Monday, 30 January 2012

Welcome to Feld Club.

Stefan Feld has come to dinner and he won’t leave. He’s drank all the port, he's been grinding water biscuits into the carpet for the last half hour and now he's standing on the table threatening us all with the butter-knife. Actually this isn't true - I don't think Stefan would be such a terrible guest, but then again I probably wouldn't recognise him. What I would recognise, even under the pressure of a butter-knife stabbing is one of his games. Trajan is no exception, and there were two of copies of it in our midst on Tuesday.

Both Jimmy and Luke had brought Trajan and even Pete, who hadn't, was whooping with delight at the thought of Trajan. Numbers, however,  conspired against a two table Trajan-fest so Jimmy, Luke, Tom and I delved into Trajan while the other five - showing a complete lack of imagination - played Hansa Teutonica. Trajan is apparently about the Roman Empire, but I won't be mentioning that again as the first rule of Feld Club is that you do not talk about themes. 

You know what the second rule of Feld Club is. The third rule of Feld Club is that the game must have a slightly convoluted, but an interestingly new mechanism. Trajan delivers an uppercut by using individual player mats depicting mancala bowls. At the start of the game, each player has two differently coloured cubes in each of his six mancala bowls. Each turn, the player picks up all the cubes in one bowl and distributes them one-by-one to bowls in a clockwise order. Wherever the final piece is placed, the player takes the action associated with that bowl. Mostly these actions allow each player to take actions that influence mini-games on the central board. The six actions are: senate (points on a track),  military (points on map), building (taking points tiles), trading (er, taking points tiles), Trajan (add new Trajan tiles to your mancala) and forum (take tiles in order to stop bad things happening - which is the fourth rule of Feld Club; bad things happen in the game and you must try to stop these bad things happening).

In addition to determining the action each round, if the colored pieces in the final bowl now match the colors shown on a Trajan tile next to the bowl, then the player takes the additional actions and points shown on that tile. In this way the game feels like a puzzle to be solved as you manipulate the coloured cubes in the mancala bowls to take the actions you need, but also satisfy the requirements of any Trajan tiles you have acquired. Fifth rule of Feld Club is the need balance the individual puzzle elements while still trying to score points. Trajan, like Luna last week, will appeal to those euro-ites that like optimization, efficiency, and exploring the puzzle elements and competitive routes to victory. Those who need a kick-ass theme best keep away.

Beer: Old Ale from Adnams. Not old as in out of date, but Old as in the type of beer - usually malty and dark. This was very dark red in colour, nutty, malty, slight acidic hint of fruit. Surprisingly wet. 6/10.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Three Cheers for the New Year

Happy New Year, dear friends! It's still January so I feel I am well within my rights to say the aforementioned phrase. Unless I take my Chinese heritage seriously, in which case I am a couple of days early.

We are back in full swing at the Ribs of Beef, with three sessions completed since the festive break...

There is always a bit of a hangover in January, so it was no surprise that the first session of the year was a bit quiet. This suited Tom as he was allowed drag out his home-made variant of Small World. It's made from hacked up bits of kitchen floor tiles and the finished result is like a crazed Settlers of Catan map, with large hex tiles. The idea is that the custom game provides random set-ups, but also accommodates six players rather than the maximum of five in the published edition. I couldn't say who won as I wasn't there, but I imagine it was Tom as he probably built in some sort of filthy hidden cheating mechanism.

Last week we were back up to two tables of games. The majority were entertained by the old stalwarts Cuba and Hansa Teutonica, while Jimmy, Nicky, Tom and myself played a new offering (though it's actually a year old) called Luna. It's all about a moon goddess cult on some remote island. Players have to hurl their priestesses into the lake in order to gain privileges. The soaked ladies would then go and read books whilst they dried off in the chapel. Luna is from the furtive mind of Stefan Feld, whose reputation as designer of quality euros has been growing steadily in recent years. This is another success and those that crave puzzle style/efficiency games will love this despite the unfathomable theme (though when has a theme got in the way of a good euro? Especially from Feld).  This was a close run game with Jimmy taking the dubious honour of nearly drowning his priestesses in the most efficient manner.

This Tuesday we had the privilege of welcoming newcomer Dean. He is an upstanding young man of the highest calibre. He joined us halfway through the evening for our second game of Hansa Teutonica. He made noises which indicated that he'd enjoyed Hansa Teutonica (clearly, it's fun to watch a true master at work, as I won both games), but also mentioned he would like to play Taj Mahal...this marks him as a fellow of impeccable taste. A thousand welcomes, good sir!

On the other table Pete was wrangling with his newest cardboard-love, Eclipse. No not the game inspired by the supernatural romance of Twilight, but a full-on space epic. This comes in a suitably vast box packed with miniatures, numbered hex space tiles and the neat stuff you'd expect in a 4X game. For those of you scratching your heads at the term 4X - it stands for explore, expand, exploit and exterminate. Players explore the map, expand into the discovered territories, exploit the resources found and then ultimately exterminate the other players in order to achieve further expansion. This was mostly a learning game for all involved (it reminded me of Twilight Imperium - once again nothing to do with vampire abstaining from sexy times) but I could tell that love was blossoming and I'm sure Eclipse will be Pete's 'plus one' at the Ribs for the next few months.

Beer: I guzzled a few pints of Woodeforde's Norfolk Nog.  Malty and rich with sweet flavours of caramel, chocolate and dates. Like Blokus 3D - a bit different, but it would go down well at Christmas.