Monthly Archives: August 2015

Newcastle Gamers – Saturday 8 August 2015

A ridiculously long and awkward bout of “what shall we play” at the beginning of the session resulted in Roll for the Galaxy having its inaugural (for me) five-player outing. Result? It’s the same… but bigger! Although there’s more opportunity to have more phases happening in each round, we usually had three or even just two phases per round. Quite a few dice planned to sponge off someone else’s phase selection ended up unused and back in the cup for the next round, only for the same thing to happen again. Only once did I judge it correctly and get a couple of handy Produce dice activated by someone else before the Ship phase I’d selected did its job for cash and VPs. Of course, the inverse was also true that very same round, allowing others to sponge off my Ship phase and gain even more VPs than I did. Ho hum.

Olly had a ridiculous starting faction power (Genetics Lab) giving him $2 for each green goods die he had at the end of each Produce phase. That meant he went heavily into constructing green worlds, gaining more green dice, getting loads of cash by producing them as goods, shipping them from his green worlds for loads of VPs and then buying them all back into his cup to do it all again the next round. Once that engine had gone into full overdrive, I just ploughed onwards to build some decent-value developments and worlds in an effort to bring the game to a close before Olly ran away with it. John, meanwhile, had hit on a few “6+” developments, so I also wanted to prevent him from getting even more bonus VPs before the game ended. Propaganda Campaign let me throw loads of dice into building stuff and I ended the game pretty quickly once I’d made that decision. It wasn’t quickly enough though…

Final score – Olly: 54 / John: 47 / Me: 47 / Camo: 30 / Patrick: 26

It was pretty clear who’d played before from the scores, although both Camo and Patrick put in creditable performances and started predicting other people’s phase choices pretty well. This is one of my favourite games at the moment, with just the right balance of rule simplicity, decision complexity and (limited) player interaction, and it never outstays its welcome.

Staying with the same five players, Olly brought out 20th Century by Vladimír Suchý. (I love typing his name; I just enjoy ṗłãŷḯŋğ ẘḭţħ ŧḩȅ ṧƥɛçîǟḽ ċḣɐṝḁȼẗểɍȿ.) I have a copy of his game League of Six, which I’ve yet to play… but I think a lot of the concepts from League of Six have ended up in the later 20th Century, tweaked and refined into an immediately more engaging game.

20th Century is a game of auctions. There are auctions for tiles, which isn’t anything special, but that’s soon followed in each round by an auction for the least awful disaster. Yes, there’s an auction in which everyone’s bidding up and up in order to have the least horrendous thing happen to them. It’s glorious. However, it’s an auction game, and I’m pretty awful at auction games. I’m terrible at judging the value of things in auction games and even worse at judging how to manipulate others into taking tiles I don’t want at prices that force them out of the auctions I do want to win… Yeah, no matter how much I like some auction games, I generally don’t do well in them.

Caption

The slightly blurry situation in the final round. Camo (yellow) did extremely well with canny placement of bridges, allowing him to move people ridiculous distances.

In the end, I don’t think the auctions themselves were my downfall; I just didn’t concentrate on going for quite the right things at the right times. I wanted recycling centres to keep my land tiles fresh and clean for the final scoring (and I did indeed manage to clear every last rubbish cube in the last round), but I ended up with probably one too many and not quite enough VP-generating cities. Camo, on the other hand, went for VP cities all the way from the beginning. I wasn’t convinced he’d be able to keep up with the cash/science/recycling demands, but he ended up managing admirably and ploughing on to victory.

Final score – Camo: 132 / John: 124 / Me: 111 / Olly: 94 / Patrick: 50

There was a lot to think about in 20th Century, from the auctions to the odd brinkmanship game of ‘dropping out’ of the tile auction in order to get a decent extra tile at a reasonable price, to the changing scoring conditions from round to round, to the Carcassonne-esque tile-placement and network-building game within your own little settlement. Although it’s not a top-tier game that I’d want to play as much as possible, it’s a good enough game that I’d happily play it again, and soon.

Patrick left at this point and some new people turned up, so Camo played dutiful host and went off to Takenoko them into submission while Olly, John and I set up La Granja. After a successful first run in July, I was keen to see how it played with more than two; as it turned out, I wasn’t as enamoured with La Granja second time round, but that may have been more to do with how tired I was than with the game itself.

One of the beauties of La Granja is that it’s so simple to explain to experienced gamers. As a design, it references (and blatantly ‘borrows’ from) so many other designs and standard eurogame features that you can explain it almost in a kind of shorthand. The sequence-of-play cards really help as well, with relatively simple iconography moving the process on. The upshot of all this was that we got started pretty quickly and played the game in 90 minutes or so.

Another farming euro taking up nearly a whole massive table.

Another farming euro taking up nearly a whole massive table.

This time, I tried to just go for market barrows as much as possible, trying to rake in points in every single round at the expense of actually improving my farm – i.e. I had no engine to speak of. Big mistake. It turns out that doing well in La Granja pretty much requires some work on the farm, so I did pretty terribly. John and Olly both had the right idea though, with Olly picking up a couple of very useful craft-building tiles in the mid-game, giving him income of 3 silver and 1 trade commodity every round for the last three rounds or so; my single craft-building tile just gave me an extra donkey and an extra siesta hat each round. I also neglected the roof-building route to VPs because I was playing an almost cash-free game, meaning I missed out on 6–10 handy VPs. Basically, I messed up big style, typified by the final round in which I was one delivery short of about 8 VPs.

Final score – John: 69 / Olly: 65 / Me: 49

Lesson learned. Next time, build an engine first!

There was just time left for a quick bash at The Game, a frankly dull-sounding cooperative counting game which turned out to be much more fun than the sum of its parts. It was a little on the long side for the amount of game therein, but we did manage to pull off a three-player win, playing all of the cards in the appropriate order to the four piles.

Substantially lighter on table space; substantially lighter on theme and gameplay; still fun!

Substantially lighter on table space; substantially lighter on theme and gameplay; still fun!

Another Newcastle session over – hopefully another two for me in August, plus extra sessions and some super-heavy gaming as well!

All photos by John Sh and Olly, shamelessly stolen from the Newcastle Gamers Google+ page. Newcastle Gamers is on the second and last Saturday of every month (except when it isn’t), 4:30 pm until late (or sometimes a 10:00am start) at Christ Church, Shieldfield, Newcastle upon Tyne!

July – There Were Games

Yes, there were indeed gamings, including one session at Newcastle Gamers which I haven’t blogged about so far. It’s been another busy month, including a ramping up of volunteering responsibilities (which is good because I can – just about – handle it), a family holiday (which is good because holidays are apparently A Good Thing) and watching the Tour de France (which is good because it’s the Tour), which hasn’t left a huge amount of time for blogging. And so to a whistle-stop round-up of the month…

July started with a first play of La Granja, which I’d been on the lookout for since its original release in 2014. Who can resist another farming game? It’s a bit of everything euro, with the rulebook going as far as naming the specific design “influences” (that’s in scare quotes because in reality they’re directly lifted from the original games): Stefan Feld’s Luna, Carl Chudyk’s Glory to Rome and more. It could have ended up feeling pasted together, but it holds up really well and was a hugely enjoyable game. I was a bit slow getting stuff onto market barrows, concentrating too hard on craft buildings at the start, which was reflected in the fact that John beat me 65–62. The bonus tiles from craft buildings don’t necessarily cancel out the fact you’re short on VPs!

We also managed to fit in Welcome to the Dungeon that evening, with John’s wife Averil making us up to three. It’s not entirely my sort of game (push-your-luck bluffing), but I preferred it with three compared to the four-player game a few days later…

Talking of which, Newcastle Gamers on the 11th was a treat, starting with Panamax. Sharing two designers and a certain degree of “complex play from relatively simple rules” with my beloved Madeira (which I’ll surely get a chance to play for a second time soon), Panamax uses dice-based action selection to create a surprisingly tight and brutally interactive game of goods shipping.

Olly and Graham had both played before, while John and I were fresh to it. I hadn’t quite twigged some of the details from a single read-through of the rules, so it wasn’t until about halfway through the first of the three rounds that I realised why I might want to do some things rather than others – the importance of getting my own boats through the Panama canal suddenly became clear. I hit lucky with some early contracts and my initial financial advisor card tied in well with that, giving me bonus points for each flag token.

Hello sailor!

Hello sailor!

It took a round or two to get a handle on all the movement options as well, including grouping and re-grouping as ships move through the canal. It doesn’t matter how many times it’s explained; it’s not until I’m actually doing it that I understand all the implications. And I still ended up getting it wrong in the final round, leaving many of my goods and ships pointlessly stuck in the middle of the canal.

By the end, Olly had beautifully manipulated the relationship between his company and his personal fortune, pushing him to a comfortable victory. (John, meanwhile, had misunderstood his financial advisor card and thus played the whole game to the wrong goal. Oops!)

Final score – Olly: 127 / Me: 107 / Graham: 86 / John: 58

Great game – I’d definitely play it again. After a quick Welcome to the Dungeon (as stated before, not quite as good with four as with three – not enough information for my taste to make sensible decisions), we attempted the “short” version of Uwe Rosenberg’s Ora et Labora. This was supposed to take one hour; in reality it took just over three, including a rules explanation. Regardless, I enjoyed it much more than I expected to, although it left me with an unshakeable fear of the full-length game.

Another Rosenberg game that takes up a whole massive table.

Another Rosenberg game that takes up a whole massive table.

The short game is ridiculously generous with free goods, getting steadily more valuable as the game progresses through its 13 rounds. I spotted some of the late-game free goods a few rounds in advance and figured out a way to just (and only just) make two Wonders in the final couple of rounds, utilising the start player’s double-action ability. That was enough to tip me over the edge for a win.

Final score – Me: 211 / Olly: 202 / Graham: 169 / John: 168

Again, a really fun game (albeit a bit long for a “short” version) which edged me one step closer to having played all of the big-box Rosenberg games. Spoiler: I’ll complete that challenge in about two paragraph’s time.

A few days later, I teamed up with John and Averil to save the world in Pandemic, playing with the In the Lab expansion for the first time. I thought the lab challenge added a really nice new element to the game, both thematically and mechanically, which has tempted me to buy the upgrade kit for my own original-edition copy of Pandemic so I can get the latest expansions for myself. Anyway, we lost, but – in typical Pandemic fashion – only just. The yellow disease had been a problem from the outset, and the outbreaks got away from us just as the player deck came to an end.

And then the final gaming evening of the month was At the Gates of Loyang with John, completing my “big Rosenberg” checklist. Agricola, At the Gates of LoyangCavernaFields of ArleGlass RoadLe HavreMerkatorOra et Labora… I’ve played them all now. And what a treat this one was! Right up there with his very best, full of tight resources, tough decisions, brain-burn… and the oddest card-drafting phase I’ve come across. Still, it worked well and I got my head round the game quickly enough.

We both ended up at 17 on the Path of Prosperity, so it came down to the tiebreaker: cash. John had 1 coin left over; I had none. A win for John, even though I helped him figure out how to end up with 1 coin left. 😉

Not a bad month for games, but I’m hoping August will be even better with (hopefully) three Newcastle Gamers sessions and as much extra gaming as I can fit in.