Category Archives: Session Reports

January Catch-Up

Aaaarrghh. Lagging behind, but the broadband is back on now. (N.B. If you ever want to make anything happen, just go and find some Openreach engineers working on a cabinet.) Must catch up…

January has so far been dominated by Pandemic Legacy, with games on the 4th, 9th, 15th and 16th (I know – consecutive marital gaming nights!) taking us up to the completion of August. We’ve only lost one game so far (early June), but for a fair few of the games the wins have been down to the luck of the draw. I can’t say much without filling this post with spoilers (and this is a game you really don’t want to have spoiled), so all I’ll say is this: it’s just brilliant. M has declared that she’ll “miss it when it’s over”.

Rolling back to the beginning of the month, there was the now-traditional New Year all-day session at Newcastle Gamers. And as is now traditional for these all-day sessions, I rolled in at about 2.00 and looked around for a game to play. Caylus! It wasn’t my first game (although the first was so long ago that it isn’t logged on BoardGameGeek), but I still needed nearly as much rules explanation as newcomers Phil and Alison. Fortunately, John B is an old hand with Caylus and explained everything beautifully, getting us off to a quick start. Given that it was Alison’s first time playing a worker placement game, she got her head round it remarkably quickly and started planning ways to block people. I trundled along, trying not to attract too much attention, but making sure I had consistently reasonable scoring throughout. Towards the end, John was clearly gearing up to build the 25-VP cathedral, which Alison immediately stymied by blocking the one prestige building space available. I’d been shunting my way gradually up the VP-awarding King’s Favour track, so the last few actions I took gave me about 15 VPs in total, creeping me into a narrow victory.

Final score – Me: 57 / Alison: 52 / Phil: 45 / John B: 38

Great game; certainly one I should play more often. I’ll dig out the iOS version again and have a few more plays of that.

Alison, John B and I had a quick gap to fill before the meat of the session (of which more in a moment), so John Sh kindly leaned over with his copy of The King of Frontier, which I discovered I could just about successfully teach. I also discovered I was capable of losing – yes, for the very first time, I lost The King of Frontier. John B grabbed the Altar (or maybe Shrine… I forget what it’s called), which cancels out the negative points for empty spaces at the end of the game. And that was enough to just get the edge on me. I had a slightly rubbish tile draw throughout, although I was lucky enough to end up with only a couple of spaces left empty.

Final score – John B: 33 / Me: 30 / Alison: 24

Now to the main course – Pax Pamir. It turns out that this is an absolute swine to teach. This should come as no surprise, given its Sierra Madre Games heritage, but there it is. So many things are connected to so many other things that it’s difficult to know where to start. Even explaining the victory conditions is a nightmare, because there are four different victory conditions, but for each one the winning empire must also have other types of pieces in play… it gets complicated. Even a familiarity with its ancestor Pax Porfiriana doesn’t help that much; it has two rows of cards to buy and play into tableaux, and there are Topple cards, and… that’s about it.

We were a four-player table, with John Sh and Olly joining John B and me as Alison drifted away to Thunder Alley. With only three empires to be loyal to in the Great Game (Britain, Russia and the native Afghans), that meant that at least two players would share an initial (secretly-chosen) loyalty, and so it was that the two Johns were loyal to Britain, while Olly was loyal to the Afghans and I favoured the Russians.

Notice how badly the Russian empire (blue) is doing on the board. It almost didn't matter... but then it ended up mattering a lot. :\

Notice how badly the Russian empire (blue) is doing on the board. It almost didn’t matter… but then it ended up mattering a lot. :-\

I can’t relate much of what happened over the next hour and 45 minutes, partly because it was nearly three weeks ago and partly because it was really quite complex. It felt like the last 45 minutes or so was spent with Olly and I trying to figure out ways to stop one of the Johns from winning (and the Johns naturally trying to figure out ways to stop each other winning). As it turned out, I managed to offload a useless card to Olly in order to free up a space in my hand for a game-winning twist… and then I was one action short of actually pulling it off. In the end, John Sh accidentally handed victory in the Intelligence War to John B, but it was probably only a matter of time before that happened anyway.

I sort of enjoyed it a lot, and sort of felt like my brain was being forced through a fine mesh. There was a lot going on, all the time, and I need to play it again soon in order to make things coalesce in my understanding. Very, very Eklund, although with more of a “game” feeling than usual – this is, of course, the result of Pax Pamir being primarily a Cole Wehrle design.

John B left, leaving the three of us who’d played Food Chain Magnate a few sessions back so… repeat run! Again, the details escape me, except the important milestones:

  • I took an Errand Boy in round 1, meaning I got the freezer (allowing me to store food and drink between rounds) and extra drinks when collecting them.
  • John Sh marketed first, meaning his marketing campaigns would all be eternal.
  • Olly took a Trainer in round 1 so he was first to train someone, giving him $15 discount on salaries.

I suspected Olly had the best opening gambit, and it certainly paid off, with his lead feeling ever more unassailable as time passed. Once he’d hit $100 and got the pseudo-CFO milestone, it just got worse for the rest of us. Just as in our first game, there was a broad smattering of timing errors which cost us, but I felt much more like I knew what I was doing this time. Again, I played a large structure with lots of slots for employees… but that isn’t necessarily a good thing unless they’re doing exactly what you need them to.

Radio Pizza delivers its subliminal marketing message

Radio Pizza delivers its subliminal marketing message while the Pizza Plane seals the deal.

It turned out that we fluffed the timing of the end of the game – with a couple of bonus payments for John overlooked, the game should have ended a round earlier, so it shouldn’t have been quite as embarrassing a thrashing as it turned out…

Final score – Olly: $872 / Me: $259 / John Sh: $120

Very very good fun again. It’s becoming a bit of a favourite with me.

John headed off and Olly and I were joined by Camo and Jon (no “h”) for a light desert-dessert of Camel Up. We decided to throw in the Photographer module from the Supercup expansion, which added a little spice to the proceedings without too much extra complication and without extending the game unnecessarily.

Camel Up is always ridiculous, but this one was even more ridiculous than usual. It’s very unusual to see a full stack of five camels just two spaces from the finish line, but that’s what happened. It had been such a changeable race that quite a few of the cards for the winning camel were in the “betting on the loser” pile. Great fun, and it never really matters who wins with Camel Up – it’s the stupidity of it that counts. (For posterity though, Jon and I drew for the win with 24 Egyptian pounds each.)

That was the end of the session, and that’s quite enough January for now. More at a later date!

December – Rubbish Month, Good Gaming

December was riddled with calamity and annoyance, including my first Rapid Unscheduled Dismount while cycling as an adult, my first puncture while cycling as an adult and major flood-related phone-line cutouts plus botched repairs. And, of course, no phone line means no broadband, so I’m typing this using my mobile phone as a wifi hotspot. And, of course, living up a hill in the middle of nowhere means the best I can manage in my thick-walled stone house is two bars of patchy 3G reception if I stand on one foot in a corner of the coldest room in the house while reciting the arcane rituals of EE.

Amongst all that, the only Newcastle Gamers session of the month fell on the day it snowed enough to make the hill on which I live truly dangerous. We’ve lived here for four years and I could count on one hand the number of times I’ve considered the hill too dangerous to drive on. sigh

John and I did fit in a couple of Corbridge sessions though, the first of which was a “quick” play of Carl Chudyk’s latest, Mottainai, followed by HaggisMottainai was interesting, although very difficult to get our heads round on a first play. There’s an awful lot going on, and figuring out exactly how to get cards to the places you want them is pretty tough. I won almost entirely by accident, with a wince-inducing final score of 35–14. Very Chudyk. Haggis was… well, Haggis. It’s a very traditional-feeling climbing/trick-taking game and I suffered from a couple of bad deals and a general lack of competence. John got his own back for the Mottainai drubbing by winning 310–169.

A week later, we reconvened for Nippon, by Madeira/Panamax designers Paulo Soledade and Nuno Bizarro Sentieiro. I really enjoyed this – it managed to boil down a fair chunk of the thinkiness and planning of their previous designs into a smoother, easier-to-digest gaming meal – although I do have a niggling concern about how samey it might feel after just a handful of plays. Never mind, though: I’ve only played it this once so far. A nice tight game, with a victory for me, 200–193.

Because every collection needs at least one game about competing zaibatsu in the Meiji period

Because every collection needs at least one game about competing zaibatsu in the Meiji period

The rest of the month (and the ensuing school holiday) was peppered with family gaming: a Ticket to Ride here, a Castle Panic there, a Ticket to Ride again, followed by K2, with another Ticket to Ride to round things off… Yes, there’s a definite hit in this house. And, of course, M and I continued our marital Pandemic Legacy campaign. To date, we’ve played six games and only lost the most recent (early June) so the board looks relatively unscathed, but there have been some… ahem… developments that mean things certainly aren’t getting any easier any time soon and we’re enjoying the extra challenge.

More to come soon – sooner if the phone line gets mended…

Under Sea to Outer Space via 1950s USA

There’s been quite a bit of family gaming over the couple of weeks since my last post, including the discovery that my two oldest sons, J and A, both love Ticket to Ride. Totally love it. And it turns out that my mum quite enjoys it too. I’m glad I held on to my copy now, and I might even get one or two of the other maps; after all, the original USA map gets a bit dull after a while.

Mrs Cardboard (M, to follow the tradition of anonymous-but-distinguishable initials) and I also played the first game in our Pandemic Legacy campaign. We went for silly rather than realistic when it came to naming our characters, so we now have a medic called Max Dinglewang (thank you, M); my name offering for the scientist was Susan O’Hanrahan, but always, always referred to as Susan O’Hanraha-hanrahan. We won the first game pretty easily after just three of five Epidemic cards and managed to eradicate the black disease, now known as Boneitis, but I can see how things might get substantially tougher in future. I’m being completely spoiler-free here, but I might start writing up future games under a big SPOILER heading if it continues to offer the narrative and gaming excitement it looks like it should.

John and I convened a Corbridge Gamers session and we both ticked another game off our Stefan Feld lists – AquaSphere. It’s very Feld: doing a thing lets you do another thing, but doing that thing means you can’t do this other thing this round and there just isn’t enough time (or indeed Time, the game currency) to do everything you want to do. And oddly, for a game themed around scientists and robots conducting research in an underwater laboratory while fighting off purple Octopods… it feels a bit bland. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a perfectly solid game, but it’s not different enough from every other euro to make me excited about it.

It does make sense once you know how the game works, but yes... it's a bit heavy on the eyes at first glance.

It does make sense once you know how the game works, but yes… it’s a bit heavy on the eyes at first glance.

I started out badly while John mopped up serious points for the area-majority aspect in the early rounds (I’d failed to plan for how much impact that would make), but I pushed forward with my long-term plan to finish all six pieces of my personal lab and collect all six lab letters. I did pull that off in the end, but John’s consistent showings in the end-of-round scoring put him far enough ahead that my sudden boost at the very end of the game wasn’t enough to overhaul him.

Final score – John: 71 / Me: 68

We followed up with a game that really is like nothing else I’ve ever played: Donald X Vaccarino’s Temporum. Jumping around between different eras and changing timelines makes it surprisingly thematic compared to the dry-as-dust-but-still-mechanically-lovely Dominion, and while the mechanisms themselves aren’t groundbreaking, they do coalesce into an overall experience that feels unique. There’s a lot of fun to be had in changing the future and forcing your opponent to suddenly find themselves in a Steampunk Utopia instead of the Age of Cats or whatever it was they were clearly hoping to use on their next turn to shuffle a few of their Influence markers down to the present day. (And yes, there genuinely is a card representing a timeline in which cats have taken over the world.) This one came down to the wire, with John getting his last Influence marker into the bottom box for the win when I had just one left to go.

Fast forward to Saturday and it was Newcastle Gamers again, this time with a prearranged game of Splotter Spellen’s latest release, Food Chain Magnate. John and Olly had expressed an interest and no one else seemed keen to join in (even on one of the busiest nights we’ve seen in a while; the busy-ness seemed at least partially due to our shift over to meetup.com following the near-total withdrawal of Events from Google+), so it was a three-player game.

Quick summary of Food Chain Magnate: you’re running a restaurant chain (duh!) on a randomised road/house map grid. It’s a sort of deckbuilder where the deck you’re building consists of the employees in your company, except rather than drawing a random hand of cards each round, you have the entire deck to choose a fresh company structure from. Employees in the company structure can do things like hiring or training more employees, collecting drinks from spots on the board, changing your prices (down or up), starting marketing campaigns, building new houses and/or gardens for houses, being managers who can accommodate more employees in your company, and many, many more. The winner is the person with the most cash at the end of the game, which is after the bank has broken… twice. (There’s an odd thing where the length of the game after the first breaking of the bank is determined by cards secretly chosen by the players at the start of the game.)

This being a Splotter title, there are many, many ways to make mistakes… and we all managed to make a few. I think all the mistakes were based around mistiming things, mainly to do with the fact that the people in houses don’t come out to eat unless they’ve been marketed to by players, but marketing doesn’t happen until after eating in the round order. The practical upshot of this is that something along the lines of “hey look, I’ve produced this burger and set up a marketing campaign for burgers so this house will come and eat the burger and I’ll be able to pay the Burger Cook I just hired and ohgodnoofcoursenoti’vereallyf—kedthisuproyally” happened several times over the course of the game.

Glossing over the inevitable mistakes then, it was interesting to see how our different opening strategies immediately led to different Milestone cards being claimed, with the bonuses they conferred. Olly went for early food production and thus forever had a freezer to keep unsold food and $5 bonuses for selling food products. John kept his company structure small to maintain a good choice of turn-order position and marketed drinks first ($5 bonus to drinks sold). I, on the other hand, went for full-on corporate bloat by hiring two Recruiting Girls and getting the “First to Hire 3 People in One Turn” Milestone, which gave me two Management Trainees and thus allowed me to maintain a much larger structure than the others. That wasn’t necessarily that great a benefit, but I was able to hire all sorts of people and shuffle them from round to round in order to get the best or most timely use from them.

Mid-game. There are a few new houses on the board, along with my first mailbox campaign. (Looking back, I can see it's illegally placed, but I could have easily placed it somewhere else and got the same effect, so no real harm done.)

Mid-game. There are a few new houses on the board, along with my first mailbox soft drink campaign. (Looking back now, I can see it’s illegally placed between houses 1 and 16, but I could have easily placed it legally somewhere else and got the same effect, so no real harm done.)

I was last to place a marketing campaign, which meant mine were time-limited but I’d trained my marketer up so he could place a mailbox campaign and cover a whole block. Several houses had been added to the map, which meant there were gardens in play and diners with gardens pay double for their meals. After a slow start, I was suddenly raking in money from all the houses that wanted soft drinks (and usually one that wanted beer if John had run out), which meant I was first to hit $100 in hand. That gave me the seemingly preposterously powerful bonus of having the CFO power – 50% extra income per round. I only got a couple of rounds to benefit from that bonus though, because the $600 we’d added when the bank first broke was rapidly running out. Olly was selling burgers to a cluster of houses on the far side of the board and his Luxuries Manager was making sure they were going at an eye-watering price. Each burger was $20, but with houses with gardens paying double, there was an occasion where a house wanting two burgers paid $90 (including Olly’s $5/burger bonus).

The bank broke for the second time when I claimed my CFO bonus, and it was pretty clear that I’d won.

Final score – Me: $387 / John: $232 / Olly: $190

It looks fairly emphatic, but I suspect I could have been overhauled in another couple of rounds had it continued – Olly’s super-mega-deluxe rare-breed yak burgers were painfully lucrative.

A blurry shot of the final game state. That's my company structure in the bottom-right, near my jeans.

A blurry shot of the final game state. That’s my company structure in the bottom-right, near my jeans. The whole thing looks like an absolute shambles, but we knew what we were doing. Just about. Food Chain Magnate may win my prize for Most Table-Greedy Game.

Overall, I thought Food Chain Magnate was superb on its first play. Only time will tell how well it stands up to repeated plays (and I hope to play it as much as possible – after all, it’s a Splotter game that we finished in under two hours on our first play!), but I suspect the variable map layout and wide variety of possible strategies will keep me interested for a long while yet. Oh, and I love the artwork. Even the “oh dear, they sent the prototype to the printer” map tiles have their charm, and they’re very clear on the table.

The Prodigals Club was next, which was the first time any of us had played the three-player game (and the first time at all for Olly); we used the Election and Society modules again. Oddly, it uses the same worker-placement boards as the two-player game so the worker spaces are a little more congested. Only a little, because we each had four workers rather than five, but it was enough to make it feel a bit different. Not only was turn order much more important than with two players (which I only really figured out afterwards), but with only four workers, it’s much harder to do everything you want to do. Not only do you have just four workers, but if you’re last in turn order, the stuff you want may well have disappeared before your first worker goes down!

askdjfh

As with Last Will, it’s a handsome game with a cleverly designed board.

I didn’t really feel like I was doing well for the first four rounds (although I felt comfortably ahead of Olly at least, and I kept taking the Hyde Park action to make sure I didn’t start gaining votes), but then everything came together in a final rush and I managed to get my two scores down to 0 (Society) and 2 (Election). John had gone substantially negative in the Election module, but his Society score let him down badly and I ended up winning!

Final score – Me: 2 / Olly: 8 / John: 10

And then Roll for the Galaxy with the Ambition expansion, including the Objective tiles this time. They still didn’t add that much to the game, but that’s fine – it’s already excellent. I had a starting faction that was more annoying that anything else, so I concentrated on my initial draw of a 6+ development (3 bonus VPs for each world of cost 4 or more, plus the ability to reassign any three dice as Settlers!) and set about settling those planets. The others were playing a more balanced game, although Olly had the rather wonderful Psi-Crystal Forecasters, which allowed him to shift his selected phase after seeing what everyone else had chosen. It all worked out nicely for me in the end anyway after Olly ended the game with a full tableau of 12 tiles.

Final score – Me: 51 / Olly: 42 / John: 39

Lloyd joined us for the last game of the night: Spiel des Jahres 2005 winner Niagara. Typical SdJ family-friendly fare, but in this instance it ran on far too long (lots of simultaneous high numbers played plus almost constant bad weather meant the river flowed fast) and was memorable more for the frustration than the enjoyability. Still, I continued my unbroken win-streak for the evening, this time sharing victory with Olly. It’s been a long time since I played a game without a tiebreak rule!

Epic post ends here.

Photos by Olly and me, some shamelessly stolen from the Newcastle Gamers Meetup page.

First Light to Second Heavy

Wednesday’s Corbridge Gamers session was relatively light, with the short civ-tableau-engine-builder Imperial Settlers starting proceedings. While the concept of a civilisation game where you can destroy your opponents’ buildings might not initially appeal to the eurogamer, when you realise that the defender gets 1 Wood and gets to keep the card as a Foundation (which can be used as part-payment towards a high-VP faction building), it doesn’t seem so bad.

Which was good for Corbridge harmony really, because I spent a fair bit of the game razing John’s buildings to the ground. I played the Roman faction which can store Raze tokens between rounds; John, as the other side in the suggested 2-player newbie game, was the Barbarians, who are good at producing and storing people from round to round. John got a nice little engine going fairly early on, involving some sort of gold mine and an Acting Troupe card which let him clear off the gold mine and use it again to gain even more Gold tokens. Gold being wild, he could then pour his mountain of it into building new Locations.

The Acting Troupe was first on my list of Raze targets. While John was gaining ground on the VP track, I was going for a much more ‘civilised’ approach, building as many of the Roman faction Locations as I could. That meant also picking up as many cheap Locations from the Common deck as possible, so I could build them and then spend them as part of the building costs for the Roman Locations. It worked out pretty well, with some lovely Feature Location synergies and a lucky draw of two ‘multi-colour’ Roman cards which each triggered two Feature Locations for extra Gold and/or VPs.

My glorious Roman civilisation. Common Locations (1 VP each) to the right of the Faction board, Roman Locations (2 VPs each) to the left.

My glorious Roman civilisation. Common Locations (1 VP each) to the right of the Faction board, Roman Locations (2 VPs each) to the left. I was very Production-heavy.

I was a little behind on the VP track at the end of the fifth and final round, but my massive collection of Roman faction Locations outstripped the Barbarians.

Final score – Me: 44 / John: 39

Imperial Settlers was a very fun, light (but not too light) engine-builder with tons of replayability and different factions to explore. I’m sure it’ll get played a fair bit in future.

We moved on to my fresh copy of Reiner Knizia’s venerable Samurai, in a lovely new edition from Fantasy Flight Games. I’d had a little bit of experience with the iOS version, but I’d never been any good at it and it had been a while since the majority of my plays anyway. We were essentially both new to the game.

The crucial difference was that I’d already figured out the crux of good Samurai play: timing. It’s not about getting the highest-value tiles down next to the statues; it’s usually about being the player to get the last surrounding tile down. It took John a few rounds to realise that, and by that time I’d already got the upper hand.

The end of the game after four tied statues – I took two majorities for the win.

The end of the game after four tied statues – I took majorities in buddhas and castles for the win. Never mind all that though… it’s PRETTY.

I forced the end of the game by causing a fourth statue to be tied while I was ahead on two categories. It felt a little gamey – it would certainly be lot harder to do that with confidence in a three- or four-player game because captured statues are kept behind player screens in those games.

We finished with a “quick” game of Harbour, which was new to me and didn’t make a great impression, largely down to an unlucky card draw which made the first few rounds painfully slow. Four of the five cards available to build at the start were high-cost, which is one thing you just don’t get in Le Havre (from which Harbour takes clear influence) because although the building order is slightly randomised, it’s also structured so the engines get built first. Not so here, so we struggled on for a while before things eased up and we could finally get some building done.

I managed a win, 40–27, mainly because John twice used the Wizard’s Travelling Imaginarium to swap one of his existing buildings for a higher-value one. That meant he got a cheap build, but at the sacrifice of the points he had in the building he traded in. Thus, I ended up with five buildings and John with three.

As I said, not a great impression, although I could see how much more fun it could be if the cards came out in a better order.

Saturday brought another Newcastle Gamers session, which began with another game of Samurai, this time with four players. It’s a very different beast with four – there are substantially more spots that could be surrounded by the time your turn comes back round, plus there are more spaces for ships to affect multiple contests. Thankfully, everyone twigged the timing aspect of the game pretty quickly, but there were some very long turns as people analysed the board situation and tried to figure out the best move… or sometimes just the least bad move. After a long dance, the last castle disappeared from the board and the game ended. I won a leader token and Graham won another (the third went unclaimed by either Olly or Andrew), so the tiebreaker was statues in castes other than the one in which we had the leader token. I just tipped it in my favour with 6 against Graham’s 5, so a win for me.

The rest of the session was a rematch of 1830 after an initial play in September. In order to fit the game into a normal Newcastle meeting, we’d gathered a few resources to make things quicker and easier (poker chips, player aids and a fabulous iOS app called Survey Party that does things like automatically calculating maximum railroad revenues and player payouts based on shareholdings) and actually played out the initial sale of private companies by email over the preceding week. I’d nearly ended up without a private, but thankfully Ali passed on his opportunity to buy the B&O private at face value and I snapped it up (setting share par at $90 in the hopes of keeping the B&O railroad a steady medium-to-high earner through the game). That left Olly with the C&A (I bid him up to an eye-watering $246 before dropping out), Ali with C&StL and John Si, King of the Privates, with SVR, D&H and M&H.

My initial plan worked OK for a while – the B&O is in a perfect position to crank out decent payouts pretty quickly, especially with a handful of trains. My 2, 2 and 3 did me well, until the 2 trains rusted and things slowed down dramatically. As expected, Olly’s PRR was knocking heads with the B&O in several spots, and he ended up blocking me via both tile and token placements (the latter after I’d foolishly let the B&O’s cash reserves run down to $3 so I couldn’t afford a token of my own). Ali’s New York & New Haven and John’s New York Central were far enough out of B&O’s way to not worry me in the early stages of the game.

About an hour or two into the game. B&O has upgraded some tiles to gain better revenue, but blocked out of some tiles to the east by the dastardly PRR.

About an hour or two into the game. B&O has upgraded some tiles to gain better revenue, but been blocked out of some tiles to the east by the dastardly PRR.

I played the shares game very carefully – probably too carefully – and only held a maximum of one share in anyone else’s railroad until we were into the diesel era. That protected me from having bankrupt railroads dumped on me, but it also ‘protected’ me from gaining a decent income. And for the second time, I failed to start up a second railroad. In fact, the Erie didn’t float at all, while Olly took control of Boston & Maine, John took Chesapeake & Ohio and Ali ran the Canadian Pacific again. This failure to start a second company (in part caused by the fact I got the B&O private – it closes as soon as the B&O railroad buys a train and thus can’t be sold to a railroad for fat stacks of cash you can spend on a second company) was a big part in my mediocre performance overall. I couldn’t play the game of buying trains between two companies in order to have enough money in one to buy a better train; rather, I had to withhold revenue to save up enough cash to trade in my 4 for a D train. (That was actually my one triumphant moment of the whole game.) At least I wouldn’t have to fund a train from my personal money, but I wasn’t going to do well overall. 60% shareholding in a railroad running one diesel on a heavily blocked route doesn’t compare with what the others had.

Olly, meanwhile, was manipulating the PRR share value to stay within the yellow zone, meaning his 60% of PRR shares didn’t count towards his portfolio limit of 16 certificates. That left him free to invest widely in other companies, benefitting from their continued revenue payouts while he kept PRR relatively low in value (and occasionally paying out handsomely). I only went over the 16-certificate limit by one, because all the interesting shares had been snapped up.

This time round, Ali was the only player to get stung by a forced train purchase, but it was a nasty sting, costing him just over $800 of personal money for a diesel. That involved ditching a bunch of decent shares as well, so Ali’s game never really recovered, while John and I just trundled along, paying out with our railroads, trying to engineer some decent track routes (failing in my case) and picking up the odd share here and there when they became available.

The endgame map

The endgame map – notice how horribly boxed in my B&O is, and how unappealing the Erie railroad was.

The bank broke around midnight. The last few operating rounds felt a bit stale – very little was happening in terms of track changes, so at least the Survey Party app helped keep things ticking along smoothly. As an aside, that app probably saved us at least an hour just tracing train routes and working out revenues. Possibly two hours. Seriously worth the money, especially because it’s free.

Final scores – Olly: $9,039 / John: $7,924 / Me: $7,602 / Ali: $4,646

For reference/interest/completeness, some cash/share-value splits:

Olly: $5,405 cash / $3,634 shares
John: $5,134 cash / $2,790 shares
Me: $4,616 cash / $2,986 shares
Ali: $2,066 cash / $2,580 shares

Not a terrible showing from me, considering the lack of second railroad (my widespread portfolio actually served me pretty well alongside a high value for my six B&O shares), and an unsurprising victory for Olly, considering his excellent manipulation of the PRR stock value and massive shareholdings. As with the first game, it was really good fun and now I feel like I’m just getting a handle on the ebb and flow of 1830… and handily there’s already talk of a further rematch.

Final gaming news of the week was that our marital copy of Pandemic Legacy arrived, which should keep us on our toes for some time to come. Looking forward to getting started with it!

Prodigal Ambition

After a quick rematch of Small World with 8-year-old J (he beat me again, 105–95 this time, even with my Ghouls), John Sh and I met for our now almost weekly Corbridge Gamers. Essen – and my birthday – having just passed, there was new stuff galore to choose from. We started with the newest arrival, which had turned up on my doorstep that very morning: the new Roll for the Galaxy expansion, Ambition.

Choosing to leave out the optional Objective tiles for now (as John pointed out, it’s not like it doesn’t get played a lot, so there’s plenty of opportunity to add them in future), there wasn’t a huge amount of new stuff to explain. It’s really just the addition of double-phase Leader and Entrepreneur dice, along with the many, many new starting faction and home world tiles. (Five new tiles to the draw bag doesn’t really seem worth mentioning.)

And so it played out feeling pretty much like vanilla RollftG, with the exception of very occasionally getting to put a black or orange die straight back into the cup. The black Leader die we each started with obviously added a tiny bit of flexibility to our dice assignments (after all, the double-phase faces give you a choice of two places to put the die), so it did feel a little bit easier to do what I wanted and to the extent that I wanted to do it. Also, the Leader die behaving like a purple die for shipping purposes is a pretty major thing; I racked up some early VPs that way.

You start with a black die (replacing one of the five white dice in the base game), so that's a wild face from the outset as well as the extra flexibility afforded by the dual-phase faces.

You start with a black die (replacing one of the five white dice in the base game), so that’s a wild face from the outset as well as the extra flexibility afforded by the dual-phase faces.

I kept myself in cash by completing planets with pairs of green and red dice (my faction gave me $2 when I did so), plus occasionally shipping from my yellow world for $6, and John stayed solvent with his faction power which gave him $2 for each good on a green world at the end of the Produce phase. Plenty of cash meant I could settle new worlds pretty quickly, giving me extra dice and new opportunities to Produce and Ship; a development giving me +1 VP for shipping from a brown world was a handy bonus. I just skipped ahead on the Shipping game which, along with my relatively expensive worlds, tipped me just ahead in the final scoring, triggered by the VP pool running out.

Final score – Me: 38 / John: 36

Like I said, fairly vanilla-feeling. Adding the Objectives next time should shake things up quite a bit.

We followed up with a follow-up: Vladimir Suchý’s The Prodigals Club, his 2015 sequel to 2011’s Last Will. I’ve enjoyed Last Will a couple of times, although reliance on a random card draw did irk me last timeThe Prodigals Club mitigates that randomness hugely. There’s no opportunity to draw blind from a deck of cards; rather, all available cards are drawn at the start of each round. That means it’s all meaningful, tough worker-placement decisions from the outset, and plenty of them.

The Prodigals Club comes with three modules (Election, Society and Possessions), of which you can choose two for each play, or you can play with all three, or even play with two modules and use Last Will in its entirety as the third. (That final option seems to me like a special kind of madness.) We went with the suggested first-play option of Election and Society modules which naturally means, in true Last Will style, that we were trying to lose an election and offend everybody in polite society. Of course, just doing one of those things isn’t good enough, so there’s scoring à la Knizia: your final score that actually counts is the worse (i.e. higher – start thinking backwards now) of your two module scores.

The fun comes from queueing up big combos of cards, so that this thing gives you that, which moves those down to there so you can do the other with these… Getting to that point is a bit of a battle, but all in a good way. Everything’s interconnected, so decisions you make to primarily influence the election competition can also have a knock-on effect in society and vice-versa. I took an early lead in losing the election and managed to start my four society markers on their journey down the scoring ladder. (This is where I wish I’d taken pictures. There’s a fun little geometric shuffling game there, wanting to keep the four markers out of each others’ way while also paying attention to Dame Beatrice – who can apply “penalties” every round because she thinks that you’re really a lovely person at heart – and positioning markers to take advantage of the icons they land on.)

John eventually managed to string together the mother of all combos, involving offending Conservatives and Liberals while getting into several arguments and annoying everyone in polite society too. My previously unhealthy-looking election score was suddenly far too healthy, and John managed to get both of his scores under zero in the fourth round. Just one score hitting zero is enough to trigger the end of the game, so I didn’t get the chance to stage a comeback (not that I’d have been able to).

Final score – John: -6 / Me: 9

Yes, the worse of John’s two scores was -6. I think the other one was -9. My society score was down to -2, I think, but my election scuppering slowed down in the third and fourth rounds. Overall, I liked The Prodigals Club substantially more than Last Will, and I already liked Last Will a fair bit. Looking forward to another shot at it!

The week ended with the arrival of my Sierra Madre Games (i.e. Phil Eklund) pre-order package, containing Pax Porfiriana Collector’s EditionPax Pamir (sequel of sorts to Porfiriana) and Neanderthal (sequel/prequel of sorts to Greenland). That should take up my entire rules-learning brain quota for the month. Getting them played is another matter – EklundFest 2.0 on the horizon, maybe…

October Gaming Roundup

Picking back through my logged plays on BoardGameGeek has got a bit more difficult now that I’ve made the decision to log plays of digital/online games as long as they’re against real people. It was starting to feel ridiculous having only two or three logged plays of, say, Castles of Burgundy when I’ve played it online (on Boîte à Jeux) 18 times against real people. I’ve also been playing online quite a bit recently, not only on Boîte à Jeux but also Board Game Arena and Yucata. As I write, I’ve got two games of Trajan on the go, plus one each of HivePuerto Rico and Tash Kalar.

But I’ll concentrate here on face-to-face gaming, facing real people with their real faces. John Sh and I played Nations at the start of October, which was (as I so often seem to say) something I’d wanted to play for a while. I like Through the Ages a lot (although I’ve only played it online and not for a while, so… no logged plays on BGG – sigh), so I was interested to play this apparently streamlined distillation of the essence of TtA, especially in advance of the new edition of TtA. The influence is blatant, but the differences are abundant – and nothing is more different than the military system, which removes virtually all of the player-vs-player nastiness of TtA.

We opted to play the “advanced” sides of our player boards, even though it was my first time playing. I’m a big fan of asymmetry and it wasn’t a change of rules – simply a difference in starting resources and a small special power. My empire of Rome pushed me towards a military strategy straight away, while John’s Egyptians were clearly much more peaceful; indeed, John renounced the military game pretty much immediately, in favour of being able to build more stuff while I pummelled him as much as the game would allow… which wasn’t actually much. A few bonuses here, a few things taken away there – I probably lost just as much stuff from being behind on the stability track for much of the game.

Everything progressed in a fairly TtA-ish way, with bigger and better cards coming out as each era began, slowly replacing our buildings and/or military units. The last couple of rounds became a slightly mathsy parallel-solo optimisation puzzle, which wasn’t a problem in and of itself, but it did detract a little from the civ-building theme. In the end, we totted up our points to find that my Romans had beaten Egypt, 36 to 28.

Overall, Nations does a decent job of simmering the civ-building genre down into a palatable play-length. It just doesn’t quite match the grand feeling of Through the Ages, but that’s OK – it’s a very enjoyable game in its own right.

A week later (and after a Newcastle Gamers session in the middle), John and I met again for Suburbia. Astonishingly, this was only John’s second play of Suburbia, having played it when I picked it up just after Essen 2012. That first time round, he’d taken an early lead, which is generally a Very Bad Idea in Suburbia, and he spent the rest of the game being pummelled by the red lines on the Population board reducing his Income and Reputation. Not an enjoyable introduction to the game, and he’d understandably been a bit put off.

The pain had dimmed to a dull ache after three years, so we attacked the base game again. It was all fairly close (and John edged ahead for a while) until very late on in the game, when my experience showed through (with a bit of good luck) and I was ready for the uncertainty of the game-end timing in the C stack. John got slightly too hammered by the red lines again, but not quite enough to push his income down to -5 on the last turn like mine. That meant I took the Miser goal (lowest income) and the Aquaphobian goal (fewest lakes), because John had to build a second lake when he had no money left and had used all three of his Investment Markers. We each made our private goals, but that wasn’t enough to stop me soaring ahead in the final scoring: 169–130. I’m pretty sure that’s my highest score ever. I mean, 130 is pretty damn good, but 169 is ridiculous.

The key thing is that John enjoyed Suburbia much more this time round, which means there’s less chance of it languishing on the shelf – that’s great, given that I’ve just bought the Suburbia 5★ expansion.

We finished off with John introducing me to Arboretum, which is a fabulously thinky little card game. It’s like a two-dimensional Lost Cities, with elements of tableau building and hand management thrown together into a simple-yet-oh-so-AP-inducing super-filler. John was planting some lucrative-looking trees in his arboretum, so I made sure to hang on to high-value cards in those suits so he hopefully couldn’t score them. Meanwhile, I was struggling to plant anything useful in my own tableau, with a hand full of 6s, 7s and 8s. At the end, the vast majority of my success came from denying John the ability to score his trees, so it was a low-scoring victory for me, 16–11.

Continuing the “gaming weekend” theme from last month, I had a weekend alone with our 8-year-old. J (as I shall refer to him, given that it’s his initial) has enjoyed a few of the games from my collection over recent years, but he’s just turning a developmental corner which means he can really start planning ahead. Oh, and he can read fluently now, which is a great help for games covered in text. Being an 8-year-old boy (and a voracious reader), he’s much more interested in fantasy creatures and exciting gameplay than economic models and quiet contemplation of worker placement, so we took a trip to Travelling Man in Newcastle, to see if there was anything we both fancied the look of. We ended up leaving with Small World, which is pretty distant from my usual gaming territory, but I know it has a reputation for being ‘fun’, if nothing else, and J was drawn to the artwork, the presence of wizards and dragons (just like in his favourite books) and the fact it was for “age 8+”. (As an aside, I’m quite proud that he declared the newly released Star Wars Carcassonne to be “a ridiculous idea”; it certainly looks it.)

Over the weekend, we managed:

  • Castle Panic × 2 (too light for me, and too easy to win, but just right for J – again, including the theme)
  • Small World (what fun there is largely comes from the race/power combos – J got Heroic Halflings and thrashed me 95–75)
  • Carcassonne (probably the last time we’ll play this for a while – I’m just too nasty, which is what I enjoy about 2-player Carcassonne)
  • Labyrinth (the old Ravensburger maze one, not the GMT global terrorism one)
  • Forbidden Island (we died pretty early on, even on Novice level)
  • Jungle Speed Safari × 3 (my hands hurt for about four days afterwards)
  • Ingenious (against all odds, J loved this on his first play)

Yes, a weekend of games that aren’t entirely to my taste (except Carc and Ingenious), but that’s not the point. A weekend of games with one of my kids. That’s the point.

Another evening session with John featured the most painful game of Snowdonia I’ve had in a long while. We were trying out the Trans-Australian Railway expansion, but we can’t blame the expansion for our woes. Every so often, the card draw in Snowdonia just doesn’t work out nicely. We had rain after rain after rain, including the Australian “extreme weather” version – floods – meaning the excavation and track-laying were painfully slow. The whole thing took nearly twice as long as it should (we played for getting on towards two hours) and just felt like being battered about the head with a Mallet of Obduracy. I finished the game at the earliest opportunity and won 121–86, essentially by accident. (It possibly should have been 124–90, because we forgot to score double points for the Nullarbor Plains track cards.)

Just over a week later, we held another Corbridge Gamers session, this time swollen in both length and numbers. Olly and Graham came over in the afternoon as well as John, bringing us to four for a good ten hours or so of games. We started with my newly acquired copy of Poseidon, an 18xx-euro hybrid which condenses most of the key elements of 18xx into a fixed-length game full of wooden discs.

We all synchronised fairly well: everybody set up a nation in the first round (my Megalopolis got a bit screwed by John slightly unexpectedly cutting me off, but my plan from the outset had been to keep Megalopolis slow and steady until the final few rounds so it wasn’t too much of a bother) and then we all started a second nation in the same merchant round a while later.

We’d all played 1830 before (although for Graham it had been eight years and for John probably about 25), so there was much “ah, just like 1830” and “oh, this isn’t at all like 1830“. The huge difference is that Poseidon features recapitalisation as part of the game flow. At the start of Phases 2 and 3, nations can add more Potentials (wooden discs) to the Merchant Pool to raise more money for their coffers. That means that (a) there’s a careful balancing element between issuing Potentials as Merchants and using Potentials as Trading Posts on the map; and (b) it’s much more forgiving in terms of being forced to buy trains Ships from personal funds. That latter point, combined with the fact you can’t ever forcibly dump a nation onto someone else – even if they have more shares Merchants than you – makes it a much, much gentler financial game than 1830, and I certainly ended up concentrating very heavily on the map and getting the most out of my remaining Potentials once I’d figured out how many to issue as new Merchants.

Should the Merchant Pool be that full at the end of the game?

Should the Merchant Pool be that full at the end of the game? With a limit of 15 Merchants per player in a 4-player game, it seems likely… although we could maybe have managed nations better and got more Trading Posts on the board instead.

Megalopolis (purple) became very profitable indeed over the last two Operating Rounds Exploration Rounds, but it was too little too late. Olly had run Larissa (orange) very well for the whole game and, although it wasn’t generating a huge revenue in the last rounds, he had seven Merchants from Larissa (and a couple from Megalopolis) so he was bringing in a fair chunk of money each time it set sail. Graham was the only one of us to get seriously burned by the forced purchase of a Ship, which took several hundred drachmas from his personal funds and scuppered his game somewhat in the closing stages.

Final score (in drachmas) – Olly: 3626 / Me: 3296 / John: 3128 / Graham: 2649

I know a few things I did badly and a few things Olly did well, so I reckon I could play substantially better next time. I’m starting to get really excited by the idea of 18xx as a game series. I’ve got my eye on the imminent 1844/1854 double-package from Lookout Games and Olly’s already picked up 1862: Railway Mania in the Eastern Counties, so there’s plenty of possibility for more diverse 18xx in future.

After a quick pub trip for food, we spent the rest of the day engaged in substantially lighter (but excellent) fare. I maintained my 100% win streak in the superb The King of Frontier (Me: 52 / Graham: 44 / John: 42 / Olly: 28), failed miserably at Codenames (which could do with more than four players, to be fair) and came an honourable second in the mayhem that is Camel Up (Graham: 34 / Me: 29 / Olly: 28 / John: 20).

Tucked in among that lot was a successful run through Ghost Stories – yes, we defeated Wu-Feng! OK, it was only on Initiation level, but I tried to avoid quarterbacking too much (I’d had a solo refresher game on Nightmare level that morning and won fairly easily as the yellow Taoist). It was a really tough start to the game, with multiple Haunters coming out early on and several player boards being perilously full, but getting through a tough start means it should be easier later on. And it was for a short while… until Wu-Feng himherself turned up, as the Dark Mistress.

Victory! (A pyrrhic one for Graham, lying dead in the Graveyard.)

Victory! (A pyrrhic one for Graham, lying dead in the Graveyard. And clearly not an easy one for the rest of us.)

Obviously, none of the incarnations of Wu-Feng are exactly fun, but the Dark Mistress is my least favourite of the lot. Throughout the rest of the game, the dice are largely mitigable – in fact, my general rule of thumb is not to bother attempting an exorcism unless I have the Tao tokens available to do it without dice. The Dark Mistress takes that away, requiring three blue dice/tokens to exorcise… except it locks Tao tokens so you can’t use them. You can still use the Circle of Prayer so that’s only two blue (or wild white) dice needed once you’ve put a blue token on the Circle, but even so… it reduces the final encounter to simply rolling dice until either you succeed or you die.

So it wasn’t the greatest ending to Ghost Stories, but at least we won. Hooray!

These monthly roundups are getting out-of-hand lengthy, so I’m going to attempt to do little and often in future. Hopefully there’ll be enough gaming to justify it!

Newcastle Gamers – Saturday 10 October 2015

or FeldFest 2015

OK, not much of a “fest”, but two heavy Stefan Feld games in one evening is a Good Thing. Bora Bora was first, with John Sh (owning and explaining), Camo and John F. I’ve been keen to play Bora Bora for a while, but (a) timings haven’t quite worked out and (b) just… the iconography. Man, those player boards are something else. Every space filled with an icon, some no larger than a few mm. Of course, once everything’s been explained, it all makes some sort of sense (and actually becomes a useful player aid), but until then it’s a hurdle to overcome.

Still, hurdles overcome, we played, quickly coming to realise just how important – and horribly difficult – completing the end-of-round tasks would be. With 6 VPs per round at stake (plus a 6 VP bonus for completing all nine tasks), it became the focus of my game; simply figuring out which I wanted from the six new tasks available became a huge part of each round’s play. And actually getting the one I wanted was much easier said than done.

The dice-allocation mechanism is a fabulous bit of design: the higher the die you assign to an action, the “better” you can do that action (more points to spend or more choice, usually), but you have to assign a die of lower value than any previously placed on that action, leading to a wonderful dilemma of “high value = good action” versus “low value = blocks other people”. It also led to my one major frustration of the game when I rolled triple-1s. Although we were playing with some promo “orange god” tiles that allow a +1/-1 modifier, that wasn’t enough to make the dice useful in that situation, especially when I had no useful cards, no Offering tiles to spend anyway, and Camo had just played a 2 onto the “take a man” action and taken the 1-value man, meaning only 1s could be placed there and there was no 1-value man left to take. Aarrgh. I felt like I never quite caught up from that dreadful round.

More colours and icons than you can shake a stick it. Astonishingly, "shaking a stick" isn't represented by an in-game icon.

More colours and icons than you can shake a stick it. Astonishingly, “shaking a stick” is one of the few things in the world that isn’t represented by an in-game icon.

That little niggle aside, I really enjoyed Bora Bora at the time, although I can’t remember a huge amount about it afterwards. Perhaps there was just a little too much going on in the game. There was always a pressure to be doing lots of different things, rather than anyone being allowed to specialise in something, although John F seemed to do a remarkable job of specialising in both placing huts pretty much everywhere and building his ceremonial area. And that clearly served him well, because he came joint first, Camo taking the victory on the tiebreaker of turn order. (I’d managed a neat little trick involving cards, Offerings, god tiles and making sure I could complete my final tasks in just the right order… but it was nowhere near enough.)

Final score – Camo: 140 / John F: 140 / John Sh: 135 / Me: 121

A very, very good game, but seemingly not quite a great game. It got overshadowed in my eyes by the other Feld of the evening, but I’d rank Bora Bora alongside Bruges in my internal Feld-chart. Nothing alike at all, but I enjoyed them roughly equally.

Jack turned up at this point, touting Macao and claiming it went to five players – great! More Feld! And then it turned out that it only went to four, so he pulled out his actual five-player option, Alea Iacta Est. Those with a passing knowledge of Latin will be expecting a dice game set in ancient Rome, and they’d be right. I would describe Alea Iacta Est as being Alien Frontiers – IN SPAAAAACE!… but Alien Frontiers is already in space and it post-dates Alea Iacta Est by a year, so the situation’s clearly reversed.

It’s a whole chunk simpler than Alien Frontiers too, but still with enough meat on the bones to make it a worthwhile, fun little game. Being early in turn order was certainly not necessarily a good thing; in fact, it was sometimes downright bad, with the expected length of round being whipped out from under you by some lucky and aggressive dice play. And figuring out how to judge the overall arc of the game was not easy at the outset. Five rounds just didn’t seem long enough to pull everything together so you’d have provinces and patricians in them in order to score well.

I always relish the option of having poo-brown as my player colour

Who can resist that lovely shade of brown as a player colour?

Minor niggles: some province/patrician colours weren’t easily distinguished from others, especially under the notorious Newcastle Gamers lighting. Also, the iconography on the SPQR tiles was so opaque that it slowed the game to a standstill every round while people figured out which tile to take. Still, it was all fun enough, but no one could quite match up to Jack (who had the benefit of having played it before, even if it had been a while).

Final score – Jack: 42 / John Sh: 39 / Me: 38 / Camo: 38 / John F: 33

At this point, John F left, so we stuck to the earlier plan and broke out Macao. A relatively early (2009) Stefan Feld game, Macao includes some elements that can be found in his later designs (Bruges for the communal-dice-roll-per-round aspect, Amerigo for the actions denoted by tiny coloured cubes, just about every other Feld game for the turn-order track… the list goes on), but for me this was the perfect synthesis of those elements.

The wind rose planning mechanism is a devilish piece of design, clearly similar in intent to the die-assignment in Bora Bora: it’s all about balancing timing and power. If one of the communal dice shows a 1, you can take 1 action cube of that colour for the upcoming round; if a die shows a 6, you can take 6 cubes of that colour (which is 6 actions) but you won’t get to use them for another five rounds. Simple but devastatingly effective. It took me a fair while to get my head round it – and the early rounds were often dominated by the “obvious” groupthink, with everyone taking the same options – but once I spotted a chance to have a massive final turn, I took it. 6 green cubes and 6 violets, lined up well in advance. Shortly after that, I activated a card that gave me an extra action cube each time I used a die to take cubes, so that was a huge boost for my final round.

The majority of the game was spent in traditional Feld style, picking up points here and there (although nowhere near as many as his usual “point salad” games) and building towards a self-appointed end-goal. The constant pressure of having to activate cards (in order to avoid filling your tableau and taking a -3 VP “punish marker”) meant there was always something to concentrate on, a little like the tasks in Bora Bora. I actually started the game by completing a “Baronesa” card which gave a hefty bonus for a player who completed more than one Baronesa, so I spent the rest of the game keeping an eye out for more Baronesas and trying to stay reasonably up-front in the turn order so I could grab them. Unfortunately, we didn’t get through anywhere near as much of the card deck as I’d expected and no more Baronesas came out. So it all hinged on my big final round, which I’d spent literally half the game working towards. It was showing in the scores – I was a trailing a few points off the back at this point.

See that massive clump of cubes next to my wind rose at the very top of the picture? That's my preposterous final round, that is.

See that massive clump of cubes next to my wind rose at the very top of the picture? That’s my preposterous final round, that is. In fact, we haven’t even finished the round before, so there were four more cubes in the clump when we got round to it. Plus an extra violet cube from my Senora Violeta card.

I think I ended up with about 28 or 29 action cubes for the last round, which were spent on: activating three or four cards; using cards to convert cubes into gold coins to spend on “tribute” for VPs; taking over city quarters (which I later realised was actually a bit of inadvertent cheating – I bought two quarters in one round, which we’d earlier established was against the rules – but it only affected the final score by 2 VPs); and moving my ship between various ports to sell wares for VPs. Given that everyone else had maybe six or seven cubes for the last round, it pushed me in front on the VP track. I had another 7 or 8 VPs from end-game scoring cards in my tableau, which only compounded my lead.

Final score – Me: 72 / Camo: 55 / Jack: 54 / John Sh: 54

I hereby pronounce Macao my second-favourite Feld, after the seemingly unassailable Trajan. It’s got that special marriage of just the right elements, including forward planning, dice used in a non-traditional way, and several different areas on which to concentrate for VPs. If it wasn’t long out of print, I’d be picking up a copy for myself; as it is, I’ll be looking forward to Jack bringing it back to Newcastle Gamers.

After Jack left, Camo, John and I rounded off the evening with The King of Frontier, which John had introduced me to a couple of weeks earlier. Mixing the tile placement from Carcassonne with the role selection from Puerto RicoThe King of Frontier manages to be much quicker than either and possibly even slightly more fun. To cut a short story even shorter, I went for a produce-consume strategy early on with a size-4 field and size-4 city; John had a special building which gave him a bonus when spending wood during the consume phase, so we were pretty even. John and Camo both very helpfully pointed out when I forgot there was a handy building I could afford, so I built it… and it won me the game. The Altar cancelled out the -2 VP for every empty space on my board at the end of the game which, along with the 2 VPs on the Altar tile, effectively put me 14 VPs up (16 if you include the fact that the Altar fills a space).

This is what a winning board looks like... although it wouldn't without the Altar there.

This is what a winning board looks like… although it probably wouldn’t without the Altar there

Final score – Me: 43 / Camo: 35 / John Sh: 30

A great game to finish another great evening at Newcastle Gamers. The next session falls on my birthday, so it’s anyone’s guess if I’ll actually make it along or not.

Photos by John and me, 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!

September Gaming Roundup

huge month of gaming, even when you exclude the Newcastle Gamers session I’ve already covered. It started with a weekend where Mrs Cardboard took two of our three kids away and left me with the middle one (aged 6), so he picked some of his favourite “proper games” to play. Two games of Indigo, one of Carcassonne (no farmers and playing nicely – no stealing cities, much to my dismay) and an unusually long Rampage in which we both struggled to properly demolish buildings and kept missing things when throwing trucks. As ever, I absolutely destroyed him points-wise (and the city, physically) because he’s far more interested in having fun knocking stuff over than in collecting full sets of meeples for points. 65 to 12. He didn’t care; he’d thrown bits of wood around for nearly an hour.

That weekend also included a Corbridge Gamers session with John Sh, featuring Snowdonia with the Neuhauser Bockerlbahn expansion. I nearly sneaked a win by doing really nicely out of station building and having just the right set of contracts to fulfil, but John got some excellent bonuses from track-based contracts and took the win by 10 points (134–124). The Neuhauser Bockerlbahn adds some interesting ideas to the Snowdonia formula, including wood and the ability to power trains (of which you can own two!) with said wood once you’ve felled it. I really should play Snowdonia a lot more.

We also played Russian Railroads, which was new to me. I’d somehow missed every opportunity to play it over the nearly two years since its release. I now massively regret that, because I really enjoyed it! It’s got that magical combination of being relatively rules-light while always having some fairly deep choices to think through, with early engine-building (not literally… although also literally) guiding you to an overall strategy that can work out really well… or go horribly wrong. I managed to sneak a win, basically by collecting enough engineers to score an obscene bonus towards the end of the game (28 points or something like that). John had warned me that the scoring would accelerate rapidly. Even with that warning, after the first round of six ended with the scores at 11–7, there was no way I would have suspected I’d win 299–274. Ridiculous. But brilliant. Very keen to play this one again with more players.

The major gaming event of the month came on the final weekend, with another fantastic two days away organised by the other gaming John in my life (Simmo when he comments here). These weekends have become little highlights of my year, with the opportunity to get some longer, heavier games played without fear of running out of time or taking up too much space.

Our view for the weekend

Our view for the weekend

Friday was almost entirely taken up with 1830, which I’ve wanted to play for a long time. I’ve had a copy of the Mayfair edition since I saw it briefly going cheap (£25-ish?) a while back. Simmo has had a copy of the Avalon Hill edition for a lot longer; indeed, the last time his copy got played was almost eight years ago. John, Ali, Olly and I all had a basic understanding of the rules, but it still took at least an hour to set everything up and make sure we were all on the same page (some slight rules differences and clarifications between the AH and Mayfair editions threw up some early stumbling points).

The initial auction for private companies left Olly with the B&O – very expensive, but with the bonus of the President share in the B&O railroad – and me with the C&A, giving me one normal share in the PRR (and obviously I went for the presidency straight away). Both of those railroads floated early and paid out often. Ali ended up with four shares in PRR, which meant I could have dumped the railroad on him just before its trains rusted and left him short of cash. As it turned out, at the crucial point he was swimming in cash and I slightly mistimed it anyway, so I ended up paying up about $750 for a diesel from my personal fortune, which pretty much scuppered my game.

The board was pretty full with tiles towards the end of the game, with only minor adjustments between operating rounds; unfortunately, we hadn’t thought this bit through and ended up recalculating entire train revenues every time, which ate up loads of time that could have been saved with a revenue table (I’ve printed one out and stuck it in my copy for next time). After about seven-and-a-half hours of play, we finished a set of operating rounds with only about $50 left in the bank, so we called the game there and saved probably another 45–60 minutes of recalculations that wouldn’t have changed the final position much.

Final score – Olly: $6,547 / Ali: $5,494 / John: $5,296 / Me: $4,227

A sound win for Olly, and a solid thrashing for me. I had a wide spread of shares across various companies, but without deep holdings in anything except PRR (50%). Coupled with mistiming the diesel buy, I think that was the crucial factor in my woeful performance. Olly, meanwhile, was heavily invested in two companies (B&O and C&O) with only a few shares from others, which meant he could get hefty dividend payouts from his presidencies. We all played nicely with each other (apart from my early blocking of C&O with awkward track tiles), given that it was very much a learning game (and I mistimed dumping PRR on Ali). Next time, I think we’re all armed to be a bit more vicious. And I’ve found myself looking at other 18xx games since; it’s clearly struck a chord with me.

Saturday was a lot more varied, with Age of Industry (New England map, Graham winning a low-scoring 5-player game on a tiebreak) and Ticket to Ride: Märklin (enjoyed this more than any other TtR variant I’ve played, even played at breakneck speed to fit it in before Ali had to leave – he thrashed us all in absentia) taking up the morning. I got in a 3-player Trajan (my favourite of all the Felds) with Olly and James; I made a couple of silly errors, which is normal for me playing Trajan, but still won by a single point over James.

The end of Trajan

The end of Trajan; just peeking into shot, bottom-left, is Olly’s impressive collection of shipped goods

After that came Erosion, a Sierra Madre Games card game, not designed by Phil Eklund, but developed by him and bearing all the Eklund hallmarks – terrible graphic design, cards filled with educational text and preposterous game terminology. It proved to be one of the strange little highlights of the weekend, partly for the fact that it’s a game about being a mountain, but mainly for the constant giggling about having “handfuls of schist” and asking people if they would be “uplifting”. Ridiculous, with a narrow win for James.

After introducing Jude to Ingenious (Jude placed second behind Graham, with me in third and Olly bringing up the rear after a little scrap where I made sure I wasn’t going to be last), I played the first of two end-of-WWII-themed games that rounded off the weekend – 1944: Race to the Rhine. In some ways, RttR could suffer slightly from its theme, in that it’s clearly a war-themed game (evident from the box art) but at its heart it’s a resource-management and racing eurogame. That means that wargamers could be a bit disappointed by the euro-style play, while euro-lovers never try it because it’s a “wargame”. Me? I loved it.

Ben played the sole British role of Montgomery, while Toby (Patton) and I (Bradley) represented the US generals pushing eastward towards Germany. As Brad, my problems were apparent from the start – I had no opportunity to capture limited supply bases on the way, so all of my supplies had to be brought onto the board at the “bottom” (the west-hand side) and taken all the way to my corps by truck. Monty and Patton had the option of bringing in supplies much closer to their corps, which meant they could be a little more responsive and flexible.

It turned out to be less of a Race to the Rhine and more of a (in Ben’s words) Casual Stroll to the Rhine, with each of us being fairly cautious in our advances. Toby did shoot ahead to the east in the first few turns, but then was brought up short by a lack of supply… alongside Ben and I using the Axis markers to hamper his advance quite drastically. Ben, meanwhile, mopped up some German forces as he sauntered to the east, and I pushed on in a fairly measured and even fashion, bringing each of my three corps forward together. I nearly came completely unstuck when Toby carried out Axis counterattacks into my supply lines; I was one turn away from being completely cut off, but I just managed to sneak some fuel and ammo through to keep things moving. Bradley does have the potential to be completely cut off (and effectively out of the game) without sufficient care, so that’s something to watch out for in future!

Meandering Saunter to the Rhine

Meandering Saunter to the Rhine – I do love the graphic design work on this one

It got a bit gamey towards the end, with Ben clearly having a lead in medals (the win condition if nobody actually crosses the Rhine before Axis markers run out) and thus wanting to end the game, while Toby and I wanted to catch up a bit… or even cross the Rhine, which Toby was perilously close to. We got there in the end though, with Ben winning on 7 medals, me on 6 and Toby on 5. A really fun game, which I’d like to play again soon… but I imagine I won’t get the chance because the theme probably puts a lot of people off. Shame.

One night’s sleep later, the three of us reconvened for Churchill on Sunday morning. An odd and very effective mix of negotiation, seemingly simple card play and abstracted warfare, Churchill covers the closing months of WWII, simulating the conferences between Churchill, Roosevelt (and later Truman) and Stalin. We played the tournament scenario, which covers the last five of ten possible conferences (the ten-conference game would take a fairly long session…), although we missed off the final conference through a lack of time.

The card-play in the Conference phases seems initially trivial, but it soon becomes apparent how important it is to (a) keep turn order in mind and (b) hold back powerful cards for late in the conference. Winning the Agenda segment at the start of each Conference phase not only lets you get a headstart on winning a conference Issue (represented by counters on the Conference Table tracks), but also ensures that you’re last in turn order, which is a huge advantage for winning that all-important Issue.

Ben (as Stalin) kept the “Nyet!” feeling alive by regularly debating Issues after they’d been advanced by either Toby (Roosevelt) or me (Churchill); conversely, neither of the Western allies felt the need to do much debating. I think I did it once, just to keep Ben from being able to debate (only one player can debate an issue after it’s advanced). It’s little touches like that which keep the theme alive through simple mechanisms – the USSR player debates so often, as Stalin did historically, because they get a +1 bonus to card strength when they do. Clever design.

Debates continued in another form after the Conference phase was over, with the assignment of support on various war fronts in the Military phase. There was a fair bit of jostling and (non-binding!) conversation going on as to which fronts would receive support and for what reason. I didn’t want to support the Normandy landings until my UK troops had entered Northern Italy; conversely, Ben was desperate to make Normandy happen so the Germans would divert some of their horde of troops to the Western front. That meant nobody could be happy until I’d got my precious advance in Italy and was ready to commit to the Normandy effort.

I pushed a couple of Global Issues early on, meaning I could place Political Alignment markers in Colonies when no one else could. That was going to be my key to VPs – Political Alignment and clearing out other people from the Colonies, keeping my head down so the others might not notice. Meanwhile, Ben and Toby kept the fronts moving forward as best they could, stealing the odd bit of Production from me (either directly or with Directed Offensives) and each other.

At the point that we cut the game short, neither Axis power had surrendered, so we knew we were in for a bit of a die-roll-fuelled resolution to the final score – it’s Mark Herman’s penalty for players who don’t bother finishing the war. The leader subtracts 1d6 from their score, the second-place player subtracts (1d6)/2 and the player in last adds 1d6. Before the d6-randomised score adjustments, I had a lead of several points over Ben, with Toby just behind him; after the adjustments, it was a different story.

Final score – Toby: 36 / Me: 32 / Ben: 31

A sneak win for the US. I’m not entirely satisfied with the “victory condition 3” ending with random score adjustments – had I not rolled a 6 and had Toby not rolled a 5, things would have been very different – but I guess that’s the idea. It’s not supposed to be a satisfying ending if the Allies don’t even bother to win the war.

And that was the end to a superb weekend of games.

John Sh and I managed to squeeze in another Corbridge Gamers on the last day of the month, featuring Tash-Kalar (deathmatch duel this time, which I think is a slightly better variant for beginners now I’ve played it – I still won 20–15), The King of Frontier, which manages to combine elements of Puerto RicoCarcassonne and a bunch of generic euro mechanisms into a genuinely successful and enjoyable little game (I won, 49–44) and Reiner Knizia’s venerable Battle Line, which is fine but not spectacular (John won with 5 flags overall).

An epic post for an epic month. October will be a little lighter on the gaming, I suspect, but there’s always hope.

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!