Tag Archives: session reports

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!

Newcastle Gamers – Saturday 11 May 2013

Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Jo(h)ns

One of the wonderful things about Newcastle Gamers is the variety of people there, from all sorts of places and backgrounds, and with a huge range in gaming tastes. One of the slightly more confusing things about Newcastle Gamers is the fact that every other person seems to be called John. Even the ones who aren’t called John probably have it as a middle name (and I’m one of those). The upshot of all this Johnnery is that, every so often, you’ll hear something like this:

“Whose turn is it?”

“Oh, it’s John’s.”

“Ummm… John..?”

“Oh, yeah. THAT John.”

The evening started at DEFJOHN 5, with John S and Olly teaching me the microgame of the moment, Love Letter. Featuring only a deck of sixteen cards (sixteen!) and a small bag of score-keeping tokens (in this copy, borrowed from club treasurer Nick, said tokens were little red hearts… awww), it’s as simple a game as I’ve played since Hungry Hippos. Our nominal aim is to get love letters to the Princess and win her heart. In reality, we each hold a hand comprising a single card. One card! On your turn, you draw another card from the deck, then play one of the two cards to the table. The eight ranks of card have varying powers, from number 1, the Guard (name another card rank to a player – if they have that card, they discard it and are out of the round) to number 8, the Princess herself (the highest rank, but discard the Princess and you’re out of the round).

Not exactly the most photogenic game in the world... but I was winning at this point

Not exactly the most photogenic game in the world… but I was winning at this point

It’s super-simple, there’s a fair dose of luck in it and a little bit of bluffing, which makes it a nice little filler. For me, it wasn’t quite the amazing experience that it’s been made out to be on BoardGameGeek and the like, but it was a fun way to kick things off. After taking an early lead, we finished on 3 hearts each for John and Olly, with me on 2. So I lost. The game is intended to play until someone has 5 hearts, but there was a good reason we’d decided to kick off with a filler… and the reason is creeping into the top of that photo.

Yes, Agricola was on the cards. Pete had made plans to play it with another club member, and Olly, John and I had joined in to round things out to the maximum five players. We played Love Letter until our outstanding Agricolan arrived. Naturally, that “other club member” was called John. Now at DEFJOHN 3. In fact, it was another John S – the same John S with whom I’d played Power Grid in a previous session. Clearly, new nomenclature is called for. John who’d been playing Love Letter will be John Sh for the remainder of this post, while the new arrival will be John Si. Phew. So. Agricola. With Pete.

I’ve played Agricola quite a few times, and I know it well. I know the rules, I know the basic strategies, I know the rhythm of the game. Pete, on the other hand, knows all the cards. All the cards. The base game has 169 Occupations and 139 Minor Improvements, and Pete knows them, knows which ones work well together and has strategies to make his cards work for him no matter what he ends up with. Pete is a formidable opponent in any game, but particularly in Agricola. Indeed, there’s a running joke with Pete’s regular gaming group that everyone who isn’t Pete gets 10 extra points to level things up.

This was my first time drafting Occupations and Minor Improvements at the start of the game, so that was a novel twist for me. We had a straightforward mix of E and K decks, so I’d come across a lot of the cards before, but there was still a lot to take in when we picked up our hands to pick the first card. I didn’t time it, but I reckon we must have spent at least twenty minutes just drafting our cards. It was also my first time with five players, so I spent a couple of minutes getting my head around the slightly different actions available with the full player complement.

So we played. The start-player marker spent a lot of time flitting back and forth between John Si (seated directly to my left) and Pete (two seats to my right), so after a couple of rounds as start player early on, I ended up being either third or fifth in player order for much of the game. In hindsight, I really should have grabbed start player more often, but with only two workers for the vast majority of the game, it seemed like a weak option at the time. Lesson learned. As a result of being late in player order, I often took my second- or third-choice actions, bringing out a raft of Minor Improvements and Occupations rather than… y’know… actually farming.

Some of them were great though. The Clay Deliveryman gave me 1 clay per round from Round 6 to the end of the game, while the Fishing Rod allowed me to take 1 extra food (or 2 extra from Round 8 on) when taking the Fishing action – very handy when you’re not growing anything or raising any animals. My surfeit of clay (or, as it was described at the time, “a f—ton of resources”) meant that it made sense to renovate to clay very early in the game, and in combination with the Clay Supports Minor Improvement (pay 2 clay, 1 wood and 1 reed to build a clay room, rather than 5 clay and 2 reed), I ended up with a five-room clay house. And still no crops or animals.

Meanwhile, John Si was ploughing and sowing like there was no tomorrow, and he brought forth the oven to end all ovens – the Bakehouse. Worth a massive 5 points at the end of the game, the Bakehouse can also convert 1 grain to 5 food… twice per bake action. 10 food in one bake. Once John had his baking engine up and running, he was never short of food. Olly had utilised his Hedge Keeper Occupation to build all fifteen fences in one go, so he was going heavy on the animals. Pete was creating a nicely balanced farm, with crops, pastures and animals everywhere. John Sh had played the Wet Nurse, a card so powerful that many people refuse to play with it – when you build a room, you can pay 1 food to create a baby worker therein. It’s a potential starvation trap, but it’s well worth it if you’ve got the food to back it up. John did indeed have the food, in mammalian form. I’d ploughed a couple of fields and built two stables, but nothing was sown and nothing was living in the stables. Not looking great for me.

After breaking for a little food after Round 8, I resolved to get my act together and get some points. Once “Plough 1 Field and/or Sow” came out, it was my best friend, and I managed to get five fields planted with a mixture of grain and vegetables. I knew the vegetables would largely get eaten (1 veg for 3 food in my Cooking Hearth), and I had enough to sustain me to the end of the game, thanks to the Greengrocer Occupation (take 1 vegetable when you use the “take 1 grain” action) and its reciprocal Occupation, the Land Agent (take 1 grain when you use “take 1 vegetable”). After renovating again to stone and making sure I had the maximum five family members by the end of the game, I’d made about the best I could of a bad job. 3 unused spaces, no sheep, no cattle (and only 1 boar), so quite a few -1 points.

You can see my slightly bare-bones approach to farming in the upper right, just behind John Si's despairing head

You can see my slightly bare-bones approach to farming in the upper right, just behind John Si’s despairing head

In the end, John Sh and Olly had quite sparse but balanced-looking farms (although Olly was without fields, if I remember correctly), John Si was awash with grain and vegetables in a landscape of ploughed fields, Pete had a farm that looked nice but without boar (mitigated by his having played the Horse Minor Improvement, giving him 2 points for one animal type he lacked) and my farm… well, there was a nice, big farmhouse full of people (and with an Outhouse for 2 points), a few fields and crops, and a single pig. Again, not looking great for me. Of course, being Agricola, there can be some surprises in the final reckoning. Enough of a surprise for Pete to not have won?

Well, no. But not by much.

Final score – Pete: 37 / John Si: 35 / Me: 32 / John Sh: 25 / Olly: 25

So Pete won by a Horse. I was pleased with how I did, given it was my first time (a) drafting, and (b) with five players. Ah, Agricola. Always a pleasure.

Olly had to leave at that point, so after the traditional break for standing around and wondering what to play, I pulled out Snowdonia and we set up for a five-player game. Who replaced Olly at the table? Yep, we’re going to DEFJOHN 1. Well, OK. Not quite a John. This time it was Jon. So – just to clarify – that’s me, Pete, John, John and Jon. Glad we’ve got that sorted.

I hadn’t played Snowdonia in a while – which is a crying shame, because it’s great – and neither John Si nor Pete had played it at all. These two factors combined (along with my immense fatigue) to create one of my most shambolic rules explanations ever… but the whole thing gave rise to the renaming of the start-player marker as the “SEXY TRAIN”. Glorious.

I played an absolute stinker of a game. It was interesting to note that the three of us who’d played before were the ones who didn’t build a train until quite late in the game (certainly after the “train maintenance” event), and I didn’t build a train at all. Pete had Moel Siabod, which is cheap to buy (1 steel) and comes with 2 coal, but has no benefit beyond the third-worker capability. John Si had Snowdon – again, a cheap buy, but this time with 1 coal and 9 points at the end of the game. Just like in Agricola, I was late in player order for most of the game (with only myself to blame), so I ended up taking a contract card with bonus points for getting my surveyor high up the mountain, and concentrated on doing exactly that, building a few bits of station and laying the odd piece of track along the way.

John Sh built the Padarn engine, granting him an extra build action after all other build actions are finished, which was pretty powerful, and Jon controlled the timing of the game end by building Ralph, thus giving him +1 to the track-laying rate. By the time the final track was laid, I had indeed managed to get my surveyor all the way up Snowdon, but so had Pete… and he’d built a lot of station sections on the way up. Yes, Pete had grasped the game immediately and pulled out a solid win.

Final score – Pete: 94 / Jon: 89 / John Sh: 83 / Me: 80 / John Si: 71

The SEXY TRAIN takes pride of place in the coal stockyard while I do the final scoring

The SEXY TRAIN takes pride of place in the coal stockyard while I do the final scoring

Pete and John Sh had done extremely well off station spaces, while Jon and I did well from our contract cards (my surveyor got 15 bonus points on top of the 21 for being at the summit; I also got 15 bonus points from two track pieces laid and 4 points from 2 coal picked up in the final round). Considering how badly I felt I played, I could have done a lot worse. I really, really should have built a train, but resources and iron–steel conversion did seem quite tight (which is part of the reason the game flowed nicely – there was no resource-hoarding and the white event cubes came out relatively slowly). I was pleased to hear John Si and Pete say how much they’d enjoyed the game; it’s a little gem which deserves a much wider audience than it’s had so far.

After four of us had arranged to play an online game of Eclipse on iPad (we’ll see how many weeks that takes us…), Pete and John Si called it a night. With three of us left gameless and 11pm looming, I suggested Eminent Domain, and John Sh and Jon were happy to give it a whirl.

John describes this game as having taken Race for the Galaxy and Dominion and mashed them together. I haven’t played RftG, but I can imagine that’s about right. It’s a space-empire-building deckbuilder in which your deck gets more and more specialised in doing the things you do most often. This can be really handy when you want to survey new planets and attack or colonise them to benefit from them, but then when you want to do things to generate more points (like producing and trading goods, or doing technology research) your deck and hand are clogged up with survey and warfare cards. So it’s a neat little balancing act.

It’s a simple game to explain, so we got Jon up to speed and set about taking roles, following, dissenting, colonising planets… there’s not a huge amount to say about it, really. John and Jon went for the colonisation route to take control of their planets, while I went military and attacked all of mine into submission. I had an early boost from my second planet giving me +1 to my hand limit, which meant I could end up with eight cards in hand if I dissented on both the others’ turns. This allowed me to quickly expand my empire and indulge in a little production and trading.

I entirely failed to get a picture on the night, so here's a vague reconstruction of my empire on my desk at home

I entirely failed to get a picture on the night, so here’s a vague reconstruction of my empire on my desk at home

The three-player game has the same game-end condition as the two-player game (one role deck is depleted or all the VP chips run out), so it seemed to have come around pretty quickly when John took the last VP chip and declared the end of the game… but wait! Everyone gets an equal number of turns, so Jon had a turn remaining. He colonised the last planet in his tableau, giving him the last few points he needed for victory, snatching the game from John and me. Only just, though!

Final score – Jon: 26 / Me: 25 / John: 24

As close as can be! Eminent Domain isn’t an amazing game, but it’s a solid game and it plays reasonably quickly (about an hour this time round) so it’s definitely got its niche in my collection.

And that was the end of the night for me. The highlight was definitely Agricola. Frankly, the highlight will probably always be Agricola on evenings when it hits the table. Such a great game. The low point of the night was forgetting that the easternmost end of the A69 was going to be closed on my way home, so I took a slightly circuitous route around the western suburbs of Newcastle before finally making it back to the A69 and trundling home.

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

Newcastle Gamers – Saturday 27 April 2013

After a long day of herding buskers around Hexham (don’t ask), there was nothing I wanted more than to get over to Newcastle and play some games. Luckily, it was the right Saturday for that to happen, and I actually made it in time for the start of the session! With punctuality comes choice, so John F seized the moment (and me) to request Power Grid: Factory Manager. We roped in John S and Olly to make it up to the sensible maximum of four players, and we started setting up.

PG:FM has a rather tedious set-up, involving arranging the factory tiles on the main board ready for purchase, as well as sorting out the appropriate starting tiles for player boards, tiles for turn order (which are different for different numbers of players), tiles for energy price rises, selecting three “X” tiles to seed the first market… it drags on a bit. I usually like to explain bits of the game as they get set up, but PG:FM doesn’t really lend itself to that approach, so this time I made sure we could see all the bits before explaining anything. It’s a relatively simple game, so I hope I didn’t make too much of a hash of the rules explanation. I’d decided beforehand to explain the end of the round before explaining how the earlier parts of the round work, because everything you do earlier in the round is geared towards optimising the result of the Bureaucracy phase at the end. I think it was a successful approach, and it probably took roughly the same length of time to explain as it had to set up the table.

PG:FM is Power Grid in name only. Yes, it’s a Friedemann Friese game; yes, it’s got artwork by Maura Kalusky; and yes, it’s got the same paper currency. The only gameplay element that feels similar is in balancing two factors as you increase your capacities through the game – here, it’s Production and Storage; in Power Grid, it’s cities built and cities you can power. PG:FM introduces a nice little twist in that the auction phase (where you bid for turn order, rather than factory tiles) is carried out with available worker meeples rather than money. In principle, this makes it a short, tight auctioning round; in practice, it means that most turn-order tiles go for a zero bid. Bit of an anti-climax.

We ploughed through the game’s five rounds in about 90 minutes, including rules explanation, so it didn’t outstay its welcome. However, I quite quickly felt that we were playing relatively isolated solitaire games on our own player boards. Interaction was minimal (opportunities for opponent-screwage are limited to the aforementioned auction and buying tiles before your opponents can) and… well… it was just very dry.

Now, I don’t normally mind dry. Sometimes I take a perverse pleasure in enjoying a game despite its apparent dryness. But this was seriously dry. Dry like a snorer’s uvula. Drier than a vulture’s armpit. Like a lake of fun had been soaked up with a giant enjoyment-sponge, leaving just a cracked bed of ultra-dry game-mud. It was engaging, yes, but engaging in the same way that once I’ve started filling in a tax return, I can’t stop until I’ve got to the end.

You could dry it out a bit more by setting fire to it, I suppose.

You could dry it out a bit more by setting fire to it, I suppose.

So yes, the end. The winner is simply the richest person at the end of the game. John F won, comfortably into the 300s, with Olly and me hovering in the middle (304 and 295 respectively) and John S down in the low 200s. There was a general feeling of “meh” around the table, and I agree. I’m glad I got to try out Power Grid: Factory Manager with more than two players, but it’ll probably be out of the door when the next UK maths trade comes up on BoardGameGeek.

We toyed with the idea of Bios: Megafauna at that point, but I could see lots of hesitant faces, so I ended that discussion with the words, “Let’s play something fun.” And thus Myrmes hit the table. It was my first four-player game of Myrmes (having played a three-player game at Newcastle earlier in the year, and a two-player game online at Boîte à Jeux), and it played out similarly to my previous experiences: players who lose a nurse early in the game (in this case, John S and John F) by completing a challenge for the Council of Queen Ants end up lagging behind because they’re severely limited in the number of actions they can take per round. Meanwhile, the other players (in this case, Olly and me) can afford to create extra nurses, dig their nests deeper, leave bigger pheromone trails and just generally crank out the victory points. Myrmes doesn’t shy away from punishing early mistakes like that, and so we ended up with isolated battles between first–second and third–fourth places. It probably didn’t help the imbalance that Olly and I were diagonally opposite on the main garden board, so we didn’t really restrict each other’s pheromonal ramblings until very late in the game.

Olly (black) and I (red) dominate the board with our pheromone trails

Final game state – Olly (black) and I (red) dominate the board with our pheromone trails

I did manage to frustrate Olly’s plans for expansion in the last of the three game “years” – my five-hex trail on the bottom-left in the picture was exactly where Olly had wanted to put his, leaving his worker-ant options severely restricted – but that wasn’t enough to hold him back from the win. Some final-round challenge completion left Olly with 48 points and me with 42, while John S and John F trailed on 27 and 24 respectively. It’s a really enjoyable game, but horribly, horribly tight on resources and workers. Very thinky and very frustrating, especially when you make what seems like a good scoring move early on and it brutally punishes you for the rest of the game. Not one for the faint of heart.

A few games finished around the same time, so there was a slight reshuffle at the table, with Amo replacing Olly for a game of Spectaculum. I didn’t really know anything about it except that it was a Reiner Knizia design, but if I hadn’t known that, I would have been able to guess within thirty seconds of rules explanation. It’s so Knizia. Route-laying, buying and selling, values going up and down – it’s like several Knizia games thrown into one box, and it’s good fun. The travelling-circus theme is, of course, utterly superficial. It’s really a stock-trading game, with the coloured tokens placed onto the map board altering the values of the stocks, as well as creating dividend payouts and taxes (or, in the language of the theme, payday and sickness).

Stock market games aren’t really my forte, and I struggled to marry the price-manipulating route-building to the buying and selling until about halfway through the game. Once I’d got that sorted, I started doing OK, but it was a bit late by that point to do much about it. A fun game, ending in a very close win for John S (84) over Amo (83), with John F and I a little further behind.

Caption?

I felt like a bit of a Dizzy Dancing Bear myself for about half the game

John F was keen to get in his traditional play of Power Grid at this point. Now, I know I said last time that “I’m not one to turn this game down”, but, well… I was wrong. I don’t know if it was having already played Factory Manager, or just that I’d played Power Grid at the last Newcastle Gamers session, but I just didn’t fancy it. I think that when my gaming opportunities are as slim as they are, I like to get as much variety as I can at the Newcastle evenings, but I’ll probably be ready for Power Grid next time.

John S was feeling much the same (although I can’t speculate on his reasons), so we left John F and Amo scouting for more Power Grid players and set up for a quick round of vanilla Hive. Obviously, I’d played this too at the last Newcastle session, as well as in between, so maybe my reasoning for not wanting to play Power Grid is flawed… but it’s a very quick game, so that makes a substantial difference.

I felt like I had the edge from the start (probably to do with being White and thus having the first turn), but I had to engineer the rescue of my Queen at a couple of points through the game. Once I got onto the attack, however, there was a point where I still had six tiles left to place, while John was down to three, so I had much more flexibility in the later game. After foolishly placing a spider instead of an ant (and giving John an easy chance to block my win), I had to go for victory with a grasshopper placement instead, and I took the win a couple of turns later. Great game. Swingy, thinky and pleasantly short.

One grasshopper jump from victory

One grasshopper jump from victory

Olly had just finished London at that point (verdict: “It’s… alright.”), so he joined us for Survive: Escape from Atlantis!, complete with John’s newly acquired expansions: the Giant Squid, Dolphins and Dive Dice. We went all-out and threw everything onto the table, hoping for a newly chaotic experience. It turned out pretty similar to normal Survive, but the new elements did add a certain fun novelty. I’d expected the Squid to play a much larger role than it ended up playing – its power to eat meeples off adjacent land hexes and pick individual meeples off boats sounds outrageously powerful on paper, but I think we only lost two or three meeples to squid attack throughout the whole game.

It may have been that the sheer number of creatures on the board diluted the effects somewhat (we’d added five squid and four or five dolphins), and the Dive Dice meant that we were quite often able to manoeuvre the creatures away from our swimmers / rowers / unsuspecting squid-victim walkers. It might be best to go for one expansion at a time to retain as much “take that!” screwery as possible… or we may have just had an unusual game.

"Mmmmm. Your friend was tasty."

“Mmmmm. Your friend was tasty.”

Olly managed to rescue eight of his ten meeples for a total of 23 points, which was bigger than the combined total of my rescues (12) and John’s (8). Double-win for Olly.

The final game of the night was also from John’s bag of goodies: Fearsome Floors. In fact, being a copy of the cheaper German edition, it was Finstere Flure, but John gave a us a very thorough rules run-down in English. It’s a race game designed by Friedemann Friese, in which the object is to get your four young, delicious humans across the board from one corner to the opposite without them being eaten by a monster. The monster moves according to a simple set of rules after everyone has moved their people, so each round sees the players trying to strike a balance between moving towards the exit and guiding the monster towards their opponents.

There are a couple of key things that you need to get your head round to function properly in Fearsome Floors:

  • After a player piece has been moved, it’s flipped over to its other side for the next round. The movement points on the two sides of each piece add up to 7, which is fairly even for the pieces with a 3 and 4… but the 6-and-1 piece really needs some thought to be used effectively.
  • The player who moves the last piece of the round can make dramatic changes to the movement of the monster, so it’s a fairly powerful position to be in (typical Friese!).

One of the immediate joys of this game is the ability to create your own monster from various slot-together card body-parts. Lloyd was hovering near the table, with not quite enough time to play a game but not quite wanting to leave yet either, so he helped construct our monster. As a result, we ended up with a pink slime monster with a very dapper right arm and leg (complementing Lloyd’s après-dance waistcoat and bow-tie), as well as a top hat balanced on his eyeball head. Oh, and a second head as well.

"And tonight, performing the merengue... err... how do you pronounce this? Rrrffththlllaagaagahhhghh? Is that right?"

“And tonight, performing the merengue… err… how do you pronounce this? Rrrffththlllaagaaghhhghh? Is that right?”

And with the Frankenbeast assembled, we set about getting our humans out of danger. It quickly became apparent that I wasn’t going to do very well at this game. I could attribute it to fatigue (I think it was well after 11 pm when we started), but it’s probably just a personal weakness when it comes to spatial puzzling. I often don’t “see” things that others do – I’d made a few unforced errors in Hive earlier on – which is easily turned to my disadvantage. I got more of a handle on it towards the end of the game, but by then I’d had at least four pieces sent back to the start (which is what happens to them if they’re attacked by the monster in the first seven rounds), so I was well behind.

John got his second piece out of the exit before either Olly or I had saved even one. Given that the game is won when a player gets their third piece out of the exit, even after we’d got some pieces out, Olly and I had to join forces to try to delay John’s victory. I had everything sorted – I would sacrifice one of my gang to lead the monster through a secret passage to near the exit; meanwhile, Olly and I had cleared our pieces near the exit out of the way so that the emerging monster would turn and eat John’s piece. The only way it could fail was if the monster movement card that round was the one with a value of 5.

And, of course, it was exactly that card. Bum. John took an easy victory. It was a fun game, even if it wasn’t one to which I’m particularly well suited. It plays up to seven players, which is (a) useful for larger groups, and (b) potentially hilariously chaotic, so I’ll look out for it being played at future sessions.

It was well after midnight by that point, and there was only The Resistance being played, so I called it a night. I’m not sure anything stands out as a highlight this time. It was just a good, solid evening of quality gaming!

[Speaking of The Resistance, it was interesting to note that it was played a lot over the course of the evening. (You can always tell when it’s happening, because there’s someone loudly declaiming things like,”Everybody close their eyes… Now all the spies open their eyes…”. If it’s the Avalon version, it’s even weirder because they’re doing stuff with their thumbs.) I wonder if its recent appearance on the web series TableTop has resulted in more people buying and playing it. I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that it’s not really my sort of thing. It’s a “people” game rather than a “things” game, and I like “things” (boards, cards, wooden bits, bakelite invertebrates, whatever)… but I think if I could round up six or seven good friends – people I know really, really well – who were willing to play it, I’d probably love it.]

For once, I took all my own pictures, but I’ll point you in the direction of the Newcastle Gamers Google+ page anyway for promotional purposes. Second and last Saturday of every month, 4:30 pm until we drop at Christ Church, Shieldfield, Newcastle upon Tyne!

Newcastle Gamers – Saturday 13 April 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After a few rounds, on the transition into Step 2

After a few rounds, on the transition into Step 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hanabi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newcastle Gamers – Saturday 9 March 2013

One month older and with a +1 modifier to Progeny, I returned to Newcastle Gamers. Visiting in-laws meant I was able to make the 4:30 start of the session, and I’m so glad I did. If I hadn’t, I would have missed Keyflower.

This had been one of John S’s birthday games, received just a few days beforehand; having given it an inaugural two-player run at home, he was keen to try it with a larger group. Keyflower plays up to six, but we kept things sensible with a group of four: John, me, Olly and Camo. My psychic powers had foretold that this game would be hitting the table (i.e. John had mentioned it on Google+), so I’d watched through Richard Ham’s excellent play through video in an attempt to get a handle on the rules. (I’d also had a go at reading the rulebook, but it wasn’t desperately clear to my baby-addled brain.) John’s excellent rules explanation bolstered my confidence in my grasp of the gameplay, and we entered into the first of four seasons in the “Key” world – actually, given the designers’ penchant for calling everything “Key-x“, it’s probably called the “Keyniverse”. Continue reading

Newcastle Gamers – Saturday 9 February 2013

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

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

Newcastle Gamers – Saturday 26 January 2013

As usual, the last Saturday of the month brings with it a glorious grab-bag of gaming in the form of Newcastle Gamers. To avoid the usual “standing around awkwardly trying to figure out what to play and with whom”, there’d been a bit of pre-arrangement on Google+, so I entered the room carrying what I knew would be my first game of the night.

That game was Québec. It seems to be a relatively little-known game published by Ystari in 2011. Why isn’t it more popular? Well, I don’t think the box helps.
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Newcastle Gamers – Saturday 12 January 2013

Saturday saw the first Newcastle Gamers session of the year, so it seems as good a time as any to write my first gaming session report. And what a session.

I’d made prior arrangements with Olly and John S to have a crack at High Frontier. It’s a game of space flight and exploitation of the natural resources of the solar system. A game of high technology and high risks. A game where water is both currency and rocket fuel. And it’s a game of ridiculous complexity. Take a look at the game board:

Photo by Olly

I think my brain got decommissioned during an aerobrake manoeuvre

Yep, that’s the inner solar system, but not as you might know it. The lines are possible paths that your rocket can take, burning fuel if it changes course or passes through a particularly gravity-ridden stretch of space. The object of the game is to prospect various sites (the black hexagons on the board) for minerals, and then build factories on your successful prospecting claims. These factories can then build more advanced rocket technologies, enabling you to explore and exploit further, faster or more efficiently. Or maybe even all three. Continue reading