Thursday, 27 June 2013

Woeful Wonders

I have little idea what went on this week. I can tell you there were eleven people and that Endeavor, Tzolk'in and Kingdom Builder were played. But I couldn't really tell you who won. Or how the games progressed. Well apart from Kingdom Builder which I was playing. And lost. Twice.

I quite like Kingdom Builder in a fuzzy kind of way, but there's something almost foregone conclusion about it to me. It's like throwing a snowball down a mountain - you can choose where to throw it, but after it's left your hand, whether it ends up growing to 100 feet across and crushing the village below, or meandering out to nothing half way down is pretty much up to the gods. Or in this case what card you pull. And what card everyone else pulls. And what the victory point cards are.

Nevertheless, I like it. I suspect it should probably be played at awesome tile slapping Mah Jongg speeds  (complete with Mandarin jeering ) for the utmost enjoyability.

Seven Wonders was also played on our table. Fletch had never played it, which pretty much demanded this classic should be played. Pete leered over our table from his own and threw out some insults regarding 7 wonders dubious delights and dodgy heritage. At one point he accused the game of being too dry, no board, and no sense of doing anything ( amongst other faults ). Stu pointed out this was rather rich coming from someone who would happily play Race for the Galaxy every week - a game which could pretty much have the same arguments hurled at it.

Bondy, Tom and Rich at the far end of the room stayed out of it. And were mostly lost in quiet thought working their way through Endeavor. I tried asking if it was a fun game at one point. Bondy mumbled something. Then said yeah in an utterly unconvincing, distracted way. Rich noted the game was the classic Euro game of pain and suffering, trying to optimise what you were doing, and that no one enjoyed such things. Tom agreed. But saying that, they played the game twice. So, maybe they're masochists ?

No Sam this week. No Ground Floor. I think the game is going to turn into one of those Marmite games. You either hate it or you love it. That is of course if Sam ever returns. Come back Sam. We promise not to mock your Storage Closet again.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Capitalism in the New World

Given that you are a person that plays board games, you no doubt at some point in your school days got picked on. Mercilessly. Hopefully you found your own methods of dealing with those dicks. Yet within the friendly confines of the Ribs of Beef last Tuesday night, all those horrible memories came flooding back, as four of us sat down to play the game of unfettered capitalism that is "Ground Floor". Those four were Matthew Bond, Sam, Stu, and me.

Now, I can tell you are already thrilled at the prospect of this game, just from the title. "Ground Floor". Not "Fearsome Floors" (which Matthew Bond had stowed away in his bag, oh how I wish that Matthew Bond had swapped it with "Ground Floor" when nobody was looking). Not, oh wait, there are no other games with Floor in the title. Anyway, so what does "Ground Floor" entail? You, my friend, are building a tower block, in which your business will be based. So what kind of thrilling business will you be running, perhaps it will be something illegal and fun? No. You might be running a publishing company. Or, wait for it, "web based" which I think was the one that Stu played. Now, actually, that I think of it, "web based" probably means you run a a company that designs pornographic websites. That's surely what the designer was going for there. Anyway. Each of these businesses has a speciality. "Web based" is particularly good at ... meetings. Meetings.



And this is where the peer pressure came in. As we sat at the table, and went through the rules, and then took our first babysteps into the big wide world of business, our utterings were to be heard at the other table.

Matt: "I am going to upgrade my meeting room!"

Other tables: *they do not say anything, they are all rolling around on the floor giggling*

Later on I over heard one of the people at the other table say "I don't think that sounds like much fun". I looked over at them and grimaced. They giggled.

We were ridiculed mercilessly. Full time anarchist and grizzled punk rocker, "Punk Rich", who was killing Orcs or some shit, went fully to town on us. He criticised the man. He purposefully bought a scotch egg to prove how working class he was. He pumped his fist and ranted and raved. He criticised people at our table for wearing shirts, although Sam was in a t-shirt and retorted "I thought it was dress down Friday!". He threw a brick through my ground floor window. Anarchy in the UK. This was just a mere taster of the savage beatings we took at the hands of the other tables. And it made me think back of when I was in school. Not in a bad way, for this was all light hearted fun that I personally found roaringly funny. But it was amusing to see the whole hierarchy in action. Picked on in school for liking geeky games. Picked on at board game club for playing a game where you schedule meetings. Saints alive.

The rule session for the game took almost an hour and was a forebear of what was to come. The game itself was due to run for 9 turns, and it took 90 minutes to get through the first three. In the early days, our game based economy was stable then depressed, rather like the people playing it. Throwing caution to the wind, I played a strategy of employing people and manufacturing goods, even when very few people were likely to want them. It paid off. After 3 or 4 turns, I felt like I was in a pretty strong position, as I had plenty of the two important currencies in the game. Currency, and information. We had a good laugh about information, which seemed to be manufactured by the IT department. No doubt linked to PRISM, it would seem. Anyway, I saved up the spent all my earnings on clever upgrades for my towering inferno, and all of a sudden I was one floor away from being able to end the game (phew). I decided to spook everyone out on turn 6 and show my intent to end the game on that turn, I was pretty sure I could afford it. People's plans were thrown into disarray and a few minutes later my tower was finished, before we had even made it to the most powerful upgrades for the tower (probably a swanky new photocopier). Things were wrapped up and it was found that I had won with 37 points. Sam ran in second with 30, disappointed that all the money and time he had wasted on being "popular" (tell me about it) was ruined because I finished the game so quickly. Matt and Stu brought up the rear on 27.

So there you have it. A frankly astonishing game. It's actually not bad as a game, but good grief, that theme, that peer pressure ... I think we made the best of it, but I am not sure who this game is for. Maybe unemployed people who are desperate to simulate what it is like to actually be employed. And then they realise what a truly grim endeavour work can be and go back to curling up in a ball on the sofa, crying.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

The Giants of Easter Island

Stu turned up this week with two new things in his hands - Giants and Forbidden Desert. With numbers at ten - Seamus the travelling thesp with us for his last week before moving on - it was decided two good 5 player games were required, and Giants... well, it was untried, untested, but it was 5.

Stu, Matt, Elena, Fletch and myself sat down with Giants to learn how we might erect the greatest Fat Stone Head of them all. ( I am not going to refer to them by their proper Moai name - Mo - Aye for the phonetics , they shall be called instead Giant Heads). The aim of the game is to garner as many points as possible - and this is done by carving and then shifting a Giant Head across the island to a suitable Giant Head site on the coast. The further you have to lug it, the more points you get. The heavier it is, the more points you get. And for the cherry on the top, you can invest in a hat, lug that to the site, and stick a hat on your Giant Head. And if you think I am joking you are much mistaken and I doubt you have what it takes to be a serious Giant Head and Hat installer.

Giants is a game if nothing else about balancing ill fitting and ever more ridiculous looking things on top of other ill fitting and ridiculous looking things. Giant Heads. Hats. Tribal tokens. Possibly tribal tokens on top of hats. And then trying to get your fat fingers in between two tricky statues to collect up your tribe members. It's (unintentionally) like Buckaroo or Operation but with Euro mechanics. It also has a wood resource token that is quite small and prone to rolling around.

The island of Wobbly Heads. Early sites have been developed.
Worker placement is the order of the day. But it's way more limited than other worker games - not an especially great deal to think about here. The interesting bit is in how you haul the various Giant Heads and Hats around the island - achieved by placing workers and wood in a path between Where You Are and Where You Want To Go.

Whilst shifting around the smallest heads isn't so difficult, shifting the bigger ones around is much harder, and in reality you will almost certainly need to lean on other peoples labour to get the job done. But this isn't a problem. Once a player's worker is placed on the map *anyone* can utilise them. If you do utilise someone elses worker however, they get a victory point or three, depending how much work needs to be done.

This means the game quickly shifts into synergistic, opportunistic lines of workers snaking across the island - and you have to pay attention to how many VPs you are blowing by using others workers. In general this shouldn't be too much of an issue, but if you let one player take a big role in all movement, you will find they have a nice lead to hold onto.

Our game was very much a learning curve kind of game as most players fell into a series of copy cat turns exploring different mechanics as time went on. Elena more than anyone else concentrated on building up her supply of workers and then shifting stone around. This lead to her being instrumental in getting everyones first and second wave of Giant Heads onto site - netting a lot of points in the process.
A conga line of workers, chiefs, shamans, wobbly statues,
ridiculous hats, and things balanced precariously on top
of other things. Stu gave up trying to balance
some of these items when he failed his basic Buckaroo skill test.

A scramble for sites at the end, and a bit of a mistake with the end game conditions meant the final turn was hectic, but it didn't end up making too much of a difference. As the final statue was lowered into place, Elena had come out on top some dozen points in the lead, myself in second thanks to the only enormously heavy head present on the island being shifted for miles, and a dozen or so points behind me were the also rans.

Interesting game. Feels like some of the mechanics are... well... off... there are some things that are just so useful, it's pretty much a no brainer to take them - the magical tablets -, and there are other things that are well... borderline useless - the wood. I guess the whole wood angle is very thematic to what's going on as a cautionary tale about getting into the Giant Head business, but I don't think it really adds much/enough to the game to justify its presence. Conversely the magic tablet is pretty much a no brainer purchase - you can often be left with spare tribal tokens at the end with which they are bought, and as a magic tablet can be used to give you an extra action AND counts as VP at the end AND is a tie breaker for bids....

I suspect the game should probably mainly be about negotiations about who is going to help who. The rest is just a setup for that discussion. Definitely worth a play. One to avoid if you have shaky hands and are easily annoyed.

After that, we had a bash at Forbidden desert, which is a thematic successor to Forbidden Island. Run around digging in the sand for flying machine parts to escape the clutches of the hellish wastes and a terrible dessicated fate. Cool filler game. Some very clever tiny mechanics going on. A great looking flying ship that needs assembly. A challenging difficulty.

Rather appallingly, Stu - the Water Carrier - failed the mission for us all by dying of thirst. To be fair half the rest of the team also died on that turn from thirst, but I personally blame the water carrier. Who carried no water during the game. And then promptly complained of being very thirsty before falling over. Pfft. Fletch the Meteorologist on the other hand spent almost the entire game propped in a deck chair, scrying the skies for what tomorrows weather would be like. As it turned out the weather was always Hot. With Sand. Hmm. Fletch declared he didn't need to be a meteorologist to tell you what the weather would be like in the desert.

Table 2 meanwhile had a fling with Chaos in the Old World. Seamus as bloody Khorne, Tom as the warped Rats, Pete as festering Nurgle, Ewan as sorcerous Tzeentch and Rich as the pleasure loving slightly suspect Slaneesh.

By all accounts the game was something of an aberration. An early world event restricted *all* card playing unless you sacrificed two of your snivelling followers. This, fairly obviously, set things up for a very different game, and the fact that it managed to stay in play for 4 out of 5 rounds meant it pretty much dominated the flavour of play.

 Khorne laid the smack down hammer on the every churning leader, Tzeentch struggled with the card ban, Rich unrolled a cunning all consuming plan for victory, and Pete lay in the back rows getting ignored.

Five player games. If there is a rule to five player games it's this. Never ever take the lead until you can win. Lurk in the middle of the pack and hold onto that killer move.

After Rich crashed and burned with his plans, Sneaky Pete managed to get his infectious hands on a set of ruinations that pushed Nurgle onto a rare victory. This kind of makes sense to me as I find Nurgles powers are blah at best. A game that forces a premium to be paid for playing cards can only on balance I think help Nurgle. Nurgle doesn't lose much compared to everyone else here. Although in theory it shouldn't be much of a problem for Khorne either who can always just stick to Plan A - Beat the Snot out of Everyone.

After the win of the Grand Snotty One, King of Tokyo was played - Pete managing a win by ignoring the over hyped Tokyo and instead installing himself in a comfy suburb with some rather surprisingly efficient dice. King of Tokyo ? Perhaps Not. Prince of Suburbia ? Definitely Yes.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Crush your enemies !

Mongol General : What is best in life ?
Conan : To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.
Mongol General : That is good, that is good !

Conan The Barbarian (1982) 

Archipelago and City of Remnants were the games of choice for the evening, with a head count of eight, including new and travelling through the area Seamus.

Nicky, Moritz, Dean and Fletch decided to tackle Archipelago, with Nicky rather amazingly having been able to skip playing the colony management game up to date and have her first play through.

The game seemed to progress nicely with the rebels kept firmly in hand ( a pacifist player was lurking ) and a fit of land expansion quickly saw a burgeoning area of busy - or perhaps not - colonists.

Rather worryingly as the game progressed the colony got into a whole runaway idle workers situation where there are so many workers for hire, and they aren't being hired, that a good amount of unrest is being generated. I have seen this happen just once before and the result was cataclysmic. Runaway worker syndrome is caused by a perfect storm of lots of goods floating on the markets ( often because the crises have been of only one or two types or have been very light ), a lot of exploration has gone on, a lot of commodity sales have taken place and players are relying on population breeding to increase numbers.
Another photogenic colony development in progress

In some cases runaway workers can be an unfixable doom to a colony - as your meeple numbers are capped, and the worker numbers are most definitely not capped, you can be overrun by an army of grumpy unemployed people. Good for any separatist player. Bad for everyone else.

In practice it's a pretty rare set of circumstances. Nevertheless its pretty much lethal when it does occur. Colony Governors take note !

The colony also found itself bereft of churches. This can be another warning sign. At one point Dean boasted about having the only church, then realised he actually had none, and went on to boast that he was the only player that had thought about building a church. Not a very pious bunch.

Surprisingly all of this didn't spell the end of their colony - and I am really not sure how they managed this - but I think they might have been able to hit an end game condition before things span out of control. Six towns were built ( itself a pretty unusual end game event to hit in my experience ), and totting up the points it was a draw.... with Nicky winning the tie breaker. Flushed with success she admitted she had no clue as to how she had won.

Uh huh, that would be the not un-typical Archipelago experience for the newcomer then.

On the second table, Bondy, Rich, Seamus and myself settled in for some dystopian gang warfare in an alien controlled city. Or as I am beginning to increasingly call it - Judge Dredd MegaCity Gangs.

As it turned out the game unlike last week was not actually much about any gang warfare, and was instead about property development. Rather like a grungy sci-fi Monopoly perhaps. Without the rent. Or the Top Hat.

Briefed that each of the gangs in the game was very different - asymmetric sides - Rich took the development focused gang, Bondy took the recruiting Yellow, Seamus the scrappy Red and I was left with IHaveNoIdea green. Dean seems to think they are the sneaky Rogue like gang. Although I struggled to find any useful thievery hidden in the gang.

Taking first player and forging boldly onto the map, I locked down the majority of Renown city blocks, and watched everyone else align over the crumbs. Lovely. Very quickly however, both Rich and Bondy started developing their controlled city blocks, and an amazing sprawl of criminal endeavours were soon bristling in the North East of the city.

Having been previously briefed that building developments on your entry square and not reinforcing them was a Bad Idea ( now known as Dean's Lament ), the sprawl of buildings spread away from the starting zones, carefully watched by interlocking patrols of gangers.

On the other side of the city, after a horrendous failed assault on my position, Seamus also decided to get in on this development malarkey and skulked off to a corner to build his criminal empire.

This left me brazenly in control of the most important bits of the city, but definitely on a losing slide as every other gang had masses of lovely developments generating cash and renown.

What did I have ? No cash. No fanciness. Just Muscle.

Both Bondy and Rich turtled and went for deck / development strategies, whilst I grew increasingly frustrated about not being able to develop and having to confront a happily co-existing double turtle fortress.

Seamus turtled in mini style in his own part of the city.

My path was therefore clear. I needed to kill people. This was a gang warfare game goddamit. Not a who can build the most impressive hotel on Fleet Street game. Rich was shielding Bondy, and Bondy cycled his deck for cash whilst protecting his flank with Rich.

Pfah. Time to crush enemies and blah blah blah.

So I turned on the newcomer. Oh the shame. Oh the pity. Blitzing into Seamus' newly built and lucrative Junkyard, I gave his gang a thorough thrashing, and pushed the red faction to the brink of elimination. It was with some remorse that I occupied his new and spanky double area development. But only a little.
Seamus down to a single ganger and now "liberated" from
the stress of managing his new Junkyard. Meanwhile
the Bondy and Rich Turtle machine goes on.

The regular NoBoGers were dismayed of my treatment of the new person.

I defended myself with words from the silver tongue master Pete. I had no choice to attack. It's nothing personal. This full frontal assault is not really an attack. It's helping you. etc etc.

This didn't wash.

Rich chiding me for being a bastard then went onto force Seamus into wasting higher amounts of money on trying to bid gang members into his dwindling setup. If I had pushed Seamus to the floor, then surely Rich had just kicked a man when he was down.

As ever, the relative morals were slippery. Rich had done no wrong apparently. Pfah.

The game finished with Bondy possibly finding a broken mechanic to the game - his deck shuffling had become so proficient he could just about do it endlessly, thus generating endless amounts of money - but nobly (?) on the fifth trip through his deck in one turn decided that would be enough exploitation. Counting up the scores, Rich had 72 renown, I had 70 and Bondy had 58. Poor Seamus had a dozen or so I think.

Had I rolled better than a 2 on my last turn for Renown I could have won.

Strange game. Not so much fighting. Lots of development. And a suspiciously off deck cycling trick.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Kicking Akimbo with Road Kill

Ah the addictive qualities of backing board/mini game kickstarters.

Do you like Mad Max ? Are you old enough to remember the glory days of things like Car Wars, Dark Future and Battlecars ? Do you like shooting at passing cars whilst driving without any adherence to road laws ? Who doesn't ?

Then you might want to check out the relatively new Kickstarter for Road / Kill which has a strong Dark Future vibe to it.

Go see what's being put on the table by the fairly experienced design team here :

Or alternatively just watch the KS video below.