Tag Archives: 18xx

Gametown Top Ranking

While listening to Heavy Cardboard episode 52 (Amanda and Edward revealing their top 50 games each), I naturally started thinking about the games that would make it into my “Top N” list. I don’t think I could sensibly manage N=50; even with the length of time I’ve been seriously gaming, I’d probably struggle to drum up 50 games I’ve played more than once and I don’t think I can legitimately pass judgement on a game I’ve only touched on a single occasion. N=10 would be manageable, but liable to change on a moment’s notice.

So I thought I’d do something a bit different: a couple of favourite games in each of ten different categories, giving me a “sort of top 20 games list” to come back to in a year or two and scoff at.

All-Time Classics

You know, the sort of games that are always hovering around people’s top-10 lists, usually in the top 10 or 20 on BGG and often more than a few years old.

Agricola

Agricola

Yeah, you know it’s still the best game ever. Building a food engine, improving the farm, grabbing stuff, keeping an eye on everyone else and making sure you know when they’re going to be grabbing stuff, making sure you have enough food for Harvest… The game wants to kill you, but it wants you to have fun anyway.

I haven’t played it for ages though, which is partly due to the constant influx of new games and partly due to the company I keep – quite a few people don’t want to play with certain other people because those certain other people are so good at Agricola that there’s no chance of winning. Doesn’t bother me though. Agricola‘s always a good time, win or lose.

Twilight Struggle

If I’ve got 3–6 hours and a single willing victim, this is the game of choice for me. Of course, those being fairly restrictive criteria and being married to someone who (by and large) doesn’t play board games… again, this one doesn’t get played enough for my liking. The new digital adaptation by Playdek does an OK job and I need to dig into it more to get my head round the interface, but nothing beats the raw tension of playing TS in person.

Heavy Euros

The real brain-burning brutes with plenty of bits of wood being pushed around.

Madeira

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

Sounding like a stuck record already, but… I need to play this more. It’s fun, it’s long, it’s oddly lovely to look at and sweet lord it hurts. It’s (usually) obvious what you need to do in order to score in the next scoring round, but how you actually get to do those things and pay for them… that’s a whole other challenge.

Through the Ages

Possibly cheating with this one, because I’ve never played it face-to-face and I haven’t played the new version; it’s all been on BGO with the original (or very slightly tweaked) rules. It’s a masterpiece of horribly tight resource management and tableau building, which are two of my favourite things in games.

Lighter Euros

Shipyard

Rondels, rondels, rondels. Ships so long they look like oil tankers. The weird canal-maze-tile-laying subgame. This one’s greater than the sum of its parts, and its parts are pretty great.

Trajan

Trajan

So simple, yet tough to pull off well because of that mancala mechanism for action selection. And it works really well at all player counts from two to four.

Economic Games

Basically a way to get a few more heavy euro-type games in. Brass nearly got in here, so consider it an “honourable mention”.

Food Chain Magnate

FCM Olly

Like most Splotter games, FCM is non-stop tough from start to finish and things can go horribly wrong for you… but it’s quite often your fault when that happens and you can learn a lesson for the next time you play. And then you’ll mess up something else and get better again. So many strategies I’ve yet to try.

1865: Sardinia

This is really here as a representative of 18xx as a whole, but I think 1865 might well be my favourite. It’s small and tight, and it eliminates a lot of the fiddliness of more traditional 18xx games by virtue of players never having to calculate their most lucrative routes. So where the final rounds of many 18xx games can bog down into hours of “well, if I put a station there it blocks that, but if I upgrade this track then I get $10 extra…”, 1865 retains all the good stuff and skips along nicely to the end.

Cooperative Games

Pandemic

Pandemic

Quite enough has already been said and written across the web about Pandemic; I’ll say nothing other than that I think it’s the best cooperative game around.

Ghost Stories

Ghost Stories

While Ghost Stories isn’t heavy by any stretch of the imagination, it’s hard. Really hard. And really fun, as long as you can cope with the fact you’ll very probably lose.

Two-Player Abstract Games

I do love a good two-player abstract, and I’m trying to indoctrinate my kids in the joys of the classic white-vs-black board game.

Hive

Hive

Yes, white should win in an evenly matched game, but it’s still an excellent game. Although it looks like you’ve got loads of choices on your turn, there are very often only one or two that make any tactical sense, so it’s usually quick to play and easy to convince your opponent to play another round.

YINSH

Definite cheating here because I’ve only played this once, but I think this might be a truly excellent game and I want to play it a lot to get better at it.

Family Games

Stuff that my kids – and even my wife – will happily play and/or request.

Indigo

Indigo

For some reason, my kids love this Knizia game. I think it’s pretty good too, and it has the added benefit of being really handsome on the table.

Ticket to Ride series

Ticket to Ride

OK, I’m not a huge fan of TtR (especially the original US board), but I think it helps consolidate a lot of basic game concepts for my kids and will hopefully prove to be a decent stepping stone to more complex games.

Wargames

D-Day at Omaha Beach

DDaOB featured image

Because I don’t have any face-to-face wargaming buddies I can play with on a regular basis, it’s obvious that the king of all solitaire wargames is sitting here. Never mind that it’s incredibly tough and your troops will be picked off by the Wiederstandsnests as they move up the beach; this is a beautifully designed challenge for the solo gamer.

Red Winter: The Soviet Attack at Tolvajärvi, Finland 8–12 December 1939

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This was my real introduction to hex-and-counter gaming, and it remains my absolute favourite two-player wargame. Why? Low counter density, relatively low rules complexity and a beautiful map that – while as free as any other – encourages certain types of movement and play while leaving the door open for the odd surprise manoeuvre. Fantastic design. I’ve been trying to get my head into the sequel, Operation Dauntless, but the added chrome and armour rules mean it’s been a bit opaque.

Solitaire Games

Mage Knight

If I’ve got a whole evening alone, I’ll quite often set this up and… well, usually lose. But the puzzle! Oh, the puzzle. Every hand of cards is a different puzzle with loads of solutions, but usually only one of those solutions will get you where you wanted and with the right cards left over to successfully defeat the next challenge.

Friday

I could write almost exactly the same about Friday as I did about Mage Knight, except it doesn’t take a whole evening. Simple, yet satisfying.

Fillers / Party Games

Codenames

I’ve only played this a handful of times, and never with more than four players (so I have yet to experience the chaos and fun of larger teams) but I know it’s a genuine masterpiece of game design. So, so simple, yet so, so tough on the brain whichever side of the table you’re sitting.

Coloretto

Coloretto

I don’t think I’ve played another filler that engenders such furious bouts of swearing as Coloretto. It’s one of those “gentle” games where you can be genuinely horrible to people without directly stealing from them or anything like that. Again, a brilliant bit of game design.

So there it is. My pseudo-top-20 list. What did I miss off? What entire categories of game did I neglect to include? Let me know.

Oh, and I couldn’t neglect to include this little pop gem.

July Gaming Round-up

I’m back! Major cycling event out of the way (106 miles completed, £590 raised for ME Research UK), last days of first school for the firstborn completed, first couple of weeks of summer holidays navigated. And plenty of gaming done in the interim. Here’s July.

Corbridge Gamers

One from the bottom of John’s pile – Hamburgum. And it really doesn’t deserve to be on the bottom of anyone’s pile. It’s a real cracker.

caption

End of the game. You can see the lovely resources at the left-hand side of the photo, including real bells!

Rondel manipulation, resource management, area control… there’s a bit of each of them, and it all comes together into a splendid whole. The theme comes through nicely (increasing influence in Hamburg by contributing to the building of churches) and there’s a wonderfully evil mechanism in the shipping area, where newly added ships push out the older ships. Somehow, I always managed to stay on the upper hand in that little race, which really helped me power through to a win, 175–153.

My little bit of Hamburg.

My little bit of Hamburg. With the right scoring multiplier tiles, this was quite a points haul.

As usual with a lot of the games John and I play, I’d like to try it with more players, but it was really enjoyable with two.

On the other session we managed in July, we played Mykerinos – which was so underwhelming as to not warrant further mention – and Trambahn, which I enjoyed just as much as the first time I sampled its clearly-18xx-influenced tableau-building delights. This time I was hit with a series of poor card draws (and a smattering of rash decisions), so John’s 155–118 win was unsurprising.

Newcastle Gamers

Three sessions in July, what with the summer holidays bringing about an extra, all-day session on the penultimate Saturday of the month!

Session 1

Arkwright! I’d picked this up about a week before the session and had some solo learning attempts at home, first at the introductory Spinning Jenny game, then the full Water Frame version. I felt that SJ was a bit too light and unrewarding for the amount of effort it takes, so I convinced Olly and John Sh that WF was worth the extra learning effort and that it wasn’t that tough. I mean, it isn’t complicated in terms of the general mechanics of each turn – pick an action, pay the cost, do the thing. Simple, right?

Well, it turns out that with four players (John B joined us) there’s an awful lot going on besides that, and a lot to think about across several areas of the (very full) table.

So many charts. So many cubes. So many pawns.

So many charts. So many cubes. So many pawns. So much bookkeeping.

To cut to the chase: I really enjoyed Arkwright, but it was bloody hard work. I think it would be greatly rewarded by lots of experience, but I doubt I’ll get the chance to find out, such was the effort required. The production/sales phase alone (which we experienced twenty times over the course of the game) was so unintuitive to first-time players that it was very difficult to predict and quite tedious to play out.

Final score – Me: £506 / Olly: £506 / John B: £364 / John Sh: £171

Olly and I were level on portfolio value (one of us had 22 shares at £23 each, the other 23 shares at £22) but I won on the cash-in-hand tie-break, £8 to £1.

John B left and we were joined by Lloyd for the much lighter new game from Martin Wallace, Via Nebula. Bizarre theme and lovely production values aside (that inlay!), this was a perfectly fine if slightly unexciting route-building, pick-up-and-deliver-while-building-stuff game.

Lovely wooden bits.

Lovely wooden bits.

A bit like Age of Steam (of which more later), there’s a slow opening, a long build and a sudden finish… but all packed into about 45 minutes. So I’d be perfectly happy to fill a gap with it again, even if it did feel a little… meh.

Final score – John Sh: 27 / Olly: 23 / Me: 21 / Lloyd: 20

Session 2

What better to do with an all-day session than some 18xx? This time, it was 1844, set in Switzerland, with Olly and Ali. As 18xx games go, it’s a reasonably vanilla one, playing a lot like 1830 with just a few thematic wrinkles like tunnels, mountain railways, H-trains and four different types of company… one of which is the nationalised SBB, coming into being at the beginning of Phase 5 when all five precursor companies are merged.

A bit like 1865: Sardinia (which I seem to have played twice since my last gaming blog post – yikes), many of the railway companies have historical destinations; in 1844, reaching the historical destination means the company receives the 50% of capitalisation it didn’t get when it floated. With some of these companies having only four shares, the half-capitalisation and a top par price of 100 Francs means it can be tough to get anywhere to start with (200 Fr doesn’t go far). And with up to 14 companies on the go at once (although I don’t think we got above 11), the trains get snapped up thick and fast, sometimes leaving many companies trainless.

Mid-game

Late-game board.

I think we played the route-building fairly non-aggressively for most of the game, but we made up for it towards the end. Awkward routing and tokening-out of stations was the order of the day by the later phases, and there were a lot of sudden drops in company revenues when previously beautiful routes were abruptly terminated. Of course, with such a high certificate limit with three players, blocking routes often hurt the blocker almost as much as the blocked company director – after all, we were all at least slightly invested in most of the companies.

Olly had ended up with directorship of the SBB, having had most shares in the five precursor companies. Naturally, having most shares there (and the four trains it could run when most others were restricted to two) meant Olly was getting the biggest chunk of the biggest payouts. I’d done my usual 18xx thing of “strong start, weak finish” and had to payout personal funds for forced train purchases… twice! They weren’t huge, but they were enough to put me out of pocket going into stock rounds and leave me lagging.

1844 end

End of the game. Running only a single train with each of my companies certainly didn’t help.

The auxiliary table holding unsold shares, share prices, track tiles and the illegible scrawlings that tracked revenues from round to round.

The auxiliary table holding unsold shares, the stock market chart, track tiles and my illegible scrawlings that tracked revenues from round to round.

Final score – Olly: 8938 / Me: 6935 / Ali: 6593

As usual with 18xx, a convincing win for Olly. And as usual, I felt like I was getting a grasp on things about one or two rounds too late. Another play of this and I’ll feel more secure with it.

Session 3

With a double booking at the church hall meaning there was a small crowd of gamers standing around in the car park for potentially two hours, Olly, John Sh and I decamped to Olly’s house for a quick game of Age of Steam: France before heading back to continue the session. I say “quick”… it’s not anywhere simple enough to be genuinely “quick”. It is simple enough to pick up very quickly though, and first-time-player John schooled us, 102–88–81 (me last). I hadn’t twigged just how lucrative Paris could be, and I hamstrung myself early on with a few too-low turn-order bids and last position on the turn track.

Back at Christ Church, the session was in full swing when we arrived, with a few people just reaching the end of a game. We added Jon C to our trio and played Roll for the Galaxy (no expansion – it hasn’t been a popular addition when I’ve tried it). Olly went for a quick-building win and just managed it; my development-heavy approach was much too slow to keep pace, points-wise. That said, it was a low-scoring game all round.

Final score – Olly: 31 / Jon C: 27 / John Sh: 25 / Me: 22

Jon had Quadropolis in his big box o’ games, and I’ve been interested in giving it a go ever since its release. It’s a sort of city-building game with a huge chunk of spatial puzzling involved. I’m not necessarily the best at spatial stuff – not that I don’t enjoy route-building and tile-laying games, but I tend to work better without physical grids to work on – and Quadropolis was no exception to that. While the rules themselves are simple (even for the “Expert” version we were playing) and this is a family game at heart, it took me a fair while to get my head round the positioning puzzle. Jon was clearly going for harbours and skyscrapers; Olly was concentrating on monuments and civic buildings; I was… doing a bit of everything and doing it all fairly badly.

Final score – Olly: 91 / Jon C: 81 / Me: 78 / John Sh: 71

My finished city borough.

My finished city borough.

I’m not sure what to make of Quadropolis. There doesn’t seem quite enough to it for a gamer crowd, but it seems a little too thinky for families. Maybe it’s just not my sort of game. It looked quite pretty though, I’ll give it that.

Last up was the unpredictable madness of Donald X’s Temporum. To be fair, I’ve played it at two players and it felt much tighter and more controlled; with four, it felt like a Carl Chudyk game. All plans from one turn were entirely void by the next, given how much everything could change in between. We opted to change our Age I card partway through the game, because the original one made it far too tempting to just sit in Age I and do nothing but draw, play and score cards. Experience clearly played its part and John took a convincing win, but I ended up only one “point” behind. I’d be happy to play again with two… maybe three… but for me, Temporum was pretty unsatisfying with four players.

And that’s July done. Back on the blogging horse now, so hopefully I’ll be a bit more frequent in future.

Spring Games Weekend 2016

Last weekend was the spring 2016 instalment of the biannual “weekend away playing games in a bunkhouse”, featuring John Sh (of Corbridge Gamers) for the first time and lacking John Si, even though he’d organised the whole thing as usual. We also lost regular attendee Ben at the last minute, due to a situation involving train tickets, credit cards and flatmates.

We kicked off Friday afternoon in the usual “quick, light games while people are arriving” style with Camel Up, this time with the extended racetrack and supporting dice, just to spice things up a little. After spending most of the game thinking I had it in the bag, Graham R completely overhauled me in the final scoring, getting 8 Egyptian pounds in each of the “overall winner” and “overall loser” betting.

Final score – Graham R: 40 / Me: 33 / Graham B: 29 / Olly: 20 / Ali: 17 / Camo: 11

With all likely interested people present, four of us settled into 1862: Railway Mania in the Eastern Counties for the rest of the day. It actually wasn’t that long in the playing (somewhere around the seven-hour mark), but rules explanation was lengthy and intense and we broke off for Ali to cook for everyone, as well as to eat. 1862 is a really small, tight map with up to sixteen companies fighting it out in East Anglia; with great leniency in terms of forced train purchases and company refinancing, it’s much more a route-engineering game than a stock-market-manipulation game, so it was a nice change of pace from 1830.

The beginning of the game. Not many hexes; far too many companies.

The beginning of the game. Not many hexes; far too many companies. And no, it’s not winning any graphic design awards, but it’s 18xx so no one cares.

Financial leniency doesn’t mean rules simplicity though, with each company potentially being either chartered (via an auction in the Parliament Round and fully capitalised) or non-chartered (started by buying shares in the typical 18xx way, but only partially capitalised), and each one having a random permit to run only one type of train (Freight, Local or Express, with Local being the most like the standard 1830 sort of train and Freight being… genuinely a bit weird). Coupling all that with rules for company mergers and acquisitions, it felt a bit daunting to begin with, but we quickly hit the usual sort of rhythm.

The game opens with two Parliament Rounds, which we all took as a sort of indication that we should probably start two chartered companies each. Well, maybe we shouldn’t have in reality – starting two chartered companies in the opening of a four-player game means setting a par price at the very low end of the spectrum (both of mine were at £54, on the £54–100 scale), which came back to bite me in the arse royally towards the end of the game.

With eight companies started in the opening minutes of the game, there was a massive train rush and we hit the green tiles very quickly. To be honest, the train rush never stopped; I’d be surprised if we played more than seven or eight whole rounds in the entire game, so quickly were the companies ploughing through the pile of trains. I spent much of the early game (or, really, much of the game) deliberately blocking people from my lucrative routes and keeping them away from the juiciest connections near me, which meant my companies (L&H running Freight trains, FDR running Express) were among the highest earners in the early game.

Talking of blocking, it was a key component of this game. Combinations of tile choice and station token placement meant that the board was essentially divided into a north half and south half, with only a couple of railroads able to run through the division. I don’t think any of us twigged early enough that “normal” cities (i.e. without special named tiles) didn’t get any bigger than two station spots, so congestion was guaranteed on this tiny map.

Coming into the final set of operating rounds.

Coming into the final set of operating rounds, just after the collapse of the FDR.

There were a few mergers and a fair few bouts of refinancing in order to be able to afford trains, but I got bitten heavily just before the end of the game when there was an even faster rush through the last few train types. My FDR found itself with neither a train nor much money. Because the opening par price had been set at £54, refinancing would only bring in £540 and that was nowhere near enough for an £800 train. That meant the FDR was bankrupt and folded immediately. Disaster – that was my big earner. If I’d withheld revenue just once, I think I could have managed, but the train rush really was that fast. I went from feeling safe to utterly destroyed.

That was the end of my game, really. I think the FDR collapsed in the last set of normal ORs, and the final set (once the first H train had been bought) were simply “work out your revenue and get it three times”. Graham had played the centre of the map really nicely (he could run trains through that central divide I mentioned), but Ali had worked well to overcome all my blocking manoeuvres and he was director of three pretty good earners by the end and had a large portfolio of other shares. It was pretty obvious he’d taken the win, but the margins weren’t clear until the final reckoning.

Final score – Ali: £7835 / Graham B: £6413 / Olly: £5949 / Me: £5705

A decisive victory, and a cracking game. Really enjoyed this one, even though we didn’t finish until after 1 am.

Late finish, bad night’s sleep and woken at the crack of dawn by road noise and daylight (both things I’m unused to at home) meant my brain was pretty frazzled on the Saturday morning. I wasn’t the only one, and much of the day was spent on lighter fare.

John, Olly, Camo and I started with Kingdom Builder, with loads of oddities from the Big Box edition. Wagons, boats, soldiers… it was no surprise that I came in last, with John’s win nearly doubling my 43 points. I nearly made it up in The King of Frontier, but a rough tile draw (and John’s good fortune with the tiles) meant I came in just two points behind his winning 39.

Graham R joined us for Keyflower, in which he schooled us all on his first play (just like Camel Up the day before) by getting a tile that scored for every good on it and just piling those goods on. Olly managed to get close, but the rest of us… well… see for yourself:

Final score – Graham R: 80 / Olly: 70 / John: 45 / Me: 44 / Camo: 26

My dismal little village.

My comparatively dismal little village.

Terra Mystica took up what felt like the bulk of the afternoon, but it was only 2.5 hours, so it might just have taken up the bulk of my brain power for the afternoon. Graham R was replaced by Graham B, and Camo by Ali. Playing the Dwarves for the first time was interesting – tunnelling is great, not only for building further afield but also for just getting 4 points every time. Olly’s Nomads had the “sandstorm” power, allowing for an extra build once per round (and he built his Stronghold in the first round, so he got plenty of use out of that power) so it was nigh-on impossible to keep up with him for the largest-settlement bonus at the end of the game. Didn’t stop me trying though, so I at least ended up in second place for that competition.

Ali didn’t get his Witches’ Stronghold built until much later on, so he couldn’t get much use out of his flying power, although he did build a few towns and get the bonus points for doing so as Witches. John’s Mermaids were terrifyingly agile when it came to spreading around the board, but I largely concentrated on consolidating one large settlement and racking up the tunnelling points.

The end of the game.

The end of the game. Dwarves (grey) clearly stuck to the bottom-right corner. Halflings (brown) don’t look too intimidating on the board, but…

As I can imagine often happens, I regretted a couple of late decisions regarding losing VPs to gain Power (I really should have taken the Power), but I don’t think it would have greatly affected the final result, even though it turned out very tight indeed. In a clear sign of a Well Balanced Game, there was an eight-point spread across five players.

Final score – Graham: 97 / Me: 94 / Ali: 93 / Olly: 91 / John: 89

Great stuff – I’d been wondering how it would play with more than two, and I’m glad it turned out to be just as excellent.

After Paperclip Railways (so tired that I have no idea what happened or how I drew for first place with Olly – losing on the tie break), Trans Europa (a runaway win, but at least this one’s really simple) and a meal, Graham B, Ali and I settled into Tigris & Euphrates for the rest of the evening. I’d played the old iOS version a fair bit and Graham knew the game, but Ali has played T&E hundreds of times since it first came out 19 years ago. For reasons of table space and novelty value, we played on my new Fantasy Flight edition rather than Ali’s German first edition. (I think the new leaders are easier to read on the table, but the plastic monuments are just horrible. Thankfully, in two games, we only had one monument on the board.)

It's Tigris & Euphrates, but not as we know it.

It’s Tigris & Euphrates, but not as we know it.

With his experience, Ali vigorously schooled us in the first (relatively quick) game (13/6/6), so we reset and played again. This time we were more cautious, although we all started out fairly close together in the middle of the board and there were a lot of conflicts. Graham came out on top in quite a few of them, which boosted his scores a fair bit and he took the win, 12/8/8.

Nobody makes games like Tigris & Euphrates any more, which is kind of a shame, but at the same time it’s hard to improve on that mixture of points-accumulation and insane aggression. Maybe nobody needs to make games like this any more. Knizia got it right the first time.

At the point where we should have gone to bed, we played Splendor. Graham’s played this a lot more than Ali or I have, so Graham’s 19/7/6 win wasn’t a surprise.

After sleeping like the dead, we didn’t have long before being turfed out on the Sunday morning so Graham, Ali and I were joined by Camo to continue our “classic aggressive-euro Knizia in FFG edition” theme with Samurai. Ali and I both felt the pain of the tile draw, although I managed to do OK for castles. It wasn’t quite OK enough; tying with Camo, no one took the scoring tile for castles. He and Graham took one scoring tile each so it went to the first tiebreaker, with Camo winning on most other pieces won.

We couldn’t go an entire day without a train game, so five of us had a last-minute bash at Paris Connection / SNCF. It turned out a bit odd, with one colour not getting off 0 on the stock value track, one on 5 and the other four all on 10. That meant high chances of ties, and indeed…

Final score – Me: 100 / Graham B: 100 / Graham R: 95 / Olly: 90 / James: 90

With no tiebreaker in the rules, a shared victory was an excellent way to end an excellent weekend of excellent games with excellent people. Roll on the next one!