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.

Friday, 11 January 2008

2008 Starts With Friedemann Friese Classic

We were six on Tuesday. Harry and Steve made an appearance. The copious amounts of planning needed for their wedding had curtailed there club gaming for a while. But they were by no means rusty as our pre game chat covered various new games the coupled had played over the last few weeks. No XXX bachelor night for Steve oh no they preferred an 18XX night and who could argue with that??

The others at the ribs where Matt B, Jimmy, Ollie and Luke and after a 15 minute wait for late comers we cracked out power grid. Ollie was the only power grid virgin and we decided to use the central Europe map and the new Essen release power stations deck. The game took 2 ½ hours and saw Luke win by powering up 15 cities. Matt and Jimmy both powered 14 but Matt had the more electrons so squeaked second on the count back. I think Steve came next then Harry and last was Ollie but I may have that muddled. I felt the game had drifted away from me after I had purchased 4 power stations and passed on the opportunity of buying and replacing a 2 power garbage station that would have won me the game early. As it happens my lack of power in what would be the last round (max 15 cities) was irrelevant as the rivals with more capacity, failed to expand sufficiently in the last two rounds. Jimmy played a shroud game of expanding in jumps allowing himself to often be first or near the front when it matters and Matt structured his growth so as to be usually in the middle of the player order. I however repeatedly grew to my max power potential and horded money. I was frequently last player, less choices available but I could respond and not be left behind. Once in last place due to the power of my station (32 I think) there was little point being level or close to level, my only chance was to power more cities and get the money. Fuel was slightly more for me but after round two this stopped being an issue when I purchased a ‘1 fuel for 4 power’ station which used the same fuel as my ‘3 fuel for 2 power’ station. This meant I could stock up to 8 fuel in one go when it was cheap and use only one a turn in conjunction with my ecology green ‘4 power’ station. Steven horded garbage which was not a bad idea, however he probably went a bridge too far near the end especially in the last station he bought. Harry got to the last round with a lack of power and needed an 8 strength station to come out for her to make 14, it didn’t so she was under powered. Ollie was disadvantaged in playing the game amongst some seasoned players but he did reasonably well, having the right level of power stations at the end but falling foul of expanding / or not at the wrong times and running out of money as a result.

This was my fourth game of power grid and I enjoyed it immensely. Be it the board or the players, but this Tuesdays game played quick and always flowed fast. I think having several people doing the maintenance helped, Harry and Steve sorted the power stations, Matt and I refuelled the market place, Ollie sorted city power markers and Jimmy kept an eye on procedures and player order.

We finished the night with Land Unter (drowning sheep edition) an enjoyable light weight card game. Harry and Steve departed and the four of us left used the last 40 minutes well. Jimmy won, getting a positive score each round, I finished on 1 point and Ollie had a similar score possibly one more or less than me, Matt was in last place. Matt may have got a point at some stage but I don’t remember it happening. I do remember him frequently drowning and then grabbing onto my leg and pulling me down with him…but I won power grid so who cares?

Ollie courts the King for lack of any competition

Times are tough when only two people turn up for games night. Things get tougher when both parties only bring 3, 4 or 5 player games. Luckily Tom had left a copy of Go in the cupboard for just such an occasion. Unluckily neither of us knew how to play Go…thus summing up my whole Christmas game playing experiences.

We had all agreed (by all I mean some and by agreed I mean told) that the first NBG of the year would be on Tuesday Jan 1st despite possible problems, hangovers should have passed. Not it seems for anyone except me and Ollie – who incidentally travelled all the way from Canada to be there.

We would love to have played, twilight struggle, battle lore or 1960 making of the president but we couldn’t as neither of us had predicted a two person turn out, so neither one of us had brought appropriate games. Not since the very first meeting between Matt and myself do I recall only two members appearing. True I have the memory of a fish but I recall three players on several occasions but never two. It must be my dazzling personality that keeps so many people from coming back week on week.

As it happens Ollie and I were able to play a rather open game of Hacienda – which Ollie won and three rounds of ‘To Court the King’ which again Ollie won 2-1. It was remarked that ‘To Court The King’ was like a F***ed up Yahtzee, where no matter what you rolled you were able to “cheat” and manipulate the dice as you liked… within 2CTK rules obviously.

For those of you unfamiliar with this dice fest let me explain. Players start with 2 dice, they roll the dice (known as active dice) then have to keep/ hold back at least one of those active dice. Players then pick up the remaining dice and roll again. The dice removed are permanent and can not be changed this go. Each roll the player must decide which of the active dice they wish to keep. When the go is finished and all dice are kept the player then ‘spends’ his score to purchase a character card which enables him to improve / manipulate the dice he rolls.

There are two main types of cards that the player may ‘purchase’. The first adds more dice to the rolls (either before rolling or after rolling), the second changes the outcome of the dice by adding additional pips or moving pips from one die to another (two cards allow you to change any one die to a different number). The better the card the more it costs and the more powerful cards are not available until you have acquired more dice…by purchasing lower valued cards. There is a fool card for players who fail to achieve a score worthy of a card and 2 fools = 1 extra dice. Pretty much every card can be used successfully, some are more popular than others and a few are very powerful. Costs range from 1 pair to scores above 15 or 30, full houses, 3 pairs, straights etc…yahtzee / poker dice type things, all written out easy to understand on the cards and our player aids.

The end game starts when a player rolls 7 dice with the same value and chooses to purchase the king, they in turn are rewarded with the queen card also. After every player has had an equal number of turns, every player then gets one more turn to roll the best dice possible. Number of dice of a kind is the only thing that counts and pip score breaks ties so five 3’s beats five 1’s and eight 1’s would beat seven 6’s. The player with the best score takes the king from who ever has it and the player who has the queen, who started the end game, rolls last, this play needs to only match the best dice roll in order to win back the king – basically best dice wins and having the queen is the tie breaker.

The first game was reasonably curious where both of us tried different things and Ollie came out on top. By the second game we both knew what cards we wanted and what cards we knew we didn’t want the opponent to have. This led to much shouting mockery and lambasting when an opponent picked up a crucial card or for that matter rolled bad dice and was unable to get said card. Ollie rolled ridiculous dice and with thoughtful play was able to thrash me. The third and final game was the most one sided of all which I won.

I feel the game probably plays best with three or maybe at a push four (the game is scaled so more cards are available the more players you include – max 6). Downtime can be an issue but I enjoyed helping and receiving help when working out what to do with the dice. This moved the game on reasonably well. The more manipulation cards you have the more possibilities arrive. If you have a notion as to what you are aiming for than play can move along fairly swiftly. Once we knew the game and understood the cards, that was certainly the case for us.
Happy new year.