Wednesday, 4 February 2015


This is what fighting aliens looks like. Sexy. Right ?
Start the youtube vid below. It's this weeks theme tune. Once it's playing you can read on !

Back in the early 70's, when space hoppers were the greatest orange coloured transport device ever invented, hair was big, collars bigger and flared trousers biggest of all, if you had thoughts about defending the Earth from nefarious alien ne'er-do-wells then you might have found yourself a member of S.H.A.D.O and your go to uniform choice might look something like this
Standard S.H.A.D.O uniform.
Clearly they never suffered chilly days in S.H.A.D.O central command.

UFO fighting fashion styles have moved on fortunately - or unfortunately depending on your level of depravity - and so this week when an alien defence headquarters was setup in the Ribs of Beef, none of the defenders were wearing string vests sparing us all a horrifying sight. That there are sacrifices to be made defending the Earth goes without saying - putting up with four gamer dudes hanging out in string vests however is arguably a sacrifice too far. You'd probably be better off welcoming your new alien overlords instead.

Owein brought along the new and sexy XCOM to NoBoG challenging three fellow compatriots to keep the earth safe, the humans from panicking over the prospect of string vest wearing whilst simultaneously swatting away alien invaders. If you haven't been living under a rock for the past 20 years computer gaming wise, you will know that XCOM is a highly successful video game franchise that splits into tactical man to alien combat and a strategic level logistics management mode where you get to train people, research new tech, and react to alien ship incursions. The whole singing dancing Xenophobia train has now been ported into board game form, and whilst the man to alien tactical combat element has been lost in translation, the nail biting logistics balancing space ship intercepting bit remains.
XCOM. Don't drop your pieces on the floor. The timer waits for no one.

Truly one of the new breed of board games, XCOM integrates technology into your usual pile of cardboard and bits with a free app for use on your digital toy of choice - like for instance an iPad. The app gets to co-ordinate the alien player, effectively forming a broad programmed AI against your wiles as well as injecting a real time element into the game where you have to make decisions in a short span of time ( unless you're playing in the lame Easy mode ).

The nature of the app also allows the game to play with the timing of various phases, meaning that you can never be quite sure that A follows B follows C thus forcing your into committing resources before they were ready or correctly in place.

Because of its triple A computer game heritage the production values of the app are absolutely first class, oozing theme and atmosphere - heavily borrowing a lot of resources from its sibling games.

Did you know ?

Ananda Gupta who designed the board game Twilight Struggle also designed the reboot of the XCOM video game and brought a lot of board game sensibilities into the design mix. In ever more crazy cross pollination that video game has now crossed the divide back into the board game world.
As a co-operative game it slightly side-steps the group think tendency that some of those games can have - where a particularly strong or pushy player just orders everyone else around resulting in a solo game with a number of observers - by giving players unique roles to play that have very clear responsibilities and available actions.

Explaining the actual machinations of the game is kind of tricky - its involved and has a lot of bleed through from the computer game ( which you'll feel right at home with if you have played it ) - but basically making decisions about missions, sending squaddies out on missions, balancing resources and doing everything in a timely fashion is the order of the day. You'll need to cater to random things popping up, keeping a lid on panic - which can lose you the game -, keep your base from being destroyed - another lose event - and finally surviving long enough to actually take a shot at the aliens and win the game outright - as opposed to just surviving.

If tense random thematic games are not your thing, then XCOM is going to not be something you want to look at ( unless you like facing the derision of the gaming community by playing it in Easy mode and not having to worry about the timer at all ). If you are into your stress time based games, and or you have an XCOM background, this is a game you will definitely want to give a try out of.

The game went down very well on Tuesday, with Davey vowing to rush home and buy it as soon as he could so taken he was with its gameplay.

The intriguing looking Castles of Mad King Ludwig
Another recently release game was on offer this week - the Castles of Mad King Ludwig. This is a tile placing game that has you vying for victory points by collecting sets or synergistic placements and according to Sam who got to play it, is something of a riff on Suburbia.

Castles however is not a town builder but is a . . . castle builder. Where you get to build room by room a crazy patchwork castle ( hence the Mad King ) to try and maximise your VPs via whatever cunning strategy you cook up.

Lighter than Suburbia with less capability to synergise the game however ups complexity in a different direction with tiles that are different shapes and sizes - meaning that placement of those rooms is not quite as straight forward as Suburbias uniform hexes.

A fun looking game, Sam enjoyed it - managed to win, and noted Chloe had spent all game building a very evil looking castle with suspicious pits, mossy rooms and long spindly corridors that led nowhere.

Steam with 6. Banned by the UN as cruel and unusual punishment
Elsewhere Steam had a monster game with six players. Hal was playing mean. Apparently. And on the table over Pandemic was succumbed to with an abject failure for players, who could only end up planning their apocalypse party with 3 turns to go as it became apparent the infections were out of hand. They then finished with the less disease ridden Small World.

I believe Lauren and Andrews table played King of Tokyo - and some other lighter stuff. Not sure.

Pandemic. It's looking bad folks. Time to invest in a bunker.
Downstairs Lewis lead the ever redoubtable Lords of Waterdeep to table, complete with machine gun noises which he assured was not for once his fault. Ticket to Ride was on the table over, which left the last table with a riotous game of Archipelago.

On a crazy whim Pete decided the Archipelago should be seeded via the optional desert start, which proved to be in the end an absolute nightmare for exploration. Getting those tiles out with a land interior is much tougher going than starting with a sea tile. It certainly changed the pace of the game however, and with the expansion cards in play - and the Jail out from turn one, some of the typical dynamics of the game were subtly altered.

Dawn rises over the ill fated Archipelago.
Pete got off to a flying start whilst most of everyone else struggled to escape the hot sandy interior. Feelings of ill will circulated towards the obviously well performing Pete, and as an end game trigger threatened to activate, everyone suddenly got very jealous of their precious commodities. So much so that the colony leapt up in misery, jumping a full 21 unrest points in a single turn, whilst the singularly quiet Punk Rich who turned out to be the separatist secretly gloated that the colony would now go tits up.

An extremely funny game, much comedy with Rich IV offering Pete a pocket bird flip at one point in reply to his request for renumeration, and with Punk Rich playing a very quiet separatist, lulling everyone into being ever more selfish, the game sank in perfect Archipelago fashion. Amazing game.

The gateway game classic - Ticket to Ride
Roll for the Galaxy was squeezed into the end. We got two thirds in before calling it a day. Pete pipped me by three points. Everyone else was flailing on half scores.

Mr Bond was very excited this week. The prospect of having 40 NoBoG attendees sent him a twittering, only to have his hopes dashed when two of the would be players managed to claw their way to safety  left prematurely. It should be said this was with several of our regulars out. Breaching 40 seems like something we will be doing in 2015. Still. 38 is a record. Apparently. I've lost track. It certainly sounds a lot. The pub was pretty full with NoBoGians, and that was with a table of six and three tables of five. Heaven help us when everyone decides they just want to play four player games only. It will be woollen hats and thermal gloves all round to cope with playing games on the ice festooned river terrace.

Lastly, congratulations to Sam who is now the official Norwich Netrunner champion. This is apparently why we only see him every other week at NoBoG - he's netrunning down at Athena games in the other weeks. Personally I think he's a Norwich based mask wearing crime fighter who takes it to the streets every other Tuesday. I noticed he turned up in a spiderman themed jacket this week - clearly he got his crime fighting persona days mixed up. But yeah. If you want to believe his cover story, then he's the Norwich Netrunner champion.

Which is a card game. If you didn't know. Go look it up. Don't expect me to do everything for you ! Tsk.

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