Tag Archives: splendor

Spring Games Weekend 2016

Last weekend was the spring 2016 instalment of the biannual “weekend away playing games in a bunkhouse”, featuring John Sh (of Corbridge Gamers) for the first time and lacking John Si, even though he’d organised the whole thing as usual. We also lost regular attendee Ben at the last minute, due to a situation involving train tickets, credit cards and flatmates.

We kicked off Friday afternoon in the usual “quick, light games while people are arriving” style with Camel Up, this time with the extended racetrack and supporting dice, just to spice things up a little. After spending most of the game thinking I had it in the bag, Graham R completely overhauled me in the final scoring, getting 8 Egyptian pounds in each of the “overall winner” and “overall loser” betting.

Final score – Graham R: 40 / Me: 33 / Graham B: 29 / Olly: 20 / Ali: 17 / Camo: 11

With all likely interested people present, four of us settled into 1862: Railway Mania in the Eastern Counties for the rest of the day. It actually wasn’t that long in the playing (somewhere around the seven-hour mark), but rules explanation was lengthy and intense and we broke off for Ali to cook for everyone, as well as to eat. 1862 is a really small, tight map with up to sixteen companies fighting it out in East Anglia; with great leniency in terms of forced train purchases and company refinancing, it’s much more a route-engineering game than a stock-market-manipulation game, so it was a nice change of pace from 1830.

The beginning of the game. Not many hexes; far too many companies.

The beginning of the game. Not many hexes; far too many companies. And no, it’s not winning any graphic design awards, but it’s 18xx so no one cares.

Financial leniency doesn’t mean rules simplicity though, with each company potentially being either chartered (via an auction in the Parliament Round and fully capitalised) or non-chartered (started by buying shares in the typical 18xx way, but only partially capitalised), and each one having a random permit to run only one type of train (Freight, Local or Express, with Local being the most like the standard 1830 sort of train and Freight being… genuinely a bit weird). Coupling all that with rules for company mergers and acquisitions, it felt a bit daunting to begin with, but we quickly hit the usual sort of rhythm.

The game opens with two Parliament Rounds, which we all took as a sort of indication that we should probably start two chartered companies each. Well, maybe we shouldn’t have in reality – starting two chartered companies in the opening of a four-player game means setting a par price at the very low end of the spectrum (both of mine were at £54, on the £54–100 scale), which came back to bite me in the arse royally towards the end of the game.

With eight companies started in the opening minutes of the game, there was a massive train rush and we hit the green tiles very quickly. To be honest, the train rush never stopped; I’d be surprised if we played more than seven or eight whole rounds in the entire game, so quickly were the companies ploughing through the pile of trains. I spent much of the early game (or, really, much of the game) deliberately blocking people from my lucrative routes and keeping them away from the juiciest connections near me, which meant my companies (L&H running Freight trains, FDR running Express) were among the highest earners in the early game.

Talking of blocking, it was a key component of this game. Combinations of tile choice and station token placement meant that the board was essentially divided into a north half and south half, with only a couple of railroads able to run through the division. I don’t think any of us twigged early enough that “normal” cities (i.e. without special named tiles) didn’t get any bigger than two station spots, so congestion was guaranteed on this tiny map.

Coming into the final set of operating rounds.

Coming into the final set of operating rounds, just after the collapse of the FDR.

There were a few mergers and a fair few bouts of refinancing in order to be able to afford trains, but I got bitten heavily just before the end of the game when there was an even faster rush through the last few train types. My FDR found itself with neither a train nor much money. Because the opening par price had been set at £54, refinancing would only bring in £540 and that was nowhere near enough for an £800 train. That meant the FDR was bankrupt and folded immediately. Disaster – that was my big earner. If I’d withheld revenue just once, I think I could have managed, but the train rush really was that fast. I went from feeling safe to utterly destroyed.

That was the end of my game, really. I think the FDR collapsed in the last set of normal ORs, and the final set (once the first H train had been bought) were simply “work out your revenue and get it three times”. Graham had played the centre of the map really nicely (he could run trains through that central divide I mentioned), but Ali had worked well to overcome all my blocking manoeuvres and he was director of three pretty good earners by the end and had a large portfolio of other shares. It was pretty obvious he’d taken the win, but the margins weren’t clear until the final reckoning.

Final score – Ali: £7835 / Graham B: £6413 / Olly: £5949 / Me: £5705

A decisive victory, and a cracking game. Really enjoyed this one, even though we didn’t finish until after 1 am.

Late finish, bad night’s sleep and woken at the crack of dawn by road noise and daylight (both things I’m unused to at home) meant my brain was pretty frazzled on the Saturday morning. I wasn’t the only one, and much of the day was spent on lighter fare.

John, Olly, Camo and I started with Kingdom Builder, with loads of oddities from the Big Box edition. Wagons, boats, soldiers… it was no surprise that I came in last, with John’s win nearly doubling my 43 points. I nearly made it up in The King of Frontier, but a rough tile draw (and John’s good fortune with the tiles) meant I came in just two points behind his winning 39.

Graham R joined us for Keyflower, in which he schooled us all on his first play (just like Camel Up the day before) by getting a tile that scored for every good on it and just piling those goods on. Olly managed to get close, but the rest of us… well… see for yourself:

Final score – Graham R: 80 / Olly: 70 / John: 45 / Me: 44 / Camo: 26

My dismal little village.

My comparatively dismal little village.

Terra Mystica took up what felt like the bulk of the afternoon, but it was only 2.5 hours, so it might just have taken up the bulk of my brain power for the afternoon. Graham R was replaced by Graham B, and Camo by Ali. Playing the Dwarves for the first time was interesting – tunnelling is great, not only for building further afield but also for just getting 4 points every time. Olly’s Nomads had the “sandstorm” power, allowing for an extra build once per round (and he built his Stronghold in the first round, so he got plenty of use out of that power) so it was nigh-on impossible to keep up with him for the largest-settlement bonus at the end of the game. Didn’t stop me trying though, so I at least ended up in second place for that competition.

Ali didn’t get his Witches’ Stronghold built until much later on, so he couldn’t get much use out of his flying power, although he did build a few towns and get the bonus points for doing so as Witches. John’s Mermaids were terrifyingly agile when it came to spreading around the board, but I largely concentrated on consolidating one large settlement and racking up the tunnelling points.

The end of the game.

The end of the game. Dwarves (grey) clearly stuck to the bottom-right corner. Halflings (brown) don’t look too intimidating on the board, but…

As I can imagine often happens, I regretted a couple of late decisions regarding losing VPs to gain Power (I really should have taken the Power), but I don’t think it would have greatly affected the final result, even though it turned out very tight indeed. In a clear sign of a Well Balanced Game, there was an eight-point spread across five players.

Final score – Graham: 97 / Me: 94 / Ali: 93 / Olly: 91 / John: 89

Great stuff – I’d been wondering how it would play with more than two, and I’m glad it turned out to be just as excellent.

After Paperclip Railways (so tired that I have no idea what happened or how I drew for first place with Olly – losing on the tie break), Trans Europa (a runaway win, but at least this one’s really simple) and a meal, Graham B, Ali and I settled into Tigris & Euphrates for the rest of the evening. I’d played the old iOS version a fair bit and Graham knew the game, but Ali has played T&E hundreds of times since it first came out 19 years ago. For reasons of table space and novelty value, we played on my new Fantasy Flight edition rather than Ali’s German first edition. (I think the new leaders are easier to read on the table, but the plastic monuments are just horrible. Thankfully, in two games, we only had one monument on the board.)

It's Tigris & Euphrates, but not as we know it.

It’s Tigris & Euphrates, but not as we know it.

With his experience, Ali vigorously schooled us in the first (relatively quick) game (13/6/6), so we reset and played again. This time we were more cautious, although we all started out fairly close together in the middle of the board and there were a lot of conflicts. Graham came out on top in quite a few of them, which boosted his scores a fair bit and he took the win, 12/8/8.

Nobody makes games like Tigris & Euphrates any more, which is kind of a shame, but at the same time it’s hard to improve on that mixture of points-accumulation and insane aggression. Maybe nobody needs to make games like this any more. Knizia got it right the first time.

At the point where we should have gone to bed, we played Splendor. Graham’s played this a lot more than Ali or I have, so Graham’s 19/7/6 win wasn’t a surprise.

After sleeping like the dead, we didn’t have long before being turfed out on the Sunday morning so Graham, Ali and I were joined by Camo to continue our “classic aggressive-euro Knizia in FFG edition” theme with Samurai. Ali and I both felt the pain of the tile draw, although I managed to do OK for castles. It wasn’t quite OK enough; tying with Camo, no one took the scoring tile for castles. He and Graham took one scoring tile each so it went to the first tiebreaker, with Camo winning on most other pieces won.

We couldn’t go an entire day without a train game, so five of us had a last-minute bash at Paris Connection / SNCF. It turned out a bit odd, with one colour not getting off 0 on the stock value track, one on 5 and the other four all on 10. That meant high chances of ties, and indeed…

Final score – Me: 100 / Graham B: 100 / Graham R: 95 / Olly: 90 / James: 90

With no tiebreaker in the rules, a shared victory was an excellent way to end an excellent weekend of excellent games with excellent people. Roll on the next one!

Newcastle Gamers – Saturday 25 April 2015

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

(with apologies to Monty Python)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I didn’t even get a photo.

sigh

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