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.

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