Monthly Archives: September 2013

Newcastle Gamers – Saturday 14 September 2013

A relatively quick rundown of the last Newcastle Gamers session before the next one looms too near…

I started off with Bruges, one of Stefan Feld’s 2013 releases. It’s his twist on the card-tableau-building genre, with a little bit of board play (but only insofar as building small canals and moving a meeple up a single track). With eleventy-thousand different cards in the deck (well… somewhere around 150), it’s both highly replayable and highly baffling the first time round. I took to a strategy of populating as many houses as I could with as many high-scoring people as I could, while making sure a couple of them were “Underworld” types who would cause a little devastation and mayhem with my opponents, John S and Michael. This happened to work out rather nicely, and I pipped John to a very narrow victory.

Final score – Me: 46 / John: 45 / Michael: 38

I really enjoyed this one. It felt very Feld, but played much more quickly than most of his games. Second time round, I think I would have a better handle on what I was doing… which would probably result in me losing.

Next, the three of us played Trains. Its inaugural play at the previous session had been a hit with me and with my fellow players, so I was keen to get it on the table again. A slightly different mixture of cards was drawn from the Randomisers this time, but the Amusement Park was still in the mix, bringing huge boosts to buying power, and the Viaduct negated the extra costs of laying track in a city. We also had the Tourist Train, which (I think) is the only way to score VPs while the game is in progress.

I didn’t get off to a great start with my tracks and stations, so my strategy board-wise shifted to “wait for someone else to build a city up, then use the Viaduct to swoop in there as well, with a relatively low cost/Waste penalty”. Combined with snaffling shedloads of buildings (bringing me 24 VPs at game-end), this turned out to be a cracking strategy, and I ended up absolutely hammering the competition.

Final score – Me: 67 / Michael: 51 / John: 45

I’m not sure if my previous play gave me an advantage (we used the Osaka side of the board, so at least the map wasn’t the same), or if I just managed to strike lucky with my cards enough times to buy loads of buildings. Either way, it was enjoyed by all.

Indigo. What can I say about Indigo? It’s beautiful (see the image at the top of this post), it’s simple and it’s fun. It’s Reiner Knizia’s take on Tsuro-style path-laying games, and suffice to say that once the three of us had finished playing Michael’s copy, both John and I had vowed to get copies of our own… which I duly followed up on. I’ve already played it with my family, and it’s been a bit of a hit with them too. John pipped Michael and me by a single point: 9 / 8 / 8.

Love Letter was next, and we played with John’s fancy-pants new edition, featuring the original Japanese artwork and packaged in (shock, horror!)… a box, of all things. Michael stole John’s early lead for a tight victory, while I wallowed in third. I like this game a lot, but I’m not a good bluffer. John managed to target the Princess every time I held her, so I’ve clearly got some sort of horrendous tell. This is why I don’t play poker face-to-face.

John brought out his new copy of Coloretto, which is fast becoming a favourite filler at Newcastle Gamers. John’s is the 10th Anniversary Edition, which features the Russian edition’s artwork (slightly more garish than the original, and a bit clearer for colour recognition) and a gold wild-card with its own tweaked rule. We’d been joined by Amo and Peter, bringing us up to five players. I’ve always found Coloretto difficult to keep track of with more than three players, but I somehow managed to do much better than I thought I was doing… or perhaps everyone else did much worse… anyway, I took the win by a few points, with only one extra card counting for negative points.

I’d heard good things about No Thanks! before, so I was pleased to have it suggested as the next game. Only a couple of us were new to the game, but it’s so simple that we were up and running in no time. The combination of perfect information (everyone can see what cards everyone else has taken) and horrifyingly imperfect information (nobody knows exactly which cards are in the deck) makes for a tense little filler, full of decisions. I seemed to make the right sort of decisions, and I ended up with only a few cards (which is a good thing) and a large pile of plastic chips in my sweaty palm (also a good thing, apart from the sweat), easily ending up with the lowest score. Another win! I was on something of a roll.

Peter left, leaving four of us to play Last Will. Turned out to be a cracking game, this, combining the thematic twists of Brewster’s Millions and a classic MB game from my childhood, Go for Broke, with modern worker-placement and action-spending mechanics. I misjudged my early game a bit, slightly overwhelmed as I was with the cards and options in front of me, so I ended up with two properties (not a good thing, because although you can spend money on their upkeep, you have to sell them before the game ends, which means you get more money, which is the opposite of what you want in Last Will!) and I mistook horses for dogs. That’s right – I can’t tell the difference between outline-icons of horses and dogs. It’s a sort of ludotaxonomic blindness.

That early mistake aside, I did OK, settling into the rhythm of the game reasonably quickly. An early boost for me was the acquisition of an “Old Friend” (or something like that) card, which grants the owner an extra action on each turn. This left me able to choose to have fewer actions but more cards in each turn, knowing that I could use the extra action to make up the difference. A final spending flurry did leave me slightly in debt once I’d sold off my properties, but not as much as Michael, who finished up with a glorious minus £10. As I say, a corker of a game, and it seems well thought out with double-sided boards and extra side-boards to accommodate different numbers of players.

To finish the night off, the four of us played San Juan. It’s a bit of a classic for a very good reason, and I always enjoy it (I play it a lot on the iPad). Even though I had some terrible card draws this time, and I wasn’t able to get much of a production/trading engine going until very late in the game, it was still good fun. Michael absolutely destroyed everyone else (not literally, although I can see room for an expansion there), finishing with another glorious score – this time, 42 points.

And that was that. As ever, a great night of games.

[Apologies for the photo-austerity this time. There are a whole bunch on the G+ event page.]

Newcastle Gamers – Saturday 31 August 2013

Nearly a year after my first session at Newcastle Gamers, I finally managed to bring along a newbie… but I made up for the slow build-up by being some sort of Pied Piper of Gaming and bringing three at once! My ex-colleague Ben (“ex” as of the previous day) brought along his dad Paul and sister Hannah, all well-versed in modern gaming, to sample the ludo-epicurean delights of Newcastle Gamers. As I arrived, they were standing and taking in the atmosphere of the pre-game setup routine (tables and chairs out, curt nodding, the metagame of “what shall we play first?”), so I ambled over and said hello. Paul had brought his copy of Shogun, which I’d fancied playing for quite a while, so we sat down as a foursome and got underway.

Paul and Ben had played Shogun quite a few times before, while Hannah and I were new to it, so it will come as no spoiler that I didn’t win. In fact, territory-wise I did very badly indeed, ending with only five provinces, but I had managed to build plenty of theatres and palaces for a reasonable number of VPs. Before the game had even begun, Paul and Ben agreed a sort of entente cordiale, allowing them to consolidate powerful empires across the eastern side of the board. Hannah proposed a similar pact to me, but I declined. Why? Well… I don’t know, really. It’s not something I’m used to in games – it’s usually very much everyone-for-themselves in the games I tend to play – so it felt a bit alien. I should probably try playing Diplomacy to get some practice in. It ended up being my downfall, and Hannah’s too. We were hammered from all sides, losing provinces not only to Paul and Ben, but to each other. Stuck in the middle, our empires dwindled away while the more experienced players expanded unchecked.

Just before the final peasant revolt. Several blue (Ben) and yellow (Paul) provinces fell back into the hands of the people, but not enough to change the outcome of the game. I was red, Hannah was purple.

Just before the final peasant revolt. Several blue (Ben) and yellow (Paul) provinces fell back into the hands of the people, but not enough to change the outcome of the game. I was red, Hannah was purple.

It’s a nicely constructed game, with a planning system reminiscent of Roborally (without the lasers) and a combat system involving chucking handfuls of coloured cubes through a tower full of layers and baffles, then picking out the victors from whatever manages to drop out of the bottom. It’s not my normal gaming territory, but it was good fun and didn’t outstay its welcome (a little over two hours after the rules explanation). Paul took victory, followed by Ben, then me (not too far behind) and Hannah bringing up the rear.

After a quick break for food, we stuck with the Japanese theme and I broke out my new copy of Trains. This is a deckbuilder, and not just any old deckbuilder – it’s essentially Dominion with a board. Many of the cards will be familiar to those who have played Dominion (and thankfully Paul and Hannah were very familiar with Dominion, so the rules explanation was pretty simple), given that their prices, values and actions are identical; they’ve just been renamed and given new artwork to fit in with the ‘train’ concept.

The board does give it a decent twist though, with the spatial interactions essentially removing the need for the Attack cards in Dominion. It becomes a game of area control… or possibly just area presence, given that no one can really ‘control’ an area per se. Paul and Ben set up their initial rail cubes on the eastern side of the Tokyo board (backed with the Osaka board for variety), while Hannah and I were clearly going to butt heads again on the western side. After quickly boxing Hannah in (while not strictly ‘boxing in’, once you’ve laid rails in a hex it becomes more expensive for another player to lay rails there too), I started trying to build stations and build into cities with other players in order to negate their VP advantage over me.

My deck went through a slow initial expansion, gently building up my buying power with Express Trains (Silver in Dominion) and a couple of Limited Express Trains (Gold) alongside a few Amusement Park cards, which allow you to double the buying power of a card you’ve played (there’s probably a Dominion equivalent, but I don’t know it). This meant that I could get quite a few Subway Excavation cards into my deck (very pricey to buy, but they remove all extra costs for building rails) so I could freely enter cities with other people’s rails in them and benefit from all their hard work. Meanwhile, Paul was creeping across the board to the west, Hannah was creeping east across my semi-barricade, and Ben was languishing on the opposite side of the board, trying to amass enough money in one hand to build rails into the VP-lucrative distant locations.


Cubes = rails. Sugar from Puerto Rico = stations. VPs gained before the final scoring = 0.

Cubes = rails. Sugar from Puerto Rico = stations. VPs gained before the final scoring = 0.

I felt like I’d gained a bit of an edge, so I built and built my rails until I laid the last one, at which point the game ended. No one had gained any points before the final scoring (there are only a few card types that allow VPs to be scored during the game, and they hadn’t been selected for this game), so it was all still to be seen. I ended up taking a comfortable-ish victory with around 45 points, while everyone else was in the mid-to-high-30s.

I really enjoyed Trains, and there’s a huge amount of replayability in the box. For each game, you select eight card types out of a total of thirty to be available in that game. By my calculations, there are nearly six million possible combinations of cards to play with. I’ll let you know when I’ve tried them all.

Another card game up next, and it was Fleet. I hadn’t played this for a while, and I’d actually only ever played it with two. I wasn’t particularly convinced with it for two players, but I’d been keen to try it with more for a long time, so the four of us remained at the table and started launching fishing boats. It’s very much in the vein of San Juan, with a tableau of cards (in this case fishing boats) being built, while the cards are also used as money, or can be played face down as ‘captains’ for launched vessels.

I was heavily affected by some bad draws early on in the game, and I struggled to get a fishing engine going, even with the Shrimp licence and its resultant cheap/free boat launches. Ben was in a similar boat (no pun intended), while Hannah and Paul raced ahead. The end came fairly quickly, and we counted up our totals.

Final score – Hannah: 63 / Paul: 62 / Me: 41 / Ben: 37

A single point in it at the top! It was a much more convincing game with four players, what with the auctions being a little more lively, but I still think I prefer the purity of San Juan, where every card is of equal monetary value.

Ben, Paul and Hannah had to drift off into the night at this point, so I sat down with Lloyd, Michael and Peter for Suburbia. (Peter may well actually be Piotr or another non-English variant – I think he’s Polish, but I didn’t get him to spell out his name. Apologies to you, Peter/Piotr/Pxxxx if you read this.) Again, I hadn’t played it for a while, and Lloyd and Michael were both new to the game, so I gave a brief rules run-down. Peter had played it once before, but Suburbia is one of those games where experience can really swing things your way, and given the number of times I’ve played this game, I had a big advantage. I know the pacing of the tile stacks, roughly when to switch from increasing income to increasing reputation and building residential areas, how to block opponents effectively… it wasn’t really a fair game.

Peter and I quickly built up our incomes, while Michael took an early lead in population (paying for it later in crippled income and reputation) and Lloyd repeatedly felt the cold hand of destitution on his borough. The end of the game came at just the right point for me, given that I’d just built the green residential tile that would qualify me for one of the end-game goals, and I’d totally tanked my income over the last few rounds, meaning I also qualified for my secret goal of having the lowest income at the end of the game.

One of the nice new Newcastle Gamers tables – ideal for things like Suburbia.

One of the nice new Newcastle Gamers tables – ideal for things like Suburbia.

I was already well ahead before the final scoring for goals and money, but a few goals later I was unreachable, even with Peter’s huge pile of cash.

Final score – Me: 133 / Peter: 71 / Lloyd: 67 / Michael: 48

I still like Suburbia, but I’m getting a bit of an expansion-itch. Will the upcoming Suburbia Inc add enough spice to keep me interested?

And then, to round things off late at night, why not play a game that relies heavily on memory, reasoning and deduction? Yes, it was Hanabi time. I played with Peter, Andrew and John F, with Peter and Andrew being totally new to the game. To cut a long story short, we scored 15 points. Not great, but at least we didn’t blow ourselves up.

That was the end of the night for me. The usual games of The Resistance had started up, the epic five-player game of Terra Mystica had ground to a close (I think they started while I was playing Trains) and I sallied forth into the night, not sure when I would next return.

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!