Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Method Game Playing - Getting Into the Role

Before we start a quick mention about next week as people have been querying. Next weeks NoBoG falls on the 23rd of December - this is going ahead unless I hear different from The Ribs or otherwise, but a number of people have noted they are tied up with Xmas shenanigans, so there will probably be fewer people turning up. If you are free and fancy a game then turn up for the last NoBoG of 2014. And as Lewis said, it might be something of a Throwback Tuesday in terms of numbers. I'll certainly be there. Possibly on my own. Playing single player Caverna. Or possibly two player Munchkin with Richard IV. We have agreed to play Munchkin to annoy Lewis who will not be able to attend next week, and has been trying to play this game all year. When he then states we never play it, we can refute the statement and tell him he's never there when we do play it. Slacker.

On with the regular news....

No NoBlog last week ? What do you mean No NoBlog ? It was there. You must have missed it. I can't help that you have a crappy internet connection. Pfft. But just for you I will run through what happened last week... again.... *cough*...

The European Xmas Decoration Surplus - aka The Wherry Room
Sheriff of Nottingham in the fore, Xidit at the rear
For those of you who have been absent lately, or perhaps those that are just permanent lurkers from afar, I can tell that you've been hankering to see the Ribs in its resplendent Xmas attire. Wonder no more as last week I snapped a picture of the Wherry Room in full sparkle ...

Last week Dean turned up for one of his once per two month visits to bring us yet another game about Lords. This one was Lord of Xidit, which Guillame informed me was a remake of Himalaya. Having never heard of either Xidit or Himalaya this didn't help me. Apparently the game has a certain amount of action programming going on - pick a bunch of actions then carry them out hoping that a) you haven't made some basic error in action planning and that b) no one else is buggering around with your juju as their idiotic plans interfere with your sublime programming.

The game itself is presented really nicely, and has some nice miniatures representing various armed forces - but which in reality are just resources to spend killing ( obtaining ) monsters ( rewards ) and bidding.

The nice presentation of Lord of Xidit

The game has a number of cool  mechanics rumbling along, hidden auctions for rewards at mid game points, area control based on map position, programmed interfering actions, and a hidden influence area control for game end scoring.

Perhaps most interesting of all is the game victory scoring, which can change from game to game. Three different resource types are scored - money, bards ( area influence ) and sorcerer guilds ( limited area influence ). The first two types eliminate the player that has the worst score, whilst the third type will gift overall victory to the player with the highest tally. This presents an interesting choice in that the third resource type is the only one that really counts, but if you neglect the other two and end up coming last in that category you will get eliminated before you can get to the actual victory scoring resource - but equally, like the adage about not having to outrun a bear to escape it, just outrun the person next to you - you don't have to win the eliminators, just not be last. Too much effort spent in an eliminator means your final tally suffers.

Which of the resources is the victory condition and which are the eliminators is set at the game start - thus giving a better longevity to the game with a slightly shifting victory scorer.

The game looks pretty cool overall, but Stu was not overly impressed with its play, noting that the final game scoring was pretty meh in actuality - it all being too close and a bit of a balanced non event. Perhaps one of those games that paddles hard, requires a lot of effort, and ends up with everyone in a close tie by game end. Good ? Bad ? Balanced ? Forced balanced whether you like it or not ? I'd still like to give this game a go myself however.

Elsewhere Room 25 had a busy and noisy outing, which was followed by Werewolf.
Sheriff of Nottingham
Sheriff of Nottingham got another go and proved to be popular again - Punk Rich spent all game being honest and setting himself up as the Totally Trustworthy No Need To Search Me Guv before he embarked on a final round of devious lying. Rich IV however being an untrusting type was not falling for his carefully crafted trustworthy reputation and caught him hauling a cart full of contraband in. Despite this Punk Rich still won.

Also downstairs James attempted to fit in an epic game of Dominant Species, but after turns started stretching out to an hour a piece had to abandon the game 2/3 of the way through. Dominant Species can be a bit long for a pub session - it probably either needs to be setup and played a lot earlier than their early start of 7.15, or the cards need to be played as a quick variant.

Upstairs I got to sample the new Britain map for Hansa Teutonica. Which I was unimpressed with. The new map significantly alters the balance of powers, which is fine, but I think to its detriment also brings in a lot of region and power locking which can prove difficult or impossible to deal with. As Pete noted Hansa is most definitely a self balancing game - it makes little pretence of being balanced in and of itself, and requires players to identify strong plays and compete for them to stop anyone running away with it. However with the new Britain map some of these power plays are locked away in exclusive areas which means most players are just not going to be in a position to compete and stop run away power houses. And if they try - they've probably just tanked their whole game in trying to claw back a leader.

This ends up as a major problem for either new players, or experienced players that haven't wrapped their heads around the map - because the map is so swingy a mistake or two at the wrong time can really hurt the end game - possibly beyond repair. For me it spoils Hansa to the point of being meh - and really cuts it off from being newbie friendly - and with the game length as it is.. it's an issue ( given that shorter games can get away with being more cranky as either way in 15 minutes the game is over ).

On the other hand if you have a player base that are hardcore Hansa players this map is going to be a breath of fresh air that really changes up what's going on. I still feel however that even then, an unlucky break may result in someone getting some serious advantages that make the game a foregone conclusion.

Of course at this point - a second expansion for Hansa - it's probably fair to say the target audience for the Britain map are hardcore Hansa players. Still. One to be wary of for newbs I feel.

Afterwards we played a really enjoyable couple of rounds of Colt Express which continues to impress.

This week Sheriff of Nottingham was back - played on two tables simultaneously such was its popularity. Everyone seems to be really digging Sheriff, and its simple but very social mechanic of trying to slip lies past the other players is proving to be appealing to the NoBoGers. This kind of social game seems to do really well at the Ribs, Resistance, Werewolf, Cash and Guns - and now Sheriff - obviously resonating with the players - whether that's because they all feature high social player interaction, elements of direct conflict / lying, are short and fun, hard to say. I suspect its the high player interaction and social / lying elements. Time will tell whether Sheriff can stick around to be a perennial favourite.

Glory to Rome got a hand or two in the Wherry Room, a great deck building score synergising card game which is not a million miles away from Race for the Galaxy, but some people rate better. I think Race has more permutations, and Glory to Rome is... more approachable. Lewis had a stab at this, won his first game, tanked the rest, but enjoyed it.

Afterwards they played Hansa Teutonica - this time on the original map - and everyone agreed to let Pete win again. Or rather, Pete was massively more experienced and hosed everyone.

Upstairs Dominion, Oddville, Get Bit another of the Sheriffs and a rambunctious game of punching shooting loot dropping Colt Express got a play.

All of which left myself with Caverna.

A massive seven player game of Caverna.

With newbies.

Half of which had never even played Agricola.

And just over 3 hours to play it.

Madness you say ? Pfft !

I've never actually played 7 played Caverna having shied away from it in the past for fear of monumental amounts of analysis paralysis and lengthy downtime of waiting for 6 others to take their turn - regardless of AP. As it was there wasn't much choice, a 7 handed game it was, and part of me was also intrigued to see just how this monster would play out. 7 players too many ? Too cramped ? Awful for newbies ?
Seven player Caverna. Hardcore. Crazy.

Despite the table being crammed to bursting with stuff - and supplies of everything from wood, to stone, to wheat all running out and having to be substituted with multiple counters ( and when these themselves ran out, with anything else to hand ), the game ran really well. And fast.

Personally for me the game didn't drag at all - quite the reverse, the pace was absolutely frantic and I could not keep up with what was going on. Although a lot of this was probably due to the fact I had 6 players barraging me with questions every turn, and I had no time to sit and think at all. I defaulted to a largely auto pilot strategy of early dwarf growth, borderline food supply issues, ignoring mines and weapons and getting a few decent point multipliers in by the end.

Everyone seemed to really enjoy the game - and by game end there were a lot of nods and appreciation of the subtleties of the different strategies and a real appetite to play it again, this time with better knowledge.

The game ended really close, a single point between myself and Owein, with myself taking the crown of Dwarfiest Dwarf. Although the victory points may be lying here, as Owein had a gloriously dwarfish setup of nothing but mines, weapons and a beer hall. Chloe also got really into the dwarfish roleplaying mid game, as throwing her pieces around the Ribs floor meant she was delving under dark benches, torch in hand, looking for of all things ore. I like to think she was taking a Method Acting approach to the game and getting into what it is to be a Dwarf in Caverna. So perhaps technically Chloe and Owein were dwarfiest dwarfs after all.

So the conclusion for 7 played Caverna is that it runs fantastically well. Even with newbs at the table. And is definitely a great euro to bust out for a higher player count. We agreed at the start not to spend too long in AP to make sure things went smoothly, and tbh, the game was a blast because of it. The only fly in the ointment was the resource token count. Everything starts to run out in a 7 player game - you either need more basic resources, or a whole bunch more multiplier tokens. This is particularly a problem for wheat - which often ends up spread thin around all 7 players and not really open to any of the multiple counters.

Personally I would love to play 7 player again, and although some of the powers feel ridiculously strong for 7 - the either or becomes and or - it didn't prove to be overpowered at all. If you haven't tried 7 player Caverna for fear of the downtime - try it. It's good.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Sucker Punch

The month of Christmas rolls on, Black Fridays have been and gone with blood and limbs cleared from shop floors, Cyber Mondays too have passed us by which left us with the most important day of the week, NoBoG Tuesday.

If you were NoBoGing upstairs, you might have seen that the Ribs was busy this week. Full of business attired people drinking, which I am going to assume was some sort of Christmas Work Do shenanigans. A ritual that has you going out and sharing drinks, food and then more drinks with people you half know, don't know, sort of know, but in any case have never felt even the slightest urge to socialise with, but winds up with you inexplicably copping off with the girl from the mail room, or worse, avoiding the advances of some inebriated colleague, and finally ends with you avoiding all of them socially for another year. Or is that just me ? Just me ? Ok. There's probably a gem of a board game idea in there anyway. No need to thank me. You're welcome !

Onto the games - this week more new and shiny appeared in the form of the Sheriff of Nottingham, a bluffing and bribing kind of card game which sees you trying to make as much money as possible by shipping goods into Nottingham in preparation for a Kingly visit. Despite the title of the game and the theme, there is no Robin Hood ambushing shenanigans going on - it's just literally about getting goods to market under the watchful eye of the Sheriff.

Which is weird if you ask me.

The main shtick for the game is the premise of the goods bag - you secretly place two to five goods in a sealed 'bag' and then hand it over to the sheriff - a role which rotates amongst all players. You then get to declare to the sheriff what the bag holds - but here's the catch, you can only declare it to contain one good, and they must all be legal goods. If you are caught shipping more than one type of good, or illegal goods, the sheriff can confiscate them. Shipping five goods is great for your score - but you strain credibility asking the sheriff to believe there are five of the same type of good contained. There then follows some gamesmanship where the sheriff may not believe you and threaten to inspect your bag, or possibly be open to a bribe, or you may try all these things in the hope the sheriff does inspect the bag and find nothing amiss. If the bag contains what you said it contains - the sheriff pays you. If it doesn't then the goods that don't match are confiscated. Goods that got through are placed on your marketstall.

At the end of the game the person with the most value in goods - and there are some set collection rewards to pick up - wins.

I utterly failed to get a picture of this in play, or ask how it went down as I was wrapped up upstairs. Seems like a solid game though, and one open to a bit of social engineering. These are not the apples you're looking for. Move along.

Elsewise Elliot brought one of his regular items along - Settlers of America, the elongated slightly deviant version of regular settlers - and as he wasn't ranting at game end, we can safely conclude that he won. That and the fact he cheered himself as the winner as he left the pub.

Cash and Guns, Tsuro, Werewolf and Fluxx all got a mix up at the final table downstairs - but Fluxx ended up exhausting them and they called a halt to its chaos at 11pm. That's what you get for playing Fluxx.

Odd Village
Upstairs hidden in a corner of the pub, a group took on Speicherstadt, a game I have never heard of, but is apparenly one of Mr Felds efforts - this one a card game. No idea how this played or who won, I can tell you however that it had fantastic glittery cardboard coins which resembled nothing so much as the old gold foil wrapped chocolate money. Conspicuous at this time of the year - and possibly lucky that someone didn't try to eat any of them.

They followed this up with the cool looking Odd Village. No idea what that's about.

In the other corner of the room Pete managed to cajole a group into Lord of the Ice Garden - its welcome seems to be running out at the Ribs if the enthusiasm of who wants to play is anything to go by - then again if you took the enthusiasm of who wanted to play what at NoBoG as a judge of anything, then you would conclude that NoBoG wasn't a board gaming group at all, but was in fact a secret society of performance artists that liked to turn up and stand around in a crowded room for 10 minutes displaying epic levels of choice apathy. Like a flash mob. But without anything exciting or enthusiastic going on. Which rather describes any kind of rush hour public transport.

Bondy won the Ice Garden as the black dudes as the red dudes - Pete was even more loudly muttering about Black possibly being unbalanced, over powered, yada, possibly covering his multi game experienced ass getting wooped by a newbie, but regardless Mr Bond declared the game to be great as he had won. On asking Hal, he paused, hesitated, then said it was good. I'm not sure if that actually means it was good or was just being polite. Perhaps he had just zoned out.

Myself I got to play Aquasphere again - with a few rules corrected, and a clear idea of what was going on in my head, I taught it to Tom II and Sam II. And utterly failed. I am not entirely sure what went on - there were points where, much like my first game, I was horribly brutalised, but I was doing ok until the middle of the game, and then everything fell apart. Consistently shafted for area control. Out of time. Out of place. Wrestling with idiot squids. It all went downhill. Sam won this and declared he liked it better than Glass Road - which I thought was rather surprising given that Aquasphere is a fair bit less welcoming than Glass Road. Sam said it was about knowing what to do - Glass Road he struggled to get an idea of where he was going.

Colt Express - a better picture of it this time, the
passengers have just got fed up of being robbed and started
shooting, causing all the desperados to flee to the roof...
Afterwards we got to play the excellent Colt Express. And it really is excellent. Such a fantastic little game, Luke joined us for this and seemed to be the target of a fair few punches. Everytime he clambered on top of the train he seemed to get sucker punched for his trouble. Hilarious for everyone but Luke, who ended up with no loot at all due to all the punches. Desperados jumped back and forth, shots were exchanged, and right at the end Sam managed to pip the win by picking up the strong box and its $1,000 prize. Pfah. If it hadn't been for that I would have been in a comfy loot stuffed lead. Luke made a great comeback, won the $1,000 reward for being the shootiest of desperados and beat Tom into last.

Whilst the mechanics for the game are extremely easy, move, punch, shoot or loot, the joy and coolness comes from the way the orders are placed - everyone piles their orders one by one onto a communal pile - somtimes facedown, sometimes face up, depending on if the train is in a tunnel or not, and then at the end, the orders are flipped over and played out. Something of a Robo Rally or Room 25 program your turns dealio. This can lead to stupid, funny and cool moments as someone does something unexpected in a tunnel, you end up punching thin air, getting shot or captured and so on. Fab little filler with just one downside - it's a little too small for fat fingers. Fiddly is the word that springs to mind. It needs a deluxe version twice the size... but that really doesn't hamper the game. If you haven't tried it, you need to. It's great.