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.


James Mapp said...

lucky to get 8 people!? HA! i laugh at your overoptimism.

Back int' my daaay; twer lucky to get six b'stards arive 'fore half seven..

i think the regulars back then were Matt, Jimmy, Duncan, Dylan and Crocker; then i ruined it by joining in.. at the complete angler back then of course so not only braving the weather to attend but also the local 'people' that frequent the place...

Anonymous said...

The lowest player count while I've been involved was 3. We played Alhambra. It was cool. I remember those uncrowded days with fondness!

Im Zeichen des Kreuzes looks interesting...