Thursday, 29 November 2012

More Archipela-gold!

Apologies for the title. John couldn't bear to tell the story of how I won Tuesday’s game of Archipelago, so he has encouraged me to recount my glorious exploits. Now I’m not one to brag, so I’ll gloss over the details…

Glossing begins. Despite being persecuted by Tom, having the fewest workers on the fewest tiles and wasting time on pointless migrations and explorations that yielded nothing but bitter disappointment, I still managed to pull off a bloody amazing win (OK, so I little bragging). A couple of good guesses on the secret victory conditions (fish, towns in woods, cards), luck with the one I didn't guess and the sole person to build a church (as no-one worked out my objective and preferred to horde valuable stone for the open objective) I did well despite a very lean game. Players with better board positions and resources should have beaten me (and would in most games), but an aspect that I love; the bluffing and misdirection allowed for a win from a desperate looking position. Some would argue that Archipelago isn't quite balanced and that the player that played the best game should usually win – but I suppose it also depends on how you measure “played the best game”.

It’s worth noting that this game was even less cooperative than last weeks and teetered on the brink of revolt a couple of times, before being pulled away from the precipice by adding a couple more workers to board, only to be brought to the edge again by taxation and scurrilous profiteering. No churches were built to keep unrest down (because of the valuable stone), and players demanded payments for sacrificing goods to avert the looming crises. No doubt the next game will be more cutthroat, perhaps with even more bribing and applying leverage to each other. I also think we may start to see more revolts. Will we then turn full-cycle and return to more gentile scenes of cooperation?

On the other table Pete, Sam, Moritz and Stu played Tzolk'in followed by some 6 Nimmt. Pete won Tzolk'in. Stu won 6 Nimmt; apparently with a terrible score, but everyone else had a much worse score.

Beer: I was drinking Titanic’s Iceberg. Light golden wheat beer. Slightly thin, but crisp and zesty with a hint of lemon tea.  Assertive hops and a nod of malt boost the brew and disguise the fact that this is a wheat beer. More suited to the summer months, but still worthy (7/10).

Thursday, 22 November 2012


Archipelago has been something of a hit on a Tuesday night. Everyone else at the club had played it and I was feeling left out and sorry for myself. So after months of being left in port I finally embarked on a game of Archipelago. As I’m sure John has mentioned in previous posts, this is a game about European powers of yore competing in the exploration of a tropical archipelago. Players must build up and manage a colony in order to create wealth and prosperity for themselves and their respective nations, all the while balancing the impact on the islanders, who are ready to revolt and declare independence.

This was sold to me as a cooperative game with a winner. I would say it’s not. I would say it’s a highly competitive and ruthless game that everyone can lose. Everyone is out for themselves, but are always keeping an eye on the creeping unrest and trying to get others to shoulder the burden of placating the natives. All the while wondering whether there is a secret separatist actively trying to incite a revolt. 

So not as much cooperation as I expected, but there is so much more to this game than all ‘pitching in for the cause , while accusing everyone else of being a separatist’ (which was the impression I got as I looked on from afar in previous weeks).Worker-placement is the core of this game. A gaming mechanism, which I like, but feel has been over used since the worker-placement poster boy Agricola hit the shops in 2007. But Archipelago has more. So much more. It has area control. It has stock market manipulation. Modular tiles. Special actions. Exploration. It has cooperation, negotiation and back-stabbing. And all of this is tied together nicely in a very eye-pleasing manner. 

I also like the ambiguous nature of the victory and end game conditions (with hidden objective cards). It really adds to the tension. And from my point of view has the added benefit of reducing the need for heavy analysis or number-crunching. That’s not to say this isn't a good intellectual exercise, this is still a pretty heavy game with lots to consider, but you’re never entirely sure what the best move will be and so a good rounded plan will probably be better than a narrow one.

I bobbed around a bit aimlessly for most of the game and didn't quite get a handle on it until the end – even having the ignominy of making the most pointless move in the game (everyone thinks I’m talking about the migration where I moved a solitary ship to open water, I was openly laughed at for that – but it was actually the buying of the Spy card, which I could never afford to use).  I came in fourth with a mere four points. However, I was saved the shame of last place by John with his three meager points. Tom won with his ruthless 14, and Rich and Pete somewhere in between. Anyway, it’s a great game and I hope to get in more games before something new and shiny replaces it in John’s bag of wonder.  

On the other table there was horror in the city as Dean, Matt, Alina, Nicky and Sam played City of Horror. Appropriately, for something in the zombie genre, this is a remake of the 2005 Mall of Horror game, which gathered a cult following after it became out of print. Described as a back-stabbing survival-horror game, players have to survive the onslaught of a shambling horde. Occasionally sacrificing one of their own in order to do so. It looked cool with stand-up cardboard figures and scenery; including a water tower dominating one end of the cityscape. It was declared to be good and Dean won.

Games of Gloom and Saboteur finished off the evening.

Beer:  I sampled Loose Cannon Bandwagon. A bitter with a rich mahogany colour. Nice and malty, a hint of winter fruit, but lacking sweetness and body. Decent. 6/10

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

All warfare is based on deception

A relatively quiet evening at the Ribs where seven and a half attendees made it to the Wherry Room to play some games.

Cautious exploration of the outer rim
Pete, Matt, Sam and Nicky clashed in a war amongst the stars, Eclipse hitting the table with its now familiar mix of exploration, expansion, exploitation and extermination.

Eclipse is a rather spiffy board game rendition of the so called 4x genre set in deep space, where players compete to lead their clan of nascent space farers into the unknown, developing star systems, building ships and taking dominance by might or perhaps diplomacy. There have been a number of games over the years to tackle the interesting topic - from the classic 1975 Stellar Conquest ( which arguably spawned the computer game series Master of Orion, the original rule book of which kept referring to 'dice rolls' ) through to 1997 Throne World and beyond into Space Empires:4x and of course Eclipse.

Eclipse is definitely a product of its time however - it has picked up more than a flavour of Euro centric games with its action selection optimisation, 'worker placement' resource gathering and other such teutonic mechanics, but it also has one foot in the past with its pure trash dice combat and fleet movement. This gives it a different feel to its siblings, part Euro, part trash, but managing to pull it all together in a very elegant way. It condenses what other games can take many hours to do into a much more reasonable time frame and has some clever mechanics that mean a runaway leader never really occurs.

The game unfortunately failed to finish on time, but with a quick tot up of points, Matt was revealed to be the leading would be galactic ruler.

Table 2 saw Archipelago once again thrown into the mix, Rich, Moritz and myself settling down to the problem of managing the colony.

Things were going spankingly well in our new colony, exploration was proving to be a breeze as everyone quickly expanded out, and yet total population and resources were well under control. All too soon however things took a  turn for the worse as a breakdown in community spirit saw a crisis hit the colony hard, jumping separatists numbers to a dangerous level. Rich at this point decided to stop any pretence of co-operation and had his workers go on a mass riot, refusing to placate his rebelling citizens. Forced into trying to keep a lid on things I spammed resources to smooth things over, but it was no good. The separatist Rich gained Dictatorship, letting the colonists feel the taste of his iron fist and to add insult to injury decided to tax them for good measure.

This was too much for the troubled islanders and the new colony collapsed in rebellion. Evil Rich walked away with the win - all too easy.

Given the game was so short, we reset the game and had another blast. This time the colony went in a completely different direction, exploration was much slower and more tricky, but separatist numbers were never a threat, and the colony grew and thrived until game end when 5 town had been built.

A review of points revealed I had secured top place in all VP conditions - a nice spate of building and some brutal pineapple mass sales helping me along.

Finally Libertalia had its first outing at the Ribs, the three of us donning pirate hats to squabble over the rights to the booty before us. Freed slaves and Daughters of Governors were put to the sword, treasure maps were secured, curses suffered but the most piratey of the pirates turned out to be me ! Arrrrr.

I thoroughly enjoyed the evening, which has nothing what so ever to do with the fact that I won everything. Apart from the aberration of the first game of Archipelago which clearly doesn't count. That was the practice lap.

Friday, 9 November 2012

JRR Tzolkin Calendar

While the folk over in the US of A were busy choosing sanity over insanity, 12 of us were holed up in the Wherry Room playing games.

See the mighty cogs of Tzolk'in. Oooh!
Both Dean and Jimmy brought hot, hot, hot games from Essen this week. Dean brought Tzolk’in: the Mayan Calendar which has whipped up a lot of interest, probably due to the super gimmick of having giant connected cogs in the centre of the board which rotate throughout the game. Behind this fascinating and rather fantastic looking idea is the now very familiar idea of worker placement. Tim, Sam and Pete made up the required four and all of them came away from the game with big smiles. Pete reckons it plays really well and reminds him of Agricola.  Sam won a closely fought victory, pleasing the Mayan gods more than the other players. Personally, I’ve seen enough worker placement games, but this one has piqued my interest and I’m looking forward to giving it a spin.

I got to play Il Vecchio with Matt, Tom and Jimmy. This is a game all about renaissance Italy with Florence, Tuscany, the Medici, families, nobles, knights, bishops, crests, power, money all in the mix. Families compete to move their chaps around the board doing and buying stuff  - sometimes dealing with middlemen - in order to do more stuff, buy more stuff, get more chaps, buy more stuff in order to place more stuff, move more chaps to do more stuff and then get some stuff in order to get some points and then win. It’s a solid design, but lacking in originality or verve. Meh. Double meh as Matt won.

On the final table, Rich, Phil, Moritz and John larked about - firstly with Nexus Ops and then with Fearsome Floors. They played two games of Fearsome Floors, aborting the first game early as nearly everyone had escaped within a few turns. This was because they were all using the handy teleporters to jump from one side of the board to the other. What should have happened was that as soon as a player moved his hapless person into a teleporter there would have been a blood curdling scream as the person suffered an excruciating death. Everyone knows that only monsters can survive the teleporting process. What do they think this is? Star Trek? In Fearsome Floors if you’re unsure whether something will kill you - it certainly will kill you - so it was surprising that in their second game only three of the 16 explorers died. Even more surprisingly, Phil won. And he won Nexus Ops as well. As I mentioned earlier, clearly larking about was rife.

Beer: Adnams Old Ale. It’s so old that it’s dark and murky. Tastes as if a sack of malt has been stored in a coal cellar and then roasted in treacle, sack and all. 8/10.

Friday, 2 November 2012


Are you into the arty side of board games, or are you just a crunch person ?

Artist Alex Aparin has posted the cover art of Merchant of Venus over on deviantart, and I think it's rather spiffy.

Click on the image to head over to the artist's deviantart post to get a much better look. ( Try also clicking on the image on the deviant art page for an even bigger clearer version ).

You can also check out some other game type art Alex has done in his gallery. Descent for one. He also did the cover for the Pathfinder RPG halfling supplement. Gosh.

Gallery is here for those of a deviant art challenged nature.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

A Storm Brewing

Casting off the urge to lubricate themselves with copious amounts of warm beer, nine tee-total puritanical types favoured board games instead of the alcoholic delights of the 35th Norwich Beer Festival. However, we do have surveillance that indicates both Jimmy and James shunned us in favour of beer. It has been noted in the NoBoG Journal of Transgressions.

As promised Dean furnished us with new delights from the world’s biggest board game fair, which he attended in Essen a couple of weeks back. He brought the dubious Aristoocrazy, Samurai Sword, and two games from AEG’s new Tempest setting; Courtier and Dominare. It is the latter, meatier game, Dominare, that Dean favoured and so myself, Nicky and Rich sat down to see what the City-State of Tempest had to offer.

A conspiracy unfolds in the city-state of Tempest
In Dominare, the players are wrestling for control of a conspiracy which will ultimately overthrow the existing structure and ultimately seat them at the head of the city’s power structure. Agents are used to spread influence throughout the city as players vie for control of city blocks and organisations. This is ultimately an area control game with card (agent) drafting.

Each turn, players draft an agent card, adding one new agent to their part of the conspiracy. The higher placed an agent is in your conspiracy, the more powerful that agent is. The agents can add influence onto the board, provide revenue, increase your exposure (turn order mechanism) and have unique action/abilities which break, bend or add new rules. The game is played over seven rounds, victory points from controlling the 10 city blocks, bonus blocks and having a low exposure are totted up at the end to determine the winner.

Not sure what to make of this. The main thrust of the game is area control and feels like it’s come 10 years too late to the party – solid, but uninspiring on its own. The agents breathe life into the game – they’re well thought out and characterised. (I like that AEG are trying to make their own thematic world and story, which is always difficult as a known franchise is instantly more gratifying). The powers are nicely varied and the way they interact and change depending on their position within the conspiracy provides interesting avenues to explore. Good stuff. But, the way they interact with the board is frustratingly chaotic and creates huge swings with regard to board positioning. Add the arbitrary random events and the board is in a constant state of flux making planning extremely difficult.  Perhaps the characters should have been used in something else as they don’t shine in Dominare - ultimately they make the area control game slow and frustrating, when they should have made it a lot of fun. This was our first play and we got off to a tumultuous start by misunderstanding a couple rules – it also took a long time to play. A second play would probably give a fairer impression – so I'm not consigning it the land of Leonardo da Vinci just yet. Dean won convincingly.

On the other table, two games that have found a place in the hearts of the NoBoG regulars saw table time:  The instant hit, Archipelago, saw the players staving of revolt long enough for Matt to be declared the winner. And Peter rejoiced as he claimed victory in Hansa Teutonica. John, Phil and Tom didn't win a thing.

Beer: I obviously didn't have any beer as we don’t partake in such vices. And I was saving myself for the beer festival tonight.