John and I managed to convene Corbridge Gamers a few times last month. First up was Merkator, Uwe Rosenberg’s super-dry European-trading cube-pusher. From a quiet start, this ramped up quite quickly to a cubic frenzy, with each round bringing a whole bunch of tough decisions – where to move (and whether that move gains you time or costs time); which contracts to sell off in order to retain the ones you think you can fulfil; how to block your opponent(s) from getting the cubes they need to fulfil their contracts; which contracts to fulfil once you get to your destination; which building or bonus cards to buy (or whether to save the money for next round); and so on.
I went for a simple strategy of buying as many bonus cards as possible, to the point where we exhausted the whole deck. That meant I was getting bonus cubes in nearly every round towards the end of the game, helping me gain a level in contracts every time. In the end, I managed to get the Peace of Westphalia by completing a level-10 contract; that triggered the final round. I was massively helped along in the final scoring by my building which gave me an extra VP for each bonus card in my possession (I think I had 13 or so by the end). That tipped things in my favour…
Final score – Me: 81 / John: 73
I really enjoyed Merkator. There was a lot of depth hidden under a sheen of simple rules, and I successfully planned and executed a series of contract upgrades. In other words, my plan worked, which always makes me feel good about a game.
A week later, we returned to Fields of Arle, Rosenberg’s table-obliterating two-player epic of farming and resource conversion. I concentrated much more on producing and converting fabric into clothing than I did the first time round, only occasionally selling goods to build up enough food for a couple of big building purchases. I felt like I had a better handle on it this time, but clearly so did John and he got his engine going just a touch quicker than I did, leading to a narrow victory for him.
Final score – John: 102 / Me: 98½
And then towards the end of the month we played Roll for the Galaxy, which has turned into a bit of a favourite (31–28 to me; we both ended up really going for the shipping VPs, which ended the game quite quickly with relatively small tableaux), followed by Kingdom Builder, which was a bit of a surprise. I’d only played it once before and found it enjoyable but a bit… light and frothy. Not much to it. Well, this time – thanks to a perfect storm of randomly-chosen game boards from John’s big box edition – we had all sorts of exotic paraphernalia (walls! nomads! useless multi-hex bits of cardboard!) and loads of ways to think about using them.
The biggest game-changer was the walls, which essentially allowed us to occasionally ignore the adjacency rules (by walling off the relevant bit we were adjacent to) and set up camp somewhere else on the board. This played in really nicely to some of the goals we were working towards, which were about building in each of the four sections of the game board. Unfortunately, I managed to wall myself in on one of the boards, which meant that scoring 3 VPs per building on that board (my least populated board) wasn’t very lucrative and it was that scoring card that settled the final score between us – everything else had been level up to that point.
Final score – John: 100 / Me: 91
So yes, Kingdom Builder was much more enjoyable and thinky (and took a lot longer) than either of us had expected. I’d be much more inclined to play it again in the future.
And that was about it for board gaming in May. I’ve got an ongoing PBEM game of Unconditional Surrender: World War 2 in Europe, this time playing through a Mediterranean scenario covering 1940–42, but that one’s going to take ages to play through. There’s a lot of naval movement and possible interceptions to check every time someone sails from one port to another, so there’s a lot of back and forth within each turn. As it stands, my Italian forces in Libya are feeling under serious threat from the British troops in Egypt, but I’m about to get German reinforcements so the tide may soon turn…