Monthly Archives: October 2016

Early October Gaming

Having realised I’ve skipped over an excellent evening with John learning both YINSH and The Ravens of Thri Sahashri (delightfully brain-burning and baffling respectively), I thought I’d better start catching up before I forget everything that’s ever happened. As the autumn kicks in, my chronic fatigue syndrome tends to get a bit worse, which means worse sleep and a deterioration in mental acuity. It’ll come back, but it takes a little while.

Corbridge Gamers

Wednesday evenings have become a little congested recently, with my eldest son having decided that football is his sport of choice. That means football practice 6–7 pm on Wednesdays, which starts interfering with the traditional Corbridge Gamers slot once we factor in the little things like, y’know… eating and stuff. Harrumph.

As a result of this interference, I was running very late for our first October session, but John took matters into his own hands and set up Leaving Earth before I’d even arrived. It’s like High Frontier but… more of a game. There’s still a fair bit of maths involved in working out mass vs thrust, but there isn’t the mind-numbing fuel spreadsheet-thing and there’s no “roll a 6 and everything explodes”. Instead, all risks are mitigable by testing your components before you actually set off on your journey and fuel mass is kind of integrated into the components, which are instead simply “used up” by being fired into space.

We were playing with only some of the planets available, and it was still a total table-hog even with only two players.

Space is big. Even when it's only a little bit of space.

Space is big. Even when it’s only a little bit of space.

Of course, having said that “all risks are mitigable”, I actually fired Yuri Gagarin into orbit without doing much testing, just so I could beat John to a few of our randomly-drawn scoring criteria (first human in space and first human to return from orbit, or something like that). The luck of the draw worked out – two-thirds of the Outcome cards are successes, after all – and the VPs were mine. That put me substantially ahead, so all I needed to do was fire off a probe in the general direction of Ceres in order to get enough points to win. Well, I had to successfully land it first without it exploding.

Thankfully, it’s entirely possible to do your testing after you’ve sent your probe off on its mission, so once Suicide II was on its way to Ceres, I set about pumping probes into Earth orbit and landing them again. It turned out to be a wise programme, given that several of the rockets and probes either blew up or crashed into a hillside. By the time my probe reached Ceres, all the problems had been ironed out (and the software update presumably transmitted to the probe) and I touched down gracefully for the victory.

Leaving Earth was a lot of fun, beautifully presented in a retro fashion (and, being based on a 1950s understanding of space travel, you don’t know what the Moon’s going to be like until you land on it…) and I’m looking forward to exploring more of it with more players.

A week later, John and I returned to Concordia, this time on my recently acquired Britannia map. It’s designed to be tighter and more blocking than some of the other maps, but with the option to get around the coast quite quickly by sea. I took advantage of the sea movement to get spread out, then concentrated on Brick and Food cities (while John concentrated on the potentially-more-lucrative-but-fewer-in-number Wine and Cloth cities) and picked up the Farmer and Mason cards when they came up.

With my buildings in the vast majority of Brick and Food cities, the final scoring was dominated by my Farmer and Mason cards, along with a good showing in Saturnus scoring (I was in almost every province, while John had concentrated in the south and south-west). In a nutshell, a resounding hammering by me, 125–71. Great game; it should be played more often.

Newcastle Gamers

The first Newcastle session of the month began with a return to Nippon, which I’d been keen to play since its first outing last year. I played with Olly, plus club newcomers Alba and Jordan; it was possibly a bit heavier than the games Alba and Jordan were used to, but it’s very much medium-weight rather than truly heavy and they seemed to grasp it very quickly.

I’ll come straight out with it – this game is way better at four players than two. I remember two felt too spread out on the map, with little in the way of influence interaction and not much threat of running out of space to place trains and ships. Four was nicely tight, with several occasions where I couldn’t do the thing I wanted to do because someone else had just crept in and put a high number down where I wanted to go. The worker-colour game was a bit more interesting too. Given that you want to minimise the number of colours you take (in order to reduce your wage bill when consolidating) and you can see the colours that will be added to the options when spaces are emptied… but you can’t predict exactly where they’ll end up… there was a bit of hedging of bets and frustratingly failed predictions. Exactly the sort of thing I like in a game.

A vertiginous view of the endgame

A vertiginous view of the endgame situation – photo from an awkward angle by Olly

I’d messed up some of my early placements of score multipliers, thinking I’d excel at things I actually did quite badly at, so I ended up scoring things like 5 times 1 for the knowledge track instead of 5 times 5. That alone cost me the win; Jordan had managed his score multipliers much more effectively and actually scored well for the things he’d been good at.

Final score – Jordan: 172 / Me: 171 / Olly: 171 / Alba: 97

Yes, that’s about as tight as you can get for the top three positions (although Olly had inadvertently cheated in the early game by not paying for his first factory, so he should probably have been a few points down from there). But anyway, Nippon: it’s not amazing, but it’s very good, and the weight means it’s probably easier to get it played than other games from the same designers, like Madeira or Panamax.

Alba and Jordan left and were replaced by Ali for a three-player Age of Industry on the New England map. As usual for this map, there was a scarcity of coal so things got quite expensive quite quickly, the building slots clogged up and there was a bit of overbuilding towards the end. I didn’t get quite as much coastal presence as I would have liked (and certainly not as much as the other two), but I did manage to build up a fair few higher-level industries inland and get quite a few rail connections laid in lucrative places.

Final score – Olly: 44 / Me: 43 / Ali: 36

stuff

Not enough coastal yellow

I do prefer Brass, but Age of Industry has enough differences to feel like the comparison isn’t entirely fair; it stands up well on its own merits.

Camo joined us for Kingdom Builder, in which I played with my usual lack of panache, but at least I didn’t come last. I just don’t seem to be able to play this game well, although I do always enjoy it. One of the scoring cards was for having a large number of separate blocks of settlements; Camo and Olly picked up more of the special powers that helped with that (like shooting settlements in straight lines across the map) and that was reflected in the scores.

Final score – Camo: 69 / Olly: 61 / Me: 48 / Ali: 42

That was early October. More soon – there’s an all-day session at Newcastle Gamers starting very soon, with possibilities of A Feast for OdinGreat Western Trail and all sorts of other things old and new!

Autumn Games Weekend 2016

I must be getting older. Time is rattling past at an alarming rate and it seems like only a few weeks ago I was holed up in a Northumbrian bunkhouse playing 1862EA and Terra Mystica. A couple of weekends ago, we reconvened in a Yorkshire bunkhouse for more excellent gaming in excellent company.

We began with five-player Kingdom Builder with all the Big Box bits in the mix. I managed a couple of sneaky manoeuvres with the wagon I’d picked up, but – as so often with this game – I felt hampered by annoying card draws and came a resounding fifth. Olly managed to win without really seeing it coming.

kingdom-builder

Next was an old favourite I haven’t played in literally yearsPower Grid. We played on the Korea map, which meant some interesting choices in terms of buying from the North or South markets (you can only buy from one of them in each round, and North Korea – obviously – doesn’t have uranium). I spent much of the early game early in the turn order, which generally means worst position in most parts of the round; first to auction, last to buy fuel, last to build. I was, however, the only player out of the six of us to start my network in North Korea, which meant some unfettered building in the early game.

Regardless of my poor position in turn order, I actually managed to make a reasonable wedge of money, mainly through relying on wind power. We’d had a really odd shuffle of the power plant deck, so there were high-numbered plants available to auction in the early game; I’d snaffled an OK wind plant and thus could use it to get money for nothing, powering my beautiful, isolated North Korean cities while everyone else duked it out down south.

It wasn’t enough though. Glorious though Pyongyang may be, I needed to expand my network into and through Seoul, which became incredibly expensive and pulled me back in the endgame. First or second choice in so many auctions had left me with some less-than-desirable power plants too, so I was never really in contention.

The glorious

Even in the final round and falling behind, my network (black) is still second in turn order… *sigh*

John Sh and Toby tied on 14 cities powered in the final round, with John winning on the tiebreak of remaining cash. Camo brought up the rear on 10 cities, while Olly, Graham R and I all powered 12 cities. Great game, and a real shame I haven’t played it more recently.

While Olly prepared dinner, we regrouped for The King of Frontier, in which I usually do pretty well. I really didn’t this time, although there turned out to be several illegal tile placements once we had a good look round at the end of the game, so perhaps we can pass this one off as a blip in every regard. (Graham R took a very convincing win in his first ever game.)

After eating, Olly, Ben, Toby and I settled down to Cuba Libre, the second game in GMT’s rapidly expanding COIN series. It’s by far the simplest COIN title I own (the others being Fire in the Lake and Liberty or Death), largely by virtue of being set on a small, essentially linear island, but also in the way the factions are quite clearly delineated – no complex alliances here.

As with any game of this sort of complexity and asymmetricity (yes, Wiktionary thinks that’s a word and I’m going with it), it took a good while for everyone to figure out exactly how their faction could work towards its victory condition. Olly and Toby (as M26 and Directorio respectively) had possibly the easier job – Rally/March in, perform Terror, rack up the points – and my Government faction always has a hard time in Cuba Libre, but Ben as the Syndicate had probably the greatest apparent disconnect between his victory condition and the things he could do. You need open Casinos, fine… but to open Casinos you need money, which you then spend to open the Casinos and then you’re way off the Resource requirement for victory… and then you need to spend more to dig yourself out.

After a couple of Propaganda rounds, however, everyone was getting the hang of things and people kept pushing up towards their victory conditions. As is the nature of the COIN system (at least in Cuba Libre where everything’s tight and easy to get to), it was reasonably easy to keep bashing people off their winning spot on the score track. I was never much of a threat, especially once Havana had been set Neutral; it took me the rest of the game to get it back up to Active Support again.

askjf

This looks like the second Propaganda round, so everything was still very much in flux

Toby’s Directorio was a constant threat, with the relatively simple goal of just controlling spaces and getting his bases on the map. While Olly and I were controlling him, Ben started laying down a few extra Casinos; he never quite had enough resources to get the win at the first check of a Propaganda card, but I suspected he’d take it on the final check after the last Propaganda round. And so it turned out, but only by a very narrow margin.

Final victory margins – Ben: 1 / Toby: -1 / Me: -1 / Olly: -2

Great game and very engaging throughout, even if we didn’t get to see the Frank Sinatra card. I wonder if the gents would maybe be interested in Liberty or Death next time…

Cuba Libre had actually run overnight (with a long break for sleeping, naturally), so we’re now into day two, kicking off with Agricola. Drafting from 3E–2I–2K, I ended up with a lovely looking synergy, but it had been such a long time since my last play that I wasn’t sure if I could pull it off. It turns out I could.

Delicious CLAY

Delicious CLAY – my farm at the end of the game

Clay Mixer to get 2 extra Clay every time I take Clay; Tinsmith (and later Pottery) to eat delicious, tasty Clay in each Harvest round; Clay Roof so I never had to take Reed; Clay Plasterer to lower the Renovate action cost to 1 Clay and 1 Reed (i.e. 2 Clay with Clay Roof) and build Clay rooms for 3 Clay and 2 Reed (i.e. 5 Clay). Clay Roof was particularly handy given that Pete had played Reed Buyer; that meant that the Reed + Stone + Food space often effectively became Stone + 3 Food (and a Reed for Pete) and it made it very difficult for others to build rooms or renovate their houses.

I was first to build a new room and first to take Family Growth, so I felt reasonably confident I wasn’t going to crash and burn. Olly was struggling to get much done, while James had more food than anyone could ever need but a less than impressive farm, but Pete wasn’t far behind me. Because people weren’t renovating or building Clay rooms, I always had plenty of Clay to grab from the board (and the 2 extra from the Clay Mixer went a long way once James had built the Well, pushing my Clay:Food conversion rate up from 1:1 to 2:3), which meant a bigger house and easy feeding for me.

I was late to build Fences and grab livestock, which left me without Cattle at the end of the game, but I had a reasonable showing in Sheep, Boar and both crops, with only one farm space left unused. Pete, meanwhile, had made a schoolboy error and boxed off a couple of farm spaces he couldn’t do anything with – no Wood left to fence them and they were separated from his other ploughed Fields. It turns out that mistake handed me the game – just. Excellent game, as ever.

Final score – Me: 41 / Pete: 40 / Olly: 34 / James: 26

I’m not entirely sure of the order of things that day, but I think Coloretto came next. I tend to play safe in Coloretto, and for once it paid off. I grabbed a bunch of “+2” cards (six in total, I think) and only had a couple of extra cards beyond my three positive-scoring colours. The others had been handily squabbling amongst themselves while I waltzed off with the win.

Final score – Me: 32 / James: 26 / Pete: 24 / Olly: 24

Another biggie hit the table: Roads & Boats. First-timer James joined the R&B veterans (Olly, John Sh and me) for a lesson in network planning and resource conversion. He certainly didn’t learn much about network planning from me – my road/building network was deeply inefficient and several times I took a round or two extra to get stuff from A to B in order to convert it into something useful. And he didn’t learn much about resource conversion from John, who managed to misread the resource requirements for both building and feeding into a secondary producer.

roads-boats-2

Olly provided the real masterclass, not only setting up an efficient network with the right things in the right places (and multiples of the very useful buildings too) but also utilising it to full effect, rounding off the game by producing… a share certificate [insert angelic choir here]. I would have rushed the game end with Wonder bricks if I’d had more stuff coming out of the land, but I’d failed to get a second Woodcutter or Quarry going and my resources were just too precious, even at that late stage. Still, at least I had some Trucks on which to hoard my freshly mined Gold. I was a round or two from creating my first set of Coins, but the Wonder was completed and… well… Olly scored more points than the rest of us put together. Just.

Final score – Olly: 206 / Me: 102 / John Sh: 60 / James: 43

I do enjoy Roads & Boats, but it’s very draining. Luckily, the next game was enjoyably brainless, both in gameplay and thematically: Hit Z Road. It’s hard to believe that this dice-chucking, luck-pushing, brutal-auctioning zombie-fest is a Martin Wallace game, but there it is. I suppose the brutal auction is the giveaway. It’s not really my cup of tea, but after a couple of beers (which is exactly the state I was in) it was most welcome and quite ridiculous.

We all got eaten by zombies.

After dinner, another game I haven’t touched for ages: Galaxy Trucker. We played with Olly’s Anniversary Edition copy, so there were a few expansion surprises tucked away in the card decks (such as “add two cards from the next level deck to the top of the mission deck”, which we had on every single mission – ouch). My game started in typically disastrous Galaxy Trucker style:

Just floatin' into port, devoid of engines, guns or cargo

Just floatin’ into port, devoid of engines, guns or cargo

The second mission went infinitely better, and I not only survived with most of my ship intact but also managed to sell loads of cargo for fat stacks of cash. I’d built that ship while attempting to answer rules questions on Roll for the Galaxy, which was going on at the other end of the table, so maybe distraction is the key to building a successful ship.

Mission three was a disaster for everyone. Slavers, pirates and worse strewn throughout the deck meant that none of our ships got through to the end of the mission. So, after paying for our losses, that meant I still had more cash than anyone else and was thus – astonishingly – the winner!

Final score – Me: 37 / James: 14 / John Sh: 11 / Graham B: 0

It was late and games were coming to an end, so I suggested Codenames to round things off. We ended up playing four rounds and staying up far later than anyone really intended – it’s just that good a game. John Sh and I were the first spymasters (having played before) and I was roundly heckled for (a) the slowness and (b) the quality of my clues. Once that round was complete (and we’d lost horribly), the tables were turned and people started to realise just how difficult the spymaster’s role is.

I can’t remember which teams won which games. It doesn’t matter. Everyone had a great time, and that’s what games are about.

Sunday morning consisted purely of Guilds of London, which I’d previously only experienced in its slightly odd two-player format. This was four-player, and it was gooooood. Way better than the cat-and-mouse and fixed layout of the two-player version. True, it rang longer than I would have liked (it was only slightly shorter than the four-player Caverna happening next to us – about three hours-ish), but that’s almost entirely down to the multitude of icons and much consultation of the reference sheet.

Rather than the back-and-forth oscillation of first player that I’d seen in the two-player game, the turn order was relatively constant through much of the game. Being in last position was still an obvious benefit, but it wasn’t possible to keep everyone in check with that last-player move. I was concentrating on a little Mayoral Reward card synergy I’d picked up (points for having no Liverymen in my personal supply and also points for having lots of Liverymen in the Guildhall), but as the game wound to a close, Graham B managed to pick up a few extra Mayoral Reward cards which I thought would probably cement the lead he’d already built up. And indeed I was correct.

Colourful and initially baffling – Guilds of London

Colourful and initially baffling – Guilds of London

James managed to sneak past Mark into a surprise third place; he’d spent the whole game quite a way back on the score track.

Final score – Graham B: 63 / Me: 52 / James: 48 / Mark: 46

And that was the end of a fantastic weekend of gaming. Roll on the next one!