Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Are You Loyal, Citizen ?

Thirteen this week, another two newcomers - Richard and Kai - dropping into experience the organised chaos that is NoBoG. If you're counting, that's six newcomers that have turned up in July.

No new and shiny games this week, three previous titles getting an airing - The Village, Power Grid and Terra Prime. Bondy executed a last ditch effort to plant his family in an early grave Logan's Run style to prevent Tom claiming his victory in the Village. Rich meanwhile capitalised on some mid game fortune to cap the win of the power stations - Sam who had never played was content with his mid table third of five placement and after some trial and error had a grasp of the rules of Power Grid. And lastly Matt won in a fairly strong showing in Terra Prime, a combination of some good cargo hauling, colonisation and a bit of exploration bringing the bacon home.

The evening finished with three rounds of The Resistance, four disloyal citizens attempting to bring down the evil Government all the while opposed by three loyal spies. Lies, accusations and underhand play ruled the table as the Resistance came crashing down three times out of three, the Government proving that it doesn't pay to fight the system. The noble freedom fighters nearly won one of three - indeed all the spies had been correctly identified and were generally acting like rabbits in headlights, but the spies managed to do enough to secure a flukey win with a lucky card pull, enabling them to hog the leadership and stack the mission with government toadies. Despite the clamours for execution of obvious known spies, it was not to be and the incompetent Resistance failed again.

The moral of the story here is that if you join a subversive organisation where nearly 50% of its members are working for the opposition, expect to get caught.

This game has proven to be most raucous of the raucous games at The Ribs as blatantly underhand activities are shouted down and fingers are pointed. Cool stuff. But oh so short again.

If you are interested in the Resistance and haven't seen it in action, Robin pointed out a good video last week of a Tabletop episode giving this a whirl. It's really rather groovy and probably deserves a watch, even if you are familiar with the game.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Terra of the Seas

Tom turned up this week a fluster with cats. Rejecting Bondys criticism last week of the dubious nature of a cat theme, Tom insisted that cats were a great theme and indeed every game could be improved by anthropomorphic felines.

Thus on hearing that Terra Prime would get a play on table 1, he asked if it had cats in it. Cats piloting space ships.

I fear Felinia has awoken his inner furry.

Dejected about no cats in Terra Prime, Tom then brandished another cheap game he had managed to pick up - he seems to be into cheap games at the moment - amongst a set of three, Industry - another Michael Schacht game, Village and Vineta.

Of the eight players, five beat a hasty retreat from the game brandishing Tom, leaving Stu and Robin to challenge him at Vineta.

Vineta is new to me, never heard of it, but it has something to do with killing off the followers of your fellow Norse gods through the power of the sea. The island of Vineta is obviously not big on religious tolerance. The trick to the game however, is that no one knows which colour of meeple ( houses in this case... which can move around... ok... ) are your lucky chosen few that you want to keep alive. Nor which district is the one you are secretly protecting. Points are scored for murdering correcting the folly of those houses not under your guidance, and a special bonus is scored if your district is the one that survived at the end.

An interesting bluffy kind of setup.

After Vineta - no idea who won - the three played a few rounds of the groovy Forbidden Desert. When I looked over they seemed to be doing quite well although the storm had kicked up to strength four.

Terra Prime was launched on table 1, Matt, Ewan, Rich, Sam and myself setting to this. This game has you piloting your ship into unknown space, looking for planets to settle so you can haul produced goods back to Terra Prime and fulfil orders for Victory Points. Colonies will net you points in themselves, and your ships can be upgraded in a number of ways leading to a variety of strategies that you can attempt to pull off.

Rich took an early lead with a planet that proved very popular - netting him 1VP for everyone visiting and hauling cargo / upgrading their ship, but managed to blow his entire lead with a cavalier attitude to exploration that saw him blunder into an alien warfleet and get shot to pieces. Scanners are for wimps apparently. And people that don't like their ships getting shot up.

Upgraded with stealth fields and a navigation computer, Ewan finally made it into the deepest parts of the unknown to explore the rim and bribe some aliens into letting him settle on a high prestige planet. This triggered the end game, leaving Ewan to a commanding victory.

Cool game. More than meets the eye to it. And it plays in a decent amount of time.

Lastly we finished with a few rounds of The Resistance. This is a game I have been wanting to try for a while but just haven't got round to.

This is another quick filler traitor in your midst type game and plays really well. A very simple blind voting mechanic sets up the field of play for bluff and sabotage and the usual accusations and backchat quickly surround the table. If your group is up for that kind of play it makes for a great game, funny, tricky and sneaky

If there's one criticism I have for it, it's that it's too quick. A winning total of best of three means that  rounds can be over very quickly, and I found I just wished there were a few more turns to play with and sort out who's who. Nevertheless, great stuff, I look forward to playing more of it.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Catastrophic Catamarans

It’s a cold, crisp morning. The first rays of sunshine sparkle on the Bodensee. On the merchant ship Purrfect Storm, Whiskers McGee is checking the manifest: 'One chest of precision watches. One chest of rare books. 12 bottles of fine wine. And the case of refined glassware, which First Mate Tiddles is stowing in the hold. All seems to be in order.' Standing at the prow of the ship Whiskers admires his reflection. ‘I really am a very fine specimen’, he thinks as he adjusts his hat to a jaunty angle. A hard task when you have cat-ears. Smoothing down his fur he is jolted out of his musings by the sound of smashing glass and swearing.

“Be careful with that glassware.” calls Whiskers. “It’s expensive.”
“It’s this damn tail!” replies Tiddles angrily. “It’s bloody impossible not to trip over it on this cramped boat.”
“Don't you like pretending to be a 16th century feline merchant?”
“Not really. The cat outfit is itchy. The people over there are giving us weird looks. And neither of us can sail.”
“Oh.” mutters Michael Schacht, dejectedly taking off his Whiskers McGee mask.
“If you design a board game about cats sailing merchant ships then I'll happily play it, though.”

Tom grinning like the Cheshire
 Cat. Look at that awful cover!
And that’s what Michael Schacht did. Rather than live out a perverse fantasy life as a strange anthropomorphic merchant cat he designed Felina. Either that, or during a raucous night in a German beer hall the publisher lost a drunken bet and poor Michael, winner of the prestigious Spiel des Jahres, had this terrible theme foisted on to his game. And that is why Felinia is being sold off cheaply in the Works discount book store. And that is why Tom brought it down to the Ribs and insisting we play it. Because Tom is cheap.

If you look on Michael Schacht’s Wikipedia entry you will find a list of his games. He  designed at least one per year between 1999 and 2011, but there is an ominous gap in 2010. This is where Felinia should sit. He's ashamed, I tell you! But he shouldn't be. If you look past the dodgy cats and artwork, Felinia is a tidy little game with traditional Euro design roots. There is a nice acquisition portion of the game where players bid for the right to buy or exchange limited goods. Players can then cash in combinations of goods in order to load their cat-merchants on to the rather nifty 3D cardboard ships, which then set sail across the sea to the land of Felinia. Once on Felinia you can claim locations and grab tokens for points or special in game bonuses. It’s all rather familiar, perhaps a bit too familiar, but still makes for a fun time and the is some good jostling for position. Our biggest gripe wasn't with the gameplay, but that we found it hard to distinguish between the different goods. Three shades of brown is not the best choice of colours and we often ended up collecting the wrong goods. It would have been catastrophic if any of us were colour blind. Still not bad for a tenner.
See the lovely ships of Felinia. See the terribly hard to
distinguish goods. See not as much cat related stuff
as first envisaged. Sadly not even the meeples are cat-shaped.

Tom won by a good margin, taking time to align his merchants in nice rows to get placement bonuses. Nicky came second with a hefty stack of tokens. I came in third with my ramshackle strategy, and Stu was in last place; his food for points strategy not quite working as well as we'd all feared early on.

Not to be outdone on the ridiculed theme stakes, Sam pulled Ground Floor out for its second airing at NoBoG. You can read about its first reception here. New guy Robin, Matt, Alina and Alina’s friend (whose name I forget) sat down to pretend to be at work. They didn't finish, but it was better received this time. Alina especially enjoyed it - perhaps because she is self-employed and longs for the rigid structure and tedium that can only be found in a corporate office. And because she claimed to have African children working in the basement of her non-profit organisation. Hmmm.

Farming fun in the final round of Agricola.
Pete, Rich and new guy Oliver decided to toil in the mud and play the popular farming game Agricola, which Pete won. Then, insisting that Pete should win another game, they decided to play Hansa Teutonica.

Ousted from the comforts of the Wherry Room, Fletch, Dean and John were sent upstair to fend for themselves. There they found a lovely big table with comfy seats and played Core Worlds. This was an incredibly close game with Dean winning on a tiebreaker with John and Fletch only one point behind.

Beer: Ah, this is the bit you've missed! I had pints of Eugene’s Lair from the excellent Oakham. Named after a level on the 1980’s classic computer game Manic Miner. This is a hazy golden beer - well measured hops and tropical fruits with a hint of biscuity malt and a long dry, bitter finish. Nicely done. 8/10 Kemet in beer form.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

The Return of the Saboteur

Eleven this week, Moritz bringing along newcomer Tina to join myself and Pete playing Steam.

And free glasses to all ! The ever excellent Ribs of Beef were undergoing a Glass change as the NoBoGers assembled, and very generously the old set of fine offerings were made available to all comers - quite a few people went home with a nice set of beer glasses tucked into their game bags.

Onto the games. Whilst Pete showed off the capabilities of his Googly Androidy NSA phone and how amazingly it tracked his entire life ( he has his own personal data share at the friendly and obliging NSA HQ ), Sam brought forth Kemet to entertain Bondy and Rich, neither of which had sampled its tumultuous delights.

This seemed to go down well with Bondy giving it a big thumbs up as he surged from a lacklustre position mid game to take the win with an unmitigated bloodthirsty approach, optimising all forms of warfare. I think this game has the favour of all that have played it - and I still personally think it's a better, less "up its own arse" version of Game of Thrones. I love GoT - the fiction, but the board game rendition to me is far too long for what it does.

Kemet fixes the overlong bit twiddling of GoT, but otherwise keeps a lot of other things in the same ballpark. Of course GoT has the advantage of players that turn up with loving rose tinted spectacles of all the fiction going on in their heads. I suspect if the roles were reversed, and Kemet had a GoT theme ( tricky thematically given the churning death rate of armies ), and GoT had a Kemet theme, GoT would be lumped down as an average Diplomacy rehash.

The Village turned up at the other end of the room - not the M Night Shama-lama-dingdong version of dudes running scared in forests ( no spoilers ! ) - with Dean teaching Nicky, Tom and Stu how to shuffle their cubes and train up their villagers to be noteworthy citizens. A Euro with an interesting time mechanic, your family members can be sent off to undertake certain tasks, and as time ticks ever onwards mortality takes its toll and removes them from the board.
The successful dead laid to rest in the village book. Hmm.
But this isn't a bad thing, what you lose in resource gathering you gain in final VP - as your now deceased family member is either remembered in the village chronicle - earning you VP - or ends up in an unmarked grave ( no VP for you ! ).

The first to leap wholeheartedly into their graves are remembered and earn VPs, those that come after however only face anonymity, in a first come first rewarded death race. Hmm. Not sure what this game is saying.

With a bevy of approving nods and awards this game ticks the spot for Europhiles, although isn't too far removed from The Usual cube shuffling ( apart from the cool race to the death mechanic ).

Having put away his NSA approved device, its camera no longer able to secretly record the goings on in the underlair of the Ribs of Beef, Pete had a quick run through of Steam for Tina, and we all got down to shuffling our cubes on our train routes. Despite Pete getting off to a rocky start, his wily skills of deploying a game changing grey route whilst I was watching the antics of the Village paid off handsomely, and with some perfectly optimised late game timing he romped to a convincing win. Newcomer Tina put in a great performance and came in second, leaving me to third and poor Moritz who struggled with Pete at the start - but unlike Pete failed to break out at the end, brought up the rear in last.

As all games finished just about at the same time, the stage was set for perhaps the most epic game that the Ribs had ever witnessed - an eleven handed bout of Saboteur 2. Alas, Nicky, Tom and Stu departed, leaving us with a mere 8 to dig through the rock in search of gold. Some evil last minute final round role swapping on my behalf netted me joint lead with Rich at game end. Sam then played King Maker and stole a gold from Rich, leaving me out front as bestest miner/saboteur/gnome in the pub.

I staggered home with imaginary gold stuffed in my pockets, and not so imaginary beer glasses grasped in hands. Huzzah.