Tag Archives: newcastle gamers

Newcastle Gamers – Saturday 27 February 2016

John Sh and I managed a couple more Corbridge sessions in February, involving Hawaii (which I declared to be “not bollocks”, but it seems to feel pretty dated now) and a first-play-in-a-long-while for Shipyard (which is just as good as I remember from the previous occasions it’s been out).

This, my friends, is how to win a game of Shipyard. As many ships as you can, filled to the brim with businessmen, in their suits and ties.

This, my friends, is how to win a game of Shipyard. As many ships as you can, filled to the brim with businessmen in their suits and ties. With the corresponding government contracts, of course.

But enough of Corbridge. To Newcastle, where I knew a 14-year-old boy I’d played Concordia with last time would be waiting to play Twilight Struggle with me. J (not to be confused with my J, who’s only 8) had attempted – but not finished – a few plays at home before, but any TS aficionado will tell you that it’s best to learn from someone who knows the game. That left me in the awkward position of either (a) taking the USSR, driving the usual early-war tempo and utterly demolishing him in the first few turns, or (b) taking the USA and watching the rest of the night disappear into an epic back-and-forth that doesn’t feel like a normal game of TS… and probably still winning anyway.

I took option (a).

I don’t think it was an unfair choice. I think it’s really helpful to see how the early war should play out with a more experienced USSR player (I’m certainly not a great player myself, but I knew enough to point out to J the importance of the Turn 1 AR1 coup in Iran… which I carried out beautifully and locked him out of western Asia for the rest of the game), and a new player taking the USSR against an experienced USA player can result in the mid war bogging down horribly. And to his credit, J only tried a couple of things that I really wouldn’t have done, so I pointed them out and suggested a rethink.

We got just into Turn 4 and onto the fifth scoring card of the game before I hit 20 VPs. A coup in Panama set me up for a quick infiltration into South America and I scored it for the 2 VPs I needed. I don’t think J was too crushed by his defeat, and I hope he enjoyed it enough to convince his parents to play again. He was certainly starting to recognise the signs that I was holding a particular scoring card… and he also appreciated the ability to bluff in that regard, so he was never entirely convinced I was doing what it looked like I was doing. (I was.) Ahhh, Twilight Struggle. It truly is a great game.

We joined his mum and brother, plus John Sh, Olly and Graham for a game of Paris Connection (aka SNCF). I hadn’t played it before, but it’s about as simple as a decent game can be. I was just getting the hang of the mechanisms when it ended, a round short of me having that crucial tenth share, with Olly (who had ten shares) taking the win. Really good fun in a short package.

After a seemingly complex decision-making procedure involving seven people and a bunch of games that went to five maximum, I ended up at a table with my copy of Samurai, club stalwart Lloyd and relative newcomers Sarah and Iain. Samurai is at its best with players who relish destroying other people’s plans, and there’s always a faint concern that married couples can introduce a relationship-based metagame or just be too nice to each other. No such concerns with Sarah and Iain, who proceeded to be just as mean to each other as to everyone else.

Sarah and I concentrated much of our mutual aggression on this small island.

Sarah (red) and I (red) concentrated much of our mutual aggression on this small island. I later realised why she just left those two castles to me.

I’d like to try Samurai with just three at some point. My two plays with four players have felt like they’re just a little too long and the extra board space possibly introduces a bit too much chaos with the statue-swapping and tile-replacing tiles. But it was still wonderfully aggressive euro fun. (I really should get hold of Tigris and Euphrates.) Sarah took the win by concentrating only on buddhas and rice; she took the scoring tile for both categories, automatically winning. (I managed to take the tile for castles, but I was clearly too diluted in the other two categories.)

After a lovely and enlightening conversation (in which I learned that Sarah and Lloyd had both penned entries on Urban Dictionary, one of which is simply too obscene to link to, and Lloyd told us about one of his plays and the resultant domain name shenanigans), Lloyd and I were left to play Lost Cities. It had been a very long time since I’d last played it, but I’d remembered the dangers of starting too many expeditions. Lloyd, meanwhile, was playing fast and loose, so over the course of our three rounds, things just got better for me and worse for him. I eventually won, 79 to -11. Yes, minus eleven.

Olly and John joined us to round off the evening with The King of Frontier. This remains a fantastic little game after six plays. I thought I was doing pretty badly to start off with (I declared myself to be playing “the long game” after several rounds without completed production areas); after finally finishing off my quarry and forest, I could actually afford some Buildings and shifted into a new gear. First of all, Reclaimed Land let me discard part of a city I’d just foolishly finished; next, I replaced that discarded tile with The Statue of a Man, which gave me 5 more points; the final, glorious touch was the Ancient Monument, which let me sift through my discard pile and place anything that would fit. As it turned out, that filled every space on my board except one, and it was only a couple of turns of Development before I pulled a tile that slotted in perfectly.

Wow

It truly is a thing of stick-figure beauty.

Lloyd had actually done really well with a couple of Building tiles and Olly had a nice combo of Warehouse (storing cubes) and a tile that scored VPs per cubes left at the end of the game, but nothing was enough to beat that 12-point swing from fitting my last tile in. John, meanwhile, was… well… he hadn’t completed many areas.

Final score – Me: 48 / Lloyd: 43 / Olly: 37 / John: 12

Newcastle Gamers is usually on the second and last Saturday of every month, 4:30 pm until late at Christ Church, Shieldfield, Newcastle upon Tyne! Details can be found on Meetup.

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.

sigh

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!

Newcastle Gamers – Saturday 11 April 2015

The Easter holidays meant there were two consecutive all-day Saturdays at Newcastle Gamers. I’d missed the first one because I was in a different county, celebrating a bunny being nailed to a cross by eating his chocolate eggs (or something like that – I’m not a religious person, so I can’t claim to understand these things), but I managed to make it to the latter half of this session.

I turned up at the perfect time to get in on a game of Survive: Escape from Atlantis! (I’m not overexcited; the exclamation mark is part of the title.) With five players, we each had one fewer meeple – and the distribution of starting boats was altered – but the island still felt very crowded. John Sh, Michael and I, all old hands at the cutthroat brutality of Survive, were joined by newcomers Anna and… well, I’m terrible with names, so my apologies to Anna’s friend whose name I can’t remember. [EDIT: Ivan! He commented down below – thanks, Ivan!]

With such a crowded island, meeples were swimming from the outset and succumbing to the elements the sharks all over the board. I was somewhat hampered by the tile draw – every tile I sank for the first few rounds was a green tile, immediately replaced by a creature, boat or whirlpool. Meanwhile, others were getting friendly dolphins, shark-cancelling tiles and so on, making their escape that little bit easier. Anna did particularly well early on, getting a tile that allowed her to move a boat with three of her meeples to the dock and disembark all three of them on the same turn.

So early in the game. Such innocence. So few dead. All to change very, very soon.

So early in the game. Such innocence. So few dead. All to change very, very soon.

In the end, experience counted for nothing – Anna and Ivan drew for victory with 11 points each. Survive is always fun, even when you lose. Perhaps especially when you lose.

Dead of Winter was mooted, but other people were looking to start other games so I excused myself. In retrospect, I think Dead of Winter – which absolutely isn’t my sort of game – might have worked out a bit more enjoyable…

I ended up playing Princes of the Renaissance with Gareth, Graham, Lloyd and Álvaro (both Gareth and Álvaro had played before, with Álvaro being the more experienced). On paper, this should be exactly my sort of game: Martin Wallace, Renaissance Italy, a sort of stock-market manipulation, collecting tiles in sets, etc. In reality, I realised that I’d lost and Álvaro had won within the first half-hour or so. And then the game went on for another three-and-a-half hours.

Doesn't look too intimidating, does it?

Doesn’t look too intimidating, does it?

PotR is one of those games that’s impossible to understand just from a rules explanation. There are so many moving parts that it isn’t until you’ve played through at least one of the three ‘decades’ of the game that everything starts to fit together. Actually, that’s being optimistic. I’ve played a whole game and I still don’t feel like I’d do any better in a second game. Part of the problem for me is that the whole thing is based around auctions, and I’m terrible at auction games. I have no idea how to value things and figure out if I’m over-bidding, or identify when the best time might be to put something up for auction. Another part of the problem is that you’ll generally only do well by forming loose alliances within cities, and that just doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m not a negotiator. (On top of that, there’s often going to be a dominant partner within these alliances, so the lesser partner is working to improve not only their own position but also that of their partner who’s already ahead of them. Being that lesser partner seems pretty pointless to me.) The final part of the problem is that all the mechanisms fit together in fairly non-obvious ways.

This all sounds very negative, but I actually quite enjoyed the gameplay as it went on. Jostling the value of Rome down so that Graham and Álvaro (who’d both gone heavy on Rome tiles) would score nothing for their investments was good fun, even if I didn’t feel like I had any control over whether it happened or not. It didn’t make a shred of difference though, as evidenced by the final scores:

Álvaro: 47 / Lloyd: 30 / Gareth: 20 / Graham: 17 / Me: 15

wow. such doge.

wow. such doge. very influence. much attack.

Out of interest, I had a flick through the rules online after I got home… and discovered that we’d played a few fairly crucial things quite, quite incorrectly. Here are a couple I noticed:

  • A player can only own one Troop tile of each type. (At least two players had multiples of a single type, which made their military super-powerful.)
  • The amount a city pays for their Condottiere is equal to the city’s status, not double the city’s status as we played it. (This would have made taking part in – and losing – wars far less attractive and kept incomes lower. My weak military meant there was little point in taking part in wars, so my gold income was relatively low.)

Also, I don’t remember any mention of the fact that a player may hold no more than six City tiles in total. Actually, this may have been mentioned and I just forgot about it… and I don’t think anyone went over that limit… but it could have changed things had I been aware of it.

One final moan: the Treachery tiles. I really didn’t like these because they introduced a ‘take that’ mechanism, which is pretty much my least favourite thing in gaming (in fact, second only to having to run around during a game). You’ve bid yourself into a war because you’re confident you can beat the opposition? BOOM – not any more. I’ve bribed one of your Troop tiles to not fight, so now you’re probably going to lose. Or maybe you’ve planned out in advance what you’re happy to bid for various tiles over the next few turns? BOOM – not any more. I’ve stolen gold and/or influence from you so now all your plans are ruined. And so on. It’s not like I didn’t use Treachery tiles myself – I did, several times – but I just thought it was a layer of guff thrown on top of an already complex game.

So. Princes of the Renaissance. I’m not saying it’s a bad game by any means, but it’s a relatively old Wallace design and he’s come a long way in terms of making things smoother and more intuitive. Chances are I wouldn’t play it again, mainly because there are so many other games in the world that are (a) better suited to the way I like to play, and (b) just more fun.

After having my brain pummelled for several hours, I fancied something light and breezy to round off the evening. Gareth and Lloyd had drifted away, so Graham, Álvaro and I played Scharfe Schoten. I’m not quite sure what caught my eye about this game. I mean, I’ve always liked trick-taking games, but the only stand-out thing about this particular game is the suited card-backs and slightly odd trump system. Oh, and the card art, which sits somewhere on the fine line between awesome and awful.

Not sure about that imagery on the yellow 10...

I’m sure Freud would have something to say about that yellow 10…

But what a fun little game it is! One that rewards a few plays, I imagine, but still very enjoyable on a first outing. The randomised-per-round trump system is simple enough; it just has a habit of taking you by surprise when the hand of cards you initially thought was utter drivel is suddenly revealed to be quite powerful on closer inspection. The bidding for most-won and least-won suit in each round is a little unintuitive at first, but then you realise how much influence the “spice cupboard” (a spare hand of cards, one of which must be taken by the winner of each trick) has over the collection of cards you’ll end up with. And then the realisation that you can screw over the other players in quite simple (yet very effective) ways brings a whole new level to the game.

Graham took the lead in the first round and held it to the end, although I mounted something of a comeback in the last of the three rounds by winning relatively few tricks and trying to throw ‘bad’ cards to opponents so they’d fail in their bids.

Final score – Graham: 39 / Me: 34 / Álvaro: 10

That was a natural end to a slightly odd evening of gaming. Lesson learned: Wallace doesn’t necessarily equal fun. I need to play Brass to even out the universe.

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!

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 7 March 2015

Having had a month off, it seemed to take ages for this session to roll around. I’d tentatively prearranged an Android: Netrunner game with Graham, and that’s how we kicked off the evening. (We both knew full well that if we started with anything else, we’d never get round to Netrunner, especially with Graham being limited to about three hours at the club.)

[WARNING: Netrunner-lingo-heavy bit coming up. Feel free to skip on to Suburbia.]

I’d built my decks in January and hadn’t got round to playing them yet, so I’d pretty much forgotten what was in them. I knew the general strategies I’d gone for though, and my Jinteki deck (Replicating Perfection, glacial-style) should have been pretty straightforward to just pick up and play. It didn’t quite turn out that simple. My initial draw was three agendas and two high-cost ICE (Ashigaru and Tollbooth, costing 9 and 8 respectively), so there was no way I was going ahead with that – I couldn’t protect HQ from a first-turn run. The mulligan ended up slightly better, giving me a Tsurugi which I could just about afford to rez if Graham decided to run against it.

Graham was running a Shaper deck (Kate, full of Stealth cards), so I was hoping he’d spend a while building a decent rig so I could get my glacier up and running. Instead, he played like a Criminal, running early and often, grabbing a Nisei MK II 2-point agenda early on. I did manage to hit him with some punitive damage (Komainu and Tsurugi here and there trashed some of Graham’s most useful cards), but the ICE was still too porous and he was accessing all too often. I was suffering from poor economy, unaffordable ICE and a handful of agendas. I’d just about managed to get my central servers protected when Graham hit his stride, Professional Contacts giving him enough cards and credits to install Stealth breakers and hardware while being horribly rich.

I kept throwing up fresh ICE to keep Graham’s funds down (although simultaneously doing the same to me), and somehow managed to score a Fetal AI and Future Perfect to take me up to 5 agenda points. Meanwhile, Graham had taken an NAPD Contract for another 2 points. 5–4… the next agenda scored/stolen was likely to win the game. I put another NAPD Contract into my well-ICEd (and all unrezzed ICE too) remote server and advanced it twice.

Graham ran the obligatory central server (Replicating Perfection requires a run on a central server before the runner can run on a remote server – lovely for the corp player, horrible for the runner), spending a few of his massive pile of credits before running on my agenda-filled remote. I had Komainu, then Tollbooth; I couldn’t afford to rez both, but I did the maths. Komainu remained face-down, but I rezzed Tollbooth, which took Graham down to 3 credits after he’d paid the toll and broken the subroutines. He accessed the server… and, of course, couldn’t steal NAPD Contract without another credit.

And that was the game. An easy advance for me on my turn took me up to 7 points and the win.

As ever, I loved playing Netrunner. I got a few ideas on how to tweak my Jinteki deck (could do with more cheap ICE and some ways to trash runner resources), and saw a Stealth runner deck working as it should. On top of all that, Graham very kindly gave me his extra “two-ofs” from his second core set, so I’ve now got some more solid options for deckbuilding (Astroscript! Psychographics! Magnum Opus!). One of these days I’ll make it along to the Monday-night Netrunner sessions at the Mile Castle.

[Netrunner lingo ends.]

Next up was Suburbia, with Graham and I joined by Camo (who had sat watching the latter half of our Netrunner game with a mixture of intrigue, enjoyment and bemusement). I hadn’t played for quite a while and, with Graham new to the game, we didn’t include the Suburbia Inc expansion.

It was a slightly unusual tile selection, with relatively few blue commercial tiles and loads of green residential tiles in the A stack. I stuck religiously to my tried-and-tested blue-blue-blue-blue-blue adjacency combo early in the game to get my income up, but it was slow going with the blue tiles so few and far between and I had to take a couple of lakes (thus counting myself out of the Aquaphobian public goal for fewest lakes). Meanwhile, Camo and Graham both took a Homeowner’s Association and its attendant instant cash boost.

As the game developed through the B stack, I was able to afford some reputation-boosting tiles. They gave me the population growth I needed, but not as quickly as the others, who were mainly increasing their populations directly through green residential tiles. There was plenty of counting of money stacks (“Can you afford that tile on your next turn?”) and tactical lake-building (“Fine then, I’ll trash it so you can’t have it.”), plus investment markers on both Homeowner’s Association tiles. Graham’s was the only investment marker he played in the whole game, which let me breathe a sigh of relief – my private goal was Employer (+15 population if I played the fewest investment markers; I hadn’t played any, and didn’t in the whole game).

My winning borough (most of it, anyway) is bottom-left, with Graham's second-place borough bottom-right and Camo playing yellow up at the top-left.

My winning borough (most of it, anyway) is bottom-left, with Graham’s second-place borough bottom-right and Camo playing yellow up at the top-left. You can see that my heavy-on-the-blue strategy and Graham’s heavy-on-the-green strategy paid off.

We eventually hit the “One More Round” tile quite a long way down the C stack, by which point both Camo and Graham had been battling over the Miscreant public goal (lowest reputation) for a few rounds. That meant their populations had been slipping backwards at the end of each turn for a while, although Graham had offset that by going for tiles with big population boosts in the first place. Camo’s game had fallen to bits, which was evidenced by the final score. After scoring goals (I think Graham got two public goals plus his private one, while I took the other public one and scored my private one too; Camo scored no goals, if I remember correctly) I had won convincingly, although scoring 1 population per 5 money crept Graham substantially closer to my score. He’d had quite the cash engine by the end of the game.

Final score – Me: 124 / Graham: 117 / Camo: 53

I think Camo felt a suitable level of shame at that performance, especially given that he’d won his last game of Suburbia. It was, as always, a very fun game and Graham enjoyed his first play a lot. I enjoyed it too after a long break, and the intervening time had refreshed the game a bit for me – the last few times I’d played had all been against new players and I’d been on top form, so I’d utterly destroyed everyone each time.

We had a newcomer sitting with us throughout the C stack – another John (John B, not to be confused with the other John B, our chairman) – and we lost Graham but gained Pete and John Si. After a bit of umming and ahhing over game choice (John B was a relative newcomer not just to the club but to board games as a whole), we settled on Puerto Rico. After all, I reasoned, I played it the first time I came to Newcastle Gamers.

There’s not much to say about this game of Puerto Rico (especially given that I’m writing this nine days later and can’t remember much), but suffice to say that as fifth in starting player order I got a corn plantation and thus went for some early shipping for VPs. I also went for coffee as my cash crop (no one else went for it so early), but got locked out of the trading house a couple of times and ended up twice being a single doubloon short of what I wanted during a Builder action. The second time, I plumped for a Wharf given that I couldn’t quite get a 10-cost large building, which led to a few extra VPs from the last round of shipping but it wasn’t enough.

A very blurry and uninformative picture of the table. I'm at the bottom-right, in case that helps.

A very blurry and uninformative picture of the table. I’m at the bottom-right, in case that helps.

After a few rounds, John B absolutely got the hang of it and realised how much his action choices affected everyone else at the table, and he ended up an admirable joint last with Camo. I had a perfectly decent 24 VPs from shipping alone, but only 19 from buildings. John Si and Pete, meanwhile, had played well and had nicely balanced player boards with large buildings and plenty of bonus VPs. Victory to Pete, with a very handsome 52 VPs.

Final score – Camo: 37 / John B: 37 / Me: 43 / John Si: 48 / Pete: 52

And then Ticket to Ride: Europe to end the night. Lots of the crucial length-1 routes went straight away (and I haven’t played the Europe map enough to necessarily know which those routes are) and I’d kept my long ticket at the start of the game. That’d often be a bad choice, but two of my other tickets were in the same sort of NW–SE line, so I managed to make the long ticket which set me up well for the longest-train bonus.

Of course, that bonus is only 10 points so it wasn’t quite up to scratch against the others who’d taken lots of tickets (and finished most of them), but I’d also managed to pick off a few choice length-6 routes towards the end of the game, which left me in second place rather than flailing around as I suspected I might have been. I don’t have a record of the exact final scores, but I do know that John Si won on 138, while I was around 120ish. Pete and John B were both around 110ish and Camo brought up the rear on about 100.

A slightly earlier finish than usual for me, but it was a natural end to an excellent evening’s gaming.

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 this one was a week early and we’ve got three sessions in April…), 4:30 pm until late (unless it’s a special all-day session…) at Christ Church, Shieldfield, Newcastle upon Tyne!

Newcastle Gamers – Saturday 8 November 2014

A quick blast through the seven (or eight, depending on how you define them) games I played on Saturday…

I kicked off with Stefan Feld’s new La Isla, which had been in the small pile of birthday games I’d bought myself the previous week. It was quick to teach and quick to play, coming in at around an hour with four players (Olly, John Sh and Camo joined me). We played with only the basic ‘level 1’ cards, which was quite enough to be getting on with, iconography-wise, but it did mean we were limited to the most basic of actions and bonuses (no extra explorers, no extra card slots, etc.).

The decagonal island was crowded for four, so there were a few occasions with animals being stolen from under each other’s noses – I managed to snipe a pika from Olly at the last minute, ensuring I’d have a full set of five animals for 10 points in final scoring. That pika wasn’t enough to stop Olly from winning comfortably, however, after he’d taken a strong lead in the mid-game through a simple strategy of methodically working his way around the island while the rest of us jumped around a bit as the cards dictated.

Early game – it sure is pretty

Early game – it sure is pretty. Too many pikas over on the left though, and not enough time to work around to them.

It was a fine game. Not as in “mighty fine”, but simply… fine. Nowhere near the level of Feld brilliance like the wonderful Trajan, but a perfectly good light, quick game. I do have some minor complaints, mainly that (a) it’s very susceptible to bad luck in the card draws because you have to use every one of the three cards you draw in each round (no holding back a useless card until it’s useful); and (b) the resource colours are horrendous for people with colour-blindness. Camo misplayed a couple of times because he couldn’t distinguish the card images of natural and yellow cubes. I was struggling to tell grey from brown at times, but that may have just been the lighting in the hall. This is all compounded by the fact that the natural wooden cubes range from roughly white to nearly grey… sometimes on different faces of one cube.

On the positive side, it’s quick, light and easy to teach and understand. It has some player interaction, but not too much opportunity for screwage, and it looks lovely on the table. (It also includes one of my favourite components ever – the three-slot player card holders are so simple, yet so effective.) All of this leads me to think it might be perfect gateway euro fodder, so I’d definitely like to try La Isla with some non-gamers.

Next up was Lost Legacy: Flying Garden, which is Seiji Kanai’s own tweak on his Love Letter mechanics. It plays identically to Love Letter for most of each round, until the “investigation phase” is reached, at which point… well, my understanding of what happens at that point is kind of limited. We played a full round (complete with investigation phase) with four players. Camo bore the full brunt of the game’s biggest weakness by being eliminated on the very first turn of the game. I slipped the Flying Garden into the Ruins, but then didn’t get a chance to take part in the investigation phase because John correctly guessed where it was. Lloyd arrived, so we shuffled in Lost Legacy: The Starship to make it playable with five. There were lots of eliminations in this one, with Lloyd winning by default as last player standing.

Lost Legacy is a fine substitute for Love Letter (there’s that word “fine” again…), but I’m not entirely convinced by the addition of the deduction/investigation element. Given the choice, I’d probably go for the raw simplicity of Love Letter.

And then Mousquetaires du Roy happened.

Lloyd brought it out, set it up and we all just sort of rolled along with it. Quite how this occurred, I have no idea. It was absolutely not John’s sort of game, probably not Olly’s sort of game and it didn’t appeal much to me, but somehow politeness overtook us all and we became Dumas’ Three Musketeers. Or, in my case, d’Artagnan (cue much singing of the Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds theme tune).

Now, as thematic integration in games goes, this was really pretty good. It’s an obvious candidate for a one-versus-many game: Lloyd was the dastardly Cardinal Richelieu, secretly deploying Milady de Winter and the Comte de Rochefort to stop the four of us as we attempted to complete missions and return the Queen’s jewels before time ran out. Sadly, as game mechanics go, it was dreary. Want to attempt a mission? Roll some dice. Duelling? Roll some dice. Seeing how the siege at La Rochelle is going? Roll some dice. Bleeuurgh.

Worst of all was the colossal downtime. If (as happened to me twice) you get knocked out during a duel on the first action of your turn, you go to hospital, lose the rest of your actions, wait for everyone else to take their turns, sit through Richelieu’s machinations, then lose another turn because all you can do in hospital is stand up, heal and draw a card. Bleeeuuurrrgh.

"So, I've got this Nobility card. Does anyone need more Nobility? Shall I use this Nobility to complete this mission?" "Meh."

La Rochelle looks desperate, while Camo attempts to pay off someone in Paris with chess pieces.

Anyway, we won in the end. Mousquetaires du Roy, ladies and gentlemen: never again.

I retreated to the safety of Android: Netrunner with Graham. I hadn’t played since our last run o’ the nets, but Graham had, so he was well practised and kind of had the upper hand. I used my Weyland corp deck against Graham’s Shaper deck. After a couple of early agendas scored for me, everything settled down into the traditional poke-n-snipe game. Graham was unusually well off for much of the game (early Armitage Codebusting, followed by Magnum Opus, then Kati Jones later in the game), while it turned out that my deck was basically all ICE at the top and all economy at the bottom. Naturally, I didn’t know that while we were playing…

So, poor Weyland against solvent Shaper. It didn’t end well for me, although it hovered at 5–5 for quite a while. My eventual downfall was Graham’s pair of R&D Interfaces, giving him an effective Maker’s Eye for every run on R&D. One run every two or three turns gave him the game. Irritatingly, he didn’t run when he would have accessed a Snare; instead, it came into my hand and I installed it in a remote server rather too obviously for him to want to access it. I didn’t draw either of my Scorched Earths, but I couldn’t make a tag stick on him anyway. By the time the tagging ICEs came out, I couldn’t afford to install and rez them, and Graham could always afford to jog effortlessly past them with his icebreakers.

Lesson learned this time: advance fast, even if it looks risky. I might have been able to get another couple of points early on if I’d been bolder with my agendas. Another lesson learned: Tollbooth is awesome.

We followed up with a game of Province, using John Sh’s copy pimped out with mini-meeples. Not much to say about this one, except that it’s a neat little micro-euro with a sweet balance between rules simplicity and turn-to-turn brain-burn because of the shared worker cycle. (“I need labour, but I don’t want him to get money, so I’ll have to move those workers but not those… but then I don’t end up with enough labour, so I’ll have to move an extra worker, which gives him enough money next turn to build that, so I’ll build this instead to get the VP, so then I don’t need as much labour in the first place and oh god we shouldn’t have started playing this after 10 pm…”) I won, but probably only by virtue of having played it before. The first goal was to have two available workers other than the green starting workers, so that took a while to meet. After that, it was pretty quick to end.

Camo beckoned us over to playtest some mechanics he had for a trading game (currently using Coloretto cards), which was interesting and generated some useful feedback for him. I look forward to seeing its next iteration. And then – after I inspected the physical board for Paths of Glory, of which I’m about to embark on a play-by-email game with Gareth – we rounded off the night with a seven-player 6 Nimmt. I can’t even fully remember who was playing, but I can remember coming last, with 23 points. I’d been doing very well through the first seven rounds (score: zero), but then picked up major points in each of the last three rounds. Camo took victory with a single point.

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 late at Christ Church, Shieldfield, Newcastle upon Tyne!

Newcastle Gamers – Saturday 9 August 2014

Well hello, my long-neglected blog. Nice to see you again. I didn’t even write a report on my last session at Newcastle Gamers, and that was a couple of months ago. Blimey. I’ve really let things slide.

I was feeling intrepid on Saturday, determined to get in some serious gaming in spite of my CFS, so I arrived just before 2pm to an all-day Newcastle Gamers session for a pre-planned game of legendary proto-euro Roads & Boats. I picked up this game (and the & Cetera expansion) around Christmas, just after its most recent print run, safe in the knowledge that if I hated it, it would be out of print for years and I could sell it for more than the £100-ish I paid for it all.

Well, that ain’t happening. It finally had its inaugural play, and it’s a beauty.

I chose the four-player scenario “The Valley”, which is described as “suitable for inexperienced players”. That was perfect for us – I had stumbled through a few of the solitaire “puzzle” scenarios, Camo had played half a game some seven or eight years ago, while Olly and Graham were completely new to the game – and we got underway after about an hour of setup and rules. [I’ll pause briefly here to praise the rulebook – it’s truly excellent. Over the fifteen years since the release of the first edition, Splotter Spellen have clearly been able to pick up on every FAQ and corner case and weave them into the rules. There is no rules question whose answer cannot be found quickly and easily in this fourth edition rulebook, and it flows from start to finish with every rule sounding like utter common sense. Superb.]

Early in the game, with just a few buildings built by each player. Olly (green) has just built the first mine, while I (red) grow concerned about the proximity of our borders.

Early in the game, with just a few buildings built by each player. Olly (green) has just built the first mine, while I (red) grow concerned about the proximity of our borders, especially my unguarded breeding geese.

The first few turns are fairly scripted: build a woodcutter and a sawmill, and a quarry if you have nearby rock and some common sense. After that, we started to diverge a bit. Everyone except Olly was spending some resources in each round to contribute bricks to the Wonder, especially through the early rounds when bricks are cheaper. That allowed Olly to build extra woodcutters and quarries and build the first mine of the game. I got in on the mining action fairly early on, which is when I made my first major mistake. In protecting my geese from Olly (geese being vital to research), I’d ended up unable to protect my three pieces of mined gold, which were just sitting on a mountainside. I’d thought this a reasonable sacrifice at the time – after all, I could mine more gold, but once my geese were gone, they’d be virtually impossible to replace – but it turned out to be disastrous. For me at least. Quite the opposite for Olly.

Olly and I had a bit of a war of walls, after which we settled down into our own little areas. (Well, mine was little; everyone else seemed to be sprawling across the map with wild abandon.) Of course, then I made my second major mistake, in building a road that allowed Olly’s wagon containing the stolen gold to bypass my walls and escape back to his territory, where he could utilise his mint to convert it into coins and thus more points.

Walls! My attempts to keep Olly off my land came too late.

Walls! My attempts to keep Olly off my land came too late. I had successfully walled his wagon (bottom-left) into my corner of the map… but not for long.

I started down the road towards my grand plan of specialised mines (lots of gold) and steamers on my local two-hex sea carrying gold and minted coins around so no one could steal it. Graham put on a sudden flurry of mine-building (after having a little tussle with Olly and walling in Olly’s goose-thieving rowboat), while Olly had minted a few sets of coins and built a stock exchange. Suddenly, the Wonder was filling up quickly (helped along by Camo contributing several bricks made of compacted waterfowl) and the end of the game was looming. I wouldn’t have time to get my third mine built, or plough extra gold into any of the existing mines, or mint any more than one set of coins. Gah.

I say “suddenly”. In reality, the game was six hours long, but it certainly felt sudden to us. We knew the final brick would go into the Wonder in the next round, and we were all pretty certain that Olly had it in the bag. It became like this year’s Tour de France, with Olly as Vincenzo Nibali and the rest of us just jostling for the lower podium positions. Much of the last round was pointless (no point moving stuff around to build things that wouldn’t change the score), so the final couple of bricks went in the Wonder and we totted up the points.

Very near the end.

A couple of rounds from the end. I’ve got steamers, I’ve built a mint, I’ve minted some coins… but it’s not enough. Graham (blue) and Camo (yellow) had a fight over a woodcutter for a while (hence the walls), but they’ve retreated to maximise their gains.

We scored the Wonder first and Camo was well ahead, having been present (and dominant) on most of the rows. And then we realised what a pointless endeavour that Wonder-work had been when we added on our score from gold, coins and stock certificates (nobody actually had stock certificates, thankfully – Olly hadn’t been able to get paper to his stock exchange in time for the last production phase). The Wonder score was completely dwarfed by the score from everything else. The only thing it had achieved was making the game slightly shorter than it could have been, thus limiting Olly’s winning margin to just 65.

Final score – Olly: 172 / Camo: 107 / Graham: 103 / Me: 101

A resounding win from Olly, certainly helped along by the three gold I’d essentially produced for him early in the game, for a swing of at least 30 points. We all enjoyed the game immensely, and discussion quickly turned to arranging a second game. Given that it was a six-hour game, that’s quite something. Part of the beauty of the game comes from its simultaneous action, so there’s almost always something to do.

Roads & Boats isn’t without its flaws though. It’s almost comically fiddly, with hundreds of counters strewn across the board, being shunted around and transformed from one form to another. It can be brutally unforgiving, and it’s entirely possible to be effectively knocked out of the game (or, even worse, to inadvertently knock yourself out of the game). While I had plenty of interaction (and a prolonged phase of cold war afterwards) with Olly, I didn’t interact much with Graham, and not at all with Camo, who was in the opposite corner of the map. And I have a personal niggle in that if I’d drawn a gold instead of an iron from one of my mine bags in the last production round, I would have scored 10 more points and come second rather than last. [But you should have built a specialised mine – you certainly had the research for it, you cry. And yes, you’re right. But I needed the iron for my grander plan which we suddenly ran out of time for, and I don’t really like my final score being decided by the (literal) luck of the draw.]

Overall: superb game.

We followed up with String Railway and Ingenious, with Olly and Camo sharing victory in the former and Olly winning the latter. After six hours of spatio-logistical horrors, String Railway was a bit much for my brain, and I wasn’t helped by drawing dull, dull, low-scoring stations in the first three rounds, but it’s a fun game and I was happy to have the chance to play it again. Ingenious is always a joy, and we all did pretty well (except Camo, who got repeatedly locked out of scoring more in red, finishing on 6 points).

A very silly-looking game indeed. Lots of thinking though, and a lot of fun.

A very silly-looking game indeed. Lots of thinking though, and a lot of fun.

An excellent day of games. Conversation afterwards turned to films (OK, so I apparently must see L.A. Confidential) and game design (I’ll be attempting to get back on that horse very soon – or perhaps just crafting an entirely new horse) before I yet again (!) managed to get caught by roadworks on the A69 heading westbound on the way home, resulting in a detour through scenic (?) Walbottle. There’s something about Saturday nights and the A69 that rarely turns out right. I’ll put up with it for quality gaming.

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 26 April 2014

or “It’s Just a Learning Game”

It finally happened – I played Hegemonic. I’ve posted previously about the components and how lovely they are, but until Saturday my only experience of the gameplay was soloing a three-player game to make sure I understood how it all worked. I put out feelers for players the day before and Olly expressed an interest, so I figured I’d be able to round up another couple of people to fill seats on the day. Indeed, Gareth and Nick joined in to make us up to (what I guessed would be) the optimum four players – enough to make it interesting but not so many that the game runs for the whole night.

First off, the rules explanation. Luckily, the designer has written a “teaching script”, which covers the main points of the rules in a sort of conversational style and a logical order. This script was a huge help to me, because I can read out written materials much, much more fluently (i.e. without stammering) than I can explain things when I have to think about my choice of words and phrases. It did, however, take pretty much an hour to go through. That would be fine if we could then launch into the game with a really solid idea of what we were doing… but that really doesn’t seem to be the way Hegemonic works. No matter how well you understand the mechanics in the design, they are essentially abstract ideas until you start trying to fit them into a real game situation.

So the first couple of rounds were spent basically exploring the mechanics and figuring out how to get stuff done. In an ideal world, we would have run the first round or two, wiped the board and started again with a better understanding of the game… but this isn’t an ideal world and gaming time is limited.

I played an early Tech card (Mass Translation Relay) that allowed my Quantum Gates to be spaced 1 Sector further apart than normal. That allowed me to sneak into the back end of Olly’s home galaxy board, reducing his VPs in the upcoming scoring round by 2 and increasing mine by 3. When I reveal the final score, you’ll see how much difference a couple of rounds in that situation could make.

The random draw of Sector tiles and Tech cards guides players down certain routes for their empires (Industrial, Political or Martial), and I took an early Industrial route, building a little sprawl of Borg-style cubes in my red corner of the galaxy. A bit of Martial building bolstered that presence and allowed a bit of expansion, but (once I had reasonable Political influence in a couple of factions) much of my game was spent merely trying to hold on to the presence I had on various galaxy boards, given that they are the regions used for scoring in each round.

Olly and Nick were also going quite heavily Industrial, and Olly eventually took over all of our Industrial complexes, meaning all of his complexes were in play and Nick and I were reduced to only our home-sector complex. Gareth meanwhile, after an early skirmish between his Political agent and mine, was slowly building outwards from his home sector, creeping into other galaxy boards and establishing dominance wherever possible. His was not a conflict-heavy strategy, unlike mine or Olly’s, but it was dangerous and he was the player I was keeping my eye on most.

The galaxy at the end of the game.

The galaxy at the end of the game. You can see that I (red) have been completely removed from the central galaxy board by this point, and I’m only actually present on three boards. Gareth (blue) and Olly (purple) are on four boards each and Nick (green) is on five boards. It was a good thing I’d built up a decent lead at the start of the game.

The final moments of the game were a bit odd. We were all pretty much broke, so there was little chance of successful expansion. We knew that each level of Tech card we’d advanced would provide 2 VPs in final scoring, so the whole thing finished in a flurry of card-drawing, discarding and lucky points. I picked up 4 VPs from the last card I drew, which felt über-gamey.

Final score – Me: 102 / Nick: 97 / Gareth: 95 / Olly: 94

First impressions of Hegemonic then…

It’s a solid area-majority game, hidden under one or two too many layers of befuddling systems and physical design choices. Imagine a delicious cake with a layer of icing and decoration far too thick to be pleasant. All you want is the cake itself, but you have to fight your way through the sugar flowers, crunchy silver balls and inch-thick marzipan before you get to the lovely cakey goodness within.

Firstly, the baffling design choice: colour. Let me state this simply and clearly so you can see what madness this is: the six player colours are used in-game to represent completely separate things. That green hex with a blue circle in it? Nothing to do with the green or blue players. I have no idea why this wasn’t picked up in development and playtesting (and this game was in development for years), but Gareth and I both had problems with the use of colour in the design.

Let’s be specific. The three different aspects of your empire are consistently represented by three different colours. That’s great. Industrial is yellow, Political is blue and Martial is red. What isn’t great is that yellow, blue and red are all available as player colours. It’s all too natural to think of red things as mine, blue things as Gareth’s, etc. It’s far from something that’s impossible to adapt to, but it just adds a little to the cognitive load. On top of that, though, the Sector hexes with Political embassies have a background colour dependent on their (non-player-related) Political faction: purple, green or orange. Those are the other three player colours available.

But Owain, you cry, there are only a limited number of colours available for something like this. I know. Having six player colours and six different colours for other game elements would maybe be even worse. And I’m not a design guru. Far from it. But maybe using the shapes alone for Industrial (square), Political (circle) and Martial (triangle) would be enough. Then you just need three colours for the political factions (orange, green and purple, as they already are) and six player colours (red, blue, yellow, white, black and pink). Sorted.

So that’s the colour thing. The other problem is the six different ways of calculating power in conflicts, depending on the aspect of your empire that’s involved… and whether they’re attacking or defending. Even now, I’m still not sure if we played the rules for Industrial attack correctly (sorry Olly, you may have been robbed of some points… but I’m honestly not sure). The whole thing adds a layer of complexity that can obscure the game-state in front of you, and I ended up finding the board very difficult to read in the final stages. In an area-majority game, that’s a problem.

I’m sounding really negative, which doesn’t actually reflect my experience with Hegemonic. I had a lot of fun and, like I’ve said, the cake itself is lovely. But the icing makes it sickly and makes it take too long to eat for the reward you get out of the cake. I can’t even remember how long we played for (four hours, maybe, after an hour of rules explanation?), and long is fine if it’s worth the effort, but I felt the time we put in wasn’t commensurate with the game we got out of it. I know that Gareth felt very limited in the decisions he could make (as did I at times), and that doesn’t make for a good gaming experience of this length.

Second time round, things would be a lot different. But I wonder who would be willing to come back to Hegemonic after their first game…

[Side note: Gareth and I later talked about the lack of interesting asymmetry in Hegemonic, so I showed him the optional Leader cards which give each player a menu of unique actions, getting more powerful the longer they go unused (examples range from “You do not discard CAPs down to the Retention Limit this round” to “Relocate your Home Sector (with your Bases and Units) to any empty hex”). I’d left them out, what with the game being quite enough as it is the first time out, but we agreed that it could have been a fair bit more interesting if we’d thrown the Leaders in. I’ll know for next time.]

It was quite late by the time Hegemonic was packed away. Gareth had to leave in fairly short order and neither of us could face the game of Tsuro being set up across the room, so he retrieved his copy of Martin Wallace’s Field of Glory: The Card Game from his car, taught me the rules and soundly thrashed me.

It’s an interesting little game, maybe owing a small debt to Knizia’s Battle Line (and a more obvious debt to the original Field of Glory miniatures game), with two players facing off along a line of terrain cards. By playing one or two military unit cards next to a terrain, you can fight your opponent for control of that terrain; if you have control of three terrain cards at the start of your turn, you win the game. Simple enough. But the truly interesting part happens before the game, when the two players take identical decks of 48 cards and draft them – draw 4, keep 2, discard the other 2 – to create a customised army of 24 cards. So you end up knowing what units you have in your deck, but not the order in which they’ll come out.

Just like Hegemonic, this seems like a game in which experience really helps. Gareth had only played it once before, but he probably at least had an idea of what might be useful when drafting his deck. I did things pretty blindly in that respect, meaning I had too many cards with a low command value, used to pay for other units or to support a battle. I also let myself run out of cards too quickly; I should have been more selective in when to play from my hand to support a battle and when to just go with luck from the top of the deck.

But it was a fun little game and one I’d happily play again. The theme comes through nicely, in that certain units are more effective against other certain units, or drastically reduced in effectiveness in certain terrain, etc. It certainly puts it a step above something like Battle Line, which reduces the concept to numbers, colours and poker-type hands.

There wasn’t quite enough time to join in Tokaido (which, along with Takenoko, is in my mental list of “light Japanese-themed euros I’d like to try”), so I chatted wargames with Gareth until John had finished his game of Terra Mystica and could whisk me off into the Tyne Valley. An interesting evening of first-plays!

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!

Newcastle Gamers – Saturday 5 April 2014

This was an all-day session in honour of International TableTop Day and – as tradition dictates – there was no way I would be able to make the whole thing from 10am to wee-hours finish. I arrived around 2pm via the busiest train I’ve ever been on (rammed to bursting with game fans of a whole different stripe, off to witness what turned out to be a 4–0 pasting of the home team), perfectly pre-arranged with Gareth so I could walk in, sit down and dive into A Distant Plain. This, the most recent in GMT’s COIN series, recreates the recent and ongoing conflict in Afghanistan using a card-driven system.

Gareth and I had been playing Cuba Libre using VASSAL and email over the few weeks running up to this session, so the COIN system was well ingrained into our minds. We’d been hoping to be able to drum up the full four players for ADP, but it wasn’t to be. Instead, Norman joined us as a third and we left the fourth seat to be ably filled by the flowchart AI system. Factions were assigned thus:

  • Me: the Coalition forces, aiming to drum up popular support for the Government before getting the hell out of there.
  • Gareth: the Government, looking to gain control over as much of the country as possible, while also lining its own back pocket with ‘Patronage’.
  • Norman: the Taliban, seeking to foment opposition to the Government and build as many bases as possible. Crucially, the Taliban is the only faction able to have a presence in Pakistan next door.
  • AI bot: the Warlords, who want to get rich from growing and selling opium, while keeping provinces out of the control of either the Coalition/Government alliance or the Taliban.

Yes, the “Coalition/Government alliance” is a crucial part of the faction interplay in ADP. My Coalition forces were quite capable of dragging Government troops off on a Patrol or Sweep operation around the country even if Gareth didn’t want me to. And all on the Government’s money too.

Luckily, Norman’s Taliban guerrillas presented a common enemy to unite against for much of the game; with Islamabad remaining heavily favourable towards the Taliban throughout almost the whole game, Norman could simply build bases and rally hordes of guerrillas there for absolutely no cost and just walk over the border into Afghanistan in huge numbers. For a while, it was oddly like suffering in a dysfunctional marriage in a rat-infested house, trying to agree how best to deal with the rodent problem while it was just getting worse and worse around us, but we managed to get the Taliban largely under control by about halfway/two-thirds through the game. After that, it was just whack-a-rat with them – when a little pocket of trouble popped up, we knocked it down again.

[The very first card of the game had been a Propaganda card, the COIN system’s way of offering possible victory and then resetting various bits of the board state before launching into the next campaign. This had been excellent for teaching Norman how Propaganda worked, but it had also left the Taliban much richer than they would have otherwise been and it also meant that the next Propaganda card was likely to be a long way off. (They’re seeded into five separate 13-card decks which are shuffled and then stacked to form the deck for the “Main” scenario that we played.) The Coalition and Government then suffered terribly from a Sandstorm card which had a hefty movement-limiting effect until the next Propaganda, which – along with the abundant resources just mentioned – meant the Taliban were much freer to do their thing and establish presence within Afghanistan. I also got slightly hamstrung by NATO command strictures for quite a while, but that just meant Gareth had to do the lion’s share of Taliban-bashing; I didn’t mind too much.]

Gareth got into a handy little routine of using Eradicate to destroy the AI Warlord’s opium fields, gain Aid (for later resources) and Patronage (for victory points) and remove the popular support I was seeking, but I was starting to feel a little confident. With the Taliban held at bay and popular support at a decent level, I decided to start pulling some of my troops and bases out of Afghanistan. The Government’s eyebrow was raised, knowing full well that this could signify that I was going for my victory condition while also making things a little harder for them. But because the Coalition forces can only ‘Surge’ from three spaces in one turn, I had to still leave a reasonable presence in the country, so I was only halfway there at this point.

That remaining presence was enough to keep messing with Gareth a bit (transferring from his ‘Patronage’ backhanders into proper Government resources that I could spend and spending that money on shifting spaces towards support), and I ‘Surged’ nearly all of the rest of my forces out of Afghanistan when I knew the fourth Propaganda card had to be within the next two or three cards. This put me a few points above my victory condition (based on the total of population in support of the new regime and the number of available Coalition forces – i.e. the number not in Afghanistan), but the next card’s event scuppered my chances by removing support in two populous provinces in the north of the country.

I could only claw back a couple of points in support before Gareth carried out a Sweep operation, gaining control for the COIN factions in several provinces and pushing him well into a victory position… just in time for the fourth Propaganda card and a victory check. A well deserved win for the Government. Final scores:

  • Government: 39 (36 needed)
  • Coalition: 30 (31 needed)
  • Taliban: 15 (21 needed)
  • Warlords: 4 (16 needed)
The board at the end of the game.

The board at the end of the game. Note the lack of my tan-coloured cubes and discs on the map.

This was a truly excellent game. Absolutely superb. Every single decision was agonising and – crucially – important. The interplay between the factions – particularly the Coalition and Government, but also every faction’s interactions with the Warlords – was complex and fascinating, offering a different insight into the situation in Afghanistan from anything we get from the mainstream media. As we played, it attracted a huge amount of attention from gamers passing by and many seemed deeply interested in the way ADP models this most current of conflicts.

That said, this is not a game for everyone. If we had a pound for every comment of, “Is this still going?” or, “How long have you got left?” we’d be… well, not exactly rich, but probably able to buy another copy of the game. We played for about six-and-a-half hours, with around an hour of rules beforehand. There were still another ten cards left before the final Propaganda card, so had Gareth not hit victory on the fourth, we could easily have run for another hour or so. I don’t consider that too long for a game of this quality, but it seems many gamers at the club have a limit of 2–3 hours before a game is considered ridiculously long. As the young ‘uns say on the internet, YMMV.

Some players might also be queasy about playing factions like the Taliban; indeed, I detected a little unease on that point from one passerby who asked about the game. That’s fair enough and I appreciate that point of view. But it would be a great shame to dismiss ADP without realising what an elegant game it is. The rules are only ten pages long, yet the depth and complexity are truly exciting. It was the quickest and most fun six-and-a-half hours I’ve had in a long time.

With Afghanistan in safe hands, there was an awkward length of time left before John Sh (my lift for the return leg to Corbridge) needed to get away, so I suggested the shortish-but-hopefully-interesting Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends, which had been the last of my gains to arrive from the February maths trade on BGG. It recently won the BGG Golden Geek award for Best Abstract Game1 and I think it showed us why.

We played the ‘High Form’ (attempting to complete tasks for the audience, rather than beating seven bells out of each other) as a team game, with Gareth and me playing as an alliance (properly allied this time, not like in A Distant Plain) of the Northern Empire and Sylvan factions, with Olly and Dave taking the Southern Empire and Highland factions. Gareth and I built up an early advantage and we were feeling confident, but once Olly had summoned the legendary Two-Headed Dragon we were pretty much sunk. Due to my misunderstanding of the end-game trigger (I hadn’t included the legendary pieces on the board when calculating the total of 9 required; I thought they were added on afterwards when totting up the final score) the game ran probably a round or two longer than it should have and ended up 14–4 to Olly and Dave. Getting the end-game right would only have reduced the thrashing by a couple of points, but it would have removed the last couple of futile rounds for Gareth and me.

The final board state. Look at all those lovely heroic and legendary pieces. They don't belong to my team.

The final board state. Look at all those lovely orange heroic and legendary pieces. They don’t belong to my team.

Initial thoughts on Tash-Kalar after one play: seems like a good game. I think it probably works better as a two-player game, so you have more control over your plans, or perhaps a four-player game works better as a deathmatch melée (although I can’t imagine the chaos that would involve). It’s possibly not one to pull out at the end of an all-day session, given how much trouble a couple of the very-tired players had in recognising the summoning patterns on the board in all combinations of rotation and mirroring. The components are also a bit lacklustre – given that this has an RRP of £54.99 (!), it’d be nice to have bakelite tiles rather than cardboard tokens. But I see the quality of the game within, it’s short enough to act as a sort of über-filler, and it’ll be a while before I’ve explored all player numbers and all game types, not to mention getting to know the decks so I can better interfere with opponents’ plans.

So, ten hours and two good games. That’s an excellent day of gaming in my book.

1. Its legendary designer Vlaada Chvátil also wins my personal award for Name That Sounds Most Like My Mother-in-Law Sneezing.

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 8 February 2014

or Back in Action!

Saturday afternoon saw my return to Newcastle Gamers after a long, illness/work-enforced hiatus. It wasn’t exactly a triumphal return given that I’m still ill (and given that I can’t drive far yet, my thanks go to John Sh for the lift into Newcastle), but it was great to get out of the house and get some gaming in. My plan for the session was to keep the cognitive load relatively light by sticking to games I already knew.

I’d made arrangements earlier in the day to play Agricola with Olly, John Si and Pete “10-Point-Agricola-Handicap” M at about 6.30. That gave me two hours to fill at the start of the session. Olly adopted his role of Fabulous Host to a few newcomers hanging around the door, so we decided to kick off with a few lighter games before the main agricultural meat of the evening. Out came String Railway.

“But Owain,” you cry, “what about your plan to stick to games you already knew?” Yeah, I know. But there’s this:

Venn diagram

It’s a small intersection at the moment, but luckily String Railway ∈ ( AB ). It starts off nice and simple (place a station, lay a string), but by the time you get to the last of your four turns it’s like a noodle-network nightmare. Olly had played it a few times before, John Sh just once and I and the two newbies (Louise and Richard) had never touched it.

Richard took an aggressive expansionist approach early on, moving into the mountain range directly in front of his home station and eventually making it all the way across to Olly’s station opposite. My lines intertwined quite a bit with John’s, seated to my right, while Olly and Louise both spidered out a bit and bothered everyone everywhere.

As discovered later, we fluffed a few rules, leaving players early in the turn order at a disadvantage and leaving me at a slight advantage due to the type of station I kept drawing, but that didn’t stop the game from being fun. Of course, I would say that because I won.

Scratching my head because I'm somehow winning

Scratching my head because I’m somehow winning

It is a fun game though, and I like the idea of potentially limitless variation provided by the “mountain” and “river” strings, along with the different island shapes for different player numbers. I’ll definitely play this one again.

The same crowd followed up with a couple of small card games from John’s collection – No Thanks! and Newcastle Gamers favourite Coloretto. (Seriously, Coloretto‘s like Power Grid or The Resistance – it always seems to make an appearance at these sessions.) No Thanks! is about as simple as games come. I got off to a good start, but ran out of precious chips in the mid-to-late game, meaning I racked up points (which is a bad thing) and Olly ended as the victor, continuing his unbeaten run in No Thanks!

In Coloretto, I played my usual fairly conservative game (aim for exactly three colours or maybe four at most, taking small piles if necessary). It has a reasonable success rate, but it didn’t work out this time. I’ve won previous games with 24 points, but not this time; Olly won again with substantially more points than that.

And then Agricola. Pete had turned up during our Coloretto game, so Olly and I assisted him in the ritual of setting up for a four-player game while we waited for John Si to arrive. We opted for a “deal 10 cards, discard down to 7” scheme for Occupations and Minor Improvements, with four from the E deck and three from each of I and K. The discard process is a game in itself, especially when you have a bit of experience with the other people at the table. I’ve played a few times with Olly in face-to-face games, and quite a few more with Pete and John Si on the iOS version, so I had some ideas about the ways they might play. I know, for example, that a game without Pete building the Well is a rare game indeed, so the Flagon Minor Improvement was a clear choice for me to keep (4 Food for me and 1 Food for everyone else when the Well is built).

The only decent card combo I had screaming out at me was the Writing Desk (when playing an Occupation, pay 2 Food to play a second Occupation) and Bookshelf (before paying for an Occupation, gain 3 Food… yes, even for the second one played with the Writing Desk, so that’s a net gain of 3 Food and 2 Occupations for one action), but given the prerequisites of 2 and 3 Occupations respectively, they wouldn’t be coming out in the early game and would be a late-game Food-boost at best.

It turned out to be a bit of an odd game. Pete had bemoaned the poor quality of his cards and ended up playing no Occupations at all, taking no Family Growth until the very last round (thus playing the game with the minimum 28 actions), with a two-room Stone house and his entire agricultural achievements consisting of one massive 12-space pasture with a few boar in it. He took no Wood until somewhere around round 9. And still he got 31 points, even while playing a very silly game.

I’d been the first to build a third room, so I had the early advantage in terms of Family Growth and extra actions, but I tend to get flabby and lose track of what I should be doing in the mid-to-late game, so I never really capitalised on that momentum. I ended up with six Occupations played (a couple mainly for the Writing Desk / Bookshelf combo Food boost) but not much in the way of a farm. 32 points.

Red: me.

Red: me. Blue: John. White: Olly. Green: Pete. Check out Pete’s pasture.

John Si and Olly were both playing their typically sensible, balanced games and I couldn’t instinctively pick out a winner. They’d both played Occupations involving the Travelling Players space, so there was the occasional bit of intrigue as to who might take that spot. John also had Harvest Helper, allowing him to nick Grain from other people’s fields. (Thankfully, my farm was so poor that I didn’t have any fields sown until the final round.)

Final scores – Olly: 42 / John: 33 / Me: 32 / Pete: 31

Like I said, an odd game. All four of us ended up with Stone houses. I seem to remember I was Starting Player for the last five rounds. For once, I didn’t lose (these guys are all a class above me when it comes to Agricola, even when I’m not enfeebled), but the only person I’d beaten had only had 28 actions for the whole game. I need to get even more practice in.

Pete slipped away into the night, so Camo and John Sh joined Olly, John Si and me for a five-player Puerto Rico. It’s a game I really, really rate, but don’t often get the chance to play. It’s always a bonus to have a table full of people who already know the game, so we were off to a flying start.

Starting fourth in player order, I got a Corn plantation, which is my preferred start. I quickly went down a Tobacco-as-cash-crop route which combined with my Small and Large Markets with Office to create a fairly powerful money machine. I got shut out of the Trading House a couple of times by being fifth in line for a tile with only four spaces, but I similarly got revenge by generating 7 doubloons when there was only space left for me to trade. There was huge competition around the table for Indigo (and hence space on the Indigo boat when Captain was taken), which I kept out of entirely. By the time Camo filled the last of his building spaces and brought on the end of the game, I was feeling pretty confident.

It's a classic, but it's, er... not very photogenic. That's my board down at the bottom-left. Note the relative lack of plantations.

It’s a classic, but it’s, er… not very photogenic. That’s my board down at the bottom-left. Note my relative lack of plantations.

My confidence was well-founded: 45 points and victory. Camo was second with 39, while Olly and John Si were in the 30s and John Sh in the high 20s.

I love Puerto Rico‘s interactivity: you’ve always got to be aware of everyone else’s agendas and how your actions will affect them (and on the flipside, how their actions will affect your plans). If you do something to benefit you, it might benefit someone else twice as much, so you’re sometimes better off waiting for someone else to do that something… and hoping that they actually do, rather than letting it go for another round and picking up another doubloon so the wrong person will be tempted into taking it, thus scuppering your devious scheme. Ah, it’s a great game.

It was getting late, so what better time to bring out a new, heavy-ish euro from the 2013 Essen crop? John Sh was keen to play Yunnan, so I thought I’d give it a crack. After all, I’d just given a table of good gamers a solid thrashing at Puerto Rico, so I must be reasonably capable, right?

No. No, no, no. I’ve never been so confused by a game in my life. And it’s not that it’s a particularly complicated game; I play more complicated games even now (I can quite happily manage Mage Knight or Cuba Libre solo at home). It’s just that at the moment I can’t take in the rules at that sort of pace. At any one point, I think I had about 50% of the rules in my head, but exactly which 50% kept changing from round to round. I never at any point managed to retain the simple fact of which workers come back to my hand and which go to Pu’er.

Anyway… it’s a tea-based euro by German first-time designer Aaron Haag. There are workers, trading posts, tea houses… tea horses for heaven’s sake. The worker placement system involves a bit of an auction feel, with the possibility of displacing other players’ lower-paying workers. At the end of each round, you have to divide up your income between cash and victory points, which is a horrible decision in itself.

Even the board is the colour of tea.

Even the board is the colour of tea.

I accidentally stumbled on a strategy of taking the bank action to gain plenty of cash and then taking all my income as VPs. In the next round I could bid to actually do things and take income as cash, then back to the bank in the round after that. It ended up working pretty well, somehow, and I took second place with 108 points to Camo’s winning 113. If I’d just taken a few steps up the border crossing and imperial influence tracks I could have edged him out (each track scores n2 points for n steps up the track), but then I would have had to have spent cash on those steps.

I honestly can’t form any sort of opinion on Yunnan without playing it again, and I don’t think I managed to learn much about the game from my initial play. There were a lot of moving parts and areas that seemed to influence each other, but I didn’t really figure out how. I’m sure it’ll come out again in future and I’ll be able to gather some thoughts about it. For now, in summary: brown.

And that was that. Creeping up on 1am, John and I zoomed back to Corbridge. It was great to be back at Newcastle Gamers. I probably won’t make the next one (birthday of offspring), but watch this space for more gaming.

All photos by Olly and John Sh, 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!