Tag Archives: shipyard

Gametown Top Ranking

While listening to Heavy Cardboard episode 52 (Amanda and Edward revealing their top 50 games each), I naturally started thinking about the games that would make it into my “Top N” list. I don’t think I could sensibly manage N=50; even with the length of time I’ve been seriously gaming, I’d probably struggle to drum up 50 games I’ve played more than once and I don’t think I can legitimately pass judgement on a game I’ve only touched on a single occasion. N=10 would be manageable, but liable to change on a moment’s notice.

So I thought I’d do something a bit different: a couple of favourite games in each of ten different categories, giving me a “sort of top 20 games list” to come back to in a year or two and scoff at.

All-Time Classics

You know, the sort of games that are always hovering around people’s top-10 lists, usually in the top 10 or 20 on BGG and often more than a few years old.

Agricola

Agricola

Yeah, you know it’s still the best game ever. Building a food engine, improving the farm, grabbing stuff, keeping an eye on everyone else and making sure you know when they’re going to be grabbing stuff, making sure you have enough food for Harvest… The game wants to kill you, but it wants you to have fun anyway.

I haven’t played it for ages though, which is partly due to the constant influx of new games and partly due to the company I keep – quite a few people don’t want to play with certain other people because those certain other people are so good at Agricola that there’s no chance of winning. Doesn’t bother me though. Agricola‘s always a good time, win or lose.

Twilight Struggle

If I’ve got 3–6 hours and a single willing victim, this is the game of choice for me. Of course, those being fairly restrictive criteria and being married to someone who (by and large) doesn’t play board games… again, this one doesn’t get played enough for my liking. The new digital adaptation by Playdek does an OK job and I need to dig into it more to get my head round the interface, but nothing beats the raw tension of playing TS in person.

Heavy Euros

The real brain-burning brutes with plenty of bits of wood being pushed around.

Madeira

See all my red workers in the fields? See my red square action marker in Moinho? That's my engine, that is.

Sounding like a stuck record already, but… I need to play this more. It’s fun, it’s long, it’s oddly lovely to look at and sweet lord it hurts. It’s (usually) obvious what you need to do in order to score in the next scoring round, but how you actually get to do those things and pay for them… that’s a whole other challenge.

Through the Ages

Possibly cheating with this one, because I’ve never played it face-to-face and I haven’t played the new version; it’s all been on BGO with the original (or very slightly tweaked) rules. It’s a masterpiece of horribly tight resource management and tableau building, which are two of my favourite things in games.

Lighter Euros

Shipyard

Rondels, rondels, rondels. Ships so long they look like oil tankers. The weird canal-maze-tile-laying subgame. This one’s greater than the sum of its parts, and its parts are pretty great.

Trajan

Trajan

So simple, yet tough to pull off well because of that mancala mechanism for action selection. And it works really well at all player counts from two to four.

Economic Games

Basically a way to get a few more heavy euro-type games in. Brass nearly got in here, so consider it an “honourable mention”.

Food Chain Magnate

FCM Olly

Like most Splotter games, FCM is non-stop tough from start to finish and things can go horribly wrong for you… but it’s quite often your fault when that happens and you can learn a lesson for the next time you play. And then you’ll mess up something else and get better again. So many strategies I’ve yet to try.

1865: Sardinia

This is really here as a representative of 18xx as a whole, but I think 1865 might well be my favourite. It’s small and tight, and it eliminates a lot of the fiddliness of more traditional 18xx games by virtue of players never having to calculate their most lucrative routes. So where the final rounds of many 18xx games can bog down into hours of “well, if I put a station there it blocks that, but if I upgrade this track then I get $10 extra…”, 1865 retains all the good stuff and skips along nicely to the end.

Cooperative Games

Pandemic

Pandemic

Quite enough has already been said and written across the web about Pandemic; I’ll say nothing other than that I think it’s the best cooperative game around.

Ghost Stories

Ghost Stories

While Ghost Stories isn’t heavy by any stretch of the imagination, it’s hard. Really hard. And really fun, as long as you can cope with the fact you’ll very probably lose.

Two-Player Abstract Games

I do love a good two-player abstract, and I’m trying to indoctrinate my kids in the joys of the classic white-vs-black board game.

Hive

Hive

Yes, white should win in an evenly matched game, but it’s still an excellent game. Although it looks like you’ve got loads of choices on your turn, there are very often only one or two that make any tactical sense, so it’s usually quick to play and easy to convince your opponent to play another round.

YINSH

Definite cheating here because I’ve only played this once, but I think this might be a truly excellent game and I want to play it a lot to get better at it.

Family Games

Stuff that my kids – and even my wife – will happily play and/or request.

Indigo

Indigo

For some reason, my kids love this Knizia game. I think it’s pretty good too, and it has the added benefit of being really handsome on the table.

Ticket to Ride series

Ticket to Ride

OK, I’m not a huge fan of TtR (especially the original US board), but I think it helps consolidate a lot of basic game concepts for my kids and will hopefully prove to be a decent stepping stone to more complex games.

Wargames

D-Day at Omaha Beach

DDaOB featured image

Because I don’t have any face-to-face wargaming buddies I can play with on a regular basis, it’s obvious that the king of all solitaire wargames is sitting here. Never mind that it’s incredibly tough and your troops will be picked off by the Wiederstandsnests as they move up the beach; this is a beautifully designed challenge for the solo gamer.

Red Winter: The Soviet Attack at Tolvajärvi, Finland 8–12 December 1939

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This was my real introduction to hex-and-counter gaming, and it remains my absolute favourite two-player wargame. Why? Low counter density, relatively low rules complexity and a beautiful map that – while as free as any other – encourages certain types of movement and play while leaving the door open for the odd surprise manoeuvre. Fantastic design. I’ve been trying to get my head into the sequel, Operation Dauntless, but the added chrome and armour rules mean it’s been a bit opaque.

Solitaire Games

Mage Knight

If I’ve got a whole evening alone, I’ll quite often set this up and… well, usually lose. But the puzzle! Oh, the puzzle. Every hand of cards is a different puzzle with loads of solutions, but usually only one of those solutions will get you where you wanted and with the right cards left over to successfully defeat the next challenge.

Friday

I could write almost exactly the same about Friday as I did about Mage Knight, except it doesn’t take a whole evening. Simple, yet satisfying.

Fillers / Party Games

Codenames

I’ve only played this a handful of times, and never with more than four players (so I have yet to experience the chaos and fun of larger teams) but I know it’s a genuine masterpiece of game design. So, so simple, yet so, so tough on the brain whichever side of the table you’re sitting.

Coloretto

Coloretto

I don’t think I’ve played another filler that engenders such furious bouts of swearing as Coloretto. It’s one of those “gentle” games where you can be genuinely horrible to people without directly stealing from them or anything like that. Again, a brilliant bit of game design.

So there it is. My pseudo-top-20 list. What did I miss off? What entire categories of game did I neglect to include? Let me know.

Oh, and I couldn’t neglect to include this little pop gem.

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 11 October 2014

or Three is the Magic Number

Five very different games, all with three players. Now that’s a good session.

I began with Vladimír Suchý’s Shipyard, which looked to be a two-player game with Olly until Chris turned up just as I was about to embark (no ship-related pun intended) on the rules. Many of my favourite euros (particularly Stefan Feld games) are simply a vaguely connected bunch of mechanisms that slot together into a semi-coherent whole, and Shipyard fits into that category beautifully. With the industrial-revolution-era-shipbuilding theme tacked on, it’s so far up my street that it shares my postcode. Where Shipyard differs from many Feld games is that there’s only one main way to obtain victory points: building and sailing your ships.

If you don’t like rondels, look away now. Shipyard is full of rondels. There’s a rondel on which players place their workers to choose an action (four of which direct the player to another rondel); there’s a rondel governing commodity prices; there’s a rondel for choosing which employee to take; there’s even a concentric pair of rondels. Yes, rondels within rondels. This is rondel madness. But it works, especially the very elegant worker-placement rondel which not only defines income and the choices of players as it progresses, but also acts as the game timer, with an n-player game lasting laps of the rondel.

The rondels on the board go round and round... [Note: this picture isn't from Saturday. I didn't get a decent picture on the night, so here's one from a different session.]

The rondels on the board go round and round… [Note: this picture isn’t from Saturday. I didn’t get a decent picture on the night, so this one’s from a different session.]

The initial draw of government contracts left me feeling a little deflated; I had no killer combos and barely anything to aim towards. I settled into the groove for “5 VPs for each ship with all three safety features” and “3 VPs per propeller”, nabbing early in the game the employee that allows the fitting of an extra propeller. Chris, meanwhile, got his first ship built and sailed within the first half-lap of the action rondel. Olly took several employees quite early on (I think he had five by the end of the game), giving him some very handy bonuses when taking actions. A free businessman here, a free advance around a rondel there… I felt like I had some catching up to do.

Chris seemed to be churning out ships at an alarming rate, sailing them with very little on board and often with quite low speed, but there was clearly some grand scheme at play. (He let slip that he was aiming towards the government contract offering points for ships of exactly five ship tiles.) My ships were all reasonably fast and loaded with propellers, but not much more. Olly, on the other hand, took a while to sail his first ship, but when he did it was a thing of beauty. A supertanker, seven tiles long, loaded to the gunwales with businessmen, cranes and as many other bits as he could fit on board. It was worth a pile of points, but it seemed unlikely he’d get more than two such beasts finished in the game; I, on the other hand, was going for medium length and strength in numbers.

The thing with Shipyard is that the end of the game rolls around really quickly. Each player gets 25 actions for the whole game, and the last lap of the action rondel can take you by surprise. So it was for Olly and Chris, who ended up in the situation of having a final action that was pointless (Chris) or unaffordable (Olly). I make it sound like I’d planned everything perfectly, but no – although I could make full use of my final actions, I could tell they weren’t going to be enough to win the game. Olly’s behemoths had pushed him well ahead, while Chris’s steady churning of ships from his yard had been a solid points-winner.

My final, slightly dismal sihpyard

My final, slightly dismal shipyard

We revealed our secret government contracts to little surprise. Scoring them was a different matter. Olly was aiming for businessman–crane pairs (and scored lots thereof) and long ships (memory fails me here, but I think he sailed two, which gave the maximum bonus anyway), giving a bonus of 30 points; I had three ships with all three safety features, and five propellers across my fleet, for an identical bonus of 30; Chris, however, stunned us with his 16 points from used canal tiles. On top of his 22 from four length-five ships, his 38-point bonus sneaked the win by a single point.

Final score – Chris: 94 / Olly: 93 / Me: 72

Yes, an uninspiring performance from me. I definitely felt hampered by my government contracts, but even if I’d chosen a different pair to go for I don’t think I would have kept up with the other two.

Chris left and was replaced at the table by Jack, game designerformer game publisher and co-host of Newcastle Playtest. I’d brought Trains, which Olly recommended we play as a research tool for Jack’s deckbuilding work-in-progress Codename: Vacuum. Having not played Trains for over a year, I had to have a quick dive through the rules, but most of the concepts are so generic to all deckbuilders that it wasn’t long before we were up and running.

I was attempting the Trains equivalent of Dominion‘s simple “big money” strategy: use money to buy bigger money, then eventually spend lots of money on victory points. As a result, once I’d built enough rails to make it unappealingly expensive to invade “my” territory, I started passing up chances to lay more rails and it felt like I was falling behind a bit on the board. Then – kapow – the big money kicked in and I was able to buy a few Control Room cards. With a simple power of “draw three cards”, these quickly turned into a bit of a killer combo. Several times, I played a Control Room to draw three cards, one of which was a Control Room which allowed me to draw three more. There was very often a Landfill and some Waste in amongst my now massive hand, so I could keep my deck relatively lean of Waste and buy the VP cards.

I still wasn’t sure if I’d done enough on the board though, and the endgame went on a little longer than any of us expected, allowing everyone to get in on the VP-card-buying action. When the last station was built, marking the end of the game, I was well behind on the board scoring. Thankfully, my early switch to buying VP cards worked out in the end, giving me something like 26 points from cards alone and boosting me to a solid win (49 points, with Olly and Jack on 41 and 40… and no, I can’t remember which way round they were).

All of us agreed that Trains is substantially more interesting than Dominion, and I’d like to play it a lot more often than annually. With thirty card types from which to select eight per game, there are (by my calculations) 5,852,925 different card combinations to explore. Not to mention two sides of the board. And that’s just the base game. So yeah – a few more plays until that one’s exhausted its possibilities.

Next was Jack’s copy of Carcassonne: The City; this isn’t one of the many expansions, but a standalone cousin to the ubiquitous tile-laying euro gateway game. I like Carcassonne quite a bit, and it sees a fair bit of time on the table at home – it’s one of the few games that my kids can play and, crucially, want to play. (Note: we play without farmers with the kids. Give them a few years…) So I was very happy to try the City variation, if only to play spot-the-difference.

It turned out to be a strange conceptual battle between the familiar, the novel and the needlessly confusing… but oh! How beautiful!

SPOILER ALERT: this is the end of the game.

SPOILER ALERT: this is at the end of the game.

Yes, it’s a very pretty game on the table. I mean, I think normal Carc is pretty, but this is something else when you enter the second phase and start building the city walls.

The first phase introduces the main bit of needless confusion: the brown and green colour scheme from Carcassonne is reversed. Green means markets, which hold a meeple until they’re completed; brown means residential areas, which retain their meeple in repose until the end-game scoring. This kept confusing me for at least two-thirds of the game. But with that comes the first novel mechanism: the only features that need to match at tile edges are roads. This has the benefit of making it much easier to complete markets (which can be achieved by simply butting them up squarely to a residential area), but that’s not necessarily something you want to do.

Why? Well, the second phase introduces the walls, which are built in sections every time a feature within the city is scored. Finish a market? Everyone builds a bit of wall. Complete a road? Everyone builds a bit of wall. And with walls come guards, who watch over the city in a straight line and score points for buildings of historical interest in their view. While this is a very interesting (and yes, visually attractive) addition, it does mean the game suddenly bogs down heavily. And while each player only has two possibilities for placing their wall piece, there’s all sorts of looking along lines and counting up possible points totals in order to avoid gifting a huge guard bonus to the next player. When you reach the third phase and each completed feature heralds two rounds of wall-building… it starts to feel a bit mechanically stodgy.

There are also little tweaks like roads scoring 1–2–3–8–10–12–…, meaning there’s a huge benefit to getting to four tiles on a road; also the fact that you can’t place a meeple to score a feature that will be completed by the tile you’re placing. Just a few extra things to bear in mind.

Olly fell behind slightly in points towards the end of the game, but he completely overhauled me in the final scoring of residential stewards (that’s farmers for those of you playing along at home), while Jack powered away to win by about ten points over Olly.

Looking back, I’ve used all sorts of negative words and phrases, but I did actually really enjoy the game. Yes, it’s fiddly and slow in places, and irritatingly familiar-yet-alien, but I’d absolutely play it again.

There was a quick round of Love Letter before Jack left (we played to four points, Jack winning 4–3–3 by virtue of Olly playing the Baron on my Countess with his Princess… meaning I was out and it was obvious to Jack’s Guard exactly which card Olly was holding) and then Graham joined Olly and me for Quantum. Olly had forewarned us about sticky, misshapen dice, but… wow. They really were manky things, like a fine layer of cheap strawberry jam had been permanently applied to each surface. Presumably this was part of the manufacturing process.

Petrochemical/confectionery mishaps aside, there was a lot to like about Quantum. It’s pretty straightforward, plays quickly and has a lot of interaction/conflict/in-yer-face-stuff going on throughout. It was almost over before we properly got started when Graham found the beauty of the 3–5 combo (use the special power of the 3-die to swap places with the 5-die, then easily move the 5-die into orbit with the 3-die for an instant required total of 8) and placed most of his quantum cubes in the early rounds, but then Olly and I kept him in check with a constant barrage of brutal attacks.

Graham probably felt a little ganged-up-on after he’d leapt ahead, but it just seems to be that sort of game. It’s a fairly tight little board for three players, giving it that “knife fight in a phone booth” feel. Because there was so much combat going on, my Dominance die (add one per combat victory) was slowly creeping up towards 6. With two cubes left to place, I managed to place both in one turn – one from battering a ship to death with my Battlestation thus pushing my Dominance up to 6, which grants an instant cube placement, and the last one from the 3–5 combo we’d seen Graham use in the early game. Instant win for me, even though I’d spent most of the game struggling to spot the right moves to make.

If Quantum had been a longer game, I don’t think I’d be that keen on it. But as an end-of-the-night, swingy, conflict-heavy, 45–60-minute space game, I think it hits the spot. Once Olly’s got some non-sticky replacement dice out of the publisher, it’ll be great.

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 midnight at Christ Church, Shieldfield, Newcastle upon Tyne!