Monthly Archives: March 2015

Newcastle Gamers – Saturday 28 March 2015

Graham and I nearly threw ourselves straight into Historia (newly acquired by me, previously played by him), but we instead decided to wait for Ali and Camo to arrive, given that it’s “their kind of game”. So… a bit of Android: Netrunner to fill the time? I couldn’t possibly refuse.

[As ever, this will be heavy on the Netrunner lingo, so skip on to the bit where we actually got round to playing Historia if you like.]

After a game we’d played the previous week (of which more in my now-seemingly-a-thing monthly gaming round-up) where I subjected Graham to a horrible, horrible Noise deck I’d grabbed from the internet and tweaked to my liking, we swapped roles and Graham ran his tweaked Kate Shaper deck against a slightly altered version of the Jinteki Replicating Perfection deck I’d played at the last Newcastle Gamers session. I’d shoved some more cheap end-the-run ice in there, to prevent the double-whammy horrorshow of unaffordability and porousness I had going on last time. That change seemed to work nicely, with R&D iced up straight away (ever wary of Maker’s Eye in a Shaper deck) and some affordable ice for a remote server drawn early too.

As seems to be the norm for both Graham and me, we were both horribly poor throughout the game; although that meant Graham was doing a solid job as the runner (keep running, keep me poor), he was also lacking the credits to break subroutines on my ice. That changed as he built his rig. I managed to get a couple of NAPD Contracts scored early for 4 agenda points in total, but Graham’s rig was looking very intimidating by the time I was considering installing another agenda. A full set of icebreakers and lots of recurring/stealth credits isn’t a very appealing sight to a corp player.

But then came the fun in my “scoring remote” (i.e. the one with the ice on it – Jackson Howard was sitting unprotected and untrashed for the whole game). Using Interns, I put Caprice Nisei from the face-up Archives into my scoring remote – so Graham knew he was in for the Psi game if he broke through the ice – and installed The Future Perfect. Just for fun, I also threw Ash 2X3ZB9CY into that server as well, guessing that Graham would be too poor to do anything about a level-4 trace. That’s exactly how it worked out so my agenda was saved, although Ash got trashed. After scraping through a few turns grubbing credits for clicks and advancing my agenda ever so horribly slowly, I managed to score it for the win, 7 to 0. It’s not like Graham didn’t successfully run on that server; he did, twice, but I twice won the Psi game. The odds were on my side though, with a 2-in-3 chance of Caprice ending the run.

Plain sleeves are so unphotogenic. That's my scoring remote on the left, Caprice and Ash still unrezzed, The Future Perfect yet to be advanced.

Plain sleeves are so unphotogenic. That’s my scoring remote on the left, Caprice and Ash still unrezzed, The Future Perfect yet to be advanced. Graham’s rig is so big I couldn’t fit it all in.

(Side note: I actually fluffed the Caprice timing, rezzing her after Graham had passed all the ice. Apparently, she needs to be rezzed before the last piece of ice is passed in order to activate at the right time. Of course, had I known that, I would have rezzed her earlier in the run and Graham knew she was there anyway, so it would have been exactly the same result.)

Having played that Replicating Perfection deck a couple of times, I don’t think it’s very me. I like the intimidation aspect of being Jinteki (is it an agenda in that remote, or some horrible trap?), but the RP glacial ice thing just doesn’t excite me. Could just be a rubbish deck (very likely), but I think I’ll try another faction for a while. Maybe it’s time for NBN fast advance…

[And maybe it’s time to stop talking about Netrunner for now.]

Camo had arrived, followed by Pete and Ali, so we had five for Historia. It’s mechanically simple so the rules explanation didn’t take too long, but I tried to make sure everybody got their heads around how the discard queue works when playing cards: at the end of each turn, you only recover the two oldest cards in your discard queue, so playing a card early in a turn can be crucial to getting it back again for the next one. Knowing that cubes are only automatically recovered every other turn is also vital.

I intended to go heavy on the Wonders from the outset, but for a while there were several of us roughly tied for number of Wonders (thus rendering a couple of Wonders useless for their owners – including one for me). Camo had chosen Australasia as his starting (4-VP) territory and expanded to the neighbouring 2-VP territory early on. 6 VPs from the map over a couple of scoring rounds put him ahead, while the rest of us squabbled and tried to deny each other points throughout Asia, Europe and North Africa. (The Americas had gone untouched in the initial setup, occupied as they were by 1-VP and 2-VP markers – possibly a strategic error!)

I sauntered along in last place, not entirely sure how I was going to push forwards, but my Era II Leader – Lorenzo il Magnifico – got me motivated to boost my Technology and concentrate on Wonders. I’d managed to pick up some Wonders that gained me things for taking the Technology action (recovered cubes, small VP bonuses) and another couple that let me recover my oldest card, so I could keep taking the Technology action again and again, boosting me up through the levels towards the pink “Utopia” scoring region.

That was my goal.

Once I’d got my Technology engine fired up, I was unstoppable. I didn’t really care about the map any more – it was all about manipulating the Wonders to aid me in my quest for Technology, VPs and staying in the pink zone. Military was only of use to get me around the little kinks at the edge of the Development Matrix (sometimes you need to go up a Military level in order to get to the next Technology level). Lorenzo got me 11 VPs altogether, finally pushing me up the rankings… which meant going down in turn order. That was OK though; my final leader was Akbar, which meant just a few more Wonders and a few more levels in Technology for a lovely 14 VPs.

There are a few of my blue cubes on the map, but they were really only there to keep other people from having sole occupancy and thus being able to score a territory. Not really part of my game plan at all.

Late game – I’ve moved into the lead. There are a few of my blue cubes on the map, but they were really only there to keep other people from having sole occupancy and thus being able to score a territory. Not really part of my game plan at all.

Camo stayed very close to me on my journey into pinkness and joined me at the singularity (6-VP bonus each), while Graham dominated Military for much of the game, spending a long time as a Barbarian with its handy cube-recovering ability at the end of each turn. Ali and Pete weren’t far behind, with Pete joining Graham on the top row for the other 6 VP bonus option.

Pete's ghostly hand starts the clearing-up process, but not before I capture the final score and final positions on the Development Matrix.

Pete’s ghostly hand starts the clearing-up process, but not before I blurrily capture the final score and final positions on the Development Matrix. Neither of my photos does any justice to the fabulous artwork on the board and the action cards. (The advisors and leaders are in a slightly different – tackier – style.)

Final score – Me: 128 / Camo: 113 / Graham: 102 / Pete: 95 / Ali: 90

Being able to play more than one card per action round is huge, and being first to Technology level 13 – thus being able to play three cards per round – was even bigger. My huge collection of Wonders (12 of them by the end of the game) allowed me to perform all sorts of card- and cube-manipulating shenanigans. There was a turn in Era III where I played three cards, recovered them all and ended up with more available cubes than I’d started with.

But even better than all that was hitting the pink zone when others were still in yellow or green. Scoring 7 VPs per turn when others are scoring 1 or 2 – over about six turns of the game – really mounts up. Sure, everyone else moved into higher scoring areas by the end of the game, but the damage was done. Still, before the final turn, the VP positions were pretty tight. It was that last burst of Wonder-stuff and scoring 14 VPs from Akbar that sealed it for me.

I’m going to try something completely different next time – maybe Military-heavy, or perhaps just trying to keep Military and Technology fairly even. I’d like to try out the optional Events deck (for added chaos and mayhem) and figure out how much each set of advisors changes the character of each civilisation as well – some seemed better suited to certain approaches than others. Maybe I just struck lucky with my US advisors!

Historia went down well with all the players, although a few of us felt the last era dragged a tiny bit. I also felt that – once I’d chosen my utopian path – I was playing a bit of a solitaire game. My interactions were minimal, mainly involving lamenting the fact that other people chose the Wonders I wanted before I got a chance to choose them. And that last point illustrates the importance of turn order. Pete wondered afterwards if it was best to try to lag behind in VPs for the first half of the game (thus being better off in turn order), before ramping everything up once the engines are in place. I can see some potential for the game to become a little scripted in that way, but it would be a fair few plays yet before that became a problem.

Two games, two wins, and the night was drawing to a close. People seemed to be very aware of the impending loss of an hour overnight, so there was only one table still playing at 11 pm. I’ll hopefully be able to get along to one of the upcoming all-day sessions in early April.

All photos by me, shamelessly stolen from the Newcastle Gamers Google+ page. Newcastle Gamers is usually on the second and last Saturday of every month (although there’s an extra one in April), 4:30 pm until late (unless it’s a special all-day session like the first two Saturdays in April…) at Christ Church, Shieldfield, Newcastle upon Tyne!

Newcastle Gamers – Saturday 7 March 2015

Having had a month off, it seemed to take ages for this session to roll around. I’d tentatively prearranged an Android: Netrunner game with Graham, and that’s how we kicked off the evening. (We both knew full well that if we started with anything else, we’d never get round to Netrunner, especially with Graham being limited to about three hours at the club.)

[WARNING: Netrunner-lingo-heavy bit coming up. Feel free to skip on to Suburbia.]

I’d built my decks in January and hadn’t got round to playing them yet, so I’d pretty much forgotten what was in them. I knew the general strategies I’d gone for though, and my Jinteki deck (Replicating Perfection, glacial-style) should have been pretty straightforward to just pick up and play. It didn’t quite turn out that simple. My initial draw was three agendas and two high-cost ICE (Ashigaru and Tollbooth, costing 9 and 8 respectively), so there was no way I was going ahead with that – I couldn’t protect HQ from a first-turn run. The mulligan ended up slightly better, giving me a Tsurugi which I could just about afford to rez if Graham decided to run against it.

Graham was running a Shaper deck (Kate, full of Stealth cards), so I was hoping he’d spend a while building a decent rig so I could get my glacier up and running. Instead, he played like a Criminal, running early and often, grabbing a Nisei MK II 2-point agenda early on. I did manage to hit him with some punitive damage (Komainu and Tsurugi here and there trashed some of Graham’s most useful cards), but the ICE was still too porous and he was accessing all too often. I was suffering from poor economy, unaffordable ICE and a handful of agendas. I’d just about managed to get my central servers protected when Graham hit his stride, Professional Contacts giving him enough cards and credits to install Stealth breakers and hardware while being horribly rich.

I kept throwing up fresh ICE to keep Graham’s funds down (although simultaneously doing the same to me), and somehow managed to score a Fetal AI and Future Perfect to take me up to 5 agenda points. Meanwhile, Graham had taken an NAPD Contract for another 2 points. 5–4… the next agenda scored/stolen was likely to win the game. I put another NAPD Contract into my well-ICEd (and all unrezzed ICE too) remote server and advanced it twice.

Graham ran the obligatory central server (Replicating Perfection requires a run on a central server before the runner can run on a remote server – lovely for the corp player, horrible for the runner), spending a few of his massive pile of credits before running on my agenda-filled remote. I had Komainu, then Tollbooth; I couldn’t afford to rez both, but I did the maths. Komainu remained face-down, but I rezzed Tollbooth, which took Graham down to 3 credits after he’d paid the toll and broken the subroutines. He accessed the server… and, of course, couldn’t steal NAPD Contract without another credit.

And that was the game. An easy advance for me on my turn took me up to 7 points and the win.

As ever, I loved playing Netrunner. I got a few ideas on how to tweak my Jinteki deck (could do with more cheap ICE and some ways to trash runner resources), and saw a Stealth runner deck working as it should. On top of all that, Graham very kindly gave me his extra “two-ofs” from his second core set, so I’ve now got some more solid options for deckbuilding (Astroscript! Psychographics! Magnum Opus!). One of these days I’ll make it along to the Monday-night Netrunner sessions at the Mile Castle.

[Netrunner lingo ends.]

Next up was Suburbia, with Graham and I joined by Camo (who had sat watching the latter half of our Netrunner game with a mixture of intrigue, enjoyment and bemusement). I hadn’t played for quite a while and, with Graham new to the game, we didn’t include the Suburbia Inc expansion.

It was a slightly unusual tile selection, with relatively few blue commercial tiles and loads of green residential tiles in the A stack. I stuck religiously to my tried-and-tested blue-blue-blue-blue-blue adjacency combo early in the game to get my income up, but it was slow going with the blue tiles so few and far between and I had to take a couple of lakes (thus counting myself out of the Aquaphobian public goal for fewest lakes). Meanwhile, Camo and Graham both took a Homeowner’s Association and its attendant instant cash boost.

As the game developed through the B stack, I was able to afford some reputation-boosting tiles. They gave me the population growth I needed, but not as quickly as the others, who were mainly increasing their populations directly through green residential tiles. There was plenty of counting of money stacks (“Can you afford that tile on your next turn?”) and tactical lake-building (“Fine then, I’ll trash it so you can’t have it.”), plus investment markers on both Homeowner’s Association tiles. Graham’s was the only investment marker he played in the whole game, which let me breathe a sigh of relief – my private goal was Employer (+15 population if I played the fewest investment markers; I hadn’t played any, and didn’t in the whole game).

My winning borough (most of it, anyway) is bottom-left, with Graham's second-place borough bottom-right and Camo playing yellow up at the top-left.

My winning borough (most of it, anyway) is bottom-left, with Graham’s second-place borough bottom-right and Camo playing yellow up at the top-left. You can see that my heavy-on-the-blue strategy and Graham’s heavy-on-the-green strategy paid off.

We eventually hit the “One More Round” tile quite a long way down the C stack, by which point both Camo and Graham had been battling over the Miscreant public goal (lowest reputation) for a few rounds. That meant their populations had been slipping backwards at the end of each turn for a while, although Graham had offset that by going for tiles with big population boosts in the first place. Camo’s game had fallen to bits, which was evidenced by the final score. After scoring goals (I think Graham got two public goals plus his private one, while I took the other public one and scored my private one too; Camo scored no goals, if I remember correctly) I had won convincingly, although scoring 1 population per 5 money crept Graham substantially closer to my score. He’d had quite the cash engine by the end of the game.

Final score – Me: 124 / Graham: 117 / Camo: 53

I think Camo felt a suitable level of shame at that performance, especially given that he’d won his last game of Suburbia. It was, as always, a very fun game and Graham enjoyed his first play a lot. I enjoyed it too after a long break, and the intervening time had refreshed the game a bit for me – the last few times I’d played had all been against new players and I’d been on top form, so I’d utterly destroyed everyone each time.

We had a newcomer sitting with us throughout the C stack – another John (John B, not to be confused with the other John B, our chairman) – and we lost Graham but gained Pete and John Si. After a bit of umming and ahhing over game choice (John B was a relative newcomer not just to the club but to board games as a whole), we settled on Puerto Rico. After all, I reasoned, I played it the first time I came to Newcastle Gamers.

There’s not much to say about this game of Puerto Rico (especially given that I’m writing this nine days later and can’t remember much), but suffice to say that as fifth in starting player order I got a corn plantation and thus went for some early shipping for VPs. I also went for coffee as my cash crop (no one else went for it so early), but got locked out of the trading house a couple of times and ended up twice being a single doubloon short of what I wanted during a Builder action. The second time, I plumped for a Wharf given that I couldn’t quite get a 10-cost large building, which led to a few extra VPs from the last round of shipping but it wasn’t enough.

A very blurry and uninformative picture of the table. I'm at the bottom-right, in case that helps.

A very blurry and uninformative picture of the table. I’m at the bottom-right, in case that helps.

After a few rounds, John B absolutely got the hang of it and realised how much his action choices affected everyone else at the table, and he ended up an admirable joint last with Camo. I had a perfectly decent 24 VPs from shipping alone, but only 19 from buildings. John Si and Pete, meanwhile, had played well and had nicely balanced player boards with large buildings and plenty of bonus VPs. Victory to Pete, with a very handsome 52 VPs.

Final score – Camo: 37 / John B: 37 / Me: 43 / John Si: 48 / Pete: 52

And then Ticket to Ride: Europe to end the night. Lots of the crucial length-1 routes went straight away (and I haven’t played the Europe map enough to necessarily know which those routes are) and I’d kept my long ticket at the start of the game. That’d often be a bad choice, but two of my other tickets were in the same sort of NW–SE line, so I managed to make the long ticket which set me up well for the longest-train bonus.

Of course, that bonus is only 10 points so it wasn’t quite up to scratch against the others who’d taken lots of tickets (and finished most of them), but I’d also managed to pick off a few choice length-6 routes towards the end of the game, which left me in second place rather than flailing around as I suspected I might have been. I don’t have a record of the exact final scores, but I do know that John Si won on 138, while I was around 120ish. Pete and John B were both around 110ish and Camo brought up the rear on about 100.

A slightly earlier finish than usual for me, but it was a natural end to an excellent evening’s gaming.

All photos by me, shamelessly stolen from the Newcastle Gamers Google+ page. Newcastle Gamers is usually on the second and last Saturday of every month (although this one was a week early and we’ve got three sessions in April…), 4:30 pm until late (unless it’s a special all-day session…) at Christ Church, Shieldfield, Newcastle upon Tyne!

My February in Games

No Newcastle Gamers for me during February, and a bout of the nastiest illness I’ve ever had (tonsillitis coupled with hand, foot and mouth disease, for that bacterial–viral double-whammy) limited most of my other gaming opportunities too, but there were a couple of solid gaming sessions with John S in Corbridge.

At the beginning of the month, we played Keyflower, with the Farmers expansion. It was my first Keyflower in about a year, and my first ever with the Farmers, but there’s something so natural about the game that I didn’t need much in the way of rules-refreshment and Farmers only adds a couple of new mechanisms.

It was a bit of an oddity of a game, mainly because every single green meeple came into play. Most of them ended up in my village as part of a massive meeple population (meepulation?), because I was building towards some big winter-tile bonuses from green meeples and sets of three meeples. I kept using green meeples to activate the green-meeple-gathering hexes in my own village, thus locking John out  of those hexes because he didn’t have enough green meeples… and so the cycle continued until the box of green meeples was exhausted.

My village during final scoring. Lots of points from the (promo) Emporium and

My village during final scoring. Lots of points from the (promo) Emporium and Key Market.

John played a much more ‘normal’, rounded game, but it wasn’t quite enough to offset my big winter scoring (even taking into account that I’d misremembered a scoring rule) and I took the win, 74–68. As ever, I really enjoyed it. My favourite game I don’t own.

John's Pigville. This is how a normal village looks.

John’s final village. This is how a normal village looks.

The other excellent session involved a Stefan Feld game I’d somehow never got around to playing – Amerigo. Quite how I’d never played it is beyond me, given that (a) it’s a Feld, and (b) it’s got a massive great gimmicky cube tower in it.

It also ended up as an odd session, because the random board layout left us with an archipelago almost entirely bisected by a massive island. It was the only ‘large’ island in the game, and one of the only islands not to be fully built up by the end of the game. Still, it didn’t bother me, and I thoroughly enjoyed my first play of Amerigo. In typical Feld style, there’s always a valid-feeling choice on every turn, and the real meat of the game is in trying to figure out which choice is actually the good one. I think I squandered a couple of turns here and there, and I wished I’d stocked up on cannonballs instead of going for a more immediately appealing option early in the game – that could have saved me a good 12 points lost through piracy and possibly won me the game. Instead, John showed his experience and won 156–146.

love the cube tower too. Great use of an existing mechanism.

We also managed to fit in games of Patchwork (the least Rosenberg-feeling of any Uwe Rosenberg game I’ve played, but still good fun) and BraveRats (which was… fine, if a little inelegant – I don’t expect a 16-card microgame to need a combat results table).

And that was pretty much my February in board games. Not much action at all.

But during my recovery from the aforementioned devil-plague, I found myself back at the controls of Crusader Kings II on my computer. Having not played for at least a year, I’d forgotten just how much fun it is, especially when your character has traits like ‘Lunatic’ and you get events like this:

I also introduced The Pants Act, banning everyone from wearing pretty much anything from the waist down.

I also introduced The Pants Act, banning everyone from wearing pretty much anything from the waist down.

But beyond the ridiculousness… it’s a great game with huge breadth and depth, especially with some of the later expansions and additions to the base game mechanisms. The down side is that it’s a massive time sink – to play a normal game from 1066 to 1453 apparently takes 30 to 40 hours, and I’ve barely gone over a century in any of my games. Given that the Charlemagne expansion takes the start date back to 769, I can’t imagine I’ll ever play a game that covers the full possible span.

Still, I’m having fun just pootling around in the 12th century, marrying my children and close relatives off to (a) distant kings so I can call on their new lieges’ massive armies; (b) next-door neighbours so I can more easily expand my realm; and (c) just occasionally… each other. There’s still only a smallish chance of their children having the ‘Inbred’ trait…