Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Many a Season

Autumn has most definitely arrived in Norwich, the ground has begun to swell with fallen leaves, the air has started to turn crisp, and there is rain and moisture almost permanently in the air. Where might one go to obtain respite from the clammy doldrums of Autumn you ask yourself ? Well for 21.5 of us sanctuary was to be found within the Ribs where warmth was to be had and games needed to be played.

Those who are paying attention will note that 21.5 attendees marks yet another record turnout for NoBoG, and play had to be accommodated over 5 tables of gaming goodness.

After some initial management problems akin to herding cats, two classic games were quickly put down to play - Power Grid and Chaos in the Old World. Robin lead his bunch of merry gamers on their quest to throw on the lights in as many cities as possible in Powergrid, whilst Chaos in the Old World was a shark pit of well experienced hands... plus Ed.

Rich rode to a plague ridden finish in Chaos by pushing the unlikely Nurgle to a convincingly strong VP win - with Pete in an almost as strong position just a single point behind. Tom had a diabolical ( see what I did there ) game as Khorne, and limped home after a few hours play, having barely managed to put a score on the board - a dismal 14 points for the record. Surely a new low. He lamented having switched from points to outright mayhem halfway through the game, his strategy netting him little of use as the others contained or matched his machinations.

Trains !
Meanwhile, Bondy marched a group off upstairs for another week of Trains - it seems that Trains is a game that is required to be played upstairs in the pub. Two games of this were cranked out, the latter of which Bondy managed to monopolise on a terrible wave of synergising cards and VP scoring to romp to a clear win.

The final two tables elected to play the same game - Seasons. Because why not. Well, why, because 5 people wanted to play it, and Seasons only takes 4. Seasons is new to me, and if I had to explain it in a single sentence I'd say, Magic with victory points instead of health + Zombie Dice.

Seasons puts you in the role of a wizard vying for the top job of Archmage by besting all other magic doers in a tournament of sorcery that lasts for three years. That's some tournament - but then if the competition only lasted for two weeks, the game probably wouldn't be called Seasons. It'd be called ... "ZaptasticMagicWimbledon IV - The Return of Zaptastic". Yes, I am available for hire for corporate branding / Game name brainstorming.
Seasons... upstairs

The game takes the guise of a card drafting affair played across a series of rounds that are thematically split into the four seasons. Hence the Seasons. Unlike many other card drafters / deck builders / Magic wannabes which have economy cards ( mana, gold, military strength ) to make everything else work, the impetus to your turn in Seasons is provided instead by dice. Each season has a set of dice associated with it that are rolled once per round, with each player in turn order getting to pick one of the dice to utilise in their turn. Dice provide mana to power card play as well as some actions - being able to burn raw mana for VP, drawing a card or increasing the cap size of your tableau. Mana is stored round to round in a players finite sized storage area, so you can save power up to use in future turns.

As should be apparent - due to the dice you're never quite sure what mana you might have to utilise, and, because the dice are drafted one at a time to each player, you may get to miss out on something you really need if your place in the turn order sucks.
Seasons... downstairs

The game length is predictable in a fuzzy way - each round may advance the turn marker between 1 and 3 months, so you can roughly see how long things will take, but not be able to predict it exactly.

Gameplay itself beyond all that is a fairly typical deck building, card drafting type exercise, with card synergies providing boosts to your points and actions and your VPs growing in size with every deft management of your hand.

The game prioritises solitaire building over interaction - only a minority of cards allow you to interfere with others, but we didn't play with the more advanced "in your face" cards available in the game ( although on hearing what they did, I am still not sure there is a whole heap of messing that you can do to your fellow players ).

I thought the game was cool and an interesting spin on the usual card placement, tap malarkey, but as to be expected, the random number generator is on at least medium level here - random card draws and random dice rolls can leave you with your ass in the wind as the player next to you repeat performs some card tapping horrific victory point score ability.

It's slated to run at 60 minutes - but our game lasted a marathon 3 hours, which was ok, but not great. At 3 hours the game shows its knickers a bit too much and the random number machine goes into overdrive ( probably not entirely helped by me resetting the year clock a couple of times to get at least another years worth of play out of the game ).

Nice game, needs to be kept short and sweet, probably not something I'd break my neck to play again, but definitely one to experience at least once, if not a few times to see the wacky dice + cards mechanics going on.

Simon blasted to a win in this, and seemed to enjoy muttering to himself immensely as at least a few of his turns resembled the depths of Magic depravity where a player just keeps on pulling cards, tapping things, sacrificing others things, and shoving bits around their play area. I actually managed to hold an entire conversation with Ed on the next table, watch a bit of another game, and still made it back in time to see Simon not yet quite finished with his book keeping. Epic.

The upstairs game of Seasons finished in a much more reasonable time frame - so they busted out Ghost Stories ( and failed in their co-operative bid to beat the spooks off ) as their second game of the evening.

After the shark pit of Chaos was concluded, Pete decided to bring out yet another shark pit experience with Race for the Galaxy. It will come as a surprise to no one whatsoever to learn that Pete placed a comfortable first in this, with only a mild ruffling of feathers coming in the form of Rich placing third - Ewan pipping him to second. Good job Ewan.

During some of Simon's epic turns with Seasons, and due to my favourable seating placement, I was able to watch over Pete's shoulder as he went through his Race strategies and narrated his decisions to me. I can recommend it, it's like a painting masterclass - except it's Race for the Galaxy.

The evening finished with a game of Resistance - Avalon, where the bad guys having succeeded in fouling up the first two quests singularly failed to take advantage of their dominant position and collapsed to a loss. Pete - bad guy and in charge of the assassination knife, then debated with his fellow evil doers as to who Merlin might be - shoved the knife in, only to discover they had blundered and missed the magic wielder. Good had won. Pitiful.

Whilst the bad guys were failing at Resistance I got to play Mascarade, a bluffing role game in which you are not entirely sure who everyone else is, or even who you might be. As Dean put it, this game in many ways is a distillation of the role cards in something like Citadels or Mission Red Planet - all other aspects of the game other than the roles having been removed. Memory is a big feature of this game - if you can memorise where all the cards are - and if you are good at reading people - then this game is going to be a lot easier. I would think good poker players would do well at Mascarade.

A series of role cards have a range of money grabbing powers - take money from the pot, take money from the courthouse, steal money from those next to you, steal money from the richest and so on. Each person has one role card - and a number of others are left in the middle of the table. The trick to this game is that other than the initial game reveal of roles, the role cards are mostly left face down and you must remember who is who. In a players turn they may switch cards with any other card on the table - or may bluff a switch -, look at their own role card, or state they are a given role and attempt to take the action for that role ( which may be a bluff ).

The game is a groovy filler game, and I want another play of this. I found it easy enough to remember who everyone was, and what the likely switch of a character would be when they took it - good enough that I could predict who everyone was over the course of two rounds and skip to a win. I am sure if I played it again over a longer game with more people it wouldn't be half so simple.

Roll Call - Barnaby, Bondy, Caroline, Clive, Dean, Ed, Ed, Ewan, Fletch, Jarryd, John, Matt, Nicky, Paul, Pete, Rich, Robin, Sam, Simon, Stu, Tim, Tom.

21.5 players - Caroline was the 22nd player, spectated Power Grid, but played end of evening Resistance. 21 players or 22 depending how you are counting.


Peter Johns said...

How many people did you play Mascarade with? I'm trying to work out what the sweet spot is :)

Alfonso said...

Not only did we have to play board games in view of the general public, the game we played was called trains.

Minitrue said...

We played with four for Mascarade which I thought was a tad too easy.

Peter Johns said...

Thanks. I've played once with six. But they were non-gamers and distracted most of the time so it was a frustrating experience.

Mr Bond said...

Alfonso - would you rather we played ZaptasticMagicWimbledon IV - The Return of Zaptastic?

Alfonso said...

No I'm just joking really. Trains was really fun and I'd love to have another few games of it.

Mr Bond said...

I was just joking as well. Trains is fun. I'll bring it again as there was quite a bit of interest in it. Saying that, I'd play ZaptasticMagicWimbledon IV - The Return of Zaptastic if I had the chance.

Minitrue said...

I think Dean was the only experienced player at Mascarade, there were plenty of mistakes made - Dean ended up handing the game to me. He was too comfy with his thief stealing from Paul and Simon, and I got away with being King twice before Paul switched with me ( which I then figured was a no brainer that he had indeed switched and I was now the judge ).

As for Zaptastic... one to watch Essen for in 2014...

Minitrue said...

Oh and thats MASCarade Mr Bond not Masquerade... this un...

Mr Bond said...

I thought it was odd that none of you could spell.