times with the Cornucopia expansion)
  • Le Havre: The Inland Port: 2
  • Hey, That’s My Fish!: 2
  • Myrmes: 2
  • Power Grid: 2 (1 with Brazil, 1 on the Russia board)
  • Snowdonia: 2 (both playtests of expansion scenarios)
  • Survive: Escape from Atlantis!: 2 (1 with Giant Squid, Dolphin and Dive Dice expansions)
  • Agricola: 1
  • The Castles of Burgundy: 1
  • Catan: Junior: 1
  • Eclipse: 1
  • Elder Sign: 1
  • Eminent Domain: 1
  • Fearsome Floors: 1
  • Galaxy Trucker: 1
  • High Frontier: 1
  • K2: 1
  • King of Tokyo: 1
  • Light Speed: 1
  • Make You Gunfighters: 1
  • Panic Lab: 1
  • Pastiche: 1
  • Pergamon: 1
  • Power Grid: Factory Manager: 1
  • Québec: 1
  • RoboRally: 1
  • Spectaculum: 1
  • Ticket to Ride: 1
  • Tsuro: 1
  • UNO: 1 (I know, I know… the kids wanted to)
  • Würfel Bohnanza: 1

And then the solo games:

  • Friday: 12
  • Onirim: 8
  • Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001-?: 5
  • Thunderbolt Apache Leader: 5
  • Rallytaire: 4
  • Suburbia: 4
  • Mage Knight Board Game: 3
  • Agricola: 2
  • K2: 2
  • Utopia Engine: 2
  • Bios: Megafauna: 1
  • Space Empires: 4X: 1

Wow. I’ve clearly spent a lot of time on my own.

So what does all this tell me? I’ve been spreading myself around a bit. I’d like to concentrate a little on a few games, to get to know them deeper. I need to get in more plays of Snowdonia, Age of Industry, Galaxy Trucker, Hive and (especially) Agricola. They’re all great games that I’d like to be better at. I also need to give Le Havre: The Inland Port more plays; I’m almost scared of suggesting it to people, given how achingly dry it is, but I have enjoyed it on the two occasions it’s been out.

One thing I haven’t been logging is all the Castles of Burgundy activity I’ve been putting in on Boîte à Jeux. I’ve had twelve two-player games against Newcastle Gamers regular Olly (Olly 7 / me 5), with a thirteenth on the boil right now. If it wasn’t for that, I’d be burning to get more face-to-face CoB action, but my estate-building itch is satisfied with the digital version for now. It’s had the side-effect of me starting to look at other Stefan Feld games, and with Trajan hitting an all-time low price on Amazon UK today, it might be time to dip my toes further into the Feldian waters. Mind you, Bora Bora looks like good fun…