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.


Elliot Symonds said...

Once again a superlative piece of writing by our leader and a wonderful synopsis of Joan of Arc. One can add Foreign Interventions and a HUGE amount of begging negotiation into the mix but I kind of like how tense the game can feel. Well done sir. *bows deeply*

Minitrue said...

Thank you ! Joan of Arc is a pretty cool game imo ( better than GoT !!!! ), I'd love to give it a play at NoBoG if you bring it down again.

'Weird' Lewis Walker said...

Brill article, as per usual! Prior to my successfully-being a fascist, I got Luke and several others around a game of Betrayal at the House on the Hill. Luke and I had played before, while the remaining three players were 1st-timers, one of which ended up being the traitorous assistant to Frankenstein's Monster. T'was a close game in the end, flinging torches to burn the monster down, as it was down to two survivors fending off the last of the monster.

It must be noted, while the other two fascists were eventually squabbling over a fascist policy play, I had managed to gain the trust of the liberals and fool 'Hitler' Luke into believing I was liberal too, before shocking the table with the final fascist policy play. A rather interesting session that had peeps reeling. =)

James Hayward said...

It was great to be able to bring Castles of Mad King Ludwig to the table once again and you are right I really do like that corner of the room or at least when the media are present I do.

I had two new players with me and they both picked up the game very easily with one of them beating me and getting over a hundred points which is impressive. If anyone wants yo know more then they can check out my blog.