Thursday, 27 April 2017

In Which Cakes were Consumed

HEEYYYYOOOOOOOO it's NoBloG time! I'm afraid it's going to be another weedy one, but I swear it's not my fault. It's all Hannah and Lewis' fault for getting me to play Epic Spell Wars, from which I couldn't escape. It's not me, it's them! Oh well, I'm sure you'll cope. So the two tables I got to were playing Lords of Waterdeep and Orléans.

But before we come to that I must, in a minor plot-twist, forgive Hannah for her part in distracting me from my interrogations interviews, because she brought us DELICIOUS CAKE that wasn't even a lie. Not just any cakes — dice cakes! Like rice cakes except they taste of something. Thanks Hannah! We can definitely tolerate more.

See how delicious and moist it looks Going quickly Die close-up

But that's enough of my uncharacteristically forgiving streak — now to the Loire Valley and Orléans! Guillaume was subjecting people to the very lovely but fairly complicated romp through the French countryside. At the time I came in for a snoop-about, monks were being taken (it's always the celibate ones that enjoy that kind of thing, is it not?) and books were being bought. But what exactly is the point of taking books and buying monks? Or, err, whichever.

Orléans is not a simple game, nor a small game!

In medieval France, everyone wants food and books and stuff, but everyone needs lackeys to help them acquire them. You start out with a few such misbegottens, but must place them (it feels a bit worker-placer-y but you can't block other people's actions) on your board to acquire more minions and do everything else that gets you points. There's a hierarchy of sorts in that the second tier of workers, like lords, who unlock further classes like knights and so on, and a pool-building/management aspect as you only get to draw a selection of your guys each turn, and you can banish your unwanted farmers to the town council, giving you some points in return for losing your pair of hands. You can purchase buildings that give you extra actions, make others easier and give you various bonuses, and you can acquire "technology" which means you require fewer workers to perform a given action. In the end you hope to get a nice little engine going and run away with all the point-giving items. Don't be tardy though, because there are hefty bonuses for advancing up some tracks quickly. To answer the original question, then, monks are some kind of supreme worker being, able to perform any task, and books are one of the several things that gets you points.

Guillaume is sending people away. Poor people.

So how was it all going down this Tuesday? Well, at the time I peeked in, it was still early stages: not much of the goods available on the map of the countryside had been snapped up, and the players were mainly acquiring more guys and building up to rake in the points later. Mike was finding it all a bit bewildering, this being only his second time at NoBoG! Pretty crunchy stuff for a newcomer. But he was enjoying jumping in at the deep end, so hopefully we'll be seeing him + company (whose name I confess to not writing down) again soon. In the end he decided to go to the village in order to take a cratsman and a technology token. Seeing the game played reminded me that I still need to have another go and hopefully do better now I have some kind of idea of how it works. Though I fear I am still just rubbish at engine-builders and might fail once more, but we shall see!

Mike has already got some tech and is getting more!

Next up, to a soggy dominion whose rulers are the Lords of Waterdeep (with the Scoundrels of Skullport expansion — all sounds a bit grim if you ask me.) The first thing that occurred on my arrival was that I received a thorough admonishment for never having played it — OK, OK, I'm sorry, alright! My own deficiencies notwithstanding, I will give you a brief rundown of the principles just in case you the reader, like me the author, have never played this perennial of NoBoG.

Elliot makes some kind of move
in Lords of Waterdeep

The rudiments are that it's a worker placement game in which you have to perform actions first to obtain resources and then to complete quests from the available pool — doing so requires both the resources and placing a worker in the right spot. A player who completes a quest swipes the card representing it, so you can snipe them if someone else would benefit too greatly. New actions can be opened up by purchasing buildings — after which players have to pay Elliot the owner (which in this case was... pretty much always Elliot) of the building for the privilege of using them. Skullport introduces the corruption resource which you want to get rid of as it counts negative at the end. Once the game does end, you get bonus points for various things like which kinds of quests you've completed based on which Lord you are.

Action shot. With beer.

So as I arrived (after being roundly told off for not having played) I asked-him-knowingly if Elliot was trouncing everyone, but apparently it was pretty close. The game was in its final round or two, and eyebrows were waggled as John gains a last minute point in this, his first time playing. Tabby meanwhile is feeling actual, physical pain at other people's slowness, manifested in ululating vocalisations when David finally plumps for a move which nets him a massive 40 points, this presumably being obvious enough to do immediately. David maintains an air of mystery about what he might otherwise have done, and unfortunately I never find out what it might have been. Victor does something but I fail to catch what it is because we're too busy discussing how to spell his name (it does not have a "k", we determine.) Tabby (or "Muggins" as she dubs herself) feels that everyone has been dicking on her in a blatant display of sexism as she is not doing so well, and is simultaneously the only lady at a table occupied otherwise by what might be described, if viewed in a good light, as gentlemen. Plus Elliot. Jamie tosses aside the accusation with a laugh, but it is perhaps mere bravado in anticipation of some kind of lawsuit, while Tabby describes what she would write in the blog at this juncture as "it will just say 'fuck all of you' over and over in all different languages!" While I can't comment on whether such ire was deserved (having observed only a tiny sliver of the game) I do revel in other people's suffering and anger. John took what I believe was his final move and divested himself of some corruption (presumably acquired as a consequence of all that dicking... shudder) and I was whisked away to duel with wizards. Only later did I discover that Elliot, playing coy all along, actually had the Lord which received bonus points for each building, and so thoroughly cleaned up when the points were eventually tallied.

See that swathe of buildings on the right of the board?
All Elliot's.

And what of my own game, Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards? Well if I tell you that each round can take quite a while (in no small part due to my own inability to make decisions, though this did improve somewhat as the game went on) due to the winner needing to eliminate all other players twice (and thereafter being a little weaker and a much larger target) you can imagine that LONG might well be the, erm, short answer. Each turn every player assembles a spell using (ideally) one of each card category (Source, Quality and Delivery or beginning, middle and end.) After working out who goes first using a couple of rules to determine priority, you read each component in turn to deal damage to your fellow battle wizards (more like warlocks I'm sure you'll agree! Hhhehehe.) There are also various other effects, like healing, giving you bonus cards, adding more cards to the spell and so on. You have to pick carefully because certain effects can be much more powerful if you add more of certain types of cards to the spell.

Zanzabeast has not much blood, but
even more worrying is his lack of health.
You'd thing the two would be one and the same...

The whole game is decked in a colourful and extremely silly skin, so you tend to be throwing spells out that might be called, "Haggatha the Heffer's Motherforking Testi-kill." (The terrible things they're doing with genetically modified cattle nowadays...) You're encouraged to yell your spell names aloud, especially if you include the "Wild Magic" wildcard, which draws from the deck until you find a suitable one to slot in, which all adds to the overall ridiculousness. Spell effects can be a bit random — the more powerful ones rely on dice rolls, and the order of execution means your target may end up different to what you anticipated so you can't get too tactical. The game also suffers by having a lot of cards and some mechanics which only show up on a few cards. Thus it's all very well acquiring "blood" from a spell, but you may then literally never get another card which allows you to use it. This mechanic and some similar ones come from version 2 of the game, so I do wonder if this is a symptom of playing the combined version which mixes in a whole load of cards from before "blood" was a concept (a game-concept, that is, it already existed as, you know, life-giving liquid.)

Hannah's array of treasure (bonus ability) cards

In the end we agreed to end the game early as time was running out — in the last round we decided that either someone would win for the second time (thus winning outright) or there would only be one person who hadn't won a single round, who would be "crowned" the loser. So, ALL HAIL JD, KING OF THE LOSERS! In the end it would have been far more fun if it had just lasted an hour, but the game is a bit stuck because it's trying to come up with a way to have it be a fight to the death without kicking dead players out until the end of the game.

And that's it. Hopefully one of these days I'll get around the pub properly, more thoroughly quenching the thirst I know you all have for more gaming session writeups. But until then, good byyyyeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Friday, 7 April 2017

No YOU'RE a cylon!

Zhwummmm... zhwummm... I mean, err, hello! Hello from your totally human and not-at-all cybernetic blog-writer! Please ignore any possible, hmm, unusual redness in my eyes; it's all perfectly normal and nothing to do with robots. NoBoG was a bit thin on the ground this week, but of course, no less fun than usual. Games I surveyed this time round were Dead of Winter, Inis, Citadels and my own Spiel der Woche, Battlestar Galactica.
The start of the evening: not too many folks in.
The usually packed middle section

Even though Spring has been setting in in Norwich this past week, a cold bite returned though perhaps not quite leaving us in the Dead of Winter. When I arrived Chris (no, not me, a different one) said the team was working well together; though there could be a traitor, they had no concrete evidence and were close to winning. Chris thought it might have been easier due to the high player count of six. J-Dawg disagreed and declared that it actually gets more boring. (I considered asking why he was playing if it was boring but I suspected it was all a cover for being a traitor, and didn't want to ruin things.) At this point, Maddie (whose nickname I have deemed too difficult to type) was deciding her turn and was being called out for attracting the zombies after killing one. Now I'm not entirely familiar with how this game works but this did strike me as being a little bit out of the ordinary — maybe she's the traitor! When I inquired as to what kind of make-up or clothing might be used to attract a zombie I was informed it was best not ask. Thankfully my imagination was distracted before running away to dark and... disgusting places because Sean gave me chocolate. Whew.
Dead of Winter, teamwork in action.
In spite of the aforementioned teamwork, Gareth suspects that GaydogJ-Dawg (yes, this slip of the tongue actually happened, and yes, it had to be put in the blog. Journalistic integrity.) is a baddie on account of always screwing him over. J-Dawg counters that Gareth has been taking "outrageous risks!" and it all kicks off! Accusations fly left and right, that J-Dawg has been eating all the food, that certain people's mothers do certain unspeakable things for certain low prices and I make my exit. With certainty.
Would you like to attract these lovely lads?
When I return, I guess I'd missed the action because J-Dawg wanted to mime daggers flying through the air, piercing his back. This was a melodramatic way of announcing that Gareth had just shot him. I took some pictures and fled before I met the same fate.
Next up was pInis. This is a card drafting game in which you're trying to become King of the Island. Or the Inis. Pronounced "innish," which is where you go when you think you want to drink a beerish. I don't speak Celtic anyway (not Goidelic. Not even Brythonic, never mind Galatian.) There are three methods of becoming Kingish: you can become the chieftain of six clans, occupy six territories of the game board, or control six sanctuaries. The interesting aspect of this comes, though, because you gain a token for one of these victory conditions on your turn, but to win you have to not only still satisfy that condition by the start of your next turn, but you mustn't be drawing with anyone else who is simultaneously satisfying a victory conditions. The upshot is that while it's not that hard to get a victory condition, it's very easy to lose it, or to be tying when your opportunity to win comes around. In addition to the above, if you control the island's capital and possess a victory condition, you win even if someone else has one, too.
A board game...ish.
Inis has nice pieces.
As Tom put it to me, they'd got to the point, when I came by, where they were all quite close to winning but everyone was cock-blocking everyone else. Tom was, at least according to Emma, the biggest cock of all (or maybe the biggest block?) For the sake of balance I must also include that he protests that what befell Emma was not entirely his fault and that it would have happened without his interference. Then he and Dave fought each other too much and pissed away all their action cards, which are your only means of defence and of course throwing them away limits your possibilities, perhaps throwing your carefully laid plans awry.
The players contemplate their options in Inis.

I then swung by a game plaid by those men (and women) in the ivory towers of several Citadels, a game I love for its sometimes agonising layers of social deduction. The aim of the game is to have the most point-value of built districts at the end of the game, by paying that same point value in money to build them. Added to the mix is the fact that each round you take on a different role, chosen from a selection that is passed around, dwindling until the final person chooses from two. The trick here is that the special abilities of two of the roles which I will describe as the "fuck-you" roles target roles rather than players so if the most advantageous role for you is the merchant and you pick it, you may find yourself skipping your turn or losing all your dollah.
The citadels being built... and destroyed.
Joe seemed to be close to winning and his strategy was "just trying to go into 'game over' while everyone else does trying build big things," in other words trying to end the game by getting eight districts built, even if they're not worth so much. He'd also been the biggest dick, stealing all of Monika's money and other people's besides. "Crime does pay," he said, but it did turn out that he got his just desserts in the form of brutal murder for all his thievery. (In case you're wondering, after being murdered your city is taken over by your heir(s) in your stead.) Sam reckoned James was also doing pretty well, and I inadvertently aided him on his path to victory by clearing up his misunderstanding of the Warlord's special ability, pointing out that he could destroy one of frontrunner Joe's districts for free. The pot suitably stirred, I ran off.
And that brings us to the 5+ hour epic consisting almost entirely of pot-stirring that is Battlestar Galactica! Ahh, what a game. A special place it has in my heart, and I'd not played it for nearly a year. If you think you might watch the TV show, be warned that mild spoilers will follow.
The premise of the game, as with the show, is that humanity is trying to escape the blasted nuclear wasteland that was their home and strike out for the legendary Kobol, dogged all the way by their chrome-plated former slaves, the Cylons. Hidden amongst the humans, however, are sneaky skin-jobs who appear indistinguishable from good honest people with organs and souls and whatnot. They try to sabotage humanity's efforts by subterfuge and trickery, aiming to drop one of four resources to zero, to damage the titular Galactica six times, or to sneak a boarding party aboard her and have it disable the ship from within. These hidden agents can always do this by making or suggesting bad decisions, but secret actions complicate matters severely. Each turn the current player draws a crisis which must be resolved in an attempt to avoid or minimise its negative effects. Some of those are simply a choice for a particular player, often the President, between, say, losing a resource or discarding cards — skill cards which represent the particular skills of each character, like Leadership or Piloting. Others are skill checks, where each player in turn secretly contributes skill cards in an attempt to bring the total value of correct skill cards minus the incorrect ones to a given target. At this point, secret cylons may announce sweetly that they are single-handedly flying the planes, rallying the pilots and all else that is needed, whilst in fact contributing precisely the wrong cards. Once two random cards to reflect the hand of destiny have been shuffled in, it is no longer so easy to tell who has been telling the truth, and the accusations are let loose. In the midst of all of this, the cylons are typically sending raiders and other ships to damage galactica, threaten the fleet and generally screw things up — as things become increasingly chaotic, the humans must make tricky decisions about what to prioritise in order to avoid succumbing to any of the loss conditions.
In our play-through, everything started off swimmingly: there was not even an oily whiff of the cylon fleet, and we sailed through the void of space managing at first to even scavenge more fuel than we were using on our way to our mythical new home. At the four-distance mark, all resources looked peachy in spite of Madame President Meltem's insistence early on that food was not really so important, losing us two points in rapid succession. Our record on the skill checks had been patchy too, attempting and failing far too many for our liking. Yet the pilots were sitting in their ready room drinking ambrosia and playing cards with nothing to do; the enemy raiders weren't coming, and without that there was just no need to do better.
Just got to the half-way point: everything looks peachy,
though Chief's shown his true colours.
Kaan, looking sympathetic.
Four distance is the half-way point which marks the sleeper-agent phase where more loyalty cards are handed out to represent those who'd been cylons all along but who only now realise their true identity. It was here that the first signs of strife began to appear, as one of the humans turned to be rather sympathetic to the cylon cause; Chief Kaan slipped away from the human fleet and joined the cylons on our tail. Soon enough, the third jump had been made, bringing the fleet to 7 out of eight distance, guaranteeing a human win if they can just jump twice more, and still only fuel was in the red, with more than enough to close out the game. It was at this point, though, that the first full-on toaster-top revealed himself in the form of yours truly, Vice-President Chris Zarek, who first used his friends in low places to force the rest of the team to exhaust themselves in keeping another cylon suspect locked up in the brig. Zarek then blew himself away in a suicide attack that left Commander Lewis severely wounded. Respawning in Cylon-heaven, robo-blogger joined Chief Kaan in trying desperately to coordinate the cylon effort, which had as explained, been sorely lacking up to this point. The next round revealed also that Sam "Boomer" Valerii had been a sleeper agent all along and, though locked up and unable to cause any damage, she too offed herself and ended up on the resurrection ship.
This is what the board looks like when
the shit is hitting the fan.

With three toasters turned all the way up, defrost mode engaged, the humans' days were numbered. A massive assault was the all but the first sign of any real activity from the cylon fleet, orchestrated by Zarek. The erstwhile Chief used his connections to organise sabotage, damaging the hangar bay and preventing the launch of more vipers to defend against the amassed enemy. Boomer then coordinated every single cylon ship to attack, blasting the remaining meagre defences apart. An error in fleet management brought on by the chaos had left a dozen civilian ships unprotected, slaughtered almost to a man, and the humans finally broke, lacking the manpower to continue.
Cylon Centipede 2
Starbuck did not escape this encounter unscathed.
Cylon raiders, civilian ships, and their viper defence.
The cylons had won, proving the superiority of machine over man once and for all, but what had we learned? Well, first of all, never trust Adam "Starbuck" Thrace with the loyalty deck — if it weren't for good luck with the order of cylon reveals, we would have had four out of six players trying to screw the humans! As it happened, the third chrome-dome to be revealed had two cylon loyalty cards which doesn't turn him into some kind of super-cylon and has no further effect. He could therefore ignore the extra one without affecting the game at all. Second, it is extremely important that everyone read their loyalty cards for the exact same amount of time, especially if there are new players. I knew with almost certainty that Kaan's AI was malfunctioning because he spent a long time referring back to his loyalty card when others had finished reading — the "You are a cylon" cards having far more text. It would even be an idea to have everyone read these cards before the loyalty deck is made up to ensure familiarity. Luckily, this too didn't affect the game much as Kaan disposed of this card very quickly (giving it to me) on account of the rapid onset of the sleeper agent phase.
Cylon victory!
The destroyed civilian ship that ended it all.

And that's all for this week — citadels being built up and torn down, islands being fought over by great chieftains, the zombie apocalypse being defended in the bitter cold, and the inexorable march of the machines. Hope you've enjoyed it!

Thursday, 23 March 2017

The Grammaticist's Delight, or, the Semicompetent Semicolon.

Good evening; good evening; good evening; good evening and welcome to another episode of; no; not QI; you sillies; this is the one and only NoBloG! And what a night it was! Auspiciously did it start with a party of intrepid Grosvenorers; sallying forth to the chippy and feasting on deep-fried food products of various kinds. And delicious they were; too. I'd missed the previous week of fun due to accidentally faffing for too long before putting my tea in the oven; so outsourcing the tea preparation to a third party was the obvious and scrumptious solution. But enough about what I shoved in my face; "what about the games?" I hear you cry! Well as you may have guessed; some games were played and I am prepared to share a selection of them with you. As is often the case I didn't manage to get round even nearly everybody; but in my notepad today there are reports from Istanbul; Power Grid; Resistance; Archipelago; Aye, Dark Overlord!; Rock, Paper, Wizard; and King of Tokyo. (I hope, dear readers, that you appreciate the lesser spotted Oxford semicolon.)

So without further adieu, let us head for Anatolia, where East meets West in the bazaar of Istanbul. If you haven't played, the task is to travel around the city in the hunt of rubies (the first to acquire enough being the winner) by leaving a series of lackeys in various locations to perform advantageous transactions. You have to plan carefully though, as you are forced to backtrack to the same locations in order to gather your assistants again before you can dispatch them once more to other tasks. When you collect them, you can perform that same action again, allowing you to further optimise your actions. When I arrived, Matt had a whole load of bonus cards and a maximally upgraded caravan (if Pimp my Ride existed in the heyday of the Grand Bazaar, his would be the result) for the transportation of the maximum amount of cargo (which you sell for rubies). Matt however was not feeling too confident, as Gareth was feeling fairly liquid (in cash terms, rather than literally melting) and Siobhan was ahead of him on rubies. I should point out here that Siobhan is not Siobhan at all, but actually Maddie — no, not another nickname, but actually a joke at my expense, if you can believe it! Apparently I wrote down her name wrong on a previous blogging session and this was punishment for my error! The only thing is, I'm fairly sure I named her as Sinead, not Siobhan, but there we have it. (We could settle on Madnebhan?) Lazy lackeys (and forgetful bloggers) suitably chastised, I moved on.

The bustling bazaar of Istanbul

I found myself in an America of yesteryear, untroubled by the antics of a child left alone for too long with the orange paint, but suffering from a war for control of its Power Grid. Our players dubbed it, "Capitalism: The Game!" and the objective of course is to make the most money. How does one accomplish such a task? By generating power, of course! The object of the game is to buy power stations and the fuel to power them. Power stations are auctioned off, while the price of fuel is determined according to a supply-and-demand system that increases the cost if people are buying lots of a given type. At this point, fossil fuels were all the rage — typical American capitalists, you may say, but this was allegedly instead, "shortening our lives now for a greener tomorrow!" Colour me suspicious!

I proceeded to the next table only to find that the Resistance had collapsed, sabotaged from within by terrible treachery! And the scurrilous spies had not even the decency to creep silently away, instead revelling in their victory and the means with which they had achieved it: apparently Spy James and Spy Richard had managed to "check" each other's loyalty with mutually-reinforcing stories, so that when a third (Resistance) player claimed that one of them was seeking to undermine everyone's efforts, the seed of doubt was sown. When Sean then decreed an unfortunate mission team, the seed blossomed into a veritable tree of distrust. Or at least a shrub of suspicion, which was sufficient for the marauding moles to do their dirty work and bring it all crashing down, shrubs and all.

Getting to the next table involved a short trip by boat as they were based in an Archipelago, a game described to me as, "theoretically co-operative." Pushing for more information I discovered that this meant that if you didn't "cooperate" then the natives would get pissed off, murder and/or eat you and you'd all lose. But apart from that, you have completely free reign to backstab, betray, bugger and beat your opponents in any way you choose. In fact, wheeling and dealing is more the order of the day: basically you can make any deal you like, including bribing the person who determines the order of play for that turn to put you in an advantageous place in the order. Though Sam's previous play of the game was "sulky," he was feeling happier now because his monopolist card forced other people to give him money or stone, which in this game meant delicious victory points. He treated us all to some of his thought process which I will relate now: "Cattle bitches... I have enough fish... A healthy salad: fish, meat, stone and ore." If that doesn't convince you, I don't know what will.

The explored islands of Archipelago
The game features an exploration mechanic in which you pick tiles from a stack — either the top one which you can see, or the next one which is unseen. You then try to fit it into the existing configuration of tiles making up the eponymous archipelago. This is non-trivial because you may be unable to make it fit — at least two edges must touch existing tiles — and Emma had already explored four times without being able to lay one down. There's an action board where you place tokens to determine whether you'll be exploring or harvesting or hiring the natives or what. Sam has eschewed the last option as he reckons it's slavery and is taking an ethical stand, though Tom says hiring them actually makes them happy (and less likely to murder you to death.) Sam's derisive reply was, "Oh yes, they're just waiting around for the white man to come and hire them!" Some racial tensions in this colonialist enterprise are clearly coming to the fore.

Tom (aka the Slaver) makes a move in Archipelago.

And now turning to the games I was lucky enough to play, we first prostrated ourselves and proclaimed, "Aye, Dark Overlord!" to Lewis, the selfsame Dark Overlord. This is a very silly game. And we had very silly players, so it was even sillier than it might have been. In fact, even though there are literally several rules we essentially got rid of all of them, so I will explain the skeleton version we ended up playing. One player — the Dark Overlord — has sent the rest of you — his wretched minions — on a quest, which you have failed. The Dark Overlord tells you the quest you were sent on (you probably forgot, being so wretched and useless) and then points menacingly at one of you and cries, "YOU! Explain why you have failed," or words to that effect. The singled-out minion then selects a card from his hand, each of which has a monster, character, location or other eventuality which he attempts to use as an explanation for how the failure is actually the fault of some other minion. That player then does the same thing. At any time, and for any reason, the Dark Overlord may give a minion a withering look. If you receive three withering looks he feeds you to his pet monster and you get eaten and lose, ending the game. Naturally the game is not for those who require a great deal of structure and strategy, but we had a lot of fun convincing Lewis that Fluffy had been abandoned by JD, thus leading to a breakdown in the chain of command, which had been being used to tie Fluffy to a stick. And that Glibling the Leprous (whom some of you may know as "David") was not just trying to shag everything that moved in the dungeon, including the mice.

Some of the excuses available in Aye, Dark Overlord!
Centre stage: the Hellhound aka Fluffy. Glibling's first
Withering Look is visible to the right.
His Darkness, Lewis

After someone got eaten we played the slightly more tactical, though still quite silly, Rock, Paper, Wizards! In this quite original game you are trying to advance into a cave to acquire gold from a slain dragon. You accomplish this by simultaneously throwing out some kind of magical gang sign, of which four are allowable at any one time. These range from the dangerous "chain lightning" to the daring "imprison" to the downright kinky "dominate person." Each has various effects such as moving you closer to the gold, moving others further away, altering your target's spell or forcing them to donate gold. There is some second-guessing required if you wish to avoid falling victim to everyone's ire, though ultimately the game is a bit random and the winner will probably not be obvious until they are declared. In the end we all chain-lightninged each other to death, enfeebled one another's minds and generally blasted the shit out of that poor dragon's lair, until eventually Kieran arose victorious from the smoking ashes of our crispy corpses.

Hannah enfeebles herself
I can't remember what this spell was
Two chain lightnings and one anti-magic field
A cluster of Wizards in Rock, Paper, Wizards

After the smoke cleared and our vision returned there was still time to crown ourselves the King of Tokyo. I gather this is a perennial at NoBoG, but in case you, as I was, are unfamiliar, the objective of your monster is to score points by either rolling identical numbers on dice (which you can re-roll Yahtzee style) or by entering and remaining in Tokyo. You enter by rolling attacks, which hurt anyone inside Tokyo (assuming you are outside) at which point they can choose to withdraw, whereupon you must enter. It's dangerous in there, though, and not just because of the preponderance of magical girls (arch-nemeses of gigantic city-crushing monsters as any anime will tell you, at least unless the monster has tentacles...) — the industrial smog prevents you from healing your wounds, meaning you're liable to die if you stay there for long getting slapped about by all the outsiders. I got smashed early on after pushing my luck to stay in there, and watching James roll attacks on all six of his dice — just what he needed to crush me to a bloody, radioactive pulp. James went on to take the win after JD bit his nose to spite his face which, for skyscraper-demolishing edifices of mutated meat, means carpet bombing all of Japan, dealing damage to everyone. This killed Hannah, but left him perilously close to death, allowing James merely to sneeze on him to take the win. JD was happy with his decision.

A bloody jammy roll
Space Penguin is not the King of Tokyo.
Space Penguin is dead.
A King is crowned!
And that's the night! Whew! From bizarre bazaars to deceased beasts, an evening of victories and losses, strategy and silliness. And chips, of course - don't forget chips. Until next time, don't forget to brush your... game boards. They get dusty, you know.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

In which NoBoG nicknames get a little more ridiculous.

Happy Lententide, board gamers! What awaits us in this divulsion of board-based diversions? I'll tell you what: a veritable trove of tabletop treats. And speaking of treats, Lewis gave me a rolled up chocolate crepe thingy to celebrate pancake day. What a time to be alive! And what a time to be attending NoBoG! I was tardy to the Tun — not, this time, because of any pancake-related procrastination but due to the rather mundane delay involved in waiting in a queue to get cash, and then typing my PIN in wrong. I'm not good with numbers, OK?! But this was not enough to stop me getting in on a game — oh no! — I arrived to the main room, pint in hand (I had to put that cash to good use, after all) and immediately bagsied a spot in Dicenstein. I then discovered that all the spots had been bagsied already so I sort of dithered a bit, but then two other people un-bagsied their places and the resulting polite-off culminated in my playing it. But more on that later — read on to find out to what everyone else was getting up.
My first excursion was to a game I can't think of a decent pun for because it's called bloody Tash Kalar which just doesn't lend itself to jokes in the English language. All I've got is something weak to do with moustaches, so leave your suggestions in the comments. Anyway, my first impression of this game was that it looked pretty complicated. This was confirmed by Sam whose first words to me were "I'm enjoying it but it's fucking hard." The basic gameplay consists of what he described as "combat Othello" — placing tokens in certain patterns which allow you to activate cards, each of which requires a certain pattern of tokens, summons something special and potentially has some special effects. The more powerful the effect and summon, the more complicated the pattern is that you need to have already. Sam wasn't feeling to confident about the game because Alex already had a fire elemental out which had wiped out a whole bunch of stuff all at once — the potential for chaining things together and wreaking destruction seems quite high.
A rather unclear shot of Tash Kalar. In the
middle is the grid on which you put your tokens.

I checked back just after the game had ended and now Sam was rather enamoured with it as "it went brilliantly because I fucking won!" Monika accidentally took victory from the other two players and handed it to Sam. They both insist that she would never do anything nice to Sam on purpose so this was not a deliberate coronation, but kingmaking is obviously a possibility. It seems like it could be a bit of a mind-bender — "You feel you could do a lot better if you were a lot smarter because you have to think so many jumps ahead."
The game looked really interesting as well as the card designs being gorgeous and I'd quite like a go at some future NoBoG (hint!)
Next I was off to spectate a race where the prize is the whole galaxy! Quite high stakes. I've played a couple of times before but apparently I've forgotten all the symbology of it, which is (famously) intense. I should be ashamed of myself really — we mathematicians are supposed to be good at memorising and understanding crazy abstract symbols. The players had an embarrassing situation of their own though; Joe — a first timer! — looked set to win! "If he's developing, I'm definitely developing, said one nervous player.
It's a race! Newbie Joe is middle-left with
more developments than everyone else.
J-Dawg (the nickname has apparently stuck!) revealed "for the record" though, that "this is not the real game" and was just a practice. Why? "Because there are new players" — like Joe — who "might be accidentally succeeding." Well that's a new euphemism for beginner's luck! And a very cruel slander to someone who could already articulate a clear strategy of "build cards. Game." He did seem to have about ten times as many cards as any of the other players, which even I can remember is a good sign.

In front of the bar the mild week was nevertheless experiencing the Dead of Winter, a game which I still have not played (they tried to convince me this week, but I wanted something a bit more duck-outable.) They'd already experienced one unpleasant eventuality in which one character found insta-death on the exposure die which you have to roll when you go a-wandering. I unsubtly inquired about the existence of any early suspicions, and even though Meltem copped to "always having a suspicious face" they weren't ready to properly finger anyone and thought there might not be one.
Dead of Winter set-up.
Having still not played this perennial favourite I asked for a quick run-down of the gameplay. Apparently the long and short of it is: feed the colony, search piles of equipment, avert crises, do/fail the main objective (delete as applicable depending on whether you're a baddie) and do your secret objective (or skip this part if you're Matt, according to post-game facebookery!) The end — simple! Given the quantity of bits I suspect it's a bit more complicated. The moral dilemma of what to do with the survivor tokens, which represent food consuming babies and old people, had not been resolved — and apparently my suggestion of just letting them die/turning them into Soylent Green was no good as you'd lose morale and then everyone gets sad and you lose. Bleak.
Serried ranks of soldiers in Dead of Winter.
On my return the game was getting close to completion and the survivors were worried about not having enough tool cards to complete the objective. Recent turns had been fairly quiet due to not moving much (staying holed up is safer of course, just sitting in front of your fire fueled by zombie-parts and doing some knitting I guess) but Meltem was still suspecting Adam of being a traitor ("because nine times out of ten he's a traitor!") Unfortunately I didn't catch the very end of the game so I may never know what befell the four!
Things hot up (cool down?) in Dead of Winter
At this point I interrupt your regular programming to relate a tale from the Epic Spell Wars table wherein Hannah loudly lamented that, "he had three wild magic and I killed him before he had to use them! I'm so terrible!" For those not in the know such a card requires you to shout "WILD MAGIC!" whenever you activate a spell with them, hence being seen as something of a forfeit. We share your sorrow, Hannah. Though to be fair there was quite a lot of extremely wild magic being flung back and forth!
So, to return to the regular schedule, I went exploring! Specifically I explored the little alcove where they were exploring early 19th century America just like Lewis and Clark. In Lewis and Clark you are trying to get from one side of the continent to the other first by river, then over land, then by river then land then river. (If I have correctly remembered the precise sequence of river/land which I may not have...) You do this by acquiring lots of little hexagons. (Actually hexagonal prisms...) Effectively it's a "really complicated race" in which the hexagons represent canoes, horses, logs, meat, tools and skins. They're not really called skins, but these particular players want to sell four of them at once. hehe. The player possessing Lewis from the start was a bit miffed that this didn't confer any advantage, but when I asked what it should give you, he said it should make you automatically win, so I'm not sure he can be trusted to devise balanced house rules. You also have Indians whom you can hire to help you, but they slow you down because when you break camp to actually do some movement, the more Indians the less you move.
Hexagons! More than four skins!
The fundamental means of making progress is paying resources in order to use cards, to do which you actually have to play two cards together — each in a different role, so you have to choose which of the card's sides is best to use. Tim, whom I am now required to quote as Timbelina, said the game was "a bit brain melting" and this effect seemed to already be underway as he was already talking to himself, asking why he was only playing a one-power card when he had something that needed more power! Goey Joey (what have I got myself into with these nicknames, seriously?!) was the only one who'd ever played before but wasn't exactly racing ahead as when I looked in for a second time they were all stuck on the mountains. The reason for this is that you tend to grab a load of stuff which is useful for progressing through the river and have a bunch left over when you get to the end of the river section, but it is apparently avoidable if you plan ahead well.
Trying not to let his mind melt onto his hand
and ruin the cards.
I wound my way back around the tables to find a heavenly game of Celestia in the offing. A quite unbelievably cute airship is captained by a new player each turn who may or may not be able to pilot it from its current station to the next one. If you think the captain is capable (which is to say, possesses the right resource cards), you stay aboard in the hope of a far-off land flowing with milk and honey (note: not actually sure what the resources you pick up are; probably not milk or honey.) If successful, you, the captain and the other True Believers move on and the captaincy moves to the next person. But if you are too trusting in your pitiful pilot, you go crashing down with the ship and get nothing, and the ship returns to the start. You do always have the option, though, of expressing your lack of confidence in the captain by simply disembarking. You then get whatever meagre rewards await where you are, which are of course not as delicious as those at loftier destinations. It seemed a neat, simple concept with lovely pieces and cards.
Trying to decide whether to trust the captain.
And that brings me roundly back to the spooky graveyard of malformed cuboids forming the Dicenstein! Now an iniquitous past in Warhammer has given me a love of games with ten trillion dice which is exactly what Dicenstein is. Though as I will explain, there are some missed tricks here, but all those dice, each having little pictures and weird symbols printed on them, make a cool first impression. The figurines, too, are quite nice, though the size seems a bit off — they don't stand up well and laying them down doesn't work well with all the dice that clutter the board at the beginning.
My goodness, that's a lot of dice! Note fallen-over
Dracula-figurine, because trying to keep them
stood up was just too much effort.
The aim of the game is to accrue points by digging up graves containing monster parts (represented by dice) and either cashing them in or using them to create your own, better monster and battering the other beasts with it. You start out as a craven hunchback which will automatically melt into nothingness after three turns, but when you melt, die by being clawed to death by a mantis-creature or return to your lab, your monster disintegrates and you reform it by rolling all your acquired dice and selecting four (one head, one body, one each of arms and legs.) Each die has stats that you add together to make your terrifying hybrid beast of brutality, and then you venture out again. Each type of dice also confers a unique power on your new monster, like being able to move diagonally or to re-roll some of your opponents' attack dice. Before you do this you have the option to return a set of dice — but you have to balance getting cash with having enough dice left to make a good monster.
Lewis tries to serenade a swarmling.
I don't think it's working.
Our game proceeded in two clear phases: in the first, two of us made monsters with huge amounts of "dig" stat which essentially cleared the board of dice. Then we focused on making the most horrifying and deadly mutants of mayhem and went on to clobber each other to death as violently as we could while trying to sneak back to our labs before dying ourselves, in order to regain health and cash in dice.
I acquired quite a lot more dice than this over
the course of the game: you can see why it got
hard to roll them all at once!
So how was it? The game is fundamentally fun but pretty limited. There are clearly quite a few different tactics to explore given the many different powers and stats, but I suspect the majority are dead ends. A simple example is that the dig stat is totally useless once most dice have been dug up. The clown parts seem to have poor stats and a weak special power. If you have a gargoyle part you essentially no longer need to care about your speed because the arena is so tiny (just 4 by 4 squares) that, coupled with the diagonal movement from the gargoyle, you can move anywhere in one turn (and often you can move back in the same turn.) The game might have gone differently if anyone had tried to interrupt the shambling mole-creatures which just dug up the entire graveyard stuffing the invisible man's limbs (how do you see them once you dig them up?!) into their hamster-like cheek-pouches, though in the end this didn't make or break the game. Nevertheless clearing the board of dice severely limited my opponents' options and if I hadn't made a couple of tactical blunders (including forgetting one of my special powers which could have allowed me an extra go at scoring some dice) I suspect it would have got me a win.
Once mostly cleared of dice, the pokey size of
the 4x4 game-board is revealed.
My main gripe though is with the dice — for starters you just don't spend enough time rolling them! This surely is the most satisfying part of any dice-rolling game but you only do it when re-forming your monster. They also have tiny symbols and are often hard to differentiate from one another, which you need to do to work out which special power they confer. This means you spend a lot of time sorting and hunting through the dice to work out which of yours you want to put in your creation and which of those on the board are best to snatch up. Though it's undoubtedly cool to form your monster out of the dice, it would perhaps also do more justice to the promise of a name like "Dicenstein" if you could acquire a bunch of dice in different stats which you then had to roll to perform each action. The fact that you can only form your monster out of four dice also seems a bit underwhelming. Imagine if you could create arbitrarily large monsters by laying out dice according to certain rules, but then had to decide when to start dismantling it in order to cash in the points, while still not becoming too much weaker than everybody else so as to avoid becoming fish-man food.
Still, for this first game it was definitely enjoyable — perhaps could have done with some refinement to the mechanics, but we suffered no terrible frustrations. So hurrah! John won, and then only bloody won Port Royal too, continuing a winning streak he said stretched into last week! So your task for next week, NoBoGgers, is clearly to beat him at any game you can. Not that I'm bitter for coming two points behind him in Dicenstein and three in Port Royal. Shush!
Lewis selects from some pirate ships and shipmates
in a final quick round of Port Royal.