Tag Archives: netrunner

My June in Games

June was a very busy month for me, especially around the weekends when I’d usually be at Newcastle Gamers. Two missed sessions (three including the late May one!) means I was grabbing any opportunity to get in a game here or there, but I ended up not doing too badly.

I kicked off the month by heading on down to Newcastle Playtest to see what new designs the group had kicked off since my last attendance. What actually happened was that I played Graham’s long-gestated flower-growing game with him and Olly (really enjoyed it, but Graham’s not sure about spending any more time on it), which devolved into a chat about pro cycling and the recently finished Giro d’Italia which had turned out to be a fantastic race (and a slightly ridiculously paced one – thanks, Astana).

The following week the stars aligned and I finally made it along to the Mile Castle for some Monday evening Android: Netrunner. What a lovely bunch of people! And what an experienced bunch of players. I played three games and lost all three. My decks kind of worked against me in a couple of the games (the first one ended in a flatline when my opponent played SEA Source and two Scorched Earths, so I didn’t really get a chance to get going), but I’m sure a more experienced player would have made better of the hands they’d drawn… or built a better deck in the first place. Everyone was really patient with me as I stumbled through some slow decisions and tried to make my frustrating hands work.

Dan played a beautifully horrible HB deck with the new Cybernetics Division: Humanity Upgraded identity (reduce each player’s hand size by one). After Dan scored a couple of Self-Destruct Chips early in the game, I was down to a hand size of two. Given that my Hayley deck is partially about heavy card draw, that was me scuppered. I need to work in a hand-size-enlarging card or two to counter things like that.

And then two days later I was down at John’s house for a bit of Corbridge gaming. John sprang on me a game I hadn’t even slightly imagined he might be interested in: Neuroshima Hex (in its 3.0 version, for those keeping score at home). I’d played this a few times on the iPad, but I couldn’t remember much about it so all strategic thought eluded me. I played the Borgo (good at melee combat) against John’s Moloch (lots of ranged combat options) and the tile-draw kind of screwed me a bit. I got in some good early hits on John’s HQ, which is the object of the game, but I didn’t draw either of my ranged units until near the very end, which meant I kept getting pushed back away from John’s HQ and had to concentrate on taking out some of his nastier ranged units. Yes, I’m staring at you, Gauss Cannon.

At the end of the game – looks like I've done really well (look at all that blue!), but all the damage had been done long ago.

At the end of the game – looks like I’ve done really well (look at all that blue!), but all the damage had been done long ago.

John took a comfortable victory after our tiles had run out, 9–5. Neuroshima Hex isn’t entirely my cup of tea, gameplay-wise, and the theme and artwork really aren’t for me. I mean, really – post-apocalyptic mutants? Again? I’d much prefer a Hive-style battle of the insects or something.

We finished up with another Roll for the Galaxy. Everything went my way this time, and I picked up a string of developments that only encouraged me to go for more developments. It really was a perfect-storm combo. I developed Investment Credits early on, which made all developments one die cheaper from that point. Galactic Bankers was a 6+ development, giving me 1 bonus VP per development, while Propaganda Campaign let me reassign one or two dice to the phase I chose. That meant (after a bit of exploring turned up some cheap developments) my final turn involved six dice on the Develop phase producing four developments for a total income of 14 VPs.

I had to check the rules to see if I was allowed to finish a thirteenth tile – indeed I was.

I had to check the rules to see if I was allowed to finish a thirteenth tile – indeed I was.

John had taken a much more balanced approach and did very well out of his shipping and a few 6+ development bonuses, but it wasn’t enough to overhaul my obscene development engine.

Final score – Me: 63 / John: 49

Yep, that entire winning margin of 14 was scored in the final turn. Love this game – it’s just so different every time.

That was it for June, and July’s shaping up to be similarly game-sparse. I’m making up for it with lots of cycling – both watching and riding. It’s great to get back on a bike after so many years off, and it’s helping no end with my CFS recovery.

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 – Saturday 25 April 2015

Greenland, Greenland, Greenland
The country where I want to be
Pony trekking or camping
Or just watching TV
Greenland, Greenland, Greenland
It’s the country for me

(with apologies to Monty Python)

Yes, after a quick half-game of Android: Netrunner while waiting for Olly to arrive (my new Hayley Kaplan Shaper deck against Graham’s new HB Foundry setup – I was starting to feel confident, but the NEXT ice hadn’t started coming out yet), it was time for a pre-arranged stab at Phil Eklund’s most recent game simulation pile of utter madness, Greenland. No, to be fair… it’s actually a playable game this time! It still has the usual raft of exceptions, fiddly corner-case rules and things that you never expect to see in a game (syphilis, witch-burning – to which Norse husbands are immune – and the “domestication” of orca all spring to mind), but at its heart it’s a relatively simple worker-placement/action-selection/brutal-survival game with massive random elements ready to pounce on your carefully laid plans at every turn.

I was the Tunit (good at fishing and already with a colony in the New World), Olly was the Thule (historically the sole survivors of the period covered in the game) and Graham was the Norse invaders in southern Greenland. I got lucky early on with some successful hunting, and ended up with all 18 of my hunter cubes available. Of course, with all the random events, it wasn’t long before a decimation or two brought us all down to just a small handful of hunters.

I’d managed to collect a few pieces of iron (and an import that could convert to iron) and I hadn’t spent any on negating hunting attrition, so when I lost my final elder a few rounds from the end, the switch to monotheism was an easy choice to make. I’d only pulled in 3 VPs of trophies to score for a polytheist culture, and converting to monotheism put me immediately on about 11 VPs (5 iron and 1 ivory), well ahead of the others. Graham converted at the same time, but Olly stayed polytheistic and spent the rest of the game like Ahab relentlessly hunting the white whale (technically the Bowhead Whale in Greenland), which was tough to hunt but yielded huge amounts of resources… and 13 VPs if rolling four identical dice on the hunt to take the trophy!

It's all cards, tiddlywinks and hideous graphic design here in Greenland.

It’s all cards, tiddlywinks and hideous graphic design here in Greenland.

I sent three hunters to the same iron-giving biome four rounds in a row; all I needed each time was a 1 from any of three dice (about a 40% chance) to get another iron and thus 2 VPs. Naturally, I didn’t get a single iron from this venture on any of the four occasions I tried. Meanwhile, Graham set up a New World colony in Vinland and managed to get some iron using the excellent reroll/dice-changing abilities in his tableau, and Olly finally speared his cetacean nemesis. The game ended before Graham or I had a chance to send a missionary to the heathen Thule and convert them to our way of thinking; that whale skull finally hanging in the great hall of the Thule handed victory to Olly.

Final score – Olly: 17 / Graham: 16 / Me: 15

[Side note: Olly noticed a few days later that we’d missed a key VP rule – you also get 1 VP for each hunter/elder cube not in Valhalla (or 2 VPs if it’s in a cold colony), so I think the final scores were actually 28/27/21 in the same order. Of course, had I remembered that rule on the day we would have handled the late game quite differently and gone for some serious baby-making biomes, so we can’t really just adjust the score like that.]

Greenland turned out to be surprisingly fun, and a few strategies became clear as we played. I think we could have been far more interactive (although we were all having such a tough time surviving that it didn’t seem wise to risk our hunters in a fight), and the timing of the switch to monotheism is definitely important. Once you’ve converted there doesn’t seem to be a way to domesticate animals, which is odd – I’m pretty sure monotheists are as capable as polytheists when it comes to matters of farming, although Eklund notes in the rules that “almost no animal domestications have occurred since the onset of Christianity”. Just because they historically didn’t happen in that order, does that mean that I shouldn’t be able to do things differently in a game? Anyway, small niggles aside… Eklund fun!

John Sh joined us for a few rounds of Red7, which he’d introduced me to earlier in the week. It’s an interesting and fun little game, taking a concept that seems initially like gamers’ nemesis Fluxx and putting a spin on it that makes it… y’know… an actual game. I’m sure there’s a fair degree of strategy and tactics involved in Red7 once you’ve seen your hand of cards, but it’ll take me a little while to get my head round it all. No idea who won; not particularly bothered. A fun time was had by all.

Not actually our game of Red7, but one John had earlier in the evening.

Not actually our game of Red7, but one John had earlier in the evening.

And then a proper proper game: Orléans. The toast of Essen 2014, Orléans is a bag-building action-selection game about… wool? Well, it was for me. With seemingly many paths towards victory, my game was all about accumulating vast quantities of wool, Olly was collecting cloth and money, John was building trading posts like they were going out of fashion and Graham had an automated monk-production machine going on, allowing him to do pretty much whatever he wanted (monks are wild workers in Orléans… just like in real life). That translated into collecting money, money and more money, along with gaining points on the Development track.

What’s odd is that I clearly remember really enjoying Orléans, but I can’t remember much about the actual gameplay afterwards. There’s not a huge amount of interaction (we ran out of a couple of worker types, and John and I were competing over certain sections of the road/canal board, but that was about it) and it’s often just a case of setting your workers to whatever task you’re aiming for. Of course, my luck from Greenland carried on into Orléans. Three times I had a bag of ten workers, of which three were yellow wild workers; three times I drew seven workers; three times I drew no yellows. Gaaah.

The road/canal side of the board, where I did OK in terms of picking up goods, but didn't build enough trading posts.

The road/canal side of the board, where I did OK in terms of picking up goods, but didn’t build enough trading posts.

In the end, collecting cloth and money won out, with a tidy victory for Olly. I knew I’d done OK with my massive pile of wool (44 points from the wool alone, plus 10 from my warehouse building for having two full sets of goods), but I hadn’t spread myself around the mechanisms quite enough to make some of the extra points I needed.

Final score – Olly: 135 / Me: 111 / Graham: 100 / John: 96

As I’ve found with many previous “hot” games from Essen, I liked Orléans but it didn’t set me on fire. I enjoyed it a lot and I’d absolutely play it again, but there wasn’t quite enough player interaction and blocking for my tastes. It felt tightly designed though, with something of a Feld air about it.

It being quarter to midnight as this point, John sensibly left for home while Robert joined the rest of us for Splendor. Neither my spellcheck nor I are happy about that name, but there it is. A Spiel des Jahres nominee last year (so you know it’ll be an accessible, quick, fun game), Splendor is all about collecting precious stones, seemingly only to use them as currency to buy even more gems which are worth points, and possibly to impress a randomised selection of nobles. That’s as much theme as there is, and that theme doesn’t impose itself on the gameplay in any way, shape or form. Available actions are very simple (take gemstone chips, reserve a card or buy a card) and the whole game just slowly ramps up to the point where players can afford the cards they actually want.

That’s the way I played it, anyway. I didn’t take many chips at all after the first few rounds, preferring to buy gems using the ones I’d already collected (they stay in your collection rather than being spent back to the deck). I nearly got away with it, but everyone else was playing a more balanced game between cards and chips, which edged me out in the end.

Final score – Olly: 15 (won on tie break condition) / Graham: 15 / Me: 14 / Robert: 10

Again, Splendor didn’t excite me, but I’d be happy to play again. Its shining, crowning glory is its components – the gem chips are brightly coloured, hefty, weighted poker-style chips, giving the simple action of taking chips a physical significance it somehow wouldn’t quite have if they were cardboard tokens. They’re precious gems, after all! It’s a superb production decision which lifts the game from forgettable filler to something that looks and feels beautiful on the table.

And I didn’t even get a photo.


All photos by John Sh and me, shamelessly stolen from the Newcastle Gamers Google+ page. Newcastle Gamers is usually on the second and last Saturday of every month (although there’s an extra one in April), 4:30 pm until late (unless it’s a special all-day session like the first two Saturdays in April…) at Christ Church, Shieldfield, Newcastle upon Tyne!

My March in Games

In many ways, my gaming highlight in March was (finally) teaching Hive to my seven-year-old son. Not just because it’s a great game, but because he got it. I barely had to re-explain anything and he could recognise when things were going well and when they were turning bad. Admittedly, I helped him along in quite a few places (because there’s nothing fun about steamrollering a child at a game notorious for requiring an even match of player ability), but he understood exactly why the bad decisions he was mulling over were bad decisions. I foresee many matches of Hive to come in the future – and I foresee him beating me before too long.

The month began excellently (after an early session at Newcastle Gamers) with a game of Madeira against John Sh. I’d recently picked it up at a vaguely bargainous price, intrigued by its reputation as a brutally heavy euro and heartened by the knowledge that it’s a real favourite of Newcastle Gamers chairman John B.

At this point, I’d love to go into a detailed report and analysis of our beautifully constructed strategies and well timed moves. Instead, I’ll just present you with how the board looked at the end of the two-hour game as we sat with our heads in our hands, muttering things like “probably the heaviest euro I’ve ever played” and “that was exhausting”.

So, so, so, SO MANY things to do

So, so, so, SO MANY things to do

Yes, it felt very heavy… but not from being overburdened by elaborate rules. The rules themselves are relatively straightforward (I mean, it’s not Ticket to Ride, but it’s certainly not Mage Knight either); the heaviness comes from the complexity and depth of the interlocking mechanisms and the decisions you have to make on each turn. Resources are tight, in true brutal-euro style, and you only have a small handful of actions available in each round, so there are points where you’re inevitably failing to maintain your boats (if you have to buy wood, the cost scales using the triangular number sequence: 1 wood costs 1 coin, 2 wood costs 3 coins, 3 wood costs 6… all the way up to 6 wood for a horrifying 21 coins) or feed your workers. And failing to do things means pirates. And pirates give you negative points at the end of the game.

I ended up winning, 72 to 51, but it was kind of accidental. I fell into a heavy shipping strategy early on (mainly because of the first crown demand tile I was dealt) and it threw a reasonable number of points my way over the first couple of scoring rounds (end of rounds 1 and 3), plus a big bonus at the end of round 5 (my three red wine ships you can see on the board pulled in 18 points from a single tile). John had also overtaken me – way, way, way overtaken me – for pirates in the last round, so he got the larger points reduction at the end of the game.

So it was very much an exploratory first game, and I reckon Madeira would need a good four or five games before you get a decent handle on how everything fits together. I did really enjoy it, but it’s not an “every day” game. It’s probably not even an “every month” game, given its weight. But I’ll float it some time at Newcastle Gamers and see if I get any takers.

The middle of the month brought another wonderful gaming weekend (see this post for last spring’s report). I could only make it for about 24 hours, but I managed to fit in some excellent gaming. In brief:

  • Formula Dé – This was much better fun than I’d anticipated, taking roll-and-move to a level that actually engages the brain. The highlight was watching Olly dance on the verge of death for most of the race before spinning and crashing out on the penultimate bend. I played it steady and very nearly won, being pipped to the post by John in the last roll of the die.
  • Roads & Boats – Having scared everyone else away by (correctly) stating it had taken 6 hours last time we played, Olly and I then polished off a game in 90 minutes, both rushing to complete the wonder rather than bothering with mines and all that nonsense. Not the most satisfying of games, but at least it showed us another way it could be played.
Yes, we set up all those hexes, then didn't even bother getting beyond wagons. I didn't even get beyond donkeys, and I crushed all my geese into delicious wonder bricks.

Yes, we set up all those hexes, then didn’t even bother getting beyond wagons. I didn’t even get beyond donkeys, and I crushed all my geese into delicious wonder bricks.

  • In the Year of the Dragon – Finally managed to play this excellent Stefan Feld game. It didn’t feel much like a Feld as we know them these days; it was much more a game of managing crises than building opportunities and creating combos. Really good fun, with an enjoyable schadenfreude in watching Camo (who has played the game a billion times) accidentally screw himself over and have a disastrous last few rounds.
  • Suburbia – My first play with the Suburbia Inc expansion, which adds borders, bonuses, challenges and a whole bunch of new tiles. Camo, Olly, Graham and I were experienced enough to take it in our strides, and we ended up with some ridiculous-looking border-riddled boroughs (except Graham’s, which looked like someone had actually put some thought into its layout). I struggled for income throughout, but just managed to scrape together a win by sneaking down to score the “lowest income” goal.
My winning "borough". I don't know why anyone wanted to live there, but they did.

My winning “borough”. I don’t know why anyone wanted to live there, with a checkpoint sandwiched between a desert and a national park. Maybe it was just those contiguous lake tiles that brought the people flooding in.

  • Earthquake – A very odd little set-scoring game, with Magic: The Gathering artwork and a whole shedload of luck involved.
  • Android: Netrunner – I tried out a Noise (Anarch) bullshit deck against Graham’s Jinteki Replicating Perfection deck. I can’t think of a better way to describe the deck I was using. It’s just a complete confrontational arsehole of a deck, tweaked to my liking from the Can o’ Whupass build. Virus after virus after virus, milling through the corp deck, bringing out Incubators, Hivemind and three Chakanas… I can’t imagine what it’s like to play against as a corp. Indeed, Graham was heard to mutter, “Y’know, we could fall out over this.” I managed to faceplant into a Cerebral Overwriter and accidentally kill myself; I really shouldn’t have run at all, even with a super-strong Darwin running off Hivemind. You live and learn. Really good fun to try something like this out, and it’s now become my proper runner deck after a few tweaks.
  • Fungi – I’ve had a copy of this sitting around unplayed for ages, and Graham happened to have brought his along. I wish I’d played my copy ages ago. What a lovely little set-collection game. The morels seemed very powerful, but I think Graham struck lucky in managing to get all three of them out for 18 points.
  • Love Letter – For once, I didn’t do terribly… but I didn’t win either.
  • Space Alert – At last, I tried this Vlaada Chvátil game, but I couldn’t stay long enough to get beyond the first couple of training missions. I was enjoying it a lot, although the real-time aspect of it did make me realise how much my CFS still affects my mental function. I struggled to keep up with what was going on… but of course, that’s partially the idea of the game anyway! Hopefully I’ll get another chance to play it before I’ve entirely forgotten how it works.

I had a fantastic time with superb games in excellent company, and was gutted to have to miss half of the weekend. I even missed two games of Agricola. [sad face]

I’ve spent a fair chunk of the month trying to get my head round the rules for Salerno, the first in MMP’s Variable Combat Series. It had been on my radar for well over a year – the system, the map, the counters… it all looked like my sort of wargame, and one I could play solo fairly easily too. I’d read the system rules a couple of times, and it seemed so simple; it was largely a collection of standard hex-and-counter wargaming staples.

Unfortunately, I hadn’t looked at the exclusive rules for the Salerno game. They’re twice as long as the system rules, and make it substantially more complex. I’m not a massive wargamer, but I’ve never had trouble getting my head round a ruleset once I put some effort into it. Salerno was the first wargame to make me feel like a complete idiot. It’s not just that the rules could be much clearer in places; it’s that they make assumptions about your knowledge of military terminology. For a lot of grognards, this wouldn’t be a problem. I, on the other hand, have struggled enormously to figure out which counters are the parent units to others, and to figure out how the unit designations listed in the reinforcement schedule correspond to what’s printed on the counters.

Maybe I’ve been coddled by the likes of Red Winter, which prints the turn of entry on each unit, or Unconditional Surrender, in which each ground unit counter is an entire army with a simple number on it. Either way, Salerno‘s back on the shelf for now. I hope I can understand it some day.

Newcastle Gamers – Saturday 28 March 2015

Graham and I nearly threw ourselves straight into Historia (newly acquired by me, previously played by him), but we instead decided to wait for Ali and Camo to arrive, given that it’s “their kind of game”. So… a bit of Android: Netrunner to fill the time? I couldn’t possibly refuse.

[As ever, this will be heavy on the Netrunner lingo, so skip on to the bit where we actually got round to playing Historia if you like.]

After a game we’d played the previous week (of which more in my now-seemingly-a-thing monthly gaming round-up) where I subjected Graham to a horrible, horrible Noise deck I’d grabbed from the internet and tweaked to my liking, we swapped roles and Graham ran his tweaked Kate Shaper deck against a slightly altered version of the Jinteki Replicating Perfection deck I’d played at the last Newcastle Gamers session. I’d shoved some more cheap end-the-run ice in there, to prevent the double-whammy horrorshow of unaffordability and porousness I had going on last time. That change seemed to work nicely, with R&D iced up straight away (ever wary of Maker’s Eye in a Shaper deck) and some affordable ice for a remote server drawn early too.

As seems to be the norm for both Graham and me, we were both horribly poor throughout the game; although that meant Graham was doing a solid job as the runner (keep running, keep me poor), he was also lacking the credits to break subroutines on my ice. That changed as he built his rig. I managed to get a couple of NAPD Contracts scored early for 4 agenda points in total, but Graham’s rig was looking very intimidating by the time I was considering installing another agenda. A full set of icebreakers and lots of recurring/stealth credits isn’t a very appealing sight to a corp player.

But then came the fun in my “scoring remote” (i.e. the one with the ice on it – Jackson Howard was sitting unprotected and untrashed for the whole game). Using Interns, I put Caprice Nisei from the face-up Archives into my scoring remote – so Graham knew he was in for the Psi game if he broke through the ice – and installed The Future Perfect. Just for fun, I also threw Ash 2X3ZB9CY into that server as well, guessing that Graham would be too poor to do anything about a level-4 trace. That’s exactly how it worked out so my agenda was saved, although Ash got trashed. After scraping through a few turns grubbing credits for clicks and advancing my agenda ever so horribly slowly, I managed to score it for the win, 7 to 0. It’s not like Graham didn’t successfully run on that server; he did, twice, but I twice won the Psi game. The odds were on my side though, with a 2-in-3 chance of Caprice ending the run.

Plain sleeves are so unphotogenic. That's my scoring remote on the left, Caprice and Ash still unrezzed, The Future Perfect yet to be advanced.

Plain sleeves are so unphotogenic. That’s my scoring remote on the left, Caprice and Ash still unrezzed, The Future Perfect yet to be advanced. Graham’s rig is so big I couldn’t fit it all in.

(Side note: I actually fluffed the Caprice timing, rezzing her after Graham had passed all the ice. Apparently, she needs to be rezzed before the last piece of ice is passed in order to activate at the right time. Of course, had I known that, I would have rezzed her earlier in the run and Graham knew she was there anyway, so it would have been exactly the same result.)

Having played that Replicating Perfection deck a couple of times, I don’t think it’s very me. I like the intimidation aspect of being Jinteki (is it an agenda in that remote, or some horrible trap?), but the RP glacial ice thing just doesn’t excite me. Could just be a rubbish deck (very likely), but I think I’ll try another faction for a while. Maybe it’s time for NBN fast advance…

[And maybe it’s time to stop talking about Netrunner for now.]

Camo had arrived, followed by Pete and Ali, so we had five for Historia. It’s mechanically simple so the rules explanation didn’t take too long, but I tried to make sure everybody got their heads around how the discard queue works when playing cards: at the end of each turn, you only recover the two oldest cards in your discard queue, so playing a card early in a turn can be crucial to getting it back again for the next one. Knowing that cubes are only automatically recovered every other turn is also vital.

I intended to go heavy on the Wonders from the outset, but for a while there were several of us roughly tied for number of Wonders (thus rendering a couple of Wonders useless for their owners – including one for me). Camo had chosen Australasia as his starting (4-VP) territory and expanded to the neighbouring 2-VP territory early on. 6 VPs from the map over a couple of scoring rounds put him ahead, while the rest of us squabbled and tried to deny each other points throughout Asia, Europe and North Africa. (The Americas had gone untouched in the initial setup, occupied as they were by 1-VP and 2-VP markers – possibly a strategic error!)

I sauntered along in last place, not entirely sure how I was going to push forwards, but my Era II Leader – Lorenzo il Magnifico – got me motivated to boost my Technology and concentrate on Wonders. I’d managed to pick up some Wonders that gained me things for taking the Technology action (recovered cubes, small VP bonuses) and another couple that let me recover my oldest card, so I could keep taking the Technology action again and again, boosting me up through the levels towards the pink “Utopia” scoring region.

That was my goal.

Once I’d got my Technology engine fired up, I was unstoppable. I didn’t really care about the map any more – it was all about manipulating the Wonders to aid me in my quest for Technology, VPs and staying in the pink zone. Military was only of use to get me around the little kinks at the edge of the Development Matrix (sometimes you need to go up a Military level in order to get to the next Technology level). Lorenzo got me 11 VPs altogether, finally pushing me up the rankings… which meant going down in turn order. That was OK though; my final leader was Akbar, which meant just a few more Wonders and a few more levels in Technology for a lovely 14 VPs.

There are a few of my blue cubes on the map, but they were really only there to keep other people from having sole occupancy and thus being able to score a territory. Not really part of my game plan at all.

Late game – I’ve moved into the lead. There are a few of my blue cubes on the map, but they were really only there to keep other people from having sole occupancy and thus being able to score a territory. Not really part of my game plan at all.

Camo stayed very close to me on my journey into pinkness and joined me at the singularity (6-VP bonus each), while Graham dominated Military for much of the game, spending a long time as a Barbarian with its handy cube-recovering ability at the end of each turn. Ali and Pete weren’t far behind, with Pete joining Graham on the top row for the other 6 VP bonus option.

Pete's ghostly hand starts the clearing-up process, but not before I capture the final score and final positions on the Development Matrix.

Pete’s ghostly hand starts the clearing-up process, but not before I blurrily capture the final score and final positions on the Development Matrix. Neither of my photos does any justice to the fabulous artwork on the board and the action cards. (The advisors and leaders are in a slightly different – tackier – style.)

Final score – Me: 128 / Camo: 113 / Graham: 102 / Pete: 95 / Ali: 90

Being able to play more than one card per action round is huge, and being first to Technology level 13 – thus being able to play three cards per round – was even bigger. My huge collection of Wonders (12 of them by the end of the game) allowed me to perform all sorts of card- and cube-manipulating shenanigans. There was a turn in Era III where I played three cards, recovered them all and ended up with more available cubes than I’d started with.

But even better than all that was hitting the pink zone when others were still in yellow or green. Scoring 7 VPs per turn when others are scoring 1 or 2 – over about six turns of the game – really mounts up. Sure, everyone else moved into higher scoring areas by the end of the game, but the damage was done. Still, before the final turn, the VP positions were pretty tight. It was that last burst of Wonder-stuff and scoring 14 VPs from Akbar that sealed it for me.

I’m going to try something completely different next time – maybe Military-heavy, or perhaps just trying to keep Military and Technology fairly even. I’d like to try out the optional Events deck (for added chaos and mayhem) and figure out how much each set of advisors changes the character of each civilisation as well – some seemed better suited to certain approaches than others. Maybe I just struck lucky with my US advisors!

Historia went down well with all the players, although a few of us felt the last era dragged a tiny bit. I also felt that – once I’d chosen my utopian path – I was playing a bit of a solitaire game. My interactions were minimal, mainly involving lamenting the fact that other people chose the Wonders I wanted before I got a chance to choose them. And that last point illustrates the importance of turn order. Pete wondered afterwards if it was best to try to lag behind in VPs for the first half of the game (thus being better off in turn order), before ramping everything up once the engines are in place. I can see some potential for the game to become a little scripted in that way, but it would be a fair few plays yet before that became a problem.

Two games, two wins, and the night was drawing to a close. People seemed to be very aware of the impending loss of an hour overnight, so there was only one table still playing at 11 pm. I’ll hopefully be able to get along to one of the upcoming all-day sessions in early April.

All photos by me, shamelessly stolen from the Newcastle Gamers Google+ page. Newcastle Gamers is usually on the second and last Saturday of every month (although there’s an extra one in April), 4:30 pm until late (unless it’s a special all-day session like the first two Saturdays in April…) at Christ Church, Shieldfield, Newcastle upon Tyne!

Newcastle Gamers – Saturday 27 September 2014

Why do I always put “Saturday” in the title of these Newcastle Gamers reports? They’re always Saturdays. Well, it’s de facto house style now, so I’m sticking to it.

In the month since the last Newcastle session I attended, John Sh and I had an evening of games in Corbridge, including Shipyard (great game if you like rondels; I like rondels), Crokinole (hours spent playing Rampage with my kids nearly put me in with a chance), Istanbul (fun, but I had little-to-zero idea of what to do in a first play) and Province (there’s a lot of game in that tiny package). We’d liked Shipyard so much that I brought it to Saturday’s Newcastle Gamers session, but John brought his newly acquired (and rapidly super-pimped) copy of Splotter Spellen’s Antiquity, so that kind of trumped everything. John’s done a beautiful job with this game, spending hours – and an undisclosed sum – creating new, clearer artwork for resources, printing and attaching stickers, sourcing mini-meeples to replace cubes… It really is a tour de force.

The main board tiles are original. The city tiles are original. And I'm pretty sure everything else in this picture is stuff that John made/bought. It's looovely.

The main board tiles are original. The city tiles are original. And I’m pretty sure everything else in this picture is stuff that John made/bought. It’s looovely. And what’s more, it’s a lot more user-friendly than the original piles-o’-chits would have been.

Like its sibling Roads & BoatsAntiquity is relatively simple in terms of rules, but utterly brain-devastating when it comes to actual gameplay. And, like Roads & Boats, there’s no safety net. If you screw up the early game, you screw up the whole game.

After building the requisite Houses, Storage and Cart Shop in my starting city (and realising in the second or third turn that a Granary was going to be über-handy too, given the ridiculous and escalating requirements of the Famine phase in each round), I set about growing food. Olives and fish were my staples throughout the game, and with the Faculty of Alchemy I could clear off huge swaths of Pollution markers to reuse the land and water.

John was first to build a Cathedral (indeed, he was the only one with space left in his starting city in which to fit a Cathedral, the rest of us having failed dismally in our Tetris-like city building), which he dedicated to San Christofori. That set his victory condition to “have three of each Food and Luxury Goods resource in Storage” – 24 resource tokens altogether, which seemed a long way off, but it was a simple mission of collecting.

After a bit of expansion via Inns, we were starting to butt heads slightly for territory. Olly was the first to construct a second city, closely followed by John and me. Les took a little longer, due to being heavily boxed in by John and Olly, with much of their side of the board covered in black Pollution discs. Olly built a Cathedral in his second city, devoting his game to San Nicolo: “have twenty workers”, which amounts to “build all twenty houses”. The San Nicolo perk of building two houses for the price of one was definitely handy for this, but it was still expensive to carry out, with each of the higher-cost houses requiring several Food and several Luxury Goods resources.

Hey, look! I finally built a Cathedral!

Hey, look! I finally built a Cathedral! Now to dig up some graves…

A central mountain range that I was just about to mine for Stone was grabbed by John and turned into Gold-producing mountains. That was the turning point for me in deciding which victory condition to head for: San Nicolo, just like Olly. I was going to be swimming in Gold (a Luxury Good, obviously), I had a couple of renewable sources of Food (bless you, alchemists) and another nearby lake to fish for Pearls or Dye (Luxury Goods again). Of course, in order to build a Cathedral, I had to first build a Hospital in order to clear Graves out of my cities (Hospital? Necromancer, more like!) to make room, so it was a few rounds before I could make a decent start on my House-building.

Meanwhile, John was piling up his goal resources in his Cathedral of Holding and Olly was churning out two Houses per round, so I knew I wasn’t going to make it to my victory condition before either of them. I don’t think Les ever built his Cathedral; he was feeling very limited in his options by the late game, surrounded as he was by Pollution and unable to dump any near Olly’s satellite cities because of Olly’s Dump/Stables combo. (I, on the other hand, was blissfully free of Pollution, with my Dump limiting the damage and my Faculty of Alchemy ensuring I could ravage the land time and time again.)

The world at the end of the game. Notice how blissfully free from black Pollution discs I am (red, top-right). Sympathise with Les (blue, bottom-left) as you realise how boxed in he is. Marvel at Olly (yellow, bottom-right) and his commandeering of half the map.

The world near the end of the game. Notice how blissfully free from black Pollution discs I am (red, top-right). Sympathise with Les (blue, bottom-left) as you realise how boxed in he is, although he did manage to sneak through the barricades to build a second city. Marvel at Olly (yellow, bottom-right) and his commandeering of half the map.

And then, just like that, we reached the end of a round – Victory Check – and John declared that he had indeed collected the appropriate 24 resources in his infinitely large Cathedral. An actual round of applause (albeit a small one) ensued – after all, this had been a three-and-a-half-hour game and for a long while it hadn’t been clear how anyone could possibly achieve victory under the constant onslaught of Pollution and the ever-increasing Famine.

Just as with Roads & Boats, I felt like I’d been battered round the head with a variety of firm-yet-yielding weapons – presumably the limbs of the beneficiaries of St Nicolo’s Necromantic Hospital. But it was agreed to be a great game, with lots of fun and a surprising level of thematic engagement. I think I slightly prefer Roads & Boats, just for the fact it’s a touch more intuitive, but I’d happily play Antiquity again.

And so from suffering a virtual head-battering to sustaining actual in-game brain damage: yes, Graham and I played Android: Netrunner again. This time, we were using some decks that Graham had “thrown together while watching TV”.

[alarm bells]

No, it was good fun, but there were definitely a few sub-optimal choices in there (seemingly not enough money for the Runner, and few ways to dig through the deck for desired cards), which we dissected a little after we’d played. We’re both very inexperienced players, so it’s good to try things out and see what works… and what really, really doesn’t.

I played the Runner (Shaper, Chaos Theory), against Graham’s Haas-Bioroid “Stronger Together” identity, giving +1 strength to Bioroid ICE – a bonus I would forget every single time it was relevant. I really need to learn to remember those things.

This turned into a proper epic. After a couple of early-ish Agenda steals for me, putting me up to 5 points, Graham finally got some decent ICE up. Unfortunately, he was swimming in money at just the wrong time during one of my runs, so although I accessed and scored an Agenda, he’d rezzed Janus 1.0 at a cost of 15 credits. I couldn’t come close to the 8 strength needed to break it with my Pipeline breaker, and I’d run on my third click, so I clicked once to break the first subroutine… and then suffered the other three “do 1 brain damage” subroutines.

Ouch. I could just afford the damage, but… ouch.

So, down to a hand limit of two cards, I had to limp on and try to prod and poke where I could, seeing if I could nab something here or there. I was strapped for credits throughout the game, only managing to get Magnum Opus into play a couple of rounds from the end. Public Sympathy put me back up to a hand limit of four, giving me a little more flexibility, but I was still drawing cards that were little-to-no use. Graham, meanwhile, had managed to install, advance and score a couple of Agendas, taking him up to 5 points too.

After Magnum-Opus-ing and drawing for a couple of rounds, I had a bit of money in the bank and I had breakers installed for all eventualities. Graham installed another obvious Agenda behind his Janus / Ichi mega-Sentry-wall, along with a mysterious card in that server’s Root. Being inexperienced, I couldn’t remember the options of what it might be. I suspected I had enough money to break all the ICE and access the server, and I knew if I didn’t on this turn, Graham would finish advancing the Agenda and win the game. All or nothing, do or die – it’s time to run.

So click 1 was to pull an All-Nighter, trashing that card for an extra two clicks. Then I ran. Graham rezzed the Rototurret he’d stuck in front of the Janus / Ichi combo, so I broke that at minimal expense. Ichi 1.0 had me spending credits to the point where I couldn’t afford to break the last subroutine (so a successful Trace left me with a Tag and another brain damage), and then I still had four clicks left to get through Janus 1.0 without dying. Success! I accessed the server…

And then Graham paid to rez the ridiculously named Ash 2X3ZB9CY, running another Trace (I had no money to counter the Trace at this point) and leaving me unable to access anything in the server apart from Ash 2X3ZB9CY. Not the Agenda. Game over. Graham advanced to victory on his next turn.

A lot of servers, quite a few programs, and so, so much brain damage.

A lot of servers, quite a few programs, and so, so much brain damage.

A great game. I’m enjoying Android: Netrunner more each time I play, so I hope I can get some more plays in soon. Hopefully they won’t end up with me looking like this:

Poor, poor Chaos Theory. She had so much ahead of her...

Poor, poor Chaos Theory. She had so much ahead of her…

Graham and I rounded off the evening with Hive. I hadn’t played in quite a while, so I’m sure I was sub-optimal here and there, but I overcame the inherent Black disadvantage and took the win reasonably quickly.

Beetle down, then Grasshopper jump for the win.

Beetle down, then Grasshopper jump for the win.

Another quality evening at Newcastle Gamers. I think I might shy away from anything very long at the next Newcastle session; it’d be nice to fit in more than two or three games in an evening.

All photos by Olly, John Sh and me, mainly 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 30 August 2014

I started off this session hoping to play Shipyard, which I’d acquired recently after the sudden drop in price (and increase in availability, both apparently due to a new distribution deal) of Czech Games products in the UK. In the end, that never happened, but I can’t complain – I played Agricola!

It was a five-player game, so I didn’t expect to perform particularly well. Clockwise from me around the table were Pete, Graham, John Sh and Olly, all battle-hardened Agricola players, so my expectations were even lower. And we were drafting cards (E/I/K, 3/2/2), which I’ve never managed to get a good result from before. It worked out a bit differently this time, though – the draft gave me a solid strategy to work at (Fieldsman and Planter Box to make mega-abundant fields to bake from, with Manure to enable a pseudo-Field-phase every round, and Sycophant as my first Occupation to get some Food from the Take 1 Grain space in the early game) and, judging from the cards that made their way back to me in the draft, there wasn’t going to be much competition along those lines.

I had a scare early on when the Clay Oven went just as I was going to grab it, so I waited a while for Stone to stack up before building the Stone Oven instead. It took me much longer than I would have liked to get my plan into action, so I was scrabbling around a little aimlessly at first (or seemingly aimlessly from an external perspective – Pete had stacked up 6 Grain ready to sow in my single field about five rounds before I actually did the sowing). I was a little late to expand my hut and fairly late to take Family Growth… but so was nearly everyone else, so it wasn’t too much of a problem. By about round 9, everybody still had a relatively poor-looking farm, although there was a lot of hoarding of resources, ready to be put to use.

Turn order worked in my favour a few times, even without having to take Starting Player (Olly took it in Round 11, allowing me to take Family Growth without room in Round 12 because he needed to do something else even more urgently… and then I got to take it again in Round 13, taking me up to five family members!) and, after the Clay Oven, I managed to avoid the Improvement-poaching that was happening to everyone else. A quick fencing off of all my remaining unused spaces, sowing more Grain and Vegetables, and building a Schnapps Distillery in the final round left me feeling reasonably hopeful of being able to feed my family and get a decent score. I was only seriously lacking in Cattle (none, for -1 point) and I only had three Clay rooms. But everyone else had also made a last-minute recovery and there were five good-looking farms around the table. (Even Olly, with his oddly meandering pathway of Fields and game-long struggle to feed his family, had amassed a solid collection of animals and fenced Stables.)

Final score – Pete: 44 / Me: 40 / Olly & Graham tied: 36 / John: 35

A fairly tight, reasonably high-scoring game, and a lot of interactivity as well. We’d had loads of “pass-to-the-left” Minor Improvements (various house Extensions, Corn Sheaf, Stable, Guest, Helpful Neighbours, etc.), lots of poaching and squabbling over spaces. Excellent stuff. And obviously I was very pleased with my score; I’ve been struggling a bit with Agricola lately, so this was maybe an indication that I’m getting back on track.

Pete left at this point, so the remaining four of us played Kingdom Builder. I’d dabbled with the iOS version when it first came out, but hadn’t been overly impressed with it. Part of that was the clunky digital implementation, and part was the fact that I didn’t really get the game – I hadn’t figured out how to do well at it, and it just seemed lacking in meaningful choices. John had convinced me that this wasn’t the case, and he was quite right… but it turns out that I still haven’t figured out how to do well at it.

That's my red kingdom, boxed into the corner, just spreading a vague tendril across the board.

That’s my red kingdom, boxed into the corner, just spreading a vague tendril across the board.

In a nutshell, Olly destroyed everybody, and I came emphatically last after boxing myself into a corner. We’d ended up with a slightly contradictory set of scoring cards (2 VPs per house on the horizontal row with the most of your houses, but also 1 VP per row with at least one of your houses on it), so I did OK from having houses on lots of rows, but I did very badly on the third goal of connecting up locations, cities, etc. By the end of the game, I at least felt like I knew how to do better next time. I can’t remember the exact scores, but I think Olly was high 70s, I was low 40s, and John and Graham were in the 50s.

It was nearly 10.00 at that point, so probably too late for Shipyard. Instead, Graham and I finally played our long-mooted session of Android: Netrunner. He’d recently picked up the core set but had yet to play it and I’d only played it in one session back in March, so (to paraphrase Flight of the Conchords) conditions were perfect – it was business time. NB: this session report now becomes one of “those” reports where it’s all game-specific terminology that looks absolutely ridiculous… even if you know the game.

We eschewed the rulebook’s suggestion of Shaper vs Jinteki for the first match-up and opted for Shaper (me) vs Weyland (Graham) to give a bit more of a “normal” feeling than all the tricks and traps of the Jinteki style. Graham instantly ICEd up his R&D and a remote server, but I got some handy cards in my initial draw (Battering Ram, Pipeline, Gordian Blade and Crypsis meant I had icebreakers for all occasions) and proceeded to use Battering Ram to make short work of his initial weak Ice Wall protection with a successful Maker’s Eye run into R&D and an easily accessed agenda in his remote server. Score.

Being Weyland, though, Graham got rich quick and was able to throw out ICE after ICE in front of his servers. I was lucky to get a glance at an Archer before he installed it in front of R&D, so I knew it was dangerous as long as he could afford the 4 credits (and forfeitable agenda, which he had) to rez it. I bided my time and built up my economy a bit, first with Armitage Codebusting and then installing Magnum Opus. That maxed out my memory, so I had to then save up (often using 3 of 4 clicks to take money from Magnum Opus) to install the Toolbox, just to be able to install Pipeline and Gordian Blade.

Once they were in place, I ran on his remote servers until he was down to 3 credits from rezzing ICE… then played Maker’s Eye to run on R&D again now he couldn’t afford to rez Archer. As luck would have it, I accessed not one but two 3-point agendas, giving me a ridiculous total (12, if I remember correctly) for the victory.

We swapped places and changed decks, in order to see some more of the core set cards – I was the Haas-Bioroid corp, while Graham chose Anarch for his runner faction. We both completely forgot about the option to mulligan the initial draw; had we remembered, I most certainly would have done. My initial hand had three agendas and only one piece of ICE, which obviously went straight on HQ so my hand agendas were relatively safe (in fact, it wasn’t even an “end the run” ICE, so they weren’t safe at all… but obviously Graham didn’t know that).

I went to all the effort of installing and paying to rez that Melange Mining... and I didn't even use it.

I went to all the effort of installing and paying to rez that Melange Mining… and I didn’t even use it.

After that, I was on a knife-edge throughout most of the game, in terms of agendas in the hand, but I don’t think Graham made any successful runs on HQ; rather, he was too busy trying to build up his cash reserves to the point where he felt confident to make runs. Instead, I managed to bluff my way to 2 points from the Accelerated Beta Test agenda (which I installed unprotected and simply advanced on my next turn after Graham left it untouched, assuming it was something like Pad Campaign), which then let me draw 3 cards and install any ICE from them at zero cost. That was it then – I drew Heimdall 1.0 and another nasty bioroid ICE and shoved them into a remote server. I knew Graham didn’t really have the resources to get past them (even though they could be clicked through rather than broken, with both of them there it would take 5 clicks to break all the subroutines without cost… which just isn’t possible), so I could install and advance agendas behind them in relative safety, and I scored another 3 easy points.

I hadn’t counted on Graham playing Stimhack, so he did manage to break through my dual bioroid ICE protection to steal a 2-point agenda, but he cleared out his funds and took a brain damage in order to do it, so I just spent the next couple of turns advancing another agenda for the win.

I do really like Android: Netrunner, so I hope I can convince Graham (or indeed anyone) to play another few rounds some time. It was a bit slow this time, because I was rusty on some of the rules and timings and Graham was new to the game, but it’s such a “switched on all the time” game that it never dragged for me.

Great session, as always. I won’t be at the next one, but John Sh and I are hoping to fit in a two-player Shipyard at some point soon.

All photos by Olly, 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!

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…