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!

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