Monthly Archives: February 2014

A Good Kicking – a component overview of Hegemonic

(with apologies to Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber)

Way, way back many centuries ago,
Not long after the Bible began
Jacob lived in the land of Canaan…

…and I backed Hegemonic on Kickstarter. A game of rival houses wrestling for control of the galaxy in a distant future, it looked right up my street, like Dominant Species and Tigris & Euphrates had a space-baby made of hexes. It’s an abstract-ish euro game dressed up with Ameritrash bits. (We clearly need a new term for this. Abstrurotrash? Ameurostract? Abstrameriro?) You can read the rules here and watch the designer’s instructional video here.

Anyway, it funded and it hit loads of stretch goals, some of them fantastic (metal coins, dual-layered player boards so bits don’t get knocked around everywhere, à la Eclipse, etc.) and some of them less amazing (I always would have preferred wooden pieces to the plastic bits it ended up with, but ç’est la vie). With the stretch goals came manufacturing delays, so the estimated delivery date of July 2013 came and went. Finalising the design of the plastic miniatures clearly took far longer than anyone had anticipated, and the metal coins got cross-pollinated with another Kickstarter campaign, so they became a much larger project and resulted in delays of their own.

The delays didn’t particularly bother me. I’d rather stuff was late and correct than on-time and wrong.

Well, Hegemonic arrived this Monday, 24 February 2014 (yes, over a year after successfully funding and seven months later than the estimated date) and it looks like the extra time getting everything looking beautiful was time well spent. It really does look the business. If that sounds like a shallow response, it is. I haven’t even played the game yet. It just looks nice.

And to that end, I present some pictures of it looking lovely. Although to start, I’ve got a picture of the nearly-impossible-to-photograph Kickstarter-exclusive foil-text box.

Hegemonic box

The foil lettering means the game title and designer’s signature on the lid either burn like a thousand suns or blend into the background.

A (faked) four-player game in progress, probably somewhere around halfway through the game.

A (staged) four-player game in progress, probably somewhere around halfway through the game. The red edges denote regions for scoring at the end of each round, with scores based on relative power within each region.

(L–R:) Fleet, Agent, Martial Outpost, Political Embassy and Borg Cube... sorry, Industrial Complex. The original plan was to have wooden squares, circles and discs (and custom shapes for the fleet and agent), and I think I would have preferred that. Still, they're well made, although the pyramidal Outpost is a nightmare to pick up.

(L–R) Fleet, Agent, Martial Outpost, Political Embassy and Borg Cube… sorry, Industrial Complex. The original plan was to have wooden squares, circles and discs (and custom shapes for the fleet and agent), and I think I would have preferred that. Still, they’re well made, especially the solid, slightly rubbery Industrial Complex, although the pyramidal Outpost is a nightmare to pick up.

The sector tiles that form the meat of the game. These are thick, linen-textured hexes with clean, crisp print.

The sector tiles that form the meat of the game. These are thick, linen-textured hexes with clean, crisp print.

Each player has their own set of action cards with artwork colour-coded to their "great house". These cards determine the actions taken in each action phase, as well as the order in which players take those actions.

Each player has their own set of action cards with artwork colour-coded to their “great house”. These cards determine the actions taken in each action phase, as well as the order in which players take those actions.

Each player has a hand of five "semi-permanent" technology cards that can be used to gain special powers, or used in conflicts to boost power in a particular field (industrial, political or martial).

Each player has a hand of five “semi-permanent” technology cards that can be used to gain special powers, or used in conflicts to boost power in a particular field (industrial, political or martial).

A player board, housing all the bases and units a player can build in each of the three types.

A player board, housing all the bases and units a player can build in each of the three types.

A close-up on the player board, showing the dual-layered construction to hold bases in place. Bump-proof! (Not immune to table-flipping.)

A close-up on the player board, showing the dual-layered construction to hold bases in place. Bump-proof! (Not immune to table-flipping.)

Hegemonic is completely symmetrical out of the box, but if you want to mix things up a bit, the 12 Leader cards give each player a few unique powers for that game. Some of the Leader art is really cool too.

Hegemonic is completely symmetrical out of the box, but if you want to mix things up a bit, the 12 Leader cards give each player a few unique powers for that game. Some of the Leader art is really cool too.

And here's what held the whole thing up. Metal coins!  (And a 2p for comparison.) These are really hefty, well-made coins, with different designs on the obverse and reverse. And as you can see, they're big too.

And here’s what held the whole thing up. Metal coins! (And a 2p for comparison.) These are really hefty, well-made coins, with different designs on the obverse and reverse. And as you can see, they’re big too.

It’s not all kittens and cake though – I’ve got some minor niggles regarding colour. As I’ve said before, I’m not colour-blind per se, but I do have trouble distinguishing several colours in certain lighting conditions. When I first opened Hegemonic, I thought I’d been sent two sets of plastic pieces in one of the colours and none of the sixth. On switching on a desk lamp, I discovered that I just couldn’t tell the difference between the yellow and green pieces without strong light. With a camera flash…

Not a problem with a flash.

…no problem at all. But I’m not likely to play this game under lighting that strong. I’ll just have to request that with five players, the unused colour is one of those two. With six, I’d have to bring a torch to shine across the board.

There’s one more colour problem, and this one’s a bit more universal. The Quantum Gates are represented by small cardboard tokens, three pairs in each player colour. Unfortunately, the orange and red tokens are very similar in colour:

Orange-red gates

An enterprising BGGer has figured out a simple solution, but as James Mathe of Minion Games points out there, it’s rarely relevant which gates are whose because their effects are available to every player so this is one instance where colour shouldn’t be a problem.

After seven months of waiting, I’m keen to get this to the table. I’m hoping to get along to Newcastle Gamers next weekend, so maybe I’ll find some willing volunteers to take Hegemonic for a spin. The designer has helpfully written a “teaching script”, so I’d better start studying that now!

Newcastle Gamers – Saturday 8 February 2014

or Back in Action!

Saturday afternoon saw my return to Newcastle Gamers after a long, illness/work-enforced hiatus. It wasn’t exactly a triumphal return given that I’m still ill (and given that I can’t drive far yet, my thanks go to John Sh for the lift into Newcastle), but it was great to get out of the house and get some gaming in. My plan for the session was to keep the cognitive load relatively light by sticking to games I already knew.

I’d made arrangements earlier in the day to play Agricola with Olly, John Si and Pete “10-Point-Agricola-Handicap” M at about 6.30. That gave me two hours to fill at the start of the session. Olly adopted his role of Fabulous Host to a few newcomers hanging around the door, so we decided to kick off with a few lighter games before the main agricultural meat of the evening. Out came String Railway.

“But Owain,” you cry, “what about your plan to stick to games you already knew?” Yeah, I know. But there’s this:

Venn diagram

It’s a small intersection at the moment, but luckily String Railway ∈ ( AB ). It starts off nice and simple (place a station, lay a string), but by the time you get to the last of your four turns it’s like a noodle-network nightmare. Olly had played it a few times before, John Sh just once and I and the two newbies (Louise and Richard) had never touched it.

Richard took an aggressive expansionist approach early on, moving into the mountain range directly in front of his home station and eventually making it all the way across to Olly’s station opposite. My lines intertwined quite a bit with John’s, seated to my right, while Olly and Louise both spidered out a bit and bothered everyone everywhere.

As discovered later, we fluffed a few rules, leaving players early in the turn order at a disadvantage and leaving me at a slight advantage due to the type of station I kept drawing, but that didn’t stop the game from being fun. Of course, I would say that because I won.

Scratching my head because I'm somehow winning

Scratching my head because I’m somehow winning

It is a fun game though, and I like the idea of potentially limitless variation provided by the “mountain” and “river” strings, along with the different island shapes for different player numbers. I’ll definitely play this one again.

The same crowd followed up with a couple of small card games from John’s collection – No Thanks! and Newcastle Gamers favourite Coloretto. (Seriously, Coloretto‘s like Power Grid or The Resistance – it always seems to make an appearance at these sessions.) No Thanks! is about as simple as games come. I got off to a good start, but ran out of precious chips in the mid-to-late game, meaning I racked up points (which is a bad thing) and Olly ended as the victor, continuing his unbeaten run in No Thanks!

In Coloretto, I played my usual fairly conservative game (aim for exactly three colours or maybe four at most, taking small piles if necessary). It has a reasonable success rate, but it didn’t work out this time. I’ve won previous games with 24 points, but not this time; Olly won again with substantially more points than that.

And then Agricola. Pete had turned up during our Coloretto game, so Olly and I assisted him in the ritual of setting up for a four-player game while we waited for John Si to arrive. We opted for a “deal 10 cards, discard down to 7” scheme for Occupations and Minor Improvements, with four from the E deck and three from each of I and K. The discard process is a game in itself, especially when you have a bit of experience with the other people at the table. I’ve played a few times with Olly in face-to-face games, and quite a few more with Pete and John Si on the iOS version, so I had some ideas about the ways they might play. I know, for example, that a game without Pete building the Well is a rare game indeed, so the Flagon Minor Improvement was a clear choice for me to keep (4 Food for me and 1 Food for everyone else when the Well is built).

The only decent card combo I had screaming out at me was the Writing Desk (when playing an Occupation, pay 2 Food to play a second Occupation) and Bookshelf (before paying for an Occupation, gain 3 Food… yes, even for the second one played with the Writing Desk, so that’s a net gain of 3 Food and 2 Occupations for one action), but given the prerequisites of 2 and 3 Occupations respectively, they wouldn’t be coming out in the early game and would be a late-game Food-boost at best.

It turned out to be a bit of an odd game. Pete had bemoaned the poor quality of his cards and ended up playing no Occupations at all, taking no Family Growth until the very last round (thus playing the game with the minimum 28 actions), with a two-room Stone house and his entire agricultural achievements consisting of one massive 12-space pasture with a few boar in it. He took no Wood until somewhere around round 9. And still he got 31 points, even while playing a very silly game.

I’d been the first to build a third room, so I had the early advantage in terms of Family Growth and extra actions, but I tend to get flabby and lose track of what I should be doing in the mid-to-late game, so I never really capitalised on that momentum. I ended up with six Occupations played (a couple mainly for the Writing Desk / Bookshelf combo Food boost) but not much in the way of a farm. 32 points.

Red: me.

Red: me. Blue: John. White: Olly. Green: Pete. Check out Pete’s pasture.

John Si and Olly were both playing their typically sensible, balanced games and I couldn’t instinctively pick out a winner. They’d both played Occupations involving the Travelling Players space, so there was the occasional bit of intrigue as to who might take that spot. John also had Harvest Helper, allowing him to nick Grain from other people’s fields. (Thankfully, my farm was so poor that I didn’t have any fields sown until the final round.)

Final scores – Olly: 42 / John: 33 / Me: 32 / Pete: 31

Like I said, an odd game. All four of us ended up with Stone houses. I seem to remember I was Starting Player for the last five rounds. For once, I didn’t lose (these guys are all a class above me when it comes to Agricola, even when I’m not enfeebled), but the only person I’d beaten had only had 28 actions for the whole game. I need to get even more practice in.

Pete slipped away into the night, so Camo and John Sh joined Olly, John Si and me for a five-player Puerto Rico. It’s a game I really, really rate, but don’t often get the chance to play. It’s always a bonus to have a table full of people who already know the game, so we were off to a flying start.

Starting fourth in player order, I got a Corn plantation, which is my preferred start. I quickly went down a Tobacco-as-cash-crop route which combined with my Small and Large Markets with Office to create a fairly powerful money machine. I got shut out of the Trading House a couple of times by being fifth in line for a tile with only four spaces, but I similarly got revenge by generating 7 doubloons when there was only space left for me to trade. There was huge competition around the table for Indigo (and hence space on the Indigo boat when Captain was taken), which I kept out of entirely. By the time Camo filled the last of his building spaces and brought on the end of the game, I was feeling pretty confident.

It's a classic, but it's, er... not very photogenic. That's my board down at the bottom-left. Note the relative lack of plantations.

It’s a classic, but it’s, er… not very photogenic. That’s my board down at the bottom-left. Note my relative lack of plantations.

My confidence was well-founded: 45 points and victory. Camo was second with 39, while Olly and John Si were in the 30s and John Sh in the high 20s.

I love Puerto Rico‘s interactivity: you’ve always got to be aware of everyone else’s agendas and how your actions will affect them (and on the flipside, how their actions will affect your plans). If you do something to benefit you, it might benefit someone else twice as much, so you’re sometimes better off waiting for someone else to do that something… and hoping that they actually do, rather than letting it go for another round and picking up another doubloon so the wrong person will be tempted into taking it, thus scuppering your devious scheme. Ah, it’s a great game.

It was getting late, so what better time to bring out a new, heavy-ish euro from the 2013 Essen crop? John Sh was keen to play Yunnan, so I thought I’d give it a crack. After all, I’d just given a table of good gamers a solid thrashing at Puerto Rico, so I must be reasonably capable, right?

No. No, no, no. I’ve never been so confused by a game in my life. And it’s not that it’s a particularly complicated game; I play more complicated games even now (I can quite happily manage Mage Knight or Cuba Libre solo at home). It’s just that at the moment I can’t take in the rules at that sort of pace. At any one point, I think I had about 50% of the rules in my head, but exactly which 50% kept changing from round to round. I never at any point managed to retain the simple fact of which workers come back to my hand and which go to Pu’er.

Anyway… it’s a tea-based euro by German first-time designer Aaron Haag. There are workers, trading posts, tea houses… tea horses for heaven’s sake. The worker placement system involves a bit of an auction feel, with the possibility of displacing other players’ lower-paying workers. At the end of each round, you have to divide up your income between cash and victory points, which is a horrible decision in itself.

Even the board is the colour of tea.

Even the board is the colour of tea.

I accidentally stumbled on a strategy of taking the bank action to gain plenty of cash and then taking all my income as VPs. In the next round I could bid to actually do things and take income as cash, then back to the bank in the round after that. It ended up working pretty well, somehow, and I took second place with 108 points to Camo’s winning 113. If I’d just taken a few steps up the border crossing and imperial influence tracks I could have edged him out (each track scores n2 points for n steps up the track), but then I would have had to have spent cash on those steps.

I honestly can’t form any sort of opinion on Yunnan without playing it again, and I don’t think I managed to learn much about the game from my initial play. There were a lot of moving parts and areas that seemed to influence each other, but I didn’t really figure out how. I’m sure it’ll come out again in future and I’ll be able to gather some thoughts about it. For now, in summary: brown.

And that was that. Creeping up on 1am, John and I zoomed back to Corbridge. It was great to be back at Newcastle Gamers. I probably won’t make the next one (birthday of offspring), but watch this space for more gaming.

All photos by Olly and John Sh, 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!