Thursday, 30 May 2013

The Traveller

An artful eight this week, including David, a temporary visitor hailing from Chelmsford. Giving up his regular Chelmsford gaming group ( CheBoG ? ) for the week to visit family, NoBoG welcomed The Traveller by sitting down to a game of the new and shiny City of Remnants.

City of Remnants is an area control game, with a bit of deck building, a bit of dice rolling combat and a Euro style action list with a smattering of Euro mechanics to go around. Set in some dystopian future, mankind has been brought low by some unspeakable alien race, with the survivors living in city ghettoes, rubbing shoulders with a range of other conquered imported aliens all under the iron rule of the invaders. Life devolves into scrambles for petty power and criminality by rival gangs, and it is one of these gangs that a player finds himself leading.

Your aim is to be the bestest, most notorious gang in the city - building up your criminal empire, fighting off other gangs, and avoiding the patrols of the alien overlords to be crowned kingpin.

There are many elements to this game, and there are a few things that lie in its shadows that might not be entirely obvious at first glance - hinting at some deep replay possibilities. Probably the chief mechanic in importance is that of managing your deck ( and each factions starter deck is unique to them ). Your deck represents your gang, its equipment and capabilities - and in a very real sense is tied to how many figures you can place on the board and therefore how much area you can control and firepower you can bring. For each gang member card you recruit into your deck, another figure becomes available for you to place on the board and vie for control.

The City - Dean nowhere to be seen
 But this isn't a game of luxuriously large decks. Your deck is small. Tight. And it's used in both combat and turn actions. Central to this deck size is the fact that it doesn't automatically refresh. Once it's gone, it's gone. Add to this a single combat action that can devour your entire deck and it quickly becomes apparent that timing can be critical in this game where ordinarily your deck will only refresh every four actions ( turns ).

But there is hope - you can take an action to refresh your deck prematurely. But of course, burning this action to refresh your deck is possibly a waste of a better opportunity - moving your gang members to control areas and attack, producing items to sell, developing premises into lucrative businesses, recruiting new gang members, or buying items from the black market.
A pile of cash, some notoriety and a single gang member free
The game area is relatively small - and the gangers can move relatively quickly. All of these factors add up to a game that can be intense and where your actions have a heavy price. To make matters even worse - every combat you lose, you lose a ganger off the table... and you permanently lose a card from your deck. Combat losses *hurt*.

It's definitely possible in this game to make a series of bad decisions and end up in a place that is difficult to get out of.

In our game the learning process was very evident as we all lurched from one game mechanic to the next with each revelation that oh yeah, that was quite important / useful. Dean and Sam entered into a punishing war that saw Dean struggling to even enter the city, and Sam reduced to a skeleton crew of gang members - a hairs breadth away from being exterminated entirely.
Dean has a sad and threatens to play his DS instead, as Sam takes Dean's
new development and thwarts all his attempts at entering the game.

This left David and myself in a relatively stronger position and vying for more useful control of the city proper. However, despite me taking an early lead and developing useful enterprises, David utilised his gangs special powers very well, and collected bounty on every player in the game to end up triumphant.

A cool game - it does seem open to a bit of Analysis Paralysis as players may sit and ponder what they should be doing - and with a relatively high VP condition, the game can play longer than it says on the tin. The game is also fairly unforgiving - make a mistake and you can get punished for it - and there is little to no mechanic to haul in a powerful player down. However, the small deck size, and the timing of card use pretty much makes this a non event, as a concerted effort against a single player is sure to reap rewards. The game feels like it can swing back and forth, and control of the city is not an easy thing.

Also, I don't know whether it was me, but I got such a strong Mega City One vibe from this game - it could so easily have been set in a 2000AD Judge Dredd setting, replace the alien overlords with judges, but leave everything else just about as it is. Makes me wonder if that was a missed IP opportunity right there.

Whilst the future gang warfare was going on, the second table sat down to another stab at Elder Sign. Ewan, Moritz, Pete and Nicky ventured forth against the unspeakable Lovecraftian denizens, and once more the museum was beset with strange noises and desperate battles. The heroes managed to thwart the Elder Gods once more - perhaps reinforcing reports that this game is a tad too easy for players to conquer.

Flipping roles and taking on the guise of monstrous entities themselves, King of Tokyo was next up for a game or two, Ewans cyber bunny triumphantly destroying all comers to be crowned de facto King of Tokyo for lack of any surviving competitors. A raucous and noisy second helping of monstrous carnage was unleashed, this time Nicky hauling in the 20 points required for a win.

After the noise of Tokyo, the table fell silent and a deep thoughtful quiet settled on the players.

I had no clue what they were playing. I figured they had busted out some four player chess variant from the serious faces and quiet thinking. But no. It turned out to be Hey Thats My Fish - and everyone was brain burning how to lead their penguins to greedy fishy victory.

Cool stuff. I look forward to getting City of Remnants out on the table again, this time with the benefit of knowing whats important and what isn't - and also making sure the turns hussle along. Perhaps Toms iPad game turn timer app would come in useful. . . .

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Dinner dinner dinner dinner.. Batman !

Bondy couldn't be bothered turning up again this week. No doubt some weak excuse about having to look after the small New Bondy Spawn. Pah.

We were also bereft of James's, Jimmys. Whatever you like to call them. We had two last week, this week none. Typical. You wait ages for even one of them to turn up - six months in the case of James as he is proud(?) to point out - then you get two, then nothing.

Enough of who wasn't there, who was there ? This week was a magnificent seven, Tom - recently back from his drug muling through Jakarta, Stu, Pete, Ewan, Rich, Sam and myself.

A good deal of indecision and off topic chat lingered at the start of the evening, Pete declaring that this meant Race for the Galaxy should be played. Having conned persuaded others to join, Ewan and Stu - relative Race newbies with a play a piece - decided to take on the almost insurmountable millenia game experienced Pete. It's not so much about trying to come first when playing against Pete at Race, as it is getting into second, and how close you can get.

Two games were jammed in, Pete won the first, and, surprisingly... no, not really, Pete won the second too with a hybrid trading strategy built on a brutal production engine. Ewan managed second place both times, a respectable ten or so points off the master. MmmmMMmmm. Play more you must. Many games appreciation takes. Do or do not. There is no try.

Two games of Kingdom Builder, Pete winning again, but failed to keep the whitewash rolling when Ewan also took a win, hitting a perfectly balanced 10 settlements in each quarter of the board to completely ace the VPs for settlement quarters.

Finally they ended with two rounds of Zombie Dice. A game best played with a Zombified brain. Yahztee with brains ? I have no idea who won this. I'm not even sure it's important or even relevant in Zombie Dice. I suspect the dice makers are the winners of Zombie Dice.

Meanwhile, on the other table, Sam finally got round to putting Batman: Gotham City Strategy Game on the table. A fairly simple area control game, no amazing mechanics to be had here, but if you like the theme, it's going to be a win.

With both Rich and Tom struggling to grasp the relatively straight forward rules - Rich was happily talking to himself for half the evening ( in an Irish voice ), and Tom.. I don't know, let's just put it down to all the travelling - the game progressed in an uneven fashion.

I took a very handsome early lead on turn one, and was subsequently punished by everyone around the table. This seemed very heavy handed spoiling to me ! But as Tom and Rich struggled to get the idea, and Sam struggled to keep any kind of influence in any area, it was left to me to easily breeze around Gotham, putting everyone else to shame.

The game proceeds by placing influence into areas of the city - and cards which are played then reward the controllers of an area as well as the player of the card. If you can be the player of the card and the controller of an area, double benefit for you. This is a tweaked houserule brought in to speed up the otherwise too slow for what it is gameplay. However, the subtle unbalancing knock on effects from this are not be underestimated.
Two thirds of the way through the game - Tom has by this point
succumbed to madness and wants instead to show off his crisp.

Two purely economic resources exist in the game - money and information - which are harvested from money and information areas. Influence is a secondary resource that can be obtained either by trading cards in, or some special actions.

The wildcards in this are the villains - anywhere a villain is located automatically wins influence in the area. And Batman trumps all ( assuming he can beat up the villain ).

All in all the game is a much simplified Chaos in the Old World - building influence in areas, moving around your main Avatar and their attendant little helpers, milking areas for economic boosts, and playing cards that impact certain areas. I don't think it's too bad- but it does have some problems.

The length of time it takes for a not exactly deep game is an issue. Increasing rewards for cards buffs up the economy - and therefore allows you to progress much quicker. But the problem with this is then you can get to a maximised economy about 2/3 of the way through the game, and with everyone in a fairly strong position, the end game scenario becomes just about impossible with a set of competent players around the table - control 7 out of 12 areas for a turn ( with 3 opponents who can guarantee 3 other areas controlled, this means you need to dominate 7 out of the 10 possible areas - or 7 out of 9 if Batman is most likely on the table. Add into this that everyone else at the table gets a clear round to shift their positions to knock out your more vulnerable spots - an almost trivial task given that you cannot cover everywhere and a villain autowins an area - and you can see that everyone else has to sleepwalk or be really *really* badly off for this end victory point to ever be achieved).

With a less hot economy the subtle differences with income will make a bigger difference - but the game then takes a good deal longer. Too long. The game probably has a sweet spot with three players - the end game objective is a good deal easier, and with two players, the end game objective is positively easy. So a game that doesn't scale so well. Is too long. And has old school runaway player win syndrome - although to be fair I don't think this is that big an issue if everyone is on the ball. I am not entirely sure the end game level condition is even particularly sensible for a four player game - I think it's probably the case that it's been designed that it should be impossible to get to unless there are some truly exceptional circumstances. You'd have to crunch the numbers in the cards, but I think the tweak of injecting more economic bonuses into the game means you hit that end game objective pretty consistently with four - and it's a problem. Ordinarily I would guess that the game ends with each player being at a different point along the 'levelling race' with each level much harder to achieve ( I spammed out three levels in one turn ).

Despite this I enjoyed the game, I liked the theme, and the production values were high quality, and I think with a bit of tweaking - or possibly some patience with how long the untweaked game can take, this is not a bad game to slam out once in a while. For me it had a very old school vibe to it - delicately balanced constipated action Euros can go hang.

Tom and Rich did not enjoy themselves. Well, not the game at any rate. Rich was happy muttering to himself / shouting obscenities in finest Father Ted fashion. Tom on the other hand felt it important that the blog should note his Cheese and Onion crisps were made with the finest Somerset cheddar, and had an expiry date somewhere in June. Not sure if this was the result of a particularly keen appreciation of Walkers Cheese and Onion, or that the Batman game / Rich's Ramblings had blown his sanity. And Sam, well, he struggled to get a foothold, tolerated the lively meta game banter and came last.

I won. Both morally - I didn't really screw anyone over, took a huge lead, kept it, and was on the ball - and also actually - I had the highest level at end game, and only didn't get the end game objective because.. it's pretty much impossible. Huzzah.

Oh yes, Alina and Matt didn't turn up to play games either. But they did buzz the Ribs at closing time on their bicycles. Better things to do on a Tuesday evening than play board games down the pub ? Like cycling around a damp and slightly foggy Norwich ? Hmm. I'll take the pub.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Blood Bowl

Do you play Blood Bowl ?

Fancy some custom dice made for the little guys ? Then check this Kickstarter out :

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Stop the Aged

Hark, tis me. Back with stories drawn from the depths of the Ribs of Beef.  Gather round…

We played Elder Sign. A game that is not about getting octogenarians across a busy road, but about a hardy group of investigators trying to stave off the terrible and madness inducing return of an Ancient Old One (a god from the HP Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos). This is by the same designer as the popular sprawling game Arkham Horror, which covers the same theme.

Elder Sign is much like Arkham Horror, but streamlined into a clever dice-roller, which plays in 90 minutes or so. It’s by the same designer and he’s done a good job of capturing the essence of Arkham Horror with much of the same flavour, fun and character driven exploits, but without the skip full of bits or the hours of tedium long play time.

Like Arkham Horror, this a cooperative game, where players complete tasks and beef up their 1930s characters with items, weapons, spells and allies, in order to investigate the supernatural goings on. In Arkham, the players are trying to close portals, in this the collecting of Elder Signs does much the same job. Collect a certain number of Elder Signs quickly enough and the players stop the return of the nasty Ancient One. Too slow and it’ll return and the investigators will have to do battle with the odds stacked heavily against them, probably culminating in the end of the world.

Elder signs look nothing like this.

In our game, five plucky investigators took up the challenge of stopping Hastur from appearing and doing something indescribably terrible.  Stalwart McGlen (Ewan) did the rough and tough stuff, while the sceptical, yet capable Kate (John) refused to believe in monsters with the effect disbelieving them out of existence. Then the was the Professor (myself), who rather than stick to books, tooled himself up with guns and took the fight to cowering curators, dusty tomes and meandering shoggoths – all went down in a hail of bullets. These three were aided by Mandy (Sam), a researcher that modelled herself on a common whore - providing relief in times of need. And that was it. Ah, no. There was also Dean’s inept “Magician”. Seemingly nothing more than a children’s entertainer, this coward spent most of the game locked in the toilet pretending to cast spells and slowly going insane. He eventually found himself in a downward spiral of despair, from which even Mandy couldn't rouse the poor chap. He died alone and unloved in his cubicle. Overall, it was a close run thing, but despite the loss of the magician, we prevailed and stopped the return of Hastur just in the nick of time. Huzzah!

I've never been a fan of the monstrosity that is Arkham Horror, but I’ll gladly play Elder Sign. Call me up when the world is in peril from the untold horrors that lurk beyond…

We also played Infiltration. A push your luck style game set in Fantasy Flight’s Android cyberpunk setting (also the setting for the recent release of Netrunner). In this five plucky fellows (always plucky) try to infiltrate a corporation in order to steal valuable secrets. This isn't cooperative; everyone is playing against the game and scoring their own points. Push further into the building to get more rewards, but at the risk of not getting out by the time the authorities arrive. We were all terrible at this. Too busy with our own schemes, we let an office worker escape and raise the alarm. The authorities showed up and it was game over. Not even John, who had almost made it to the top of the building escaped;  he was nabbed while waiting for the executive lift.

The other table played a new game, Bora Bora, by Stefan Feld. There is much love for Feld at NoBoG.  I can't tell you much about it other than it uses dice to perform actions and seems to be the usual melting pot of mechanisms that all contribute to earning victory points. Anyway, the correct appreciative sounds could be heard from that end of the room so I think we get another thumbs up for Feld. Nicky won this, mercilessly crushing Pete, James and Jimmy.


Before Mr Bond regales you with this week's goings on of tales of Magicians locked in toilets, feeling up the willing and able Researcher every turn for a bonus reroll, and machine gunning down the curator of a museum, here's a video of the latest greatest board game.

The rules look a little tricky...

Thursday, 9 May 2013

¡Ay, caramba!

Bondy returned to NoBoG this week after a hiatus of some months and brought with him a very compact but full card game - Pax Porfiriana - which is all about power shenanigans in turn of the 20th Century Mexico by ousting or perhaps supporting current iron handed ruler Mr Porfiriana himself.

Pax Porfiana is a game that oozes theme and does a nice job of actually marrying mechanics to this, so that it doesn't feel like some arbitrary piece of art connected to the latest greatest game mechanic wheeze. In fact it has so much of this that at first the symbology and number of rules that are attached to the bits of theme / mechanics is a little daunting. In practice however the game is very simple and breaks down into a card buying, increasing your tableau and competing for a global victory end point type game.

Theme aside the game is not a huge departure from what has gone before - Race for the Galaxy, Ascension and Core Worlds being games not a million miles away at all. Except pax has Mexican hats. And a slightly random unknown variable Victory point condition and timing. What will be the key to victory ? And when will it happen ? Who knows !

Bondy, myself and Stu played this, with Bondy taking up the character of Boss Hog, calling in Henry Ford, some US cavalry and at the final hurdle US president Teddy Roosevelt to clear a US interventionist win. In a strange turn of events Henry Ford ended up selling the US embassy in Mexico, which Bondy thought was exactly the kind of thing Henry Ford would do - the unmitigated capitalist.

For a follow up we played the popular Kingdom Builder, myself and Bondy as newbies taking on the seasoned Builder Stu. The split sector VP condition ended up as the real game swinger, and with myself earning zero for this, I came in last despite getting good scores from the other two VP conditions. Bondy strolled home a little in front of Stu and wrapped up his return to NoBoG with a double win.

Meanwhile on table two, Moritz, Pete and Dean competed in Core Worlds, Pete and Dean making some heavy scoring - not sure who won.

No dice to be seen this week, with a heavy dose of cards in play.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Pete Week

Instructor Phenir banked his Tie Interceptor to the left in a graceful arc whilst keeping his eye on the four rookies who were bumbling around in their Tie Fighters.
 "Pattern Alpha Four Left !" Phenir barked into his intercomm. Three tie fighters rolled left - whilst one rolled right - the sergeant in his Tie advanced peeling off to follow the single inept rookie. 
"I said left you saalarkian hog ! Do you not know right from left ?! I will have you back at guard duty TK-426 !" . The miscreant Tie wobbled in space before joining back with his newbie compatriots.  
A flash of silver glinting in the dark of the void - Phenir snapped his attention to the right flank. There in the distance, a rebel recon flight hauled into view. Phenir cursed into his mask.  
"Z squadron form up, battle speed,  flank right, bandits approaching. Rookies stay close, remember your training !"  
As the Tie engines whined up to full speed, laser fire crackled between the combatants, the rookies getting a harder lesson today than they had bargained for.

This week must have been Pete's birthday or somesuch, as both Race for the Galaxy and Hansa Teutonica were played - and Pete got to partake of both. These two games are something that makes Pete a very happy NoBoGer.

With some discussion about what to play, and a debate about the merits of various Archipelago shenanigans, it was decided that a couple of lighter games would kick off proceedings for the eight of us.

Ewan sitting in on his first bewildering encounter with Race for the Galaxy joined Sam, myself and Pete for a relaxed pace blast through this classic marmite card based game. Not to be confused with marmite twiglets, a delicious crunchy snack with a hint of marmite. Race for the Galaxy is more a mental marmite - you either love it or you hate it. No chewing on the cards required. Or you play it enough that you get to like it, because goddamnit you have to play it at least 30 times to get the learning curve, and you will play it at least 30 times it's in your contract. Pete said so.

Declaring myself to be aiming for second place - behind of course Pete - the game set off, with Sam getting a great start, and Pete playing in a laid back manner.

Ewan sat in the corner looking perplexed. Not untypical for your first hand of Race. I think he was mulling over whether he liked this curious marmite flavour. Disgusting ? Or interestingly piquant ?

Cards were cycled through, planets settled, developments developed and Pete by mid game had set up a devastating economic engine. Sam hadn't quite fully capitalised on his setup, Ewan was struggling with his military worlds, and I was tromping through the mud of trying to get something to work.

With a few blasts of high earning VPs for the last couple of rounds, Pete ended up the comfortable winner, I was second, Sam came in a half dozen points behind me and Ewan behind Sam.

In other words, the positions matched the level of experience. Coincidence ? Maybe.

No chewed cards, so probably a victory for everyone then.

Notre Dame. This is what Paris looks like. Apparently.
  In other non galaxy racing parts of the universe, Stu, Fletch, Nicky and Matt had a stab at Notre Dame.

Not sure who won this, but there were some curses and groans as this played out, clearly vying for influence in the Parisian suburbs is a cut throat affair. I was intrigued by the board layout for this, and the game chatter sounded like it was a fun outing.

Half time was called and everyone had a switch around. Despite Pete being up for some Star Wars action, the temptation of Hansa proved too much, so he Nicky, Matt and Ewan went off and played Hansa Peteonica. A vanilla outing for the board game this time - no alternative board nor funky objective cards - and Matt, a proponent of the Actions Are Important line of thinking, aced his way to five actions, linked up the two main cities and romped home to a convincing score.

Pete is slipping at Hansa. I think it can no longer be referred to as Hansa Peteonica, as quite a few people have given him a drubbing at this lately, and I am hard pressed to remember the last time he won.

Star Wars was setup on the other table, myself, Fletch and Sam sitting down to this, with Stu participating in a purely observational capacity.. and the odd jibe at passing hap hazard pilots.

Sam in his first play at this picked Imperial, Fletch went Rebel, so deciding to join the inexperienced Sam I too went imperial.

Sam picking quality, opted for a Tie Advanced with some missiles, and a Tie Interceptor flown by some Imperial Bad Ass ( Turr Phenir ), for a total of 52 points. Deciding I needed to therefore weigh in on quantity - I am with Comrade Stalin here, that quantity has its own quality - I pulled four rookie academy pilot tie fighters out, at a cost of 48 points. Four juniors in non upgraded tin cans. Don't worry lads... you'll be fine.

Fletch chose himself a spread of war machinery, an X-Wing flown by non other than Wedge Antilles, a somewhat inexperienced A Wing, and a veteran Y-Wing. Needless to say all three ships were packing - R2 units, missiles, fancy systems, you name it. Pfah. Those rebels and their bling. A real man sits in a non upgraded tin can. With no life support. Or heat. In a funky flightsuit. With only a red lightbulb for illumination.Yeah.

A no nonsense fight kicked off with a fairly short ranged brutal pass that resulted in damage to the A-Wing, a minor shield dent for the X-Wing and that was about it. Roaring past each other, half the Imperial force wheeled around to find the A Wing startled in headlights and quickly shot to pieces - its missiles unspent.
The interceptor is just about to bite the dust, but
Imperial payback is screaming in from the right

As Tie fighters wheeled about out of position, Wedge got R2 to repair his shields and rounded on an Interceptor bearing down on him - annoyingly the tricksy boosting out of his way. The Y-Wing behind Wedge however, with quick reflexes and a single shot blew the oh so clever Interceptor out of the sky - the Imperials top pilot biting the dust in a fraction of a second. Ah the fragilities of the Empire.

The Rebels chuffed with success, failed to notice the Advanced and flanking rookie Ties targetting Wedge and in a flurry of fire the X-wing also disintegrated in a burst of laser cannon and missiles.

This left the Y-Wing alone against all four Tie rookies and one advanced. Poor odds.

The Y-Wing pulling off some amazing moves for its aged frame managed to keep the worst of the incoming fire away, but found its systems blowing up and collapsing as the Empire took its toll.

The rookies had survived, Instructor Phenir however was dust...Guard duty my ass, thought TK-426.

Very fun game. Must play this more.

An Interruption to your regularly scheduled viewing.

Before I get started with this weeks blog shenanigans, I thought I would mention that the folks over at DriveThruRPG have started a new endeavour called DriveThruCards.

DriveThruRPG is a web site for all your RPG gaming needs - it has revitalised a lot of old RPGs with its on demand printing and PDF model, and has been doing very well for itself.

DriveThruCards is the same kind of dealio for card games ( less pdfing, more printing on demand ) - but, of particular interest maybe that for any of you budding game designers out there that have the next best card game in their head, you can pop over to their site, and get your own custom cards printed up.

So if you have the next best Race For the Galaxy beater in your head, or you just want some fancy cards for your game, you might want to check them out.