There’s been quite a bit of family gaming over the couple of weeks since my last post, including the discovery that my two oldest sons, J and A, both love Ticket to Ride. Totally love it. And it turns out that my mum quite enjoys it too. I’m glad I held on to my copy now, and I might even get one or two of the other maps; after all, the original USA map gets a bit dull after a while.
Mrs Cardboard (M, to follow the tradition of anonymous-but-distinguishable initials) and I also played the first game in our Pandemic Legacy campaign. We went for silly rather than realistic when it came to naming our characters, so we now have a medic called Max Dinglewang (thank you, M); my name offering for the scientist was Susan O’Hanrahan, but always, always referred to as Susan O’Hanraha-hanrahan. We won the first game pretty easily after just three of five Epidemic cards and managed to eradicate the black disease, now known as Boneitis, but I can see how things might get substantially tougher in future. I’m being completely spoiler-free here, but I might start writing up future games under a big SPOILER heading if it continues to offer the narrative and gaming excitement it looks like it should.
John and I convened a Corbridge Gamers session and we both ticked another game off our Stefan Feld lists – AquaSphere. It’s very Feld: doing a thing lets you do another thing, but doing that thing means you can’t do this other thing this round and there just isn’t enough time (or indeed Time, the game currency) to do everything you want to do. And oddly, for a game themed around scientists and robots conducting research in an underwater laboratory while fighting off purple Octopods… it feels a bit bland. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a perfectly solid game, but it’s not different enough from every other euro to make me excited about it.
I started out badly while John mopped up serious points for the area-majority aspect in the early rounds (I’d failed to plan for how much impact that would make), but I pushed forward with my long-term plan to finish all six pieces of my personal lab and collect all six lab letters. I did pull that off in the end, but John’s consistent showings in the end-of-round scoring put him far enough ahead that my sudden boost at the very end of the game wasn’t enough to overhaul him.
Final score – John: 71 / Me: 68
We followed up with a game that really is like nothing else I’ve ever played: Donald X Vaccarino’s Temporum. Jumping around between different eras and changing timelines makes it surprisingly thematic compared to the dry-as-dust-but-still-mechanically-lovely Dominion, and while the mechanisms themselves aren’t groundbreaking, they do coalesce into an overall experience that feels unique. There’s a lot of fun to be had in changing the future and forcing your opponent to suddenly find themselves in a Steampunk Utopia instead of the Age of Cats or whatever it was they were clearly hoping to use on their next turn to shuffle a few of their Influence markers down to the present day. (And yes, there genuinely is a card representing a timeline in which cats have taken over the world.) This one came down to the wire, with John getting his last Influence marker into the bottom box for the win when I had just one left to go.
Fast forward to Saturday and it was Newcastle Gamers again, this time with a prearranged game of Splotter Spellen’s latest release, Food Chain Magnate. John and Olly had expressed an interest and no one else seemed keen to join in (even on one of the busiest nights we’ve seen in a while; the busy-ness seemed at least partially due to our shift over to meetup.com following the near-total withdrawal of Events from Google+), so it was a three-player game.
Quick summary of Food Chain Magnate: you’re running a restaurant chain (duh!) on a randomised road/house map grid. It’s a sort of deckbuilder where the deck you’re building consists of the employees in your company, except rather than drawing a random hand of cards each round, you have the entire deck to choose a fresh company structure from. Employees in the company structure can do things like hiring or training more employees, collecting drinks from spots on the board, changing your prices (down or up), starting marketing campaigns, building new houses and/or gardens for houses, being managers who can accommodate more employees in your company, and many, many more. The winner is the person with the most cash at the end of the game, which is after the bank has broken… twice. (There’s an odd thing where the length of the game after the first breaking of the bank is determined by cards secretly chosen by the players at the start of the game.)
This being a Splotter title, there are many, many ways to make mistakes… and we all managed to make a few. I think all the mistakes were based around mistiming things, mainly to do with the fact that the people in houses don’t come out to eat unless they’ve been marketed to by players, but marketing doesn’t happen until after eating in the round order. The practical upshot of this is that something along the lines of “hey look, I’ve produced this burger and set up a marketing campaign for burgers so this house will come and eat the burger and I’ll be able to pay the Burger Cook I just hired and ohgodnoofcoursenoti’vereallyf—kedthisuproyally” happened several times over the course of the game.
Glossing over the inevitable mistakes then, it was interesting to see how our different opening strategies immediately led to different Milestone cards being claimed, with the bonuses they conferred. Olly went for early food production and thus forever had a freezer to keep unsold food and $5 bonuses for selling food products. John kept his company structure small to maintain a good choice of turn-order position and marketed drinks first ($5 bonus to drinks sold). I, on the other hand, went for full-on corporate bloat by hiring two Recruiting Girls and getting the “First to Hire 3 People in One Turn” Milestone, which gave me two Management Trainees and thus allowed me to maintain a much larger structure than the others. That wasn’t necessarily that great a benefit, but I was able to hire all sorts of people and shuffle them from round to round in order to get the best or most timely use from them.
I was last to place a marketing campaign, which meant mine were time-limited but I’d trained my marketer up so he could place a mailbox campaign and cover a whole block. Several houses had been added to the map, which meant there were gardens in play and diners with gardens pay double for their meals. After a slow start, I was suddenly raking in money from all the houses that wanted soft drinks (and usually one that wanted beer if John had run out), which meant I was first to hit $100 in hand. That gave me the seemingly preposterously powerful bonus of having the CFO power – 50% extra income per round. I only got a couple of rounds to benefit from that bonus though, because the $600 we’d added when the bank first broke was rapidly running out. Olly was selling burgers to a cluster of houses on the far side of the board and his Luxuries Manager was making sure they were going at an eye-watering price. Each burger was $20, but with houses with gardens paying double, there was an occasion where a house wanting two burgers paid $90 (including Olly’s $5/burger bonus).
The bank broke for the second time when I claimed my CFO bonus, and it was pretty clear that I’d won.
Final score – Me: $387 / John: $232 / Olly: $190
It looks fairly emphatic, but I suspect I could have been overhauled in another couple of rounds had it continued – Olly’s super-mega-deluxe rare-breed yak burgers were painfully lucrative.
Overall, I thought Food Chain Magnate was superb on its first play. Only time will tell how well it stands up to repeated plays (and I hope to play it as much as possible – after all, it’s a Splotter game that we finished in under two hours on our first play!), but I suspect the variable map layout and wide variety of possible strategies will keep me interested for a long while yet. Oh, and I love the artwork. Even the “oh dear, they sent the prototype to the printer” map tiles have their charm, and they’re very clear on the table.
The Prodigals Club was next, which was the first time any of us had played the three-player game (and the first time at all for Olly); we used the Election and Society modules again. Oddly, it uses the same worker-placement boards as the two-player game so the worker spaces are a little more congested. Only a little, because we each had four workers rather than five, but it was enough to make it feel a bit different. Not only was turn order much more important than with two players (which I only really figured out afterwards), but with only four workers, it’s much harder to do everything you want to do. Not only do you have just four workers, but if you’re last in turn order, the stuff you want may well have disappeared before your first worker goes down!
I didn’t really feel like I was doing well for the first four rounds (although I felt comfortably ahead of Olly at least, and I kept taking the Hyde Park action to make sure I didn’t start gaining votes), but then everything came together in a final rush and I managed to get my two scores down to 0 (Society) and 2 (Election). John had gone substantially negative in the Election module, but his Society score let him down badly and I ended up winning!
Final score – Me: 2 / Olly: 8 / John: 10
And then Roll for the Galaxy with the Ambition expansion, including the Objective tiles this time. They still didn’t add that much to the game, but that’s fine – it’s already excellent. I had a starting faction that was more annoying that anything else, so I concentrated on my initial draw of a 6+ development (3 bonus VPs for each world of cost 4 or more, plus the ability to reassign any three dice as Settlers!) and set about settling those planets. The others were playing a more balanced game, although Olly had the rather wonderful Psi-Crystal Forecasters, which allowed him to shift his selected phase after seeing what everyone else had chosen. It all worked out nicely for me in the end anyway after Olly ended the game with a full tableau of 12 tiles.
Final score – Me: 51 / Olly: 42 / John: 39
Lloyd joined us for the last game of the night: Spiel des Jahres 2005 winner Niagara. Typical SdJ family-friendly fare, but in this instance it ran on far too long (lots of simultaneous high numbers played plus almost constant bad weather meant the river flowed fast) and was memorable more for the frustration than the enjoyability. Still, I continued my unbroken win-streak for the evening, this time sharing victory with Olly. It’s been a long time since I played a game without a tiebreak rule!
Epic post ends here.
Photos by Olly and me, some shamelessly stolen from the Newcastle Gamers Meetup page.