Tag Archives: suburbia

October Gaming Roundup

Picking back through my logged plays on BoardGameGeek has got a bit more difficult now that I’ve made the decision to log plays of digital/online games as long as they’re against real people. It was starting to feel ridiculous having only two or three logged plays of, say, Castles of Burgundy when I’ve played it online (on Boîte à Jeux) 18 times against real people. I’ve also been playing online quite a bit recently, not only on Boîte à Jeux but also Board Game Arena and Yucata. As I write, I’ve got two games of Trajan on the go, plus one each of HivePuerto Rico and Tash Kalar.

But I’ll concentrate here on face-to-face gaming, facing real people with their real faces. John Sh and I played Nations at the start of October, which was (as I so often seem to say) something I’d wanted to play for a while. I like Through the Ages a lot (although I’ve only played it online and not for a while, so… no logged plays on BGG – sigh), so I was interested to play this apparently streamlined distillation of the essence of TtA, especially in advance of the new edition of TtA. The influence is blatant, but the differences are abundant – and nothing is more different than the military system, which removes virtually all of the player-vs-player nastiness of TtA.

We opted to play the “advanced” sides of our player boards, even though it was my first time playing. I’m a big fan of asymmetry and it wasn’t a change of rules – simply a difference in starting resources and a small special power. My empire of Rome pushed me towards a military strategy straight away, while John’s Egyptians were clearly much more peaceful; indeed, John renounced the military game pretty much immediately, in favour of being able to build more stuff while I pummelled him as much as the game would allow… which wasn’t actually much. A few bonuses here, a few things taken away there – I probably lost just as much stuff from being behind on the stability track for much of the game.

Everything progressed in a fairly TtA-ish way, with bigger and better cards coming out as each era began, slowly replacing our buildings and/or military units. The last couple of rounds became a slightly mathsy parallel-solo optimisation puzzle, which wasn’t a problem in and of itself, but it did detract a little from the civ-building theme. In the end, we totted up our points to find that my Romans had beaten Egypt, 36 to 28.

Overall, Nations does a decent job of simmering the civ-building genre down into a palatable play-length. It just doesn’t quite match the grand feeling of Through the Ages, but that’s OK – it’s a very enjoyable game in its own right.

A week later (and after a Newcastle Gamers session in the middle), John and I met again for Suburbia. Astonishingly, this was only John’s second play of Suburbia, having played it when I picked it up just after Essen 2012. That first time round, he’d taken an early lead, which is generally a Very Bad Idea in Suburbia, and he spent the rest of the game being pummelled by the red lines on the Population board reducing his Income and Reputation. Not an enjoyable introduction to the game, and he’d understandably been a bit put off.

The pain had dimmed to a dull ache after three years, so we attacked the base game again. It was all fairly close (and John edged ahead for a while) until very late on in the game, when my experience showed through (with a bit of good luck) and I was ready for the uncertainty of the game-end timing in the C stack. John got slightly too hammered by the red lines again, but not quite enough to push his income down to -5 on the last turn like mine. That meant I took the Miser goal (lowest income) and the Aquaphobian goal (fewest lakes), because John had to build a second lake when he had no money left and had used all three of his Investment Markers. We each made our private goals, but that wasn’t enough to stop me soaring ahead in the final scoring: 169–130. I’m pretty sure that’s my highest score ever. I mean, 130 is pretty damn good, but 169 is ridiculous.

The key thing is that John enjoyed Suburbia much more this time round, which means there’s less chance of it languishing on the shelf – that’s great, given that I’ve just bought the Suburbia 5★ expansion.

We finished off with John introducing me to Arboretum, which is a fabulously thinky little card game. It’s like a two-dimensional Lost Cities, with elements of tableau building and hand management thrown together into a simple-yet-oh-so-AP-inducing super-filler. John was planting some lucrative-looking trees in his arboretum, so I made sure to hang on to high-value cards in those suits so he hopefully couldn’t score them. Meanwhile, I was struggling to plant anything useful in my own tableau, with a hand full of 6s, 7s and 8s. At the end, the vast majority of my success came from denying John the ability to score his trees, so it was a low-scoring victory for me, 16–11.

Continuing the “gaming weekend” theme from last month, I had a weekend alone with our 8-year-old. J (as I shall refer to him, given that it’s his initial) has enjoyed a few of the games from my collection over recent years, but he’s just turning a developmental corner which means he can really start planning ahead. Oh, and he can read fluently now, which is a great help for games covered in text. Being an 8-year-old boy (and a voracious reader), he’s much more interested in fantasy creatures and exciting gameplay than economic models and quiet contemplation of worker placement, so we took a trip to Travelling Man in Newcastle, to see if there was anything we both fancied the look of. We ended up leaving with Small World, which is pretty distant from my usual gaming territory, but I know it has a reputation for being ‘fun’, if nothing else, and J was drawn to the artwork, the presence of wizards and dragons (just like in his favourite books) and the fact it was for “age 8+”. (As an aside, I’m quite proud that he declared the newly released Star Wars Carcassonne to be “a ridiculous idea”; it certainly looks it.)

Over the weekend, we managed:

  • Castle Panic × 2 (too light for me, and too easy to win, but just right for J – again, including the theme)
  • Small World (what fun there is largely comes from the race/power combos – J got Heroic Halflings and thrashed me 95–75)
  • Carcassonne (probably the last time we’ll play this for a while – I’m just too nasty, which is what I enjoy about 2-player Carcassonne)
  • Labyrinth (the old Ravensburger maze one, not the GMT global terrorism one)
  • Forbidden Island (we died pretty early on, even on Novice level)
  • Jungle Speed Safari × 3 (my hands hurt for about four days afterwards)
  • Ingenious (against all odds, J loved this on his first play)

Yes, a weekend of games that aren’t entirely to my taste (except Carc and Ingenious), but that’s not the point. A weekend of games with one of my kids. That’s the point.

Another evening session with John featured the most painful game of Snowdonia I’ve had in a long while. We were trying out the Trans-Australian Railway expansion, but we can’t blame the expansion for our woes. Every so often, the card draw in Snowdonia just doesn’t work out nicely. We had rain after rain after rain, including the Australian “extreme weather” version – floods – meaning the excavation and track-laying were painfully slow. The whole thing took nearly twice as long as it should (we played for getting on towards two hours) and just felt like being battered about the head with a Mallet of Obduracy. I finished the game at the earliest opportunity and won 121–86, essentially by accident. (It possibly should have been 124–90, because we forgot to score double points for the Nullarbor Plains track cards.)

Just over a week later, we held another Corbridge Gamers session, this time swollen in both length and numbers. Olly and Graham came over in the afternoon as well as John, bringing us to four for a good ten hours or so of games. We started with my newly acquired copy of Poseidon, an 18xx-euro hybrid which condenses most of the key elements of 18xx into a fixed-length game full of wooden discs.

We all synchronised fairly well: everybody set up a nation in the first round (my Megalopolis got a bit screwed by John slightly unexpectedly cutting me off, but my plan from the outset had been to keep Megalopolis slow and steady until the final few rounds so it wasn’t too much of a bother) and then we all started a second nation in the same merchant round a while later.

We’d all played 1830 before (although for Graham it had been eight years and for John probably about 25), so there was much “ah, just like 1830” and “oh, this isn’t at all like 1830“. The huge difference is that Poseidon features recapitalisation as part of the game flow. At the start of Phases 2 and 3, nations can add more Potentials (wooden discs) to the Merchant Pool to raise more money for their coffers. That means that (a) there’s a careful balancing element between issuing Potentials as Merchants and using Potentials as Trading Posts on the map; and (b) it’s much more forgiving in terms of being forced to buy trains Ships from personal funds. That latter point, combined with the fact you can’t ever forcibly dump a nation onto someone else – even if they have more shares Merchants than you – makes it a much, much gentler financial game than 1830, and I certainly ended up concentrating very heavily on the map and getting the most out of my remaining Potentials once I’d figured out how many to issue as new Merchants.

Should the Merchant Pool be that full at the end of the game?

Should the Merchant Pool be that full at the end of the game? With a limit of 15 Merchants per player in a 4-player game, it seems likely… although we could maybe have managed nations better and got more Trading Posts on the board instead.

Megalopolis (purple) became very profitable indeed over the last two Operating Rounds Exploration Rounds, but it was too little too late. Olly had run Larissa (orange) very well for the whole game and, although it wasn’t generating a huge revenue in the last rounds, he had seven Merchants from Larissa (and a couple from Megalopolis) so he was bringing in a fair chunk of money each time it set sail. Graham was the only one of us to get seriously burned by the forced purchase of a Ship, which took several hundred drachmas from his personal funds and scuppered his game somewhat in the closing stages.

Final score (in drachmas) – Olly: 3626 / Me: 3296 / John: 3128 / Graham: 2649

I know a few things I did badly and a few things Olly did well, so I reckon I could play substantially better next time. I’m starting to get really excited by the idea of 18xx as a game series. I’ve got my eye on the imminent 1844/1854 double-package from Lookout Games and Olly’s already picked up 1862: Railway Mania in the Eastern Counties, so there’s plenty of possibility for more diverse 18xx in future.

After a quick pub trip for food, we spent the rest of the day engaged in substantially lighter (but excellent) fare. I maintained my 100% win streak in the superb The King of Frontier (Me: 52 / Graham: 44 / John: 42 / Olly: 28), failed miserably at Codenames (which could do with more than four players, to be fair) and came an honourable second in the mayhem that is Camel Up (Graham: 34 / Me: 29 / Olly: 28 / John: 20).

Tucked in among that lot was a successful run through Ghost Stories – yes, we defeated Wu-Feng! OK, it was only on Initiation level, but I tried to avoid quarterbacking too much (I’d had a solo refresher game on Nightmare level that morning and won fairly easily as the yellow Taoist). It was a really tough start to the game, with multiple Haunters coming out early on and several player boards being perilously full, but getting through a tough start means it should be easier later on. And it was for a short while… until Wu-Feng himherself turned up, as the Dark Mistress.

Victory! (A pyrrhic one for Graham, lying dead in the Graveyard.)

Victory! (A pyrrhic one for Graham, lying dead in the Graveyard. And clearly not an easy one for the rest of us.)

Obviously, none of the incarnations of Wu-Feng are exactly fun, but the Dark Mistress is my least favourite of the lot. Throughout the rest of the game, the dice are largely mitigable – in fact, my general rule of thumb is not to bother attempting an exorcism unless I have the Tao tokens available to do it without dice. The Dark Mistress takes that away, requiring three blue dice/tokens to exorcise… except it locks Tao tokens so you can’t use them. You can still use the Circle of Prayer so that’s only two blue (or wild white) dice needed once you’ve put a blue token on the Circle, but even so… it reduces the final encounter to simply rolling dice until either you succeed or you die.

So it wasn’t the greatest ending to Ghost Stories, but at least we won. Hooray!

These monthly roundups are getting out-of-hand lengthy, so I’m going to attempt to do little and often in future. Hopefully there’ll be enough gaming to justify it!

My March in Games

In many ways, my gaming highlight in March was (finally) teaching Hive to my seven-year-old son. Not just because it’s a great game, but because he got it. I barely had to re-explain anything and he could recognise when things were going well and when they were turning bad. Admittedly, I helped him along in quite a few places (because there’s nothing fun about steamrollering a child at a game notorious for requiring an even match of player ability), but he understood exactly why the bad decisions he was mulling over were bad decisions. I foresee many matches of Hive to come in the future – and I foresee him beating me before too long.

The month began excellently (after an early session at Newcastle Gamers) with a game of Madeira against John Sh. I’d recently picked it up at a vaguely bargainous price, intrigued by its reputation as a brutally heavy euro and heartened by the knowledge that it’s a real favourite of Newcastle Gamers chairman John B.

At this point, I’d love to go into a detailed report and analysis of our beautifully constructed strategies and well timed moves. Instead, I’ll just present you with how the board looked at the end of the two-hour game as we sat with our heads in our hands, muttering things like “probably the heaviest euro I’ve ever played” and “that was exhausting”.

So, so, so, SO MANY things to do

So, so, so, SO MANY things to do

Yes, it felt very heavy… but not from being overburdened by elaborate rules. The rules themselves are relatively straightforward (I mean, it’s not Ticket to Ride, but it’s certainly not Mage Knight either); the heaviness comes from the complexity and depth of the interlocking mechanisms and the decisions you have to make on each turn. Resources are tight, in true brutal-euro style, and you only have a small handful of actions available in each round, so there are points where you’re inevitably failing to maintain your boats (if you have to buy wood, the cost scales using the triangular number sequence: 1 wood costs 1 coin, 2 wood costs 3 coins, 3 wood costs 6… all the way up to 6 wood for a horrifying 21 coins) or feed your workers. And failing to do things means pirates. And pirates give you negative points at the end of the game.

I ended up winning, 72 to 51, but it was kind of accidental. I fell into a heavy shipping strategy early on (mainly because of the first crown demand tile I was dealt) and it threw a reasonable number of points my way over the first couple of scoring rounds (end of rounds 1 and 3), plus a big bonus at the end of round 5 (my three red wine ships you can see on the board pulled in 18 points from a single tile). John had also overtaken me – way, way, way overtaken me – for pirates in the last round, so he got the larger points reduction at the end of the game.

So it was very much an exploratory first game, and I reckon Madeira would need a good four or five games before you get a decent handle on how everything fits together. I did really enjoy it, but it’s not an “every day” game. It’s probably not even an “every month” game, given its weight. But I’ll float it some time at Newcastle Gamers and see if I get any takers.

The middle of the month brought another wonderful gaming weekend (see this post for last spring’s report). I could only make it for about 24 hours, but I managed to fit in some excellent gaming. In brief:

  • Formula Dé – This was much better fun than I’d anticipated, taking roll-and-move to a level that actually engages the brain. The highlight was watching Olly dance on the verge of death for most of the race before spinning and crashing out on the penultimate bend. I played it steady and very nearly won, being pipped to the post by John in the last roll of the die.
  • Roads & Boats – Having scared everyone else away by (correctly) stating it had taken 6 hours last time we played, Olly and I then polished off a game in 90 minutes, both rushing to complete the wonder rather than bothering with mines and all that nonsense. Not the most satisfying of games, but at least it showed us another way it could be played.
Yes, we set up all those hexes, then didn't even bother getting beyond wagons. I didn't even get beyond donkeys, and I crushed all my geese into delicious wonder bricks.

Yes, we set up all those hexes, then didn’t even bother getting beyond wagons. I didn’t even get beyond donkeys, and I crushed all my geese into delicious wonder bricks.

  • In the Year of the Dragon – Finally managed to play this excellent Stefan Feld game. It didn’t feel much like a Feld as we know them these days; it was much more a game of managing crises than building opportunities and creating combos. Really good fun, with an enjoyable schadenfreude in watching Camo (who has played the game a billion times) accidentally screw himself over and have a disastrous last few rounds.
  • Suburbia – My first play with the Suburbia Inc expansion, which adds borders, bonuses, challenges and a whole bunch of new tiles. Camo, Olly, Graham and I were experienced enough to take it in our strides, and we ended up with some ridiculous-looking border-riddled boroughs (except Graham’s, which looked like someone had actually put some thought into its layout). I struggled for income throughout, but just managed to scrape together a win by sneaking down to score the “lowest income” goal.
My winning "borough". I don't know why anyone wanted to live there, but they did.

My winning “borough”. I don’t know why anyone wanted to live there, with a checkpoint sandwiched between a desert and a national park. Maybe it was just those contiguous lake tiles that brought the people flooding in.

  • Earthquake – A very odd little set-scoring game, with Magic: The Gathering artwork and a whole shedload of luck involved.
  • Android: Netrunner – I tried out a Noise (Anarch) bullshit deck against Graham’s Jinteki Replicating Perfection deck. I can’t think of a better way to describe the deck I was using. It’s just a complete confrontational arsehole of a deck, tweaked to my liking from the Can o’ Whupass build. Virus after virus after virus, milling through the corp deck, bringing out Incubators, Hivemind and three Chakanas… I can’t imagine what it’s like to play against as a corp. Indeed, Graham was heard to mutter, “Y’know, we could fall out over this.” I managed to faceplant into a Cerebral Overwriter and accidentally kill myself; I really shouldn’t have run at all, even with a super-strong Darwin running off Hivemind. You live and learn. Really good fun to try something like this out, and it’s now become my proper runner deck after a few tweaks.
  • Fungi – I’ve had a copy of this sitting around unplayed for ages, and Graham happened to have brought his along. I wish I’d played my copy ages ago. What a lovely little set-collection game. The morels seemed very powerful, but I think Graham struck lucky in managing to get all three of them out for 18 points.
  • Love Letter – For once, I didn’t do terribly… but I didn’t win either.
  • Space Alert – At last, I tried this Vlaada Chvátil game, but I couldn’t stay long enough to get beyond the first couple of training missions. I was enjoying it a lot, although the real-time aspect of it did make me realise how much my CFS still affects my mental function. I struggled to keep up with what was going on… but of course, that’s partially the idea of the game anyway! Hopefully I’ll get another chance to play it before I’ve entirely forgotten how it works.

I had a fantastic time with superb games in excellent company, and was gutted to have to miss half of the weekend. I even missed two games of Agricola. [sad face]

I’ve spent a fair chunk of the month trying to get my head round the rules for Salerno, the first in MMP’s Variable Combat Series. It had been on my radar for well over a year – the system, the map, the counters… it all looked like my sort of wargame, and one I could play solo fairly easily too. I’d read the system rules a couple of times, and it seemed so simple; it was largely a collection of standard hex-and-counter wargaming staples.

Unfortunately, I hadn’t looked at the exclusive rules for the Salerno game. They’re twice as long as the system rules, and make it substantially more complex. I’m not a massive wargamer, but I’ve never had trouble getting my head round a ruleset once I put some effort into it. Salerno was the first wargame to make me feel like a complete idiot. It’s not just that the rules could be much clearer in places; it’s that they make assumptions about your knowledge of military terminology. For a lot of grognards, this wouldn’t be a problem. I, on the other hand, have struggled enormously to figure out which counters are the parent units to others, and to figure out how the unit designations listed in the reinforcement schedule correspond to what’s printed on the counters.

Maybe I’ve been coddled by the likes of Red Winter, which prints the turn of entry on each unit, or Unconditional Surrender, in which each ground unit counter is an entire army with a simple number on it. Either way, Salerno‘s back on the shelf for now. I hope I can understand it some day.

Newcastle Gamers – Saturday 7 March 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Netrunner lingo ends.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All photos by me, shamelessly stolen from the Newcastle Gamers Google+ page. Newcastle Gamers is usually on the second and last Saturday of every month (although this one was a week early and we’ve got three sessions in April…), 4:30 pm until late (unless it’s a special all-day session…) at Christ Church, Shieldfield, Newcastle upon Tyne!

Newcastle Gamers – Saturday 31 August 2013

Nearly a year after my first session at Newcastle Gamers, I finally managed to bring along a newbie… but I made up for the slow build-up by being some sort of Pied Piper of Gaming and bringing three at once! My ex-colleague Ben (“ex” as of the previous day) brought along his dad Paul and sister Hannah, all well-versed in modern gaming, to sample the ludo-epicurean delights of Newcastle Gamers. As I arrived, they were standing and taking in the atmosphere of the pre-game setup routine (tables and chairs out, curt nodding, the metagame of “what shall we play first?”), so I ambled over and said hello. Paul had brought his copy of Shogun, which I’d fancied playing for quite a while, so we sat down as a foursome and got underway.

Paul and Ben had played Shogun quite a few times before, while Hannah and I were new to it, so it will come as no spoiler that I didn’t win. In fact, territory-wise I did very badly indeed, ending with only five provinces, but I had managed to build plenty of theatres and palaces for a reasonable number of VPs. Before the game had even begun, Paul and Ben agreed a sort of entente cordiale, allowing them to consolidate powerful empires across the eastern side of the board. Hannah proposed a similar pact to me, but I declined. Why? Well… I don’t know, really. It’s not something I’m used to in games – it’s usually very much everyone-for-themselves in the games I tend to play – so it felt a bit alien. I should probably try playing Diplomacy to get some practice in. It ended up being my downfall, and Hannah’s too. We were hammered from all sides, losing provinces not only to Paul and Ben, but to each other. Stuck in the middle, our empires dwindled away while the more experienced players expanded unchecked.

Just before the final peasant revolt. Several blue (Ben) and yellow (Paul) provinces fell back into the hands of the people, but not enough to change the outcome of the game. I was red, Hannah was purple.

Just before the final peasant revolt. Several blue (Ben) and yellow (Paul) provinces fell back into the hands of the people, but not enough to change the outcome of the game. I was red, Hannah was purple.

It’s a nicely constructed game, with a planning system reminiscent of Roborally (without the lasers) and a combat system involving chucking handfuls of coloured cubes through a tower full of layers and baffles, then picking out the victors from whatever manages to drop out of the bottom. It’s not my normal gaming territory, but it was good fun and didn’t outstay its welcome (a little over two hours after the rules explanation). Paul took victory, followed by Ben, then me (not too far behind) and Hannah bringing up the rear.

After a quick break for food, we stuck with the Japanese theme and I broke out my new copy of Trains. This is a deckbuilder, and not just any old deckbuilder – it’s essentially Dominion with a board. Many of the cards will be familiar to those who have played Dominion (and thankfully Paul and Hannah were very familiar with Dominion, so the rules explanation was pretty simple), given that their prices, values and actions are identical; they’ve just been renamed and given new artwork to fit in with the ‘train’ concept.

The board does give it a decent twist though, with the spatial interactions essentially removing the need for the Attack cards in Dominion. It becomes a game of area control… or possibly just area presence, given that no one can really ‘control’ an area per se. Paul and Ben set up their initial rail cubes on the eastern side of the Tokyo board (backed with the Osaka board for variety), while Hannah and I were clearly going to butt heads again on the western side. After quickly boxing Hannah in (while not strictly ‘boxing in’, once you’ve laid rails in a hex it becomes more expensive for another player to lay rails there too), I started trying to build stations and build into cities with other players in order to negate their VP advantage over me.

My deck went through a slow initial expansion, gently building up my buying power with Express Trains (Silver in Dominion) and a couple of Limited Express Trains (Gold) alongside a few Amusement Park cards, which allow you to double the buying power of a card you’ve played (there’s probably a Dominion equivalent, but I don’t know it). This meant that I could get quite a few Subway Excavation cards into my deck (very pricey to buy, but they remove all extra costs for building rails) so I could freely enter cities with other people’s rails in them and benefit from all their hard work. Meanwhile, Paul was creeping across the board to the west, Hannah was creeping east across my semi-barricade, and Ben was languishing on the opposite side of the board, trying to amass enough money in one hand to build rails into the VP-lucrative distant locations.

 

Cubes = rails. Sugar from Puerto Rico = stations. VPs gained before the final scoring = 0.

Cubes = rails. Sugar from Puerto Rico = stations. VPs gained before the final scoring = 0.

I felt like I’d gained a bit of an edge, so I built and built my rails until I laid the last one, at which point the game ended. No one had gained any points before the final scoring (there are only a few card types that allow VPs to be scored during the game, and they hadn’t been selected for this game), so it was all still to be seen. I ended up taking a comfortable-ish victory with around 45 points, while everyone else was in the mid-to-high-30s.

I really enjoyed Trains, and there’s a huge amount of replayability in the box. For each game, you select eight card types out of a total of thirty to be available in that game. By my calculations, there are nearly six million possible combinations of cards to play with. I’ll let you know when I’ve tried them all.

Another card game up next, and it was Fleet. I hadn’t played this for a while, and I’d actually only ever played it with two. I wasn’t particularly convinced with it for two players, but I’d been keen to try it with more for a long time, so the four of us remained at the table and started launching fishing boats. It’s very much in the vein of San Juan, with a tableau of cards (in this case fishing boats) being built, while the cards are also used as money, or can be played face down as ‘captains’ for launched vessels.

I was heavily affected by some bad draws early on in the game, and I struggled to get a fishing engine going, even with the Shrimp licence and its resultant cheap/free boat launches. Ben was in a similar boat (no pun intended), while Hannah and Paul raced ahead. The end came fairly quickly, and we counted up our totals.

Final score – Hannah: 63 / Paul: 62 / Me: 41 / Ben: 37

A single point in it at the top! It was a much more convincing game with four players, what with the auctions being a little more lively, but I still think I prefer the purity of San Juan, where every card is of equal monetary value.

Ben, Paul and Hannah had to drift off into the night at this point, so I sat down with Lloyd, Michael and Peter for Suburbia. (Peter may well actually be Piotr or another non-English variant – I think he’s Polish, but I didn’t get him to spell out his name. Apologies to you, Peter/Piotr/Pxxxx if you read this.) Again, I hadn’t played it for a while, and Lloyd and Michael were both new to the game, so I gave a brief rules run-down. Peter had played it once before, but Suburbia is one of those games where experience can really swing things your way, and given the number of times I’ve played this game, I had a big advantage. I know the pacing of the tile stacks, roughly when to switch from increasing income to increasing reputation and building residential areas, how to block opponents effectively… it wasn’t really a fair game.

Peter and I quickly built up our incomes, while Michael took an early lead in population (paying for it later in crippled income and reputation) and Lloyd repeatedly felt the cold hand of destitution on his borough. The end of the game came at just the right point for me, given that I’d just built the green residential tile that would qualify me for one of the end-game goals, and I’d totally tanked my income over the last few rounds, meaning I also qualified for my secret goal of having the lowest income at the end of the game.

One of the nice new Newcastle Gamers tables – ideal for things like Suburbia.

One of the nice new Newcastle Gamers tables – ideal for things like Suburbia.

I was already well ahead before the final scoring for goals and money, but a few goals later I was unreachable, even with Peter’s huge pile of cash.

Final score – Me: 133 / Peter: 71 / Lloyd: 67 / Michael: 48

I still like Suburbia, but I’m getting a bit of an expansion-itch. Will the upcoming Suburbia Inc add enough spice to keep me interested?

And then, to round things off late at night, why not play a game that relies heavily on memory, reasoning and deduction? Yes, it was Hanabi time. I played with Peter, Andrew and John F, with Peter and Andrew being totally new to the game. To cut a long story short, we scored 15 points. Not great, but at least we didn’t blow ourselves up.

That was the end of the night for me. The usual games of The Resistance had started up, the epic five-player game of Terra Mystica had ground to a close (I think they started while I was playing Trains) and I sallied forth into the night, not sure when I would next return.

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