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!

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