Monthly Archives: July 2013

Newcastle Gamers – Saturday 27 July 2013

I’m a bit pressed for time at the moment, so it’s a turbo-report this time.

First game of the night: Dungeon Petz, with Olly and John S (all three of us having played it last time Olly brought it) as well as John F (new to the game). I paced myself much better through this play, ending up with nearly all my possible imps, making decent sales and scoring OK in exhibitions all the way through. I made sure I had nice, clean cages for the final scoring exhibitions (my downfall last time), but it wasn’t quite enough to beat John F, who’d beaten me into placing imps on the selling platform for the last round, selling a pet for a whopping 24 points.

Final score – John F: 59 / Me: 56 / John S: 52 / Olly: 44

It felt a little… flatter this time round. No one struggled much to satisfy their pets’ needs – there were no magical mutations, very few suffering cubes and no dead pets at all. (The worst thing to happen was having my fish, Bubl, swimming in a bowl cage full of his own filth, but my Employee of the Month imp cleaned it out admirably.) I guess it’s all just the luck of the draw, and I’m sure next time will be riddled with disasters.

John S suggested Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar, and I wasn’t going to say no. I’d been wanting to play this game for months, and I’d just never quite coincided with the right table at the right time. This was the table; this was the time. Olly, having played it before and not been entirely convinced, went off for a round of 7 Wonders, and was replaced at the table by Jérôme.

It’s worker placement, but it’s also a game of worker removal, with a hefty amount of forward-planning and engine-building required to make things happen when you want/need them to. It’s frustrating; it’s complicated; it’s a game it would take several plays to get the hang of; and it’s PRETTY.

Round, like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel...

Round, like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel…

The cogs are a very clever way of managing worker placement, with the possible actions you can take when you remove your worker becoming more powerful the longer you leave your worker on the cog. It’s pretty complex at first glance, though, and it took me half the game to get a handle on how everything worked. By about three-quarters of the way through (i.e. around the third of four worker-feeding phases), I’d figured out a strategy and just went for it. This involved having built enough farms to feed all five of my workers without needing corn resources, so I could collect corn and channel it into hopping up the temple piety tracks. Meanwhile, I built a monument with a hefty points bonus for moving well up a temple track of my choice, so by the time it came to final scoring, I had plenty of bonus points, giving me an emphatic win. I didn’t note the exact scores, but I was somewhere around the low 60s, with the others some 20 points behind or so.

I enjoyed the game a lot. It initially reminded me of a Stefan-Feld-type design, with many ways to make points in various areas of the board, but John F quite rightly pointed out that Feld usually presents the player with several good options on each turn, whereas Tzolk’in throws plenty of non-optimal choices in your direction. Definitely one I’d like to play again, although I’m always slightly concerned when I win a game by accident the first time I play it, especially against someone (John S) who’s played it quite a few times.

And then on to the meat in any good gaming-session sandwich (um… what?): Agricola. And not just any old Agricola; I’d brought along my bargain-purchased-but-as-yet-unplayed copy of the Farmers of the Moor expansion. It adds a few twists to the usual farming formula, throwing in horses, starting farmyards covered in forest and moor tiles, the need to heat your house lest your family fall ill, Special Action cards to be taken instead of placing a family member, new Major Improvements, two whole new decks of Minor Improvements… actually, there are more than just a few new twists. It feels quite different. Different enough for me to be completely thrown and get distracted by the shiny, shiny new Major Improvements (I ended up with a Peat-Charcoal Kiln and a Museum of the Moors, while still completely lacking any method of producing food for myself).

Final round. My woeful farm is bottom-left, with Olly's game-winning corker top-left. Note all my cards in play down the bottom. Not enough to compensate though.

Final round. My woeful farm is bottom-left, with Olly’s game-winning corker top-left. Note all my cards in play down the bottom. Not enough to compensate though.

My fellow farmers, Olly and John S, took it much more in their stride and actually built… y’know… farms. Like you’re supposed to. At the end of the game, I had no pastures, no sheep, no cattle, no horses… my saving grace was that the Stonecutter occupation and Clay Supports and Clay Roof Minor Improvements had made it easy for me to expand and renovate my house. Here, for posterity, is the final score breakdown (showing points in each category, not number of things – my HTML-table-fu is too rusty to figure out column spanning and things so I can show both):

Olly John Me
Fields 4 1 2
Pastures 4 2 -1
Grain 3 3 1
Vegetables 3 -1 2
Sheep 2 1 -1
Wild boar 3 2 2
Cattle 3 2 -1
Horses 9 4 -1
Fenced stables 4 0 0
Unused spaces 0 0 -1
House/hut rooms 0 8 8
Family members 12 15 12
Points on cards 6 4 9
Bonus points 3 5 2
Total 56 46 33

Yep, a solid loss for me. Farmers of the Moor was an interesting variant, but I certainly wouldn’t want to play with it all the time. The base game of Agricola is so beautifully tight and elegant that it made Farmers of the Moor feel a little like the bloatware that comes pre-installed on a big-brand Windows laptop. It might be useful bloatware, and some of it might be fun, but it slows things down a bit and it’s ultimately unnecessary. Still, I’d be willing to give it another crack of the whip (horse-related reference there, y’see?).

After that, it was time for a bit of Coloretto, with Nick and Jérôme joining us after we’d played a round with three. The additional players gave it quite a different feel, with a different set of tactics coming into play. It’s a really nice little game, this, and it plays so quickly that you don’t mind if absolutely nothing goes your way. Besides which, you’ll be too busy having fun messing with other people’s colour collections.

And that was the end of the night. A solid session with some excellent games played.

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 13 July 2013

Having missed the late-June session and having only had a few light, family-friendly games in the interim, I was desperate for some of the heaviness we traditionally see at Newcastle Gamers. Just a few hours prior to the session, Olly had posted on Google+ that he’d be bringing Brass, so I knew exactly what my first game of the evening would be. Nick and Amo joined us for the full complement of four.

Having played its streamlined successor Age of Industry a few times, I knew roughly what to expect. But it was the differences that made this a richer gaming experience, and a noticeably tougher gaming experience. In AoI, the board is the board and your rail network of mines, works, mills and ports just grows and grows. In Brass, you build and build through the Canal Age, with mines, works, mills and ports connected by a slightly sparse network of canals… and then the Canal Age ends and the Railway Age begins, meaning all the canals are ripped mercilessly from the board’s papery embrace, along with any “level 1” industries. That ends up meaning that most of the board suddenly empties and you start almost from scratch.

It gives the game a very different feel from AoI, and the strategy required to set up properly for the Railway Age pretty much passed me by entirely. I did, however, manage to get a couple of “level 2” cotton mills out on the board before the canals got filled in, so I had something to work towards – the shipment of goods via ports as yet unbuilt.

Experience counts – yellow rules over Lancashire with an industrial fist. At least I (red) managed to build a shipyard in Birkenhead for a welcome points-boost.

Experience counts – yellow rules over Lancashire with an industrial fist. At least I (red) managed to build a shipyard in Birkenhead for a welcome points-boost.

It was clear that experience counts in Brass, and Olly (who’s played the game quite a few times before, including online games against some very experienced players) took a commanding lead at the end of the Canal Age. He knew exactly which industries to develop through to higher levels, gaining him plenty of income and points. Even a catastrophic error which left him near-destitute near the end of the game (Olly failed to realise that as soon as the card deck is exhausted players are unable to take any more loans – he thought he’d have one more opportunity to take a loan) couldn’t hold him back, and he finished off a formidable network of railways and industries, ending with a score somewhere in the 150s–160s. Nick and I managed to tie on 104 points, with my slightly higher income level breaking the tie in my favour, while Amo trailed significantly behind, having spent nearly the whole game in negative income.

It’s clearly a very neatly designed game (and I can understand why it’s number 11 in the BoardGameGeek rankings), with a lot to keep an eye on, but it seems pretty harsh to the newcomer. I liked it a lot though, so I’ll definitely be playing it again. I’ll see if I can get some practice in online before I next face off in real life.

Just as we were finishing up, Dan arrived. Dan had mentioned in a BGG blog post how much he’d enjoyed Snowdonia, and I’d commented that I could bring along the expansion playtest bits I have, so now seemed the perfect time to build a railway up Mount Washington. The Mount Washington scenario is a little closer to the base game than the Jungfrau scenario from the upcoming expansion, so there were just a few things to go over before we started playing. Players were: me (Snowdonia veteran, many-time loser), Olly (several plays before), Nick (played it at a convention a year ago) and Dan (played it twice). I say that Dan had played it twice… as we went through the game, it became apparent that Dan had played quite a few rules incorrectly, so he’d really been playing a sort of Snowdonia-homage. A close facsimile. But there was nothing too catastrophic and we quickly got into the swing of it.

In fact, I didn’t get into the swing of it at all. Don’t get me wrong – I love the game, and I enjoyed it immensely. I just played extremely badly. I finished the game with two – TWO! – contract cards, from which I scored a magnificent zero – ZERO! – bonus points. I’d done OK from building in stations on the way up the mountain, and my surveyor (played sort of in reverse in the Mount Washington scenario) managed to slide all the way down the mountain at the end of the game for 11 points, but without those contracts I was never going to win. I also left it far too late to build a train, and I picked Padarn, which has a great bonus (extra Build action after others have resolved) but is expensive to build and costs two coal to take an extra worker from the Pub.

Typical Welsh weather... in New Hampshire. Note that the "G" action space isn't correct – I never got round to printing out the correct card, which should be a "dynamite" action.

Typical Welsh weather… in New Hampshire. Note that the “G” action space isn’t correct – I never got round to printing out the correct card, which should be a “dynamite” action.

As always with Snowdonia, we were at the mercy of the weather, with a very sunny early game lulling us into a quick pace. When the rain (and snow, which replaces rubble onto track and station spaces, even when track has been laid!) came later on, the pace naturally slowed dramatically, and the game became one of brinkmanship as we pushed each other into temptation to excavate or lay track. Suddenly, the last piece of track was being laid and the game was in its final round. The Padarn bonus paid off as I built a spot in the last station (meaning my surveyor could slide down the mountain), but nothing could save my game. Suffice to say that Olly won with 128 points, while I came a distant last with 65. Sixty-five points. Terrible.

The Mount Washington scenario is a great variation from the base game, mainly in that the event track barely lays any track at all, so the players dictate much of the pace of the game. The snow also regulates the tempo, with weather and events laying rubble (but not too much rubble) back on to the mountain on a regular basis. I’m really looking forward to the proper version coming out so I can ditch my print-and-play playtest cards.

It was interesting to play Brass and Snowdonia in quick succession, because I’ve been gestating a game idea for a few months now, and it happens to use elements from both games (although the Brass elements were entirely accidental – I hadn’t even played Age of Industry when I first had the basic ideas). I doubt I’ll ever bring it to any sort of testable state, especially as my free time will soon be diminishing by at least an order of magnitude (teacher training begins in September – yikes!), but this experience acted as a sort of reminder to me that I still had this undeveloped concept knocking around in my brain.

Olly suggested playing his brand new copy of Coloretto, which Nick wasn’t keen to play, so that left Dan, Olly and me to create matching sets of chameleons. This is one of those games that seems trivially simple on the surface; in fact, it actually is trivially simple, but it’s got a huge amount of possibility for screwing other players over. It took me a game to get a handle on the processes and strategy of the game, but it was quick enough (probably only about 10–15 minutes per game, if that) to play twice in quick succession. The second time round, I played a much more intelligent game and won by a handsome margin.

Luckily, the colours were all easily distinguishable, even under the artificial lights.

Luckily, the colours were all easily distinguishable, even under the artificial lights.

It’s got the right balance of thought and luck to make it ideal for this spot towards the end of the night, with simple choices leading to agonising decisions (“Do I draw another card and hope for a good one for me?”, “Do I add this card to this stack that I want, or do I use it to pollute this stack that someone else clearly wants?”, etc.). I’d get a copy to play with my kids, once they’re old enough to (a) figure out how to screw other players over, and (b) not weep uncontrollably if I screw them over. I give it a couple of years.

By this point, there were a few game-less people hovering around, and after we’d gone through a few suggestions, we settled on Citadels. This is a game that’s been hovering in my subconscious since it was reviewed in the very first episode of Shut Up & Sit Down. It’s one of those secret-y, backstabby, court-intrigue-y kind of games, with secretly selected roles and hidden agendas everywhere, so it’s not my natural territory, but I do remember thinking there was a good game in there. I’d need to play it again to be sure though, given that my overwhelming memory of Citadels was thinking, “These plastic coins are much nicer than the plastic coins in Brass.” I also remember being assassinated quite a lot. Clearly, my head wasn’t in the game.

After a conversation about immutable graph databases (or something like that… it was well past midnight), I headed for home. Highlight of the night was definitely Brass. I’d say it was one to tick off the “Top 10 Games on BGG” list if it hadn’t recently been usurped by Terra Mystica. *sigh* I’ll have to play that one as well now…

All photos by Olly (I really should start taking my own again), 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!