Friday, 16 June 2017

Please do not Adjust Your Board Games

What's up guys, it's me, Fish-Face. It's time for a quick NoBloG. You'll note my dedication to the cause as these notes were written on the same day as I finished enduring a downright harrowing experience. You guessed it — I got back from driving a manual car for the first time in 10 years, more or less unscathed. If you hear about any unexplained road deaths between here and the Cotswolds, say you don't know anything. But enough about me, what about the games?! Well on this sunny evening (sunny until the sun went down, anyway — funny how the weather forecast at night is never for sun, isn't it?) we played some of them. And the ones I will tell you about are as follows: Mysterium, Blood Bowl Team Manager, Carcassonne, Cottage Gardens and The Networks.

Starting up at the mysterious table where they were playing Mysterium, I don't have much to tell you — the players seemed quite engrossed and I just got a brief summary that it's "Dixit Cluedo." Intriguing. One player has a special role — the Ghost — and gives you clues which get you to pick the correct story describing what has happened. Other than that, Sam just told me that he is "fucking spanking at it," which I would have thought would be inappropriate at NoBoG, but the bar staff weren't saying anything.

Looks mysterious, right? It's supposed to.

Next I had a look at Blood Bowl Team Manager. I always like to imagine the Blood Bowl games as being about literal bowls filled with blood, though nothing I've experienced supports this view. Never mind. They were just getting started and resetting the score counters which had been co-opted in a different game. As I'm checking that the players are all setting their counters to zero and not 13 for some sneaky bonus points, I hear Jacob exclaim, "Allllllriiiiight" upon drawing his first hand. Unfortunately it's the sarcastic kind of "allllllriiiiight," as he's drawn his four linesmen, the worst of the starting cards, all at once. Before I was tempted away, he cunningly played his "crack linesman" to a match with crap rewards under the assumption that no-one would contest it hard.

A Blood Bowl is set up. Sans bowl, and sans blood.

I next found myself in a sprawling medieval metropolis: an absolutely massive game of Carcassonne was taking place involving expansions I'd never even seen. They had a cool meeple-shaped scoreboard and a starting mega-tile to replace the ordinary starting tile/river mini-expansion. I think the scoreboard should have replaced the countryside artwork with depictions of meeple-organs though, so you can describe your score not as the mundane "38" but rather as the glamorous and unique "in the duodenum." With such a big game of it, there was of course lots of jostling for access to various features: there was an absolutely massive field which was so juicy that the two players sharing the points from it had three meeples in it apiece. A third player was still trying to get in on the action and had even tried to pip them to the post with four meeples, but the others weren't having any of that and cruelly entombed the farmer in a tiny field surrounded only by roads.

I think this qualifies as "sprawling."
Also check out that sweet light
to illuminate dingy pub corners.
All this is a great excuse for lying down in fields — lazy meeple! — but what of the cosmopolitan life enjoyed by all up-and-coming brightly coloured wooden figurines? There was plenty of action there two with a similarly massive city sporting at least one cathedral being simultaneously built up by the inhabitants sharing it, and the other players no less avidly trying to prevent its completion — requiring just one tile to finish it off, the space where it would slot was, however, surrounded on all four sides making it a tricky proposition. In the end Tom (or maybe Dom? He was several fields away and it was tricky to hear over all the sheep!) won the game and, though he was in the field it wasn't the deciding factor — though had the farming pretender managed to get in, that would have done. Who said Euros couldn't be cutthroat?!

This meeple wants to be something... something MORE

Zooming in a little bit brought me to the Cottage Garden aka Tetris: the Board Game! The basic gameplay here involves taking tiles from a pool to place on one of your gardens, where you must cover up certain features and avoid other ones, which score you points. When you complete a garden by covering all of one kind of feature, you score points based on the number of visible features of the other kinds. Then you draw a new garden and start again, the game ending after a certain number of rounds. It all seemed very polite and proper, though as in Carcassonne I'm sure there was lots of backstabbing and all-round devilry going on beneath the genteel exterior.

Several cottage gardens
surround the gardener's
Looks nothing like
Wyevale to me.
The garden itself and
its scoring track.

That brings us handily to the game I learned and played — The Networks. In this game each player assumes the role of a TV Network commissioning and scheduling their prime-time shows, with the objective to accrue as many viewers as possible. The game plays out over 5 rounds — "seasons" — and each season the pool of available cards is topped up from the deck for the appropriate season. Within each season play passes according to the positions at the end of the previous one — bottom to top, giving the player in last place a significant bonus in terms of choice of the best cards. Those cards come in four varieties — Show, Star, Ad and Network. Your basic action is to purchase a show and place it on your schedule — hopefully in its preferred timeslot. But most shows require one or more ads or stars before you can buy them, which respectively provide a boost to income (great for shows with high running costs) and to viewers. Many ads and stars will have their own requirements so that you only get the benefit on certain kinds of show. Some shows have optional slots for these cards as well, but if you don't add them when you buy the show initially, you have to take an extra turn to apply them, which might mean being late to the end-of-round bonus party which gives you a healthy boost to viewers or money if you end the round for yourself early.

All in all it's a nicely themed game with a decent amount of tension between different choices — whether to grab the show first or the perfect ad to go with it, or perhaps the limited network cards providing special actions and scoring bonuses. The shows are all parodies on existing ones like "Found," "Communist-y" and "How I Lost Your Father," with silly pictures to go along with them. Your initial (worthless) shows are all such classic hits as "TV Test Pattern Hour" and "Biannual Bubble-wrap Popping Tournament" which I, for what it's worth, would watch the shit out of. I didn't win, sadly (actually I think I'm on a NoBoG losing streak — someone give me a pity victory!) in spite of being in first place going into the final round.

I forgot to take pictures of The Networks, but you can
see some of it artfully framed by my body, which in turn
is observed by JD.

And that was the week — another short one I'm afraid, so my apologies to those I never got 'round to see. I'm now going to settle down to a nice episode of Old People Complaining About Things.

Friday, 2 June 2017

The Bamboozling Business of the Baffling Board Game

Greetings, Gamers! I think you know the drill by now: this is a blog post about board games, I write it, you read it, we all achieve a state of enlightenment and oneness with the universe. Smashing. In this round of board-gaming zen I have reports relating to such wonders as Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle, Dark Souls, Trajan, Cash and Guns, Tiny Epic Galaxies, Keyflower and Resistance. Let's get gaming! or actually not gaming since the games have already been played and I'm just writing about them. COUGH
We first transport ourselves to a magical world of Magic, Evil and, err... Neville Longbottom in Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle. Yep, Elliot has landed the least desirable of all possible characters and even gets the pet toad, Trevor. James dispatches Peter Pettigrew because "he is an enemy who deserves to die," which seems very morally black-and-white but what do I know. Now at this point I must confess that a small argument broke out. This is because James made the unforgivable assertion that Neville Longbottom is better than Sam Gamgee. Now I know we have an election coming up and supposedly there are some important questions to be decided in that, but I'm sure we can all agree that it is absolutely necessary, once and for all, to clear this up right away. Sam Gamgee was the only one who could deliver a Strong and Stable Rinxit. What did Neville do? Kill a snake? #ConfundusOfChaos.
The state of play at Hogwarts
With that vital issue resolved now and forever, I got a quick run-down of the game. It's a co-operative deck builder with a varying difficulty, and most of the players are only informed as I'm talking to them that they're playing on the hardest difficulty. Oh dear... You have to build up your decks with extra spells, characters and items and work together to prevent the forces of evil from taking over the castle. Each character has some unique cards available only in his or her deck, like Neville's Toad Trevor, which when activated either deals some damage to an enemy, or heals Neville. I can only assume that he exudes some health-restoring drug/potion from his skin which Neville must lick to "activate." I'm guessing if he was stoned off his face on hallucinogenic toad-juice this would explain Neville's clumsiness in the books...
"Kiss me and I promise to turn into a prince,
and definitely not exude any toxin!"

I move on and find myself standing next to the campfire of Dark Souls. The players complain of a very unrealistic experience as none of them have died at all, yet. I haven't actually played the video games (yet) but nevertheless am well aware of how un-true this is to the source material. It's a co-operative monster slasher that has been getting quite a bit of play recently so presumably is quite good fun. It comes in a very hefty box with large miniatures which are just crying out to be painted (not literally crying out — though the name might suggest otherwise, Steamforged Games has not managed to actually embed the souls of the damned into the plastic figures) and indeed Sam has got started on a few of them.
"Cash me ousside, how bow dah?"
The monsters have some rules or "AI" which determines how they move and attack, so you have to try and play around that to get them to do the least damage to your team and put yourself in position to counter-attack. As I observe, poor Emma is actually being pushed into harm's way, but she is the tank (the tank role if you're not familiar with the terminology; this is a medieval fantasy themed game and does not feature armoured vehicles, instead Emma deals little damage but has excellent armour and so can soak up damage for the team) so it makes sense. This should keep everyone from getting leathered by the big dude who could, if not counter-played properly, hit everyone at once.
Emma the Tank moving things in Dark Souls
I leave them to their inevitable death and mosey along to imperial Rome where Trajan is holding court. Sam said, "I thought this was going to be the most boring game ever, but actually it's great." I'm not sure if that's exactly a grand endorsement, but there you have it. Personally I find such a U-turn completely contemptible. In Trajan the aim is to impress the Emperor (who presumably is Emperor Trajan, although I never did check...) by doing all sorts of stuff. That stuff includes conquering Europe (of course), build stuff, producing luxury goods, selling goods and probably more. Before I arrived Monika was winning, but now isn't winning and so, in an apparent fit of pique, attempts to destroy the game as she gets up to go to the bar. Bad form! (Mind you, I can't talk, as I'd had about three attempts at destroying Matt's Machi Koro box by the time the evening was up... I swear I hadn't been licking Trevor!) Whilst Sam was off "conquering the arse-end of Europe" (pretty sure there was something in the UKIP manifesto about that) Declan snuck up the senate track to get his pick of some end-of-game bonuses. Sam was rather miffed about this and tried to deploy dubious biology to convince him to leave the bonus Sam wanted, proclaiming that Declan was, "gonna have loads of spare bread! It grows on trees!"
Tragically Trajan
Returning from the bar (and having failed to destroy the game) Monika confessed that her strategy was really just to destroy Sam. I'm not sure that's actually a strategy but it's a goal, and more than that, it's a goal we can all get behind. On the other hand, Declan's goal was just to understand the game by the end of it — "I'm getting there," he said.
I believe these ranks qualify as "serried."
In a violent game of Cash and Guns, everyone agrees they're shooting Ben. Except they end up shooting at JD. Woops! Ben was the mafia boss and forced Hannah to aim at JD, whilst James was already aiming at him because he foolishly assumed he could count on everyone else to murderise Ben. Even though Hannah holds her gun funny, it was enough that JD would have been splattered against the bar, except he wisely ducked out. He had after all already been wounded twice (surviving despite the lack of medical facilities available in the Mash-Tun) and needed to play it safe.
Point guns! Point fingers! Point guns... kinda weirdly?

I fled the ganglands for the loneliness of outer space in Tiny Epic Galaxies, in which James is apparently cheating by farming when he isn't on a farming planet. The idea is to gather up the planets for your own nefarious purposes and then complete your (secret) missions. The game was in early stages; Lewis was the only player with a planet of any kind, having got lucky and been able to snag one without even possessing any upgrades. The game comes with cool unique dice (though what they determine I didn't ascertain) and some nice marked wooden cubes to mark your resource levels and other things on your player card. The two resources are "energy" and "culture" and this was a particularly uncultured game as everyone was using it up to try and screw each other over. I heard multiculturalism had failed anyway.
Some tiny epic planets to occupy similarly
diminutive yet awesome galaxies
This brings me round to the game I played, Keyflower. Keyflower got off to a slow start because the buildings we drafted initially were almost all in the 7–14 range and so were undesirable to get at the beginning of the game. This was the first time I'd seen this failure mode of the drafting rule (which was such a popular house rule for the base game of Keyflower that they included it as an official one in the expansions) the problem being that there's no mechanism to get rid of cards noone wants so you just end up with a poor, restricted selection for ages. I got pretty unlucky with this, frequently being unable to afford anything useful to me, compounded by Matt's investment into the red (i.e. dick) cards, stealing my (and everyone else's) money! At this point I should probably confess that, although we broke out Keyflower and started reading the rules, we decided it was too complicated to learn with none of us having played before (in spite of us all being experienced board gamers!) and, tacked onto the (always optimistic) playtime of 90-120 minutes, would probably leave us still playing by midday Wednesday. We therefore replaced it with Machi Koro.
Highlights of the game included me and Sam repeatedly deconstructing our landmarks for money and then forgetting we had done so. By doing this I once managed to roll two dice using my non-existent train station, make everyone put the money back they'd earned from the roll, and then go and roll exactly the same number with one die. I just like making people suffer. As the game progressed and the red dickery became old-hat, players started building up stocks of purple cards with which to screw each other. And how! Sam emerged as a clear favourite but as the game came to a climax(!) it was Dave's stack of number seven cards that brought him the win. Playing the probabilities always works (on average.) That is, if you can ever even afford to get a number seven card in the whole game. Oh well! Next time I might insist on the alternative card draft that is apparently a possibility, where you have split stacks of 1–6 and 7–14.
It IS Keyflower! Shush!Dave's winning spread
Keyflower (shush) over, it was time for a traditional round of deception games and tonight's pièce de résistance was, err, Resistance, aided by the foam guns from Cash and Guns, to pick the teams for missions. Because more guns = more fun. The game got off to a good start with a win for the eponymous resistance, though accusations were already flying. In fact they'd been flying since before the loyalty cards had been given out, so maybe that's not so relevant. Unfortunately the second mission was sabotaged — the terroristsfreedom fighters had a traitor in their midst! There was much consternation and a third team was eventually picked consisting of the tried-and-tested first time, plus one more. This too passed, vindicating those four players and casting doubts on the cacophony of voices calling for votes against the choice. It was only natural to make the fourth team up of the same lot, plus a fifth when, suddenly, not one, not two but three failures had made it into the pot! The table immediately erupted in debate and, unlike certain other debates this week, attendance was not optional! (And it went on for bloody ages!) What were we to do? This meant that at least one of the original, trusted team was a filthy spy! Accusations flew, established trusts were shaken. After what seemed like hours, the final team of five was selected, avoiding the now-suspicious dream-team from earlier. This was it! What would the final cards say? Success, success, success, success... FAIL! This was a surprise to no-one except me because in spite of being evil (and having played "success" on two of my three missions) I'd gone so far undercover I'd forgotten who one of my fellow agents was and didn't realise we had one on the final team. But more important than anything else: more important than winning, more important than convincing Dave I was good, more important than convincing Matt that Sean was evil (maybe I didn't have much of a hand in that...): I'd finally been on the bad team at a NoBoG deception game! The upstart insurgency had been quashed, though in light of having played the game, we are now all open to future accusations of calling the terrorists friends.
Someone else took this photo. I can't even tell
who it's of, but as punishment for messing with
my stuff, here you go!
And that was the night! Raucous, rambunctious and just a tad raunchy. And I got to be evil.

Friday, 12 May 2017

In Which Chips Were Chomped

Yes mateys, I've only gone and done it, I've only gone and written another blog post! What a mad lad I am. Actually I'm cheating by writing this before everything else so I am technically, right now, lying. Please report me to your nearest priest. Festivities started early this Tuesday with a respectable cohort (I mean respectable in the sense of numbers; never has there been a shiftier looking bunch to grace Norwich's cobbled lanes) gathering outside the Grosvenor to consume fried delicacies. Like sausage. After a brief period of confusion in which David and Matt thought they were going to have to share their chips (Lady and the Tramp style, for every one, we are assured), everyone's food arrived and was consumed in short order. We then made our lardy way down St Gregory's Back Alley (what a shame the hill doesn't go the other way...) greasing the lean earth as we walked along. Drinks obtained, we arrayed ourselves around the pub and awaited what the evening had in store. And what an evening! Games I observed were Blood Bowl: Team Manager, Amyitis, Dead of Winter, Hamsterrolle, Lords of Waterdeep, Machi Koro, and World Championship Russian Roulette. I myself was involved in Lords of Vegas and Avalon.

So let's get cracking — cracking some skulls in Blood Bowl: Team Manager I expect, where Joe "the crap wood-elf" announces he's "gonna go there, gonna steal the ball." I'd have thought sneaky wood-elves would be stealthier than to announce such plans to everyone, but there we are. He is a crap wood-elf, so I guess it's OK. Sam's response (from whom I assume the ball was stolen) is "Arsehole." Short, and to the point, just as one would expect an ork to be. Though they'd probably say "Waaarghsehole" or something. "I'm gonna smack you again," he declares, which I imagine is exactly in keeping with how an ork would let someone know before socking them in the face. At this point the table devolves into racial epithets like "tree-hugging pointy-eared bastards" and maybe I imagined "green-skinned, unwashed, fetid-footed troglodytes." Before the in-game brawl spread to the real-life players, I gathered that the wood-elves have typical elfin skills oriented around evasion and non-contact, but when they get into a fight with orks they "get punched in the face repeatedly and they don't like it." I retreat before I suffer a similar fate.

Probably a Wood-Elf getting squashed.

Next on my rounds I come across the impossible-to-spell-or-pronounce Amyitis which sounds like a very uncharitable way of describing your friend Amy's weight gain. (Actually a trip to wikipedia reveals that the etymology of the name may come from Old Persian Umati- meaning "having good thought." Take that, Amy-haters!) Amyitis was the wife of one of the Nebuchadnezzars, whose name is also hard to spell, but not nearly as easy to make fun of. Enough about Babylonian royalty though, what of the game?! Right, yes. The designers were presumably too up themselves and/or French ("same thing!" I hear you louts cry, but well, you might very well think that, but I could not possibly comment. Thankfully with my French ancestry I can get away with such xenophobia.) to call it "Hanging Gardens of Babylon: The Game," but that is in fact what it is.

Temples are near the top, gardens in
the middle, Babylonian Wyevale at the bottom.
The players are gardeners doing various things to try and make the best contributions to the Wonder of the Ancient World, like planting plants, collecting caravans to buy plants, going to temples to pray to plants and so on. As I arrive, Martin is racking up the points, gaining six and some money all at once — sounds good to me. And he then kicked some people out of a temple! Rude! Apparently you get a bonus for having a majority in them and it operates on a "first-in, last-out" or "FILO" system. Or perhaps they were just eating lots of pastries, I remain unsure. The game looks to be a "Guillaume classic" — fairly complicated and with oodles of tokens, bits of wood and things to do. Martin, Tom and Nicky weren't objecting to being subjected to it, though, with Nicky's strategy of "trying not to be last" bagging her first place at least at that moment in time.

Next was a chilly Dead of Winter even though the weather is finally showing hints of getting warmer. Some people live in the past though, I myself having finally played the game last week. Upon my arrival, Colin the slob had forgotten to take the rubbish out, the lazy sod. Tabby complained that it was just like student living again, though confessed to not having taken it out herself — her excuse was that she'd been busy building barricades, which is just the kind of nonsense art project students use to get out of chores anyway.

Zombie Cheerleaders?
Following the rubbish incident, Sean's plan is to "make shit-tons of noise and run," which sounds like a lark and pays off in the form of assault rifles. At this point it all gets a bit tense as Tabby accuses Matt and Sean of being traitors due to "being too helpful," and all the while Colin is building up a tidy stash and being rather secretive about it. (I had a look though and it didn't contain anything particularly juicy, and also snooped on his loyalty card which placed him as a goodie. Boring.) David was keeping a suspiciously low profile, especially for a DJ (which is his character's profession, rather than his. As far as I know, David is not a DJ, but perhaps it's his alter-ego.) However, his ability is more like a ventriloquist than a DJ, being able to make noise in other locations than his current one. I checked back in at the end of the game, and everyone but the poor ventrilo-DJ had won. I immediately assumed he had been the traitor but no — his personal goal required him to have a fuel can and I hadn't found one in the whole game. Poor guy. I bet it was hard to get anyone to listen to his mixtape during the zombie apocalypse, as well.

I rolled back through the pub by way of my table and ended up where a bunch were playing Hamsterrolle which is absolutely ludicrous. It's definitely not a board game, but John was playing it so it must nevertheless have the official stamp of approval. (I should mention that I did see them playing a sensible game beforehand so do not fear for our glorious leader's soul.) Hamsterrolle is like Jenga with a big wheel: a set of rules govern how you have to place wooden blocks onto the wheel, which has internal teeth to make this a bit easier. They also force you to place them further and further along so that each turn the wheel rotates a little bit. If blocks fall out on your turn they are graciously given to you, but the goal is to get rid of all your pieces. When placing a block, you're not supposed to wiggle the others and "shenanigans are called if you fiddle too much" — "oo-err," as Sam rightfully pointed out.

I looked back a little later and Sam was being admonished, "that doesn't work, Sam, that doesn't fit!" — "I've heard that before!" The regrettable follow-up was "no licking it," which I fear needs no comment from me. However apparently someone in another game had actually tried licking one of the pieces to get it to stick a little onto the wheel. Some people just take their love of gaming too far. The game can be made harder by removing the table-cloth, which means the wheel turns and wobbles far more readily. Sam was so confident at this harder version of the game that he was banging the table to give himself more blocks, but I never did come back to see if it worked out for him.

What we need is strong and stable
placement of wooden blocks on rotating wheels.

Rolling away again I accidentally rolled into the sea and washed up on the shore of Skullport to find the Lords of Waterdeep which was at an exciting moment in the game. Exciting maybe but not, I was disappointed to discover, sufficiently cutthroat. Elliot was gunning for the hat-trick, hoping to win three weeks in a row and, in spite of my encouragement to do so, his fellow players weren't really ganging up on him. Bad form. I wasn't overly upset though, because he wasn't winning. In fact, Hannah had just raced into the lead — bagging a 40-point quest to bring her from last to first with just two rounds left. Hannah, the charming little cherub, was completely free of corruption at a time when Victor was having to remove three — and after his betrayal of all of us in Dead of Winter last week I still suspect he's not entirely untainted. Elliot, perturbed by my call to arms, was pretending to be "no danger to anyone," but I wasn't buying it. He claimed that JD "just needs to build more buildings and he'll kick our arse," but it turned out than in the end he lost to Hannah by a mere two points (if I remember correctly.) So Elliot didn't win and we can all be happy. I should really be celebrating Hannah's victory rather than Elliot's loss, but I can't help that I'm a mean-spirited bastard.

Lords of Waterdeep, just as Hannah snags the lead
Final board state of Lords of Waterdeep

Over in Japan, Tom is about to win Machi Koro with just the harbour left to build. He puts it down to beginners luck and receiving a lot of help and advice — to which I'm sure you, like me, will react with gasps of shock and dismay. Beginners are to be crushed not counseled! Never mind, there are always other opportunities to send 'em running. David was also helping, not with advice but by giving him all his money, explaining his trailing position, with four objectives remaining. Tom's restaurants were just too good; "he just comes back again and again," apparently.

Machi Koro with expansions gets BIG!
After finishing Machi Koro, this bunch broke out the madness that is Dobble.

Card collision in Dobble!

I then sauntered over to a table where they were readying up to mutilate their minds in Cthulhu Realms, but hadn't started so I have nothing interesting to report. Instead I'll tell you a little bit about how their play of World Championship Russian Roulette had gone. You'll be pleased to hear that, miraculously, all four NoBoGlins who had taken part were still standing. Actually I was somewhat displeased to hear that there is absolutely no risk to the players at all, as they're not actually playing Russian Roulette and you don't even get any guns in the game box. No, it's more like the "Championship Manager" of Russian Roulette: you have to lead your team of hapless daredevils to either win the most points, or, naturally, be the last team to still have their skulls intact. The idea is to predict how many times you can pull the trigger without splattering your brains over the wall, with a push-your-luck and a bluffing element, since you can sneakily pocket your one bullet before the round begins, with other players able to call you out if they suspect you. Throughout the game you get extra abilities that retarget your shots to be aiming at the ceiling or other people and so on. All in all, the game sounds absolutely mindblowing. Ha ha. (Sorry, had to take a parting shot. (You weren't expecting so much punfire were you? (I hope this isn't triggering your disgust at puns (Please aim your ire elsewhere (OK I'll stop now)))))

So now it's time to sink into the ignominy of my own game of Lords of Vegas. This was the first time I'd played so here's a run-down of the rules in case you are similarly ignorant as I was. The aim is to obtain points by having casinos you control be activated by the cards which are drawn once per turn. Each card has a colour and activates the corresponding colour casinos. The trick is that each colour will come up a limited number of times, so you have to build the colours of the ones that will be most lucrative, and perhaps switch up once they run out. When your casino is activated you get money equal to the number of your die which is placed on it, and a point. Adjacent casino tiles of the same colour merge into a single casino worth points equal to the number of tiles, but the points are only given to whomever has the highest die value in that casino, with draws resolved by a roll-off. This means you can buy a casino next to someone else's which either starts off with a six or which you "reorganise" (re-roll the dice for) to get a higher number, gaining control of the whole operation, and all its points. (The money is still distributed to everyone.) This makes the game a constant fight for control whether by buying new tiles (which is not so easy, since you only get the purchasing rights randomly, and have to pay double the ordinary cost to buy otherwise and may then lose the spot next turn if someone gets the right card) or re-rolling the dice in an existing casino by paying one money per visible pip. This is made all the more important because after a few points, you have to actually gain points from a size-two to move up a single space, increasing the further you get.

Action shot of Laurie chucking a die
I found it reasonably fun but it was pretty difficult to have a decent amount of control over what happens to your empire. You rely very heavily on the card you draw on your turn giving you a decent spot to buy a casino on. Though you can buy casinos on plots adjacent to ones you've already built, it costs twice as much for effectively half the benefit (since on average you will lose it to someone else after half of the rest of the game.) Building casinos already costs a lot, so this seems like it's almost always a bad idea. There's also literally nothing you can do to prevent other players from trying to take over your stuff except re-rolling low dice and hoping for higher ones (a good idea anyway since it'll get you more money.) In a way it's nice to not have to worry about defending yourself, but it does just mean you will end up repeatedly losing control of your acquisitions and having to pay to try and get them back which is a bit frustrating. Still there's enough to think about on your turn to make it interesting, and not so much it takes ages. Though I did have the benefit of sloping off to gather blog material during the downtime.

Close-up of the hard-to-distinguish tiles
In the end it was a pretty close game. I can't even remember who won, but it wasn't me (I came joint second I think.) Oh and one parting thought: the colours are awful! Being what the politically correct call "chromatically challenged" games often have this problem for me, but most do pretty well. However, the casino tiles are not the typical bold hues that most games use for their pieces, and some of them are really easy to confuse. Gareth couldn't even tell the purple and brown ones apart, making him a special kind of hue-halfwit!

Final board state of Lords of Vegas

After rolling our final dice we skulked around watching various games end until it was time for a traditional episode of Avalon. I actually hadn't played it at at NoBoG ever, and hadn't played it at all for about a year, so I was very excited to once again be a... loyal servant of Arthur. YAWN! Lucky for me this is Avalon and not Werewolf so being the most boring role isn't that boring. In a controversial turn of events the first quest was immediately accepted and passed, with no opportunity to see more information from the voting. The next quest took two attempts but then it, too passed. Were the Minions of Mordred stealing a snooze, or just being superbly stealthy? Furious arguments took place over who would go on the second mission, and we'd agreed that we would take the two apparently-good guys from the first mission plus one other, and also agreed to switch it up for the third mission to ensure we had enough information at the end. But then, surprise! The third mission passed — had we just got lucky and avoided all the baddies, or had Oberon — the "mystery meat" of the game — forgotten which side he was on? It all rested on the Assassin to determine who Merlin was. But my forceful argumentation had convinced the evildoers that I had magical information, when in fact it was merely the searing power of pure logic that drove my debate. The Assassin targeted me, Merlin, the very man who picked the final mission, lived, and Good triumphed.

And thus ends the week! I hope you've enjoyed accompanying me on this adventure through time and space (well, from 6:30 to 10:30 on Tuesday, between the Grosvenor and the Mash Tun...) and will join me for another before too long. Adios! You thought you were safe from the gpuns? Well that's about to... backfire!

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!