Monthly Archives: September 2014

Newcastle Gamers – Saturday 27 September 2014

Why do I always put “Saturday” in the title of these Newcastle Gamers reports? They’re always Saturdays. Well, it’s de facto house style now, so I’m sticking to it.

In the month since the last Newcastle session I attended, John Sh and I had an evening of games in Corbridge, including Shipyard (great game if you like rondels; I like rondels), Crokinole (hours spent playing Rampage with my kids nearly put me in with a chance), Istanbul (fun, but I had little-to-zero idea of what to do in a first play) and Province (there’s a lot of game in that tiny package). We’d liked Shipyard so much that I brought it to Saturday’s Newcastle Gamers session, but John brought his newly acquired (and rapidly super-pimped) copy of Splotter Spellen’s Antiquity, so that kind of trumped everything. John’s done a beautiful job with this game, spending hours – and an undisclosed sum – creating new, clearer artwork for resources, printing and attaching stickers, sourcing mini-meeples to replace cubes… It really is a tour de force.

The main board tiles are original. The city tiles are original. And I'm pretty sure everything else in this picture is stuff that John made/bought. It's looovely.

The main board tiles are original. The city tiles are original. And I’m pretty sure everything else in this picture is stuff that John made/bought. It’s looovely. And what’s more, it’s a lot more user-friendly than the original piles-o’-chits would have been.

Like its sibling Roads & BoatsAntiquity is relatively simple in terms of rules, but utterly brain-devastating when it comes to actual gameplay. And, like Roads & Boats, there’s no safety net. If you screw up the early game, you screw up the whole game.

After building the requisite Houses, Storage and Cart Shop in my starting city (and realising in the second or third turn that a Granary was going to be über-handy too, given the ridiculous and escalating requirements of the Famine phase in each round), I set about growing food. Olives and fish were my staples throughout the game, and with the Faculty of Alchemy I could clear off huge swaths of Pollution markers to reuse the land and water.

John was first to build a Cathedral (indeed, he was the only one with space left in his starting city in which to fit a Cathedral, the rest of us having failed dismally in our Tetris-like city building), which he dedicated to San Christofori. That set his victory condition to “have three of each Food and Luxury Goods resource in Storage” – 24 resource tokens altogether, which seemed a long way off, but it was a simple mission of collecting.

After a bit of expansion via Inns, we were starting to butt heads slightly for territory. Olly was the first to construct a second city, closely followed by John and me. Les took a little longer, due to being heavily boxed in by John and Olly, with much of their side of the board covered in black Pollution discs. Olly built a Cathedral in his second city, devoting his game to San Nicolo: “have twenty workers”, which amounts to “build all twenty houses”. The San Nicolo perk of building two houses for the price of one was definitely handy for this, but it was still expensive to carry out, with each of the higher-cost houses requiring several Food and several Luxury Goods resources.

Hey, look! I finally built a Cathedral!

Hey, look! I finally built a Cathedral! Now to dig up some graves…

A central mountain range that I was just about to mine for Stone was grabbed by John and turned into Gold-producing mountains. That was the turning point for me in deciding which victory condition to head for: San Nicolo, just like Olly. I was going to be swimming in Gold (a Luxury Good, obviously), I had a couple of renewable sources of Food (bless you, alchemists) and another nearby lake to fish for Pearls or Dye (Luxury Goods again). Of course, in order to build a Cathedral, I had to first build a Hospital in order to clear Graves out of my cities (Hospital? Necromancer, more like!) to make room, so it was a few rounds before I could make a decent start on my House-building.

Meanwhile, John was piling up his goal resources in his Cathedral of Holding and Olly was churning out two Houses per round, so I knew I wasn’t going to make it to my victory condition before either of them. I don’t think Les ever built his Cathedral; he was feeling very limited in his options by the late game, surrounded as he was by Pollution and unable to dump any near Olly’s satellite cities because of Olly’s Dump/Stables combo. (I, on the other hand, was blissfully free of Pollution, with my Dump limiting the damage and my Faculty of Alchemy ensuring I could ravage the land time and time again.)

The world at the end of the game. Notice how blissfully free from black Pollution discs I am (red, top-right). Sympathise with Les (blue, bottom-left) as you realise how boxed in he is. Marvel at Olly (yellow, bottom-right) and his commandeering of half the map.

The world near the end of the game. Notice how blissfully free from black Pollution discs I am (red, top-right). Sympathise with Les (blue, bottom-left) as you realise how boxed in he is, although he did manage to sneak through the barricades to build a second city. Marvel at Olly (yellow, bottom-right) and his commandeering of half the map.

And then, just like that, we reached the end of a round – Victory Check – and John declared that he had indeed collected the appropriate 24 resources in his infinitely large Cathedral. An actual round of applause (albeit a small one) ensued – after all, this had been a three-and-a-half-hour game and for a long while it hadn’t been clear how anyone could possibly achieve victory under the constant onslaught of Pollution and the ever-increasing Famine.

Just as with Roads & Boats, I felt like I’d been battered round the head with a variety of firm-yet-yielding weapons – presumably the limbs of the beneficiaries of St Nicolo’s Necromantic Hospital. But it was agreed to be a great game, with lots of fun and a surprising level of thematic engagement. I think I slightly prefer Roads & Boats, just for the fact it’s a touch more intuitive, but I’d happily play Antiquity again.

And so from suffering a virtual head-battering to sustaining actual in-game brain damage: yes, Graham and I played Android: Netrunner again. This time, we were using some decks that Graham had “thrown together while watching TV”.

[alarm bells]

No, it was good fun, but there were definitely a few sub-optimal choices in there (seemingly not enough money for the Runner, and few ways to dig through the deck for desired cards), which we dissected a little after we’d played. We’re both very inexperienced players, so it’s good to try things out and see what works… and what really, really doesn’t.

I played the Runner (Shaper, Chaos Theory), against Graham’s Haas-Bioroid “Stronger Together” identity, giving +1 strength to Bioroid ICE – a bonus I would forget every single time it was relevant. I really need to learn to remember those things.

This turned into a proper epic. After a couple of early-ish Agenda steals for me, putting me up to 5 points, Graham finally got some decent ICE up. Unfortunately, he was swimming in money at just the wrong time during one of my runs, so although I accessed and scored an Agenda, he’d rezzed Janus 1.0 at a cost of 15 credits. I couldn’t come close to the 8 strength needed to break it with my Pipeline breaker, and I’d run on my third click, so I clicked once to break the first subroutine… and then suffered the other three “do 1 brain damage” subroutines.

Ouch. I could just afford the damage, but… ouch.

So, down to a hand limit of two cards, I had to limp on and try to prod and poke where I could, seeing if I could nab something here or there. I was strapped for credits throughout the game, only managing to get Magnum Opus into play a couple of rounds from the end. Public Sympathy put me back up to a hand limit of four, giving me a little more flexibility, but I was still drawing cards that were little-to-no use. Graham, meanwhile, had managed to install, advance and score a couple of Agendas, taking him up to 5 points too.

After Magnum-Opus-ing and drawing for a couple of rounds, I had a bit of money in the bank and I had breakers installed for all eventualities. Graham installed another obvious Agenda behind his Janus / Ichi mega-Sentry-wall, along with a mysterious card in that server’s Root. Being inexperienced, I couldn’t remember the options of what it might be. I suspected I had enough money to break all the ICE and access the server, and I knew if I didn’t on this turn, Graham would finish advancing the Agenda and win the game. All or nothing, do or die – it’s time to run.

So click 1 was to pull an All-Nighter, trashing that card for an extra two clicks. Then I ran. Graham rezzed the Rototurret he’d stuck in front of the Janus / Ichi combo, so I broke that at minimal expense. Ichi 1.0 had me spending credits to the point where I couldn’t afford to break the last subroutine (so a successful Trace left me with a Tag and another brain damage), and then I still had four clicks left to get through Janus 1.0 without dying. Success! I accessed the server…

And then Graham paid to rez the ridiculously named Ash 2X3ZB9CY, running another Trace (I had no money to counter the Trace at this point) and leaving me unable to access anything in the server apart from Ash 2X3ZB9CY. Not the Agenda. Game over. Graham advanced to victory on his next turn.

A lot of servers, quite a few programs, and so, so much brain damage.

A lot of servers, quite a few programs, and so, so much brain damage.

A great game. I’m enjoying Android: Netrunner more each time I play, so I hope I can get some more plays in soon. Hopefully they won’t end up with me looking like this:

Poor, poor Chaos Theory. She had so much ahead of her...

Poor, poor Chaos Theory. She had so much ahead of her…

Graham and I rounded off the evening with Hive. I hadn’t played in quite a while, so I’m sure I was sub-optimal here and there, but I overcame the inherent Black disadvantage and took the win reasonably quickly.

Beetle down, then Grasshopper jump for the win.

Beetle down, then Grasshopper jump for the win.

Another quality evening at Newcastle Gamers. I think I might shy away from anything very long at the next Newcastle session; it’d be nice to fit in more than two or three games in an evening.

All photos by Olly, John Sh and me, mainly 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 30 August 2014

I started off this session hoping to play Shipyard, which I’d acquired recently after the sudden drop in price (and increase in availability, both apparently due to a new distribution deal) of Czech Games products in the UK. In the end, that never happened, but I can’t complain – I played Agricola!

It was a five-player game, so I didn’t expect to perform particularly well. Clockwise from me around the table were Pete, Graham, John Sh and Olly, all battle-hardened Agricola players, so my expectations were even lower. And we were drafting cards (E/I/K, 3/2/2), which I’ve never managed to get a good result from before. It worked out a bit differently this time, though – the draft gave me a solid strategy to work at (Fieldsman and Planter Box to make mega-abundant fields to bake from, with Manure to enable a pseudo-Field-phase every round, and Sycophant as my first Occupation to get some Food from the Take 1 Grain space in the early game) and, judging from the cards that made their way back to me in the draft, there wasn’t going to be much competition along those lines.

I had a scare early on when the Clay Oven went just as I was going to grab it, so I waited a while for Stone to stack up before building the Stone Oven instead. It took me much longer than I would have liked to get my plan into action, so I was scrabbling around a little aimlessly at first (or seemingly aimlessly from an external perspective – Pete had stacked up 6 Grain ready to sow in my single field about five rounds before I actually did the sowing). I was a little late to expand my hut and fairly late to take Family Growth… but so was nearly everyone else, so it wasn’t too much of a problem. By about round 9, everybody still had a relatively poor-looking farm, although there was a lot of hoarding of resources, ready to be put to use.

Turn order worked in my favour a few times, even without having to take Starting Player (Olly took it in Round 11, allowing me to take Family Growth without room in Round 12 because he needed to do something else even more urgently… and then I got to take it again in Round 13, taking me up to five family members!) and, after the Clay Oven, I managed to avoid the Improvement-poaching that was happening to everyone else. A quick fencing off of all my remaining unused spaces, sowing more Grain and Vegetables, and building a Schnapps Distillery in the final round left me feeling reasonably hopeful of being able to feed my family and get a decent score. I was only seriously lacking in Cattle (none, for -1 point) and I only had three Clay rooms. But everyone else had also made a last-minute recovery and there were five good-looking farms around the table. (Even Olly, with his oddly meandering pathway of Fields and game-long struggle to feed his family, had amassed a solid collection of animals and fenced Stables.)

Final score – Pete: 44 / Me: 40 / Olly & Graham tied: 36 / John: 35

A fairly tight, reasonably high-scoring game, and a lot of interactivity as well. We’d had loads of “pass-to-the-left” Minor Improvements (various house Extensions, Corn Sheaf, Stable, Guest, Helpful Neighbours, etc.), lots of poaching and squabbling over spaces. Excellent stuff. And obviously I was very pleased with my score; I’ve been struggling a bit with Agricola lately, so this was maybe an indication that I’m getting back on track.

Pete left at this point, so the remaining four of us played Kingdom Builder. I’d dabbled with the iOS version when it first came out, but hadn’t been overly impressed with it. Part of that was the clunky digital implementation, and part was the fact that I didn’t really get the game – I hadn’t figured out how to do well at it, and it just seemed lacking in meaningful choices. John had convinced me that this wasn’t the case, and he was quite right… but it turns out that I still haven’t figured out how to do well at it.

That's my red kingdom, boxed into the corner, just spreading a vague tendril across the board.

That’s my red kingdom, boxed into the corner, just spreading a vague tendril across the board.

In a nutshell, Olly destroyed everybody, and I came emphatically last after boxing myself into a corner. We’d ended up with a slightly contradictory set of scoring cards (2 VPs per house on the horizontal row with the most of your houses, but also 1 VP per row with at least one of your houses on it), so I did OK from having houses on lots of rows, but I did very badly on the third goal of connecting up locations, cities, etc. By the end of the game, I at least felt like I knew how to do better next time. I can’t remember the exact scores, but I think Olly was high 70s, I was low 40s, and John and Graham were in the 50s.

It was nearly 10.00 at that point, so probably too late for Shipyard. Instead, Graham and I finally played our long-mooted session of Android: Netrunner. He’d recently picked up the core set but had yet to play it and I’d only played it in one session back in March, so (to paraphrase Flight of the Conchords) conditions were perfect – it was business time. NB: this session report now becomes one of “those” reports where it’s all game-specific terminology that looks absolutely ridiculous… even if you know the game.

We eschewed the rulebook’s suggestion of Shaper vs Jinteki for the first match-up and opted for Shaper (me) vs Weyland (Graham) to give a bit more of a “normal” feeling than all the tricks and traps of the Jinteki style. Graham instantly ICEd up his R&D and a remote server, but I got some handy cards in my initial draw (Battering Ram, Pipeline, Gordian Blade and Crypsis meant I had icebreakers for all occasions) and proceeded to use Battering Ram to make short work of his initial weak Ice Wall protection with a successful Maker’s Eye run into R&D and an easily accessed agenda in his remote server. Score.

Being Weyland, though, Graham got rich quick and was able to throw out ICE after ICE in front of his servers. I was lucky to get a glance at an Archer before he installed it in front of R&D, so I knew it was dangerous as long as he could afford the 4 credits (and forfeitable agenda, which he had) to rez it. I bided my time and built up my economy a bit, first with Armitage Codebusting and then installing Magnum Opus. That maxed out my memory, so I had to then save up (often using 3 of 4 clicks to take money from Magnum Opus) to install the Toolbox, just to be able to install Pipeline and Gordian Blade.

Once they were in place, I ran on his remote servers until he was down to 3 credits from rezzing ICE… then played Maker’s Eye to run on R&D again now he couldn’t afford to rez Archer. As luck would have it, I accessed not one but two 3-point agendas, giving me a ridiculous total (12, if I remember correctly) for the victory.

We swapped places and changed decks, in order to see some more of the core set cards – I was the Haas-Bioroid corp, while Graham chose Anarch for his runner faction. We both completely forgot about the option to mulligan the initial draw; had we remembered, I most certainly would have done. My initial hand had three agendas and only one piece of ICE, which obviously went straight on HQ so my hand agendas were relatively safe (in fact, it wasn’t even an “end the run” ICE, so they weren’t safe at all… but obviously Graham didn’t know that).

I went to all the effort of installing and paying to rez that Melange Mining... and I didn't even use it.

I went to all the effort of installing and paying to rez that Melange Mining… and I didn’t even use it.

After that, I was on a knife-edge throughout most of the game, in terms of agendas in the hand, but I don’t think Graham made any successful runs on HQ; rather, he was too busy trying to build up his cash reserves to the point where he felt confident to make runs. Instead, I managed to bluff my way to 2 points from the Accelerated Beta Test agenda (which I installed unprotected and simply advanced on my next turn after Graham left it untouched, assuming it was something like Pad Campaign), which then let me draw 3 cards and install any ICE from them at zero cost. That was it then – I drew Heimdall 1.0 and another nasty bioroid ICE and shoved them into a remote server. I knew Graham didn’t really have the resources to get past them (even though they could be clicked through rather than broken, with both of them there it would take 5 clicks to break all the subroutines without cost… which just isn’t possible), so I could install and advance agendas behind them in relative safety, and I scored another 3 easy points.

I hadn’t counted on Graham playing Stimhack, so he did manage to break through my dual bioroid ICE protection to steal a 2-point agenda, but he cleared out his funds and took a brain damage in order to do it, so I just spent the next couple of turns advancing another agenda for the win.

I do really like Android: Netrunner, so I hope I can convince Graham (or indeed anyone) to play another few rounds some time. It was a bit slow this time, because I was rusty on some of the rules and timings and Graham was new to the game, but it’s such a “switched on all the time” game that it never dragged for me.

Great session, as always. I won’t be at the next one, but John Sh and I are hoping to fit in a two-player Shipyard at some point soon.

All photos by Olly, 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!