Tag Archives: corbridge

My May in Games

John and I managed to convene Corbridge Gamers a few times last month. First up was Merkator, Uwe Rosenberg’s super-dry European-trading cube-pusher. From a quiet start, this ramped up quite quickly to a cubic frenzy, with each round bringing a whole bunch of tough decisions – where to move (and whether that move gains you time or costs time); which contracts to sell off in order to retain the ones you think you can fulfil; how to block your opponent(s) from getting the cubes they need to fulfil their contracts; which contracts to fulfil once you get to your destination; which building or bonus cards to buy (or whether to save the money for next round); and so on.

I went for a simple strategy of buying as many bonus cards as possible, to the point where we exhausted the whole deck. That meant I was getting bonus cubes in nearly every round towards the end of the game, helping me gain a level in contracts every time. In the end, I managed to get the Peace of Westphalia by completing a level-10 contract; that triggered the final round. I was massively helped along in the final scoring by my building which gave me an extra VP for each bonus card in my possession (I think I had 13 or so by the end). That tipped things in my favour…

Final score – Me: 81 / John: 73

I really enjoyed Merkator. There was a lot of depth hidden under a sheen of simple rules, and I successfully planned and executed a series of contract upgrades. In other words, my plan worked, which always makes me feel good about a game.

A week later, we returned to Fields of Arle, Rosenberg’s table-obliterating two-player epic of farming and resource conversion. I concentrated much more on producing and converting fabric into clothing than I did the first time round, only occasionally selling goods to build up enough food for a couple of big building purchases. I felt like I had a better handle on it this time, but clearly so did John and he got his engine going just a touch quicker than I did, leading to a narrow victory for him.

Final score – John: 102 / Me: 98½

And then towards the end of the month we played Roll for the Galaxy, which has turned into a bit of a favourite (31–28 to me; we both ended up really going for the shipping VPs, which ended the game quite quickly with relatively small tableaux), followed by Kingdom Builder, which was a bit of a surprise. I’d only played it once before and found it enjoyable but a bit… light and frothy. Not much to it. Well, this time – thanks to a perfect storm of randomly-chosen game boards from John’s big box edition – we had all sorts of exotic paraphernalia (walls! nomads! useless multi-hex bits of cardboard!) and loads of ways to think about using them.

After final scoring

After final scoring

The biggest game-changer was the walls, which essentially allowed us to occasionally ignore the adjacency rules (by walling off the relevant bit we were adjacent to) and set up camp somewhere else on the board. This played in really nicely to some of the goals we were working towards, which were about building in each of the four sections of the game board. Unfortunately, I managed to wall myself in on one of the boards, which meant that scoring 3 VPs per building on that board (my least populated board) wasn’t very lucrative and it was that scoring card that settled the final score between us – everything else had been level up to that point.

Final score – John: 100 / Me: 91

So yes, Kingdom Builder was much more enjoyable and thinky (and took a lot longer) than either of us had expected. I’d be much more inclined to play it again in the future.

And that was about it for board gaming in May. I’ve got an ongoing PBEM game of Unconditional Surrender: World War 2 in Europe, this time playing through a Mediterranean scenario covering 1940–42, but that one’s going to take ages to play through. There’s a lot of naval movement and possible interceptions to check every time someone sails from one port to another, so there’s a lot of back and forth within each turn. As it stands, my Italian forces in Libya are feeling under serious threat from the British troops in Egypt, but I’m about to get German reinforcements so the tide may soon turn…

Corbridge Gamers – Saturday 1 March 2014

or Renaissance, Runners and Rosenberg

It’s been a while since I’ve written about any gaming at home in Corbridge. Here endeth the drought! John came up the hill on Saturday evening and we set about some two-player games.

I’d recently taken part in the BoardGameGeek UK Maths Trade (essentially a set of computer-algorithm-driven circles of trades, matching up people who want a game with people who want to get rid of a game), meaning I had a few new-to-me games to try out. One of those was Carl Chudyk’s Innovation, a potentially chaotic card-based civilisation builder.

Innovation has the strange characteristic of being simultaneously available in two different editions, from publishers Asmadi and Iello. My copy is the Iello edition, which has the reputation of looking prettier (it does) while being less user-friendly (possibly true). John had read the rules for the Asmadi edition. “Not a problem,” you think, “it’s the same game.” Well, yes and no. Same game, different terminology. Whereas in the Asmadi edition, one melds and tucks cards, in the Iello edition players play and archive them. Achievements become dominations; returning becomes recycling. But we got onto the same page quickly enough and got underway.

I struck lucky, twice drawing cards that allow quick and early domination of the five “Domains” that exist as bonuses to the normal dominations scored via influence. That put me at an early advantage, and although John was starting to catch up in terms of influence (meaning he would be able to score more dominations), I ended up with a devastating combo of Physics and Perspective. The first gave me three Age 6 cards, while the second allowed me to score those three Age 6 cards for 18 influence points, pushing me up to 31 and meaning I could take three dominations for a total of six and victory.

[Note: I’ve since remembered a rule which we totally forgot at the time – I shouldn’t have been able to score the Age 6 domination because I didn’t have an active Age 6 card in my zone at the time. Victory wasn’t quite mine, although it probably only would have been a matter of a round or two before it was.]

My 'winning' tableau. Note the lack of an active Age 6 card on any of my five piles – not really a victory.

My ‘winning’ tableau. Note the lack of an active Age 6 card on any of my five piles – not really a victory. I won’t be forgetting that rule again in a hurry.

It’s hard to come up with any sort of coherent thoughts about Innovation after just one play. I fully see how it would be unmanageably chaotic with four players (and indeed, it’s generally recommended to play two-vs-two partnerships if playing with four), and I see that a player can be completely screwed by a consistently unlucky draw. But I like the fundamental concepts that underpin the whole thing, and I’m a bit of a sucker for civilisation games. I’d be interested to see how I feel about it after a few more plays.

John compared it to Chudyk’s other big game, Glory to Rome, which he’d coincidentally played the previous week and which shares some similar mechanics. (I was under the impression that Innovation predated GtR, but it’s actually the other way round, by about five years!) GtR features a system by which cards have to build up resources before they can be used; in Innovation, played cards can be used instantly. This means that the game feels more streamlined, but the flip-side is that the two actions in a player turn can often be “play insanely powerful card” followed by “activate insanely powerful card” without any intervening “STOP THE MADMAN” actions from opponents.

With 105 unique (and fairly text-heavy) cards, Innovation isn’t the easiest game to approach for the first time, and it feels like it would reward some repeated play and familiarity with the cards. I hope this won’t be the last time it gets played, but I’m not sure who the right crowd would be for this game. A bit too meaty for non-gamers but a bit too chaotic for many hardcore euro-players. Hmmm.

Anyway, on to the next game: Android: Netrunner. I picked up the Core Set in December when it was going cheap on Amazon, along with the first couple of “data pack” expansions (also going cheap at the time) and it’s been sitting around ever since, hunched there like some sort of shelf-toad. Well, this was the night to un-toad that box. John had absorbed most of the rules beforehand, so we pulled out the suggested “first time” decks from the Core Set (Jinteki Corporation and Kate the Shaper), had a flick through the decks so we knew what was coming and got started. I took the Corp side for the first game.

The real beauty of A:NR lies in its complete asymmetry. No element of gameplay is the same for both players. The Corp installs assets, upgrades and agendas in its servers while the Runner installs hardware and software designed to let them access the Corp’s servers by performing “runs”. And simply in describing the beauty of the asymmetry, we’ve hit the major obstacle to getting into Android: Netrunner – the terminology.

Everything that has a perfectly valid, standard gaming name (deck, discard pile, hand) has in A:NR a theme-driven alternative name instead (stack, heap, grip), but these names are of course different for each side. The Runner’s deck is the stack; the Corp’s deck is its R&D. And naturally, these terms are the ones used at all times on the text-heavy cards, so you end up with initially cryptic instructions like “Search your stack for an icebreaker, reveal it, and add it to your grip. Shuffle your stack.” Just so you can see how much terminology there is for stuff on the table, I’ve annotated some photos.

The Corporation side of the table.

The Corporation side of the table.

The Runner's rig.

The Runner’s rig.

Honestly, it’s all fine once you’ve got your head round it, but you do feel a bit ridiculous for a while talking about “rezzing ice” and “running on R&D”. I’m as much of a fan of William Gibson as the next man, but the suspension of disbelief takes a bit of a step.

Jinteki is notorious for being a bizarre suggestion for A:NR‘s first play. It’s a Corporation built around bluffs and traps, designed not so much to block the Runner but instead to kill them before they can access the Jinteki servers. Or afterwards. Or maybe during. It’s a solid lesson for the Runner though, and John lost our first game pretty quickly, running on my HQ (that’s my hand of cards – keep up at the back) and accessing a Snare card. In fact, it’s so nasty it’s called “Snare!” (with exclamation mark) and it killed him outright. Sorry… “flatlined” him. Anyway, the lesson was learned – don’t run on Jinteki without a decent hand of cards to protect you from damage.

We set up to play again and this time John was much more cautious, poking and prodding the chinks in my armour… and then successfully running on various bits and bobs and racking up the seven agenda points he needed for the win. With a taste for the flow of the game, we swapped roles (but kept the same Jinteki/Shaper combo) and I played as the Runner. I didn’t have much luck with the draw early on and although I made sure I only ran with a decent protective hand of cards, I got bitten by some nasty ice a couple of times, meaning I lost some cards it would have been useful to get into my rig. It all came down to one card, installed behind two pieces of ice and advanced twice. If it was an agenda and I left it, John would advance it again in his next turn and win the game. If I ran and it was a Project Junebug or similar trap, I could be in for a lethal shock. Either way, I needed to run on that server or I’d probably lose on the next turn. Playing “Tinkering” got me through the ice (which John naturally didn’t know I’d be able to do) and I discovered a lovely 2-point agenda sitting there for victory.

So three game of Android: Netrunner in quick succession. Thoughts? John thought it was OK; nothing special. I’d suspected in advance that would be the case. We have very similar gaming tastes in some regards (all hail Rosenberg!) but not so much in others (I appreciate a good wargame; John not so much), and I could tell this would be one of those areas where we don’t overlap. So clearly I thought it was great.

It’s not so much the gameplay itself, although I do like it a lot. It’s the idea of the metagame – the game behind the game. Building a Runner deck from scratch would be like constructing a universal toolbox. It would have to be able to cope with anything a Corp player could throw at it; able to break any ice; able to generate enough income to install its versatile selection of hardware and icebreakers; able to adapt, twist and reroute its running techniques. And building a Corp deck would be like designing a castle. How much should I dedicate to building defences? How much to offensive capabilities? Can I advance agendas so fast that I don’t need to worry about the Runner?

It’s essentially a puzzle game, but the puzzle is undefined before you start playing, and the nature of the puzzle might change during play because the puzzle is the person on the other side of the table. And they’re thinking exactly the same thing about you.

I need to try to find/create a Netrunner group to play with. This is a game I’d like to spend a good deal of time exploring, and that can only be done by playing it.

We rounded off the night with some more traditional Corbridge Gamers fare in the form of Uwe Rosenberg’s Glass Road. It was new to me, but the rules are pretty straightforward and it didn’t take long to get going.

It turned out to be a bit of an oddity. It’s a very quick game, lasting only four rounds (and around 30 minutes), but in each round you have fifteen possible action cards from which to select five. That’s a huge amount of choice, lending the game a very open, almost sandbox feel. I simply went with attempting to address the most pressing concerns (more sand! more wood! more food! build stuff!) and tried not to worry too much about thinking ahead.

As it turned out, that was a pretty strong approach, because I ended up winning, 24–21.

The Estate got me a cool 6 VPs for three sets of pit-pond-grove.

The Estate got me a cool 6 VPs for three sets of pit-pond-grove. John (top) was clearly going for contiguous ponds.

I thought it was a neat little game (and the resource/production wheels are really nice), but the potential depth of the gameplay left me feeling it should be slightly longer. Not in that “oh, if only I’d had one more round to build up my blah blah blah” way you get after playing Agricola; this was more of a feeling that the game deserved to be longer somehow. Of course, I’m sure it’s all been tested and balanced such that four rounds is the perfect length, but I would have been happy to play it for at least 50% more time. Maybe I just need a second crack of the whip.

An excellent evening of games and John left knowing that – with Android: Netrunner “done” – he’d finally played every game in the BoardGameGeek top 10! (In fact the top 12, but that’s somehow less monumental.) I’ll be happy to give him a hand with my copy of Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island when it creeps up a little further and spoils his achievement…

Corbridge Gamers – Sunday 21 April 2013

Having discovered through Newcastle Gamers that we weren’t the only gamers in Corbridge, John S and I often meet up between Newcastle sessions, so we get a nice, steady flow of solid gaming. Last night was one of those nights, so here’s a little mini session-report.

We kicked off with K2. I’d picked this up in Travelling Man a few months ago (it was a little self-reward for something or other… no idea what that something was, but I remember feeling justified in my slightly whim-based purchase), but hadn’t played it other than as a solo game. The solo game is… OK. Nothing special. But it had given me the hint that it could be a really fun game with more players, so we dragged it out (literally: it’s on my shelf under Pastiche, which weighs a ton) and tried it with two.

K2 is a race game, with each player attempting to get their two climber meeples as high as they can up the eponymous mountain, with the side-goal of keeping the meeples alive until the end of the 18th turn. The higher the climber reaches, the more victory points it gains, but if it dies… it loses all its points. Each turn consists of the players simultaneously playing three cards face down from a hand of six, then using the movement and acclimatisation points from the played cards to move climbers and increase their acclimatisation score (essentially a measure of oxygen levels – if it hits zero, the climber dies). That’s the basic gist of the game, although there’s a little twist in that whoever plays the most movement points in a turn has to take a “risk token”, which decreases the value of their cards by 0, 1 or 2 points. So those who aim for a big rush up the mountain may find themselves unable to achieve their goals, possibly leaving them exposed to the weather, which changes every turn and can have potentially severe effects on a climber’s chances of survival.

Before we started, John asked me if there was a good strategy. “Get your climbers as high as you can without them dying,” I joked… but there’s a nugget of truth in that flippancy. As a card-driven game, it depends on the luck of the draw. The fact that you play only half your cards each turn means there can be some planning, but you can be stuck for for or five turns waiting for the valuable 3-movement-points cards to come up so you can make that final dash to the summit without spending too long outside your tent.

As it happened, I had quite a few lucky draws, meaning I was able to get one of my climbers up to the summit (10 points if he survives the game) and back down to the safety of his tent with about six turns left in the game. John seemed to be fighting his cards a bit, but he did push both climbers up to just below the 8000m mark. I’d lucked out again though, getting just the right cards to jump my second climber over John’s and block his path up to the summit (in the two-player game, the uppermost spaces have a limit of one climber stopping in each space), also netting another 7 points for me. As long as he remained in John’s way, I didn’t need to risk sending him up one more space to the summit. The last couple of turns just saw our climbers sitting pretty in their tents, either unable or unwilling to move up or down the mountain, giving me a comfortable victory, 17–12.

If all this talk of luck makes it sound like I didn’t like the game, that’s not the case. It’s really good fun. It’s just that it makes it very much a turn-to-turn tactical game, rather than a long-term strategic game. I’ve got room in my life for both, and I’d definitely like to try K2 with more players. I can imagine five players being a particularly brutal crush, with the upper mountain spaces still highly capacity-limited, and player order would be a much weightier factor.

We followed that up with our jeu du moment, the very wonderful Keyflower. The tile draw ended up a little odd in that we didn’t get any tiles to improve our transport capabilities, but if I remember correctly, neither did we have any tiles that scored points for having resources on them at the end of the game (I certainly didn’t anyway, and I don’t think John did either), so that kind of evened out.

This time round (being my third play of Keyflower), I attempted to remember the rough distribution of John’s meeple colours once they’d been taken back behind his player screen. I didn’t do too badly with that task, but we did have a few of the tiles that magically convert normal meeples into the rare green meeples, so that threw my memory off a bit. And when I say “rare”… they really weren’t by the end of the game. In this two-player game, we had twelve green meeples enter play, which just goes to show how heavily the green-conversion tiles were being used.

I was occasionally profligate with my meeples for bidding, and I ended every season without a single meeple left in my house. I’m really starting to see the merits of holding on to a few to carry over to the next season, and that’s certainly something I’ll try next time round.

In the winter season, John placed the Craftsmen’s Guild tile up for auction, which gives 3 points for each tricolour set of red–blue–yellow meeples in the owner’s house at the end of the game. Once he’d irreparably outbid me for that tile (a bid of two green meeples, with no way for me to get any more greens), I knew he had the game, because I knew he had a really solid distribution of meeple colours, and plenty of them too. I had some pretty high-scoring tiles in my village (Sawmill for 10 points, a few 5s and 3s) and a bunch of gold, meaning I finished on 49 points, but John’s 24 points from the Craftmen’s Guild helped him to an easy victory with 60 points. Great, great game.

John attempted to leave at that point, but I detained him with a quick round of Hive. As promised after the last Newcastle Gamers session, I’d ordered a copy of Hive Carbon and it had arrived just the previous day. After John had recovered from the size of the pieces (he’d only seen the Pocket version, which is substantially smaller), we tucked into the standard base game. I’d like to get my head round the base game properly before I start adding the Mosquito and Ladybird back in.

It felt like a very different game from the ones I’d played with John F the previous weekend. I don’t know if it was that we were much more evenly matched, or that I was actually fully awake, or just that I’d been subconsciously grokking Hive over the intervening days. Whatever it was, I felt much more in control of what I was doing, and – to a certain extent – a little bit in control of what John was doing. We’d immobilised each other’s Queens quite early in the game, so it was a case of wrestling for a single turn’s advantage in order to mount an effective attack. I managed to get into a situation where I was pretty sure I could win by a single turn, and that’s exactly how it turned out. John managed to hold me off for a couple of turns longer than I’d planned by immobilising my pieces as I played them, but I had more pieces unplayed, leaving me a little more freedom to attack. And that was the key tangible difference from my games with John F – rather than playing a defensive game, which is never going to win in Hive, I actually went on a decent attack.

Still so much to learn with Hive, but it’s a fabulous game.