Tag Archives: brass

In August, There Were Games

Considering the general mayhem that August usually brings (school holidays being the main disruptor of sanity and routine), I managed to fit in a surprising amount of gaming. Among the usual family favourites like Ticket to RideIndigoCatan Junior and Forbidden Desert, I also introduced my eldest, J (now 9), to GIPF and we both indoctrinated his brother A (7) in the ways of Small World (in which they ganged up on me and A won his first ever game).

August’s Corbridge Gamers sessions started with a delivery from the hype-train: Scythe, which – like Jamey Stegmaier’s previous game Viticulture – I thought was fine and perfectly playable, yet completely unspectacular. Now, to be fair, I hadn’t quite got my head around exactly where the balance of VPs was going to come from, so I blithely bashed on towards my sixth star without thinking about expanding my territory and lost to John quite horribly (110–57). I mean, losing never bothers me and I would know what to do differently next time… but maybe my failure to grasp the importance of controlling hexes had dampened my opinion of the game somewhat?

Unspectacular gameplay, but fairly spectacular on the table – and we haven't even tried the enlarged side yet

Unspectacular gameplay, but fairly spectacular on the table – and we haven’t even tried the enlarged side yet

Well, skipping on to the last Newcastle Gamers session of August, I got the opportunity to play Scythe again, this time with five players instead of the Corbridge-standard two. I enjoyed it much more this time out, with a lot more going on in terms of interactions – at one point I was perfectly poised to swoop in and take the central Factory hex from John when Camo jumped in first and essentially shut me out for what turned out to be the rest of the game. Fun! (No, really.)

Five colours this time – a lot more to keep an eye on

Five colours this time – a lot more to keep an eye on

I ended up doing no better in terms of territories this time, but at least it wasn’t for want of trying. We ended up with quite a tight spread of points and a surprise victory for Olly, almost entirely by virtue of the fact he’d been hoarding cash to fulfil his secret objective card… and cash is VPs.

Final score – Olly: 59 / Pete: 54 / Me: 48 / Camo: 47 / John: 41

So… thoughts after two games? Yeah, it’s still pretty unspectacular. It’s like watching one of those lazy holodeck-based episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation: all the familiar elements are there and you’ll have a good time, but there’s something deeper missing and it leaves you feeling slightly unfulfilled. It reminds me a lot of Eclipse:

  • hex-based exploration (and some hex-to-hex routes inaccessible without certain technologies)
  • rush to a central important hex
  • hex control necessary for scoring and for producing resources
  • first-half buildup followed by second-half petty skirmishing for hex control
  • moving bits of wood from one place to another uncovers a thing and covers something else (I realise that’s a fundamental description of moving any bits of wood from one place to another, but if you’ve played the games you’ll know what I mean)

It’s mercifully shorter than Eclipse, and the main reason I don’t really play Eclipse is that I don’t enjoy it enough for the amount of time it takes, so I guess Scythe wins in that respect. It just doesn’t feel as elegant as Eclipse… or a lot of other games, frankly. I think it’s trying to do one or two things too many and it feels like a muddled experience. Oh, and the board design is a nightmare in poor lighting. Still, I’d play it again, although the alternatives would have to be reasonably poor to make me go for it.

Back to Corbridge Gamers and the inaugural (and still only-so-far) run of Guilds of London, Tony Boydell’s long-gestated area-control-with-confusing-iconography game. I’m entirely reserving judgement and comment on this game until I’ve played it more than once and with more than two players, because (a) the iconography on the cards is a complete bastard and the first game is almost entirely spent trying to figure out what each card in your hand does; and (b) the two-player game is quite possibly not much like the “real” three/four-player version.

It's quite pretty in a way, especially that massive horde of my red liverymen

It’s quite pretty in a way, especially that massive horde of my red liverymen in the Guildhall

Don’t get me wrong: we both really enjoyed the actual mechanisms and the wealth of options and decisions available with each hand of (baffling) cards. It’s just that the two-player version turns into a swingy cat-and-mouse round the scoring track. The VP leader is first player for the round, which is a disadvantage, meaning the second player is more likely to score more points and jump into the lead, thus leaving themselves at a disadvantage and likely to be overtaken again in the next round… and so on. No great surprise that the scores were close (70–68), but the winner could have been either of us.

More precisely though, it was me.

We also played Brew Crafters at John’s table this month, which was possibly the best-received Corbridge game of August in my eyes. It’s so much like Agricola that if Uwe Rosenberg wasn’t reportedly a fan of the game, I’d be expecting litigation. That makes it really easy to teach an Agricola veteran though: it’s just “these are resource-accumulating action spaces, these are Occupations, these are pretty much Improvements, let’s go”. OK, there’s a slight wrinkle with the two types of worker and the “brewery phase”, but it’s very Rosenberg.

The randomised available beers pointed me towards brewing ales for big points (8 points per brew of Belgian Quad), whereas John’s first move had telegraphed his intention to at least start off with the porters. It took a while to get going (and money is so horribly, horribly tight in Brew Crafters) but I managed to crank out a few high-value ales and over-hop a few for extra points with the Hop Infusers. My research track actions left me gaining even more extra points just for brewing beer, but I wasn’t sure if John’s more-beers-but-lower-value approach was going to squeeze me out in the final reckoning. As it turned out, I got the win 67–59; those Hop Infusers were great.

My brewery by the end of the game

My brewery by the end of the game

My only particular criticism of Brew Crafters is that the artwork is a bit… rubbish. If only Klemens Franz had put his hands on it. *sigh* You can’t have everything, I suppose. Oh, and I suppose my other criticism is that it isn’t Agricola, and if you can play Agricola… why play Brew Crafters? I guess it’s just down to thematic preference.

Let nobody try to convince you that Brew Crafters is a cuddly version of Agricola though – it’s even harder to pay your workers in BC than to feed your family in ‘Gric. So horribly, horribly, awfully, terribly tight.

Continuing this non-chronological skip through the month, the first Newcastle Gamers session started with Brass and ended with Trajan… with nothing in between. They didn’t run long; there just weren’t people available to start something new after Trajan so I called it a night. Still, any night with two of my favourite games is a win.

Even if I lost both of them.

The second Newcastle Gamers session contained the five-player Scythe experience mentioned earlier, but it started with Splotter Spellen’s Duck Dealer. I think it’s fair to say that Duck Dealer somewhat lived up to my expectations, in that I couldn’t even slightly get my head round it. I found it so opaque (and so difficult to read the board state) that I think I’d have to play it about five times to start to understand it. The thing is, I don’t want to play it even a second time, let alone the other three.

It’s like they took the beautiful simplicity of Roads & Boats and decided to remove all logic from the resource-crafting tree (rather than “some boards and stone makes a building”, you have “plastic beads and blue paint makes diet pills” and “rubber ducks plus phones makes radios”) so it takes an extra cognitive leap to understand. Then they made the movement more complex (each Move action might get you 8 points of movement, but the costs of interplanetary movement might be 12… or maybe 9 if you put some cubes on that route) and introduced a spaceship-upgrading system that slows you down as you add more cargo space and/or crew to the ship.

Maybe I’m just a bit dim, but it was about five things too many to take in at once and I couldn’t figure out what I should be doing when. That was compounded by graphic design that was inconsistent (some pieces showed the VPs you’d score by building them; others didn’t, so I didn’t remember that I could score by building those things) and just, well… hideous. I can forgive hideous design if the underlying game is enjoyable (see every other Splotter game I’ve played), but when the hideous design actually gets in the way of understanding what the hell’s going on, I’m entirely unforgiving.

Anyway, after initially realising that he’d entirely screwed himself over with his starting choice (classic Splotter there), Olly went on to unrealise that and win the game in spectacular style, 90–48–40–36. That’s my 36 at the end there. It would have been 30 if I hadn’t seen the end of the game coming and ditched my plan (such as it was) to scramble up a measly 6 points by selling satellites made from solar panels and telephones.

After being underwhelmed by Duck Dealer and Scythe, it was a delight to try Pi mal Pflaumen for the first time. Adding all sorts of fruity twists to the trick-taking genre, PmP is a lot thinkier than it might at first seem. Every card has not only a number (dictating who wins the trick and gets first choice of the played cards), but also a fruit and usually a special action or scoring opportunity. That means there’s a bunch of agonising over whether to play this card because it’s a high number or this one because I want that fruit but hold on if I play that fruit the number means I’ll lose the trick and Camo will take it first because it’s got the watchdog action on it, so maybe I should play this card with the slightly rubbish scoring combo on it and hope it’s the highest card… and I’ll throw a bunch of pi cards in with it to boost the value.

Every trick’s like that. And that’s great. I hope to play it a lot more.

Final score – John: 43 / Me: 42 / Olly: 38 / Camo: 35

A quick August mention to my week’s holiday in the Lake District, where six games of the wonderful Codenames were played with my wife and her parents. Of course, it’s a hugely fun game, but it’s also an interesting window into the way people think. With people you’ve known very well for over twenty years, it turns out it’s both hilarious and faintly worrying when you find out what their thought processes were.

“Location, 2” (on a table with HOLLYWOOD and a whole bunch of place names)

“Ummmm… POST!”

“No, that’s the other team’s… and in god’s name, why POST?”

“Because the post has to go to a location, doesn’t it?”

My view from the top of Honister Pass, looking east, having just ridden up it from the west – literally the hardest and most painful thing I have ever done

My view from the top of Honister Pass, looking east, having just cycled up it from the west

Newcastle Gamers – Saturday 9 May 2015

Kicking off in fine style with Brass! This was the first time I’d sat down to Brass without feeling like I needed a full rules rundown (although I’d forgotten a few of the finer points… and I can never remember that weird Birkenhead rule) and the first time I went into it with a solid plan.

The plan was simply to get at least two or three level-2 industries on the board before the end of the canal age, with as much of a spread across Lancashire as possible, and preferably with one as near to Manchester as possible. Spend as little as possible (ideally nothing) on the last turn before the railway age in order to be first in turn order… then spend £30 on building four VP-lucrative railways around Manchester. Not much of a plan – and a lot of other stuff to fill in around it – but that’s what I was aiming for, and that’s what I managed to do. I had a coal mine in Bury and went first in the first turn of the railway age, so I built Bury–Manchester, Manchester–Bolton, Manchester–Warrington and Warrington–Liverpool. That would be 25 VPs for £30, assuming every town was filled with flipped tiles… which they eventually were.

Olly seemed to have spent most of the canal age building ironworks, which left very little opportunity for anyone else to build one, even into the railway age. That meant he got a VP boost from his emptied, flipped ironworks tiles and the iron market spent most of the railway age severely depleted. Graham did well for income early on, unlike me. I spent two turns in the red, spending £3 each time (which really wasn’t ideal) before finally getting a cotton mill shipped off via Ellesmere Port.

In fact, that sums up my experience of the whole game – I was always slightly behind where I wanted to be, occasionally making inefficient plays because I couldn’t quite do the thing I wanted to do. Twice I was just £1 short of my plans, and one of those was because of the £3 interest I’d just had to pay in the early game.

My lucky red cotton mill up in

My lucky red cotton mill up in Lancaster saved me from last place. (Note: this is the end of the game, but before final scoring. The winning score was definitely higher than 34.)

John Sh mastered the income track towards the end of the game, ending up with an income of £16, which allowed him to build two railways per turn (assuming there was coal on the board, anyway… which there occasionally wasn’t) even after there were no more loans allowed. That meant he crept into a couple of places where I wanted to build my railways (some very nice links around Liverpool, Ellesmere Port and down towards The Midlands), so I ended up taking a risk on shipping a cotton mill to the distant markets even when the market was perilously close to crashing. I came up lucky though, which gave me a nice chunk of VPs to end the game. It wasn’t enough to counter Olly’s greater experience and better planning, or Graham’s shipyard in Liverpool (the only one built in the whole game), but I felt like I’d finally got the hang of this excellent game.

Final score – Olly: 127 / Graham: 126 / Me: 110 / John: 103

Camo joined us for my first ever game of 7 Wonders (played with the Leaders expansion to add a bit more strategy). It turns out there’s not much to say about 7 Wonders – it just kind of… happens. I was attempting to go for science cards, and had drafted a couple of leaders that augmented that aim, but not many of them made it round to me. It turned out that Graham, sitting to my right, was also going for science cards and he grabbed lots of them when we were drafting clockwise. Olly, on my left, was clearly taking as many VP-rich blue cards as he could. In true 7 Wonders style, I didn’t really know or care what John and Camo were doing, because I wasn’t next to them. They seemed to have some sort of preposterous arms race going on, which the rest of us largely stayed out of (although I picked up a couple of military strength to get me a few points in ages II and III).

With my science strategy going largely pear-shaped, I concentrated on completing my wonder. As Gizah, that netted me a handy 15 VPs in total, and I finally managed to scrape together a set of four identical science cards for 16 VPs. It wasn’t a bad showing for my very first game, but it wasn’t quite enough to match up to Graham’s science-tastic civilisation.

Final score – Graham: 66 / Me: 65 / Olly: 58 / John: 57 / Camo: 52

It's colourful on the table, I'll give it that.

It’s colourful on the table, I’ll give it that. My beautiful stack of science cards is obliterated by the reflected light in the top-left. Graham’s winning bunch of green is bottom-left.

7 Wonders… hmmm. I guess it’s OK, and I’d certainly play it again, but I can see it’s a game that takes a fair amount of familiarity in order to get the best from it. And I’m not sure I like it enough to warrant giving it enough time to get familiar with it.

We were just about to launch into Kingdom Builder when a couple of new people arrived, so Graham and I graciously (delightedly) ceded our seats to nip off for some Android: Netrunner. I finally got to play a full game with the Hayley deck I’d rustled up before the last session (I’m calling it Prepayley, for reasons which will be obvious to Netrunner players) against Graham’s new HB NEXT Design corp deck. It’s a bit intimidating to go up against a corp who can install 3 bits of ice before the game even begins, but I had confidence in my ability to get a rig and breaker suite up and running reasonably quickly.

Oh, how misplaced that confidence was. I mean, I didn’t do too badly – I stole two 3-point agendas during the game – but my deck was just not playing my way. It lulled me into a false sense of security with a very nice opening hand including Sure Gamble, Lucky Find and Replicator, but I didn’t manage to get a single Prepaid Voice Pad out. At all. And that’s one of the things the deck hinges around. That and the Lockpick / Study Guide combo to build up a code gate breaker that can eat through anything.

With economy floundering and card draw not working for me (where are you, Professional Contacts?), Graham could build up an impenetrable-looking fortress of ice while I struggled to get my breakers into play. His final flourish was a double-Biotic-Labour to advance a 5/3 agenda for victory. I have a certain amount of confidence in my Hayley deck, but I need to look at options for tutoring certain cards out of the deck if the draw isn’t going my way. Of course, then I’d need to draw the tutor cards in the first place…

A quick reshuffle of seats after Kingdom Builder had finished left John, Olly and I playing Roll for the Galaxy. Olly quickly cottoned on to the similarities to San Juan and managed to root out a couple of the “6+” developments while exploring – i.e. the ones that get you bonus VPs in the final scoring, just like the 6-cost buildings in San Juan. The difference here is that the 6+ developments also score 6 VPs just for existing, so they’re a pretty good prospect even if you don’t get too many bonus VPs out of them.

Meanwhile, I didn’t do enough exploring and left my building stacks a little too small (or empty) for much of the game, and John was going heavy on the cyan dice and cyan planets, producing and shipping in quick succession for VP chips. I managed to forget that one of my developments had a very useful power (1 fewer developer die required to build a development), so I spent more dice than I needed to and scuppered my chances a little. In reality, I just spread myself a bit too thin between different routes to VPs and didn’t do well in any of them, which was all compounded by having far too few dice on several turns. (I mitigated this from time to time by shipping from my starting yellow planet for $6, which was very handy.) Olly had a faction power that got him $4 instead of $2 when using a yellow explorer to Stock, which gave him added dice and flexibility in quite a few rounds and led to him being the one to end the game by building his 12th tile.

Final score – Olly: 54 / John: 42 / Me: 38

It takes up a surprising amount of table space for what's ostensibly a "dice game".

It takes up a surprising amount of table space for what’s ostensibly a “dice game”.

Yes, very reminiscent of those games of San Juan where I fail to get a 6-cost building out. Those 6+ developments of Olly’s were fantastic. I know I’ll be digging through the Explore option several times in the early game next time I play. And I’m sure it won’t be long before the next time – this is a really engaging game that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

All photos by John Sh 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!

Newcastle Gamers – October 2013

Catching up here with a double-whammy of turbo reports, given that I failed to write anything in the immediate aftermath of the 12 October session. I’ve been a little busy, working dawn-to-dusk, seven days a week, running to stand still. Such is the new life I’ve chosen – it’s great, but it’s hard.

Saturday 12 October

I was a few hours late to this session, so it was a relatively short one for me, filled with some relatively short games. First up was my second play of Bruges, which I’d enjoyed a lot on the previous occasion. Playing with John S, Amo and Chris, I was repeatedly let down by the card draw, meaning I couldn’t hire any heavily-VP-laden people into my buildings. Still, as a Feld game it provides plenty of alternatives when your first choice doesn’t pan out, so I was able to build some glorious canals, but it wasn’t enough to catch up with new-to-Bruges Chris. He took a decisive victory, and well-deserved it was too. Great game again – I really like this one.

All those lovely canals (bottom right)... still not enough to win me the game.

All those lovely canals (bottom right)… still not enough to win me the game.

I’d brought along Reiner Knizia’s hex-tile colour-matching Ingenious, which would fit perfectly into the time Chris had before needing to catch a bus, so the four of us played that. I never would have claimed to be an expert player of Ingenious, but I have played it quite a bit on iPad and Android, so maybe that little extra experience paid off. Whatever it was, I started as I meant to go on, getting my first “ingenious” (i.e. maxing out one of the six colour scores) in four turns, and finishing up with five ingeniouses altogether and a final score of 14.

That's me in the bottom right again, rocking a score of 14.

That’s me in the bottom right again, rocking a score of 14.

John’s very respectable 11 points wasn’t enough to catch me, and I finished the game by gilding the lily with my fifth ingenious. A glorious win. It’s nice to get this one out every now and then; it was one of the games I played in my first ever session at Newcastle Gamers, so it always feels right.

Chris slipped away into the night, so Amo, John and I played Love Letter to fill in time while other games finished. I am pathologically terrible at Love Letter, but I do enjoy it. Again, we played with John’s limited Japanese-artwork edition, playing with the bespectacled Princess. I do love a princess in glasses. Amo took an early lead, but John powered through to victory, getting the requisite 5 letters to the Princess, leaving Amo on 3 and me on 1.

Last game of the evening was 6 Nimmt! (also known on BoardGameGeek as Category 5), which has recently joined John’s burgeoning selection of small-box filler card games. Amo had drifted away, being replaced at the table by Peter (or Piotr, or something… I really should find out one of these days… it’s pronounced “Peter” anyway). John blasted through the very simple rules of this very simple card game, and we played it twice. From what I remember, it was quick, it was fun, it was light, and I may have won one of the games.

After that, I decided to make a move, but not before saying hello to club founder Gareth, with whom I play Twilight Struggle by email. Well, I actually left about an hour later, having had a fascinating conversation about games, wargames, monster wargames, physical size of monster wargames, science, teaching, being a student again, more games, more wargames… It was a great way to round off the evening.

And then two weeks later…

Saturday 26 October

This is the way it goes sometimes at Newcastle Gamers. I arrived at 4.34pm – some four minutes after the official start of the session – and everybody in the room was already embroiled in a game. No problem though. John F had arrived at exactly the same time, so I pulled out my copy of Hive and we played a couple of games. Neither of us had played for a little while so we weren’t at the top of our games, but Hive is so good that it wasn’t a problem.

I took white for the first game, meaning I was a move ahead from the start. I nearly threw it away, but I held the advantage and ploughed onwards to victory. To even things out, I took black for the second game. It’s a very different feeling, always playing the reaction game, trying to duck and dive, twist and wheel, prod and poke in an effort to swing the momentum round to your favour. Even though I got a beetle up on top of John’s queen bee, I couldn’t take enough advantage of it, and the inevitable defeat came.

The second game, just before that inevitable defeat for me (black).

The second game, just before that inevitable defeat for me (black).

We finished just as a game of Indigo came to an end, at which point Olly proposed Brass. Who am I to say no to Brass? I can’t think of a better card/tile-based industry-‘n’-network-building game representing the industrial revolution in Lancashire over two consecutive ages. It’s a no-brainer. John F joined us and Graham made us up to the maximum four.

John F and Graham were new to Brass, so Olly went through the rules; it was handy for me too, given that I’d last played it back in July and some of the intricacies had slipped from my mind. One thing that hadn’t slipped my mind was the memory of how well you could score by building canal and rail links between cities and towns. I hadn’t done anywhere near enough of that last time, so I entered into the game with that as my major strategy.

It didn’t work out that well in the canal age, but I did manage to get a bit of income rolling in, allowing me to keep building industries right up to the end of the age. Along with a bit of development, this meant that I had some level-two industries on the board at the end of the canal age – most crucially, some coal mines. At the end of that first age, I made sure to spend as little as possible so I could go early in the turn order at the start of the railway age. It worked out beautifully, and the little base I’d built up in Wigan allowed me to build railways out to Liverpool and across to Manchester, all on the first turn with a clean board. As long as those places got filled up and their industries flipped (i.e. utilised), I was going to be raking in points at the end of the game, and I had a good, connection-rich foundation to build my network on throughout the second half.

Early in the railway age, I've built my red railway across from Liverpool to Manchester, via Wigan and Bolton. I love the setting of this game.

Early in the railway age, I’ve built my red railway across from Liverpool to Manchester, via Wigan and Bolton. I love the setting of this game.

As we entered the last few rounds, I took a couple of loans and was finally dealt the card I’d been waiting for: something that would let me build a shipyard in Liverpool for 18 glorious victory points. I’d extended my rail network down through Stockport and Macclesfield, which allowed me to build through the Midlands to ensure even more points at the end. The last couple of turns were just spent building the most points-lucrative connections that were left.

Although my industries didn’t score a huge amount, my rail network netted me 65 points in the final reckoning, tipping my final score just over 130. Olly and Graham were both just over 100, with John a little way back. For once, the strategy I’d set out with had really paid off!

Results aside, it’s a great game. It was clear that experience counts in Brass – as we entered the railway age, for example, Olly and I both had coal mines on the board, meaning that our coal would be used up quite quickly as people expanded their rail networks, thus providing us with income and victory points. But Graham put up a very good fight, leading the field on the income track throughout most of the game, getting up above £20 a turn for a while. A little money can go a long way in Brass, so that made Graham feel quite dangerous. He’ll be one to reckon with next time, now he’s seen the rhythm of the game.

I nearly managed to get people to play Puerto Rico at this point, but there were just the wrong numbers of people in between games, so I sat down with Michael and John S for a quick filler: For Sale. I’d heard the name and knew it was well liked, so I thought I’d give it a go… and it was pretty good fun. Very light, very simple, very quick, but with enough decision-making to make it interesting. I particularly liked the two-phase aspect of the game: first we bid money for houses, then we bid houses for money in an effort to make the most money by the end of the game. I lost quite badly, which didn’t surprise me at all. I had a pretty good start, netting myself two of the highest-valued houses in the first phase, and I sold them for decent prices at the beginning of the second phase, but then it all went downhill and I was rapidly overtaken.

Next was Fresco, which I know John S had enjoyed playing at the last session, and he was keen to play again. Michael stuck with us and we were joined by Graham. Fresco is a game of renaissance artists painting a cathedral ceiling, portrayed via a medium of coloured cubes and worker placement. We threw in all the expansions John had – well, they’re included in the box, so they’re more inspansions – to make it as hefty as possible. It’s a slightly intimidating-looking game, but underneath the seeming myriad of options lie a few simple mechanics, so the rules didn’t take too long to run through.

I started out with a rough strategy of “paint the bits of ceiling that I can do without too much hassle”, which was OK through the early part of the game but lacked any punch later on. Michael went for “saving up paint to mix into the secondary and tertiary colours to score big points after a long build-up”, which looked crazy to start with, but having zero VPs for several rounds left him with first choice of wake-up time, usually meaning first choice of paint at the market and a general all-round air of freedom.

Where's that pope? I need to pelt him with pocket change...

Where’s that Pope? I need to pelt him with pocket change…

A week (and substantial amounts of developmental/educational psychology) later, I can’t recall a huge amount of detail from the game, with the exception of “throwing a penny at the Pope”. While this might sound like a deviant practice from the pages of Viz’s Roger’s Profanisaurus, it’s actually much more innocent. The large white pawn/meeple was supposed to represent the bishop of the cathedral we were competing to decorate, but I couldn’t help thinking of it as the Pope. When painting a section of the ceiling, you can pay 1 coin to move the papal meeple closer to the section you’re painting in order to score more points – thus “throwing a penny at the Pope”.

All in all, everyone felt that Fresco was a little gem of a game. Light enough to be accessible, yet hefty enough to encourage some serious thought and planning. I’m pretty sure John won, just a few points clear of Michael (if memory serves). I was a long way back, finishing my game without flourish, simply painting the altar for the dregs of VPs.

The rest of the night was Coloretto and Eight-Minute Empire. I honestly can’t remember which order they came in, but I’ve played Coloretto plenty of times now so there’s not much more to say. Cracking little game.

So. Eight-Minute Empire. Hmmmm. As with For Sale earlier in the evening, I’d heard some good things about the game, so I thought I’d give it a crack. After all, if it’s rubbish, it’s only eight minutes, right? Right? Well, no. It’s about twenty minutes the first time out.

And was it rubbish? Well, no. But all three of us (Michael and John S were the other imperial overlords) felt fairly underwhelmed. It’s like a bizarre cross between Dirk Henn’s Shogun and the aforementioned little cracker Coloretto. Card set collection and cube shuffling across a map. Really quite odd.

150% longer than advertised, but... kind of... not too bad... ish

150% longer than advertised, but… kind of… not too bad… ish

This was another one of those occasions where I had no idea what I was really doing and still managed to win quite comfortably, which always makes me very wary. That said, we were all inexperienced with the game so it could have been fairly random anyway. The gameplay was simple, with an odd and slightly meaty mixture of too much freedom (the map’s a bit of a sandbox at times – where should I move my cubes and why?) and not enough freedom at all (severely limited funds for “buying” cards from the table) keeping things moving.

I’d be hard-pressed to put my finger on exactly why we were all so underwhelmed. Perhaps we’d had high expectations. Perhaps the components promise so much, yet the gameplay yields so little. Perhaps it was really, really late. But underwhelmed we were. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think any of us hated it, and I wouldn’t set anyone on fire for suggesting a game of Eight-Minute Empire. I might well play it again, in fact, just to see if I missed something… and it’s so short that it wouldn’t be any great loss if I hadn’t.

All photos by Olly 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 we drop at Christ Church, Shieldfield, Newcastle upon Tyne!

Newcastle Gamers – Saturday 13 July 2013

Having missed the late-June session and having only had a few light, family-friendly games in the interim, I was desperate for some of the heaviness we traditionally see at Newcastle Gamers. Just a few hours prior to the session, Olly had posted on Google+ that he’d be bringing Brass, so I knew exactly what my first game of the evening would be. Nick and Amo joined us for the full complement of four.

Having played its streamlined successor Age of Industry a few times, I knew roughly what to expect. But it was the differences that made this a richer gaming experience, and a noticeably tougher gaming experience. In AoI, the board is the board and your rail network of mines, works, mills and ports just grows and grows. In Brass, you build and build through the Canal Age, with mines, works, mills and ports connected by a slightly sparse network of canals… and then the Canal Age ends and the Railway Age begins, meaning all the canals are ripped mercilessly from the board’s papery embrace, along with any “level 1” industries. That ends up meaning that most of the board suddenly empties and you start almost from scratch.

It gives the game a very different feel from AoI, and the strategy required to set up properly for the Railway Age pretty much passed me by entirely. I did, however, manage to get a couple of “level 2” cotton mills out on the board before the canals got filled in, so I had something to work towards – the shipment of goods via ports as yet unbuilt.

Experience counts – yellow rules over Lancashire with an industrial fist. At least I (red) managed to build a shipyard in Birkenhead for a welcome points-boost.

Experience counts – yellow rules over Lancashire with an industrial fist. At least I (red) managed to build a shipyard in Birkenhead for a welcome points-boost.

It was clear that experience counts in Brass, and Olly (who’s played the game quite a few times before, including online games against some very experienced players) took a commanding lead at the end of the Canal Age. He knew exactly which industries to develop through to higher levels, gaining him plenty of income and points. Even a catastrophic error which left him near-destitute near the end of the game (Olly failed to realise that as soon as the card deck is exhausted players are unable to take any more loans – he thought he’d have one more opportunity to take a loan) couldn’t hold him back, and he finished off a formidable network of railways and industries, ending with a score somewhere in the 150s–160s. Nick and I managed to tie on 104 points, with my slightly higher income level breaking the tie in my favour, while Amo trailed significantly behind, having spent nearly the whole game in negative income.

It’s clearly a very neatly designed game (and I can understand why it’s number 11 in the BoardGameGeek rankings), with a lot to keep an eye on, but it seems pretty harsh to the newcomer. I liked it a lot though, so I’ll definitely be playing it again. I’ll see if I can get some practice in online before I next face off in real life.

Just as we were finishing up, Dan arrived. Dan had mentioned in a BGG blog post how much he’d enjoyed Snowdonia, and I’d commented that I could bring along the expansion playtest bits I have, so now seemed the perfect time to build a railway up Mount Washington. The Mount Washington scenario is a little closer to the base game than the Jungfrau scenario from the upcoming expansion, so there were just a few things to go over before we started playing. Players were: me (Snowdonia veteran, many-time loser), Olly (several plays before), Nick (played it at a convention a year ago) and Dan (played it twice). I say that Dan had played it twice… as we went through the game, it became apparent that Dan had played quite a few rules incorrectly, so he’d really been playing a sort of Snowdonia-homage. A close facsimile. But there was nothing too catastrophic and we quickly got into the swing of it.

In fact, I didn’t get into the swing of it at all. Don’t get me wrong – I love the game, and I enjoyed it immensely. I just played extremely badly. I finished the game with two – TWO! – contract cards, from which I scored a magnificent zero – ZERO! – bonus points. I’d done OK from building in stations on the way up the mountain, and my surveyor (played sort of in reverse in the Mount Washington scenario) managed to slide all the way down the mountain at the end of the game for 11 points, but without those contracts I was never going to win. I also left it far too late to build a train, and I picked Padarn, which has a great bonus (extra Build action after others have resolved) but is expensive to build and costs two coal to take an extra worker from the Pub.

Typical Welsh weather... in New Hampshire. Note that the "G" action space isn't correct – I never got round to printing out the correct card, which should be a "dynamite" action.

Typical Welsh weather… in New Hampshire. Note that the “G” action space isn’t correct – I never got round to printing out the correct card, which should be a “dynamite” action.

As always with Snowdonia, we were at the mercy of the weather, with a very sunny early game lulling us into a quick pace. When the rain (and snow, which replaces rubble onto track and station spaces, even when track has been laid!) came later on, the pace naturally slowed dramatically, and the game became one of brinkmanship as we pushed each other into temptation to excavate or lay track. Suddenly, the last piece of track was being laid and the game was in its final round. The Padarn bonus paid off as I built a spot in the last station (meaning my surveyor could slide down the mountain), but nothing could save my game. Suffice to say that Olly won with 128 points, while I came a distant last with 65. Sixty-five points. Terrible.

The Mount Washington scenario is a great variation from the base game, mainly in that the event track barely lays any track at all, so the players dictate much of the pace of the game. The snow also regulates the tempo, with weather and events laying rubble (but not too much rubble) back on to the mountain on a regular basis. I’m really looking forward to the proper version coming out so I can ditch my print-and-play playtest cards.

It was interesting to play Brass and Snowdonia in quick succession, because I’ve been gestating a game idea for a few months now, and it happens to use elements from both games (although the Brass elements were entirely accidental – I hadn’t even played Age of Industry when I first had the basic ideas). I doubt I’ll ever bring it to any sort of testable state, especially as my free time will soon be diminishing by at least an order of magnitude (teacher training begins in September – yikes!), but this experience acted as a sort of reminder to me that I still had this undeveloped concept knocking around in my brain.

Olly suggested playing his brand new copy of Coloretto, which Nick wasn’t keen to play, so that left Dan, Olly and me to create matching sets of chameleons. This is one of those games that seems trivially simple on the surface; in fact, it actually is trivially simple, but it’s got a huge amount of possibility for screwing other players over. It took me a game to get a handle on the processes and strategy of the game, but it was quick enough (probably only about 10–15 minutes per game, if that) to play twice in quick succession. The second time round, I played a much more intelligent game and won by a handsome margin.

Luckily, the colours were all easily distinguishable, even under the artificial lights.

Luckily, the colours were all easily distinguishable, even under the artificial lights.

It’s got the right balance of thought and luck to make it ideal for this spot towards the end of the night, with simple choices leading to agonising decisions (“Do I draw another card and hope for a good one for me?”, “Do I add this card to this stack that I want, or do I use it to pollute this stack that someone else clearly wants?”, etc.). I’d get a copy to play with my kids, once they’re old enough to (a) figure out how to screw other players over, and (b) not weep uncontrollably if I screw them over. I give it a couple of years.

By this point, there were a few game-less people hovering around, and after we’d gone through a few suggestions, we settled on Citadels. This is a game that’s been hovering in my subconscious since it was reviewed in the very first episode of Shut Up & Sit Down. It’s one of those secret-y, backstabby, court-intrigue-y kind of games, with secretly selected roles and hidden agendas everywhere, so it’s not my natural territory, but I do remember thinking there was a good game in there. I’d need to play it again to be sure though, given that my overwhelming memory of Citadels was thinking, “These plastic coins are much nicer than the plastic coins in Brass.” I also remember being assassinated quite a lot. Clearly, my head wasn’t in the game.

After a conversation about immutable graph databases (or something like that… it was well past midnight), I headed for home. Highlight of the night was definitely Brass. I’d say it was one to tick off the “Top 10 Games on BGG” list if it hadn’t recently been usurped by Terra Mystica. *sigh* I’ll have to play that one as well now…

All photos by Olly (I really should start taking my own again), shamelessly stolen from the Newcastle Gamers Google+ page. Newcastle Gamers is on the second and last Saturday of every month, 4:30 pm until we drop at Christ Church, Shieldfield, Newcastle upon Tyne!