Tag Archives: ghost stories

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.

October Gaming Roundup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over the weekend, we managed:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newcastle Gamers – Saturday 31 January 2015

Having introduced my good friend Sarah to the joys of Twilight Struggle a few weeks ago, she’d expressed an interest in popping along to Newcastle Gamers for a few hours. What better way to introduce her to the club than with a lovely cooperative game, right?

So, yeah. Ghost Stories.

As far as notoriety goes, Ghost Stories is right up there with Vlad the Impaler. Nobody wins Ghost Stories the first time they play. Or the second. Or usually the third, fourth, fifth… It’s not an easy game to win, even on ‘Initiation Level’ as we played it. At least one bad thing happens on every turn, and no good deed goes unpunished, with many ghosts doing horrible things as you exorcise them.

We had a good thing going at the start, with Olly (green, with an extra tao die and never rolling the curse die) taking custody of any ghosts with an ongoing “roll a curse die every turn” characteristic. With those ghosts not triggering, we were more free to go about our business elsewhere, performing minor exorcisms and gearing up Graham (yellow, taking a free tao token on each turn) to deal with some tough customers.

Wow. Don't we look competent here? Full of fight and vigour. There's even a buddha in play on the far side of the board. (Although clearly Graham and Sarah have both just visited the Sorcerer's Hut.)

Wow. Don’t we look competent here? Full of fight and vigour. There’s even a buddha in play on the far side of the board. (Although clearly Graham and Sarah have both just visited the Sorcerer’s Hut, losing valuable Qi in the process.)

I was red, flying around the board to pick up buddhas and deal with some low-level bad guys, while Sarah’s blue taoist had the super-handy power of being able to use a village tile and attempt an exorcism on the same turn… except the most useful village tiles (Sorcerer’s Hut, I’m looking at you) ended up next to ghosts she had no hope of defeating.

There was a tipping point about ten or twelve cards before the Wu Feng incarnation arrived, after a couple of Black Widow ghosts had been and locked up our tao tokens for a few turns, not to mention the constant onslaught of haunter ghosts on Graham’s yellow board. (We got rid of a Hopping Vampire, only to have it immediately replaced with… a Hopping Vampire.) Suddenly, Sarah and I had full boards and only one Qi each, meaning death was inevitable. Two village tiles were flipped already, and Olly and Graham made a semi-valiant flailing attempt to salvage some hope, but all was lost. It was a matter of moments before we were all dead via overrun boards. Wu Feng would return and the land of the living would be forever lost.

Oh well.

All just having a nice lie down in the graveyard. Not a problem at all. The land of the living wasn't that great anyway.

All just having a nice lie down in the graveyard. Not a problem at all. The land of the living wasn’t that great anyway.

I’d messed up – or failed to mention – a couple of rules in my explanation, although Olly picked up on one halfway through the game (you can share the tao tokens of other players on the same tile when attempting an exorcism… although that wouldn’t have changed anything up to that point). The other one was a timing thing with Graham’s ability – it had been a little while since I’d played Ghost Stories in any form, and I thought the free tao token was taken at the beginning of his turn, before a new ghost is revealed. In fact, it should be taken just before his move, after the new ghost arrives. Again, probably not a huge difference made to our game, but I did make it a bit harder on us because I didn’t remember this one until the day after.

We still would have died, I’m sure.

Anyway, losing and rules aside, I really enjoyed my first play of Ghost Stories with other actual humans. I’ve played it to death (pun slightly intended) on the iPad, using various combinations of soloing multiplayer or the proper solo rules, and I’ve soloed the cardboard version several times. Using the solo rules in the rulebook (three neutral boards) and playing as the yellow taoist, I can quite happily beat the game most of the time on most difficulty levels – and I’m even pretty confident on the nastiest, ‘Hell’ level. Playing with others is substantially more difficult… but substantially more fun. It’s a game that feels – quite literally – laughably unfair the first time you play it. The shared despair was really enjoyable.

After dropping Sarah back home (she’d only planned a couple of hours of games) and losing Graham to a night on the town, I returned to that shining jewel in the world of games, Agricola. Four-player this time, with Pete, Ali and Olly. I far prefer four to five, just in terms of being able to keep track of everything that’s going on; in Agricola, there’s the added bonus of the four-player game having three Wood-accumulating spaces, and I’m always happy when there’s plenty of Wood. Oh, and the Reed+Stone+Food space too.

We drafted from 1E, 3I, 3K, which made for an interesting mixture of cards doing the rounds… and a lot of dross. Sometimes it’s nice to have plenty of those stalwart E-deck cards you get in a 3-2-2 draft, but I still managed to pull together a feasible combo, if only a small one. As Round 1 start player, I played Serf as my first occupation (when using ‘Sow and/or Bake Bread’, before sowing, take 1 Grain, or exchange 1 Grain for 1 Vegetable), then Pig Whisperer a few rounds later (free boars in the future… but too late to get a third free boar, sadly), giving me the required two Occupations to play Planter Box and get some ridiculously fertile Fields sown next to my house. With Wildlife Reserve also in play, I had room for those few animals that didn’t end up in my Fireplace, until I managed to get round to fencing off some Pastures. (My fencing was inefficiently done over two separate rounds, but it meant that I could actually hold on to some breeding pairs and build up my livestock.)

Meanwhile, Ali had drafted an incredible Clay-based food engine. Clay Worker gave him extra Clay from the outset, while Tinsmith meant he could eat the Clay at a 1 Clay = 1 Food rate; after Pete built the (inevitable) Well, that rose to 2 Clay = 3 Food. With a Clay Deposit as well, there was never any shortage of Clay for Ali to eat (and it seemed to accumulate a lot on the board too), so he could concentrate on getting some proper farming done.

Pete threw a spanner in the works by playing Taster, allowing him to pay 2 Food to the Starting Player in order to take the first action in a round. After a round or two with Ali getting that Taster payment, I took Starting Player… and kept it for seven or eight rounds. Pete paid me to take the first action on at least five of those rounds (mainly using the Food drip-fed from his Chicken Coop and Well improvements), which kept me pretty much fed through two Harvests, and took the strain off my animal population. It also meant, with Pete to my left, that the player order went Pete–Me–Pete–Ali–Olly. Having fifth choice in several consecutive rounds left Olly trailing wildly – he was first to build a third room, but last to take Family Growth. His Pieceworker Occupation started to pay off towards the end, especially in terms of extra Grain and Vegetables, but it was too little too late. He was also hoping to take advantage of his Master Baker, having assumed that my hefty Grain Fields meant I would be baking… but I didn’t bake even once.

Pete’s play of the Chamberlain in the late game left me thinking that he’d have it all wrapped up, but he’d left it so late to develop a food engine that he had to put that into effect in the dying stages. Meanwhile, I’d grown 8 Grain and several Vegetables, and I had breeding pairs in all three animals. My final-round flourish was to Renovate my three-room Clay hut to Stone, then play the Tavern as my Minor Improvement. It was 2 VPs on its own, and I hoped to use it for 2 bonus VPs with my final worker, but Pete immediately jumped on it for the 3 Food it offered, blocking me.

After the traditional final-Harvest VP-counting think-fest (“If I cook this, I gain 3 Food but lose 1 VP…”), Pete tallied the final scores. I could tell he and I were close, but I suspected he might have edged the win with his VPs from played cards. In fact, I took victory by a single point! (I may have then gloated slightly for a few minutes; to be fair, it’s not often I get to beat Pete. Not ever before, actually. He did point out a few mistakes before I made them though, so… maybe not entirely a flawless, unaided victory.) Ali realised in the final scoring that he’d forgotten to use his Hut Builder ability in Round 11, and he had all the relevant resources to have Renovated even with the extra room, so he should really have had several extra points. Olly’s six empty farmyard spaces counted heavily against him, as did not having a single Pasture fenced.

Final score – Me: 43 / Pete: 42 / Ali: 31 / Olly: 21

I think that’s my best ever score in a face-to-face game! Post-game analysis contained much regret at leaving Starting Player with me for so many rounds. It had crippled Ali and Olly in many ways, but Pete’s Taster ability had left them thinking it wasn’t as valuable as it really was. Second choice is way better than fourth or fifth, and the extra Food I got left me happily grabbing Wood, animals and new family members when I might otherwise have been attempting to mitigate an upcoming Harvest.

Pete left and Dave joined us for four-player Ticket to Ride on the India map. I hadn’t played on this map before, but its only unusual feature was the bonus points for ‘mandala’ routes – if you complete a ticket in more than one way, you get a bonus; the more tickets completed like this, the more bonuses you get.

As it turned out, there were only a handful of tickets completed like that. Once I saw that my initial two tickets were going to be far too congested to manage the mandala bonus, I decided to go for my usual TtR strategy of claiming the longest routes for mega-points and trying to do everything in one long train to take the 10 VPs for longest route. There aren’t many huge routes on the India map, but I took both 6-length ferries and the one 8-length ferry (that’s 51 points for those three alone) and just managed to end the game with all 45 of my trains in one continuous line. Everyone else had taken loads of tickets, while I took only one extra, finishing the game with three. It was enough though, and I narrowly squeaked a win over Ali.

Final score – Me: 117 / Ali: 111 / Olly: 100 / Dave: 98

The India map is very congested with short routes in the middle, and it’s often hard to identify which city is which (standing up helps enormously with this), but it was good fun as Ticket to Ride always is. A relatively gentle way to end the evening.

A superb evening it was too. Highlight of the night… I’d almost always say Agricola, but I think Ghost Stories might just edge it for the novelty of a first play and its sheer fun factor. It’s also beautiful on the table, which never hurts when you’re being absolutely pummelled. No more Newcastle Gamers for me until March, but I’m sure I’ll have plenty to write about before then.

All photos by Olly and me, shamelessly stolen from the Newcastle Gamers Google+ page. Newcastle Gamers is usually on the second and last Saturday of every month, 4:30 pm until late at Christ Church, Shieldfield, Newcastle upon Tyne!