Wednesday, 21 November 2007


And so I convened at the gathering of fiends once again for more prime gameage action. It had been some weeks since I had sat at the table, fumbling through the Marvel Heroes rule book, and having endured a tough day at work I was ready to enjoy myself, if at all possible. There was a substantial number of folks present, and I wound up as I often do at the Euro table, with Matt, Jimmy, Luke and "the new kid" Olly, very pleasant to make your acquaintance sir. I am sure these stalwarts of Euro gaming wonder why I masochistically put myself through the torture of the Euro efficiency exercise on such a regular basis, but the answer is that I get my kicks from gaming from the social aspect. If the game sucks, it really doesn't matter that much to me so long as people talked a lot during the game and there are laughs. And beer. This weeks offerings of fine ales at the Beef meant that I was able to ask the lady behind the bar for a Piddle in the Snow. And very nice it was too.

Ok, onto the action. Jimmy had brought back approximately every game released at Essen, and was quite keen to play each one, in order, for all eternity. This led us to a new offering from a Czech designer, I don't think I have played any Czech games before, but to be honest this one could have been made in any country as it didn't really have any surprising differences to any of the other games from the vast pantheon of the EURO. League of Six has the rather depressing theme of collecting taxes for the King, but it quickly becomes apparent that the theme is largely irrelevant. Players are bidding guards (or Knights as we erroneously and consistently referred to them as) to collect taxes from 1 of 6 medieval cities in a distinctly Amun Re mode. Being an incompetent player of such efficiency exercises, I rarely got into any bidding wars and generally settled for whatever was cheapest. This was plainly a bad decision as whatever was cheapest was mostly cheap for a reason. For some reason as a tax collector you end up with goods, that you put on your cart and deliver somewhere. So I ended up with minimal goods that I continually used to score victory points. As the final round drew to an end a mere 2 hours after we started, I was nestling in second place. Luke was way out in front. Look at that, I had done quite well! No I hadn't. Of course I hadn't. This is a Euro, surely you have realised by now that there is a SECONDARY SCORING MECHANISM. Collect suits of cards to earn yourself 9, 6, 4 or 2 points depending on how many you have! And I had none! Of any suit at all! So whilst Matt, Jimmy, Olly and Luke collected their bonus points, I slowly slipped further and further behind. Olly and Luke battled it out for the win, Luke narrowly pipped him, Matt and Jimmy were next in some other order, and there was I, the most pathetic tax collector in Lusatia. Well. I believe I sort of enjoyed the game, I definitely got into it as it went along, but whilst it was very well received by Luke and Jimmy it just never was going to be the kind of game that I would run home to place an order for from "Ja, ich liebe Spiele!".

Following all that intense intelligence and fawning to the freaking King, I lowered the tone and disgusted my fellow serious gamers by imposing the bawdy Ca$h n Gun$ on everyone, bar Jimmy, who went off to the other table to beat everyone at Franks Zoo. Anyways, I was getting the skunk eye from Luke in particular as I bumbled through the rules in my usual fashion. "This game has 1 minute of rules?" I could tell he was thinking. I was not expecting things to go well. And so the pointing of the orange foam guns commenced with nervous laughter and a bit of trepidation. I attempted to spice things up a little, but the lack of booze was causing quite a lot of shyness, Matt pointed out we were being far too polite and Olly rightly decried my attempt at brash rudeness by mocking my Norfolk accent that slips out when I am happy and relaxed. Many guffaws were to be had as we worked up the confidence to behave like complete buffoons for 20 minutes. I can't remember who won, Matt I think, he had a ridiculous amount of cash. We then were joined by Simeon, who had played the game before and we kicked things up a notch by introducing the special cards. I think we were more relaxed now as the second game flowed, with much yelling, laughing and general amusement. Luke revealed early on that he was INSANE! (we all knew this already), but he had a FREAKING GRENADE! This meant that we were all too scared to shoot Luke. Wounds were racked up, Matt got shot up and died just before the end, Luke never got shot, and Olly was quietly racking up money. The final bullets spent, we cashed in. Luke smugly announced he had $115k. Olly counted up, he also had $115k. But he was also SUPER COWARD! He was awarded $5k for his single display of shamefulness, and won. The least likely thug of all time, gangsters simply don't wear scarves Olly! I think we all enjoyed it. I was relieved that it hadn't fallen flatter than a pancake, and went home pleased that we had managed to play something that was a little out of the ordinary. And next time we play this Olly, "oi arm gooing to shoot you roight goord".

Friday, 16 November 2007

Essen Report 2007

Ok. I should have posted this last month, so sorry for the delay.

For those that don't know, Essen Internationalen Spieltage (Spiel '07) is an annual game fair held over four days in October at a large exhibition hall in Essen, Germany. It is a essentially a trade show for boardgames, card games and CCGs, with designers and publishers demonstrating their latest releases. However, it is open to the public and and also has retailers selling games at discount, and a large contingent of second hand stalls with a wide range of new and used games.

I attended this board gaming Mecca on Thursday 18th and Friday 19th October - the quieter days before the weekend crush.

DAY 1 - Thursday.

Prior to the event I'd compiled a comprehensive list of games that I wanted to check out or buy. I lost that list. So with a rough list of games scrawled on the back of a prescription for my medication (which I also forgot) I entered the massive exhibition centre at Essen already feeling at a disadvantge. I was accompanied by my girlfriend Liz. After a bit of aimless wandering, looking at the sights and sounds, we managed to check out a number of games that we thought we'd like to play as a couple, however the two big name contenders Zooloretto (winner of the Spiel des Jahre 2007) and Ticket to Ride: Switzerland were both rejected after a few sample games. Zoorloretto, which we both enjoyed as a four player game, was awful with just two. And Ticket to Ride: Switzerland was terribly unbalanced and luck ridden with the emphasis on tunnels and the fact the the locomotive wild cards couldn't be used in normal routes. We had far more fun playing Bausack, where we were stacking irregular blocks to create fantasy castles on par with mad king Ludwig II's Neuschwanstein Castle, which we had visited down in Bavaria only days before.

After a pretty exhausting first day and a couple of large bags of games to show for our toil, we made our way to the exit when I noticed MoD Games and their chief designer Andreas Steding. Now his name might not mean much to the casual reader, but those who know Norwich Board Gamers' very own Andy Malcolm will realise that he is none other than the designer of the infamous Kogge and therefore Andy's arch nemesis (see Kogge, Kogge, Monkey Snogger for Andy's feeling on the game). I had rather jokingly told Andy that I'd get a picture of me slapping Mr Steading, but now coming face to face
with this man of banality I realised that I had to strike a much heavier blow.

The Steding had captured a couple of young teenagers and was now forcing them to try his new game Macht und Ohnmacht (which roughly translates to 'An Eternity of Boredom and Pain'). Like the young children at the bottom of my street who are lured in by the crumpled old man and his handful of Werther's Originals, these teenagers had been lured to the table by The Steding's promise of a "war game". However, there was nothing here resembling a war game, only pointless cube pushing, mind numbing boredom and the very real danger of a sweaty groping. I knew I had to stop the menace. Thrusting my games into Liz's arms I raced to the Kosmos display, grabbing a container of fat from the bratwurst stand and a lighter off a nearby smoker. The centrepiece of the Kosmos display was a life-size model of Iorek Byrnison, the armoured polar bear from Philip Pullman's book, film and now game, The Golden Compass. Kicking away the supports and dousing the hairy beast in the highly flammable grease, I set light to Iorek and sent the bear hurtling down the aisle. The giant flaming bear slammed into the Mod Games stand sending The Steading flying across the hall and instantly setting light to the thin and flimsy abominations that The Steading had been peddling: Macht und Ohnmacht, Kogge and the incomprehensibly evil Kogge: Bonholm, all went up in flames. The Steding, now back on his feet, tried desperately to stamp out the flames, but before he could reach them, the two teenagers, now free from the evil spell, pushed over a stack of the fearsomely heavily Tide of Iron, sending The Steding crashing back to the floor, where he was no doubt trapped for at least week.

As I fled to the exit, pursued by security, cheers and applause rang around Hall 12. And as I finally skipped out through the exit on to the waiting train I felt a warm glow knowing that I'd not only struck a blow for liberty, justice and exciting board games, but also burned a giant 8 foot polar bear, and in the end, isn't that what's really important?


The second day I attended the fair on my own as Liz had an overwhelming need to buy some shoes. I'd been minding my own business when I heard a "HEY!" and felt a hand grip my shoulder. In an instant I'd worked out the best escape route and was ready to flee the scene, overturning the low table on which a family were about to play Darjeeling and make my escape through the throng of smokers stood around the exit to Hall 11. However, a split second of hesitation saved the young family as I realised that Andreas Steading didn't have a Scottish accent. Ah, that'll be Jimmy, then. Jimmy had bought all the games that he could fit in his suitcase on day one and announced to me that he only had room for one more. "The box is so big and I only have room for one more." he said as he put back Sierra Madre's monster effort 'Origins of Man: How we became human'. "Only one more." Jimmy shouted over the noise as we hustled past the crowd checking out Alea's new big box game 'In the Year of the Dragon'. "Just one more" he wailed as he resigned himself to never owning C4/Creative Cell's secretly society game 'The Circle'. We ambled through the halls, trying out the nicely produced but rather average Cheng Chang and finally sat down to try out Valley Game's Container. It was at this point that Tom joined us. It was Tom's first day at Essen and having initially been awed by the size of the fair he was now itching to try some games. Helping us learn Container was the rather unlikely Miss Canada. She took an instant liking to Jimmy, but he soon managed to fight off her advances with some well timed remarks which questioned her ability at medium weight euros, her understanding of the rules and her choice of eye shadow. This played directly into Tom's hands as he'd been pawing at her for the last half hour and despite everyone's misgivings her advice to her new champion paid dividends and Tom was crowned the victor.

We all agreed that Container was a great game, but once again Jimmy lamented that he only had space for one more game and Container had a rather big box. It was at this moment that Tom changed from a that annoying jammy sod into Jimmy's saviour. Like an angel descending from heaven and with a ray of light illuminating him and he pronounced "I have a car and I haven't bought any games so I've got loads of space." Jimmy's prayers had been answered and after a quick mental calculation, a number of games with large boxes including Container and Origins of Man were thrust into Tom's arms.

After a trip to Tom's car and a slow game of Race for the Galaxy, which I then decided not to buy, Jimmy decided that with no more money or space for games he'd get back to his hotel in order to get a good spot at a gaming table (but not before he blagged a Euro off Tom so he could back to the hotel, having spent his last on that ONE last game). Tom and I wandered the halls for a while longer. We sifted through the second hand games stalls. I picked up the games I'd made a note of earlier. Tom tried to steal games from the green haired designer Freidman Friese. I eventually left Tom at a game stall deliberating whether he should buy the French edition of Robo Rally for Crocker. And with a couple of last minute impulse buys I left the fair in order to find Liz, a beer hall and a huge plate of mixed pork.


Jimmy's early departure paid off as that evening he got to play some cool games with the guys from Counter Magazine, Richard Breese (designer of Reef Encounter) and a few other notable designers whose names escape me.

Liz and Matt got to the beer hall in Dusseldorf where they gorged themselves on a large plate of pork products washed down with some excellent Altbier.

Despite Tom's proclamation that he wasn't buying many games, and had loads of space, he ended up buying 74 games. As a result his young son ended up wearing his entire wardrobe on the return flight and Tom pawned his wedding ring to pay for excess baggage.

What a bash with Wabash

Every time I come to write up a Tuesday night session I reflect on another week that has gone by where I have failed to take any pictures and I then have to improvise so yet again here we go…..

As I didn’t win this week I don’t know if I can be arsed to spend several hours of my life reliving the misery of losing to Matt or Jimmy. The only solace I can take is that both the games we played were new to 3 of us and Jimmy had not played el principe for a while.

Wabash Cannonball was agreed to be the more enjoyable of the two games played and despite the quality of production (which many gamers want to criticise) it did nothing to limit our group from getting the game on the table. Yes the experience may have been better if the production was higher but at the end of the day it is the playing of the game that ranks as the most important feature…and this game was on the first visit interesting, tense and enjoyable.

Wabash Cannonball has a train theme (derrr) and requires players to lay track, improve distribution (not delivery) and invest in shares. At the end of the game the player who has the most cash is the winner.

The share acquiring element of the game felt in some ways similar to acquire as investment was made often when value was unknown (players gamble with potential or try to corner the market) and it felt even more similar to Imperial for this same reason along with the concept of: ‘how much money you pay for shares becoming the pool of money available to buy improvements’. Then as a railway link / development game obvious comparisons can be drawn with other such popular fare. Though Jimmy would no doubt “Arwk Norwah” Wabash Cannonball is close to my favourite train game even after just one play. Yes Ticket to ride is good and enjoyable and ok, ok, ok I need to give ‘age of steam’ another chance but I really did enjoy this game. I know that after a few more plays my opinion may change but I would be happy to play this again very soon and what with the Essen 07 games piling up, playing a game for a second time so soon, is a big deal.

Each player starts with the same $30 and an auction takes place to purchase a single share, from one company at a time (4 starting companies). Then players take it in turn to do one of three actions. They can ‘capitalise’, nominating a company and releasing a single share to be auctioned, they can ‘develop’ a company which involves putting a purple cube on a hex (that contains a railroad) that boosts the share price of that company (or gives it $2) the benefit of this is based on which type of hex is developed. Or they can choose to ‘expand’ building some track paying the cost indicated on the hex (from the company NOT there own wealth) and placing one of the companies limited track cubes on that built hex (max 3 pieces of track per build). There are various rules about where you can or can’t build and how that influences cost, but these are relatively simple. There are potential bonuses for getting to industrial cities and a bonus dividend to any company who builds track to link to Chicago. Building on mines and connecting to cities boosts the share price making that company more appealing.

Not all company’s have the same number of shares available. So players are left not knowing which company to invest in. Do you choose red? 3 shares, so easier to control, but potentially less money to build track? Or Green? loads of shares, but does that mean cheap auctioned prices and still no money? A player can influence how valuable companies and therefore shares are but ultimately the market decides what shares are worth and you must predict and watch the trends in order to win.

There are three action lines and when a player chooses the appropriate action he progresses the cube along the line. When two of the three lines have cubes that have progressed to the end of their lines then the round is over. A dividend is paid based on the share value divided by the number of shares to each player, for each share they own (rounded up) and then a new round begins starting with the player who would have been next. There are several other minor maintenance things that happen to speed the game along such as the Detroit cube progressing one space at the end of a round, when it reaches 8 the game is over and a 5th company called Wabash is released for sale when track reaches near Chicago at the far end of the map. Thus facilitating the possible end game via lack of shares (If 3 companies have no shares remaining for sale this ends game).

The action lines for the three alternative actions are different lengths, this balances the more popular actions and makes for some interesting tactical choices. Players have to consider how there choices improve not just their own score but also others and whether or not to extend the round or end it now (more money than other players or a lack of it an important factor here). To win you will need too piggyback other players as the game moves on too quickly, with to few opportunities to influence things for a player to count on a solo victory (at least amongst competent players).

In our game there were two tiers, Jimmy won with 90 cash and I cam second with 88. We considered this incredibly tight given the nature of the game. There was little difference between 3rd and 4th place though they were some way off from the lead. Connecting to Chicago was the big payout as Jimmy had shares in the two companies that did this while I had ¾ of the shares in one company and sole ownership of a lemon (that did pay a reasonable dividend) and no shares in either of the Chicago companies. As a group we over valued most of our shares when it came to bidding and a second play may get a lot tighter and last longer.

Like I said before I enjoyed this game and it lingers in the memory which is significant when compared to so many games which lack individuality so fuse into each other. Please fight to get Wabash cannonball on the table and show those moaning production whores what wonderful games they are missing.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Antler island - A spring watch game from the BBC

What did you expect from a fragor game? This game delivers a lot of fun, a laugh or five and an enjoyable 45 minutes of light gaming.

Oliver won, his first NBG victory, congrats.

I liked the simultaneous action selection and the conversational interaction that came with such a light and fun themed game but Antler Island as a game has so many flaws you need an elevator to inspect them all. As long as you're prepared for this, you could enjoy the game. What else can be said for a game that, as part of the rules, requires everyone to mock and jeer your vanquished opponent. There are so few victory points available it is extremely possible for the game to result in a draw, last count back is decided by..........player height, that says it all really.

Amyitis - an ancient Babylonian disease Jimmy cant catch

Jimmy had played this before and admitted to coming last in the only game he had played. This did not fill me with any confidence as despite Jimmy's numerous faults (the sole subject of 8 or 9 other blogs and forums) failing to understanding how he can win, is not one of them. I very much expected Jimmy to grab a strategy and thrash us all. He didn't, Jimmy came dead last again. Luke won by long stretch and Harry got second place just ahead of Oliver in third.

The game is the latest in a long line of games recently that offer potential victory through investment in an infrastructure, an investment that Jimmy and Harry both made, but like so many of the games before it, Amyitis concludes before that expensive infrastructure truly pays out. There are several things I am unsure of, such as the benefits of building a level 3 garden when levels 1 and 2 have lower costs and only minor differences in rewards. The gardener (??) cards as a result of the building issue seemed incredibly underpowered. Though this may change with further plays. I loved the mechanism for choosing actions which had 4 sets of 3 cards randomly assigned from a slightly larger deck. Each time sets were different and there was an incremental cost in choosing a second action and third action from the same set, this was VERY elegant.

So far Ystari have had an amazing record in producing SUPERB games, Amyitis is no exception. How good it is, will as ever, only be decided by multiple plays so given the crop of new releases and the size of everyone's game cupboard, NBGers will probably only get a fair evaluation after another 3 years. Amyitis doesn't set the world alight but it is a solid game with good mechanics that will no doubt get on the NBG table regularly.

NBG gets Trained by Matty B

A classic we love that rarely gets out on the table at NBG, gatewayed us into easier fare after Cuba. Surprisingly Tom had never played this family euro and after a rules session from Jimmy we began. Matt won convincingly having made only a few tickets but his completed network consisted of long connections that took him to a score around 125. Jimmy placed second having taken every available red carriage, he made the long tunnel link at the top of the board and ended on a score around 110. Oliver and Luke both ended on the same score 95 and Tom was last but got a reasonable first play score considering he was left of Jimmy and never saw red cards all game. The scores may have been tighter if Matt hadn't have ended the game so quickly laying down 3 long train sets in four quick goes but the result would have remained the same. Bondy is the man to beat when it comes to T2R besides we need to let him win something occasionally.....

Che Guecrocker

2nd play for Jimmy and Luke 1st for Matt, Tom and newbie Oliver. The game was very close all the way through, with the lead changing hands often. That said Matt and Oliver where more often than not the players setting the pace. Oliver got his hands cigars and was combo-ing them for victory points, Matt was getting extra blue cubes and exchange any for victory points, Tom was raking in money, Luke had control of the electorate and was trying to emulate Oliver's cigars but with rum, Jimmy's buildings yielded straight victory points. When the game finished Oliver was 1 space ahead of Luke and Matt with Jimmy one further space behind, incredibly tight, Tom was 3 more spaces away but still could have won. Oliver was quietly pleased thoughts of a victory in his first ever time at the Norwich boardgamers......”but wait” someone squealed, we had forgotten to award the two Vps per building, this changed the landscape one final time, Oliver had one fewer building so Luke and Matt leapfrogged into first place. Money was the tie breaker and Crocker was victorious.

I like the choices in this game, you need to be careful that you get value from any buildings constructed as the game only lasts six rounds and you need to save resources in order to afford build costs. There are many routes to victory points and several still untested approaches, with no obvious game wining strategy Cuba allows more personal approaches and opportunities. At the same time having too much choice leaves you confused over what your best approach will be. I enjoyed Cuba and its high rank is deserved but having played it twice with each game being so tight, the question on everyone's lips is – Is the game amazingly balanced, allowing so many routes to possible victory OR pointless broken so that whatever you do your in with a shout of winning???