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!

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