Monthly Archives: September 2015

Newcastle Gamers – Saturday 12 September 2015

Madeira! Finally! I’d almost shot myself entirely in the foot by (several times) describing it as “the heaviest euro I own” and referencing my one previous play with John, after which we’d both felt like our brains were dripping out of our ears. Luckily, neither Álvaro nor Daniel had heard any of that and Olly was up for the challenge, so four-player Madeira it was.

An hour for rules (hardly surprising – there’s an astonishing amount to understand before you can even start to understand anything… if that makes any sense) and we were off. The initial layout of Crown Requests on the turn-order board was a bit odd – lots of rows with multiples of the same tiles, so some choices always seemed more tempting than others, regardless of the die rolls. My first round was spent (apart from re-explaining various bits of rules, partially because I’d muffed the original explanation a bit and partially because… well, it’s just a bit complex) aiming towards collecting some cash to score the Crown Request that awards up to 15 VPs for spending up to 15 reals. On the side, I was building up a sort of engine to make sure I could get enough resources to focus on some shipping later on and also pay for all the workers I’d shoved into fields. That was mainly a question of getting plenty of workers in fields in region 2, then always sending an action marker to Moinho in order to get 5 bread.

See all my red workers in the fields? See my red square action marker in Moinho? That's my engine, that is.

Round 2, in the daylight. See all my red workers in the fields? See my red square action marker in Moinho? That’s my engine, that is.

Álvaro, being the savvy gamer he is, quickly cottoned on to ways to aim towards his scoring goals, and successfully minimised his Pirate tokens throughout. He spent a lot of the game with a lot of workers in the cities, using them in every round to gain resources. I, on the other hand, was mainly gaining resources through harvesting fields, which tied in with using the Moinho building action for bread. Olly was worrying much less about bread, having gained very early in the game the Guild Favour that allowed him to move up the Windmill track (and thus feed an extra mouth per round) every time it was used.

Game end, daylight gone. Note how heavily everyone's gone for the cities... except me.

Game end, daylight gone. Note how heavily everyone’s gone for the cities… except me.

To cut a long story (or about two-and-a-half hours of game) short, Álvaro pipped me to the win. Slightly better management of the City Watch space and/or sending my ships to different colonies could have tipped it the other way, but there it was. Olly was a fair way back (after slightly fluffing the first round, which may have been my fault in the rules explanation – apologies) and Daniel got half of the winning score.

Final score – Álvaro: 95 / Me: 89 / Olly: 65 / Daniel: 47

Madeira is such a very me game. Lots of different things to manage in different areas of the board, opportunities for minor (and only minor) player screwage, opportunity/cost analysis throughout (huge in this game), slightly random but not too random… it’s all there. Yes, it’s heavy and no, you probably won’t play it well the first time round, but for me it’s absolutely worth the effort.

Next? Roll for the Galaxy! As if I hadn’t had enough of it recently (and I really hadn’t), out it came again – and this time, to a table of people who’d played it before. Except I really should have had a quick summary run-through of the rules because it turned out Daniel had either been mis-taught the game or had forgotten big chunks of it since the one time he’d played. Either way, it took a few rounds to iron out the bugs, but we just about got there in the end.

Yet another picture of Roll for the Galaxy on my blog.

Yet another picture of Roll for the Galaxy on my blog. This one prominently features my arm and my Wispa.

I started the game with the Galactic Renaissance development on my stack and a few worlds with middling values, so I decided to go heavy on Produce/Ship to stack up the VP chips. It almost didn’t work out, with a long mid-game lull as I slowly built Galactic Renaissance and tied up a whole bunch of dice therein. But once it was completed, I powered back into the Produce/Ship groove (and got a couple of nicely timed benefits from other people’s phase selections) and the game was over pretty quickly with a narrow win for me.

Final score – Me: 37 / Olly: 34 / Álvaro: 33 / Daniel: 30

Daniel left and was replaced by John for a game of Onward to Venus. The first time I played this, I was swept along by the theme and managed to overlook the game’s heavy reliance on random elements. This time, it rankled a bit more. I didn’t get as screwed by turn order as I had last time; rather, there often wasn’t much to aim for, with Mars and Venus being oddly devoid of factories and mines for most of the game.

I settled a little British colony in the outer reaches of the solar system and left the others to battle over most of the inner stuff between themselves. I timed badly an excursion to Mars in the third period (and didn’t leave enough protection for my new mine), meaning Álvaro could swoop in to take advantage of the Tension marker and take it from me, taking control of Mars. And… that was about it. It kind of felt like nothing much happened. Oh, I might have taken control of Earth. I honestly can’t recall.

Stuff going on across many worlds.

If there’s one thing that Onward to Venus is, it’s hungry for table space.

All in all, I feel like I don’t need to play Onward to Venus again. Don’t get me wrong – it’s fine. But there are so many games that are better than “fine”.

Final score – Álvaro: 40 / Me: 28 / Olly: 25 / John: 15

And that was that. One of those rarities at Newcastle Gamers: a whole evening of games I’d played before. It’s nice to have that once in a while!

Photos by Olly and John, 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!

August Gaming Mega-Roundup

Well, August got away from me. Way too much going on, what with school holidays, work responsibilities and my increasingly obsessive cycling habit (Strava year-to-date stats now in the sidebar to the right, because… why not?), so here’s a brief roundup of everything except the early-August Newcastle Gamers session I already covered.

Corbridge Gamers – Wednesday 12 August

Another notch on the Stefan Feld bedpost… no, that sounds wrong. You know what I mean. I played Notre Dame for (amazingly) the first time. It was a fun little game, not quite up to the standard of his more recent work, but the modular board is an ingenious piece of physical design. I think John played a better game, but I managed a crushing win (65 points to John’s 49) entirely by exploiting one particular card that came out at the end of a round. Still a few Felds to go until I’ve played them all.

We also played the “High Form” of Tash Kalar: Arena of Legends, which I think of as a nice little abstract to fill a few minutes, but is actually a crushingly brain-searing spatial thinkfest. We fluffed the end-game slightly, in that I forgot to have an extra turn each after I’d reached 9 points, but it wouldn’t have affected my victory. As it was, I was 9–4 up. Having only played this game a couple of times, I really like it, but it doesn’t seem to engender the same sort of enthusiasm in my opponents.

EklundFest 2015 – Friday 21 August

Olly and Graham took a half-day off work to come over to my otherwise empty house (hooray for grandparents) and get in some brutal simulation time with a couple of Phil Eklund designs. First up – Bios: Megafauna.

Graham and I were proto-mammals while Olly was the sole dinosaur player. After spending quite a bit of the rules explanation stressing the importance of preparing for Catastrophes, it took ages for the first one to hit. We’d spent quite some time populating the board with biomes and creatures eating stuff in the biomes (and a few creatures eating the creatures eating stuff in the biomes), and then… BOOM. Level 4 Catastrophe. Nearly everything died, leaving us with one creature each on the map, and me stranded in the corner of the board across the Atlantic Rift. With not enough marine biomes and a relatively cool world (leaving empty spaces as land rather than sea), I was totally stuck. I could have evolved an extra marine DNA letter and deliberately died out in order to start again elsewhere, but I actually managed to set up a few creatures on the map and use a genotype card (points for later) to start a new species, which could then predate my other species in that area.

Graham was struggling to find things to eat (although he had some absolutely massive species, so he could migrate reasonable distances), while Olly was expanding nicely and picking up genotype cards for his fossil record. Graham and I ended up accelerating the end of the game in order to stop Olly running away with it too badly, but even so…

Final score – Olly: 39 / Me: 19 / Graham: 17

The end of the game, with barely an animal on the map. Mass extinction FTW.

The end of the game, with barely an animal on the map. Mass extinction FTW.

Bios: Megafauna is at least a game (it’s a little less brutally random than High Frontier, which revels in drawing you into a false sense of security before destroying everything you ever loved on the roll of a d6), but it’s still fairly unpredictable, especially to inexperienced players. There’s a certain degree of fun in looking at the ridiculous creatures you create (a horn-beaked dolphin with armour and a club tail, or a tiny burrowing tiger with infra-red sensor pits) and you can certainly make some confrontational choices on the board, but it does still kick you when you’re down. Again and again.

After a rules-muffed blast at the very beautiful Kigi, we had our second run this year at Greenland. We all took a different tribe from last time (Norse for me, Thule for Graham and Tunit for Olly) and it all worked out very, very differently. There were plenty of successful hunts, including lots of required doubles, triples and quadruples to take cards as trophies. That meant things had essentially been hunted to extinction, so the available biomes got fewer and fewer quite quickly. We coped better with decimations this time, although the Event cards with Elder die-offs were always a bit of a rude shock and could destroy plans on the roll of a die (the true Eklund colours showing through there).

Graham did very well in auctions for imported goods, with his daughter Peepeelee allowing him to break ties in his favour. I struggled for energy for a while, but managed to get back on top of that by sending hunters to the New World later in the game. After Olly converted to monotheism, I began to get increasingly worried that he’d send someone to convert my Norsemen, thus rendering my huge haul of trophy VPs worthless. To prevent this, I made sure I always had energy and cubes spare to create the relevant Elders in order to banish the missionary… should it even appear. In the end, he sent his missionary to Graham, but the conversion attempt in the final round wasn’t successful.

Graham and I stayed polytheistic to the end, with my trophy haul and population VPs edging him out for the victory. Olly had suffered huge population losses and hadn’t managed to recover them; as a result, he hadn’t had the manpower to bring in the iron and ivory he needed for a monotheistic victory.

Final score – Me: 52 / Graham: 44 / Olly: 11

I considered it payback for Bios: Megafauna.

We rounded off the evening with Roll for the Galaxy, in which I had an absolute shocker, Graham did well for a first game and Olly continued his 100% win-streak in Roll.

Final score – Olly: 42 / Graham: 31 / Me: 29

And then just 11 hours later…

Newcastle Gamers – Saturday 22 August

Well, I wasn’t there at the start of this all-day session, but Olly was, launching into Antiquity nearly first thing. Hats off!

I turned up around 2 pm and sat down with Nick, Gordon and David for… Roll for the Galaxy! Yes, why not play this little beauty twice in a row (albeit separated by 15 hours or so)? After teaching the game yet again, I was feeling optimistic a few rounds in. I’d built a couple of useful developments and the others were having a slower start. But then the tile-draw went against me and the “6+” developments (the ones with endgame bonus VPs) started coming out for everyone but me. Even some extended Explore-trawling through the bag wasn’t getting me anywhere – I drew ten tiles in one round and didn’t see a single 6+.

Nick and Gordon doing a fair bit better than me

Nick and Gordon doing a fair bit better than me

In the end, Nick’s combination of shipping for VPs and building medium-value developments and planets served him well. Gordon got some nice bonuses from a few 6+ developments in his tableau, while I just had to make do with what I had. David seemed to be having the sort of game I’d had the night before.

Final score – Nick: 45 / Gordon: 38 / Me: 38 / David: 20

I jumped table as Antiquity finished (Olly victorious – clearly not enough Eklund the day before to properly melt his brain) and joined John, Michael, Olly and Camo for a quick Coloretto (Olly wins again) before a five-player Last Will plus the Getting Sacked expansion.

I had memories of really enjoying Last Will the one time I’d played it (it turned out to have been two years previously); this time was no different. The concept alone is innately fun (be the first to lose all your money by doing things like taking your horse to the theatre or putting a dog in your house in order to depreciate more rapidly) and the gameplay is simple enough to not get in the way of that storytelling fun, although with enough tough choices to make it thinky where it counts.

My only real gripe this time was that had my card draw been luckier in the last couple of rounds, I could have lost substantially more money and possibly even won. The counter-argument would, of course, be that I should have gone for something that didn’t rely on the right cards coming up, and that’s fair enough. It just irks me slightly when something key hinges on something quite random. I think in those last couple of rounds I drew something like 6 or 7 companion cards just looking for a horse but didn’t get a single one. All dogs and chefs.

Olly's player board, halfway to getting sacked from his job as a journalist

Olly’s player board, halfway to getting sacked from his job as a journalist

In the end, Camo played his first game very nicely, after being the subject of some bafflement as he extended his player board further and further along the table. He pipped John to the win by a single pound of debt, while I came in third. Olly and Michael didn’t quite manage to bankrupt themselves, although Olly came very close.

Final score – Camo: -£11 / John: -£10 / Me: -£6 / Olly: £4 / Michael: £11

Michael was replaced by Vernon for Ticket to Ride: Legendary Asia, at which I performed in my usual “fine but not enough to win” way. The Legendary Asia board has a neat little “dangerous routes” mechanism whereby some routes involve trashing trains into the corner of the board as well as placing them on the route. Each trashed train is worth 2 VPs, so it’s definitely worth bearing in mind when planning a set of routes. Unfortunately, my initial ticket draw didn’t involve much in the way of dangerous routes, so I didn’t use that corner much. Vernon, on the other hand, seemed to be using it every other turn and he ended up with a huge pile of trains in the trash corner. It turned out to be a winning strategy…

Final score – Vernon: 110 / Olly: 100 / Me: 99 / Camo: 84 / John: 83

What was left of the evening was taken up with fillers (Scream MachineNo Thanks! and 6 Nimmt! – what is it with fillers and exclamation marks?) before several of us declared ourselves too worn out to continue.

Corbridge Gamers – Wednesday 26 August

The final flurry of gaming in August brought Die Burgen von Burgund (that’s The Castles of Burgundy for those of you with the English edition) back to the table for the first time in a long time. I’ve played it a lot online, but it was great to come back to the cardboard version.

As usual, I neglected animals (which was a bad idea), went heavy on the knowledge tiles (which was very handy) and kept blocking John from taking valuable mines by ensuring I was first player for the beginning of each of the first few rounds, with enough workers in hand to be able to grab the mines. And, as usual, we ended up with a close final score. A very, very close final score.

Final score – Me: 186 / John: 185

After that, Averil joined us for my first ever time playing Alhambra. All I can say is… well… it was a learning game. I didn’t get my head around the importance of the wall for scoring until near the end of the game, and I kept being just beaten to the tiles I wanted, forcing me to take second-best options just so I could attempt to keep up. We were playing with the Invaders mini-expansion, but that didn’t have too much impact on either the scoring or how any of us played. Anyway…

Final score – John: 152 / Averil: 116 / Me: 77

Not the most auspicious end to the gaming month, but there it is. At least I’ve played Alhambra now (initial thoughts: it’s… OK? Nothing special) and I might be able to pull off a better performance next time.

September’s already got off to a solid gaming start, with SnowdoniaRussian Railroads and more making an appearance, and a lot of games to come in the month. I’ll be back…

Photos by Olly and me, Olly’s 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!