Sunday, 25 May 2014

Pew Pew Pew

A respectable twenty two for this weeks shenanigans, including Robin making an unexpected return after several months of being AWOL, and, of course, a few new people - Jodie and Mark amongst others.

A rather tough table for Castles of Burgundy was setup, wall to wall experienced players making the game a challenge. Wily Tom ended up being crowned the winner, with Pete lamenting his strategy of doing a bit of everything failing to bring home the Burgundy Bacon.

On the other side of the room to Burgundian Castles, the NoBoG classic Hansa Teutonica was wheeled out to four newbies and a single vet - myself. If you know anything about this abstract Euro cube cruncher, you will know that newbies can struggle a little at first getting their head around what works and what doesn't. Being the general nice chap that I am I gave everyone a run through of the strategy involved - ( although I know some that take satisfaction in it, I don't particularly believe in the adage of explaining the rules and only the rules to someone, then delighting in slicing them several ways from Sunday as I leverage my experience over their inexperience ) - with a liberal dose of make your own mind up and herded them around the pitfalls of play.

The game was enjoyable, tough and close fought, with everyone looking like they might have had a chance had things gone in a slightly different direction at game end. I struggled to make headway on points, but still managed to pip a win in a fairly low scoring game.

Funkenschlag - Powergrid. This time set in the lovely fjords.
Downstairs the venerable Funkenschlaaag ( Powergrid ) and Lords of Waterdeep were put up for play. A new to me Nordic board was on offer, with a lot of interest clustered in southern Norway. Not sure who won this, and for some at least the experience was somewhat bewildering, math heavy and not entirely a thumbs up - or a thumbs down. It's certainly true that Powergrid with players that kind of know what they are doing, can start to become an exercise in headbound spreadsheet mechanics.

Trains. Fletch is either confidently not viewing his hand of cards
- unlike everyone else - or is in the process of eating them here.
Lastly Ed and Fletch took newcomers and largely inexperienced Mark and Jodie through the paces of Trains. A game which by now we surely all know, is about Trains - as the now part of the furniture in NoBoG joke goes. Actually it's Dominion. Without any rioting peasants, endless expansion boxes, and with a lovely board. Which if you've played this with Owein will know is not a required part of interaction to win the game.

Fillers. After the Lords of Waterdeep lot finished, they embarked on a game of Love Letter. Which was possibly the noisiest most raucous game of Love Letter ever to be played. I am not sure just how you can play such a noisy game of Love Letter ( Ed gave a reconstruction demonstration "BOOM, yes I am the Princess BITCHES !" ) , but they managed it. Lewis blamed Luke for all the raucousity ( not a word, should be a word ) post game.

The last filler was Space Cadets Dice Duel. This is a game which splits the players into two teams, each of which gets to crew a starship with the sole aim of shooting down the other starship. Each starship has a crew station that controls one aspect of the ship, weapons, shields and so on, and if you've ever played Star Fleet Battles, you'll know exactly where this comes from. In fact, the two miniatures they supply in the box are even though not officially linked with any Star Trek IP, pretty much exact replicas of the Defiant from the Star Trek series Deep Space Nine. Coincidence ?

Unlike SFB, play proceeds in frenetic real time, with no turns at all - neither me go you go, or we go, just, just play as fast as you can - with dice used as the main interaction between a player and the game. Whilst this might sound utterly stupid and chaotic ( which may or may not appeal to you ), the action of having to roll dice - of which you always have your own personal stash - injects a delay into the game, wherein you are continually rolling dice looking for maybe one or two values that are useful to you.

The dice are the fuel of the game. The engineer player has six normal dice, and depending on the result of a die, he can assign them to a ship crew station. Once a player receives a power die from the engineer player they can then roll their own dice that interact with their station. Once a die has been rolled that the station player likes, they lock their die in, and hand the power die back to the engineer - who gets to roll it again.

The realtime nature actually works out well for this - whilst the engineer can give power dice away to crew stations to power up that station ( and let them roll their own dice ), in practice there is a time lag between assigning power to a station and something useful coming of it. Shoving power into the shields for instance simply starts the process of rolling a single shield dice. It might be 20 seconds or more before you actually get to raise a shield in the direction you want...

Gameplay is fun, frenetic and at times stressful if you have a lot to do. A great game to play, and a bit of a crowd pleaser given its wacky play, zero downtime and raucous chatter. My only concern about the game is of its longevity - once a crew gets skilled at using their ship the game could break down into a bit of a binary blah fest, where whoever gets the last best movement gets to win. I can definitely see this happening, at which point the game is a whole lot less interesting, but, it also has to be said there is quite a learning journey to be made before you reach those oh so jaded clued in cynical heights. Whilst there are less than perfect crewmen on station, fun and doubt is to be had.

I lost both games. I blame Fletch for our first loss and his frantic handling of shields, helm and tractor beam - I was the "no stress here" engineer just handing out dice. In truth, Fletch's job was by far the trickiest and most busy, and not an easy ride by any stretch of the imagination - particularly for a first game. And I blame Ed for my second loss - after he did a sneaky piece of manoeuvring  that flipped him to the shieldless rear of our ship and proceeded to blow the crap out of us. For my part I wasn't watching the sneaky move ( which in hindsight I should have been ) - I was watching Fletch and Pip trying to load the torpedos... and fail...

Fletch has now left us for six months of glorious touring with Her Majesty's Finest Flyers, we hope he has a safe tour, and returns eager for gaming around Christmas !


Alfonso said...

Nom nom nom. Trains is one of my favourites. It's a much more palatable theme than dominion.

Minitrue said...

I like both, I think I prefer Dominion for its endless permutations ( assuming you have a butt load of expansions ), but I do like the addition of a board in Trains to the whole Dominion schtick. Trains with a butt load of expansions could be great. I doubt it'll ever have the popularity to justify it though.

What's not to like about the Dominion theme ? Don't like grungy medieval-esque things ?

Mr Bond said...

I think John is dead right about Trains and Dominion.

Alfonso said...

Don't get me wrong, I love Dominion but it really is just mechanics. When you play you say things like, "I'll play my village and then my smithy so I get x amount of cards and x number of actions." With trains you say, "I'm going to lay some rails and build a station expansion." And that is exactly what you do.

Minitrue said...

Ah I see what you mean, a bit of a pasted on theme. Yeah. I think the speed of Dominion kinda forces that pure mechanics thing as well, where a group of experienced players are just spamming cards and shuffling almost non stop.

Peter Chinkin said...

I've not played trains yet but totally agree about dominion: who am I and what am I doing? Am I visiting my village? Building it? Buying it? Makes no sense. Love the game though!

OSr Group said...
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