Thursday, 28 August 2014

Sparky the Wonder Dog

The seasons turn and Summer flees through the squelching mud with Autumn pressing behind in close pursuit. The nights have started to turn dark noticeably earlier to leave gaming at the Ribs to huddle in the wan glow of the pub lighting. And what better way to spend rainy Autumnal evenings than playing the latest in board game entertainment whilst enjoying a drink or three ?

This week we had two spanky new games turn up amongst some of the more familiar - and less familiar - offerings. Sam brought along - fresh from the Kickstarter presses - Alien Uprising, a sci-fi co-operative game that has the players ship crash land on an Alien planet and throws the crew into the mix of meeting the distinctly unfriendly be-tentacled natives. Players must beat off the unreasonably bloodthirsty aliens whilst surviving long enough to gather supplies, wait for help to come, or fix their crashed ship to save themselves.
Alien Uprising

Like many such games it falls on the familiar trope of the endless primitive based enemy, versus a limited, hard as nails gun toting player base. So. Zulu. In spaaaacccce. But with less competitive singing. And why not, it's a pretty cool and engaging trope. Zulu that is. Not the competitive singing.

Designed by the same guy that created Arkham Horror, the game definitely has some of the same leanings with its co-op play, a pressure to keep on top of the smaller threats whilst also working towards the greater goal, a very thematic light RPG style action play with equipment, unique characters and powers, and lastly a somewhat abstracted board movement design. As per Arkham Horror, dice play a huge part of this game and inform you just what actions you can take, and whether you attack or defend successfully. This time around however the designer has not teamed up with the bloated mega octopus of clunky design FFG, and so the game does not have a bazillion decks of cards, chits, wizwags, doohickeys and other crap. So. Less clutter and clunk.

The game is slated at running for 90 minutes, but from what I can see I suspect this might be a bit of a fib especially depending on who is playing - the game is definitely open to someone sitting and contemplating all the possible things they can do and arguing about just who should do what. Sam couldn't finish a game in three hours - but this was probably a lot to do with it being completely new and having to be busted out, sorted and rules pondered.

The second new game was Dead of Winter, a zombie survival semi co-op with betrayal mechanics. Players get to start with a couple of unique characters that give them a range of different capabilities and then get to coordinate with everyone else to feed the colony, see off the continually occurring crises, keep the zombie numbers under control and work towards the main game objective. Along the way you might pick up new characters to join your clique - giving you more action dice - or you might get difficult decisions to make as random events occur to challenge your sense of right and wrong. Or for our group, showcase our brutally efficient culling of the weak.
Dead of Winter - Cheerful Smiley Apocalypse edition

We played the recommended starter objective on normal mode, providing us with it has to be said a fairly easy stroll through the park. A good combination of colonists and some nice morale boosting effects meant the colony was never under threat as we racked up zombie samples to help us try and figure out the cause of the zombie apocalypse. Despite there being two outright traitors, the colony was unfailingly cheerful in its outlook of zombie killing, and morale refused to budge. Even when the survivors rather brutally decided to kick a sick colonist out into the snow to die, everyone was immediately cheered by a glut of supplies. Because. You know. It doesn't do to dwell on the poor schmucks you left to die outside in the cold because they got some stinky disease. Instead think of the positives. More food for everyone else !

In hindsight the traitors should probably have done more to mix things up and interfere with happyville - but I think we got a few things wrong which made it harder for the betrayers, we were also playing a short beginner scenario ( which makes it even harder for the betrayers ) and it was hard to judge the pace of things given we were all learning.

Sam - one of the traitors - was on the brink of bringing his enormous clique of six back to colony to then bash pots together to attract all the zombies, throwing open the doors, and letting nature take its course. Lets see you be cheerful when the undead are gnawing on your leg ! Alas the last samples were taken before Sam could enact his plan ( he was busy finding as many guns as he could lay his hands on to complete one of his objectives ), and the game ended with all the good guys achieving their particular wacky goals ( there was a good deal of hoarding going on... ).

Best mention for the game probably goes to Sparky the dog - a remarkably adept canine who in the course of events managed to find a Snow Mobile, drive it back to camp and unwilling to sit on his laurels, then proceeded to siphon out the fuel for the colonys use.
Sparky the gun toting, goggle
wearing snowmobile stunt dog.
* Note Sparky is usually just a dog.
Your Sparky may differ from the advertised Sparky.
Inconceivable ! Not content with showing off his driving and siphoning skills, Sparky then got fitted with an automatic gun harness to blow away zombies and finally was kitted out with some night vision goggles. Given that dogs already have natural night vision we can only think that by this time Sparky was just showing off. Smug git. Sparky the Wonder Dog - secretly a betrayer, but a canine that never got to enact his revenge on the hapless humans.

Other moments included a hapless jock attempting to cajole the entire colony into getting fit and putting in some co-ordinated exercise every day so that "everyone could be awesome". This was met with universal jeers - how dare anyone suggest exercise - and an empty food can thrown at his head. His fitness regime was rejected. Perversely, morale increased. No one likes exercise apparently. Especially in the post apocalypse future.

Plus there was a Punk Rich in character old warbling voice moment as some other random event kicked off and he decided to get all Shakespeare on its ass. You had to be there to appreciate it.

Also Upstairs 1775 : Rebellion was played, one of the modern breed of light wargames depicting the struggle between the noble British and the revolting Americans. The game involves players shuffling their armies of cubes around the Eastern Seaboard of North America in an attempt to control more area than their opponent at game end. Dice are used to resolve battle, and unit movement is carried out by playing cards. Cards can also depict events which can bring in reinforcements, add dice rolls and so on.
1775 - The Colonials Get Uppity. Bloody Americans.

The basic mechanics based on a similarly themed 1812 game, have been tried and tested, with 1775 simply moving theme more than anything.

The game is nice and simple but offers some interesting wargamey choices which eventually after all the cunning moves are done just comes down to a fairly active Random Number Generator in battle dice offs.

Mr Bond and Richard IV won this as the heroic Brits and changed history to keep those filthy separatist yanks in their place. Long live the King !

Lords of Vegas + Expansion
Downstairs Betrayal at House on the Hill got another play, the Dragon rearing its baleful head but for the first time ever got its ass kicked with a win for the good guys. There was some surprise that Luke for once hadn't died. Apparently he dies a lot. Lastly, Lords of Vegas with nifty expansion for six got a play, with newcomer Byron proving his pile of cash to be greater than everyone elses.

A bunch of filler type things were played, a couple of simultaneous games of One Night Werewolf, Bottle Imp and Camel Up.

Friday, 22 August 2014

For Sale : 10,000 sq/ft Industrial Unit - slightly war torn

This week for the most part NoBoGers elected to play the old* favourites** with Pandemic, Lords of Waterdeep and Betrayal at House on the Hill first up on the tables in the Wherry Room.

*old - in terms of board game fads and newness about 12 months at most
**favourites - in terms of fickle gamers some will really like, and others declare absolutely broken ( mostly because they didn't win )

Betrayal at House on the Hill in particular has now been played so often at the Ribs, it's a wonder the regular players aren't all thoroughly experienced veterans that can list all the betrayals from memory. There may be lessons to be learned here for budding game designers about the compelling nature of the game as for my money there are not too many other games like it in terms of mechanics and how it plays, plus as a bonus the theme really works well.
A full and buzzing Wherry Room

Betrayal had two plays, one with a Dracula bad guy who was roundly beaten by the good guys, and a second... with an invincible traitor that must be killed with a statue. Sounds weird. I guess you had to be there.

The world of Pandemic meanwhile was being threatened by the very twelve monkey-esque bio terrorist challenge, where one of the players instead of tripping around the planet curing diseases is instead actively working towards bringing the zombie / mutant / pathogen apocalypse joy to the world at large. Happy days. Richard the IV was the bio-terrorist with a grudge ( don't blame me if you're now on an NSA web search watch list Richard... ) but failed in his task to bring a slightly insane Bruce Willis into time travelling reality.

Lords of Waterdeep had a blast at the far end, Lewis complained he was getting his butt kicked by a bunch of newbies mid game, but by the end had successfully shown them what a bunch of newbs they were and had won.

Upstairs a table of six took on some shorter games. Firstly there was Space Cadets Dice Duel - new for everyone at the table except myself. A stressful hour of dice rolling passed with two games, some role switching and a single victory for both teams. Mr Bond was very chuffed with the experience and declared the game to be the best thing ever. I think he was still adrenalin pumped at that point from all the split second dice rolling decision making. If you want to know what the game is about, a small vid of our first outing of this was posted a whileback.

Sentinel Tactics : Uprising
Afterwards we had some crazy camel racing in Camel Up - my first go at this. Cool stuff, and a little more involved than it first appears. The game is a fun, quick and light betting / racing game that manages to keep any Randomness to a reasonable minimum, and the capability for planning and working out odds to a maximum.  Even half a lap behind, it's still possible for some ridiculous camel to gallop into the lead, albeit very unlikely. A game of calculating risks, managing them, and trying to make more money than everyone else whilst doing it.

Lastly we gave Sentinel Tactics : Uprising a bit of a test play. Sentinel Tactics Uprising is a tactical super hero combat game, where each player controls a super hero ( or villain ) type, runs around a hexagonal based urban landscape, and attempts to Zap, Pow and Ker-Splat others into non existence. The game can be played in a few different ways - co-operatively against a story based challenge or competitively in a death match style. If you've ever played or heard of Heroclix, then, you'll get the idea.

We played in two teams of three in a death match style, grappled with the rules of orders, movement, range and shooting, and sallied forth to beat each other to a pulp.

Sentinel isn't based on any mainstream comicbook IP, so it won't have any names you are familiar with, but they follow tried and tested formulas of heroes and villains. Mr Bond got to play the "Invincible Bunker" which looked to be a slightly fat Ironman. I on the other hand got to play some random computer name, and it turned out I was an automated factory gone bad.

Just how an automated factory turns bad and then goes onto terrorise a neighbourhood is a very good question that is not really addressed. By necessity we made up our own narrative for my "character".

Covering a sizable chunk of the board, and for 10,000 square feet of prime Industrial Zone, surprisingly fleet footed, I managed to rocket jump half the map and attempt to grapple with Nicky's "The Wraith". Who promptly slipped away... Wraith like. Then again, it doesn't seem like that arduous of a task to actually dodge a 10,000 square feet industrial building that has menacing feelings towards you. Indeed you might not even realise a factory is harbouring menacing feelings towards you, such is their lack of general mobility. Or sentience. Dodging an evil factory should be a case of just slowly walking around it as opposed hitting your head on its door jam. Less Wraith like to dodge it then, and more just observing the Watch Your Head signage pasted on the front door.

Rich playing a rather suspect Ra "The Sun God" ( I am too a Sun God, look at this lovely tan... don't rile me, I'll give you such a sun burn ! ) turned out to be no such thing, and just plain old Bob from the Melanoma Sun Tan Clinic in a stupid outfit. "Ra" or Bob as we now know him jumped onto a building in turn one only to be turned to goop by the Wraith and the impressive weaponry of the Bunker.

After burning Ra, everyone turned their attention on my prime real estate, and begin firing flak cannons at my offices. This was unfortunate as at that point, having failed to engage The Wraith I had instead turned my energies into producing iPhone accessories for the mass market. Nicky trying to shut down production for good started throwing knives at me. Hmm. Not exactly something large industrial units tend to worry about - throwing knives. Nevertheless she did some damage - we concluded that she must have killed the caretaker or security guard - but this time failed to slip away and instead got buried under pile of automated production line and masonry. Bits of her will be showing up in iPhone accessories for the next six months.

After Rich dusted himself off and tried giving The Bond a blistering sun burn ( failed, of course ) we halted the game with 1 knock out each. A cool game if you like that kind of thing, it seemed a bit ill balanced for player versus player shenanigans unless you really know what you are doing and balance the teams accordingly. I'm not sure there is enough in it to make it tactically challenging, it comes down to getting there first, having most of your dice hit, and pummelling someone into the dirt before they can return the favour.

This game to me is pretty much the same as Heroclix - it's a slightly larger map scale, and a bit simpler than Heroclix, but eh, I think if you wanted to play something like this, I can't see why you wouldn't play Heroclix. Heroclix has the well known IP, a deeper more involved range of choices, and does the same job. Maybe I am missing something.

The evening finished for some with Splendor and Avalon Resistance, where Luke got to make one of his now customary faux pas by announcing that we - the bad guys - only need one more vote to fail. Thus condemning him to be identified as a filthy spy. Another one of those, oh, did I say that out loud moments.

Love Letter might also have briefly appeared.

Next week I shall be bringing the new and spanky Dead of Winter - a semi co-operative ( yay ?! ) game about surviving the zombie apocalypse. Or possibly just bringing the whole camp down and being an evil zombie loving betrayer. Boo. Featuring one player character of a Mall Santa, who is so appallingly bonkers / annoying / drunk, that the camp actually has morale improve when he "goes missing". Dark.

Other weeks :
 Rex has got a play 3 out of the last 4 weeks which I find surprising but very cool - it almost got played this week, but we opted for shorter things instead. Rex still intrigues me - simple, yet tricky. Limited, yet lots of choices. I think the whole game works on two things - the very asymmetrical player powers ( that are amazingly balanced ), and the possible alliance permutations ( and seating order and turn order and what that means for the game at large ).

Bora Bora made a return visit - only the second time this highly thought of game has been down the Ribs. A mystery why it hasn't turned up more often. Still haven't played it.

Rich got to teach Caverna. And kicked ass. Predictable. Possibly one ( the only ? ) flaw in Caverna - its predictability.

Sam got to play Mission Red Planet, full of confidence on having won before. And crashed to a defeat his confidence balloon popped. He had got engaged in a bit of a power tussle. And distracted. It happens. Mission Red Planet is a nice little game. And is rumoured to be getting an FFG reprint.

The other Sam kicked ass at Kemet. A victory at his own game. Avoiding the embarrassment of being beaten by newbies - although Luke was also playing who has quite the experience with the game now.

Lastly, have some pictures from the last few weeks.


Bora Bora

Camel Up



Numbers for the last 3 weeks - 20, 25, 23. Less busy than usual !

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

None of that Cheerful Nonsense.

John is busy catching up with 8 months of Emmerdale so hasn't had time to write his usual report. So it falls to me to put something up here that is vaguely accurate or insightful (I originally wrote inciteful, which it might be anyway. If it is a word).

I have very little idea what was going on last week. John seems to know what is happening on every table. And takes photos of it all. I can barely concentrate on the game in front of me. So I suppose I should talk about that. Brass. Hal brought it along and it was a welcome relief to be playing a proper serious game, rather than a vapid clone of Zombie Dice or a party-style werewolf variant, that seem to be the flavour of the month/year at the club.  Brass is a proper game with thinking and chin stroking. A proper game about the grim North during the Industrial Revolution. Build a canal between Bolton and  Blackburn. Or maybe a cotton mill in Burnley. Take a loan and develop a coal mine.  Get black lung. A good old fashioned dour game by Martin Wallace – who used to make superb dour games, but has since made frivolous Discworld games. Pah. Anyway, we all liked Brass and declared it to better than Age of Industry (which has since replaced Brass and is a touch more forgiving and jaunty). Owain won as he owns the most flat caps and lives in a derelict mine. He's also played it the most; almost 100 times! Hal came second as he once owned a whippet and had played 20 or so times. I came third as I have, on occasion, drank a pint pulled through a sparkler and had played 4 or 5 times before. And Alex came last as he had never played Brass before and cries at the sight of a hill.

Other tables played other stuff. There were about 25 in attendance.

Apologies. Hopefully John will have finished Emmerdale by tonight and can write the next one of these things.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

He who can destroy a thing, controls a thing

This week was a mix of old and new, Small World, Archipelago and Rex were played downstairs and Seasons, Eminent Domain and Camel Up were played upstairs.

Writer Ed ( The Baron ) made a surprise return visit to the Ribs this week, and was pleased to report his first NoBoG win with a victory at Seasons and an embarrassingly high score. Sam could hardly believe such a thing happening by chance and figured that Ed has in fact spent the last several months away from NoBoG training relentlessly so that he could engineer just such a win. Sounds legit.

 Mr Bond challenged a group of seven to go through the paces of Camel Up and declared it to be no world beater of a game, but great fun and an enjoyable short blast of racing humps. I've still yet to give this a go - I've heard good things about it, it looks like a lot of stupid fun and something of a nice group filler game ( that isn't for once based on Werewolf ! ). In the unlikely event you don't know what Camel Up is, it's a racing game featuring camels. Players get to make bets on which camel will be the winner of each stage - and make money on their winning bets - as well as betting on the final result. Camels move at random via dice, and can also be interfered with by players placing obstacles or helpers in the way. The real wrinkle in the game however is that the Camels stack - and any camel that moves takes all the camels on its back with it. Thus some camels can get a real advantage over others.

The game also comes with a lovely gimmicky pyramid dice roller, give it a shake, place it upside down on the board, and open the slot to reveal a die. I would have a picture of it, but with all the excitement the photo was blurry. So no camel picture.

Dave took on Archipelago downstairs with a group of players new to the islands. Not entirely unknown, the colony collapsed in short order, the new players proving to have failed to grasp the finer points of keeping things moving along in the face of a difficult series of crises. Such is the way with Archipelago, it can take a game or two before you realise the dangers and that yes, there really is a co-operative element to the game.

"He who can destroy a thing, controls a thing" - Paul Atreides, Dune

Rex was also played downstairs with a full ( and recommended ) complement of six. Clive and Med Ed returned to the pub to join in with this after a hiatus of weeks. Rex is the FFG remake of the seriously old and battle scarred Dune ( 1979 ) which many who have played it describe as playing out unlike any other game. Gameplay revolves around competing factions vying for control of Mecatol City by deploying troops, occupying areas and collecting influence resources. Arguably the original Dune has the better IP - based on the battle for Arrakis with the Atreides, Fremen and Harkonnens to name a few all trying to harvest spice, keep ahead of the desert storms and avoid worm attacks, but the mechanics are pretty much identical, David Lynch weirdness or not.

The dynamism in the game comes from the fact that each of the factions is unique to themselves - each player has a bunch of asymmetrical powers that mesh with the game in different ways. For instance, the Jol-Nar ( Atreides ) have access to a whole bunch of secret information - they can force players to reveal attack strengths early, look at cards before flipping and so on. This can be crucial given that bidding on cards is blind - except for the Jol-Nar, so possibly it pays to have them on your side. On the other hand some of the other factions get to act like the bank for all purchases, meaning the Hacan ( Guild ) in particular can be swimming with influence ( spice / money ). So it could be good to be on their team too. And therein starts to lie some of the depth. This combined with traitor mechanics, allied wins and special victory conditions gives rise to a finely balanced game of different powers.
Rex - no one knows what they're doing

Rex pretty much took up all the evening and for the most part was a game of stalemate - no one could make alliances, and a single player victory seemed all but impossible. In the last two turns all hell was unleashed as a bunch of alliances were made and broken and conflict began in earnest. The game finished with no one controlling enough strongholds, which meant the Hacan ( Guild ) fulfilled their victory goal, bringing their allies the Jol-Nar ( Atreides ) along for the win. But this was not to be as the Xxacha ( Bene Gesserit ) had predicted a win for the Hacan in the final turn and thus secured *their* victory condition of predicting a winner. Convoluted. And if you've never played Dune or Rex it probably sounds bonkers.

I can't put my finger on it, but in theory the game took a fair chunk of time to do not a lot and yet... I thought it was great. There's a lot going on under the covers, the very asymmetrical factions give rise to some wacky pressures that are not immediately obvious. I'm pretty sure we all played like a bunch of newbs and missed a whole lot of possibilities - not least of which being trading shenanigans and favours between the factions.  I'm keen on exploring this more and giving it more play time.

The evening finished for many with the usual suspects of One Night Werewolf and Avalon Resistance.

A belated 31 for the numbers. An epic nine people turned up late-ish or just outright late.

Next week I hope to be bringing Ugg-Tect amongst others - the game of inflatable cave man clubs and hitting people over the head.