Wednesday, 18 December 2013

The End of 2013

This week was the last NoBoG evening for 2013, and on this final chance to game at the Ribs an outstanding 20 turned up, including a few new persons who we can only assume got lost on the way to their employers Christmas Do.

Four tables were setup, Betrayal at House on the Hill proving to be an early popular choice, followed by a debate over Lords of Waterdeep or Chaos in the Old World ( The Waterdeepian Lords eventually claimed supremacy ) on table two, and the classic stand in Powergrid on table three.

Meanwhile Matt overcome by possibly one too many pre Christmas celebrations declared that Hansa Teutonica hadn't been played in a while, and suggested that make it to the fourth table upstairs. It was here that newcomer Roxanne stumbled onto their game and was quickly engaged in an overwhelming display of abstract Euro cube shuffling. I'm not sure what it is lately with subjecting our newcomers to the gnarliest of cube crunchers we can - perhaps it's a developing newcomer hazing ritual.

Pete played in random Hansa fashion but ended in a reasonable first place with a nice key bonus - no big scores this game - Matt came in a good second, Roxanne a strong third, Nathan a fairly poor fourth, and me in a pathetic fifth. Oh dear. In my defence however I think I did a reasonable job of making sure the game wasn't too appallingly abstract crunchy for the new players.

Downstairs betrayal was already afoot in the spooky house where Ewan turned out to be some evil bat wrangler, feeding his pretty pets on the blood of the innocent explorers. The explorers were having none of it and called in the exterminators to win the game. The second outing found Nicky to be the evil doer, and in a strangely bat/rat type affair led her ever expanding rat horde to a glorious nibbletastic human devouring victory over the explorers.

A quick round of Mascarade upstairs was then followed by everyone grouping into two tables - some Saboteur 2 ing, with an evil evil Sam ousting his fellow Saboteurs at the end to claim a single glorious Saboteur victory, and for the second table the ubiquitous Resistance Avalon.

Resistance was a sorry affair with the bad guys once again losing helped on by some spytastic clangers. Matt as Merlin simply shut his mouth for the entire game, and let a logically perfect Pete figure out where everyone was. With Lady of the Lake and Merlin in the game, no sign of any bad guy help, and 2 of 3 of the spies being practical new players, it was always going to be a tough ride for Team Evil. In fact now I come to think of it, I have no idea why we so heavily favoured Team Good - some spurious suggestion by Pete to better cater to the new players seems in hindsight flawed when a good number of those new players were on Team Evil.

For those that did not attend, not only did you miss out on some great gaming, you also missed out on Robin's home made mince pies.

So 2013 is done for NoBoG, and the next session is probably shaping up to be the 6th 7th January 2014. Keep your eyes peeled to Twitter or the Blog for eventual confirmation as to when the next outing is.

Until then, Merry Christmas and may all your presents be game shaped.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

The Horror of Quarantine

Last night was the penultimate meeting of 2013 before we have a two week break for Christmas festivities - or in the case of John, two weeks of tackling a particularly stubborn beast that has attached itself to his top lip. It’s that time of year for festive cheer and goodwill to all men. So I’m going to say “Bah humbug” and pour scorn on a little game from a small publisher that Paul brought along with him. I will tell you that it’s a pile of crap and should you happen to receive it in your Christmas stocking, then you should hunt down Santa and punch him in the gob.

The game in question is Quarantine, by a small Canadian publisher Mercury Games. The premise is that you’re running a hospital and trying to treat a growing influx of patients. You get victory points for curing the sick, but can spend these points to improve your hospital  - adding new treatment rooms or specialist rooms such as Triage, Pathology, a Helipad or even the mighty Cafeteria, which give you special actions. All good, but you have to watch out for infections that can spread and shut down parts of your expanding hospital. It’s a bit like the old computer game Theme Hospital.

It’s all done with nice bright tiles and cubes. There is a nifty little ‘price-drafting’ system, where
Theme Hospit... err Quarantine
players can set the price on the tiles they want to draft, but other players will have the chance to buy them at that price first. This is makes for a nice dilemma on which tiles to set prices on and how high to set them.  The other big part is managing the queue of patients that forms outside your hospital lobby. Patients can only be admitted to treatment rooms of the matching colour. Patients are admitted one at a time, in order, until the first patient in line is unable to be admitted. Therefore jiggling about with you line or building more rooms is important. All good…

No! This looks like a lovely fun game. It even has whimsical cover and cute infectious disease called Queasy to guide you through the rules. And it has cool hospital tiles to arrange. But this is not light and fun. It is a cruel game of computational processions, arbitrary punishments and solo-puzzling.

The harsh reality is that this a game run by action points. You have four to spend each turn. Action points means optimisation. Slow, ponderous optimisation. Add that you won’t know what patients will be added to your queue at the start of your next turn, so you can’t plan ahead and have to endure the other players optimising their turn based on the draw of four random cubes, all the while hoping they won’t draw infection cubes and put them in your hospital. So added to the optimisation we have an arbitrary take-that mechanism. And we have a system that makes it hard to plan in advance. It even has the dreaded spend an action point to take a bonus action marker to spend in a later turn (affectionately known as Crocker Markers). And the game is incredibly tight. Our final scores were 10, 11, 12 and 12. With margins that tight, a few to many infections, bad draws or a moment of non-optimisation is going to kill your chances. Bondy's verdict: avoid it like the plague.

Newcomer, Debbie had the most points and the smallest hospital, so beat Rich in the tiebreaker. Paul came in third. And I lagged behind with the meagre 10. And I know what you’re now thinking, that I only hates it because I lost and I'm crap at it. Sour grapes. Pah. To be fair the others all enjoyed it and I didn’t hate it. It’s just not really my thing.  I did find myself awake at 1am thinking that if I’d spent less on a dodgy cafeteria, spent more on patient care then... hmm. Maybe Paul will bring it again soon just so I can confirm it is a terrible game…

The other tables all had a whiff of lurking terror and dark eldritch horror about them.
A Study In Emerald

Dean brought A Study in Emerald, which invokes the all-powerful triumvirate of Martin Wallace, Neil Gaiman, and Cthulhu into a fascinating looking deck-building game.

Much enthusing over this.

John gathered Rich, Lizzie, Ed and Nath to play Betrayal at House on the Hill. There were shouts and taunts and enough insane in-game dialogue to fill something of almost unfillable proportions.  As the players explore a haunted
Betrayal at House on the Hill
house, contending with all the usual sort of things you’d find in a haunted mansion, the tension (or silliness) builds to point where one of the characters betrays the others. At this point they must defeat the traitor that has betrayed them all.

They managed to fit two games in on Tuesday and both times the traitor was revealed to be Ed. Evil “I’m a Spy” Ed.

What a surprise. Happily, he was brutally cut down and defeated on both occasions. Poor Evil Ed.

The evening was wrapped up with a game of King of Tokyo, where Paul emerged victorious from the smoking ruins. And, of course, Resistance: Avalon. Once again the good guys strolled to victory with John’s Percival pointing out all the spies. Pete the assassin went for him, but never had a chance of guessing Merlin as it was none other than the evilest of the evil - Evil Ed!

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Buying Games

Time for some reader feedback - which traditionally means that Sam, and only Sam, will respond.

Where do you purchase your games from - both online in the virtual wibbly wobbly world, and offline in the dingy bricks and mortar establishments ?

Of course this is more aimed at either online places that ship to the UK, or places that are geographically situated somewhat near to Norwich, but, the more the merrier, so don't let that stop you revealing your best game retailer in Antarctica.

Do you have any sure fire great places you continually shop at, or get good service from and could share with everyone ?

Or perhaps you ARE a games selling establishment, and would like to take the opportunity to promote yourself ?

If we get enough responses it might be nice to form a list of places that people like - or dislike - as although I have a half decent list of places to go to, sometimes it can feel like a bit of a struggle to get that oh so hard to track down out of stock purchase. And some game places do a great job of hiding themselves away in a corner you never knew existed.

So, spread the word. Where do you buy from ? Good prices, bad service ? Vice versa ? No opinion, just give me my damn game ?

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Missing Bag ?

Attention : Someone left a bag at the games last night. If you are missing said bag you can go along to the Ribs where it will be waiting for you.

Calamity City

A belated fifteen this week, some newcomers, plenty of old hands, and three tables of gaming pleasure.

Lords of Waterdeep made another appearance this week, and with just about everyone being familiar with how this now plays, the game was fought over, finished, and Rich crowned the Lordiest of Waterdeep Lords in very quick fashion, leaving plenty of time for game variation.

Whilst that was going on, Suburbia was skirmished over on table two, which also finished in a nice time for some end of evening shenanigans, splitting into Avalon Resistance and Kingdom Builder for the We Don't Want to Play Your Stinking Spy Game NoBoG faction.

The last table found Tzolk'in with the new and sexy expansion that allows an increased five people to squabble over the slowly rotating action spaces. It was at this last table that I found myself competing against Evil Pete, Tim, Robin and new guy Phil. Phil admitted that whilst he had played a few games, he wasn't an experienced old hand at such things. Given the players, the game and the increased crunchiness of the expansion, I suddenly felt the need to apologise in advance for the experience he was about to receive. Which turned out to be just about right.

Tzolk'in is of course a hit board game from last year with a sexy / innovative / gimmicky ( pick one ) series of cogs that see your worker placements slowly shifting place over time. In mechanics terms it's just a worker placement game that triggers actions when you remove workers as opposed to when you place them. But we know all that, what we really want to know is how does the expansion play ?

The expansion adds some variety into the up til now, pretty static setup. First off there are the new tribes which provide a player with a single subtle game changing mechanic to influence your strategy. Powers range from things like - your second worker costs 1 less food to place, to, any action space you choose is capped at a maximum cost of 3 food.

Tzolk'in - Tribes and Prophecies
Next, expanding the actions available, the start turn space gets added to with three extra slots costing 1 food each. The action available on these slots changes with the turning of the cogs, and they vary from the almost useless - pay 1 food to take 2 food - to the much more compelling, pay 2 food to immediately build a building, or pay 1 food to take a gold. With a gold bonus tech going on, things like instant reward 1 food for 2 gold are almost obscenely good to take if you have some fancy building on your mind.

Lastly calamities are added - these represent possible bonus points for meeting criteria, but also crucially penalty points for not meeting them. They also inflict changes to other parts of the board - in our game all the calamities made temple advancement much more difficult by forcing people to pay extra resources to advance a step, and in some cases forcing people to retreat a step when some resources were collected. This had a definite cooling effect on temple competition for our game.

The tribe powers you choose at the start are very cool, it's nice to have everyone start on an uneven footing, and adds spice to what might otherwise be a fairly dry opening strategy. On the other hand the powers are also very situational and can be incredibly powerful in the right circumstances, or just about useless - or even a detriment - in the wrong ones. Surely then this leads to more careful strategic play. Kind of.

The expanded three extra actions are a no brainer. With five people all trying to jam into packed action wheels, the three extra actions are something of a congestion reliever and a good addition. However. Again, it's situational. At times the actions on offer are - as Pete likes to say - about as useful as the Guernsey Tax Office. And so sometimes the cogs really are cluttered because it's highly unlikely you are going to waste placing a worker to get you a net gain of 1 food.

Calamities. They certainly change the weight of what you want to be doing or perhaps avoiding, and offer an interesting - although at times just about impossible - way of garnering victory points.

Overall for me the game was tortuous. It was cool to see the expansion in action, and nice to have a chat over a game, but game wise I spent most of my efforts in last place turn order wise, and with five players, one of whom started with five workers instead of three to place, I found myself at times boxed into a corner to get on the busy cogs, or struggling to lurch about looking for a new plan. The situational tribe powers just added random insult to injury as some were able to get good use out of powers at times, and others, well, just downright struggled. Poor Phil with his five worker start faced an uphill battle all game of feeding all those mouths AND having increased costs of 3 food per worker instead of 2, AND an increased VP penalty for failing to do so. On the one hand, five workers out of the gate is awesome. On the other hand, paying fifteen food to maintain them is horrible. And remember. Five players. Packed cogs. Your placement costs are up on what a four player game might be.

And here lies perhaps a fundamental issue. The lovely / gimmicky cogs, fixed very much into the heart of the game as they are cannot be upgraded or changed when you decide you want to do an expansion. So to a certain extent you are jamming more people in the core mechanic fixed size space. As Pete noted, five is perhaps not the sweet spot for Tzolk.

Tzolk'in with the expansion is decidely not for beginners. Or the feint of heart. Personally I have some serious reservations about whether a fifth player actually works that well. Or that everything balances out well. Or that you can't get some seriously game cooling perfect storms popping up. I was also unimpressed with our final scoring which didn't seem to be particular clever as just mostly opportunistic. Blah.

Pete also confessed to having struggled for the first time ever playing the game - he's a big fan - and not entirely enjoying his experience.

As for Phil - who managed to net himself 10 negative points in one scoring round - I assured him that his gaming experience were he to return would only get better from hereon in, and only half jokingly, that next time he should try something fun, like Resistance.

As it was, Robin won the game with some decent in game scoring and a respectable end bonus, Pete came second with some extremely last minute bonus scoring - he had scored practically zip all game, which left Tim languishing in third and me and Phil way off the pace.

If you are a fan of Tzolk'in, I think you will like the variation the expansion brings. There are some nice ideas and cool things going on. Does it lose some elegance ? Yes. Can it fall off the rails a bit ? I think so. Is it really designed to fit five people in ? Probably not. But I think a fan will skip those "minor" quibbles and embrace the new challenges that it offers.

Resistance good guys won again. I think the bad guys are just phoning it in at this point. Shocking. There needs to be some serious spy training undertaken to shore up the score tally.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013


Time for some stats. It's been some ten months or so since the last attendance stats were done. Consider this a very late six month update.

Average number of attendees is 11.79, up from 9.83. and there are most likely to be 11 people ( up from 9 ) turn up in a given week.
Lowest turnout was 6 ( up from 5 ), highest turnout was 22 ( up from 17 ).

However , those figures are very misleading because of the wide range in variation going on which is serving to cover up a significant upward trend.

Splitting those stats into quarterly figures we get

Quarter n = 0
Average Number of Attendees :15.5 
Most likely to encounter this many people in any given week : 18

Quarter n = -1
Average Number of Attendees :11.76
Most likely to encounter this many people in any given week : 11

Quarter n = -2
Average Number of Attendees :8.94
Most likely to encounter this many people in any given week : 9