Tag Archives: hanabi

Newcastle Gamers – Saturday 31 August 2013

Nearly a year after my first session at Newcastle Gamers, I finally managed to bring along a newbie… but I made up for the slow build-up by being some sort of Pied Piper of Gaming and bringing three at once! My ex-colleague Ben (“ex” as of the previous day) brought along his dad Paul and sister Hannah, all well-versed in modern gaming, to sample the ludo-epicurean delights of Newcastle Gamers. As I arrived, they were standing and taking in the atmosphere of the pre-game setup routine (tables and chairs out, curt nodding, the metagame of “what shall we play first?”), so I ambled over and said hello. Paul had brought his copy of Shogun, which I’d fancied playing for quite a while, so we sat down as a foursome and got underway.

Paul and Ben had played Shogun quite a few times before, while Hannah and I were new to it, so it will come as no spoiler that I didn’t win. In fact, territory-wise I did very badly indeed, ending with only five provinces, but I had managed to build plenty of theatres and palaces for a reasonable number of VPs. Before the game had even begun, Paul and Ben agreed a sort of entente cordiale, allowing them to consolidate powerful empires across the eastern side of the board. Hannah proposed a similar pact to me, but I declined. Why? Well… I don’t know, really. It’s not something I’m used to in games – it’s usually very much everyone-for-themselves in the games I tend to play – so it felt a bit alien. I should probably try playing Diplomacy to get some practice in. It ended up being my downfall, and Hannah’s too. We were hammered from all sides, losing provinces not only to Paul and Ben, but to each other. Stuck in the middle, our empires dwindled away while the more experienced players expanded unchecked.

Just before the final peasant revolt. Several blue (Ben) and yellow (Paul) provinces fell back into the hands of the people, but not enough to change the outcome of the game. I was red, Hannah was purple.

Just before the final peasant revolt. Several blue (Ben) and yellow (Paul) provinces fell back into the hands of the people, but not enough to change the outcome of the game. I was red, Hannah was purple.

It’s a nicely constructed game, with a planning system reminiscent of Roborally (without the lasers) and a combat system involving chucking handfuls of coloured cubes through a tower full of layers and baffles, then picking out the victors from whatever manages to drop out of the bottom. It’s not my normal gaming territory, but it was good fun and didn’t outstay its welcome (a little over two hours after the rules explanation). Paul took victory, followed by Ben, then me (not too far behind) and Hannah bringing up the rear.

After a quick break for food, we stuck with the Japanese theme and I broke out my new copy of Trains. This is a deckbuilder, and not just any old deckbuilder – it’s essentially Dominion with a board. Many of the cards will be familiar to those who have played Dominion (and thankfully Paul and Hannah were very familiar with Dominion, so the rules explanation was pretty simple), given that their prices, values and actions are identical; they’ve just been renamed and given new artwork to fit in with the ‘train’ concept.

The board does give it a decent twist though, with the spatial interactions essentially removing the need for the Attack cards in Dominion. It becomes a game of area control… or possibly just area presence, given that no one can really ‘control’ an area per se. Paul and Ben set up their initial rail cubes on the eastern side of the Tokyo board (backed with the Osaka board for variety), while Hannah and I were clearly going to butt heads again on the western side. After quickly boxing Hannah in (while not strictly ‘boxing in’, once you’ve laid rails in a hex it becomes more expensive for another player to lay rails there too), I started trying to build stations and build into cities with other players in order to negate their VP advantage over me.

My deck went through a slow initial expansion, gently building up my buying power with Express Trains (Silver in Dominion) and a couple of Limited Express Trains (Gold) alongside a few Amusement Park cards, which allow you to double the buying power of a card you’ve played (there’s probably a Dominion equivalent, but I don’t know it). This meant that I could get quite a few Subway Excavation cards into my deck (very pricey to buy, but they remove all extra costs for building rails) so I could freely enter cities with other people’s rails in them and benefit from all their hard work. Meanwhile, Paul was creeping across the board to the west, Hannah was creeping east across my semi-barricade, and Ben was languishing on the opposite side of the board, trying to amass enough money in one hand to build rails into the VP-lucrative distant locations.

 

Cubes = rails. Sugar from Puerto Rico = stations. VPs gained before the final scoring = 0.

Cubes = rails. Sugar from Puerto Rico = stations. VPs gained before the final scoring = 0.

I felt like I’d gained a bit of an edge, so I built and built my rails until I laid the last one, at which point the game ended. No one had gained any points before the final scoring (there are only a few card types that allow VPs to be scored during the game, and they hadn’t been selected for this game), so it was all still to be seen. I ended up taking a comfortable-ish victory with around 45 points, while everyone else was in the mid-to-high-30s.

I really enjoyed Trains, and there’s a huge amount of replayability in the box. For each game, you select eight card types out of a total of thirty to be available in that game. By my calculations, there are nearly six million possible combinations of cards to play with. I’ll let you know when I’ve tried them all.

Another card game up next, and it was Fleet. I hadn’t played this for a while, and I’d actually only ever played it with two. I wasn’t particularly convinced with it for two players, but I’d been keen to try it with more for a long time, so the four of us remained at the table and started launching fishing boats. It’s very much in the vein of San Juan, with a tableau of cards (in this case fishing boats) being built, while the cards are also used as money, or can be played face down as ‘captains’ for launched vessels.

I was heavily affected by some bad draws early on in the game, and I struggled to get a fishing engine going, even with the Shrimp licence and its resultant cheap/free boat launches. Ben was in a similar boat (no pun intended), while Hannah and Paul raced ahead. The end came fairly quickly, and we counted up our totals.

Final score – Hannah: 63 / Paul: 62 / Me: 41 / Ben: 37

A single point in it at the top! It was a much more convincing game with four players, what with the auctions being a little more lively, but I still think I prefer the purity of San Juan, where every card is of equal monetary value.

Ben, Paul and Hannah had to drift off into the night at this point, so I sat down with Lloyd, Michael and Peter for Suburbia. (Peter may well actually be Piotr or another non-English variant – I think he’s Polish, but I didn’t get him to spell out his name. Apologies to you, Peter/Piotr/Pxxxx if you read this.) Again, I hadn’t played it for a while, and Lloyd and Michael were both new to the game, so I gave a brief rules run-down. Peter had played it once before, but Suburbia is one of those games where experience can really swing things your way, and given the number of times I’ve played this game, I had a big advantage. I know the pacing of the tile stacks, roughly when to switch from increasing income to increasing reputation and building residential areas, how to block opponents effectively… it wasn’t really a fair game.

Peter and I quickly built up our incomes, while Michael took an early lead in population (paying for it later in crippled income and reputation) and Lloyd repeatedly felt the cold hand of destitution on his borough. The end of the game came at just the right point for me, given that I’d just built the green residential tile that would qualify me for one of the end-game goals, and I’d totally tanked my income over the last few rounds, meaning I also qualified for my secret goal of having the lowest income at the end of the game.

One of the nice new Newcastle Gamers tables – ideal for things like Suburbia.

One of the nice new Newcastle Gamers tables – ideal for things like Suburbia.

I was already well ahead before the final scoring for goals and money, but a few goals later I was unreachable, even with Peter’s huge pile of cash.

Final score – Me: 133 / Peter: 71 / Lloyd: 67 / Michael: 48

I still like Suburbia, but I’m getting a bit of an expansion-itch. Will the upcoming Suburbia Inc add enough spice to keep me interested?

And then, to round things off late at night, why not play a game that relies heavily on memory, reasoning and deduction? Yes, it was Hanabi time. I played with Peter, Andrew and John F, with Peter and Andrew being totally new to the game. To cut a long story short, we scored 15 points. Not great, but at least we didn’t blow ourselves up.

That was the end of the night for me. The usual games of The Resistance had started up, the epic five-player game of Terra Mystica had ground to a close (I think they started while I was playing Trains) and I sallied forth into the night, not sure when I would next return.

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 April 2013

Having missed the previous Newcastle Gamers meet (it was an all-day session too – curses!), I was keen to get back in for this session. Keenness wasn’t enough to get me out of my family responsibilities, however, so I turned up around 6 pm, some 90 minutes after kick-off. Well… it turned out to be about 70 minutes after kick-off, due to a little hiccup involving a locked car park and a non-functioning padlock (or possibly just the wrong key) meaning that things at the club were about 20 minutes late getting started.

As always, there’d been a bit of discussion on Google+ regarding who was bringing which games. I’d mentioned Bios: Megafauna and Power Grid: Factory Manager, both of which got positive noises flung in their general direction (I also mentioned Outpost, which has been languishing unplayed on my shelf for about three months now, but no one ever seems interested in that one – it surely has to get played at some point, right? …right?), so I’d slung them in my bag along with an assortment of other gaming oddities. Of course, the problem with turning up late is that when you arrive, you can see that the people who might have been interested in tackling one of those games are already deep into other things, usually separately, and the chances of things synchronising are slim indeed. And so it was on Saturday.

Never mind. As luck would have it, in a room full of Caylus, Keyflower and Battlestar Galactica in full swing, Freddie and Graham were tucked away at the side of the room setting up Pergamon on a tiny table. I’d never heard of it before, but it turned out to be a lovely little archaeology-themed game, with push-your-luck worker placement and very pretty tile-matching mechanics. Somewhat criminally, I failed to get a picture of Pergamon – it was just far too engaging.

Each round consists of placing workers along a track denoting how much money you might receive and how far down through the five archaeological levels you can dig. The problem is that the money available in each round is limited (varying from 2 to 12 coins) and you only have a rough guide as to how much it might be (the backs of the money cards show the range of amounts within which each card falls). So if Red places his worker on a space that gains 6 money, then Yellow places his worker on a space to the right of that one that gains 4 money, and Blue to the right of that one again on a 1-money space… then the cards reveal that there’s only 7 money to distribute that round, then resolving from the right, Blue gets the full 1 for his space, Yellow gets the full 4, but Red only gets the remaining 2, potentially leaving him underfunded for the digging. Nasty!

Ah, the digging. Each one of the five digging levels contains artefact tiles (five new ones coming out every round), with the oldest artefacts placed towards the bottom levels. It costs more to dig deeper, but you can end up with some much older – and thus better scoring – artefacts. The trouble is that each tile only contains halves of two artefacts, so the aim is to create museum exhibits by matching up a string of halves by artefact type (masks, urns, rings, etc.), and the older the artefacts, the higher the score and the longer the exhibit will stay in the Pergamon Museum.

At first by accident (still fumbling around the rules and mechanics), and later by design, I managed to get a special bonus in every one of the four scoring rounds in the game. I even managed to get the maximum possible score for one of my exhibits as I placed it into the museum! This meant I eventually took a comfortable victory after the final scoring round (something like 38 points to Graham’s 31ish and Freddie’s 20-something).

It really was a lovely little start to the evening – an unexpected gem. It didn’t outstay its welcome, lasting only about an hour, even with the rules explanation. And so pretty – even the victory-point tiles were in the shape of torn museum ticket stubs! I’d definitely play it again as a perfect semi-filler.

One of the two simultaneous games of Keyflower had finished by that point, so there was a general reshuffling of gamers. We ended up with six people going spare, which is never the most comfortable number. After contemplating splitting into two threes, we instead sat down for a quick six-player blast through King of Tokyo to see if anyone else would be finished by the time we were done.

I hadn’t played King of Tokyo before, but I knew the general premise – giant monsters doing battle in and around Tokyo. That’s the thematic premise, anyway. The actual gameplay is basically Yahtzee with monsters. You roll six (enormous) dice, re-rolling as many as you like up to two times, and then carry out actions depending on what you’re left with. It could be gaining victory points, or gaining energy cubes (used to buy power-up cards), or it could be claws. Claws deal damage to whichever one monster is “in Tokyo” at that moment, but when a monster in Tokyo takes damage, it can choose to move out of Tokyo, forcing the attacking monster to move in… thus becoming the new punchbag for everyone else. The upside to being in Tokyo is that any claws you roll deal damage to everyone else, so it’s not all bad.

This was actually a whole other game of King of Tokyo that was played on the same night. We didn't use the Power Up expansion as pictured here, so no pandas for us. :-(

This was actually a whole other game of King of Tokyo that was played on the same night. We didn’t use the Power Up expansion as pictured here, so no pandas for us. 🙁

It has virtually no depth and a lot of luck, but King of Tokyo is really good fun. I can imagine my kids loving this game when they’re old enough. The six-player game ran a little long for me (with a couple of monsters getting killed off pretty early on), but I did at least manage to stay in the game long enough to be one of the last two monsters standing. My beautiful Gigazaur (non-branded Godzilla clone) was destroyed without mercy, leaving Jérôme’s weird spiky alien thing victorious. At least, I think Jérôme won. I was having enough fun to not notice.

Another reshuffle left me with Graham, John S and John F, with John F keen to get in his traditional play of Power Grid. I’m not one to turn this game down, so we picked Brazil out of his box of boards and got going. Graham was a Power Grid virgin, so I took it upon myself to explain the rules. I’m not sure why – the other two are much more experienced PG players than I am! But I think I did a reasonable job, and he seemed to get into the rhythm of the game after a round or two.

After a few rounds, on the transition into Step 2

After a few rounds, on the transition into Step 2

There’s nothing odd about the Brazil expansion (apart from a heavy reliance on garbage-burning plants, here re-themed as “biogas”), so it was perfect for a beginner. It seemed fairly tight all the way through, with no one developing much of a lead or lagging much behind. I spent quite a lot of the game in the last couple of positions in player order, meaning I could snaffle up plenty of cheap oil (which is plentiful in Steps 1 and 2, trailing off in Step 3) and build pretty much where I wanted. I’d started off on my own in the relatively expensive Amazon area on the western side of the board, while everyone else butted heads around the cheap coastal areas, so expanding my network was relatively straightforward (if costly) in the early game.

The Flux Capacitor promo card (burning three of any fuel to power 6 cities) had come out relatively early in the game, and it seemed like it was going to make its way up into the current market on several occasions, but it got held back in the future market for ages. Finally, the stars aligned and it came up at just the moment I could grab it for face value, leaving me free to buy whatever was cheapest in order to power it. A really handy power plant!

Towards the end of the game, we were all pretty much level, going into the final round with two players on 14 cities and the other two on 15. After the final auction (in which I was sorely tempted by the fusion plant, but let John F take it in the hope that it’d leave him unable to build all 18 cities he had capacity to power), the last round of building left everybody on 17 cities built (so it had paid off to let John F take the fusion plant!), with everybody able to power all 17. A pretty unusual endgame result! The tie-breaker is money left in hand, so we counted up. The two Johns and I all had single-digit amounts remaining, while Graham was counting, “10, 20, 30…”. He’d won his first ever game of Power Grid!

During the final round. My yellow network had finally reached the coast, while my original Amazonian stronghold had remained relatively untouched by other players

The final round. My yellow network had finally (just) reached the coast, while my original Amazonian stronghold had remained relatively untouched by other players

It was a good game, as always, but I did find Brazil a little… unexciting. Having experienced the United Kingdom and Russia maps in my first couple of games of Power Grid, I’ve got used to the little oddities and unique factors in some of the expansions. Maybe Japan next time…

Graham had to leave at that point, and Andrew was taking refuge from a game of Spartacus: A Game of Blood & Treachery that was kicking off in another corner of the room, so he joined me and Johns S and F for a spot of Dominion. This game doesn’t get played much at Newcastle Gamers (I think a lot of regulars burned out on it a year or two back), so it was a nice change of pace. I nipped out to grab a drink before the Sainbury’s next door closed for the night, and returned to find they’d decided on adding some cards from the Cornucopia expansion (selected by randomiser). I’d only played Cornucopia once before – just a few weeks earlier in a little Corbridge session, when I utterly demolished John S by repeatedly battering him with the Young Witch, filling his deck with Curse cards and with no way to trash them – so it was interesting to see a different subset of that expansion on the table. No Young Witch this time! We still had quite a few different Attack cards though, so we knew it would be a highly interactive game.

After a brief rules rundown for Andrew, we set off. I concentrated on the Jester from the outset, getting a few of them into my deck. It may not have been a smart move, but it had its moments, giving out a few Curses and allowing me to pick up a few interesting action cards and Golds. John S, however, built up a nice little engine, using Horse Traders as a Reaction card to expand his hand to six cards on virtually every round. He had enough Golds in his deck to quite often have the 8 money required to pick up a Province, so once things got going, we ploughed through the Provinces at quite a rate. John S took the victory by quite a margin – 32 points, I think, to everyone else around 20ish.

I always enjoy Dominion. This was no exception, although the Attack-heavy card selection made it a bit “Thief… Thief… Jester… Thief… Jester… Thief…”, with everyone cycling through their decks pretty quickly and cards often changing hands. I missed the Young Witch though…

Andrew drifted back over to Spartacus to replace a home-going gamer, so John S suggested Hanabi for the three of us remaining. John F had never played it, so we had a quick rules explanation and then we prepared a cooperative firework display. It became apparent pretty early on that we might have an extra obstacle in this particular play.

Colour-recognition problems (mainly red–green colour blindness) occur in around 8% of men. Our table bucked the statistics a bit, with two out of three of us having colour issues. I have mild trouble with red/orange/brown/pink under many lighting conditions (which had caused me problems playing Village in a previous session at Newcastle Gamers – I was waiting for a cube colour to come out of the bag when it didn’t even exist), while John F can’t easily distinguish blue and green under artificial light. The colour suits in Hanabi are red, yellow, white, green and blue, so I had no problem at all. John F, on the other hand, couldn’t tell the difference between the green and blue suits, so we lost an early 2 card.

Hanabi

John S has a brain meltdown, John F ponders his move and I smile wryly because I have no idea what any of my cards are

Once we’d sussed the problem, John S and I pointed out the shape symbols that accompany each colour on the cards and we were fine from that point. Still, it was a lesson learned for the future – a well designed game has symbols as well as colours for a reason, and we should always point them out to new players in case they haven’t been able to see the colour differences!

I love this game. I hate its tiny, evil, black heart while I’m playing it. It’s so tight in terms of “resources” (clue tokens) that it feels like the harshest of Euros. John S insisted that we play without being able to ask what each other remembered about their cards (remember, of course, that in Hanabi you can’t see your own cards – you can only see everyone else’s). This is absolutely in the spirit of the rules, and I agree that it’s the way the game should ideally be played… I just find it really difficult, because it involves remembering not only what I know about my own cards, but also what everyone else knows about their cards as well. As a result of not being able to remember who knew what, we wasted a couple of clues. I was also in the situation late in the game where I had been told that one of my cards was a 5, and from what I could see in the discards and the others’ hands, I deduced that it was a white 5. Of course, not everyone has access to all the same information, so nobody else knew that I knew it was white, so another clue was wasted telling me that.

Such a wonderfully designed game, and such good fun. We managed to scrape together a score of 18 out of 25, with an evaluation of “Excellent! Charms the crowd.” Not bad, especially considering we finished after midnight!

John S slipped away into the night. We looked around; everyone else was engaged in games, so John F said, “Do you know Hive?” I replied that I’d played it a bit on iOS quite a while ago, but it had almost entirely slipped from my mind. He dug out his copy of Hive Carbon (which, for me, is a hundred times prettier than the original coloured version) and refreshed my memory. It was all tucked away somewhere in my mind, so it didn’t take long to get the basic rules back.

It’s a wonderfully simple game, reminiscent of chess on an ever-shifting hex-based board. It’s also a wonderfully deep game, and John has (obviously) had a lot more experience in exploring its depths, breadths and… well, all dimensions. He could have utterly obliterated me in our first game, but he gently guided me through a few good and bad choices here and there in that game, meaning I almost managed to hold him off. Almost. Once he’d taken my stabilisers off, I felt distinctly wobbly in my reasoning and move choices, but the key points he’d shown me helped to guide my choices. Naturally, he surrounded my Queen Bee and I lost.

We’d played that first game with the Mosquito expansion piece (which sucks the movement power of a piece it’s adjacent to). We then played a second game with the Ladybird(/bug) expansion piece instead (which moves in a very specific but potentially quite powerful way). I’m going to attribute this to fatigue (remember we’d finished Hanabi after midnight, so we must have been knocking on towards 1 am by the time we started the second run at Hive, plus I’ve got a 7-week-old baby – yep, I’ve got all the excuses lined up), but I completely sucked the second time round. I knew I was sucking hard too, but my brain just wasn’t functioning in the right way to do much about it. After a few rounds of extremely sub-optimal/bad/illogical moves, I don’t think there was anything I could do to hold John back.

Watch me lose! For those who don't know the game, I'm playing the black pieces with white insects. Those who DO know the game won't need telling.

Behold me losing! For those who don’t know the game, I’m playing the black pieces with white creatures. Those who do know the game won’t need telling.

Some people don’t enjoy games they don’t win. I loved this game. Just playing it made me want to play it more, to improve, to uncover the strategies and tactics. And oh, the tactility! The pieces are beautiful bakelite chunks, with a wonderful heft in the hand. Every move feels imbued with meaning, every clack represents a new attack or an attempt at defence (usually a failed attempt in my case). Wonderful. I’m going to get hold of a copy of Hive, play it with everyone who’ll play it (preferably outside, just because you can), play it online, brush up on some better play and actually offer some challenge to a more experienced player.

I don’t usually get excited about abstract games like this, but… yes. This one has it for me. It had wormed its way into my head. I said to John and Olly (who was watching me flounder like a beached… er… flounder) that I’d have dreams about Hive that night. It happens every time a game really gets under my mental skin on the first play. Puerto Rico, Power Grid, KeyflowerThunderbolt Apache Leader… all have entered my dreamworld in some way. And I did indeed dream about Hive.

That was the last game of my night, seeing as it was about 1:30 am, so I left the remaining gamers to enjoy The Resistance and trundled back to Corbridge… with only one functioning headlight. Not much fun once you leave the bright lights of the city.

Highlight of the night for me… well, I guess it would be Hive. I wasn’t at my best while playing it, but it was fantastic. Pergamon was also a bit of a highlight, in that it was such an unexpected treat.

All photos by Olly and me, shamelessly stolen from the Newcastle Gamers Google+ page.

Newcastle Gamers – Saturday 9 February 2013

I’d again made tentative plans prior to Saturday’s session at Newcastle Gamers, this time to play Eclipse with Olly and John S, so we managed to avoid the awkward standing around and got stuck straight in to a bit of 4X fun. Well, not straight in – the setup and brief rules run-down (John and I being Eclipse newbies but having read the rules) took just over 30 minutes, and that was mainly just setup. There are a lot of bits in this game. Tiles in bags, tiles in piles, tiles in boxes, cubes and discs on player boards and on hexes that make up the main playing area, plastic ships in three sizes, player aids and more. We had to enlist a second table to help us accommodate everything. Kyle joined us to round out to four players, all playing human factions – no aliens for the first time out – and we set off into the void.

It felt very much like a learning game for me. For the first few rounds, I found it hard to judge how many actions to take and how best to deal with the results of my actions. As a consequence, I kind of hobbled myself for the remainder of the game by almost entirely cutting myself off from everyone else (which I thought would help keep me safe), while at the same time drawing (and keeping!) lots of hexes that didn’t give me the types of income I needed. I struggled for money for nearly the entire game, although a few lucky discovery tiles (three +5 science resource tiles!) gave me a research boost in the early rounds. Yes, I had “turtled”. And no, it didn’t work out well for me.
Continue reading