Monday, 1 December 2008


So last week I got to play Caylus again...fantastic. It was played last month and Luke* gave it another go along with Tarnya, Ruth and Hal. It went down reasonably well and felt very close and tight till the final stretch.

Jimmy, Jack and Tom (welcome back) played cavum which I believe Tom won and James and Dan beat Bondy and Andy at some war game that they really enjoyed. (where are the reviews Andy)

After our Caylus, Hal and Ruth left along with Jimmy and the remainder of us non war gamers played eketorp....which was enjoyed by all except Luke* who got dealt a poor hand and got very frustrated with the gaming system. He argued his point well but we all know it was because he was just useless at it.....Crocker won just as the game was being thrown into the box and the landlady was taping her feet....

See you all in 24 hours :-)

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

SUKOTHAI, Brass and spilt drinks

Just a quick entry to say last week I played Brass with Jimmy Hal and Ruth. One of my favourite games with different strategys emerging, Hal went for the ‘do as many bad moves as I can think of strategy’ which surprisingly didn’t pay off for him, he always seemed to know exactly what he should have done and had we had the will or inclination to re-play the game I’m sure Hal would have done better. Both Ruth and myself where getting a large amount of money each round thanks to our build strategy and only because of my experience and diversification I ended up in front of her. Jimmy went for ship yards and for want of either of a few crucial cards could have won….but victory was mine.

Bondy, Rich, Lewis and James played Reef encounter. Some speedy coral eating and responsive play saw Rich win. This was followed by ‘King of Siam’ with the now infamous SUKOTHAI no idea who won that as I was too pre occupied with the spilling of liquid over a then abandoned game of For Sale. This had followed two games of ‘shadows over Camelot’ where Luke*, Jack and an unknown uni friend (sorry) kicked the games arse convincingly not once but twice. Well not suprising as they had failed to follow a crucial rule of playing 1 card at an event and had instead been putting down pairs and 3 of a kinds in the tournament areas. Ho hum, they will know for next time.

I mostly drank grapefruit and lemonade! Roll on next week (which is today!!)

Sunday, 2 November 2008

First Essen taste 2008

Twelve arrived and over time departed. The early players got to experience the dexterity game ‘Hamster wheel’ this was a hit and drew interest from players as they arrived. As a result Jack requested to play it later after he had beaten Luke and Lewis at Mykerinos but had lost miserably at Pueblo.

Matthew very kindly led a five player game of Agricola which took all night and the rules session for that and Jimmys rule session for Comuni for Richard, James and me took as long as the other groups game of Pueblo.

Comuni has a few neat mechanisms and gives players 3 choices of actions. Placing workers, retrieving workers and gaining the benefits or raising revenues. In addition you can build buildings that you have won and build walls to stave off one of the four attacks scheduled in the game. Each player has a strength in income of one of the types of cubes and each type of cube that can be won has its own benefit. Gold helps workers win regions, white helps build more and increases the quality of cards to help build, 2 brown cubes are wild and a brown also aids in worker displacement leaving black cubes which represent soldiers and a way to defend your city when under attack.

As you build you acquire victory points which relate not just to final game score but also to exposure to the savage attacks from the hordes. But when you fall victim you don’t lose VPs (which would limit your exposure later) you are given negative VP markers which lose points at the end of the game. Be warned then that steaming off on a build strategy has serious long term repercussions. James very nearly won this game which came right down to the wire.

After the brand new Comuni we played the equally brand new steel driver, a Martin Wallace train game that nods a head towards Wabash cannonball. The game is played over six rounds and despite a few maintenance mistakes (both Jimmy and I must be slipping) the game flowed well. Richard had dropped out so it was just the three of us and the game felt really tight with some master tactician moves from James and some experienced train game tactics from Jimmy the end result was as Comuni with Luke wining.

I loved both games as was to be expected and I am so pleased Jimmy continues to bring back winning Essen releases. This is the first of what promises to be a bumper batch from 2008 role on next Tuesday.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

We go up to 11

Another reasonable turnout this week with eleven. A bit of an awkward number but we sat down and played a 4 – 4 – 3 formation.

Jimmy, Matt, Andy and new recruit (whose name evades me right now apologies) all played a very close encounter of Wallenstein with Jimmy being victorious with a score in the high forties – all other players where in touching distance also accumulating forty points +. The cube tower always gets comments of interest amongst NBG goers who have never seen it and it remains a popular alternative to dice rolling.

Chris led an introduction to gaming with ticket to ride Europe a fantastic mid weight entry game but due to the interest on other tables this was the ‘3’ player game. Luke* and another person whose name I haven’t learnt (friend of Hal’s I’m sorry) played this moon classic and I don’t know who won…Neither do I know who won there subsequent games of en-guarde or metropolis as I am far to self involved too care or remember.

I taught Mexica to Hal, Ruth and Mark (now I may have remembered that correct….we will see). I felt the game went down well and Mark was particularly good for a first timer and novice NBGer. Ruth got some superb positions but fell off the pace and Hal was his usual steady self (when in doubt crushing Crocker - which despite his efforts failed in) no doubt a second outing of this game will be incredibly tight.

We then played Torres again some beginner mistakes and some dejected sighs but the game worked its way out to being very tight. Hal who was leading at the 2/3rds stage came last with Ruth being second and Mark winning. The kings favour being the tipping points of victory.

It was really nice to play competitive games with some new players and all racial slurs and Jack back stabbing aside some good socialising was had too.

Roll on next week.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

16! now we're legal

I had had such a bad day, playing a new game was always going to be a risk and after last week’s fiasco I decided I needed to play a game I knew well, a game I loved, a game I stood a chance of winning so I played Caylus.

Caylus is my favourite game, I absolutely love it. I cant put my finger on exactly what it is about it, but I think one of the highlights is that every turn you can do something, every go there is low hanging fruit and you can manipulate your own position playing solo whilst also competing and playing with others. I love games that have alternative paths to victory and we saw several strategies unfolding this time.

In last night’s game Student Luke* played a money strategy very well up until the last quarter where he missed a few opportunities and was surpassed by Richard (Mr. Big) who was hording goods to deliver to the castle. Rich could have acquired a slightly better position had he delivered more efficiently but it would have only made a dent in Crocker’s eventual victory. Punk Rich came forth with a building strategy and Lewis was fifth but was playing Caylus for the first time. Student Luke* and punk Rich had played before (was it 8 months back???) a classic game where Luke nearly won and punk Rich was dissed by a certain Jack ‘out of spite’ Shannon. Rich was not about to allow that to happen again so he vetoed Jacks participation this time.

Everyone announced this weeks gaming to be a success and joyfully compared the wonderful Caylus with the disaster that was ‘vampire: prince of the city’ (the new Kogge) We agreed that the game would play better if it got more regular outings.

We finished the evening with a game of Ra – a popular auction gateway game by Mr Knizia. This is one of big Rich’s favourite games, he led the rules and self confessed to not ever winning. He didn’t win tonight either narrowly losing to Crocker.

Both games attracted interest from pub dwellers (including feminine ones) eyes where turned both ways and our position upstairs raised our gaming profile and was necessary as 16 or so people had turned up and table space was at a premium.

Downstairs Dan won Confucius and other games were played that I know very little about. Me and Rich were mostly drinking blackcurrant and soda.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Would Capello Pick Leo???

Well Essen is almost upon us and pretty soon Jimmy will be arriving with a whole host of new games that will take a few months to whittle through and it being October and Christmas decorations are about so by the time Jimmy’s Essen fest is beginning to shrink to a manageable level no doubt the rest of us will have acquired the odd game.

So time is running out for a popular NBG favourite, he has been brought down to games club a record 99 times and is about to make his 100th cap. Will the perennial ‘Leonardo Da Vinci’ ever get played?

It was 2 Essen’s past that Leo was released and initially praised. So I rushed out and in a spending fit as befitted the time, purchased myself a copy. I brought to the complete angler and proclaimed how much I wanted to play it where upon Jimmy declared ‘oh its broken’ shaking his head in his vigorous definite way. I was distraught, would I ever get to play it.

I continued to bring it down and having previously vanquished a level 15 Dragon in D & D I had managed to acquire from the freed dwarfs a magical bag of holding. Which allowed me each week
to bring down my chosen games I wanted to play that Tuesday but also bring along Leonardo Da Vinci just in case.

Occasionally I would get it out and try and drum up interest and over time Jimmy’s anger towards the game cooled and he became tolerant and then agreeable to ‘giving it another chance’.

I was further encouraged fourteen months back when Jimmy kept bringing Kogge and then kept bringing ‘key harvest’. These games eventually getting played, but not poor Leo (currently ranked 180 on BGG by the way Cockroach poker is ranked 1169 and that’s amazing fun).

Now my bag of holding has been lost to the ravages of ‘no car’ a distant horrible land and I must bring fewer offerings each week. Once Leo turns 100 I’m not sure how much longer he can continue….. Please think of him as you play Taj Mahal.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Vampires Suck.

Proclaimed as a player character among non-player characters, the never understated Jack Shannon and his long suffering sidekick, Luke*, turned up on time this Tuesday. Whether this is a new trend cannot be confirmed, however, what can be confirmed is that Jack was packing a whole world of pain. Or should that be world of darkness? For Jack had brought Vampire: Prince of the City, the board game adaptation of White Wolf's popular Vampire role playing game. It didn't take Jack long to start peddling his wares and although I can't remember his sales pitch, it must have been convincing as he soon had a table full of eager Primogens ready to fight it out to become Vampire Prince of the City...

Meanwhile, I gathered a fine bunch, ready to slap the credit crunch firmly in the face and play the capitalistic Container. This was my first play of the game with a full compliment of five and it certainly plays best with the full number. Rachel bought her way to victory with $118, but was closely followed by Hal. I came in third just edging out 4th placed Dan (which I was fairly pleased with as I wasn't too far off the pace and tried a novel strategy of not buying any containers for the central island). Luke trailed in last with just $7 to his name.

Richard H was foiled at his attempt to get Combat Commander: Europe to the table. He'd played it last week and was given a lesson in war by Andy, though apparently they'd got some rules wrong the last time round so those results were declared null and void. Anyway, Richard, James and Chris played Torres and Atlantic Star. Someone, presumably, won both games, though I couldn't tell you who. So to satisfy us all, I'll say that James won a close game of Torres and Chris won Atlantic Star by a large margin.

Which brings us back to Vampire: Prince of the City. Crocker, Tarn, Richie and Jack were joined by newcomer Lewis** (who was thrust into the game without even a rules session). The horror that ensued was not down to the vampire theme, but because the game was declared to be "worse than playing hoopla with a tramp's cock". Ritchie destroyed all the competition and was eventually crowned Prince of the un-named city, declaring, in his victory speech "The best thing about the game, was that it ended.".

Beer: I had a pint of Deuchars IPA. I compare it to the MB Games classic Shogun (Samurai Swords), which I remember being better than it actually is
(though I have a feeling the beer might have been a bit off). 5 out of 10.

* Apologies to Luke. I realise giving you the moniker of Jack Shannon's sidekick is a pretty harsh put down, even in jest.

** Apologies to Lewis for not only making him play the most derided game in the history of the Norwich Board Gamers, but suggesting that he might be the designer of said game.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Ollie Lambert Memorial Games.

It is with great sadness that I announce the passing of Ollie Lambert, who has left Norwich for the bright lights of London and the barren wasteland that is Essex. For Tuesday 3rd September was his last night in Norwich. No more will we hear the maddening table drumming which he tormented us with. Crazily themed games will no longer be eagerly championed, as we all turn to crushingly dour economic games. And the Ribs stock of drinks and chocolate will finally have a chance of respite from the constant hammering he gave their supply every week.

There were big plans to celebrate his last night at NoBoG, but he didn't turn up. So all the presents we'd brought for him, along with the party bunting and finger food, were tossed into the Wensum, like an offering to some Norse god. On fire. Curse you, Ollie!

Twelve were in attendance. We played in no particular order: In the Year of the Dragon, Toledo, Ys, Ra, and the King of Siam. Richie the Younger brought some fresh blood with him - whose names I've totally forgotten, if I ever actually knew them in the first place. One of them locked himself in the toilet. Ollie will be missed, but the cycle continues. Sukothai!

Beer: I had a pint of Comet (not sure of the brewery), which although a bit darker than I prefer, was perfectly acceptable. 5/10

Thursday, 28 August 2008

End of August.

With the lack of Mr Crocker, and Tom returning after his recent jaunt to somewhere or other, there were ten in attendance at the Ribs of Beef this Tuesday. After big fluctuations we seem to have settled down to a regular attendance around this figure.

Anyway, on to good news. Paula has told me that she's ordering some Raspberry Wheat from the Norfolk based Iceni Brewery. This is good news indeed as it ranks as one of my favourite beers. Their website describes is thusly: an American style ale, delicately flavoured with summer fruits. Made with Hersbrucker hops, wheat and lager malt. So I'm looking forward that in the coming weeks. Beer hat ahoy!

In other news the Ribs have given us our own sign informing smokers that they should not venture down through the Wherry Room to smoke, lest they upset the horde beneath. Smokers are instead advised to head out the front door in order to take in the pleasing view of UK Best Pizza & Kebab across the street, as opposed to staring into the cold black waters of the River Wensum.

Games? Yes, we played some. Jimmy gathered four (Adam, Chris, Tom and Dylan) for Age of Steam and they spent the whole evening laying track across France. I don't know what the score was; they we just entering the last round as I left. Meanwhile Richard, Ollie, Andy, the Age of Steam widow Rachel and myself put on some plays in Showmanager. Ollie won by a relatively large margin and Sir Ian McKellen declared "By the Flame of Anor, you cannot surpass his King Lear". We then cranked up the conflict with Evo, where Ollie and Andy looked to attack all before them with vicious, gnashing dinosaurs. Their efforts were to no avail and Richard romped home to victory with a strategy of having lots of sex. We finished the evening with a quick game of Coloretto, which I won, and bagged myself a little treat at the Castle Museum with one of the night porters.

Beer: I stuck to the Wherry. A light and dependable beer, which I'm always willing to drink, but familiarity usually makes me look for something a little more interesting. The Ticket to Ride of the real ales.

Thursday, 31 July 2008

Lazy July

The collective that is NoBoG has been slack and failed to update the blog for the whole of July.
Here’s a small selection of highlights from July.

1. The sticky table dilemma was solved by Rachel and her nice green table cloths.

2. Ollie and Chris are now the proud owners of a half dozen Tiger brand glasses. Prizes which they collected for winning Hamburgum and Wallenstein.

3. Andy was lured back to the Ribs by the promise of Agricola, which he declared to be “Alright”.

4. July was the only month in the history of NoBoG when two tables were playing the same game simultaneously. Turn the Tide is noted for such a feat – cue Luke with some knowledge to the contrary.

5. The only game Andy brought to the club in July was Africa Campaign - a two-player wargame from the Seventies. Bets are being taken for it getting to the table some time in 2011.

6. Richard returned after serving just 10 months of his three year jail sentence.

7. Hal joined us for a game of Brass. He held his own with a blocking style of play declaring “I'm afraid I can't let you do that, Luke.

8. Tom used his airmiles to buy Herm; one of the smaller Channel Islands.

9. Luke had his gizzard removed.

10. Jimmy played yelllow.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Jack off & huge sperm???

Ollie managed to complete his route home, he collected the required cards and was allowed to return to Norwich to join us in gaming fun. More seriously Chris survived a harrowing car crash to walk away with only minor injuries so he also came down and celebrated his personal survival by wiping out the human race in Pandemic. But the everning was littered with cum?? stories of dubious content and factoids about nature. Aparently the sperm of a fruit fly is longer than the fruit fly itself? according to our resident scientist.

On with the gaming, a second attempt at stone age for Luke, Ollie and Jack (who we won’t see till September…keep reading the blog Jack) and a first play for Jimmy. The game went as well as our first play, I absolutely love it and hope others will keep wanting to play it with me. I love the middle weight nature of the game where every player can get something of value every round, the hidden VPs in cards are a nice reveal at the end and there isn’t that much for a disadvantage for inexperienced stone agers.

On the other table was a second victorious game of pandemic and then some head shrinking Figi fun.

Next for us, Jimmy got out LaStrada yet another Martin Wallace game, but this time a lot more light weight. After the game I remembered how much I liked this, it plays fast and there are some tough choices. The problem is that its virtually broken. Whoever plays first should really win, but player two might have a chance, play last and you have no chance. Which is why we decided to play it as a partnership game. This ‘crazy’ experiment worked reasonably well. Ollie went first and was partnered randomly with Luke who then went third, Jack went second and played with Jimmy who was fourth. I think next time we should try partners being 1 with 4 and 2 with 3, maybe….. It’s difficult to know in one play, but I would like to try it with Bondy and see what he thinks, rotate the partners maybe as well who knows, it plays fast as well which is a relief when you compare it to the other games we like.

Have you seen this gamer?

We were all concerned at the games club, where was Ollie? He had travelled to London on the Hogwarts express with the intention of participating in a magic tournament. Having thrashed everyone in the preliminary rounds in Norwich it was time for Ollie to face the greasy 11 year olds of old London town. But what had happened? Had he vanquished all his foes? or was he lying in a ditch one of Voldemorts victims? Nobody knew. No doubt we would find out as he walked through the door……

But wait Ollie didn’t appear. Now at Norwich games club this isn’t that big a deal, people don’t turn up ALL THE TIME. But since his first appearance Ollie has been an ever present, notching up more appearances than Jimmy, Matt or Luke. Ollie was even at NBG on new years day! So what had happened? Had the dementors taken him? Was he in Azkaban? No just staying in London for a few extra days that’s all. In his absence Jimmy, Kat, Matt and Luke played Tinners trail a Martin Wallace outing that plays with no money and no cards, just wooden counters placed on the board. The game was very close with Matt edging it in the end though any player could have won.

Tinners Trail see us mining for tin or copper in Cornwall but wait there is a third resource of water booo. Water adds to the cost of the mining and it seems that all the game mechanics have a thematic point which is one of the great things about playing a Wallace game. You start with a small amount of money and need to ration it as payday comes only at the end of the round after all the auctions that may occur and after all the mining you may attempt. What’s more you can’t retain cubes for selling later which means that if the market prices your resources low money may be very short.

There are a list of actions written on the board including the cost in action points and you can use up to 15 AP in one round. There is a neat mechanism where the person who has used fewest action points so far is the active player and as points are spent you might find yourself not playing for a while then having a string of goes like proverbial London buses. If you instigate an auction the winner pays the cost in money and action points so you are not penalised for not winning auctions, what’s more this can form an interesting tactical choice. Force auctions for less desirable locations to clean up the better ones later.

There are various improvements you can take which have costs linked to their power. Each are limited and missing out in one round means waiting till further rounds to get your hands on that vital improvement. Workers allow you to mine 3 cubes from a pit head rather than the standard 2, ships reduce the water cubes present by one (used to produce steam power apparently). There is a shaft link thingy that connects two regions and reduces water by one in both regions + adds one of copper and one tin to both regions, it kicks ass but costs the most action points and there is only one available per round. There is a train which enters the game for rounds three and four which reduces the water cubes by one in the region its placed + all adjacent regions. There is also a pump which becomes more powerful and more common as the rounds progress which is excellent value. The big problem is having a turn earlier enough to take these bonuses.

The player who passes first gets to go first in the next round, so the earlier you pass the more chance you have of getting something good next round, but in a four round game time is very limited and passing too early is also very costly.

The last options available are selling pasties which earn you £1 handy if you are caught short of funds and last but not least, mining, the main route to success.

At the start of the game dice are rolled to decide the additional placements of resources. At the start of a new round the first two players may discover resources in two new regions, any player can then auction that region knowing what resources are available. You could choose to auction an unknown area but hey, that’s your risk, you might end up with a lemon. Also at the start of each round dice are rolled to work out the current market price for tin and copper. At the end of the round you have to sell all your cubes for those fixed prices. Mining costs a single action point and can only be done in one region at a time. You may mine whatever resources you like / are available in that region for cost of £1 per water cube for each resource you take. So if there were 3 water cubes present and you where mining to cubes of tin that would cost £6. What’s more after you have mined, an additional water cube is placed in the region making it more expensive to mine on subsequent turns.

After selling all your cubes there are victory points available to buy, but be warned, cash is carried over and if you spend too much on VP that will cripple you for the remainder of the game. Obviously VP is cheaper earlier on and going first is crucial at this stage as there are limited VPs available to buy as Kat found out to her cost.

I enjoyed this game and inspired a classic Wallace Vs Knizia debate. Long live the euro.

Friday, 23 May 2008


Tuesday 20th May 2008.

We were half way through a game of Pit when there was an almighty crash from upstairs. Now Pit is a loud and raucous affair, yet the sound of destruction from the bar could easily be heard over the shouts of "TWO, TWO, TWO. TWO? THREE. ONE, ONE, ONE, ONE. TWO? FOUR..."
"Oh no" said Luke "Do you think that's Jimmy?"
We stopped and listened a while, fearing that Jimmy had arrived, ten minutes late, and that
Luke's little prank had gone horribly wrong. I imagined a wrecked pub, dead barmaids in a pool of beer and the diminutive Scottish man (although apparently he's not Scottish) standing astride the carnage. However, we needn't have feared such calamity - the bar staff were being unusually clumsy that night and had dropped heavy stuff on the floor (I don't think we enquired what it was in the end) . Luke discovered a text message on his phone saying that Jimmy wasn't coming and we finished the remaining rounds of Pit safe in the knowledge that the bar staff would not be able to launch Operation Jimbo, and that there would only be five in attendance that evening. We moved onto the main event...

The League of Six! In a world where crime an injustice rule, six superheroes come together to vanquish... actually it's about tax collecting in 15th century Europe. No superheroes in sight. We'd played this before and I'd done really badly as I'd miscalculated the need for guards (actually, I didn't think I had done that badly, but Ollie assured me that I'd probably lost). This time I over compensated and ended up with a hand full of guards instead of none, but it did allow me to actually compete for regions and points. James flew out into the lead, but at the expense of collecting 'people cards' which would earn points at the end of the game, Luke, Tarn and myself made up the pack, whilst Ollie languished at the back, but had a big grin, a handful of 'people cards' and a plan which he was hoping would earn him the full 27 bonus at the end of the game. You'll be pleased/dismayed to hear that his plan didn't quite come to fruition and he fell short of the eventual winner. A one sentence review (just for Ollie) : Nice mechanisms which make a competitive and confrontational, yet somewhat frustrating game.

As the evening started to draw to a close, Luke pulled out Felix: The Cat in the Sack, and talk moved to the dumbing down of GCSE exams and relative merits of prostitutes in Russia and Brazil. James fervently argued that the Brazilian girls were the way forward whilst Luke stuck up for his wife's homeland and said the whores in Russia were second to none. And that was that. We cleared up, agreed it was good to see James and Tarn down the Ribs again, and predicted a loss for Chelsea in the Champions League on Wednesday night.

Oh, and I won all three games. Cue the victory dance.

Beer: I was mostly drinking Adnams May Day. An excellent pale ale with hint of fruit. ABV 5%. Seasonal April & May. 8/10

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Rock Solid

What difference a week makes, eight last night saw us splitting up into two fours, Rachel, Adam, Chris and Jimmy played Taj mahal followed by Tichu. Ollie, Tom, Luke and Jack BS Shannon played Stone age and then Pandemic.

As usual the pandemic took control and despite a valiant attempt to cure diseases, the game kicked our arses. I don’t have a clue what happened on the other table though I got the impression Rachel may have won one of the games this could be entirely false? Maybe someone could comment with an accurate report.

The real revelation was Stone age which I enjoyed immensely. It is not an amazing game or a game full of interesting or new mechanics, it just does this style of game very well. In the beginning I was wondering if there was anything a player could do that wouldn’t give victory points, this list seemed to be endless. And as is typical the elegance of the game is only richly appreciated once you are playing.

Stone age is a game where strategy (or is it tactics – I forget) takes a back seat, there is very little long term planning (some…but little) on your turn you just choose the most rewarding thing on offer and hope that next turn you will be left with your second or third choice without someone else taking it. An ability to roll with the punches and change horses in midstream is a must, but there are enough rounds for you to do what you want, even in a bad situation there is always something worthwhile taking. Stone age takes many features from ‘pillars of the earth’ but is a completely different game, the placement of workers on features has a Caylus vibe but far less long term planning is needed and this game is a lot more far and evenly balanced between experienced and newbie gamers. This is completely my type of game (even with the dice rolling), rudimentary analysis, placement timing, resource management, brilliant. I need to play this again ASAP. I regularly enjoy games but this ranks highly for me. I look forward to playing it again, and with a bit of luck, on its second play it should play much faster.

Toodle pip

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Was it something I wrote?

This is the way of the NBG…. Was it the planned absence of the ever popular Matt? Was it the crunch Man Utd Barca game? Was it my choice of deodorant? Either way Ollie was the only non-Crocker to attend….it was new years all over again and much to our regret (especially Kats) we played in the shadow of the emperor.

'Im Schatten des Kaisers' to give it the correct title is a euro-tastic politics game with interesting possibilities but a lot of minor rarely needed (yet essential) rules. The game started with Ollie being emperor and right from the first turn rule interpretation was unclear, games like this need exhaustive rule FAQs to cover umpteen eventualities unfortunately our FAQ was extremely limited so we made the best of it and used our flawed logic and judgment. In the final round there was a similar situation as the one at the beginning of the game, which created a third possible unknown outcome. Luke and Ollie simplified the rules and readjusted the VP awarded in the first round, as a result the game was an honourable (and thoroughly time wasting) draw.

I first played this wrong with two players and found playing it wrong with three a vast improvement, however I have no doubt that four is the magic number so look out and get involved in playing it wrong with me soon.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Cockroaches ravish eventual key harvest

This week we have been mostly playing key harvest ooh argh.

Jimmy has been bringing Key harvest every week for several months now and it finally got on the table last Tuesday. It’s a little dry and can suffer from extended down time but has lots of scope and is by far and away my favourite ‘key’ game and possibly even after one play my favourite Richard Breese game.

Each of the possible 4 players has an identical player mat made up of hexagonal regions, each region has a code made up of A-G and 1-9. Each player starts with two crop hexs on two of these spaces and each player has a different starting position so as to create the same level of conflict and desire for certain crop tiles. There are 6 workers in possession that can be placed on the board and if tactically aware ‘reused’ to acquire benefits, there is a limited pool of universal more powerful workers in a central store alongside a pool of crops.

Players have 2 actions and may take crops from the common pool and place for sale on there market, setting the price with there own crops, players may buy other players crops (though this action can not be done after the acquire crops to prevent you buying your own for one round). When they buy others crops they need to pay the same goods as the price in quantity and type. The seller then gets this payment and retains the crops they themselves used to set the price. If a player buys there own goods the crops go instead to the bank. You can purchase up to two crops as one action and you may transfer to market up to two crops as one action.

The third action is to remove or place a worker (which are numbered) it is possible to replace a worker with a higher valued worker, and then the original is returned to hand for later use. You use the power of the worker as soon as it is placed. – If when buying a crop its placement as defined by the grid reference on it force you to remove a worker this worker is then replaced in any legal position on the board or if this is not possible returned to hand. Again when replacing this displaced worker you use its ability. Thus the purchase of crops to up heave workers can result in a domino effect of benefits. The choice players make for what crops they offer and for what price has a massive impact on the outcome of the game, set a price to low and rivals get bargains, prices too high leaves you struggling with no resources.

The forth action a player can take is to harvest a connected area, all crops that are adjacent and have previously not been flipped are flipped over and one resource of the same type as the crop is received.

When a crop is taken from the general pool and placed on a players market it is replaced at random from a bag, thus every game has the same crops but drawn in different orders. On rare occasions I can see this causing the game to be lobsided as tiles more beneficial to certain players being drawn earlier or later in a game can impact how people play and who wins, but generally the mixed starting positions helps to lessen this impact.

Inside the bag, mixed with unused crops are event tiles. Which when drawn cause a global effect (most seemed good) some offer a reward others offer the choice of payment for a privilege. The timing of these can be crucial as if they arise when you can not pay the price, you can not gain the benefit. In our game 5 of these tiles came out (curtacy of Ollie) before Kat had her first go so may have been unable to use them. Jimmy chose to put a worker on the board in the first two rounds and was able to use a benefit that no one else could then near the end after a big spend he had no remain crops when three tiles where drawn that he was unable to use. The abilities seem only after one play to be well balanced and helpful and are far more ‘fair’ than previous key games as the benefits are global or open to all. When 10 of these tiles are drawn, the end game begins with each player having two more turns, this was partially drawn out for us as by this time the bag was empty and action choices very limited.

There is also a neat mechanic where after drawing 7 event tiles if a single player does not have seven hexes on there board the first two event tiles are returned to the bag and the game is prolonged. This was incredibly important as we repeatedly drew several events in the same turn.

I missed an important scoring issue regarding workers counting for VPs at game end and also missed out on connecting two regions together (worth 8 VPs) due to the order goods where drawn just in the last round, player A refreshes, Player A puts refreshed crop for sale, Player B purchases before players C or D get a chance. Kat was very much in the lead till the mid game when she didn’t diversify into two fields or build on her position, instead repeatedly buying her own stock at high prices. Jimmy managed to connect two small regions to compliment his large region thus scoring good VP at the end. I had over valued crops worth only 1VP to player with the most where as a single worker was a guaranteed 1-5 VPs. The final placings where Jimmy on 27, Luke on 25, Ollie & Kat on 23.

This game has some potential. The market and selection of sale prices mean players benefit from not working in a vacuum, the order and opportunity of tiles plays a big part in outcome and makes the game different each play. As players get used to the choices Key harvest will play faster and will as a result be even more enjoyable. A good modern euro.

We had time after key harvest to play Medici and despite the odd auction decision and dubiously cheap prices the game was down to the wire close, 6 points separating 1st and 3rd. Luke won, Jimmy was second and Kat was third leaving Ollie languishing some way behind.

Time for the silly voices and crazy simple bluffing fun of coach roach poker. Never have the words ‘spider’ or ‘cock-roach’ been more hilarious than when said with a pseudo French accent. Jimmy struggled with the three rules and there can be only one loser and that was inevitably him, the rest of us celebrated in our shared victory.

Ta Ta

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

"This is our games group, they're quite cool."

quite cool
Those were the words we thought we'd never hear. I don't think I've been referred to as "Quite Cool" in my entire life. I don't think the games club has ever been collectively referred to as anything other than "that bunch of fackin' weirdoos" by anyone at the Ribs ever before. Yet this is what an employee of the Ribs said to a new member of staff being given a guided tour. The new guy looked around and raised an eyebrow. Ollie and I looked at each other, said "YESSS!" and clenched our fists. Quite cool! Who knew! And then we got on playing a game about a bunch of Dwarves mining for gold, some of whom might be nasty Dwarves. Saboteur was getting a run out because Mr Tom was running late, and we are nice guys so we didn't want to start without Tom. I hope he thinks we are quite cool now. Matt won Saboteur. The game was as random and bizarre as ever. Poor Luke barely got a decent card to play all game. Saboteur is a bit daft, but a decent way to spend 30 minutes with like minded folk. Can't complain.

After that we split into two. Literally. Blood everywhere! This was in preperation for "Last Night on Earth", a game all about the wonderful world of Zombies. Olly, Chris, Tom and myself played this, other people played Fearsome Floors and some others player Liberte, which looked like a fake war game to me. Euro gamers eh? Only willing to indulge in some war so long as it's designed by a guy who made Age of ZZZZZzzzzteam and isn't actually really a war game after all. Tsk! Anyway, Olly and Chris became Zombies, me and Tom were tasked with staving them off, and killing 15 of the blighters before sun rise or having 2 of our 4 heroes killed. Easy! No. This game seemed impossible for the humans. We were blown away, we had no clue. I had rarely encountered a game less balanced than this in my life. It was like we were Newcastle and the Zombies were any other team in the world. We were trounced. I declared the game to be absolute dogshit. I was angry! I am not sure why I was so angry! I am obviously an angry man. Ask Matt about how angry I get when Rommel rolls 6s all the time and I roll 1s. I was even more angry than that! Matt will be open mouthed when he reads this. Because this game looked fun, I was fuming that a fun looking game could be so monumentally flawed. The game had ended pretty quick, so we decided to play again. I was being sarcastic and grumpy, but figured we'd give it another shot, surely it couldn't have been quite as bad as it seemed. This time around we played a scenario where the humans had to save 4 people in 16 turns. That was a challenge. It was even more of a challenge when I failed to spot a "person" card and discarded it thinking it was useless. There were only 6 of these in the deck. And now there were 5. Well played Andy. Anyway, me and Tom rallied, we started finding people, and came up with a well executed, coherent strategy to win the game. The strategy? "GET THE HELL AWAY FROM THE FREAKING ZOMBIES ALREADY!" This strategy worked. Until we forgot that zombies don't have to worry about walls. So we were being chased around the map, looking for places to hide. The neat thing about this game is that as the humans you always feel one turn away from disaster. The odds are stacked in the zombies favour, they always respawn and always seem to have a hand full of extremely useful cards. After I had gotten over the fact that the game was supposed to be a tough experience for the humans, I started to enjoy it. It was tense, it was fast paced and a lot of fun. Dice are rolled, the air is punched, people die, zombies invariably don't. Me and Tom made a good fist of this scenario but eventually we were ground down. Combinations of lethal cards left us in a tough spot. One of Tom's heroes became a zombie herself. Shit. Our last best hope for peace got screwed and was forced to fight zombies in a room where he couldn't search for equipment or people. He died too. On the last turn. We had saved two people, and lost two heroes. A pretty solid performance. I had come around to the game, I liked it. Olly and Chris seemed to enjoy being evil just a little too much for my liking, although Chris did at least display some sympathy when he almost didn't play a mean card near the end. He relented, and played it anyway. Olly was cackling away like a maniac every time he played yet another sneaky card that meant we had to play the game standing on our heads or instantly lose, or roll a 9 on a D6, or whatever insane complication the zombie card played on us this turn. Olly scared me. Tom was a bit fed up by the end. "DICEFEST" he grumbled. "DICEFEST." This coming from a man who owns Giganten De Lufte fer Chrissakes! A game that is only dice! WTF!

Over on the other tables, they were playing Heck Fucking Meck again, and St Petersberg. St Petersberg is one of those games with genuinely shocking box art (see: Hamburgum) and it looked like the kind of game that makes me want to punch zombies in the face. So I was pretty pleased with my evening's entertainment, even if it did make me angry. At least I went home with a smile, content in the new found knowledge that even though I get really annoyed when Chris rolls a 5 or 6 on every single dice for two hours, I am actually "quite cool". Result.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008


sick bastards
Oh yeah, games and that.

Pandemic is a game of co-operation. Fancy that! A game where you are all on the same side. I hadn't played a game in this format before but I had heard good things about Pandemic, so I was keen to give it a wobble. Pandemic is a game of saving the world from 4 diseases. Don't catch a disease. On the board are coloured cubes representing these infectious viruses. EURO! We (that's Luke, Olly, James and myself for those keeping score at home) each represented a specially talented person adept at saving the world. Olly placed the cubes on the board. There were lots of cubes in Sydney. And some in Mumbai. Any more MUMBAI? We started playing and thought we had a handle on it. The 'blue' virus was under control. These viruses had no names, so I guess you can invent your own if you are a creative type, but we just play the same old Euros every week, they just come in different boxes with different names, so we're not that creative, and just called the viruses 'yellow', oh shit, the 'red' virus is going nuts, that kind of thing. And then suddenly the 'red' virus was going nuts. It was taking over Australasia. We kept drawing cards that made it get worse. All of a sudden we were out of red cubes. We had been playing for about 15 minutes and the world was dead. It was our fault that everyone was now some kind of insane, superfast zombie, like in I Am Legend but this time even Will Smith was fucking dead. Bummer, or not, depending on your take on Will Smith to be honest. Mine is that he really never topped Fresh Prince. But I digress. So we all looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders and played AGAIN! Because Pandemic takes no time at all. This time we kicked the viruses arse all over the world. We were the kings of good health. Everything we did went right and the cards came down in our favour. We won! YEAH! IN YOUR FACE, DECK OF CARDS! That was when we realised that winning a co-operative game is, well, empty. Oh well. The game was good though. It reminded me a bit of Thebes, what with the travelling, it's colourful and well presented, and the simple choices that have a big impact on the game. This is probably the best Euro I have played since Thebes as well. In fact, I would be surprised if I enjoy a Euro released in 2008 more than Pandemic.

I certainly enjoyed Pandemic more than IN JAHRE DES DRAGONEZZ! A game all about knowing exactly what was going to happen for the next 12 turns and desperately trying to stop it from fucking you up. Now, this game sounded good in concept but to tell the truth it failed to light my fire. For one, I had a hard time getting my head around the concept of a game where the 12 turns are all pre-ordained. Wha? It's an interesting "mechanic" as I believe serious gamers say, but it just didn't strike a chord with me. And then you were making decisions, each one important and having a big bearing on how your game turned out. I suck at making decisions where I can't really see what impact they will have later in the game. And with 5 players there were too many people doing the same thing and really just ruining everything. The cheek of it. I started off slowly, Matt raced into the lead, Olly and James were picking up points, and Luke got a lot of points but was rolling his eyes as rules that were missed at the start kept cropping up. Whoops. Disasters happened, we all planned in different ways, evil Matt sacrificed all his people every turn in the name of victory points, I plodded along building a sustainable kingdom, nicked all the rice and that led to everyone losing lots of people. Luke was effectively eliminated and used his goes to deny Matt victory points. It came to the final count up and Matt's ruthless dictatorship tied with my benevolent society. Matt won on some arbitrary rule that just about made sense. So. I did well at this game but it's appeal is not really aimed at a half wit such as my good self. My noggin just doesn't compute far enough ahead to come up with a versatile strategy, I was lucky that my hit and miss approach to the game eventually formulated into a workable plan and it scored a boatload of points whilst causing problems for everyone else.

And that was that. Two contrasting games with different approaches to being a game. One of them appeals to me, one of them doesn't. Neither game was great, neither was terrible. Just two games, slightly seperated in the "Does Andy Enjoy Playing This?" stakes.

Twilight Imperium supposedly at the weekend. BRING IT ON.

Friday, 29 February 2008


What a bizarre night. Not because everyone arrived on time, or because we could see what we were doing in the murky dungeon of the ribs of beef, but because the end results in the games we played was eerie and spooky. By this I mean there where more draws than usual. Now I come to read back what I wrote it occurs to me that things were not strange…..but they certainly felt it at the time…at least to me.

Chris and Adam played Pompeii which was decided in Adams favour by one extra guy being in the volcano for Chris. A very close game and thanks to the boys for generally sitting out of the first round of games in case some others turned up.

Rich, Jimmy, Dylan and Andy (I think this is correct) played cosmic encounter. Which saw a shared victory for two of the players – Or Rich won by of course playing well but also of the virtue that his combos kicked arse – Hello rich nice to see you as always.

Matt B, Ollie, Rachel and Luke played container. This was a first play for Ollie and I and we expected to get a bit of a whipping by Matt or Rachel and so it began as after three rounds Matt had loads of containers on the centre map and was smacking us down like the bitches we were. As the game developed Ollie got into an increasingly good position and after a few rounds he had equalled Matts position and a few rounds later he was ahead. By the end of the Game Luke was delivering and buying so much stuff that there was little noticeable difference between these three players. Rachel had hardly any containers delivered and was playing a different strategy and we wouldn’t know her position till the end.

The game was very, VERY money tight and this squeezed the market. As we became more desperate for cash we lowered the prices of the goods we had to try and gain some cash flow, resulting in very small cash incomes meaning we ourselves had very little to spend on anyone else’s goods. This seriousness of this credit crunch was a result of several factors. The money available during the game came down to the following factors. 1st 3 out of the four players took money out of the game early on by purchasing infrastructure. 2nd money only came back into the game when players agreed to take an offer from a player for containers delivered to the central island. Because nobody had any money, nobody offered anything worth taking, so players refused the four euros and chose to pay this instead for the containers and larger reward of victory points. Thus taking more money out of the game. 3rd several loans where taken by Rachel and Luke, a quick injection of cash you might think but they spent the money again mostly on infrastructure, again returning the money to the bank but this time with the added interest payment squeezing more money out of the game every round.

Two factors slowly changed the credit crunch. The first was when Matt and later Ollie took loans and used this money to buy goods or participate in auctions. A much needed cash injection. Rachel and Luke also took additional loans having paid off previous ones and used their money to do the same and capitalism started to work. The other factor was Rachel reminding everyone of the rule (all be it a beginners rule which we chose to adopt given the scarcity of wealth) that at the start of your turn after you have paid loan interest you can sell one of your goods at the production dock for 2 euros. A useless sum meant as a ‘if all else fails’ measure, however all else was failing as all players were offering all there goods for this price anyway and were sitting around waiting for anyone to buy. Selling back to the bank meant that every go you had an income and every two or three goes you could produce more goods and after a few goes you could buy someone else’s goods. They would then have enough money to buy yours and hey presto more capitalist success.

This selling back to the bank fiasco served to prolong the game just long enough for Crocker to get back into it. More over it was he more than any player who capitalised on the lack of money and was winning auctions for cargo for approximately the same price that he was selling cargo for shipping, money was off set for one round while the tankers where at sea but the revenues from victory points more than made up for this.

When it came to the final tally. Rachel was fourth and Matt was third. Ollie and Luke both finished with exactly the same amount of cash. Unfortunately the count back was number of containers in the centre and we had packed this away as we calculated the scores. Initially Ollie was insistent that he must have delivered more than Luke and Luke was equally as insistent. Much debate and frowning took place and eventually cooler heads prevailed and a draw was agreed. Don’t worry all will be decided with the next game…..

If Ollie and Luke were at a disadvantage for the first game being newbie’s then it was Andy and Ollie who had the upper hand over Luke and Matt for the second game of the night which was Thebes. A game which has so much luck that it kind of is ok. Every player is subject to the same random card draws and same random tile draws. Yes one player can be overly lucky but taken over time this we hope normally cancels itself out.

Despite multiple different approaches at the end of the game Luke and Ollie where again tied. Unfortunately there was again no count back that could separate them. So despite over three hours and two games Luke and Ollie remained drawn. Freaky. Well maybe not so much.

I hope to see you all at the NBG soon.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

I'm not going down there...

Amidst personal turmoil I found myself turning up at NoBoG, waiting to see what kind of games they would throw at me. It had been some weeks since I ventured downstairs at the Ribs, to prostrate myself at the feet of the God of Euros (Luke Crocker, for it is he) and get mercilessly destroyed at board games. I have been on a roll of late personally, barring a pair of defeats in Tide of Iron I have been handing out smackdowns in other such war games as Eisenbach Gap, and who could forget my epic 13 hour WWII: Barbarossa to Berlin struggle with Matt just two weeks ago - the game to end all games. The game which may have changed my approach to games forever. So here I was, ready to do battle in the field of the "impress the vicar" scoring tracks, with wooden cubes and convoluted mechanics. And here was Luke, being very generous and suggesting we play Fury of Dracula! Normally I would have jumped at such a chance, but Matt had brought Container, the final works of the much under-rated games designer, Franz Benno Delonge. I am a huge fan of two previous Delonge efforts, those being Manila and Big City, so I was eager to give the tediously themed Container a go, as I had no doubts that the late Delonge would have left us with one final enjoyable game. Luke was clearly shocked that I would opt to play a Euro where the object of the game was to buy cuboids and ship them to an anonymous island. But thems the breaks. Luke, Olly and Adam played Puerto Rico. Matt, myself, Rachel and Chris would push cuboids around on pretty boats for two hours.

Container is a cracking game, actually better than I was expecting. Manila and Big City are two excellent Euro-ish games, but they seem to be mercifully divulged from the slightly more serious Euro scene that has produced such behemoths as Caylus. A scene which fails to inspire much excitement in myself. Yet Container leans more towards the serious end of the spectrum. You have to have your wits about you - you are basically manufacturing and purchasing goods, then shipping them to the central island where you aim to sell them to other people, or keep them yourself if you judge them to be worth more than your offers, all in the name of making more money. The only scoring system in the game is money, which is fantastic. You always have a pretty fair idea of how you are doing, just not how your opponents are doing, as for each player each container is worth a slightly different, secret amount. There were several strategies employed. Chris went for a production strategy, generating large numbers of containers but never purchasing them when they were delivered to their destination. I indulged in some wild, reckless capitalism, buying in huge numbers everyone elses products and selling them at tiny profits. I adopted the "Tescos Strategy". I then using my tiny profits and generous bank loans to secure product upon delivery to the island. Matt produced nothing, and stocked nothing, but his boats for often full of goods that he flogged to us or coughed up the readies to keep. Using this devious plan he saved up, took out two loans at an opportune moment and bought huge amounts of delivered product just as the game seemed out of reach. Rachel was a very tidy player, very frugal and efficient, producing and stocking where necessary, and selling me tonnes of product at bargain basement prices. Rachel and I were mutually assisting each other with sales and purchases throughout the game without really intending or declaring it and this caused Chris a lot of problems, but it never really paid off in chasing down Matt. For Matt's bold strategy won out. He purchased a lot of delivered goods for knock down prices, I was in a position to deny him his final delivery purchase but had over-stretched myself. Just 2 or 3 more in cash would have perhaps tipped the scales in my favour but it wasn't to be. Matt romped home with 96, I had 76, Rachel had 70, and Chris had 59, tripped up by being the only real producer of goods, and then having to sell them at cheap prices. The game provides a curiously fascinating insight into capitalism and market forces, and I believe that the player created economy and balance should mean that Container is highly replayable and offer a variety of options each time out. Very impressive stuff!

Over on the other table, Luke had destroyed everyone at Puerto Rico, and then they played some game called "LE SCORPION!" or something, which seemed to involve Olly talking in a terrible French accent, with sounded more Rommel-esque to my untrained ears. This game was clearly nonsense, it had a striking resemblance to a game I played in my extreme youth, possibly snap. There was no winner, only a loser. Basically you played a card, declared what was on it (in Franglais) and the other player had to guess if you were lying or not. If they were wrong, they took your card. Your card seemed to have a picture of a spider, or a scorpion or some other creature on it. IF you got 4 cards of one type, you were out. The person who was out first was the loser, everyone else won. Genius! Luke lost, I am pretty sure on purpose as he appeared to detest this ridiculous "game". LE SCORPION!

We finished up with a vibrant round of Saboteur, almost ruined by the lad who came downstairs and said very loudly "I AM NOT GOING IN THERE, IT SOUNDS F**KING AWFUL" before retreating to the safety of the upstairs bar. Saboteur was a new one on me, it is quite fun, very chaotic but you don't get much chance to influence the game. A fine end of night game nonetheless. I was the saboteur twice, and I was quite happy to let everyone know about it. Unfortunately I was unable to make serious inroads into sabotaging everyone, which was quite disappointing. We had three rounds and Adam ran out a worthy winner, though I have no idea how the scoring system worked at all. Saboteur is fun enough that the issue of winner and loser is quite irrelevant to be honest.

And that was that. Things were packed away, and we all faded away into the foggy night, a successful evening of fine gaming. GAME ON.

Friday, 8 February 2008

Primordial Soup for the Soul

A quick post me thinks to bring us all up to date. After the tomes that I have been churning out everyone will no doubt be relieved to see that this post will be short, well that is the intention.

A collection of 7 debated which games to bring to the table this week and after much polite Britishness we settled for ‘Primordial Soup’ played by Jimmy, Matt, Rachel and Adam. And Cuba played by Ollie, Luke and Tom.

Adam won the ‘P-soup’ with an aggressive eating strategy that allowd him to not be hit by the general peeks and dips that other players suffered through. Jimmy played a long game and planned his points well being beaten at the end by the smallest of margins. Matt languished in third never reproducing enough to real compete with Adams eating strategy. Rachel was last due to her inability to avoid Adams hungry grasp. Jimmy had top protection and was unaffected by Adam, Matt had a 50/50 chance of survival so all things considered Rachel was the object of Adams machinations and mastications.

After carefully setting up Cuba and choosing it ‘to see how this plays with 3’, we were joined be Jack ‘Sgt. Slamtastic’ Shannon and Levan (the spelling of all names is purely guesswork). Ollie was not bothered by the mayo chip infested students and allowed them to freely touch his game and we began a rules session led by Luke and supported by Ollie. Ollie was the more accomplished player and through the game cultivated a much better maximisation of opportunity and resources. Tom sitting to Ollies right had opportunities to ship rum before him unless Ollie was first player (which I believe happened possibly twice). However despite several rum ships appearing near the beginning most of the powerful rum ships did not materialise and cigars and products where the resources of choice in the middle rounds. Levan was next in the pecking order comfortably moving away from Jack by reason of 2 points per building at the end of the game. Levan used the 1 and 2 VP buildings well and had he more Cuba experience would surely have accumulated more points that he missed with minor mistakes. Luke sporny **** that he is purchased the building that created 2 blue cubes a turn only for the VP per blue cube law to be proposed in round two. Where upon he bought political influence +2 votes and passed the law. He then proceeded to acquire the veto sanction and allowed the powerful VP per blue law to remain in effect for the entirety of the game. Where others gained resources and then converted and then shipped taking for most 2 turns Luke just sat back and got small reward followed by small reward. By the end of the game he had acquired 9 blue cubes and was getting substantial VPs through doing nothing. In the end the distance between 1st and 3rd was twenty odd points. Had the laws been completely different other strategies would no doubt have been adopted but clearly the points margin was a reflection of how early that card arrived and was not removed. Its just a shame Luke couldn’t have got the golf course as well as then the real points would have a racked up.

The Cuba table finished within 5 minutes of the ‘P-soup’ table which meant that we were able to chat and pack away as a group which made a nice change.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Friends, Romans and Salty Sea Dogs

Report for 29th January 2008.

Revelling in his
success from last week by bringing along a game and not only getting it played, but also winning, Tom thought he’d try and his push his luck by doing the same again this week. The first part of his plan worked nicely. By pulling out the eagerly anticipated Tribune: Primus Inter Pares (Tribune: First Among Equals), by game designer Karl-Heinz Schmiel, he quickly gathered the first four gamers through the door (Jimmy, Hayden, Ollie and myself) and set the Roman themed game going.

The publisher describes the game thusly:

Bow before the Tribune, Romans! Poor or rich, strong or weak, Patrician or Plebeian, hear the word of the Tribune! He is one of you, but he is the Tribune, he is the primus inter pares – the first among equals!

Welcome to the most impressive metropolis of the ancient world – Rome. A city full of life, with inhabitants of many differences. But beneaththose differences they had one thing in common – they were Romans.

Play as one of the great patrician families which held great power and influence. Gain control over the seven factions of the city which hold control over many aspects of Roman culture.

In Tribune, you try to become the most powerful family in Rome. Will the Legions stay faithful? Will you be honored with the favor of the Gods? Will you even get the title of Tribune?


All pointed to a rich game full of politics and intrigue. The board was beautiful with big Roman buildings dominating the bustling streets. And there is a big Roman guy on the box. So when Tribune turned out to be a set collecting card game with a few bells and whistles, I must admit I was a little disappointed. Despite my disappointment, the game rattles along at a good pace with players taking control of the seven factions by playing larger sets of cards than the previous faction owner. Once a player has control of a faction he uses its powers to help him complete three of the six victory conditions - once achieved the game ends and all players that have completed three conditions (one of which must be a Tribune tile) are considered for victory by adding up points they’ve scored.

It was quite hard to judge how well players were progressing throughout the game, with most people concerned about their own objectives rather than each others. Therefore the game slammed to halt with much surprise when I enquired if the game ended as soon as I had completed three conditions. I had and was declared the winner. No one else was close to completing three, but Ollie had the most points and was declared second place. Whether I deserved the victory was a bigger issue than the lack of politics and intrigue. The cards do not seem very well balanced and by winning one card in particular, I gained a ‘Gift from God’ – one of the harder to obtain victory conditions – which should normally take two turns of good planning and play to obtain. To make matters worse this card could have appeared in anyone’s hand through a random draw or by simply being the player to go first. And the final insult was that I didn't realise that the card gave me this game winning 'Gift from God' untill Ollie pointed it out to me. That'll teach him to look at my cards! Overall, we all seemed to enjoy the experience, but I’m not sure any of us came away with the feeling of re-writing history.

Whilst we spent time hanging around the latrines of Rome. The other attendees got down to the serious business of winning Land Unter, Fearsome Floors and even a six player game of the Settlers of Catan (as opposed to the usual four player version), something I’ve never tried despite playing around a hundred games of Settlers.

Undeterred by his staggering failure with Tribune, Tom pushed on and whilst everyone was at the bar he snuck his second German edition game, Rette Sich Wer Kann (Each Man for Himself - or Lifeboats), on to the table. This is a negotiation game with six lifeboats trying to row to the safety of a group of nearby islands. The rules are simple. Basically each player has six sailors distributed between the vessels. Each turn only one boat will make progress towards the islands – voted for by the players. One boat will spring a leak reducing the boat’s capacity – voted for by the players.
If the boat is at maximum occupancy when the leak occurs, then players (on the boat) vote to decide who to throw overboard (that sailor is removed from the game). If a boat ever has more leaks than occupants then the boats sinks and all sailors on it are food for the sharks. Players are also required to move one of their sailors to another lifeboat each turn. The game continues in this fashion until all the boats have either reached an island or have sunk.

Jimmy and I both got a number of sailors to the shore fairly quickly. Tom also looked to be progressing well but that worked against him as time and again his crew got thrown overboard. Hayden spread his crew across a number of boats which made him less of a target but meant he was either at the mercy of the majority on a lifeboat or had the deciding vote. Ollie on the other hand didn’t seem to grasp the game at all and spent most of the game with his crew on the precariously leaky orange boat. However, it became clear that anyone who got crew to the islands early on was not going to get many more to safety as the perceived leaders had their boats spring leaks and then their sailors tossed overboard.

Ollie sprang into action in the final couple of turns moving his mostly untargeted crew from the dangerous orange boat to the high scoring prestige boats and finally got four sailors to safety and stole the win, which everyone thought had gone to me. Bah! Lifeboats proved to be a raucous game with jeers and jibes flying across the table as sailors were thrown overboard and boats were sunk. This was especially surprising coming from a game with perfect information.

Anyway, congratulations to Tom on getting two of your games to the table in one week. I’m sorry you didn’t get to complete the double and win either. Better luck next time you get a game to the table – check back here in about August folks!

If you've read this and wondered why the phrase "
Crocker won the game as usual" hasn't been used. He wasn't there. He was ill at home. So here's a little note just for Luke: When we packed the games away, we didn’t use the baggies. We just shoved all the bits in the box. And even when we did have bags, Tom told us to mix up all the colours. I would have taken a photo for you, but didn’t have my camera.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

The week of 15!

It seems bizarre that three weeks ago Ollie and I sat in the pub lamenting the death of NBG “just two this week” was the murmur from bar staff or so we suspected. But last Tuesday a staggering 15 people attended…yes that’s right 15 and even then Matt and I were able to name 10 or so, could be regulars who had not come. Shanon and Luke had returned to the UEA and had brought with them somebody new (who then proceeded to win all their games) and I apologise for not properly saying hello or noting your name or for that matter the games you played or who else was at your table, though I think it was Chris and Andy. I remember Adam set up Alhambra wrong and that he avoided Rachel’s wrath by insisting that Shanon washed his hands before playing just about everything. By the end of the night Shanon had contracted OCD but at least non of Rachels games got dirty.

Jimmy, Matt, Harry, Steve and Tom played ‘In the year of the dragon’ which Matt dominated only to be piped at the post by Tom. After which Harry and Steve departed leaving the other three to play ‘Wabash Cannonball’ which was won by Tom, two in a row. He obviously had been training over the Christmas break and swotting up on how to kick ass.

Ollie, Rachel, ???? (I’m sorry your name escapes me, I will update later apols) and I played ‘Pillars of the Earth’. I did the rules session supervised by Ollie, the resident pillars expert. Followed by a game of Baumiesters of Arcadia, Rachel then departed and the three of us played ‘To court the king’.

In Pillars of the Earth you are helping the construction of cathedral and score victory points by skilfully donating workers to endeavours to ultimately earn you victory points. The game has a Caylus feel to it, but Pillars is far more accessible and ultimately its own game.

The game is played over six rounds which for us flew by. The fact there are only six rounds is important when you calculate the value of some of the objects (craftsman and other cards) later on offer. The best objects that can or will come out later are not necessarily as good as they seem given the length of life they have in them and conversely some of the lesser objects early may be more valuable. The object of the game is to accumulate resources and convert these into victory points whilst balancing this objective with the gold at your disposal.

There are 4 resources in the game: Wood, Stone, Sand and Iron. Each player receives 3 craftsman cards, each has a specific resource that they convert into VPs at a rate which is not favourable. During the game there are opportunities to gain more craftsman cards which have enhanced or different powers / conversion rates. However you are only allowed to hold a max of 5 craftsman cards (there is an advantage card, which Rachel got in our game, that lets you hold 6 – kind of like the warehouse in St Petersburg – more on that later). When you acquire a sixth card you must choose which you wish to discard. Be warned if you discard one of your original workers (marked with an exclamation point!) you are punished immediately with a permanent loss of ability linked to that card, these are:
Can no longer buy wood at the market,
Can no longer sell stone at the market,
Can no longer receive VPs from the mason.
This may have no impact on how you are playing but you must take care and consider this carefully, as we all did.

There is a second type of card possibly depicting a person, these are known as advantage cards. At the start of a round, 2 are randomly drawn from the deck and placed on the board to be won later in that round. We read the cards out loud and explained what each card did. In later games the name of the card will no doubt say it all. These cards offer a variety of benefits, instant rewards or additional benefits when you choose a particular action or resource- they are fairly self explanatory. In our game I acquired 6 or 7 of these and Ollie got one or none, at the end of the game there was 2 or 3 points separating us. They are obviously helpful and powerful but other paths to victory are available.

Each player receives 12 workers who they will farm out to get the main three resources. You receive one large worker (worth 5) and seven smaller ones. At the beginning of the round 7 out of a possible 9 resource area cards are laid out on the table. In the deck there is a small (2 cubes) medium (3 cubes) and large (4 cubes) work card for each of the three areas, forest (wood resources), Quarry (stone resource) and ????? (sand resource). In addition to this there are some extra craftsman cards to supplement the three you start with. There are six mini decks of four cards so experienced players will know at what stage of the game what new craftsman will be coming out. It is advisable that a quick summary of these cards are shown to new players before the game begins. Each of the mini decks are labelled 1-6 and two cards from deck 1 are placed face up on the board for use later and the other two craftsman from deck 1 are placed next to the resource area cards. Starting with the start player (which generally rotates clockwise at the end of one of the six rounds) each player takes it in turn to choose one of the nine cards now on display or soft passes. If they choose one of the two craftsman cards they pay the gold cost indicated at the top of the card and move there gold marker down accordingly on the gold track. They then add that card to there personal display (remember max 5) and where possible may use it this turn. Alternatively players may take one of the seven resource area cards, if they do this they place the number of workers indicated at the top of this card into that work area on the board (these will be returned later) in doing so players have fewer workers to use in subsequent goes this round. If you wish to wait and see you may pass and join in again later or if there are no moves available to you and you still have workers left over, or if you just want to, you can place your remaining workers in the village on the board – these will later earn you one gold per worker.

In the next stage all players have 3 master builders which are placed in a bag. There is a dial at the foot of the board which is set to seven and counts down to zero. A random master builder is drawn from the bag and the player whose builder it is must decide to pay the cost in gold indicated by the dial or to pass. If they pass their master builder is put on the dial at the point they passed and the dial is moved down one notch. Later the player will get to place their master builder for a cost of zero but only when all others have been drawn from the bag thus losing any advantage of placement order. If the player chooses to accept the price indicated on the dial then they pay the gold by moving down the track and get to choose any available spot on the board. The dial is then still moved down one notch and a new master builder is drawn. This continues till all master builders are drawn, once the dial gets to zero all subsequent placements cost nothing. When the bag is empty all master builder tokens on the dial representing the passes are placed on the board in the order they were drawn. In our game if drawn at 7 or 6 players nearly always passed except in the hotly contested last few rounds or if a player knew they needed a particular thing. If a player had enough money they considered the 5’s but pretty much everyone always took a 4 or any other lower draw.

When the master builders have all been placed, the final stage of a round starts and the board positions are calculated. There are 14 area events on the board, each one is resolved in order and then play continues to the next event. When all 14 are finished a new round begins. At the end of the sixth round a winner is declared.
The 14 events are as follows:
1) Event card – 6 out of 12 event cards are seeded to the board, half of the available cards are positive half are negative. There is no knowing what the distribution is in the game. The top card on the deck is drawn and read aloud, instructions followed.
2) If a master builder is in the arch-chancellor position they may choose to ignore the event card – otherwise they may take a good of there choice immediately from the market for no cost.
3) The village, all workers that were placed here gain there owner 1 gold. Workers are returned.
4) Take the advantage card for free. The strength of these is dependant on your strategy and the point in the game when the card comes out. Some are always good, or some you always think are naff, others at the table however could disagree. I got a card that allowed me to look at the event cards, in one game this was useless in another superb.
5) Straight victory points. 2 or 1. There is an advantage card which awards an additional 1 point every time you take this action.
6) Woods – you gain cubes equal to the number written at the bottom of your resource area cards.
7) Quarry – you gain cubes equal to the number written at the bottom of your resource area cards.
8) ??????? - you gain cubes equal to the number written at the bottom of your resource area cards.
9) Tax + Tax exemption – Any player who has a master builder in this section is tax exempt. The first player to place here has an additional reward of one metal cube. With the exception of two advantage cards. This is the only way to gain the fourth valuable resource of Iron. A six sided dice containing numbers 2 -5 is rolled and each player not represented here is subject to pay the amount rolled in tax.
10) Gain a craftsman card for free.
11) Gain two additional workers (to add to your 12 for placement in resource areas) for one go
12) Trade with the market: You may buy goods providing they are available (present on the board) once gone these resources are not replaced till the end of the round, you may not buy Iron. OR you can sell any of the four goods for the price listed. After your go the next person on a market space may use the market once. After all players have used the market, each player gets a second opportunity and then a third, till all players have used the market as often as they can or wish to.
13) Be first player for the following round.
14) Collect VPs based on using cubes and craftsman cards in any legal combinations that you wish.

After this the game board gets reseeded in preparation for the next round. Resource cards are collected from players shuffled and 7 drawn then placed with 2 craftsman at the side of the board, 2 craftsman and 2 advantage cards are placed in the correct positions on the board, the market gets filled, an iron cube goes to the joust, first player changes clockwise (if nobody chose it with there master craftsman), all master craftsman should be in the draw bag, bonus grey workers are returned to the pool and used cards are discarded. At the end of the sixth round a winner is declared.

After careful consideration I have decided not to write up the games of Baumiesters of Arcadia or ‘To court the king’ as I will probably not get that post finished till August. All games where won by Luke, Pillars was VERY close between Ollie and Luke, Arcadia was fairly one sided but to court the king was also close with Ollie getting 8 5’s only just beaten by Luke’s 6’s.

See you all soon.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Late posts took that long

I gave Matt the task of writing last weeks session report for reasons that will become apparent later but he obviously is too work shy to get the job done. I am far more ‘relaxed’ about posting than most bloggers and hoped that involving someone else might raise the standard or at least the promptness of the reports, but alas no. Of course it’s worth noting that any contribution from someone other than me raises the standard (incidentally if you would like to post session reports then let me know and I can give you the permissions you need) as soon as Andy has the nerve to shows his face again I am sure we will all be blessed with another amusing rant….but until then you will have to settle for my words of ummm wisdom.

For a change we played a game brought by Jimmy, I’m not so much bitter about the fact the games recently are Jimmy’s more about the fact that he has been able to purchase a whole bunch of glorious new Essen releases that we have all yet to play, eventually this pool of riches will dry up…..just in time for us to play them again or judging by the extent of his hall just in time for him to bring back a whole load more from Essen 08. Also I really feel that the games industry in the last 18 months or so has produced a significant amount of solid to excellent games. In previous years there was one or two good release or maybe perhaps 3 or 4, so you would play them lots explore them and love one, some or all 4. But because you had little choice you were thankful for what you could get. This year (new games played in the year 2007) there has been a dozen or so that are in or around my personal top 20. In no order:

League of Six
Wabash Cannonball
Pillars of the earth
Notre Dame
Year of the dragon
Age of Empires 3
Agricola (yet to play it personally)
1960 making of the president
Key Harvest
Battle lore (14 months in Britain)
Imperial (yeah these games are getting older)
Iliade (was that this year?)
Race for the galaxy (someone likes it I’m sure it has a good geek rating)
Zooloretto (no-one I have met likes it)

Financial expense of keeping up aside, I don’t play games enough to appreciate these wonderful riches. So our collective new years resolution needs to be, more gaming, more often. Get yourself to games club and play a new game or an old favourite.

On with the session report. So why am I writing this? Especially when a certain someone has already written this……

I’m a big fan of the rondel and Mac Gerdts (the designer)
has done a great job of utilising it in a game that is very different to
previous rondel games - Antike and Imperial. The game flows very well and partly
thanks to the rondel there is very little downtime. However, Hamburgum has by
far the weakest theme out of the three games. The actions are very abstracted
and although it's a nice efficiency engine game, there is no interaction and the
theme never really draws the player into the game. Without great theme or
interaction it does feel like you're just maximising the rondel, which makes it
feel even more abstracted and dry. Great components, the clay bricks are a great
touch, but the art is nasty and a bit confusing. Worst of the rondel

Matt makes several good points. There was very little down time in our group and there is very little interaction. I liked the theme however and felt it was no more abstract than most other euro games. The game would definitely benefit from more player interaction but I wouldn’t know where to introduce that. There is interaction through competition and seating order can play a part as if the player to your right builds a building you wanted too or changes the ships and so on….that can effect your turn. Just ask Jimmy as he frequently found himself losing out in this way. It can be very frustrating but part of the game is utilisation and part of the game is planning. I kind of like the tension games like this cause when you have two or three moves and you hope nobody beats you to the punch. What makes the game somewhat forgiving is that if you miss out on option A there is an option B, most of the time although not ideal, you do have options.

I like games that have a degree of tactics and a degree of strategy. Its good to know a game and know what you want to do, but I also enjoy adapting to the surroundings and knowing when to go with the flow or even lead the flow. I don’t want to hold Hamburgum up as a good example of this as its not and I’ve played many games recently that are better, but going back to my previous list, in another year this game would have been the be all and end all. It isn’t because of the quality of the opposition not solely due to its own shortcomings.

How does it fare compared to the other rondel games? I should really play Antike again before I pass judgment. I prefer euro style games to civ or war games but would currently rate imperial as the best rondel game and Hamburgum a fairly close second. More plays and this difference will change. But I am unsure in which direction the tide will flow. I may agree with Matt and like Hamburgum less or this game will grow on me and I will keep requesting it at games club incurring dirty looks from Matt and his friends.

We had five at games club: Jimmy, Matt, Ollie, myself and Richard H. We haven’t seen Rich for nearly a year (I had written why but have decided to delete thinking I had better not post other peoples lives on the net, I will leave that for them to do). Welcome back Rich its good to see you at the club again (insert joke that obviously reveals private information that I had previously said I would not post, here). Incidentally one of the games brought down and not played was Viking Fury, we haven’t played it for ages I said, to which Rich replied “we played it last time I was here”. Which kind of says it all.

We played two games first Hamburgum which Matt won by a canter. We all made minor mistakes throughout the game and Matt was no exception but he made some astute decisions and got some solid VP payouts leaving him obviously the winner. Ollie came up the rail and was clearly second 5 odd points behind Matt and a similar distance from the rest of us. The remaining players where grouped together. I was third, Rich was two points behind me and Jimmy was one point off Rich. This was Jimmys third game and he confesses to coming first or last and never in-between. The game got a mostly positive reception but we were mixed about just how positive to be.

The second game played was Mu and More a delightful 5 suit trick taking game which has cards valued 0 to 9 with two cards that have a value 1 and two with a value of 7. Cards have a triangle pip on them denoting there VP value, the distribution of these pips is uniform across the suits and might be zero, one or two. So all 9’s for instance have zero pips and all 6’s have two pips. There are usually 2 sets of trumps though trumps can be a number or a colour. One is a minor and chosen by the runner up in an auction (of sorts) he is known as ‘the vice’ and the other trump is the major chosen by the winner of the auction, known as ‘the chief’. This player has to choose a partner to help him achieve a target of VPs he may not choose the runner up (the minor trump chooser) as his partner. His target is dictated by the number of cards he lay and won the auction with, and his reward or penalty is dictated by how accurate his prediction / bid was. The auction process is relatively simple lay n cards onto the table or soft pass. When everyone has passed in a row the person with the greatest number of cards showing is the chief. In the event of a draw the person who played his card last that ‘forced’ a draw takes a penalty. The player who has placed the second greatest number of cards down on the table is the vice, in the event of a draw the player with the highest value card wins, if still a draw the second highest card between those two and so forth.

The chief leads off, you have to follow suit if possible, unless a trump is lead. If a trump is lead any trump can be played. Lead trumps ‘out trump’ minor trumps. The winner of a hand leads off the next hand. When all tricks have been won each player counts his individual triangle pip total, this is their VP total. The chief had a target which is looked up on a reference card to work out the pip total he and his partner needed to accumulate. If they achieve it they gain additional points if they fail the chief loses points the partner remains on his total and the other players gain a bonus.

Our game was hotly contested between Jimmy and Luke. Luke was the chief with his first ever hand and did not make the total needed and as a result received a large penalty. The same level of failing happened to Jimmy on the penultimate hand. After the Second hand Jimmy was 100 odd points ahead of all other players. To put that in perspective Richard came forth and after 5 rounds had acquired less points than Jimmy had after two. Ollie had less points at the end of the game than Jimmy had after one round. Luke made good progress after round one and managed to be within 20 points of Jimmy for the final round. Matt who had stumbled through the game was dealt a belter and wiped the floor with everyone in the last round (rich won a trick I think) and as a result positions at the end stayed as they were with Jimmy being the deserved winner.

This game was played with immense fun. Failings were taken well and funny comments were shared amongst players. We had open contest for ‘worst hand ever’ which Richard claimed to have won, but blatantly one of Ollies subsequent hands had that privilege. Despite statements like ‘I haven’t a clue what to do’, ‘What a bag of s***’ and ‘This game is so getting a one’ (referring to the board game geek rating) we all enjoyed the 45minutes of trick taking fun.