Friday, 29 November 2013

Black Friday

Black Friday is here, which for us Brits means mostly nothing, but for the Yanks means full contact no rules shopping. Fatalities are optional. But enough of turkey fuelled rage shopping, what happened with the games this week ?

A civilised thirteen souls for this weeks gaming where Cyclades and Caverna rubbed shoulders with unexploded cows, a delegation of some Lords of Waterdeep and some abstract Kingdom Building.


Robin and Bondy got to experience Caverna this week, the former trying a hardcore weapons strategy, and the latter attempting a maverick no tunnel building direction.

I am a fan of weapons in Caverna, but this week with the responsibility of first player landing on my shoulders I declared that I would be ignoring weapons completely and going for a peaceful extreme. Rich following me ended up doing the same - however he had the cheek to consistently berate me for copying him - and getting things before him, despite the turn order being what it was. Pfft.

A tight game ensued with Robin reaping huge weaponry rewards on just about every turn and looking increasingly strong as time went on, and myself and Rich building decent farm and food  bases up. Bondy went for early chambers and furnishing - but didn't achieve anything with it, he largely filled his mountain with trash that wouldn't help him at game end, and by the time the points were being calculated he was well shy of the front runners, and ironically enough having tried to concentrate on furnishing his mountain, was the only one with an unfinished cave system.

Caverna, Bondy's Dwarves concentrate on interior decoration
All was not entirely futile for Mr Bond however, in a series of half assed end moves he managed to screw me over royally and rob me of the final points I needed to take the game. Rich instead got the first place - and threw insults and rude gestures my way at having apparently blocked him from better scoring - and Robin with his weapons came in a very strong second. I was left in third, half a dozen points behind Rich ( Bondy blocked me from 8 points !! ).

Cool game.

Resistance finished the evening, Rich, Richard and newcomer Chris taking on the wiles of the evil doers. Team good secured an easy victory however - a fourth win in a row for the good guys - as poor Rich leaked all sorts of tells for the second week running - turning red when questioned about being a spy - and Richard made one of those Why Did I Say That early game tells confessing that at least he wasn't the assassin this game - but the implication being he was still a bad guy. Despite the two of them then trying to play it sweet it was pretty obvious what was going on, and Chris telegraphed his role with a series of perfect spy voting. Oh dear.

Last week I was the probable obvious Merlin, but Team Bad convinced themselves to knife Matt ( Percival ) instead. Wrong. This week, I was the probable obvious Merlin, and this time Team Bad knifed me ( Percival ). Wrong. Ha ha. Still, you have to worry about your life expectancy as Percival eh... ?

Mascarade was toyed with being played but failed, and Divinaire got half way out before being swept off the table by Resistance.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work we go

Seventeen people turned up this week to partake of board game goodness. But what they played, I can't entirely be certain. Dean had Lords of Waterdeep with the new expansion at one table. And another table threatened to play Powergrid, but I think they opted for something else.

My attention was wholly taken up by the new and eurotastic Caverna. Caverna is the latest outing from Uwe Rosenberg - he of Le Havre, Ora and Labora and Agricola type things - and bears a very strong resemblance to those past works. In fact it's probably fair to say that Caverna is just a riff on Agricola where even the rulebook is set out to let you skip tracts if you are an Agric veteran.

This is no bad thing however as Agricola is one of the, if not The, most respected Euro game out there, having earned its reputation from years of solid play. So, another Agricola variant is a good thing, right ?

Right. Caverna plays in a very similar way to Agricola, you will be sending out your family members ( dwarves ) to clear fields, plant grain and vegetables, pick up resources and build dwellings, and as such it shares the same core mechanics of struggling to feed your family, never quite having enough actions to do everything, and having other players take actions from under your nose.

But around this familiar framework, a few things have changed and been added. Your player board now has a cave section which you can dig out in a not dis-similar fashion to clearing/plowing fields. Within these caves you will expand your home, allowing you to field more dwarves, dig mines and furnish special buildings. The cards that were in Agricola, Major and Minor improvements and occupations have disappeared in Caverna, to be replaced instead by a range of room furnishings.

Your family members can also now arm themselves and go on expeditions. What this basically amounts to is that some action spaces have additional expedition actions that you can take - which allows you to pick up extra resources and or perform extra actions. Sending an armed dwarf to an action space will get you the action, plus a range of extra goodies. Cool ! The downside to this party is that to arm the dwarf you need to go through a series of preparation actions - picking up the ore required, then sending the dwarf off to the forge. The more ore you have the better the weapon, and the better the weapon, the better the expedition rewards you can pick up.

Weapons add an increased range of choices and complexity to choosing which action space to send your dwarf. This creates a good deal more choice depth to Caverna than you get in Agricola, which is not exactly something that's lacking in Agric to start with.

Everything else in the game, if you squint, is pretty much Agricola.

The game plays really nicely - if you like Agricola then this game is an absolute no brainer like. It's sophisticated, balanced and satisfying. It's plenty different enough to Agricola to present a completely new challenge, it has a very strongly integrated theme and leaves a very strong impression of quality.

So a big thumbs up. For me, this game is probably the strongest game I have played since... well... tricky... probably Agricola itself. And arguably, it's better than Agricola.

So all is wonder and amazement in the new land of Caverna.

Not quite.

For me there are a couple of reservations to Caverna. The first is the fiddliness of it. There are a crap ton of bits with the game. Fourteen different resource / animal types and an explosion of tiles. The upkeep for each round invariably ends up missing something as you replenish this that and the other. You also then end up with a stack of crap on your home board, teetering in piles that avoid mixing with the other piles of crap that you don't yet own. But it's a fairly minor gripe and by and large you will get a deal of satisfaction from owning big piles of crap.

The second more serious reservation is replayability. Caverna has a static setup - everytime you play you are presented with just about the exact same set of variables. This is different to Agricola where your hand of cards will give you a variable set of opening possibilities. The problem here then is that certainly the opening third of Caverna could start to devolve into Chess like openings once you really get the hang of it. But there's quite a bit of depth to get through here. And certainly by the middle of the game the mix of players taking actions and developing their boards will mean that any fixed kind of plan has probably met with an untimely demise.

Is it a real problem ? Difficult to say. Plenty of games have static setups, and perhaps the real issue here is that because Caverna is so close to Agricola you can't help comparing what one has that the other doesn't. And it's quite possible that by the time you get your Grand Master Chess Caverna opening down pat, an expansion will have come along to screw with your head.

Pete won Caverna with an outrageously populous animal farm going on, and Rich came in a close second - eschewing any weaponry at all and going for a peaceful homestead.

The evening ended with the customary game of Resistance Avalon, Pete, Rich and Richard playing the evil doers. Despite hauling in the first two rounds for the bad guys, the good guys rallied, and with Matt doing a good job as Percival, the evil doers were put to the sword, with the assassin picking out Percival as the suspected Merlin. Huzzah.

There were some lovely moments in the game, including Fletch contemptously telling Pete to "go away" in the face of desperate lies, and Rich's rabbit in headlights reaction to being accused ( rightly ) of being a spy.

A good game, well played to all the valiant knights, boo ya sux to the evil doers.

There are now ominous soundings that the game has become Too Easy for the good guys, and the bad guys need a helping hand. Ha ! What a difference a few months make...

Saturday, 16 November 2013

The Dark Side of Worker Placement

Back to 18 on Tuesday with Tuck joining us for his first taste of the sweet, sweet NoBoG honey.

Dean, Paul, Tom and Stu played Spyrium, which was sold by Dean as “A game by the same bloke that did Caylus”. Then, as if that didn’t sell it enough – “It’s worker placement, but you don’t put workers on cards, you put them in between them”. Ah, cunning. I look forward to the next evolution in worker placement games, where cards are placed on top of workers. Heavy thick cards that crush the workers like some malevolent industrialist exploiting the people. Worker Exploitation it would be called. Far more representative than the sugar coated 'Worker Placement' phrase. Right, Punk Rich? Anyway… that Caylus bloke is William Attia and from a quick squint into the murky corner where Spyrium was being played it certainly had a resemblance to Caylus: Magna Carta with that pale blue look to the cards. Apparently, Spyrium is set in a steampunk version of England. Players build factories and recruit workers to produce a commodity called "Spyrium". Producing Spyrium in one factory, then processing it in the next results in victory points. Alternatively, Spyrium can be purchased, but the material is rare and expensive, and players are constantly short of precious cash. See? Better to exploit the workers.Their lives are cheap! This is definitely worker exploitation. Dean won as he was the most ruthless and cruel mill owner – flashing his gaudy VPs in the face of his down-trodden workers that had broken their backs for his superfluous gains. Boo hiss.

Ewan, Ed 2 and I played Bloodbowl Team Manager. I am pleased to announce that it ended with a crushing win for the Bondy Dwarves, who swept away the opposition with 48 fans, to the Orc and Human teams’ 24 fans a piece. Admittedly, I got lucky getting to compete in 4 match ups twice. However, all my dwarves were well treated and although they fought for their lives in a grim and bloody version of American Football they were paid well for their services. Ewan’s Orcs even had comprehensive health care in form of an apothecary. Better than working in Dean's Spyrium mill.

Rich, Pete, Martin, Ed and Richard played another Fantasy Flight spin-off from the Games Workshop stable in the form of the popular Chaos in the Old World. But despite this being seen regularly at NoBoG, this week, the players must have rested on their demonic laurels as the Old World (the game itself) beat them all. Chaos defeated, good wins!

Alina, Matt and Sam played Suburbia. Creating three Utopian neighbourhoods. Such beautiful neighbourhoods that they should all be declared winners.

On the final table, Fletch took Sam 2 and Tuck on a medieval farming journey with Agricola. Fletch won by five points. His family of farmers enjoying the simple pleasure of providing for themselves. Only for their children to bear witness to the ushering in of the industrial age, where in time, they would be forced to endure back-breaking tasks in those dark, satanic mills and eventually be thrown into destitution by the emergence of the spinning jenny.

At the end of the evening we split again for a games of Smash Up, the newly Resistance re-themed Coup and of course Resistance: Avalon. Various people won.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Resistance is Futile - The Resistance: Avalon session

Pete recounts a game of The Resistance: Avalon played Tuesday 5 November.

We ended the night, like many a recent NoBoG evening, with a game of The Resistance: Avalon - the Arthurian themed reworking of Don Eskridge’s The Resistance. This occasion would provide a triumph for the forces of good and a right trashing for the evil minions of Mordred.

With seven being the number of players (it might have been nine, but for Robin dashing for a bus and Nicky preferring to make an early break for home to putting up with all the smack talk) we looked at the balance between good and evil and decided that the three minions of Mordred [evil spies!] would need a bit of a handicap to prevent anything similar to a recent 3-0 mauling in the favour of evil. We decided to play with Oberon [a spy, but he is not known to, and does not know the other spies] in addition to Merlin, Percival and the Lady of the Lake to really stack things in favour of good. We did not, however, account for the fantastic good fortune to come which would seal a rapid and crushing victory for the brave and valiant loyal servants.

The Introduction
Having had a couple of recent games which were somewhat ruined by certain information being missed or accidentally revealed during the set-up, I have taken it upon myself to perform a particularly thorough and highly patronising version of the introduction to the game. We used some dubious finger counting method to determine that Bondy should take the first player crown (putting myself in position three). I looked at my secret role card and saw that I was Percival, I took a moment to compose myself and then began my awkward diction.

When I opened my eyes to see who Merlin was, it was none other than my good friend Rich sitting immediately to my right in position two. I tried very hard to maintain my composure while finishing the intro talk and (as I always do, no matter what my role) immediately proclaimed myself as “not a spy” then proceeded to question the others at the table starting with Rich. He said that he was also not a spy, to which I responded that he must be telling the truth as I know him well enough to know if he is lying. I asked everyone else and made some wild accusations based upon nothing as I am not particularly adept when it comes to discerning a tell, but hoping that perhaps someone might accidentally give something away.

Round One
It was time for Bondy to propose the first mission and, through a twist of luck, we managed to persuade him to send myself and Rich. We seem to have settled into a bit of a pattern of voting down the first few mission proposals as it is believed that it is better to try to get as much information as possible by seeing who sends who and who votes for what proposals - the belief being that more information can only help the good guys [as long as Merlin doesn’t give himself away] - so I voted to reject, even though I was on the mission and knew that both myself and Rich were good.

When the vote was revealed it showed all rejects, which I declared was the perfect result: if there was a spy on the mission then at least one of the spies would have voted for it; no-one accepting the mission proposal meant that the spies didn’t like it. Rich, knowing full well that we were both good, agreed to send us two again. The vote and the mission passed.

Round Two
Now it was my turn to set the mission. I argued that the first one was almost certainly two good guys and then put forward sending Clive sitting to my left along with myself and Rich on the grounds that he was the most convincing at claiming not to be a spy. I actually had no idea, but wanted to test out if Clive was a spy by watching Rich’s vote. Rich voted reject but everyone else voted to accept so I took this to mean Rich was telling Percival that there was a spy on the mission - confirmed by how the spies had clearly all voted for it as well. Regardless, the mission went ahead but bizarrely it passed.
With all the talking I’d been doing, Richard (position seven) chose to use the lady of the lake on me and confirmed that I was good. I still didn’t know for sure he wasn’t a spy, but at least it gave me the LotL card to use next and it drew suspicion away from me.

Round Three
With the previous mission passing, and the same number of people required (three), everyone on the table was arguing for sending the same people on the next mission so Clive duly obliged and the vote was passed, but this time the mission failed! Now I knew that Clive was a spy but I couldn’t work out why he had passed the second mission.
Now I was able to use the LotL card to check another player’s allegiance and I chose Fletch, not least because he was the next person after Clive. He showed me a blue card and the game was all but won for good.

Round Four
With me having already been confirmed as trustworthy, I was able to tell everyone convincingly that Fletch was also good. It was also straightforward to point out that, only one out of Rich and Clive was a spy but the fourth mission required two fails for evil to win. By sending the same three of us again along with Fletch, we were guaranteed a win for good and this is what happened. The spies voted against the proposal but it passed and the mission succeeded with one fail.

The Assassin
I was insistent that only the Assassin should reveal his character card to preserve the unlikely but hilarious possibility of accidentally assassinating Oberon. Bondy revealed the assassin card, the spies conferred, I joined in pretending [badly] to be Oberon, accusations were cast on all the good guys except Rich and finally Fletch was brutally slain. The loyal servants had walked it.

The Truth
Player 1: Bondy - Assassin [evil]
Player 2: Rich - Merlin [good]
Player 3: Peter [me] - Percival [good]
Player 4: Clive - Oberon [evil]
Player 5: Fletch - [good]
Player 6: Sam - [evil]
Player 7: Richard - [good]

On reflection, the set-up helped us, but the spies may have handed us the game by a) proposing a mission with no spies on it and b) allowing a mission with a spy on to pass. However, I can understand Bondy proposing two good guys in the thought that the first mission is always rejected; it might have been a good way of alleviating suspicion on himself later. Ultimately we were very lucky to end up with both Merlin and Percival on all of the missions. I don’t think we will stack things so heavily in favour of good next time.

[Re-published from Pete's post on BGG - Resistance is Futile...]

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

PR for Beginners

Apologies for the lack of updates here. John has gone to Lincolnshire for his annual holiday. Not a man to idly while away his time, he spends ten days each autumn, on a poultry farm, sexing chickens. Apparently, he finds sorting the little balls of fluff and sending the unfortunate male chicks off to a quick death very therapeutic.  He took a quick break in his holiday to remind me that I was shirking my duties and hadn't updated the blog. Don’t worry, John, I shall remedy that now. You can get back to that tray of tiny birds that need electrocuting.

Last Tuesday was Bonfire night and it would seem that many of our regulars were up for some pyrotechnics as only nine emerged from the chilled smoke-laden darkness to play games in the welcoming warmth of the Ribs of Beef. And how they were welcomed! Pete had found a cheesecake on offer in the Coop and brought it down for us lucky sods to enjoy. Thanks Pete.

On the games front there was a clamouring for the classic role selection game Puerto Rico, which was played with the full complement of five. I taught Nicky, Fletch, Richard and Clive. One experienced player against four noobs? Those that know Puerto Rico will assume that I won, with Clive sitting to my right probably handing me victory. Not so. Well, OK, as the only experienced Puerto Rico player I did win, but this was mostly down to the new guys playing a couple of exploratory rounds early on and not knowing about the game’s pacing, rather than the seating order. Nicky (who sat to my left) did really well with an aggressive building strategy, ending just a couple of VPs behind my mixed shipping strategy. For those of you wondering why I'm mentioning seating order – one of the biggest complaints about Puerto Rico is that seating order really matters and one inexperienced player can hand victory to the player sitting to their left. Much of the game is about selecting a role that not only helps you, but helps the other players the least. If the player to your right constantly chooses the Craftsman (which produces goods for all) then on your turn you’ll get first dibs on using the newly produced goods to enter the empty Trading House to earn cash or fill the empty Goods Ships to the detriment of the other players. I've seen it happen and heard moans of despair from players further around the seating plan, but on Tuesday, perhaps because (almost) everyone was inexperienced at Puerto Rico this wasn't an issue. Or maybe everyone was just having fun and didn't care too much about perceived injustices. Or maybe everyone at NoBoG is a savvy and hardened gamer and would rather burn on a bonfire rather than make a generous play that in any way benefited another player. Apart from Pete who would give everyone cheesecake. Cheers for that again, Pete. Anyway, nice to see Puerto Rico make a return.

Suburbia was maxed out with four players on the other table.  I can’t say what happened in Suburbia. It’s not a secret I just didn’t pay much attention. I do know they had two games of it. In the second game, Rich looked to be leading with an industrial complex of mighty proportions, dwarfing Sam, Pete and Robin’s efforts.

We finished the evening, as is now almost customary, with Resistance: Avalon. Myself, Sam and Clive did a terrible job as the evil dudes and the good guys with Rich as Merlin and Pete as Sir Percival rode home to victory.