Friday, 6 November 2015

Ra Ra ah-ah-ah

Ro-ma, ro-ma-ma. Well, I expect that reference to split the audience.

This week - possibly in a fit of indecision about what to play - we had the old school and noted giant of euro gaming Ra in the house, a classic title by a classic designer Reiner Knizia. If you're into your board gaming and haven't been in the gaming wilderness for the last 20 years then you're very likely to know who Reiner Knizia is, and if you have your proper board gaming chops, have at least heard of, if not played Ra.

Ra, Ra, ooh la la. A classic Knizia game.
If you don't know who Reiner Knizia, then suffice to say he is a prolific game designer of the euro type , and is part of a stable of game designers that cemented the term "euro" into the gaming dictionary in the first place.

If you want to get fancy about it, then maybe you could consider Reiner Knizia a crucial fuelling part of the Renaissance era of gaming ( where pre 70's ish would be antiquity, 80's and prior are medieval and say, post late 90's are modern ).

Ra is a simple Egyptian themed auction game, where players compete to out bid their opponents to pick up auction lots of tiles. Tiles are scored on some simple rules, set collection, bonus points, penalty points, and with the game split across three rounds ( or epochs ), scoring is performed three times, with a bit of overlap between rounds as some tiles stick around for the whole game. So the whole art of the game is in assessing whether a group of tiles is something you'd like to bid on, getting your scoring sorted out into some semblance of brilliance, and a bit of jockeying for position in timing of bids, availability of tiles and what exactly your bid strength is. The game despite being known as an auction game, and talking about auctions, and bids, and yada, isn't really anything of the sort - it's a trick taking game where your bids are fixed amounts determined by the tokens you are holding ( effectively everyone is playing with a single-ish suit from a deck of cards, and playing highest card wins, which kinda is an auction, but in the same way that playing Top Trumps is kinda an auction - IE no one ever refers to playing card trumping games as an auction . Oh you nicely outbid me there with your King of Hearts on top of my Jack of Hearts... this is never said. ).

Ra is a classic beloved by many of the gaming cognoscenti, but for my money, it's too dry, too simple, the theme makes me want to stab my eyes out, and I'd rather be playing something other than Ra. Not that it's bad by any means. Inoffensive. Like porridge. With no sugar. Or salt. Or anything in it. That makes you sit up straight before you eat it. And recite your 12 times table. Just. Yeah. Next ! Ra combined with Tigris and Euphrates - another well beloved Reiner Knizia game - are enough to make me throw up my hands in despair and go and find other things to do, such as beat my head against a wall.

Planet Norwich in the Norfolk System.

The clans have returned from distant stars to invade the Inner Sphere, the til now peaceful Commonwealth planet of Norwich suddenly finding itself the target of a rapid and brutal clan assault. Clan Ghost Bear landing advance forces onto the planet have already decisively engaged with the defenders, where despite being outnumbered have succeeded in pushing through defences and leaving a trail of destroyed enemies behind them.

Having broken through Inner Sphere lines, roving Clan scout forces now fan out in a rapid advance seeking to strike directly at the enemies capability to conduct and supply a war - ending the fight before it can really begin. Commonwealth forces in the form of the Davion Guards scramble to close the breach in the front lines whilst simultaneously reinforcing all strategic points behind the breach in danger of being overrun. But the task is a difficult one - the clans with superior mobility and firepower can strike at will and fade before a significant defence force can be assembled.

Reorganising the reserves into fast response defence lances, Davion Guard forces are distributed widely across the breach pocket with a hope of forming an anvil to delay Clan raiders caught in the act, before landing the hammer blow of a fast response.

Sector QF, just south of the Dereham lowlands - a call distorts across counter measure disrupted frequencies. Clan forces spotted, heading inbound towards the Unthank industrial zone. The Guards force on point scramble to their mechs, the brave pilots prepared to face the onslaught of the clans and provide the anvil. Meanwhile 60 klicks away, turbines spool up and thrusters ignite as the fast response drop ships pick up their mechs and prepare to speed to the battle to support their defences and deliver the hammer blow.

 Elsewhere I got to suffer play through another session of the even older than Ra - Battletech ( a game from the medieval period of gaming if we are keeping up the analogy, so, similar-ish to modern games, except no plumbing or toilets, other than a hole in the wall to stick your arse out of, giving rise to odd smells, suspicious lumps of matter loitering in odd places, and a certain air of unwashed, inelegant, grime about it all ) , Sean was dead keen on giving this a go being a bit of a Battlemech fan ( and who doesn't like big stompy robot things.. ), and having watched it being played a few weeks back.

Battletech, the filthy Clanners hug the edge of the map.
And that was cool, I found it pretty riveting, the time whisked by, a fair bit of analysis paralysis, a lot of thinking, a bit of taunting, and a good deal of ineffective fire. Highlights included a jumping mech making a bad landing and falling over in the river, and then me deciding to jump on top of their sorry ass to try and kick their head in, followed by a graceful pirouetting jump out of a cauldron of fire into a back flopping landing in a lake. All performed in a 55 ton mech. There was also lots of gratuitous use of the laser line of sight checker.

Everyone enjoyed themselves, albeit, such is the way of things, it was a harrowing session, and I think it's fair to say everyone felt like they'd gone ten rounds in the ring with a heavyweight champion by the time we called halt to the game.

For the record, the clan pushed up to the edges of the industrial zone, then were perturbed by my jumping shenanigans and some supporting fire from Andy ( notably Sean spent all game waltzing around without firing a shot until the last rounds - we had assumed until the very end of the game that he was some kind of pacifist handing out leaflets.. albeit in a 50 ton walking mech ) .

Battletech - in the distance the clan raiders pull into sight
The clan advance crunched into a confused rabble, sidled along the edge of the map in comedic hand holding fashion ( Sean did a very good spontaneous mime impression of this which you had to be there to appreciate ), before just getting into the industrial zone as the reinforcements arrived and the hammer blow dropped. We stopped one turn after that. But it was fair to say that things were looking grim indeed for the Clan, although Andy's Warhammer had by then had both it's arms blown off. Just a flesh wound. I'm invincible !

More miniatures and dice rolling were going on on the table across from us, where David hosted his quasi regular Imperial Assault game, with his Empire once again facing off against the heroic rag tag Rebel team. Pete playing as ever the wookie reports that he had great fun charging into the fray,
Imperial Assault. One of the monsters seems to have
had an unfortunate incident with it's knicker elastic.
running screaming down corridors in the way only wookies can, and laid about cleaving stand in bad guy extras left and right. Causing chaos and confusion the hairy hero bleeding profusely stumbled to the macguffin console, only to fumble through the blood and tears the activation sequence and fail the mission.

There is a reason they don't give wookies medals. At the end of Star Wars watch closely. There's Han. Here's a medal. There's Luke. Have a medal. There's Chewie... screw you buddy, we're fresh out of medals ! You and your hairy ass can just stand in the back being generally unappreciated ! Harsh. And it's all Pete's fault. They've never forgotten the time he fumbled that console roll. Do you know how many Bothans died for that ? Many Bothans ! Many !

As this is the second failure in a row for the Rebel team I have come to the conclusion that David is facing off against the B Team of the Rebel Alliance. These are the guys that you never see in the films, the one's they don't tell tales of derring-do about, the ones that generally screwed something up in the first place that then made the presence of the A Team Rebels a necessity. The Death Star ? Yeah. The B Team screwed that up by failing the mission to steal all supplies of Imperial hammers to deny the building work from ever starting. Resulting in one blown up planet. And a last minute emergency mission to blow the completed Death Star up. That's why there's no medals for Wookies. A failure to delete the hammer invoice order from the death star construction console. Peeettteee ! Or in character. "aaarrrrarrarrr-arr-arrrarr-arrrrr".

Moving on from Rebel debacles, Sam got to try out the excellent Colt Express with the new stagecoach expansion, which brings hostages, whiskey, and victory points for getting shot ! It all sounded pretty cool, and I absolutely have to give this a go when I get a chance and am not playing
Thunderbirds are go ! F.A.B !
Battletech until midnight. Prior to this Sam busted out the FAB game - ah ha ha - Thunderbirds, a brand new spanky offering of this now 50 year old... we'll go with classic. To be honest I have no idea what goes on in this game. It's co-operative. It has miniature depictions of the Thunderbird vehicles. One can only presume you go around the world saving people whilst displaying very little face movement and refusing to walk anywhere where you could instead build an unfeasibly complex mechanical system to ferry your sorry ass around in an automated chair, thus avoiding the burdensome necessity of actually getting up. International rescue is one thing. Being bothered to get your ass out of your armchair is a whole other ballgame. I'm with you there buddy !

Who knows if Sam's intrepid team won or lost ? But really, playing Thunderbirds the Game in your automated chairs, I think we can all agree that everyone is a winner, regardless of game outcome. I'm not sure, but I could swear at some point I saw Sam with serene face gliding past in an automated chair headed for the bar. FAB !

Another old school classic was also on show at the Tun in the form of Alhambra. They played a pretty full six handed game of this I think, with I'm going to take a guess at a pure vanilla setup. So none of the bazillion expansions on offer.

Elsewise the lovely Suburbia got a turn on the boards, Lewis got vanilla Smash up out and Codenames and a host of other fillers also got a play through. I had my head buried in Battletech so I probably missed a lot.

For those counting, 43, another quiet night.

The Gallery...

Smash Up



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