Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Two Eds are Better than One

Two Eds are Better than One, so sayeth the idiom, however just what three Eds gets you is beyond conventional wisdom - this week we had three Eds, Med Ed, Writer Ed - finally back from the wilds of Milton Keynes - and lastly for want of a better title, Lord Ed - who loves to play Lords of Waterdeep... and win.

Pax Porfiriana - the card game of Mexican coups, revolutions and dodgy businessmen - made it back down to the Ribs, last time I saw this was in Mr Bond's excited grip, and I can remember it being quite a good play.
Pax Porfiriana with Two Eds, Hal, Rich and Pete
This lasted all evening for the entire table, Pete muttered something about hidden information - I think he was subtly complaining about it - but I believe ended up winning. Or won one game. Or something.

Lord Ed decreed that Lords of Waterdeep was played on the middle table, and proceeded to play a very close game, with Ed pipping James by two points in a close finish, whilst on the table over, another evergreen favourite at the Ribs - Betrayal at House on the Hill was setup with Luke eager to once more prowl the haunted corridors.

Upstairs Dead of Winter got another cold blast of play - this time around we had to barricade the bejesus out of the colony with 10 barricades, and have a barricade at every other location too. Mid way through the game things were looking good, decent food supply, zombie numbers in decline and no apparent betrayers. Then a single dodgy betrayal like card turned up in a fuel crisis, accusations went flying, and things started to go downhill. With a single round left to play, Sam called all the zombies to the colony, set fire to the lovingly contributed crises, trashed a whole bunch of cards to make everyone miserable, and oversaw a massive thirteen people get eaten by the rush of zombies.

Game over, betrayer Sam had won. Betrayer Bondy had kept his head down all game, and by the smallest of margins missed a joint win. Everyone else was eaten.

Although Sam technically won, the final outro of the game revealed him to be eyeing his naked self up in the mirror, stroking his well fed belly, and getting excited about all the suffering people and his mountain of saved food. Freak. I'm not sure anyone wins when you are getting off on watching yourself stroke your belly in a mirror.

There were other really nice narrative moments in the game, Mr Bond screaming the police station down, Martin poisoning people with his cooking and causing an outbreak of pus filled buboes, the wonder mom single handedly trawling a crate of food back to colony then breaking it down to make a barricade before romping through hordes of zombies.

It's a really nice game, but I think the betrayers tend to have the upper hand, timing is everything and it can be easy to tank the colony when things get a bit tough.

James brought Five Tribes to the table again, Dave won this by a tiny margin, and Small World Underground got a play for the second week running, followed by some Love Lettering.

Atta Ants induces much thinking
Whole bunch of people played Cash and Guns 2nd Ed at the end of the evening, making this the third or fourth consecutive week its seen table time.

Last week was Small World Underground, a long game of Blood Bowl Team Manager - Ewan and his Orcs tanked badly - Notre Dame, Five Tribes, Lords of Waterdeep, Ticket to Ride, Atta Ants, Cash and Guns and Frank's Zoo. We also kicked off the evening with an absolutely frantic couple of games of Space Cadets Dice Duel, which was immense fun, but after the second game everyone literally stopped for a rest for ten minutes. Crazy frenetic stuff.

29 people this week. 26 last.
Chris is ecstatic about getting his Tickets in TtR
Guns, Beer, Loot. What could possibly go wrong ?
Five Tribes - a game confusingly for only Four players

Notre Dame
Small World Underground

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The Greed of Med "Shoot 'em til they stop twitching and then shoot em some more" Ed

This week we counted 22 NoBoG souls ready for gaming. Which turned out to be a wildly inaccurate count as eventually 31 people were playing at tables. I'm not naming any names *cough* Ewan *cough*, but I feel as if the counting was slightly wonky. This may not have been helped by a slow trickle of stragglers entering the pub. Excuses.

But no matter ! With a bit of patience everyone - even the latecomers - can be accommodated. If you turn up late, you might have to wait a bit for someone to lose horribly with an incompetent playstyle win with a clever strategy and start something else.

First up this week Pete got to give his prototype now in its second printing a go with a full table of six. Pete nobly took a small handicap given all five other players were completely new to the game - and as far as I know had not even played Race for the Galaxy which helps a lot when it comes to Pete's game - and proceeded to bamboozle everyone with rules.

Pete's prototype Galaxy M101
or as I call it, Chink In the Galaxy
Heads were swimming by the end of the rules explanation. It seems few had managed to grasp the finer points and all just wanted to get on and play to get a grip of it by playing a few rounds. The game is pretty straightforward, play systems for a cost ( cards also serve as currency ), deliver goods, put developments into play and creep influence into other systems in much of a cross between Race for the Galaxy and Steam, but if you haven't played either, then it could all be a bit alien at first.

Tom II won this with a triumphant 78 points and a hardcore deliver strategy ( pick cubes up, deliver them where they are needed ) with joint second limping in at 58 points. No one opted for military. A pity. Most enjoyed it thoroughly and thought it was an excellent game, whilst a couple were more on the fence with their experience. Six player is a pretty tough shark infested count for the game, and with all new players at the table it's likely that not everyone is going to have a happy clappy easy existence. Four players with new people would probably have been a good sweet spot.

Stu was back with us this week and gave Kingdom Builder - a Stu firm favourite - another bash. He followed this up with Camel C/Up ( annoying goddamn name that refuses to be one or the other ) which seemed to go down better than Kingdom Builder. Camel Cup is certainly a barrelful of fun and tends to leave the more serious, analytical and buttoned down Euros standing alone in a corner wondering where everyone has gone.

Lewis busted out Lords of Waterdeep at the final table downstairs, with Tom the First mixing it up and showing all the young 'uns ( technically everyone is a young 'un to Tom.... ) how to play with a solid victory. Quest finishes were at an all time high, the deck being one card away from exhaustion. No fillers for them this week as Lords played the whole evening.

Upstairs, Alhambra got a play, and if I have my facts right, Chris won this, with Kittens in a Blender being played afterwards. Kittens in a Blender according to Lauren was tense. Incredibly tense if you were one of the kittens I imagine. No idea who won this, but really, what does it matter who wins when you have a chance to stuff kittens in a blender ?

Elsewhere Darren brought Legendary Encounters - another card game in the Legendary family that this time sees you working your way through the Aliens franchise. We've already seen the Legendary Marvel game at NoBoG a couple of times, but the Encounters game is new this year and new to NoBoG. The rules are the same, but the theme is switched, no super heroes here, you get to play characters such as Ripley or Hicks ( not sure whether Hudson is in it... Game Over Man, Game Over ! ) and have to survive and engage with the acidic horrors from Geigers imagination. I didn't pay any attention to this as it was played but I suspect the theme is probably a good fit for the game, even though as a whole the Aliens Franchise has generally produced some awful games based on its IP - bewildering given that many knock off Alien copies are great games.

Dead of Winter got another bash. Everyone lost. Again. Two betrayers. But they didn't stink up the crises, they played nice. We played with an objective of too many mouths to feed, and started the game with 8 useless helpless survivors. The game seemed to be on punishing mode however, as helpless survivors sky rocketed - we ended up with an utterly bonkers 15 helpless survivors eating 8 food a turn - zero weapons were found, and much to the annoyance of all players, there were absolutely no options to eat any of the helpless survivors. Or leave them out in the cold. Or accidentally move base and forget to give them a forwarding address.

Despite the colony devouring 12 food a turn by game end, a heroic effort to salvage food saw us easily swing the food in the third round, only to be woefully betrayed by rampant resource burning which saw a flurry of zombie attacks eat people and plunge morale to a game ending -5.

Tough was an understatement.

Moving on we had a shot at Cash and Guns second edition and joined up with the Legendary table. Second edition Cash and guns makes a few changes to the original, notably it removes the Bang Bang Bang card ( which gives precedence over Bang cards ), changed loot division - it's now round robin instead of evenly split, and finally introduced the Boss who gets to pick loot first and also gets to change a single shooters target in the shooting round.

Adjustments have also been made to the player powers - simplifying them and making them all visible at game start - and the loot now has some set collection mechanics, with art and diamonds giving bonuses for who has what at the end.
Cash & Guns 2nd Edition. Ed toys with his gun...

Med Ed won the first round of this in his nice, easy mannered, I am not a threat, under the radar kinda way, and then proceeded to state that back to back wins in such a game were almost impossible. Little did we know he was just seeding the group think at the table for his shenanigans.

Darren got shot to bits in the second game with an astounding four out of four guns being loaded with bullets and pointing at him - and being brave or foolhardy he attempted to brash it out - but despite being dead and out of the game, this didn't stop Ed from later attempting to shoot Darren again. Because you know. Keep shooting them until they stop twitching. Or perhaps playing zombie filled Dead of Winter had trained Ed to double tap his victims. Just in case.

Admitting his incompetence - which may have just been another smokescreen ruse to lower his apparent threat - and having directed Ed not to shoot dead people in future turns, or anyone else at the bar / Norwich in general who weren't in the game, Ed cheerfully kept on sucking up double loot with his greedy character power and by game end had an impressive lead and had indeed won back to back at Cash and Guns.

The morale of the story is, don't be suckered in by Med Ed's nice ways. And also, never pretend to be dead. He'll still shoot you.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Tastes like.... Pork !

Tom informs me that this week marks the 7th anniversary of NoBoG at the Ribs - seven years since the regular gaming evening was moved to its new pub home. Of those that were first among the attendees few are left as regulars - Mr Bond and James ( who of late has been turning up almost every week bucking his usual turn up once a year trend ) are the oldest of the old timers left, with everyone else following in poorly remembered chronology with sentences that inevitably start with "well X was here when I started coming, but I was before Y".

But enough of the past, this week we had a delightful 27 turn up who after a chaotic start all got to sit down and play something.

Mr Bond brought Wallenstein, a light Euro wargame covering the 30 years war of the 17th century that as part of its schtick employs the fabled cube tower. Originally released in 2002 ( and now something of a classic ) the game was one of the first - and one of the few - that uses a clever cube tower to resolve conflict. Dropping your army cubes into the tower - some come out the bottom, and some get stuck.
Wallenstein - The cube tower lurks in the background

The person with the most out of the bottom of the tower wins the battle. But of course - if you were unlucky and got plenty stuck, the chances are they will pop out again in a later battle - hopefully when they do you some good.

A group that is best described as the "old farts*" got to play this, James, Punk Rich, Pete, Tom and Matt ( Mr Bond ), huddling in the corner and generally jeering at anyone that got close. Pete being Pete immediately launched a Non Aggression pact with the ever amenable Rich, and the two romped on to a strong lead. In the end Rich pipped his Non Aggressive partner to the post and conquered all, or at least was slightly less of a mess at the end than everyone else. James and Tom put on a very strong show for competing for woeful last place and didn't seem to do well at all.

On the table over Freedom : The Underground Railroad got a play - a game I have never seen in person, but have heard a few controversial rumblings about - and despite James sneering at "not another bloody train game", the game in fact has no trains at all and instead is a Euro that deals with slavery in the US and the efforts of the abolitionists to smuggle slaves out of the Southern States of America and into Canada. During the nineteenth century whilst America either tolerated or even encouraged slavery, Britain had outlawed the practice, thus leading to Canada - a British colony - being something of a haven for runaway slaves. Helped by sympathetic abolitionists an underground resistance sprung up forming a network of secret routes and safe houses designed to free slaves.

Slavery in the US, the arguments of which were
one of the main contributing factors to the Civil War
Some find the the slavery theme a tricky even controversial subject to base a board game on, however the game itself is co-operative ( thus no one gets to play the possibly ultra controversial slave catchers ), with all players trying to free slaves and change the political outlook to stop slavery for good. The struggle of the game is to manage the movement of an ever appearing stream of slaves ( or else they are lost and count towards a defeat ), spending cash to support the abolitionist cause, and of course evading the slave catchers.

Ewan reports that the game is one of the most discussion based and thoughtful co-operative games he has played and gave it a thumbs up. Not sure whether they succeeded in their efforts to make enough of a difference to end slavery.

On the last table downstairs Dave took a hit for the team and taught a bunch of newbies the finer art of Archipelago + Expansion - an Archipelago rules explanation is not for the faint of heart. Well done Dave. The game proceeded better than in previous weeks and seemed to be going well at first, but with some decidedly aggressive and unfriendly cards about ( I saw slavery in play ) the underhand Nate managed to throw the islands into turmoil and caused enough unrest to secure the Separatist win. They followed their dismal Archipelago management with some Camel Up which rather unbelievably saw four out of five camels all cross the finishing line at the same time. Ewan has a nice pic of the impossibility on twitter.

Upstairs Betrayal at house on the hill got a couple of plays with an initial quick victory for the bad guys ( sometimes it happens ), Takenoko with its panda and gardener was munched to victory by Lewis, who then proceeded to play the felinetastic Kittens in a Blender, Coup and then Werewolf.

Lastly I got to play Dead of Winter - and this time it was a much harder undertaking. The game once again highlighted the brutal callousness of the players with poor "Fat Earl" who threatened to eat all our supplies instead finding himself knocked over the head, chopped up, and served as dinner for the next couple of days. He tasted like greasy pork. Almost like pork according to the description. Long pig for dinner. Grim. Turn 2 and we had already descended into cannibalism. Lee spent the entire rest of the game denying it was human flesh and instead referring to the choice cuts of Earl as a "nice bit of beef". At this point it was unclear who were the flesh eating fiends as everyone was a flesh eating fiend. But some of us had stats. And some were just "zombies".

More dark and dubious actions followed - ignoring the children in the gas station and letting them fend for themselves rather than help ( there was some talk of eating them too - "veal" ), and the school principal who being accosted by more children who had turned feral in the school, started hitting and shooting them instead of saving them. "Kick them in the face !" was the gleeful cry of Richard IV. For shame school principal. Oh how quickly civilisation falls when the undead rise.

As time went on and the zombie numbers grew, a few crucial crises were fluffed and accusations of who was to blame for the mess circulated the table but only finally built to a crescendo near the end of the game. Players started acting weirdly and instead of killing zombies - our objective - people were searching and declaring that they would never give up their fuel no matter what. Dark mutterings issued, and the spectre of Exiling raised its ugly head. Richard IV - unbeknownst to us the actual filthy betrayer - was very keen to exile any of the ( non betraying ) players, which in hindsight should have been a minor tip off, but the vote was somehow forgotten in a scrabble for food, which Richard helpfully tanked again, causing a rush of zombies to invade the colony and eat everyone alive.

The game ended and no one had won.

Unless you count the zombies.

Not even the filthy betrayer Richard had won. He hadn't quite got enough guns when the colony was overrun. Serves him right.

I personally had failed utterly - I had to have more followers that everyone else, and managed to finish with only a single person. A cook. Who had spent half the game doing nothing but cooking and cleaning and receiving the unfair accusations of being a betrayer ( admittedly at one point I managed to cook some very dubious stew and poison someone with it, but hey, what can you do, its a zombie apocalypse ). The mad Mall Santa I also had, dying of frostbite in the hospital, was saved by a fellow survivor, only for that survivor to get bitten by a zombie as he rummaged in the ruins, turn bad, and bite poor Santa's head off. Bah.

Having now played properly with betrayers, and in a five player game, even a single betrayer is a major pain in the backside. Crises get failed, and it can be difficult to figure out just who is being an unhelpful ass. Exiling the wrong person is really a very bad thing and can make a new enemy out of a friend ( your objectives can change when you get exiled ). With less players the betrayer has to be a bit more careful - but with five all spraying cards around, a bad card here or there is hard to catch.

Explaining this game to a friend recently he offered that it was like Battlestar Galactica. I thought about it and considered it to not quite be the same deal, but, on reflection, I think Dead of Winter is indeed pretty much Battlestar Galactica with a few tweaks and some of the expansion extra rules thrown in. Players get to use unique characters with unique powers - get to contribute helpful or harmful cards to crises in secret, move around a limited number of locations to find things to combat crises or work towards the final goal, players can be betrayers or not ( cylon or not ), resources need to be kept up - morale, food - to prevent the colony being destroyed, zombies ( cylon raiders ) need to be kept under control and always hover around the colony, people can get exiled ( cylon revealed ) and lastly, everyone has their own objectives to fulfill regardless of whether you are good or bad ( this is an optional set of cards in one of the BSG expansions that gives everyone certain conditions to fulfill ).

The balance of a few things is different, but I think its pretty much a rework of BSG. But shorter. And less clunky.

Lastly, if you haven't seen it on the NoBoG twitter feed ( you are following the NoBoG twitter feed right.... ) fellow NoBoGian Dean has written an article pondering the greater landscape that is contemporary board gaming. You can read the first part right here.

PS. Punk Rich - Wallenstein was not the first game to use the cube tower. As I suspected there was an earlier game Im Zeichen des Kreuzes.

* Not necessarily terribly old - except for Tom - but certainly old enough to remember when NoBoG was all fields, was lucky to have 8 people, and popular music had a decent brass band section / hippy-esque weirdness.