Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Review - A Dog's Life

NoBoG was recently sent a review copy of A Dog's Life to give a whirl of and see what we thought of it. First up to give it a try was Sean and Gemma - and Sean has written us a lovely review of their time with the game.

I've also given this game a run through and was impressed with the gorgeous quality of the art and pieces, and the gameplay itself is funny with plenty of room for dog impressions, barking at fellow players across the table and some devilish moves with strategic pee placement. How many games have an element of strategic pee placement ?!

Matt has also offered to give the game a whirl with his family - and hopefully we'll get his thoughts at some point too !

But for now, over to Sean :
 


A Dog's Life: Is it a dogs dinner or has this dog had his day ? 


So me and my girlfriend Gemma went to play A Dog's Life that was graciously sent to NoBoG by Ksenia. We have both played A Dog's Life video game and as we both have a love of dogs we thought we'd try it out.
The Doggos


Opening the board game and seeing the components and popping them out I was in bliss. Pee markers ? Yes please. Bones ? Yes please. Being a female dog dressed up to the nines ? I think I went to Doggy Heaven !
A Dog's Life ready for doggos


So let's give the more important points of the game. The idea of the game is to bury 3 bones before your opponent does. This can be achieved by delivering newspapers, begging at restaurants, and dining out at trash cans. While this is going on you have to make sure that you aren't sent to the pound or that your items aren't stolen by another evil treacherous dog. It's a dog eat dog world, what can I say ?
Fully fed and ready to pee !


Ideally the best ways to mitigate these threats are by moving away from the dogcatcher and by marking your territory. Marking your territory means that your opponent has to stop in the middle of his/her turn because of the inevitable pull of another dogs scent in liquid form. These threats are more prominent with more than two players but I felt that the dogcatcher was slowly pulling towards me.

He did , but not in the way I thought. In being so busy collecting bones and running away from the catchers my poor dog Daisy ended up collapsed in an alleyway, taken by those nefarious dogcatchers.

This is the only moment I was scratching my paws though as I checked the rulings that said that dogs do not go hungry in the pound. I think this needs more clarification. Does this mean the starvation counter goes to full ? or does it mean the dog doesn't automatically starve when it leaves the pound ? I played the latter but some clarifications in the rulebook would be nice. ( Editor note - it does actually state in the rules that when released from the pound you get 1 pee and full food, the rule could probably be better placed however ).
Pee domination !


So I think I will get to the Bones of the matter and not flesh it out too much more. A Dogs Life, is it a good game ? Yes it is. Is it a game that I would recommend for 2 player ? Probably not , even though we technically did it incorrectly, I wouldn't want to play with 3 dogs instead of 1. Could this change from being a good game to a great one ? I think so, and I think that some really minor adjustments/ house rules could easily do this. So with no further adu let me say the points I find could be tinkered with a little bit.

  1. The Mangy Mutt: So instead of 3 dogs against 3 for two player, why don't we add in a new variable ? A mangy mutt for 2 player games ? The idea being like the dogcatcher the mangy mutt is controlled by the player on their turn , and is used by that player in order to impede the other players progress. Maybe use 2 die so that the mutts movement could go up to 7 and perhaps have it always fed ?
  2. Dalmatians: I personally love Dalmations they look so cute and adorable. So why not put them in this game ? Is this because the game has to be realistic to the movie or is it due to perhaps patents on specific images ? To be honest I don't know, but having dalmations in the game would be really cool ! 
  3. More Bones please? This is the only true gripe with the board game , and it can be so easily remedied. The game is a medium size game with multiple components to set up in order to start the game, and yet that game is only 40 minutes long for 2 players. Because this goes so quickly the question is why would I take 20 minutes preparing a game to play for 40 minutes when there are many fillers out there that would take a much shorter time to prepare ? The truth is I wouldn't, but do not fret since I have a solution. Just have the number of bones needed to win change for the number of players you have ! This would be similar to love letters so would therefore fill out the time making the game more immersive. Maybe put the number of bones needed to 5 or 6 for 2 players 

Aftermath

So after everything I have said do I think anyone should play this game ?` Yes, but be warned this game will turn you into a dog! We walked back home after the game and I found that all dogs were really nice to me. It was as if I truly was a dog, but is a dog's life truly for me ? I don't think I will ever know the answer to this question readers, while I wait by this lamppost that smells a little bit funny. In general though , you should play the game at least once. The components are fantastic, the theme and the rules are fun. It just needs a little push in the right direction. Rating 3/5 Bones (Quite literally)

Keeping an eye on the dog catcher
Picture of real pupper for reference - ( one of my (Minitrue's) mutts - Ares )

Sunday, 23 July 2017

The Colonists

The Colonists - Epic Gaming

Everything You Wanted To Know About The Colonists And Then Some

Over the last three weeks at Monday NoBoG I've had a chance to get to close grips with The Colonists.  It announces itself boldly on the game box as "The Epic Strategy Game", and at a play time for us of over 9 hours for a single game, epic is maybe the right word. What's the other word it could be instead of epic ? Oh yes. Long. But that reads less excitingly on the box cover - The Colonists - The Long Strategy Game.


Origin

The Colonists is a game firmly of the Euro style camp, a worker placement production engine builder, released last year by new to the game design scene Tim Puls. His first game design ever, the seed for the idea behind The Colonists started in 2008 when Tim first started to play heavier Euro classics including Agricola. Loving the idea behind the worker placement Build Your Little Production Engine World and taking some nods from the computer scene from things like Civilisation, Tim began to design The Colonists with a clear dislike of anything military or play spoiling and the idea that your workers on your actions shouldn't simply return to you magically after a round but stay where they are, persistent, and only able to move to areas / actions near them.

The Detail

The Colonists is a game where players take on the role of village mayor and must guide their settlement to ever greater heights of development and employment. To achieve this the player will build an assortment of different buildings in their tableau by spending resources, managing those resources carefully between active and non active storage locations, playing development cards to help the colony, allocating worker meeples to staff buildings and finally at the end of a year making sure you have enough sustenance to keep your worker meeples actively employed and not scurrying back to their homes in search of food.

The game space breaks down into two main parts - the first is your tableau where you will manage your village and your resources ( each resource needs a storage spot, there's no unlimited stacking of resources here ! ) , and the second is the shared world called "The Mainland", which is a modular tile based set of actions that your action meeple will wander around to take actions.
An Era 4 Tableau

End of Era 3 Mainland
The game takes place over 4 "eras", each successive era containing its own unique buildings, action spots and development cards with a ramping build cost, sophistication and power. The eras are played back to back, so things you pick up and develop in era 1 could well be along for the ride for the whole game - or if they're the right kind of building maybe they get upgraded into something a bit fancier, or if you start running out of space in your limited space village you might choose to burn them down to building something else.

Each era breaks down into a number of years where additional tiles will get added to the mainland - the pool of actions - your village will produce resources and sustenance demands need to be met. Overall you'll get to take a minimum of 30 actions per era, possibly more up to say 40, depending on your setup. This is pretty much a Euro length game in an of itself per era - 30 meaningful actions ( something like Glass Road has anything between 12 and 40 actions per player per game, Agric has a minimum of 28 actions up to around 52 ish ).

A key aspect of the game is that all meeples are not equal - there are three types of meeple, green farmer/labourer, yellow citizens and red merchants. Each type of meeple is basically a level of sophistication up from the next with increasing requirements of sustenance and building capability. The names are by and large arbitrary and don't reflect the capabilities of each meeple type. During the game you'll find yourself slowly evolving from a simple green meeple economy to a more convoluted and pricey green / yellow meeple economy to finally a tricky to balance green / yellow / red village.
All The Lovely Meeples. The Red Dudes sit at home awaiting jobs.
 The second key aspect is that resources require explicit storage space - each single resource requiring a single space - if you have three food, you're going to need three storage slots. Also, not all storage spaces are equal. Some can be freely used on your action - some you cannot access during your action, but you can move around before an action, and some are one way only storage spaces - production sites that can temporarily house that years production at best, but never be re-used.
Storage - Era 1 and Era 2 Storage here

 The final key aspect to the game is that of the mainland - a modular hex tile board, each tile of which has an action on it that a player can take. Each players action meeple ( or meeples later if you get upgrades ) can wander around adjacent tiles taking the action from each rather like the mechanism in Istanbul. Obviously this has a massive impact on the game - you're not free to simply pick and choose what action you'd like to take, you have to take a series of chained actions, and, depending on how the modular board has been created this can be vastly different from game to game ( or even in game once action spots start giving you the ability to switch any two hex tiles ).
Era 4 Mainland - James has spent most of the game arranging the mainland
in the worst possible way. The Milton Keynes of the Euro world.

The Aim

Victory points. What else ? Your victory points here are going to come from the buildings themselves - minimal points for eras 1 and 2, but these do add up quickly, development cards - minimal again in the overall scheme of things, and finally employed meeples - fairly substantial if you're doing it right.

Getting juicy high point end era buildings in and also staffed by high point red meeples is the killer aim, but affording the exorbitant costs of those buildings and the greedy sustenance requirements of the red meeples is the puzzle of the game - assuming you're playing the whole game.

It should be noted - probably because the game is so long - that there are game variants where you can pick and choose which era(s) you play. This means you can dip your toe in at a complexity level and length of game that suits you, but, at a cost of the game being way less dynamic and a good deal more flat in what you can achieve. I can't really imagine playing say, an era 4 only game - it would be weird and I suspect very dull with everyone having the same setup, and limited time to pick a direction.

The Feel

To me, the game plays like a simplified Caverna with a spin of an Istanbul like central action space that ties you into choosing suitable paths of actions rather than just picking any old action you feel like. The buildings that are placed in your village have the same feel as Caverna - each one doing interesting things and generally providing either space for your worker meeples or production spots for those end of year production phases ( of which you get 5 per era ). This is pretty much the same as Caverna or Agric in that your fields in those games produce food and animals, and there is then a requirement to feed ( and clothe in The Colonists for those damn picky red meeples ) all your dudes. The difference here is that The Colonists production phase can see you pretty much producing all the goods available in the game - wood, clay, bricks, planks and so on - as well as the needed sustenance food, and, the number of worker meeples you have is going to be far far greater than the max of 5 ish you get in Agricola - you're going to be dealing with a dozen or more.
Era 4 tiles awaiting to join the Mainland. James is in charge. It's awful.

Despite the increased production breadth in The Colonists and the number of worker meeples you are pushing around, there doesn't seem to be a particular uptick in the complexity required in managing your tableau. By and large once something is in your village it tends to stay and just keep on doing its thing - with maybe an upgrade or two to keep it efficient.

The game is interesting in a Euro management kind of way, there's plenty to do and look at, and the paths to get where you are headed are fairly diverse - but overall it doesn't seem to make too much odds how you go about things - it doesn't feel like it's a game where you can get a runaway leader and then have to sit there for the next 9 hours watching said runaway leader preen over how good their efficiency is. Is the game just busy work then with a series of hobsons choices ? It doesn't feel like that - the choices about how you build your world are interesting, I just think there is no super bad course you can take here - the game is not punishing, and just about everything you do is going to help.
This Years market actions. You get five of these per era. 40 in all. Zoiks !
 The pain point in the game is the getting of resources, conversion of resources, storing of resources and then the spending of resources. That's the crucial juggling you'll be doing as you attempt to build better stuffs and keep up with the increasing sophistication of the eras.

It must be said here. The game is long. Very long. It doesn't feel like a waste of time or too much boring downtime - which is quite something as there is an absolute butt load of downtime and there can be some sticky AP moments which just double down on the length.

Overall

The game is cool, very enjoyable if you like your Euro stuffs, is wildly replayable with a modular tile mainland that guarantees almost a unique pattern of actions every game, and a variable card deck and limited choice of powerful Ambassadors in setup. It has no huge game breaking flaws mechanically, scratches a Euro production engine itch, and because of its length and scope is probably the most Euro productiony thing you're going to play. But, that's not because its a super crunchy and clever production engine game. It's just that you're going to be doing a fairly standard production enginey thing for 9 hours. Quantity. Not quality.

The game kept my attention and interest, and some of the core mechanics are interesting and cool - the persistent wandering meeple is a lovely twist on the typical pick whatcha like Euro mechanic, indeed the whole mainland thing is interesting with its variable market action that changes every year, and you'd think that this aspect of the game has legs to be pushed into other games.

But the game does have problems. Possibly one killer problem. And the design some seem to suffer from a lack of editing, something of a kitchen sink mentality and a lack of elegance.

Problem ?

There are a number of small problems with the game which feel like they are a victim of this being a My First Game I Designed issues and no strong editorial voice cutting the game where it needed some pruning.

But the kick ass arguably show stopping problem for this game is its length. Length and what you get for your time investment.

Time

The box reckons the game is between 30 minutes and 6 hours in length. But by now we all know that box game length times lie. Our four player game, excluding setup and rules, took us 9 hours to complete. Eras 1 and 2 came in at over 3 hours for the pair together, Era 3 on its own was around 3 hours, and era 4 a similar amount of time.

At 9 hours in play, sitting down to this game with a full table is daunting. This is not going to be a game you slam out regularly for a gaming session - this is going to be a full on reserve a day and settle in for the long haul. Even if you split play up over multiple sessions, the commitment will then be more akin to a short roleplay campaign than a simple board game night !

And what do you get for your 9 hours ?

You get Caverna. Played maybe three times over back to back.

First you get to build your village with green meeple buildings - and no sustenance cost.

Then you get to do it over again, this time with yellow meeples and yellow buildings, this time with your more traditional, one food per meeple sustenance cost.

And then you get to do it again with your red meeples and red buildings, with a pricey two food and one clothing cost.

The buildings interleave and upgrade, so you'll have a mix of green, yellow and red by the end, but make no mistake, the mechanics are the same - the costs rise, the capabilities go up, but you're doing the same problem solving three times over.
3.5 hours in, End of Era 2. My first yellow dudes have turned up.

Which is perhaps a clue as to why the game takes 9 hours to play. That and the fact that by game end you'll have taken at a minimum a gut busting 120 actions, and in all probability the action count will more likely be up around 140 actions. You'll also have overseen a massive 20 production and sustenance cycles.

Compare and contrast something like Agric. 6 sustenance and production cycles.45 ish actions. Which just so happens to be approximately a third of the numbers of The Colonists. Coincidence ? Hell no !

So. It's three Euro games. Stuck in one.

But yeah, think of the awesome unique production euro-ness and the heights of efficiency joy you get with 9 hours to craft your vision.

Except you don't. Maybe there's a finite limit to Euro Production Joy. Maybe its the fact that you're repeating the same schtick for 9 hours. But whatever it is, for me, The Colonists does not produce three times the Euro goodness of Other Things. For me it produces the same amount of Euro goodness of Other Things. But at three times the length.

Meh. I mean ok. It's not terrible. But now combine that with "and when the hell am I going to get time or convince anyone else to sit down to a 9 hour game of Resource Shuffle (TM)". And you have a problem.

I like the game. I am very glad I played it - I had fun. I feel no need to ever play it again. Ever.

So that's the time issue. What else ?

Resource Finagling

The storage issues in the game are just a pain in the ass. And not an exquisite pain in the ass like the panic of trying to feed yourself in Agricola and avoiding the shame of the begging card, but more a pain in the ass like, wow, this is entirely unnecessary and fiddly.

The game makes a deal of having only some of your storage areas accessible to use goods in an action. The other areas are off limits. You are free to switch goods around before an action - but not during. In this way it kinda makes sure you cant spend all your goods in a single action. Its limiting you to how many things you can build or convert in a single action. But oh boy. The fiddlyness of this is just meh. One of the areas - a warehouse - contains a single, SINGLE resource slot. Which is about as useful as a chocolate teapot. If you're lucky and diligent you might get this up to as much as five slots by game end ( by contrast, a single storage hall at this point can hold 12 items, and you have potentially three of them plus an extra three slot area, making a total of 39 items ).
Extra Storage. All three spaces. Three. Woo. A sad single ore is next door.

The ratio of this warehouse to usable space is minimal. And only exacerbated by the fact that, oh my, so long as its before an action, you can freely switch this shit around anyway.
Era 4 - my storage is still stuck around Era 3. No time to get better.


Which very quickly makes you beg the question - why the hell is this in the game. It serves bugger all purpose. Apart from adding extra rules and extra fiddlyness for the sake of it.

If you wanted to limit how many things someone can do on an action - rather than arse around with usable and non usable storage, simply state the limit on the action - no more than three times, two times, whatever. Indeed the game already has this concept in place for single use activation - you can only do this once. The game should clearly have just ditched the fiddly resource shuffling and stuck in build limits - elegant, quicker, no pain ( less time !! ).

Limited player interaction.

The game plays like a solo multiplayer. Even when you've not got a card in that entirely eliminates all interaction between players, the interaction is almost nil. The only interaction is someone must pay to use an action spot someone else is standing on. Exactly like Istanbul. But in The Colonists the chances of you tripping over each other at exactly the same time with exactly the same plan are minimal to non existant. Whereas Istanbul has 16 action spaces of which maybe half are not reasonable relevant at any point, The Colonists can have 60 spaces ! Imagine Istanbul with 60 spaces, and then see how many times you land on each other.

Solo multiplayer doesn't sound so bad - no one can mess with my ideal setup. Sure. For 9 hours ? At this point you might as well lock yourself in your garden shed for a day, play the game, then compare notes with everyone else ! Table camaraderie and socialising is a key aspect to how palatable this game is. Because the game certainly isn't going to give you anything.

Learning Curve

There's a learning curve to the game. What's an optimum number of green workers. When should you start pushing for Ore. How much food is a good number for end game ? Pubs. Yay or nay ?
Building two pubs. A good idea ? I'll let you know in 9 hours
Unless you're the kind of gamer that likes sitting down before ever punching the bits and number crunching the rules to get some kind of game plan - or possibly just cheating and reading what someone has to say on the internets - then this game has a learning curve like pretty much every other Euro of, oh, This Is A Good Idea Right Now, And Thats Really Not.

Which is fine.

But at 9 hours, getting a good grasp of that learning curve is less of a gaming experience, and more of a life choice. Yes. I Have Dedicated Myself To Mastering The Colonists. In my spare time I have a career and earn money.

It's perhaps not a big deal particularly if everyone is just learning as you go, or some very helpful experienced soul nudges you occasionally, but again, finding out that your plan to massively invest in
Snake Oil Lol This Doesnt Do Shit Really But Its Kinda Been Left In The Game Anyway was bullshit after 9 hours of play is going to be, I imagine, somewhat deflating. Fortunately there isn't really anything in the game thats a Big Mistake, but you can definitely mis-step and either under provision or over provision for stuff that never really happens ( James and his Cunning Plan of developing Powers so he never had to pay anyone for action spots springs to mind - it was basically a waste of time ).

RNG

The RNG in the game is pretty acceptable. By and large it's not a huge surprise, you can see things coming, and it just injects interest in the game rather than table flipping bullshittery. That being said. Some things like the development cards can be at one end of the scale an entire waste of time, and at the other super powerful. One card that James picked up in the powerful end game set of development cards was literally - gain one coal. The prize for naughty children at Christmas. And in game terms worth about the same thing. The problem is that achieving anything in The Colonists takes quite a bit of prep. Hauling your meeples ass out to pick up cards then hauling it back across the board two turns later to play the card is a pain in the ass effort. Picking up a card that says Ha Ha You Loser on it, and watching the next player pick up, Everything You Do From Now On Costs Nothing is somewhat shit. Then again perhaps its part of the balance of the cards - its something of a risk. But again, after 9 hours of this shit, everything becomes a little more .... sensitive in design terms.

And Everything Else

Theres a number of minor issues throughout the game. The largely pointless busy work with tools ( you need tools to build stuff, you produce them every turn, after 9 hours of gameplay no one at the table ever had a problem with their supply whatsoever - what the hell is the point of this goddamn extra piece of resource crap that is never a supply problem in the first place ! ), the oddly pointless green meeples ( they cost nothing to support, they get you 1vp if employed, well crap, shall we just  remove them entirely from the game and assume green buildings are powered and get you an extra vp ?! ) . Timing seems to be rather wacky in the game as well. By the time final era storage spaces are available, you'd be an idiot to build them instead of building something rather more points fancy - and if you do build them, you're likely not going to have a chance to utilise them. Unless they come out super early - and even then, limited usability. A lot of stuff seems to be like this - odd timing issues with the whole game.
Green and Yellow Economy ! Era 3 ish.

You could do much in the game so much more elegantly, reduce bit count, reduce time , reduce fiddly.

The game is badly in need of a ruthless editor.

Or another game needs to come out which takes some of the nice concepts from this game, and chops it down to some reasonable length.

Summary

I've given The Colonists a good kicking here. Ambushed it in a dark alleyway and proceeded to beat the living snot out of it. But it's all in love really. The game is very playable, enjoyable, and I think every serious Euro gamer needs to play this at least once. Maybe twice ( more than this is madness or a life path choice imo ). The game is going to be the most productiony Euro game you play, it IS epic because it's three Euros in one, back to back, over 9 hours of play, and you get to wear the I've Played The Colonists Survivor T Shirt.

It's a nice effort from Tim Puls. But hopefully, when he does his next game, his excitement about including Absolutely Everything Ever and making Everyone Play It For The Longest Time Ever will have receded and something a bit more elegant will hit the table.


Monday, 17 July 2017

Cows & Cows & Board Games



HULLOOOOOOOOOOOO! I'm writing this from the magic of a train, which means I keep getting distracted by cows. Typically the cows are in the fields rather than on the train. The train has just reversed direction at Ely and I'm now facing the wrong way, which I'm rather miffed at. Anyway. This is a NoBloG not a travel diary, I suppose. This week I'll be sending you missives regarding Plague Inc, Trajan, Camel Up, Sons of Anarchy, Plague Inc (again) and Adrenaline. Ooh look, horses.

First let's conquer the world the infectious way in Plague Inc, which is apparently so good that two separate groups of people were marching (in boots carrying foot-and-mouth, no doubt) their microscopic minions across the globe this week. Let's start with the front-room group, which was already pretty infected when I arrived. As I draw up, Matt fails his roll (his disease still being pretty pathetic so he only had a one-in-six chance) — disappointing for him because in his words "it would have pissed Lewis and JD off" if he'd got it. He is, however, the filthiest of all the players at this point, having acquired soe bonus infectiousness along the way which has bagged him a presence in a bunch more countries. Why are we going so slowly? Hey — dragonflies. Lewis on his turn talks a little excursion to Argentina then (paradoxically, in my view) gains cold resistance. But he wants to take one of those fashionable breaks in Iceland so it makes sense. With his low lethality he also is unable to succeed in his rolls to kill the countries he's managed to break out all over.
Thumbs up for disease!
Disease points
In the second game of Plague Inc — Sean tells me there had to be two "just because we wanted to kill everyone!" — Sean and Jake have a comfortable lead but are battling bitterly for first place. As this is being explained, Katherine is deliberating: "I just can't decide where to infect now!" But after having made up her mind picks up a mega-bonus which might throw the final tally, so confidently expressed mere moments ago, into doubt. I leave after being given cause to doubt the players' understanding of basic biology the advice is given, "remember you can't infect Kenya! They have diplomatic immunity." After a short pause it is pointed out that just regular old immunity immunity would probably suffice.
Because obliterating humanity once
is not enough.

Next up I have a look at a suitably imperious Trajan where it seems the eponymous emperor has been replaced by a Great Old One — one of the lesser-known dictators of the Roman Empire. John is getting confused about which place he's in, pretending to be last when actually not. All part of the meta-gaming strategy to get his opponents to go easy on him. Alfie is actually winning, whilst Pete insists they're all winning — awwww. However Pete actually has loads of bonus actions lined up so maybe he too is trying to divert attention. After all this motivational muttering, John still seems sad but nevertheless takes a bonus to hammers (or something, I'm just going by the symbol on the card. A bonus for do more break smash sounds good though.) Also this synergises with his end-game bonus (which unlike in a lot of games, are public information.) I leave them to work out who is winning the old-fashioned way — by playing the game to the end — and to their fate with the Ancient Horror.
Trajically Trajan. Tragic because
everyone's gone mad with terror.

Next up it's Camels. Which are also up. I've got no idea what's going on — they seem to be humping each other, and it's not even past the watershed. I am scandalised. When I enquire about what is actually happening, Ellie informs me that "it's a complete disaster" — presumably because she is not doing as well as she hoped. At this point accusations start flying: "that's cheating! You didn't get what you want and you rolled it again!" says Katie. Ellie retorts that she "rolled it wrong," which is an excuse I really would like to try in the future. Katie on the other hand is upset because "everyone was against me." "That's because you're winning." Amid much scrutiny due to the aforementioned incident, Dan rolls his die very carefully and with a touch of flourish, but I don't think it helped. I didn't learn anything about the rules but the game involves high emotions and a lot of swearing so it's probably good.
Oh my.
Woof. This doesn't have anything to do with
board games but who's gonna complain?!
The game of Sons of Anarchy seems disappointingly orderly and calm. Dave nevertheless asserts that it's caused such anger that the table has descended into gang violence, though I think he's getting confused between the game and reality again. Dave has three contrabands (i.e. cocaines). Contraband (cocaine) you can sell for cold hard cash (money) which is probably good. Dave then promotes a guy to have a bike. I thought that it was rather iniquitous to have gang members cycling around but apparently he got a motorbike which is probably more thematically appropriate. James on the other hand has no money at all but an absolute ton of cocaine — presumably piled up in some kind of parody of Scarface. Then a fight breaks out. No, in the game, not in real life. Both parties secretly commit a certain number of gang members and perhaps some guns, and roll dice. The total strength determines the winner, and bringing guns to what is no longer a knife fight also kills off some of the opponent's fighters.
Anarchy in the Mash Tun
Money! Drugs!
And now if I may get your Adrenaline pumping I will describe the game I played. Though I've left writing this up longer than normal and been distracted by a lot of farm animals so the details are getting a bit fuzzy. I'm pretty sure Benjamin was the sheep... Anyway the game started as it usually does with a scramble for the good weapons. I ended up with a Power Glove (run at people and punch them in the face), a Heat Seeking Missile and the localised area-of-effect Shockwave. In retrospect I probably should have found myself a medium-range weapon as positioning became very difficult — I either wanted to be right in people's faces or as far away as possible. As the game's mechanics tend to ensure, everyone got killed a similar number of times, not that being killed really does anything bad to you anyway. James zipped around the map using his Cyberblade (which allows you an extra move after you whallop someone with it) while Colin somehow avoided getting shot for ages.
Rarrr, kill 'em all!
Once the end-game phase was triggered, Colin and I had also managed to forget to actually kill anyone — Benjamin and James being the only two to have done so. Colin also unfortunately misunderstood the end-game and thought he would have an extra turn, missing out on the possibility of getting some last-minute points. As it happened if he had done so he might have inadvertently handed me the victory instead of James. The result of my ridiculous length of time trying to work out how to kill Benjamin was "you can't," requiring one more point of damage than I was able to do. In the end I came joint second, so that was OK. I've played Adrenaline 3 times now and I'm still not entirely sure what I think. It's definitely fun but it seems to be missing something — you're basically only ever trying to do damage — whether to finish someone off, to get more damage on someone before they die, or to get damage on someone new. With some more tactical options it might have a bit more depth — if there were some incentive to not take damage other than giving points, or an effective way to block other players from hitting a particular enemy. I also wonder if the action limit could be made a little more lenient without making it too easy — you can never do what feels like a "complete turn" because you typically want to move, pick up ammo or a new gun, get into position and then shoot someone, but you can generally only do two or three of these. I call on NoBoGgers to make it so!
Contemplative Colin.
Adrenaline gets pumping.
And that was the week — shooting, camels, more shooting, Cthulhu and everywhere the terrible spectre of disease. And more cows, right there in that field. Hope you've enjoyed, BYE!

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
market.
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.
Keyflower
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.