Tag Archives: age of industry

Early October Gaming

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

Corbridge Gamers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newcastle Gamers

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

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

A vertiginous view of the endgame

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

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

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

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

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

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

stuff

Not enough coastal yellow

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

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

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

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

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 January 2013

Saturday saw the first Newcastle Gamers session of the year, so it seems as good a time as any to write my first gaming session report. And what a session.

I’d made prior arrangements with Olly and John S to have a crack at High Frontier. It’s a game of space flight and exploitation of the natural resources of the solar system. A game of high technology and high risks. A game where water is both currency and rocket fuel. And it’s a game of ridiculous complexity. Take a look at the game board:

Photo by Olly

I think my brain got decommissioned during an aerobrake manoeuvre

Yep, that’s the inner solar system, but not as you might know it. The lines are possible paths that your rocket can take, burning fuel if it changes course or passes through a particularly gravity-ridden stretch of space. The object of the game is to prospect various sites (the black hexagons on the board) for minerals, and then build factories on your successful prospecting claims. These factories can then build more advanced rocket technologies, enabling you to explore and exploit further, faster or more efficiently. Or maybe even all three. Continue reading