Wednesday, 24 October 2007

The Fantastic 4 CAN NOT LOSE!

The Fantastic 4 CAN NOT LOSE! Was the rallying cry of Matt "Lederhosen" Bond, away over at the serious gamers table. Myself, Dan, Luke and Ben (Ben? is that your name? I am really sorry if it isn't) had convened to play the prime Ameritrash offering (designed by Italians of course), Marvel Heroes. Being a half-wit, I am always up for any game that involves dice and fighting, and our buddies to our right thoroughly blitzed through Race for the Galaxy, Space Dealer and some other game that looked a bit dull and didn't earn a glowing review from Matt "Bratwurst" Bond. We, on the other hand, took a mere 45 minutes to even go through the rules. Most of which we forgot, quite quickly. If there is one thing Marvel Heroes does not lack, it is rules, lots of tiny, seemingly insignificant rules. None of them are. Insignificant that is. They are all CRUCIAL. Imperative! We butchered many rules throughout our play session, but the game remained uproariously playable. If you screwed up the rules whilst playing most games at the Ribs O' Beef, the bits would probably end up swimming in the Wensum, but when it comes to Marvel Heroes, you simply do not care. You play the games for the scraps, the brawls, the dice rolls. Several times I stood, punching the air in triumph, mostly when my evil henchman (Kingpin) utterly humiliated Dan's heroes in combat (generally due to a crucial rule failing to be applied). For example the time that Kingpin was duelling with Spidey and had his hits reduced to a mere one. Spidey was ready to counter that with his single defence dice. But what is this? Kingpin is playing a card that reduces Spidey's defence dice to a nice round ZERO. Spidey has no defence! Why were his Spidey senses not tingling? Spidey is going home in disgrace. Kingpin has earned another card. Kingpin is playing it on the cowering Spidey. Spidey now requires more plot points to be activated. Dan is glum. And so on. Of course, Dan had his revenge many times, as my "unbeatable" Fantastic 4 suffered terrible dice rolls and crushing beatdowns of their own, as Dan wheeled out the Sandman and other "Most Wanteds" to thwart me at every turn. Meanwhile Luke was racking up victory points at an alarming rate. It was around this time that two well dressed lads stumbled into the games room and enquired as to our activity. They seemed perplexed as we explained we played games for fun. They went out onto the balcony, squeezing past our gaming in the process. Moments later a girl appeared, and Matt "Beckenbauer" Bond told her, falsely, that the balcony was locked. The girl looked positively devastated as she pointed through the window and said "But that's my boyfriend out there". Matt "Berlin Wall" Bond was forced to admit defeat, and let her out, but not before she eyed the game he was playing and observed that she was not familiar with it. Matt "Autobahn" Bond himself was not even familiar with it, so I am not sure what chance she had. Anyways. Time was pushing on and we had played what appeared to be about 25% of our entire game. But we were betting without Luke. For Matt "Herr" Bond had previously observed that "The Fantastic 4 CAN NOT LOSE!". He had made a mistake. Luke had played the Fantastic 4 in all previous games. The refrain should have been "The Fantastic Luke Crocker CAN NOT LOSE!". For Luke did not lose. He beat us all, with ease. But who cared? We had all loved every minute of Marvel Heroes, except those minutes where we all forgot the rules and I spent ages delving into the rulebook attempting to figure out what happens next. Marvel Heroes is a heck of a game, but do not play it with anyone that does not have the patience of a Saint. Or Luke.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Rich wins first Arcadia outing

And so it begins. One point separated 1st from 2nd in last nights ‘Die Baumeister Von Arkadia’ A first play for Rachel, Rich and Kat. Luke did the rules session and the game flowed fairly well. The game is incredibly simple, has a certain degree of depth and plays relatively quickly (provided you play with the right crowd). We zoomed through our game with Rich edging out Luke by the smallest of margins. The way scoring is calculated you would expect a variety of scores but it was tight between 1st and 2nd and tight between 3rd and forth with Kat getting the bronze medal and Rachel being left with the wooden spoon.

The game involves building a town around a central castle. Players have two choices either play a card which places a building on the board or play workers from behind your screen around a building already on the board. When a building is completed (completely surrounded by workers and or other buildings), that building is scored, all owned workers adjacent score a medal with a bonus medal going to the player who instigated the completion. When any building is completed you add a tower to the central castle. Twenty towers can be added before the end game is triggered. Each tower has a colour of a medal on its top and all medals are worth the value of visible tower tops. You have four opportunities (+final scoring at the very end) to cash in the medals you have collected taking this opportunity at the end of any of your turns. Thus the game takes on a second and interesting element of choosing the correct tower from the available store and placing it in such a way as to maximise you imminent cash-in or minimise somebody elses.

I would like to play this ‘two player’ as the biggest problem I have with the game is not being able to set yourself up with a good play. You have to rely on others leaving you opportunities as any manoeuvring you make for future gain is soon utilised by one of your opponents. I enjoyed yesterdays outing immensely because everybody (including myself) played openly. We each left loose ends and each had loose ends available come out turn. The only other time this game was played (Tom, Andy, Matt and me) we also played openly first time (good game) but then in an immediate second play we all tried to be far more tactical. This slowed the game right down from 45 minutes to double that of nearly ninety minutes. The game became much less fun as a lot more analysis and calculations took place.

I am becoming a bigger a bigger fan of RĂ¼diger Dorn, who along with this designed Jambo, Traders of Genoa, Goa and Louis XIV. He has developed games of different weights and complexities but all his creations I have played I have bought and intend on keeping. A few more plays of Arcadia are needed by me before I decide how great this game is, but it is definitely a keeper, if not only for the fact that in 3 plays Crocker has only won once.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Luke is the Champion at Drawing Red Tiles From a Bag

What a games night. Ten players, three tables, a civilization born, Jimmy inventing fire, Matt singing Iron Maiden, Dan and James turning up….it had everything. Andy has already described the role play esq extravaganza that was heavy metal lyrists dream and I haven’t a clue where Tom, Jimmy, Harry and Stephen got to in their history of the world, though as soon as someone had discovered the art of metallurgy I am sure a hari-kari or two may have ensued.

Dan, James and Luke played Torres which had not seen the light of day for over a year having last been played at the complete Angler. Dan had played before and could vaguely recall some of the actions, Luke read the rules and James soaked it all in comparing it as ever to ‘thief of Bagdad’. The game flowed reasonably well and with the wrong players can suffer from the dreaded ‘Analysis Paralysis’ but this wasn’t the case. James and Luke battled over the largest region and Dan stayed clear which ultimately cost him contention as when the final scores were calculated Dan’s lack of points in this one huge region made all the difference. Luke ended up wining though James ran him close and the unfair advantage Luke had in having played before albeit a while ago obviously made the telling difference.

The second game on our relatively small table was Dan’s ‘Tigris and Euphrates’ a Kineza game that was first and last played one the club was a fledgling group at St Andrews tavern. This game is ranked number 3 in the all time board game geek lists and despite enjoying many aspects of it I have to say it is sensationally over rated. The game has brilliant conflicts, abstract (if you like that sort of thing) strategies and tactical depth but falls down time and time again on luck. If you don’t have the right tiles at the right time you lose. Its all well and good to say that Luck should even itself out but it seldom does. James drew 2 possibly 3 red tiles throughout the game and Dan drew only a few more. Luke repeatedly drew red tiles and as a result constantly won internal conflicts. If Luke ever lost external conflicts which rarely happened, he then proceeded to gain control again the following turn with an internal fight. With several monuments coming out relatively early the flow of cubes to the annoying Crocker was insatiable. Wanting as ever to prolong the agony Luke contemplated earning more cubes till he finally realised he might win if he ended the game. Second place was tight and went down to the third colour. I believe it was Dan who won but I was too busy doing my victory dance to notice.

That makes it Puerto Rico 9 games ago that Luke was beaten……whatever happened to ‘In your face Crocker’?

III Ages of Empires needed to write this review

Andy seems to have the knack of writing these reports. I however enjoyed posting when I was not at work but find it virtual impossible to get the time needed to update this Blog regularly. Never fear – due to the almost permanent holidays us teachers get I will posting more rapidly very soon.

Age of Empires III was christened on the first Tuesday this month and was new to all players. A six player marathon ensued and the game just finished in time for debate and exit. Published by tropical (the new Eagle games) it is a big box with loads of plastic pieces however no huge board just a regular big board which was nice and playable. Jimmy did the rules and it seemed like there were various routes to success. Most players developed a personal strategy through the game and there was plenty of conflict to keep the game interactive. Each player had a turn store of workers/settlers who they placed on the board in a designated area of there choice, one at a time. Each area gave a privilege sometimes to the first worker, sometimes to every worker and sometimes to the player with the most. These privileges varied from moving that worker to a colony overseas, being able to buy a power up, changing your turn order, receiving trade goods, starting a single battle, exploring to form a colony, wining a boat (helpful for set collection, money and possibly victory points) and gaining specialised workers.

There was a good euro game vibe from the selection process and initially various ideas and routes offered themselves for testing. A few snags developed along the way with the somewhat risky exploring function that crucified Jimmy at one stage and some of the conflicts could be so bloody as to set back any player involved a long time. Rewards were sometimes gained cheap and other times at great expense and folding early saved some players from absurd loses. Much debate was had over possible fixes to the explore problem but Sim very wisely encouraged us to play the game through before tweaking it. The game was scored in three stages each stage slightly shorter than the last and because of territory wrangling and victory points being on offer in various ways it was tough to truly predict the result till the very end.

Harry had strong goods and supplies with a stock of ships, Sim had a heavy colony presence and a huge fleet along with cash on the hip, Matt had been battered but had even handed resources. Stephen had a very strong militia in the colonies and the power to heavily influence regions, Jimmy had virtual no income and had a euro strong colony expedition and Luke had slightly fewer resources than Harry but had a stronger colony position though he lacked ships.

There were many factors throughout the game that shaped the outcome and it would be very difficult to pinpoint one as a turning point. However the decisions made in the final two or so rounds were noticeably going to effect final victory point status so these decisions were paramount. The final standings saw Stephen capture third Jimmy second and Luke win. I naturally loved the game and have started on the tweaks for our next session.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Rock Steady Eddie

Having only just gotten over my fear of board gaming (see previous entry), I returned to the Ribs o' Beef, afflicted with cholera, determined to infect all and sundry. And so I brought along Return of the Heroes (a.k.a. 'the anti-Kogge'), not expecting anyone to really be up for a game of fantasy adventure in the land of dice rolls, experience cubes and becoming a virtual, non-striking postie, delivering successful quests all over the map in return for gold and glory. I was wrong, as Matt "I'll Try Anything Once, Yes, Even That!" Bond and the poor, unsuspecting newcomer Ben volunteered for action. I concluded a brief "explanation" of the rules, citing random points about the game in no particular order by taking 15 minutes to set the bugger up, losing a token in the process. And so it began, the very understanding Matt (playing Leandra Stormblade) and Ben (Sybil Spellsinger) indulged me (elf guy) and learned as they went along. Ben took to things like a duck to water, utilising his RPG background to figure out that the winner just needed to do lots of things, and do lots of things more than his opponents. And quicker. Ben strolled around the map, performing deeds of derring-do, and completing BOTH of his main quests (you only need to complete one, Ben was just showing off) before striding out East to dispose of the big nasty baddie whilst losing a mere single hit point. Matt wasn't far off, probably only a turn away from victory himself, whilst I languished, having buffed up nicely but some distance from finishing my quest. Ben seemed to thoroughly enjoy himself, but Matt wasn't convinced, mostly due to the lack of player interaction / confrontation, which to be honest, this game has virtually none of, and RPG-lite really needs this kind of thing. We endured much mocking from the "serious" gamers over on the next table, people who were in the process of stacking bits of plastic to form towers or something, who knows what that was all about, any way, every time we read out the frankly dubious descriptions of quests, it became required to sing your quest name in the style of Bruce Dickinson in his pomp. The game was truly an Iron Maiden album made in board game form, and Ben earned his place in board gaming history as the, uh, 7th daughter of a seventh son or something.

After that, Matt, Ben and myself plunged in a pair of games of Sir Knizia's Ivanhoe, a veritably enjoyable card game affair that attempted to bring the pageantry of the Joust to our board game table. I blasted through the rules, for there are about 5 of them, and in we went, wielding weaponry, with a squire to attend to our every need, and fair Maidens to swoon at the sight of our impressive lances. Matt stormed into a lead in game one before we discovered that the game has a particularly neat inbuilt method of reigning in the leader. Ben and I made our comebacks but Matt deftly rolled to victory. In game two the action cards came to the fore, one particular classic round saw Ben destroy Matt's hand of jousters, and spy a win, only for Matt to unhorse Ben and force him to win a colour that he already had. DOES THIS SOUND LIKE FUN TO YOU? To be honest it was a lot of fun to play, but I am inadequate at describing it. Despite going all in for victory early on only to be cleverly manipulated into temporary defeat, I was able to race back and claim victory in a fairly lame fashion, with Matt submitting to give me the win. To enjoy Ivanhoe to the fullest, please read your action cards in a knightly voice. We all enjoyed this one.

Over on the other tables, the guys stacking towers moved on to pushing bits of wood around. Luke seemed to trounce his unwitting opponents, before claiming he had only ever played the game once ever. A likely story. On table three, a hardy foursome were indulging in the History of the World. Literally. This game appeared to take place in realtime. I am pretty sure they are still there, because as I left into the cold night air, Jimmy has just invented the wheel, and everyone else is still mucking about with fire.

Monday, 1 October 2007

25th September Report

This is just a quick post to help remember the games played on Tuesday night.

St Petersburg - 4 players. One experienced burger in Luke, whilst Steve & Harry had played before but only in a two player game. All in all VERY even amongst the players who were new to the 4 player version, with only a few points separating 2 from 4. It feels like an obvious statement but St Petersburg is really only competitive amongst players of equal recent experience. Obviously a good gamer will get to a level of competence faster than a bad player. But because the mechanisms are relatively simple in St P its really a measure of when to go for what and the real value of anything is and that knowledge is experience. Jimmy and I played a 3 player version a few weeks ago and despite solid player Jimmy was off the pace in the end because whilst an excellent 4 person player, he was not as experienced at playing with 3. In this game after all others scores had been finalised Luke was 3 points behind the leader having not scored his 16 different oranges.

After 5 Victories in a row for Luke it was time to play a game he wouldn't win.......because there wasn't enough time to finish it. We attempted a 6 player game of VINCI. It got a lot of positive feedback from the table and scores and leads changed quick. Jimmy ran the rules session to 5 newbies and like always we were none the wiser. In truth most of the game is incredibly simple and with some English player aids, some of the questions asked would have been redundant. Luke started, chose his spot and Steve followed and crushed him early, a very admirable tactic all most have appreciated. Steve then proceeded to take an early lead with the game being abandoned while Jimmy's empire was in the ascendancy. The game has natural dips and peaks in players scoring so it would have been hard to predict the eventual winner however I felt despite an improved mid game showing from Tom that Richard was in the best position to ultimately win the game. I can see the case for playing with 6, crowding the map, however this lead to very unpredictable choices in races/abilities. With experienced players I feel 4 may be a better number, we will see, as VINCI will no doubt be out on the table again soon.