Wednesday, 24 February 2016

It's just a step to the left

Busy week at the Tun this week - but not because of a flood of interested people who had read last weeks newspaper or seen us on TV. Fickle and funny fate saw fit to feature ( say that quickly 100 times ) the Tun have one of its busiest Tuesday nights that we've seen, some sort of self help group turned up out of the blue and a fairly busy smattering of non gamer pub goers also competed for space.

Which meant space was critical. And upstairs was off limits due to Salsa noise. And I had issues with some serious people juggling. Something I've not had to do since the Ribs. This makes me unhappy. This gives me a meh face. It looks like this.

So yay. Are we back to running out of venue space ? Our once possible extra space has evaporated, and meh. For the record NoBoG numbers were pretty consistent again at 46 so, not us per se, just everyone else.

Maybe a new NoBoG folded table or two round the corner, hands off, plus some chairs is in order if this is the shape of things to come ( there is some spare ground space if not table space available ). I think the current folding table has done a fantastic job and is a pretty nice size for most games... what do NoBoG goers think ?

Anyway. Just a blip. Probably. Nothing to worry about - Famous last words as the ship sank beneath the icy waters.

On with the games !

The game I was most excited about seeing this week - and got to play - was Time Stories a curiously minimalistic looking deduction/narrative game that has you jumping into time to Sort Stuff Out. This game has been on my radar for sometime, and the very quiet word on the street from those that had experienced it was that Time Stories was one of the best board gaming experiences ever... ever... when you factored in the expansions for it. So, low hype, high performance - sounds almost like the opposite of most kickstarters... burn !

The minimalist box of TIME Stories. The Minimalist future aesthetic is kept up on the contents inside too.
This is going to be quite the waffle about TIME Stories. To my eye there's a lot of if not exactly new things going on here, then a very much pushing of the envelope in what it's doing, a lot of clever things, and arguably a very distinct take on story telling that... hasn't really been done before in a board game ? In short, a lot to talk about. Consider yourself warned.

So what is T.I.M.E Stories exactly ? It's just a step to the left... and then a jump to the riiiii-iii-iii-ii-iii-iiight. No. That's something else entirely.

Thematically the game is something of a Quantum Leap, Time Cop, Back to the Future any of those time travelling sci fi shows where Future People jump around in time to Fix Things, Break Things, or generally unwisely dick with the potential for some universe destroying time paradoxes by taking their own mom to the prom. You'll play one of a number of scenarios, with each scenario given the benefit of a time jumping premise being set pretty much anywhere anytime in any kind of reality. Expect swords. Or guns. Or Zombies. And just plain boring humans in a nuthouse.

Mechanically the game is a narrative exploration through a deck of location cards. And for a given scenario / story, you'll have a different deck of cards to investigate. So, cards are laid out to represent locations, and on visiting those locations you get to pick up the card and read the narrative on the back. A bit like some Choose Your Own Adventure or Fighting Fantasy book, but in card form. If you've ever played Holmes and Watson or any of those deduction detective games that have you travelling to locations and reading things, then you'll get an understanding of what's going on here ( and to a lesser extent something like Tales of the Arabian Nights ) . This isn't a game about harvesting cubes or setting up some euro production engine, nor about mass invasions of armies or politicking, it is instead a light RPG type game, where the roleplaying is non existent and confined to the elements of your character card, and the emphasis is on a collective experience of a story.

Where TIME Stories really starts to excel beyond all those other narrative and deduction type games before it however is in its rich and ( for what it is ) complex setup of a story and your journey through it, where you can pick up items, discover new locations or even change what's going on at a given location entirely. The game has mechanics that can empower a story to be highly interactive - if it so chooses, it's entirely dependent on the scenario - wherein even just looking at a new card alters the fabric of something else, either opening it up to discovery, or locking it away from your grasp. How the game pulls this off mechanically is very clever - story tokens ( just abstract shapes ) indicate what knowledge you have of events - and those story tokens allow you access to things or places you might not have been able to in the past. The simplest example of this shows how you can push narrative along - talking to a person in one location has them whispering to you that they know a secret, and come talk to them later in the Dormitory - and you get a token for that. On visiting the Dormitory one of the locations has that token, and on doing that, you get to talk to that person who whispers you their secrets.

The futuristic TIME Stories. Where you meet Bob. The chief
time technician. I'm not joking. Bob, holds the fate of
the universe in his hands.
You'd think he'd at least be called Robert
with such a serious responsibility.
The permutations for this can escalate quickly - particularly when entirely new areas of the map are revealed to you, and finding a key lets you through a door, the map changes, and now you can visit the previously off limit gardens for instance.

Given that the starting scenario has some 30 odd items to discover and perhaps a dozen different tokens on top of that, this is a pretty big deal. It allows a static game to actually track a progressing narrative, tracks what you know and dont know explicitly - and also implicitly via the players just figuring out WTF is going on, and the environment you are in changes and adapts to the unfolding story.

Those that play RPGs that mostly narrate a story directly into the imagination are well versed in a rich and evolving environment that lives around them - the GM tirelessly shifting scope to adapt to the infinite possibilities of the players. Doing something of the same in a board game is quite the mean feat where you have static setups and no GM. Don't mistake what something like a "light RPG" game of Descent does with its narrative being driven by new areas on a map to stick your minis and new foes to kill. This is an entirely different beast driven by story - not your location on a tactical battle map. Indeed going back to the RPG analogy, if the melee table top fights in a pen and paper RPG are directly related to games like Descent and Mice and Mystics - which are all fights and very little story, then the narrative story elements in an RPG - that have no table top part - are directly relateable to what Time Stories does. And don't mistake that for something like Tales of the Arabian Nights either which is a super simplistic Choose Your Own Adventure setup. TIME Stories is more Scotland Yard, with multiple paths, a dynamic environment and a rich narrative.

Is TIME Stories in fact one of the first board game versions of the story side of an RPG experience ? I'm struggling to come up with any other game that has done that - something like Pathfinder Adventure Card game doesn't even come close to what Time Stories achieves, even though component and stuff wise, they are probably in the same ballpark. PAC to me tries to simulate a tabletop melee heavy dungeon crawl in card form without a tabletop, it has little to say about story. I'm thinking that TIME Stories could be something of a unicorn here - the narrative bit of an RPG and something never really done (so well) before.

The game above and beyond all that also has the TIME element which feels similar to the time setup in tragedy looper. You get to play through the game once - almost certainly fail - reset TIME and try it again. You're time travellers right. However, somethings can stay the same between time jumps - as time agents you already know what happened before, and this time around, you can maybe shortcut something. Or fix something. You know where that hidden cupboard is. No need to spend time searching for it this time. And so on. You can argue here about whether this is an interesting mechanic to allow you to do meta things and get foreknowledge between runs - or whether its a cynical element to make you run through the same content more than once, eking out new content in a controlled fashion - or whether again it allows a designer to put truly hard scenarios into place knowing that you will get several cracks at the problem.

TIME Stories - who will you quantum leap like jump into ?
The game also features something which might be arguably superfluous - the characters themselves and their capabilities, the usual-ish simple setup of melee, charisma and agility. The stats however are a little vague in places - I suspect because like the rest of the game it means a given scenario can actually choose what those stats mean, so instead of strength, glibness and agility, maybe this time its fighting, intelligence and research. Locations can have you doing the whole by the numbers melee fights - just like your Fighting Fantasy books - zomg, here comes 2 orcs, they start fighting you, roll to hit - as well as dice rolls against your stats for stealing items, persuading people, breaking down doors and yada.

There was a bit of debate at the table as to whether the whole dice roll thing added anything to the core game - in a purist sense it does not, but in a lets roll some dice and experience some epic misses, epic hits and skin of the teeth saves, it probably does. But. There is an element there of if some encounters are hard, does it make you stop and tool up first - visiting locations and spending time. Do you risk it, or play safe ? And of course, as Alfie pointed out, everything takes time, and those melee encounters and otherwise all serve to burn extra time at a location. When you run out of time your jump finishes and you have to reset. I think on balance the characters and dice rolls add that smear of necessary light RPG-ness to the game. It gives you a different element to hold onto. But I can totally understand that someone appreciating the narrative, deduction or puzzles could be somewhat perplexed at the need to roll a dice at X location. I think its appealing to more than a niche of one kind of player.

Because of the nature of the game and its clever setup it has a great deal of scope about what it can throw at you. Not only in the stories it can present to you. But also game wise what it can do to you -  It can give you deduction problems to solve. It can give you outright mental problems to sit and solve at the table - like some mid game Sudoku or labyrinth solving exercise. It can threaten you with melee and force you to gear up and find healing stuff, or give you moral dilemmas about whether to beat someone to death or chase them away ( and the consquences can be different for each ). It can give you choices about the dreaded Splitting The Party, or which character you should Sam Beckett Quantum Leap style jump into this visit. And offer challenges of working out what the story is doing - the motivations of the characters, do I release that chained up nutter or leave him be, do I trust that mad capering idiot with the top hat when he says he has something awesome to show me.

All in all, it seems like the game is pretty capable of serving anything up to you. Which is pretty amazing.

Of course. All of this is entirely dependent on just how well written the scenarios are. How cleverly they make use of the tools available of the game mechanics.

We played the base box scenario - you get one, and only one scenario with the game.. which is... rather mean, but given how much is in it, it probably is the equivalent of several scenarios of a more static deduction type game ) - and the story was compelling and the elements nicely clicked. Without giving spoilers away, a visit to a mental hospital in the1920s to investigate something Bad Going On. You can probably imagine what kind of field that gives you to work with - its not an unfamiliar trope.

I can see why TIME Stories is picking up a devoted following. The game IS a one shot affair however - play it once and that scenario is then dead to you, so, there is definitely a big issue of replayability here, a one hit wonder with a vengeance. This is not entirely unknown territory for such narrative games though, and others before it have had similar problems - albeit, TIME Stories with its single scenario is really testing the limit of whether a one play one box thing is a good deal or not. Of course, as of writing, there are another four scenarios you can go out and buy, and get a cool experience all over again. But yeah. Unfortunately there's really no other way it could be with TIME Stories - because the scenarios are so interleaved and carefully crafted, there's not much you could do to approach the game as a high replayable scenario without destroying many of the elements that make the game stand out ( the puzzles would immediately go out of the window ).

For  me, it's debatable whether you'd want to buy TIME Stories. Its limited replayability is a big issue. On the other hand the experience it gives - for my money - is second to none, other than actually playing an RPG, and even then, it manages to bang out what an RPG can do in probably, I don't know, a tenth of the time. Oddly enough, I think TIME Stories is probably the ideal club type game, where a single copy of the game could be played by many different groups of a single club. It'd be a great experience, get a lot of use, but still abide by its you can only play me once deal.

Overall - Highly Recommended. A must play for anyone who is even slightly interested in narrative things, deduction type games, or any form of RPG. I'd go further and say it's probably a must play for any kind of board gamer, at least once, just to see the clever tricks the game manages to pull off and use an inspiration springboard.

I got to play as some cute but wild eyed and committed cannibal girl, followed by an attractive lady with an erotomania problem, and learned just how sexy plungers ( the kind you unblock toilets with ) can be. I won't spoil it. But it's definitely all in there. Ask any of the players about The Plunger.

Alfie stuck with his coke head character who could snort cocaine at will to gain dice power ups - but using the last dose of coke meant a permanent health hit, Hal flipped between a hardcore soldier who was a secret pacifist and couldnt abide anyone dying, and Darren played some glib mouthed shyster who needed to be escorted everywhere otherwise we lost time. Time doing what ? Don't ask.

Fab game anway. Really pleased I got to play it, quite the unique experience, go play it !

Dead of Winter. And no sign of Jon Snow.
Dead of Winter was back on table this week, one of the most popular NoBoG games of 2015, but seemingly the steam has run out of this title and it's dwindling in its replays and I dare say it wont feature in the top 10 for 2016. I saw Elliot having a bash at this - I think it might have been his first foray into the game, and it seemed to go on for quite a while, barring a heavy 5 player Imperial Settlers game, it was the longest play of the evening ( over 3 hours ). I didn't get a chance to really ask if everyone enjoyed it - I kinda got the sense it went on a bit too long.

Elsewise, after some squeezing onto a larger sized table, Lewis got Epic Wizards to the table, whilst at the other end of the table Star Wars Carcassonne shaped up to possibly be the most interesting of all the carcassonnes - it certainly looked hella funky.

We also had some lovely old school gaming going on with Judge Dredd, a real blast from the 80's
Judge Dredd. IIRC the Ape Gang are in this. Awesome.
past, and a game from the - in my estimation - first golden age of gaming, when board games were busting dice out left right and centre, Games Workshop was still.. well... about Games and not just miniatures, and companies like Avalon Hill, GDW and TSR had yet to go financially tits up.

Luke and his more than 100 games of Betrayal at House on the Hill ( isn't it about time someone made him the official mascot of the game or something ) led a table around another dance on the hill ( really, more stories required !), whilst down on the ground what looked to be a great game of Imperial Settlers was shaping up, Ben had so many prestige buildings as Japanese it was bewildering ( but apparently he wasn't winning ???? ), and Ewan got the lovely second edition Mission Red Planet out again, with a mostly gentlemanly first round of scientists, followed by a much less gentlemanly round of secret agents, followed by some positively dickish Femme Fatales. If you've never played the game you won't have a clue what that means, suffice to say, increasing levels of dickery.

Also David lead his merry band of Star Wars people through the romp of another Imperial Assault - albeit Rebel Chloe was absent, presumably off training on Dagobah with Yoda. David reports that they are just about half way through the campaign, but, I think Stormtrooper fatigue is beginning to kick in, as their cannon fodder Red Shirt nature is starting to tire Darth David out. Uh huh. Maybe there should be a bad guy rota thing from week to week. . .

As ever the evening finished with the game du jour - Secret Hitler, Lewis finally tumbled off his winning streak, for once being a liberal and also marking his first loss. Richard IV managed to take a few snapshots in game of the characters in play with his super secret smart fascist detector mobile app ( which I suspect is just him drawing things on the screen ). Awesome !

The Smart Fascist app detects its first positive

Imperial Assault

Epic Wizards Spell War Thingies. Rearrange words to make sense.

Carcassonne Star Wars.

Betrayal at House on the Hill

Imperial Settlers kicks off

Mission Red Planet 2

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Trouble Brewing

What a crazy week it has been for NoBoG. Firstly, the EDP news article was published which ended up showcasing a number of our lovely people and commenting on the rising trend of gaming culture.

And then on the day the article was printed the call came in that Mustard TV wanted to turn up and film a short piece about NoBoG as well ! With about six hours notice. Don't panic ! And so a day after the news article hit the streets we also had a very nice TV piece that hit the airwaves and shortly after the interwebs.

Blimey. Although in hindsight, as Mustard TV are part of the Archant group which the EDP also is, I guess it's not that big of a surprise we got the double barreled shot gun of press interest going on there.

Should you not have seen them on the facebook feed already, you can check out both of them here.

Eastern Daily Press NoBlog Link Board games are making a comeback in Norwich It is a Tuesday evening at The Mash Tun pub in Norwich and around 50 people are sitting around tables, sipping beers and cokes and occasionally exchanging conversation.
Mustard TV NoBlog Link The board game Renaissance A Norwich club is toasting a brave new world of board gaming. Say move over Monopoly and goodbye to Scrabble, because the Norwich Board Gamers are entering a new, golden era.

But enough of the starry eyed NoBoG promotion, what games were going on at The Mash Tun this week ?

A couple of never seen before at NoBoG games this week. The first of which was Joan of Arc.

Originally released in 1998,  Joan of Arc has a passing resemblance to something like Game of Thrones ( or more correctly the other way around given that GoT was released 13 years later ) in that you have a fairly limited high view strategic map, and the order of the day is going forth and conquering new regions with your armies and playing combat cards with values on them to swing the day in your favour.

Joan of Arc - the factions of France ( and England ) clash.
There is not much else going on game wise with Joan of Arc, it's an outright conquest type game, so don't be looking for some clever euro optimising or synergising going on here, fight for regions, regions get you more gold and points, rinse and repeat.

That's not a bad thing though, particularly if there are some clever things above and beyond say a dice roll ( Risk, *cough* ) that are contributing to your success or failure. And Joan of Arc has that - arguably the core of the game revolves around the combat mechanism. ( Everything else is just sauce for that inevitable fight, or in the case of Pretender Points and an extended confused food metaphor, the jam everyone is aiming for ) In Joan of Arc you will be managing a hand of cards that you can play into combat ( plus some other non combat cards you might spam out ). Some combat cards are just plain strength values, and depending whether you are attacking or defending you will get to play one or two of these, whilst others do sneaky things to the combat, and yet others act as extra buff cards - like sending in a leader to help out, or just using a bit of influence to increase the battle in your favour.

One of the nice things about the combat system here is, that if you win you get to keep your melee and hero cards ( albeit when attacking you can only use them once ), and if you lose they get burned. Which can be tremendously important when your sweaty hands are grasping that rare 6 value card and you're deciding whether you should keep it hanging around for defence, or you can win that next combat and get it back for defence anyway. It's also important to decide when to commit your re-usable +2 hero cards which you are free to add into a combat anytime you like - but crucially, if they lose, they die.

Elliot takes a snap of Joan of Arc
Add in a single die result to a combat and you can see that the conflict resolution in Joan of Arc is rather nice, tense, open to some bluffing and dickery and never entirely certain.

The rest of the game involves a series of phases, where you collect gold, build castles, choose whether the country should be at war or not, and manage your hand of cards. Victory points are scored at the end of every turn for regions held.

Joan of Arc in the end falls into a nice conquest style game, something between Wallenstein, Game of Thrones and old school Blood Royale ( remember that ??!? ). It's simple, and perhaps given its age starts to straddle that gap of old school Ameritrash and new age Euro with its nod towards hand management and a more involved melee process than seeing who can roll more sixes.

To my mind this game answers the question of whether Game of Thrones would be as popular as it is were it not for the very well known theme. I think you have your answer in the not a million miles away from it and not very well known Joan of Arc.

If you'd like to give this a go, and don't have the benefit of the board game, then rejoice, because they made a very good video game conversion of it - the demo of which you can play for free. Which I highly recommend if you have a bit of spare time to hand. Go. Do it. Download it !

Montjoie ! NoBlog Link Montjoie ! The PC version of the Joan of Arc board game.

The second new to NoBoG game this week was Brew Crafters, an unabashedly pure Euro game without a single element of randomness and a good deal of worker placement efficiency all about making your brewery the most renowned brewery of craft ales and beer malarkey in the land.

Brew Crafters is I think something of a sleeper of a game - it has largely slipped under the radar and yet has some solid gameplay and design, and many that have played it compare it to Agricola with a different theme. Which is no bad thing given what a great game Agricola is.

The crafty Brew Crafters
Brew Crafters despite the comparison to Agric is very much its own game. There are certainly elements that are inspired from Agric - such as the worker placement market board which has players place meeples one at a time on exclusive spaces that either reward materials or a certain action, and where spaces that aren't used have their resources accumulate turn after turn. And with each player also getting a brewery mat to play on in which they can upgrade buildings or build new ones, plant crops in a farm, and process ingredients into beer, there is a little hint of the Agric farm there too.

The game overall however is a fair step away from Agric - there are no mouths to feed here, and you wont be earning victory points from how fancy your brewery is. Instead the meat of the game revolves around the brewing of beers - each of which requires a different spread of ingredients - which nets you money and reputation points. Money is important - without it you will incur debts that give you negative reputation points ( effectively there is a direct one way trade of Victory points to money ) - but crucially at game end is worth nothing towards your victory. Only reputation counts, and reputation you get from your beers.

So far, so simple. Get ingredients. Process ingredients to beer. Profit.

Except. There are a barrel full of ways to do that in Brew Crafters. Whether you choose to bust out simple ales in mass production, or go for the more difficult brews, or even tamper with the brews as they get processed, there are many ways to pick up points here - all of which start with brewing a beer, but end in a whole bunch of different ways. Along the way you might decide to invest in technology to help you on your brewing enterprise - and also end up earning you extra reputation for the different beers you have. Or do you expand your building infrastructure. And if so what. And when ? And can you cover ingredients ? Or the cost of running all your choices ? Tricky. There are many lovely interleaved possibilities here, from producing your own stuff, to expanding storage size, or just employing someone who makes certain action spots more compelling for you, its pretty much always the case that there is more than one way to do anything in the game, and part of the challenge of the game is figuring out what actions you can get for free by doing other things, and the timing of everything to come together nicely.

Brew Crafters - can you run a better brewery ?
The game sets up in a basic mode - which to be honest comes across as something of the same weight of Agricola if not a tad heavier - and leaves it open to players to integrate a host of advanced options that only further muddy and complicate the waters. You can actually see a good reason why this game has done that - muddying those waters too much could result in an absolute brain melt down for a new player as they make a bunch of wrong decisions and crash out to a spectacularly bad finish.

The game also has a pretty decent replay value going on here - as there are a number of beers to brew, only nine of which are in any one game, and there are a number of skilled workers you can pick up, against only nine of which appear in any one game, that can radically alter what you can do in a turn.

We played it with five at NoBoG after a late start, and even with a rules session and a table full of new players we were finished in under 2.5 hours. Everyone seemed to really like it - Sam said it made his brain hurt, the Agricola inspiration was apparent to those that had played both, and there seemed to be the rather blasphemous opinion that Brew Crafters was actually more compelling theme wise and somewhat more satisfying as you chucked brews down your production line and stacked them up as your victory points. It's fair to say I think that everyone except me ( four games under my belt ) had trouble brewing, and there was something of a learning curve going on as to what worked well, and oh crap, I've just burned all my ingredients in a pointless action. Both Joe and Sam did quite a number on taking ingredients and then dumping them straight in the bin.

Is it a great game then ? That depends on who you are and whether you like your hardcore Euros or not. The theme is nice, but ultimately you have to at least like your Euro style games to enjoy this title, and I can imagine a whole segment of the gaming market that will run screaming from its uncompromising demands for efficient responsibility. Secret Hitler it ain't.

One of the many Can't Stop editions.
Elsewise in the house the old school classic Can't Stop got a play, another old school game, Settlers of Catan saw table time, James played some Castles of Mad King Ludwig tucked away around the corner ( he must like it round there, he always ends up there ), and the Euro distinguished Keyflower made it back for one of its irregular visits under the guidance of David and Chloe.

I missed what else was going on - and epically badly managed to miss what was being played on a table less than 6 feet away from me -  as I was kinda distracted by the filming and guiding my table through the finer points of brew crafting.

There was some epic and raucous Secret Hitlering going on at the end of the evening - Lewis turned out to be a Fascist again, and Luke a gleeful Hitler, with Team Evil Regime going on to secure the win. Luke was very buzzed by the whole experience and declared Hitler to be the best role of all and the game to be better than Resistance. Uh huh.

I failed to get quite enough people together for a decent second game of Secret Hitler, so this week I skipped it, and we busted out Cheaty Mages instead which hasn't seen table time for quite a while. Pete's first try at this game ended up with him being the cheatiest of all cheaty mages with some unbelievable goblin pumping that saw him cruise to a win. Seeing a goblin beat out both a Dragon ( highest creature ) AND a demon ( second highest creature ) AND a dark elf ( fourth highest creature ) in a single round is pretty amazing. Cheaty Mages is a nice little filler if you've never seen it or played it, a betting game where you subtly, or not so subtly cast hidden spells on the creatures to help or hinder them in their goal of being the strongest on table at round end.

Also some news about space at the Mash Tun, I'm not sure if it's a weekly thing again, but the recently cleared upstairs is now playing host to the Salsa dancing lot on a Tuesday - however, it's possible from a space overflow view that the Gin Palace could  be opened up if we need it - Luke did offer at one point, but an extra table was all we needed in the end.

Saying that, numbers are consistently steady at the moment in the mid 40's, ( 46, 47, and 45 respectively ) not an exact science however as we are getting some people in late, some people leaving relatively early, and some people coming in very late indeed !

Settlers of Catan. For many the game that kickstarted the second golden age of board gaming.


Jungle Speed. Or possibly beer mats and a candlestick holder. Hard to tell.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Mars 2.0

After having been talked up for sometime, the sleeper hit of Mission Red Planet which has proven somewhat tricky to get your hands on in the past, has finally returned to shelves with the second edition tweak and reprint that FFG has just released. Did they tweak it and break it ? Improve it ? Or is it the good old Mission Red Planet we know and love.

To answer all those questions, this week Ewan had it fresh off the presses and ready to play in all it's cute chibi astronaut glory. Here's what he had to say about that.

Tonight Tim, Sam, Andy, Rich, Simon, and I put on our space helmets to head to Mars for riches in the second edition of Mission Red Planet.
Mission Red Planet reprint in all its glory

Mission Red Planet has been played a few times in the past at Nobog but I believe this may be the first time that the second edition has been played. I won’t go too much in depth into the rules/gameplay, as previous Noblogs have covered the first edition ( Ed. actually I'm not sure the basic premise ever has made it into a NoBlog.. google search says no ! ) .

However there are some differences with the newer edition. First off there are several cosmetic differences, including some cool astronauts for each player (now plays up to 6 players) as well as the board being circular and feeling a little smaller. Secondly the new addition of Phobos, a moon orbiting Mars, which is an extra zone to send your astronauts too and potentially use (in conjunction with the soldier card) to stage a Mars invasion. Finally the addition of action cards, which can really have an impact on the final phases of scoring.

Mars begins to fill up with eager astronauts
Playing with 6 certainly makes Mars now feel crowded but as everyone plays pretty much simultaneously each round it didn’t add too much to the overall game time, I think we took about 90 min to play after a rules explanation. The crowded board certainly added to the theme as the competition for resources was fierce and the slight change to the rules of counting down rather than up during character resolution made the game feel more thematic.

Phobos is an interesting addition an adding some addition strategies to the game. When you send astronauts there they are pretty much stuck there; however with the change to the soldier card you can move up to 3 to any area on Mars. This makes timing the soldier card even more important if you want to fully utilise him. The action cards have the potential to be a game changer and are brutal. Andy was able to play one entitled space zombies (yes even in a steam punk universe there are zombies) and bring all his dead astronauts back and put them anywhere on Mars; pipping me for control on a key area.

An unexplored Mars ready to be discovered - first turn MRP
Overall the new additions to Mission Red Planet have made this more than a simple reprint and have added a lot to the original game. For those that own the original though I don’t know whether this warrants buying the new edition (unless you want the new astronaut meeples) and it will depend on what you feel about the new rules. For me I really like the new additions and it makes Mission Red Planet feel new again with in a familiar setting. In terms of what went on in our game Tim ran away with the win due to some nice placements of discovery cards, netting him a lot of ice to win the global mission. Definitely worth a play for those who have either played the original or for new players.  

Six players at 90 minutes is a great play time. The board looked like utter chaos at the end - I didn't play it, but I would quibble that the game board is now far too busy - more players, bigger pieces, small board - to my eye it made it a good deal tougher to instantly appraise who was where in what numbers and what needed to be done to massage control. A minor quibble though. The astronauts look kick ass. I think I would possibly be tempted myself to custom print a bigger board for it. In any case, cool stuff, I wanna give this a go to see how the changes stack up.
Ten - hut. MRP Astronauts on parade.

Last weeks inaugural play at NoBoG of the print and play version of Secret Hitler took the house by storm ( and I failed to get a game of it ), so this week I printed out a second set of it just to make very damn sure that I would get to play it.

Which turned out to be wise as both copies ended up in use.

Secret Hitler. Time to out those whose fashion sense is far too
into sharp outfits with black, red and skull motifs.
Liable to be fascists or Dennis the Menace.
My first time playing Secret Hitler I found the game was indeed pretty damn good, and for all its simplified Resistance setup - and is there really enough to think about here, still has enough gas in game to get the usual pointy fingers and accusations going around a table, but dare I say it in more streamlined fashion. The game also feels very inclusive - the roles very quickly zip around the table, and having to exclude players who were previously part of the legislative roles forces play into a wider circle. Some very funny play, including an increasingly obvious Fascist of Lewis, Richard IV real time editing hitler moustaches onto suspects via some cell phone trickery, some discussion about when choosing who to kill whether you could kill yourself in some very apt Hitler suicide type thing and Sam blatantly acting like a Fascist in the first round - vote me, vote me, I'll kill who you like.. possibly the most needy Fascist play ever - but actually turning out to NOT be a fascist, followed by a much more trustworthy and calm game where he turned out in fact to be Hitler and got elected as Chancellor. Dammit. Plus I'm not sure I'll even believe Hal is anything but a liberal when playing Secret Hitler. I just can't see him as a Fascist. Ever. We finished on a five player game of Secret Hitler - and the consensus around the table was that five just doesn't work too well - I think six may be the actual workable minimum number for this game.

Old School Mexica
Hal brought along something of an old school classic in the form of Mexica which at this point is nearly 15 years old, one of a trio of games in the so called "Mask Trilogy" - Mexica, Tikal and Java. Mexica has recently had a reprint and a facelift with more detailed and fancier buildings and overhauled board art. An old school relaxed Euro ( as all the games in the Mask Trilogy are ), Mexica features players constructing buildings around the board in order to gain dominance in a particular district. Districts themselves are not set and are created from players building discrete islands surrounded by canals, meaning no two games will ever quite work out in the same way.

The new (resin?) building / pyramid pieces look great, and the game is quite the eye candy piece - although it has to be said that ALL of the Mask games were pretty nice to look at.

Ich bin ein Hamburgum. I am a donut as Kennedy once said.
Also keeping it Euro and somewhat old school as ever was Stu and Tom and this week Stu was offering Hamburgum (2007) up for play. I've not played this but it looks Eurotastic - and I think is one of the handful of games to have the whole action rondel thing going on ( a wheel of actions ) - of which I remember from the much fancied Navegador (2010).

Lewis tempted fate by playing Cauldron again, and the beast that is Betrayal at House in the Hill seems to be stirring once more and beginning to pop up or be requested with some regularity. I still maintain someone(s) needs to sit down and create a whole new story book for the game to extend past the 50 included. People like Luke have now played Betrayal so often they've done every single story, and a lot of those more than once ( which tells you something about how popular that game is with some people )

No Champions of Midgard this week ( gasp ), but we did have some Lords of Waterdeep instead.

Blood Rage, Ragnarok and the end of the world.
Oblivion. Which came as a relief if I'm honest.
And lastly Blood Rage also made it back to table, and a largely new player base got to go through its Viking delights with Pete teaching and then monster feedback engine-ing through the game ( he blasted to an enormous 200+ point victory by the end ). This is the second time I've played Blood Rage - I didn't like it the first time, I made something of a laundry list of outright mechanical flaws and noted a number of game design decisions that were personally unfun and eye rolling to me but gave it the benefit of the doubt - and this second time around I have to say it just underscored those issues to me and removed the benefit of the doubt to outright no thanks. Made worse this time around by my effective player elimination two thirds through the game. Ragnarok couldn't come quickly enough for me.

Lovely miniatures though.

A few shots for the gallery. Thanks go to Tim this week, who was snapping away with a fancy new phone to get you most of the shots of Mission Red Planet that you see. For me, I had time to snap extra shots of Blood Rage. It's not like I was doing anything else ...

Blood Rage - I had time to titivate with the camera

If this is the kind of game the Vikings play, I can see why they are all Blood Ragey. They're probably not enjoying Eric M Langs unique sense of questionable game design either.

Betrayal at House on the Hill. More stories required.

More Mission Red Planet

Pandemic. Contagion lurked in the corner with Voitek and Monika.

Monday, 8 February 2016


If you follow NoBoG at all on Facebook, then you cannot fail to have noticed something of a stir last week - and for those not on Facebook, there was some excitement going on at the prospect of the local press turning up to do a feature on all that is the Internationally Renowned extravaganza of Norwich Board Gamers. Sam noted he would have to get his hair done and Dean came over all starstruck and contemplated giving it all up in the face of "having made it".

If that wasn't exciting enough, Lewis also got wind that David Hasselhoff - he of the Knight Rider, Baywatch, German mega pop star, or tongue in cheek minor reality celebrity and panto performer depending on your vintage - had arrived in Norwich and was out about in the City. Extending the ever welcoming hand of International Gaming and Social Horse Assery via Werewolf Type Things that is NoBoG, Lewis quickly dropped the Hoff an invite to the evenings gaming via his Twitter feed.

Elliot added to the charm offensive.

So. Celebrities ! Press ! Oh my.

As it turned out the Hoff didn't turn up, but journalist Daniel did, and a little while later his photographer cohort appeared too, and a mountain of notes were taken and people spoken to.

For Daniels part he seemed interested in getting down some of the definitions used in gaming - the differences of Euros and Ameritrash, co-ops, social gaming and so on, as well as a good smattering of personal information about each person he bumped into - who are you, what do you do, how old are you, how many kids do you have and yada. You can kinda imagine the article writing itself at this point. He also took down a brief run through of the top 10 played NoBoG games of last year - so, you might expect that to see print too.

He ended up watching our game of Taj Mahal for sometime - although to be fair most of the time he was watching we weren't actually doing a whole lot, and you can expect to see some photographs of an almost empty Taj Mahal board on show - before drifting off to watch Lewis run a game of Secret Hitler. On learning that we had some game designers in our midst he then went and chatted to Elliot before floating back to me, and we chatted to anyone in close vicinity.

Overall Daniel stayed for more than 3 hours, chatted to, I am gonna say probably a dozen people to one extent or another, and by the end of it all it became very clear that he had way too much information to put into an article. Certainly he had the very informed groundings of just what modern gaming is about, but with so much information on a wide variety of things it will be interesting to see what he filters out and what is deemed pertinent given that he himself is not a gamer and just what kind of audience the piece is aimed at.

Secret Hitler getting playtime - and worse being actually watched by the local press - was the brainchild of Sam the Second ( yeah that's right Sam, I'm blaming you, yes m'lud, it was all Sam's idea m'lud, no m'lud I didn't play Secret Hitler at all ). You can imagine the Secret Fascist Society headlines that an article might leap to, but ignoring that, the idea of printing out this highly anticipated game was so blindingly obvious once stated that I had to do it. I had actually figured Daniel would be gone before Hitler made a showing and thus avoid any Third Reich overtones.

Secret Hitler - NoBoG Print & Play style
So onto the gaming. Secret Hitler. One of a veritable rash of social filler games that is going to pop up this year ( this could be the year everyone gets sick and tired of too many social games ), and something that has been highly anticipated by a good number of people tracking the kickstarter, as well as bizarrely getting some more mainstreamy type coverage via people like John Bain ( TotalBiscuit ) playing it online.

Secret Hitler is pretty obviously a Resistance variant. With two werewolf type teams of good guys ( liberals ) and bad guys ( fascists ), each team is looking to get a number of articles committed into law before the other team - which despite the naming, is pretty much the whole Resistance mission completion race. One player in Secret Hitler as well as being Fascist is, as the title of the game suggests, Secret Hitler, and at a key point in the game, if the Fascists have done enough, getting the Secret Hitler elected as chancellor is an instant win for Team Third Reich. So far, so Resistance-ish. The main divergence for Secret Hitler however is the simplifying of the mission resolution stage - the committing of articles to the table. Only two people ever get a say in what article is put into play - The President and The Chancellor - and as the President has control over what card choice The Chancellor gets, you can see that the permutations of who is good and who is bad is far far simpler than Resistance. Indeed one of the tags for the game is a bluffing game for people who are bad at lying. Nevertheless, don't be fooled by it's simplifying the number of options going on - the question of just who put that crappy Fascist article into play and nudged the game further towards a win for the bad guys is not an easy one. Both President and Chancellor may have had no choice but to put a fascist policy into place given a not entirely uncommon bad pick up of available articles. Indeed the main excuse you will hear on something terrible happening is - I had no choice.

Despite its apparent simplicity the game is proving to be very popular - and Lewis ran the game at NoBoG - falling on his sword to be impromptu organiser rather than player - with a full table to great acclaim. In fact it was so popular the game got played for the rest of the evening, and I only managed to finally prise it out of the  hands of the final five playing it at just before midnight.

Keeping with Print and Play, James printed out the kickstarted Spirit Island - and he gave a writeup of that over on Facebook - which I'm going to copy in here...

Last night i got to play Spirit island at NoBoG. I had seen this recently on Rahdo's 'blog' and it looked like something i really needed to try. so i found the print and play version, which although rather bland should give much the same introductory experience.

for those unfamiliar with spirit island, it is a cooperative area control game, where, rather than playing the settlers come to live on a previously undiscovered island, you play the island itself. Rather, you play the spirits of the island, trying to purge the island of the plague of man.
Four of us sat down to play, and with the exception of Richard who specifically requested FIRE we all randomly picked spirits. I ended with EARTH (all the spirits have elaborate names in the game, but i was essentially earth); James took WATER and [new guy i cant remember name of] played WIND.
The 2nd Print and Play in the house - Spirit Island
The game ended up being a lot heavier than i anticipated, and the island quickly seemed to be overcome by filthy humans. Earth is a slow builder in this game, and struggles to spread influence far across the board. Early power card draws compounded this, as i gained a power where one of my used powers was not spent and remained available in subsequent rounds. as i capped out at being able to use two powers a turn i rarely had to take my spreading out action, which also (for earth) reclaims all spent powers.
Water on the other hand has no trouble spreading far and wide, but the starting powers did not seem up to that much. That said, being able to do one damage pretty much every turn did save us from a hell of a lot more invaders.

Air bolted out the gate. In contrast to other players air's powers nearly all kick off before the invaders get to do anything each round, this combined with being able to play more cards each turn meant that air could push back or kill a fair few invaders each time, and more cards played meant more powerful innate abilities. The same followed for fire, and although most of fire's powers ended up being slow, when fuelled by lightning (who in turn was often fed by water) fire could get these off fast.

Our early game started to look quite scary, with invaders rapidly spreading to nearly every part of the island. however the spirits did manage to push them back, and quite often managed to manipulate the tribal folk to finish off small pockets of resistance. We finally managed to destroy so many buildings that the fear levels rocketed, and victory conditions changed so that we needed only destroy all buildings. things seemed to go downhill for the invaders rather quickly after that. and we reached victory just before the invaders started escalating their actions.
All in all i enjoyed this game, even though it was a lot heavier than i expected. There was a fair bit of AP near the start of the game as we all figured out just what was going to happen, and how our powers interacted with each other, but this smoothed itself out as we got an idea of what we could do. If i had any criticism from a single play it would be about whether there is an optimal solution each round or not. The PnP version only has 4 spirits, these have elaborate names and could be ambiguous enough to allow different air or fire spirits. I understand that the full version has eight spirits, and the KS set an additional two. We also played with the first turn blight rule, but not the progressive powers, so slightly simpler than the main game, and with no additional scenarios.

either way i left the game exhausted in the same way that robinson crusoe leaves you exhausted, but enjoyed it enough to play it again some time

Taj Mahal. A gentle old school Euro.
For myself, I was rather looking forward to getting the hardcore Euro Brew Crafters to table, but Bondy and Jen on hearing that the game was like a more unforgiving version of Agricola turned pale and bolted out of the gate decrying anything but that, so we settled on Mr Bonds self declared favourite game of Taj Mahal, where, by dint of what everyone agreed was a ridiculously cheaty princess that score him 2 points every turn just for sitting at the table, romped to a decent win, with myself beating out all the other Taj newbies, despite limping through half of the game with only a single card in my hand.

Ticket to Ride. When will they make Ticket to Ride Mars ?
Elliot returned to form by bringing Ticket to Ride along this week and was crushed, CRUSHED by compatriot and NoBoG irregular Caroline ( who to be fair when she plays a game pretty much tends to only play Ticket to Ride, so must be considered something of a Pro TtR player ). That'll teach you for slacking off on the Ticket to Ride training ( ah ha ha ! ) Elliot and playing Champions of Midgard instead.

As Elliot wasn't playing Champions of Midgard it fell to Ewan to keep up the back to back weekly play which probably adds up to around 7 plays for 2016 ( which given 2015's top played game of Ticket to Ride had 15 plays is rather astonishing ). Will CoM keep the pace ?

Codenames hit multiple tables again this week
Elsewise, apart from the Secret Hitlering, Codenames had another very strong week ( it seems to be something of the default go to large social game at the moment ), with some more dubious spymastering, and I am once again pleased to report, a perfect record for myself. *smug* . New to codenames Joe pronounced the game fairly easy, or something along those lines, which I took as a challenge and immediately nominated him for next rounds Spy Master. Joe looked "thrilled" at the prospect and began to backtrack, but despite his worry carried his task off well, and lead our team to a glorious victory.

Porta Nigra. Buy from the centre, build on the edges,
be careful about what actions you are taking where. Eurotastic
The rather spiffy looking and relatively new Porta Nigra was present at NoBoG this week and looked like a game that should definitely be checked out if you are into your Euros. A point salad Euro which revolves around you building buildings and working out just how to move your master builder around to pick up what he needs whilst also building what you need to score and gain bonuses, the game has a pedigree pair of designers and seems to be a pretty solid Euro affair - indeed Tom Vasel gave it a largely negative review for being too difficult to work out where to score what, which in general I take as a good sign - in my opinion Tom has a strange and often anti euro idea of what makes a good game. Horses for courses.

Tash Kalar
Tash-Kalar was also on table - this is something of a rare beast at NoBoG, by my measure this is only the second or third time it has shown up despite being fairly well liked and from the popular designer Vlaada Chvatil ( Galaxy Trucker, Space Alert, Dungeon Petz, Codenames amongst others ).

A bit of the ever marvellous Divinaire for me at the end of the evening ( if you haven't played this 2-4 player filler GO DO IT, it's very nice) , and after the travesty of actually losing a game of this last week - Pete : I've figured out how you play, and I can confuse you now and win - I returned to form and beat all other "psychics" at the table. The Universe has been restored to sanity. The game featured possibly the most inspired dick-ish move I've ever seen in a game when Sam handed me a card to utterly destroy my perfect guess and force me out of the competition on one of the tables. Premeditated, designed to spoil my game regardless of his own position, well played Sam !

The Gallery. Where Terra Mystica gets yet another play this week.
Porta Nigra, a rather smart looking Euro builder ( area influence ) with a good designer pedigree.
Legendary Villains

Terra Mystica, showing no signs of popularity drop

Epic spell wars wizards thingie
To quote Ewan : The obligatory weekly shot of Champions of Midgard