Monthly Archives: May 2015

Newcastle Gamers – Saturday 9 May 2015

Kicking off in fine style with Brass! This was the first time I’d sat down to Brass without feeling like I needed a full rules rundown (although I’d forgotten a few of the finer points… and I can never remember that weird Birkenhead rule) and the first time I went into it with a solid plan.

The plan was simply to get at least two or three level-2 industries on the board before the end of the canal age, with as much of a spread across Lancashire as possible, and preferably with one as near to Manchester as possible. Spend as little as possible (ideally nothing) on the last turn before the railway age in order to be first in turn order… then spend £30 on building four VP-lucrative railways around Manchester. Not much of a plan – and a lot of other stuff to fill in around it – but that’s what I was aiming for, and that’s what I managed to do. I had a coal mine in Bury and went first in the first turn of the railway age, so I built Bury–Manchester, Manchester–Bolton, Manchester–Warrington and Warrington–Liverpool. That would be 25 VPs for £30, assuming every town was filled with flipped tiles… which they eventually were.

Olly seemed to have spent most of the canal age building ironworks, which left very little opportunity for anyone else to build one, even into the railway age. That meant he got a VP boost from his emptied, flipped ironworks tiles and the iron market spent most of the railway age severely depleted. Graham did well for income early on, unlike me. I spent two turns in the red, spending £3 each time (which really wasn’t ideal) before finally getting a cotton mill shipped off via Ellesmere Port.

In fact, that sums up my experience of the whole game – I was always slightly behind where I wanted to be, occasionally making inefficient plays because I couldn’t quite do the thing I wanted to do. Twice I was just £1 short of my plans, and one of those was because of the £3 interest I’d just had to pay in the early game.

My lucky red cotton mill up in

My lucky red cotton mill up in Lancaster saved me from last place. (Note: this is the end of the game, but before final scoring. The winning score was definitely higher than 34.)

John Sh mastered the income track towards the end of the game, ending up with an income of £16, which allowed him to build two railways per turn (assuming there was coal on the board, anyway… which there occasionally wasn’t) even after there were no more loans allowed. That meant he crept into a couple of places where I wanted to build my railways (some very nice links around Liverpool, Ellesmere Port and down towards The Midlands), so I ended up taking a risk on shipping a cotton mill to the distant markets even when the market was perilously close to crashing. I came up lucky though, which gave me a nice chunk of VPs to end the game. It wasn’t enough to counter Olly’s greater experience and better planning, or Graham’s shipyard in Liverpool (the only one built in the whole game), but I felt like I’d finally got the hang of this excellent game.

Final score – Olly: 127 / Graham: 126 / Me: 110 / John: 103

Camo joined us for my first ever game of 7 Wonders (played with the Leaders expansion to add a bit more strategy). It turns out there’s not much to say about 7 Wonders – it just kind of… happens. I was attempting to go for science cards, and had drafted a couple of leaders that augmented that aim, but not many of them made it round to me. It turned out that Graham, sitting to my right, was also going for science cards and he grabbed lots of them when we were drafting clockwise. Olly, on my left, was clearly taking as many VP-rich blue cards as he could. In true 7 Wonders style, I didn’t really know or care what John and Camo were doing, because I wasn’t next to them. They seemed to have some sort of preposterous arms race going on, which the rest of us largely stayed out of (although I picked up a couple of military strength to get me a few points in ages II and III).

With my science strategy going largely pear-shaped, I concentrated on completing my wonder. As Gizah, that netted me a handy 15 VPs in total, and I finally managed to scrape together a set of four identical science cards for 16 VPs. It wasn’t a bad showing for my very first game, but it wasn’t quite enough to match up to Graham’s science-tastic civilisation.

Final score – Graham: 66 / Me: 65 / Olly: 58 / John: 57 / Camo: 52

It's colourful on the table, I'll give it that.

It’s colourful on the table, I’ll give it that. My beautiful stack of science cards is obliterated by the reflected light in the top-left. Graham’s winning bunch of green is bottom-left.

7 Wonders… hmmm. I guess it’s OK, and I’d certainly play it again, but I can see it’s a game that takes a fair amount of familiarity in order to get the best from it. And I’m not sure I like it enough to warrant giving it enough time to get familiar with it.

We were just about to launch into Kingdom Builder when a couple of new people arrived, so Graham and I graciously (delightedly) ceded our seats to nip off for some Android: Netrunner. I finally got to play a full game with the Hayley deck I’d rustled up before the last session (I’m calling it Prepayley, for reasons which will be obvious to Netrunner players) against Graham’s new HB NEXT Design corp deck. It’s a bit intimidating to go up against a corp who can install 3 bits of ice before the game even begins, but I had confidence in my ability to get a rig and breaker suite up and running reasonably quickly.

Oh, how misplaced that confidence was. I mean, I didn’t do too badly – I stole two 3-point agendas during the game – but my deck was just not playing my way. It lulled me into a false sense of security with a very nice opening hand including Sure Gamble, Lucky Find and Replicator, but I didn’t manage to get a single Prepaid Voice Pad out. At all. And that’s one of the things the deck hinges around. That and the Lockpick / Study Guide combo to build up a code gate breaker that can eat through anything.

With economy floundering and card draw not working for me (where are you, Professional Contacts?), Graham could build up an impenetrable-looking fortress of ice while I struggled to get my breakers into play. His final flourish was a double-Biotic-Labour to advance a 5/3 agenda for victory. I have a certain amount of confidence in my Hayley deck, but I need to look at options for tutoring certain cards out of the deck if the draw isn’t going my way. Of course, then I’d need to draw the tutor cards in the first place…

A quick reshuffle of seats after Kingdom Builder had finished left John, Olly and I playing Roll for the Galaxy. Olly quickly cottoned on to the similarities to San Juan and managed to root out a couple of the “6+” developments while exploring – i.e. the ones that get you bonus VPs in the final scoring, just like the 6-cost buildings in San Juan. The difference here is that the 6+ developments also score 6 VPs just for existing, so they’re a pretty good prospect even if you don’t get too many bonus VPs out of them.

Meanwhile, I didn’t do enough exploring and left my building stacks a little too small (or empty) for much of the game, and John was going heavy on the cyan dice and cyan planets, producing and shipping in quick succession for VP chips. I managed to forget that one of my developments had a very useful power (1 fewer developer die required to build a development), so I spent more dice than I needed to and scuppered my chances a little. In reality, I just spread myself a bit too thin between different routes to VPs and didn’t do well in any of them, which was all compounded by having far too few dice on several turns. (I mitigated this from time to time by shipping from my starting yellow planet for $6, which was very handy.) Olly had a faction power that got him $4 instead of $2 when using a yellow explorer to Stock, which gave him added dice and flexibility in quite a few rounds and led to him being the one to end the game by building his 12th tile.

Final score – Olly: 54 / John: 42 / Me: 38

It takes up a surprising amount of table space for what's ostensibly a "dice game".

It takes up a surprising amount of table space for what’s ostensibly a “dice game”.

Yes, very reminiscent of those games of San Juan where I fail to get a 6-cost building out. Those 6+ developments of Olly’s were fantastic. I know I’ll be digging through the Explore option several times in the early game next time I play. And I’m sure it won’t be long before the next time – this is a really engaging game that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

All photos by John Sh 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 late at Christ Church, Shieldfield, Newcastle upon Tyne!

My April in… Singing?

Yeah, not a huge amount of gaming done outside Newcastle Gamers sessions this month. There was an excellent evening towards the end of the month when I finally got to play Bruxelles 1893 with John Sh. He’s been saying for years (or at least the 18 months or so since it came out) that it’s my sort of game, and he was spot on. Lots of things to do, a clear sense of progress and (literally) building towards the end-game, relatively simple rules underlying a complex set of interactions… yeah, that’s the stuff. Great game (with the bonus of beautiful artwork and design) and I won by a single point in a two-player game, so it’s clearly tightly designed and well balanced.

We also played Roll for the Galaxy, which had been a slightly unusual purchase for me in that it has 111 dice. I tend to prefer games with fewer dice than that – typically 111 fewer dice, in fact – but I knew there were plenty of ways to mitigate the rolls and do the things you need to do. The components are lovely, from the custom dice and bespoke dice cups to the thick, chunky tiles that make up the space empire you’re building. The game itself was quick and enjoyable; it’s a bit multiplayer-solitaire-ish, but I’ll forgive that in a short game. We also managed to fit in my first game of Red7, which was baffling and fun in that way that only Carl Chudyk seems to be able to pull off.

Apart from that one evening (and a few failed solo attempts – yet again – at the first scenario in Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island), I’ve mainly been spending the month singing. I used to do a lot of choral singing; indeed, I was a member of the National Youth Choir of Great Britain some 15 years ago and sang regularly with a local-ish choir until about 10 years ago, when life, work and geography started getting in the way of rehearsals. I’ve always kept an eye out for local choirs I might be interested in joining, but nothing’s ever managed to fit the bill. I don’t want to sound arrogant or pretentious, but once you’ve toured the world singing some of the most beautiful and complex choral music ever written with the most talented young singers in the country… singing a medley from Cats to a half-empty church hall in rural Northumberland doesn’t really do it for you. I need a challenge.

And when you’ve had a decade off singing, it stops being a “thing you do”, so people don’t know that you do it. Eventually you’re not even sure if you can do it any more.

Well, I found myself talking to a local singing teacher a few weeks ago, and mentioned my choral past. It wasn’t long before she asked me to do a little small-group singing… and then the floodgates opened. Relatively speaking, anyway. So now I’m working on some madrigals (my favourite singing thing – there’s nothing quite like one voice to a part singing Elizabethan secular songs) and some alto–tenor duets, all slated for performance some time in the late summer. I’m even working on this (maybe for performance this year, maybe next year), which is really exciting because I’ve never done anything like it:

(In case you’re wondering, I’m a tenor, so I’d be singing the short-haired guy’s part – that of Abraham.)

It’s like coming home, or meeting an old friend for the first time in a decade. I’ve just kind of picked up where I left off, and it’s really good fun. I’ve even gained about a minor third at the top end of my range as I’ve aged, as well as a little richness in my chest voice, which was all a nice surprise. I won’t witter on too much about singing here on my blog, but it’s trundling along in the background, keeping me feeling that little more… alive.

Oh, and just to round the month off nicely, I finally got to see Nick Cave live at the Sage Gateshead with second-row seats – and it was everything I’d hoped it would be. Nick Cave knows his audience and he knows what we want to hear, so it was nearly two-and-a-half hours of fan favourites: “The Ship Song”, “Up Jumped the Devil” (complete with toy xylophone interludes from Mr Cave himself), “Into My Arms”, “Red Right Hand”, “Love Letter”… it was an incredible performance.