Wednesday, 26 November 2014

It's Christmas !

It's Christmas !!!

Christmas has arrived !

*checks watch*
 *checks it's still November*

 watch - an archaic device that was used in pre-internet-azoic ages that strapped to primitives wrists and allowed a person to tell the time, possibly the date, and boast that they could tell the aforementioned time and date in depths of water up to 30m - something that no one, ever, in the history of 30m water depth watches ever used. Latter age watches worn by particularly flamboyant and misinformed primitives also had calculator functions provided via buttons too small to use - which like the 30m water depth were never actually used other than to spell Boobies - at the time rated as cutting edge humour before the enlightened internet wisdom of youtube taught us that dancing cats are actually the cutting edge of humour.

This week the Ribs was resplendent in its Christmas attire with tinselly tinsel and apparently the entire European stock of twinkly lights stapled to every surface that wasn't a table.

All the Christmas regalia had a surprisingly subduing effect on the patrons of NoBoG where a room full of people managed to be almost entirely silent - except for James which goes without saying. James loves a good chat - probably something to do with the fact that he spends all his time working on fish ear bones which are notably 1) incapable of chat and 2) not great conversation starters unless you happen to meet someone else who works on fish ear bones. I think James might be the only person in the world that works on fish ear bones - I can make this claim safe in the knowledge that I have only ever met one person that works on fish ear bones - which therefore makes the chances of meeting someone else into fish ear bones remarkably unlikely. Thus he is starved for chat.

And with the theme of Christmas and shiny new presents to open, this week a whole slew of new games were on offer to partake of.

Imperial Settlers
First up Darren brought along the new Imperial Settlers, a 4 player civilisation card game that sees asymmetric sides competing to build their society up into the most VP earning society. Along the way you might get to steal or even burn your opponents stuff as well as the usual Euro type things of producing things, paying for things and deciding what action you want to take. This plays fairly quickly and is open to more player screwovers than is typical in VP engine building type games. It seemed to go down well, Elliot gave it an initial 7/10, mainly docked points because Ewan - as the Barbarians - was stealing his stuff. Mr Bond also gave it a thumbs up, but with some provisos about it being dependent on what cards you pull and how powerful they are for scoring opportunities.

Hansa Teutonica... Brittanica ?
Upstairs Pete had a play through of Hansa Teutonica with the new Brittania map. Hansa Brittanica ? As well as being a new map to play Hansa Teutonica on, the Britain map also introduces a new mechanic or two, and tweaks some of the balance of the different scoring capabilities via some clever map design. Hansa Brittanica brings in a rule about area domination - certain areas can be vied for dominance control with the winner gaining some victory points - which is a really nice idea that could have easily been implemented into the other Hansa maps. It also brings to the table the concept of only allowing placement in certain areas of the map if you have control of the right city spot.

Needless to say Pete really enjoyed the new map and its new balancing - but he's a pretty big fan of Hansa full stop. He went on to capture a win - also not unusual, this despite Rich IV attempting to pick on Pete all game to prevent him winning. It can be hard to pick on people in Hansa - doing so often just makes them stronger in other ways, and Pete adapts very well in Hansa.

Colt Express - Get outta my way ya no good varmint !
Sam finally managed to get his copy of Escape from Atlantis to table, which went down well, and then got the new and shiny Colt Express out for a play which has possibly one of the greatest themes for a game ever - deperados shooting, punching, roof jumping and stealing their way through an old West Cowboy Train Express. Yes, it's a train game, but I think you can forgive it of any Euro cube shuffling sins, in favour of the rootin' tootin' treasure stealin' gameplay.

Players get to romp through the train, shooting others - and filling the action card hand with bullets that serve no purpose other than to fill up their hand with chaff - punching others, making them drop a loot, stealing loot and avoiding the sheriff.

Not only does the game have a great theme, but it also looks great, with a nice 3d train to leap around on and punch your fellow robbers away from their loot. I really want to give this a bash myself to see how it plays - not sure what the feeling about the game was.

Three new games in one evening ? Phew ! But there was one more to try, as Nate brought along Stefan Felds latest design - Aquasphere, a hardcore Euro with one of the largest point Salads seen thus far in Euro design. This was a real pleasure for me as I have been itching to give Aquasphere a go for some time since I read about it in the Spring.

Aquasphere is a game for up to four, where each of you play the role of a scientist doing... sciencey things in an underwater research facility. Choose your actions, deploy your scientist and robots and accrue resources, tech, VPs and a long the way vie for area control. So far so Euro. There are some twists however.

Aquasphere. A cacophony of iconography and meeples !
First is the action selection - you'll get to pick three from a total of eight - but which ones you can pick is not set and varies based on a card that shows the layout for a round. This is tricky to explain unless you can see the action selector, but basically at any one stage you have a choice of one of two actions, until the third choice, when you have a choice of one of four. Just which actions are mutually exclusive varies - and the timing of when you can get access to each action also changes. This means game to game, and round to round, the actions you can select and the interactions you can perform on the board are ever shifting.

Put simply, you never have full access to all the actions available. Their timing and exclusivity varies. This obviously has major consequences for what you are doing.

Aquasphere - my board and the action selector / score track
As well as that action selection malarkey, your actions are actually selected at least one round before you get to play them. Effectively you are playing ahead one round - and, here's the important thing, everyone else can see what you are shortly about to do and thus plan around it, or against it, or otherwise. This adds another layer into the whole action planning stage.

Finally the board is split into six segments with a first come first served capturing of resources, and a last come mechanic for scoring the control of a segment - everything you do interfering with everyone else and their plans. A scrum of scientists and robots milling around the underwater station.

As for points. This is where the crazy point salad comes into effect. Points can be scored for
  • Placing submarines
  • Placing robots
  • Obtaining research
  • Killing Octopods
  • Performing actions that synergise with your research
  • Segment control
  • Resource overflow
  • Completion of a lab
  • Completely deploying all subs
  • Segment listed lab sections 
 But there's a number of subtleties beyond that with scoring limitations and time gathering - which is used to move about or gain access to extra actions. It has mechanics from Hansa / Terra Mystics with its removal of meeples dictating what you score / what you are doing, and a scoring somewhat similar to Lords of Vegas or perhaps Suburbia where to keep on scoring you have to pass certain requirements - in this case paying a crystal to breach the next scoring range.

Although a pretty easy game to understand the basics, the sheer amount of variability and permutations on offer mean this is a monster of plans upon plans and options. I could well imagine that with the wrong people this game could be the mother of all analysis paralysis games as someone sits there and works there way through hundreds of variations. Even without that, the a game turn can often be lost in a bit of thoughtful silence as each player tries to grok the layout and come up with a semblance of a good plan.

This game just about has it all - with the notable exception of bidding ( which if you were a glutton for punishment you could introduce as a variant for bidding for turn order ), and if you are into 'proper' crunchy Euros that have high variability and good player interaction, then this game could be for you.

Personally I thought the game was great, and is one of the best Euros I have played. Its variability in action timing and choice means that no two games are going to play the same, and it will always present an interesting challenge to even the most well versed player. The theme works really nicely, it's an attractive game to look at, its simple to grasp and hard to master. Excellent !

Nate won with a strong score, with poor Stu doing really well but failing to have enough crystals to keep on scoring and thus hitting a glass ceiling, without which he would have won. Moral victory to Stu then. I came last by a whole score range - I was brutalised a few times early game - the game can be brutal - and my sub strategy didn't do well for me at the end.

Elsewhere Max and Emma returned with Dead of Winter, Max turned out to be a bad guy, convinced the good guys to give him a rifle - which he promptly shot someone with before breaking the gun and throwing it in the trash. The colony now hopelessly tanked voted him out in a fit of revenge, causing his betrayer goals to change - turning him into a repentant bad guy which ended with everyone losing. Huzzah. I think Sparky the Stunt Dog played a prominent role once again. At one point I am sure I heard Emma stating that Sparky was one "suave bastard". The James Bond of stunt dogs.

Tokaido, Incan Gold, Sechs Nimmt were also played, and quite possibly some other fillers which I missed.

A great evening, looking forward to seeing some of those new games turn up in the coming weeks.

28 if you are counting. Which my mom - like a lot of others - has started saying is a quiet week. Yes. My mom comments on the numbers at NoBoG. Don't ask me why. 28 is not a quiet week. You quiet nay sayers - and my mom - should stop spreading such quiet nay saying innuendo.


Peter Chinkin said...

We also snuck in a quick, time-limited game of M101 which Hal won with 24 points vs 20 and 18. We managed to play and do an abridged rules session in an hour. The time limit made for more of a brief introduction than the full experience but it seemed to work ok.

Minitrue said...

Omg yes, M101 was played too. Doh. I forgot it. Pfah. The blog was too long anyway :p