Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Give us a kiss handsome !

Champions of Midgard !
It seems that the prediction that Champions of Midgard would be the hot NoBoG favourite for 2016 was well warranted. By my measure it has been played every single week since before Christmas - often with two simultaneous copies at once, and it seems to have done a number on the previously well played Lords of Waterdeep. Lords of Waterdeep has been taken around the back, knifed in the dark, and left to bleed out in favour of the new pretender Champions of Midgard. Is it surprising then to see Ewan was hawking his copy of Lords of Waterdeep just recently then ? The King is dead. Long live the King. Personally I don't see what all the fuss is about. But. According to NoBoG, Champions of Midgard is a game you should be playing. ( That and Terra Mystica which is having something of a revival at NoBoG ).

Spirits of the Rice Paddy - beautifully minimalistic
So new games. We've seen Spirits of the Rice Paddy, a delightfully eurotastic game of managing your own little farm of rice paddies, tending fields, managing water and trying to scrape as many points / rice crops in as possible. The game is aesthetically pleasing with its Eastern inspired artwork and has a certain amount of building satisfaction as you manage your own simple little farm - it's definitely scratching the whole sim / building / settlement management malarkey itch. It has a couple of very nice mechanics in it that really suit the theme of the game well - water is a crucial resource for growing rice, but the supply of the wet stuff passes through each player in turn, and if the player before you uses it all up, well, tough luck sonny, no water ( or rice growing ) for you ! Turn order - and the order you receive water - can therefore be crucial in low rain turns, and this is balanced nicely amongst a card drafting system that sees higher powered cards penalised with a slower turn order. Lovely.

Spirits of the Rice Paddy - all four farms on show
A nice little euro game definitely worthy of taking a look at if you are into your more purer Euro games. On the other hand, the game is not beyond a few criticisms. Like some Euros player interaction is low if not downright feeble, and the game can almost be said to be a multiplayer solitaire. Whilst there is RNG in the game regarding how much rain you can receive, what card capabilities you draft and can score and so on, the game seems as though its highly open to being solved, which is to say, after you've played it half a dozen times you likely have a good recipe for ultimate efficiency, barring a wrinkle or too. Games like Agricola avoid a good deal of this by having a very communal action space selection which has huge impacts on what you can do and when, and other good examples in Euro space adopt a similar high interaction space somewhere. At most what you'll be doing in Spirits is judging your turn order and having a limited impact on how much water the next person gets - leaving players to by and large come up with their perfect plans in isolation to what everyone else is doing. The game is also very simplistic in terms of management - there isn't a whole heap to keep track of here, build a field, keep it clear of weeds and pests. Timing of when to plant, when to harvest is crucial but to be honest it falls out fairly by the numbers and isn't tricky to get right, doubly so if you've played it before I suspect. Finally, the RNG whilst limited does have a few rough spots - some card capabilities despite being balanced by their turn order weight feel very powerful compared to others. I'm not convinced the balancing is right - and astute players may end up grabbing the more powerful cards away to secure their victory. Nevertheless, it's a cool Euro overall and I'm being harsh in my criticisms.

Posthuman - an explosion of bits in this wasteland wanderer
Other new games. Posthuman made it to table, this is a recent kickstarter release set in some post apocalypse nonsense that has each player set out on a journey to get across the ravaged lands to the safety of The Citadel. If you've ever seen The Walking Dead or anything based upon that kind of journey through a post apocalyptic wasteland full of dangers, then you'll know exactly the kind of trope that Posthuman is aiming at. Players get to play a unique character with a handful of stats for shooting, melee, intelligence and so on, and on their journies they can pick up equipment and even followers to help them on their way. The journey is represented by a modular tile placement system which depicts a variety of terrain, mountains, urban, forests, plains, with each containing different routes in and out and a series of encounters. Encounters are generated from one of several decks and offer a great deal of variety - from out and out combat encounters with various mutants, nutters and pirates, to more touchy feely encounters with orphans, hungry travellers or amorous mutants... yes, amorous mutants. The game has a very narrative feel because of this, and it really does feel at times like you are playing some board game version of several episodes the walking dead - but no zombies, only mutants.

In one instance I encountered a ferryman I could attack or just pay off - so I paid him off with food, only to land on the other side of the river and encounter an orphanage with a bunch of wastrel hungry children.

Posthuman - I turn mutant, and soon bring Pete with me too.
Richard IV on the other hand was approached by the aforementioned amorous mutant - who according to the encounter wasn't too badly mutated. She just wanted a kiss and a cuddle, and the encounter allowed Richard to "improve his morale by 1" for a quick tumble but at the cost of picking up a mutation card - mutant syphilis one imagines - or denying the advances of the mutant entirely. Richard wasn't having any of it, rebuffed the poor lady and cut her head off. Rather a harsh reprimand for asking for a kiss in my opinion. But no mutant syphilis. Richard IV was also rather horrified at what the event called mildly mutated, as the eventual mutant drawn had the head of a mange infested dog. They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but really, I'm not sure what kind of beholder has the hots for a mange infested dog headed lady with mutant syphilis.

One of the critical features of the game is that of the mutant scar system. Fail too many times at your tasks - or get into too many tight scrapes, and you'll have picked up a critical number of mutations on your journey. Once too many have been picked up you revert over to Team Mutant, and instead of trying to reach The Citadel to win, you switch over to trying to stop everyone else from getting to the Citadel. The game changes abruptly in tone for mutant players as they ditch all their old gear, and start drawing from a Mutant deck of capabilities instead. Pete commented that the whole thing was a thinly veiled elimination mechanism, and was just a way to avoid people sitting out the game. Which is fair enough, on the other hand, I've certainly heard many a time people lament the fact they couldn't actually get infected in something like Dark Moon and go over to Team Infected half way through the game, or in other traitor type games switch sides and go to the dark side. It seems that Posthuman has a mechanism to do exactly that - whether you think its just an elimination mechanism or not perhaps depends on your sensibilities. Personally, I rather like you can flip over to Team Mutant.

Posthuman in the end is a fabulously narrative stroll through the post apocalypse that oozes theme. Criticisms of it are that it runs too long for what it is ( 3 hours or so with 3 players which ironically is probably the longest number of players ) - it has to be said it runs fastest with pairs of players - as you can team off and do encounters for each other - and you can also play a shorter variant that makes the route have less steps. So it seems the designer kind of knew that it can run long. It also has a crap ton of bits. Usually I am quite crap ton of bits averse. If a game has a dozen different decks of cards and this that and the other I get tired of it in 5 minutes flat. There are notable exceptions for me - I like Arkham Horror, I like Caverna and all those crap heavy euro games. For some reason Posthuman didn't tickle my crap ton of bits aversion here. But it is rather bits heavy. The game also has limited player interaction. You can trade with your fellow players, even help them out with skills on occasion. But by and large you are generating your own map, making your own journey. However, the narrative is definitely shared and its entertaining just to listen to other peoples stories - and in the case of going Team Mutant, then you very much get to mess with people directly. You could make the case that a game like Posthuman is not really that kind of interactive game. It's a narrative game of different threads where you are in a race to finish your story first.

Overall, I dunno. Posthuman has a lovely narrative. It runs long. It's fiddly to setup. It's something of a - mitigated - RNG fest. If you love your walking dead, and fancy a romp through the wasteland, then this game banged out to table once in a while really is the thing. And. I can't really think of too many games - if any - that do what it's doing. It's pretty unique.

Zombie Tower 3d. In case you missed it was 3d. It's in the title
What else. This latest week saw a so new it hurts Zombie game turn up to NoBoG - Zombie Tower 3d, which as the name might suggest is very 3d, and somewhat tower-y. The game with its 3d approach offers a fairly rare mechanic in allowing players to only see the game state that they can physically see from their playing position - so half, a third or a quarter of the tower at a time ( no, not like Battleships. You've sunk my zombie ! ). A co-operative game players must communicate about what's going on in their part of the tower in order to equip themselves, explore, rescue survivors and evacuate the zombie infested tower. As I watched this game unfold for some reason I was consistently reminded of the old school family game Downfall where each player could only see their side of a shared playspace. The setup of Zombie Tower 3d sounds intriguing, and if done right could be a great game experience - I'd like to give this a go to see if the design is up to the task or whether its just a bit of a gimmick game with no substance. Regardless of that, you can't deny that the game is distinct and a real treat to look at.

Star Wars Risk - It's Risk Jim, but not as we know it. Wait.
Wrong fan base ! This is not the Risk you're looking for ?
We've also had some not entirely new but never seen before games down at NoBoG - amongst other things Star Wars Risk, which I am assured puts enough extra sauce on the Risk recipe to make it something a little different and interesting. I can't remember who, possibly Sam, threatened to bring Monopoly along next week on the offchance we could have a Risk / Monopoly session going on and so bring forth the board gaming apocalypse of mediocrity. Although I feel that's rather harsh on Risk - particularly the funky - cough legacy - variants. I'm famous for almost winning a campaign of Risk Legacy before all the other players realising a campaign win was impossible for them collectively gave up in a huff and refused to finish the series and give me my inevitable win. Unsportsmanlike I say. You know who you are !

Elementary my dear Watson. The case of the Catalans.
Hal also brought along one of his eclectic games, this time in the form of 1714 : The Case of the Catalans. Which to be frank sounds like it could either be some Sherlock Holmes story, some history coursework book or a dry National Geographic TV episode. Hal assured me however that the game was a wargame ( Luke - this is not a wargame ! Hal - it's kind of a wargame ! ) where everyone plays on the same side - but are actually competing for the best haul of crap from the war. Crap in this case amounting to peace concessions and other such lovely things. Joking aside the game sounded intriguing - I suspect it's not to everyones tastes ( 1714 : The Case of the Catalans is hardly in the same bells and whistles category as say, King of Tokyo ).

Powergrid. Is this old enough to be oldschool now ?
Elsewise we have had the smattering of smorgasbord - from Stu keeping up the Euro side of things with games like Powergrid, and delving into the newer with Machi Koro and Splendor, to Lewis and his never ending game of Cauldron that went on and on and on and on. Adam and Mel assured me it was fun and interesting, but I could see the eyes twitch, and the following week the PTSD had set in and they confirmed it was good, but they didn't want to play it again any time soon thankyouverymuch.

Lewis seems to be making repeated efforts at taking relatively simple games and then playing them until everyones eyes have glazed over, drool has started to dribble onto the board and so much time has passed that Cthulu has kicked off the end times and is approaching in all his wet flippy floppy feet glory - a phenomenon I like to call Christmas Monopoly Syndrome.
Cauldron. Running Long.
Be it Cauldron, Munchkin, Munchkin Smash Up or some other Cthulian conceived end times ritual that is masquerading as a simple board game, Lewis is there playing them all the while bemoaning he never has time to play the fun social filler games at the end of the evening. I suspect Lewis is actually a Cthulu cultist that has infiltrated NoBoG and is seeking to awaken his master in Norwich, possibly the Mash Tun, on a Tuesday, around 10.30pm. If you feel an itching sensation behind your eyeballs at that time of night, my advice is to quickly exit the pub - Lewis has either transformed into Cthulu, or it's the positively shocking chinese plastic fumes from Pete's Cthulu wars miniatures - either one of which is likely to do irrevocable damage to your person.

Talking of fillers, we have of course had a whole bevy of social filler type games, Spyfall, Codenames, Resistance, Mafia de Cuba et al - most of which I missed, except Spyfall, which I won three times in succession as spy. Awwww yeah. Sociopathic lying capability and quick fire imaginative bullshit response. I haz it.

Mash Tun news. So Charlotte has been chatting to me about the pub pushing their upper room into a more functional state. Apparently it has now been cleared out and they are already holding some functions up there, but Charlotte was putting forward a business plan to get the bar sorted out up there and a few more things put in place. As far as we are concerned this means that the available space at the Mash Tun has increased and in future it might even be something that we could have a floor all to ourselves - depending on the situation in hand. Regardless of what the outcome is it seems the Tun has plenty of room for us.

Numbers wise we seem to be going through random fits and starts. Mid 30's are the order of the day so far, with a peak of 50 in the second week of January. Does it make any sense ? No. Do NoBoGers come and go at will like a herd of cats ? Yes.

Also, whilst I am here, for those that have made it to the bottom ( well done ! ), Mr Bond is handing in his keys for the NoBoG twitter account. Should you feel you have the mettle for being - one of - the faceless goblin(s) behind the official NoBoG twitter propaganda and comedy feed then come talk to me and note your interest !

Also also. Would anyone care for a NoBoG podcast. A NoBoG Vlog ? Yes ? No ? The apathy ! Would you like say, oh I don't know, a 15 minute ramble with guests and humour and discussions about what was played, what games are good, why we should never play Munchkin and that kind of thing, all from a very Norwich perspective. Or do you not care for such things - why bother, I already listen to X.

As ever the gallery. Gawp at the pretty pictures.

Moar Champions of Midgard. Expect a lot of pictures of this !

Sechs Nimmt. Six Qui Prend. Category 5. It's the cow game.

No prizes for guessing this.

Blood Rage. Also getting quite fancied at NoBoG.

Yes. This Game. Again.

Hamsteroller. I tanked both games of this. Oh the shame.

Thanks to Mel for catching the action.

Properly old school classic Acquire. Still stands the test of time.

An empty table. It's the quality of the photography you come here for. I know.

Dead of Winter. Still popular. Still being played.


Settlers, Egyptian style.

Cauldron. Mel has started to drool by this point as the Cthulian incantation reaches its peak.

Ah yes. Could it be. Champions of Midgard again ?

More Dead of Winter.

More Blood Rage.

Poor Ticket to Ride hardly gets a look in these days !

Splendid Splendor. Some hate it. Some love it. On reflection it seems alright to me !

A quick game of Hansa Teutonica squeezed in. I sat in for Tom when he left. I think he left mainly out of embarassment at his lack of scoring !

The marvellous Machi Koro

Sam leads the NoBoG prayer group. Or possibly a werewolf setup going on.

Everyone dives in after three Amens and a fuck you werewolf !

Cmon. More Champions of Midgard. NoBoG will soon be renamed the Champions of Midgard Player Group.

Terra Mystica

Munchkin. This ran long. Surprise !

Some Dick Turpin game. Looked intriguing. And never seen before. Failed to get info. Pfah !

Monday, 4 January 2016

This is my rifle, this is my gun.

Christmas is done, the New Year is over and the NoBlog catches up with the last couple of sessions of December.

On the week before Christmas Tuesday, NoBoG saw the Vietnam war era COIN series game Fire in the Lake have its debut at the Mash Tun.

If you've never played a COIN ( COunter INsurgency) game - or even heard about them - then they are fairly simple area control wargames with a very heavy semi random scripted event theme going on available via a deck of cards. Despite being simple area control games, COIN games are definitely not for the casual gamer and constitute some of the heavier, if not the heaviest of Euro-ish games, and some of the COIN games can take a considerable time investment ( the earlier Andean Abyss COIN game has had sessions that have rolled on past 9 hours in length ).

The conflict that COIN games depict are very much of the modern zeitgeist and in one way or another are pretty much a ubiquitous background noise these days from the 24 hour news empire. Given the relative strengths of well funded and armed combatants against rag tag outfits it's a no brainer that these kind of asymmetric conflicts have become the norm.

The COIN series of games attempts to capture the nature of this asymmetric warfare and also the oh so important political/terror fight for the hearts and minds of the populace that goes hand in hand with it. Previous games have visited the utter chaos of Colombia in the 1990s ( Andean Abyss ) and its druglords, the turbulent Cuban uprising of the 50's ( Cuba Libre ) of Fidel Castro et al,he more recent Afghanistan quagmire ( A Distant Plain ) of a US led coalition force and for the most recent game, the Vietnam war - Fire in the Lake.

Fire in the Lake-the red forces of Hal's NVA amass in the North
Fire in the Lake somewhat controversially pits four competing sides of the North Vietnamese Army, Viet Cong, US and the South Vietnamese republic forces ARVN against each other in a fight for domination of Vietnam. There are a number of team permutations you can play with - depending on number of players and political sensibilities - as well as what is probably one of the most complex AI scripts in a game for any of the factions should you wish to have the game control a player.

Asymmetric player capabilities tend to come down to outright displays of firepower with army units sweeping in and airstrikes, versus more subtle opinion influence, terror operations and sabotage. The goals in particular are setup in a clever way - the NVA and ARVN forces are rewarded for controlling areas through military domination, whereas the US and the VC are rewarded for having support from the general population. So whilst in theory the US and ARVN are fighting on the same team, the US are interested in getting everyone to be happy - and commit as few as troops as possible to do so - whilst ARVN is interested in projecting force into regions and making sure their corrupt friends are getting plenty of US aid money fed into their pockets. There is some - you might almost say accidental - overlap in goal alignment between allies, but it can be tenuous and at certain times even entirely unwanted ( the US for instance can help militarily dominate a region, even though the US in theory has no actual gain in doing so, and may in fact be hurting their own chances of winning )

This setup leads to some great emergent gameplay and very interesting choices about what to do in a given situation and something of a shaky ambivalent nature to the alliance of communists versus non communists. Some debate and "shit stirring" is definitely part of this game as play unfolds and each of the various factions bubbles up to dominate.

Enough of the theory. What happened with our game ? I took the VC - the only faction solely committed to unconventional guerrilla warfare, Hal took the NVA, Darren the US and Pete the morally bankrupt ARVN. We played the short scenario which is played over some 29 ish event cards / turns and means in practice that each player probably has around 12 turns in which they get to do something. As it turned out in our game, the corrupt leadership of the ARVN was highly resistant to change, meaning that funneling US aid out to ARVN cronies was extremely effective, and meant that Pete was doing his utmost to shove as much cash out the door to his mates, pushing his victory points way up.

Hal as NVA and Darren as US struggled to make much headway in their own VP fields, and for myself I had managed to get a crucial opinion shifter into play from the very start that punished anyone targeting me by awarding me with victory points.

Pete breached his VP goal by the middle of the game and was set for a win, only a self sacrificing move by Hal as NVA and then a wave of terror operations by myself ( and not a little outright killing of police by the NVA, and convincing other police to join my team ) saw his VPs shifted down enough for him not to win and continue on the game.

With the NVA struggling militarily, and the US having spent a buttload of money to influence popular opinion in their favour, Darren with it has to be said a fair amount of ( good ) advice from Team Communist of me and Hal decided take the opportunity to enact a massive withdrawal of US forces from Vietnam, wildly boosting his Victory points as the yanks were suddenly happy at not having to fight such a punishing war.

End game, blue VC enjoy support, the NVA marches
and the US have gone home... but win the day.
ARVN are reduced to a few key cities and locations.
Historically... accurate ?
With US ground support reduced to a skeleton force, and some painful anti corruption events played against Pete, the ARVN faction saw their control collapse, whilst myself as VC undid all the US good will work in Central and Southern Vietnam with only the cities now not being openly communist, and Hal pushed into Southern Vietnam to finally dominate areas in the South.

Despite the communist advances the happy vibes inspired by having such a low commitment to the war meant that Darren ended up the winner, having breached his VP goal and ending some 8 or so above it. However myself as the VC had also breached their VP goal in getting a decent majority of Vietnam to buy into the communist ideal, but crucially not enough to erode Darren's lead - indeed it was the US withdrawal that had bagged the win, just going by popular support the win would have been mine. Hal was very close to breaching his own VP goal of military control, whilst poor Pete ended up firmly fourth as his corrupt shenanigans caught up with him and the US withdrew.

Great game all in all, and once everyone was down pat with what was going on, the game moved on at a brisk pace. The medium length scenario would definitely be achievable within a pub evening with players that were kinda familiar with what was going on. Highly recommended to anyone looking for a game with a bit of a deeper bite to sink your teeth into and high player interaction.

Darren enjoyed the game so much he listed it as one of his favourite plays of 2015 ! High praise indeed.

Moving away from Vietnam, we had another first at NoBoG as Kingdom Death Monster turned up to put a bunch of players through their paces. Kingdom Death Monster has the dubious title as Most Expensive Board Game Ever as its absolutely top notch and arguably unmatched quality miniatures command ridiculous prices. ( I believe the base Kingdom Death Monster set with all the bits was some 300 post colonial dollars ). Kingdom Death Monster is almost a two part kind of game - with one part being a tactical combat game with an emphasis on boss monster kind of takedowns ( if you've ever played an MMO with a raid boss, you'll know the score here ), and the second part of the game being a colony planning and building campaign with an emphasis on a rogue like level of brutal difficulty and sudden random unfair hideous death.

Kingdom Death : Monster. Nothing's going on here....
Despite having gorgeous miniatures, I singularly failed at taking a good shot of them. So. Yeah. Sucks to be you. In my defence I was busy terrorising convincing the Vietnamese peasants to join the glorious communist uprising and caught the KDM'ers in one of their town planning sessions.

KDM went down very well with some interesting tales being told in the aftermath like Sean's character Carol - a hard hitting monster bashing type - having a crucial weakness of fainting at the sight of blood and having to be continually roused by team mates to get up and finish the job. I think Carol ended up losing limbs and eventually dying, not before managing to have a child - which then became Sean's character.

Although I haven't looked hard at KDM it continues to surprise me about just how positive people are when they play it - I think the whole colony planning phase and story element is the secret sauce that lifts this tactical melee game with work of art miniatures above what it would otherwise be.

Two Rooms and a Boom also made its NoBoG debut, which must somewhat annoy Lewis as he had been keen to play this but due to Christmas type responsibilities had skipped NoBoG. I can't say much about Two Rooms except that it involved an awful lot of people milling around the pub - at one point I thought just about the entire NoBoG playerbase was involved. There were some excited high fives, a good deal of chatting, and Sam slipped me a look of his role card. Suffice to say I hadn't a clue what it meant - except he apparently wasn't allowed to talk to a group of people. Sounds a bit harsh to me. Your role is to sit in a corner and have no fun. Sam seemed to be enjoying it however.

Blood Rage turned up again - Pete has waded in and bought this, so with both Nicky and Pete having copies, expect this to turn up even more at NoBoG. Champions of Midgard was also present during the Christmas period and I think is going to end up being the early 2016 popular game of NoBoG with several people now having bought copies of it and eager to give it a bash. Given that CoM is not a million miles away from Lords of Waterdeep - and Lords of Waterdeep was one of the top 10 games of 2015 at NoBoG, it's a reasonable bet that CoM is going to be a shoe in for 2016.

Finally, Sean who has been a recent regular NoBoGer - and particularly untrustworthy werewolfer/resistancer/spyfaller/mafioso - is leaving us for a year to go do university type things with embedded electronics and wifi devices. Spy devices then. He's going to advance the field of spy devices. Good luck in his studies, and his loud and dubious traitor antics will be missed !

As ever I leave you with the gallery.

Terra Mystica. Sam would like to confirm again that this is better than GoT. He made sure to tell me. Again.

Resistance. With an animated Luke who is odds on probably undermining his own team at this point.

A fine hand of cows there Adam. Sechs Nimmt.

Champions of Midgard with Ewan, Tim, Heather and home from Uni Kaya (sp?!)

The Shy Persons Christmas Approval Meeting. Everyone closes their eyes before interacting to avoid embarrassment.
Either that or it's Resistance. I guess it could be Resistance.

The lovely Divinare. Which I am turning into something of a Savant at. Needless to say I won.

The much fancied Lords of Waterdeep. One of NoBoGs Top 10 of 2015.

Cauldron. Still haven't played this. Still need to play this.

More Lords of Waterdeep. Popular. Apparently.

More Champions of Midgard. If you accept CoM = LoW, then it was played four times in two weeks !

Blood Rage ! It's like Chaos in the Old World but with only 3 turns. And more scoring volatility.

7 Wonders
32 and 33 respectively for those who are counting. 33 during the period between Christmas and New Years is crazily up.