Sunday, 19 June 2016

All Quiet on the Mash Tun front

Perhaps everyone stayed home to watch the Euro football. Or maybe people were put off by the chatter about having to share our space with football hooligans who wanted to watch the match on the big TV in the pub. Or maybe it's just an odd time of year.

But whatever it was, this week we had the lowest turnout for a number of years ( the official book of records reckons 2013 ) - we hit 26 people by the end of the evening.

As it turned out, the football hooligans sharing our space turned out to be a small family of Italians on Monday, and three very quiet guys on the Tuesday.

Lords of Vegas. Six player mental variant.
Games this week. The front of the pub played a frankly mental six handed game of Lords of Vegas. I told them this was mental. Twice. They ignored me. There was then some bemoaning of downtime during the game, and post game there were some polite comments about perhaps it was a little too long. Uh huh. Lords of Vegas is cool. And it can seat six with expansions. Which is very flexible and very cool. But I'm not entirely sure this isn't a seat too far for the game. A bit like trying to fit six seats on a bicycle. You might get it working. But it's not pretty. Or practical. I'm reminded of a Mr Bond pearl of wisdom here as he has noted in the past that expansions can be a very dubious affair when applied to solid base games - doubly so when expanding player count. Lords of Vegas sweet spot is four if you ask me. Which you weren't. You're welcome.

Some reformed table of theirs then played Machi Koro where James pretty much slaughtered everyone gaining his first ever victory against Lewis who had failed with a single dice strategy. Lewis had an absolute barrelful of new games that didn't get played, mostly smaller format card games, a mix of Kickstarters and purchases at the recent games Expo. It will be cool to see them get some air time in future - if you want an interesting, off beat, smaller card game, go see Lewis !

Tim's table had an apparently utterly cut throat game of Citadels going on, where everyone except American James was being an ass. Maybe Karma smiles happily on nice guys, because when I checked in with them, he was winning. Despite playing nicely. Or perhaps because he was playing nicely. Sam then bucking the trend of generally shouting at people towards the end of the evening, accusing them of being werewolves or calling into question their dubious Aryan heritage, played a calming and refined game of Splendor. He does do refined occasionally. I suspect however that he would like the game much better if there were secret nazis in the game, and he could collect his sets of gems whilst also offering choice fascist slurs to other players. Or possibly secret dwarves. Which then sounds a bit Saboteur like.

Upstairs they played Trajan. I haven't a clue what went on there. I didn't venture upstairs at all other than to do a spot check. I still haven't played this game. I still need to play it. Some day.

Lords of Waterdeep
Elliot's table got to play the classic Lords of Waterdeep, where Joe played an absolute blinder and was slicing and dicing his way to victory.

Our table got to play a very full five for Rokoko. The game about making outfits for the high and mighty of Louis XIVs shindigs. Five is the most this game takes, and, with five it's a good deal tighter and longer. But still good. It wouldn't suffer an expansion with six though ! Sean had an impressively strong start hauling in some great money and making some good outfits, but then sputtered out in the face of bad turn order and paying little attention to updating his personnel roster. Mel on the other hand was fighting for first turn, spamming some excellent outfits into the royal hall and was doing a good job of recruiting. She put in a very strong score, and if she had managed to get another fireworks display or two built would have won the game. Adam descended into talking to himself at length. I called him the Adam collective such was the breadth of his conversations and arguments with himself - it was like watching a whole other table playing the game, all condensed into a single person. If only he could have changed his voices between lines, it would have been even better. And probably slightly worrying. But very entertaining.

Mel lost in thought surveying her outfit making empire in Rokoko
Poor Andrew seemed to be dicked over at every turn in this game and got off to a slow start along with me, but by the end he was doing a lot better and put in a challenging score. For myself I was entirely shut out of the points bonanza royal hall, no fireworks for me, struggled to do much points wise at the start, but bided my time by hoarding just about all the red cloth and grabbing savvy team members for my staff. In the end I managed to pip a win with a bare couple of room dominations and a butt load of money. The money aspect of this game *is* balanced in a situation like this, I was shut out of most things, but still managed to earn decent VPs from money and a crucial few other spots. I think the problem with money is if you are doing well on the board AND you get a decent money flow with a money VP gain - but, in theory, that's tough to do, it's probably one or the other, money or outright VPs as you can use your outfits either for VPs or to sell off for cash.

Super close game in the end. Very cool.

Unless I missed it, this week was probably the first week in... almost... ever.. that absolutely no filler type games were played. Unless you count Splendor. Which I don't. No fillers ? Madness.

Monday we played Deus, Machi Koro, and I gave a quick demonstration of Akrotiri. Hal won everything. I think he was fiddling the dice with Machi Koro as he romped to a win rolling almost nothing but 11's and in the entire game not a single 9 was rolled and 8 only once. With dice rolling like that he should play Craps for money where 11's are a natural insta win.

That's it, see you all next week, the footie is still on next week, so sharing table space will be a thing again.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Blue Skyes Ahead

It was a relatively quiet May at NoBoG - but maybe that's because April was so busy with all the chair and table shenanigans. Numbers have burbled around the low 40's mark with a spike of 54 for the final week of May, and the cult of the new was also quiet with no new new games showing up ( as opposed to new old games - new games to NoBoG, but old games release date wise ).

NoBoG Mondays have branched out with a regular roleplaying group organised by Adam, they've been trialing different systems and different GMs so far, and their numbers seem to be a pretty solid single group 5 at the moment. Board game wise NoBoG Mondays continue to be a very quiet affair, and the last few weeks we've been down to a single table of 3.

Secret Hitler - the popular and epically still not released social deduction game - continues to wane in the number of plays it's getting. Apparently the full version has switched over to wooden bits and wooden boxes and a much higher component quality, but I'm gonna take a guess here and say that the game has already peaked and the arrival of the final commercial sets will be a subdued affair - I think pretty much everyone that's even been slightly interested in the game has already had a chance to play a print and play version of the game at this point. After the smoke and hype has cleared the game hasn't had the legs that Resistance had - at least at NoBoG - possibly because its premise is only a subtle ( and purposefully mildly outrageous ) variant on Resistance itself, whereas Resistance was a much more innovative evolution of Mafia. Plus differing roles and game variance.

New game to NoBoG wise Pete laid his hands on Patchistory last month for the bargain mis-priced sum of 18 pence, and brought it along a couple of times in May. Patchistory is a 2013 Korean game in the euro style based upon that well travelled theme of raising a civilisation from humble beginnings to awe inspiring* modernity. Fortunately for players the game doesn't take the usual 1/5 of an adult life span that the 18 player Mega Civilisation board game takes to play, but compresses the whole civilisation building journey into 3 hours or so. Although according to the box it says 1 to 2 hours, but 1 hour is a hilarious bare faced lie, and 2 hours is a forgivable lie which could be possible if you were all on point.

The main schtick of Patchistory is that of the patch cards. Every turn you get to bid on and take a two by two civilisation card from a central pool which must be laid at least partially on top of the other two by two civilisation cards that you already own. This creates a patchwork of overlaid cards representing production sites and historically important stuff. Patchistory indeed. Some things will end up buried under other things, with all the remaining visible and intact things forming the current state of your civilisation, and part of the art of this game is figuring out where things can fit, and what and when to sacrifice and bury under more important cards.

Patchistory - image courtesy of bgg
The game ends up as a very mild worker placement civ builder that juggles a basic set of resources and allows you to start building some synergy of more production and eventually victory points - all powered by the fairly unique and innovative patch card system. Players are largely left to a solo exercise of building their empires, but there is player interaction in the form of competing in an auction to obtain new patch cards and also threatening and even waging war on your trade partners - although the war tends to be more one of obtaining points than conquering or destroying territory ( which is a relief for those who hate to see others spoiling their perfectly erected euro production engines ).

Which all sounds pretty good. And it is pretty good. But the game has some play balance and feedback issues. The game has a wacky startup that limits a civ to only 40% of the available actions to be taken in a turn - and getting access to the other 60% is a hit and miss affair of competing in a cutthroat auction. Have an unfortunate series of turns, or a player(s) that is using a political starvation strat and you could find yourself playing a significant amount of the game stuck being able to do only the most cursory of actions. This is a huge issue where the game fails to properly get started for a player - in my case I was literally half way through the game, an hour and a half in, before I finally managed to bust out and take more meaningful actions. There are also issues with feedback loops on things like money - getting more money allows you to win auctions and secure patch cards.. that possibly earn you more money, and yada and so on. Unless there's a particularly choice set of empire upgrades going on, going for dominance in money is a simple and solid strategy, particularly because resources can be traded into other resource types, but only money gets you dominance on getting those choice history cards.

The problem of money and auction dominance also feeds into how swingy the game can be. It certainly feels like a lot of the game is just busy work, and by that I mean you spend a lot of time and effort dicking around the edges, only for a single card to come along and swamp all the other clever subtle things you've been doing by giving you all your victory point cards in one lump. If you have money dominance, picking up the right card to give you a huge dump of points can mean a lot, in our game Guillame had a single card that scored some 2/3 of his overall points and I think Pete had one that ended up scoring him half his points.

BGG has not been silent on the issue of dodgy political starts and there is a suggested fix for this to open up gameplay. But overall I was left with the feeling that the game has an interesting and different central mechanism but has been let down by playtesting that hasn't revealed some glitchy game balance. Or maybe it did but they just didn't care.

Interesting game, and even if some of the game is just busy work, it's quite charming busy work. I have a suspicion it could degenerate a bit once players know specific cards to look out for and riff major scores from however. I think Patchistory passes the mark overall with a few simple game fixes to help it along, is by no means perfect, but is cool to play.

Talking of game design . . .

Without any doubt we're currently experiencing a golden age of table top gaming. Never has the field been so popular or so well served with so many new titles that puts the previous board game peak back in the early to mid 80's to shame. However, as more and more games come to market, riff off each other, taking pieces and slamming them together in different ways, I fear the quality of how some of these games hang together as a playable experience suffers. All too often I get to play games that have gaping holes in them, that perhaps on paper sound like a good idea, but in practice fail in some awful way when put under stress. Games like this for me almost always fall into the category of being in the business of playing like you'd imagine a board game to play, but mechanically playing like a trout tied to a brick. Almost as if you copied a game you once saw through a window, got the spirit of having cubes, and people moving shit about, but completely failed to understand what makes a game... an actual engaging exercise. Or if you like, trying to design a car by only ever having seen the outside of one ( and having no prior knowledge of what an internal combustion engine was ). It looks like a car. It certainly doesn't drive like a car.

Of course at this point you could get all philosophical and start to debate how much playing games are just about having fun and how much they're about puzzle solving and strategising and being in charge of your own destiny. At one end of the scale flicking wet playing cards at each other to see if they stick to your opponents forehead might be considered a fun game, whilst locking yourself in an isolation room with a pile of sudoku might be considered a mental workout. And in different situations those things are appropriate. For me, the idea of a modern kind of board game is one that is fun, but, also, hangs together well - occupies a meaningful design space that doesn't make a mockery of your time spent or actions you are taking.

I think games being pushed out of Kickstarter only exacerbate the situation of dodgy design even further by skipping the traditional critical eye of a seasoned game publisher or relying on the pressures of an investment to ensure a product is sound, and instead skipping to a group of willing enthusiasts who provide zero feedback into product development, but allow anything from half assed designs to gimmicks to see the light of day.

In theory something like Kickstarter democratises the whole production mechanism. In practice it can remove oversight and QA from design and ends up rewarding shiny presentations over anything else. Or in other words. You can peddle any old shit to a naive but enthusiastic punter that cannot see entirely what you're going to give them.

If you're being cynical you might wonder if this is not a huge cash in on the happy go lucky willingness of the board game enthusiast to part money with anything that has colourful cubes or bigger than ever miniatures ( and this is not limited to kickstarters here - there is a gold rush going on for any kind of board game that looks like it could sell well ). If you're being less cynical then perhaps you could think this is the product of an enthusiastic but naive and poorly skilled army of wannabe game designers pushing out their lovingly crafted - but ultimately flawed - brain farts.

A straw poll for any game kickstarter backers. How many kickstarted games have you received that are truly great games that you continually play ? How many are ok games that you play once in a while ? And how many are flawed disasters that you probably only play due to consumer investment ? Take a cold, hard, critical eye to those kickstarters. And see how they stack up against best in the field board games. And how many of those games look nice, seem to promise something cool, but end up lacklustre in play or balance ?

Moving on.

Isle of Skye
Isle of Skye seems somewhat inexplicably to be doing the rounds at the moment. Well I say inexplicably, it's very explicable and it's because I just leave it in my gaming bag and it's a fairly easy game to get to table. Elliot is its most recent convert demanding to play it four times in two days and failing to place in all four attempts. I think Elliot has taken this on as something of a personal challenge now - the game is mocking him. This Carcassonne like upgrade game is the best of Alex Pfisters games that I've played to date ( I've not tried Mombasa yet but hear good things ).

Last weekend the eagerly awaited UK Games Expo happened over in Birmingham, and a good sized contingent of NoBoGers headed West to join in. Elliot had a stand at the expo and with the help of Joe, was demoing and selling both his own Orctions game and acting as auctioneer ( sorry Orctioneer ) to a whole stack of accumulated games that managed at one point to bring the expo to a standstill. Elliot was also auctioning a bunch of unwanted NoBoGer games at the event, and in something of a convoluted path, Sean ended up buying one of Nickys games but with an added 300 mile round trip to Birmingham and back in order to do so. The NoBoG attendees report on having a great time and managing to get together and play a whole bunch of games with each other. And some have already booked their places for next year. Crazy keen !

Champions of Midgard
Champions of Midgard and Lords of Waterdeep continue to clock up the odd play, neither of them are going away and are still proving to have popularity, particularly as games for newbies to get into. Machi Koro is having an absolutely solid bout of playing lately - it's currently Stu's favourite go to game, and it's also popping up on other tables as well. Machi Koro is a great not too taxing game that is easy to teach and setup and satisfying to develop and play. If you've never played it, and you're not averse to a bit of dice rolling Settlers of Catan style, then you really need to give this gem a go to slot into your newbie friendly, not too long, not too short, cutesy development kinda game.

Imperial Assault
The Imperial Assaulters got back into their groove again this week, and David's miniatures are looking ever more painted as the months pass - he'll have them all finished by the time the campaign is over ! But the other regular group for Mice and Mystics is on temporary hiatus as Ben is currently out of the loop.

For those more into the serious art of euro gaming, Nate turned up for a couple of weeks in May with his usual strong showing of Euros including Aquasphere, and things like Mombasa, Steam Time, Troyes and Rokoko have seen table time. Aquasphere actually got played a couple of times in May - gasp - which is great as this is one of my fave games, but seems somewhat tricky to get to table particularly given it's somewhat fearsome hardcore reputation.

I managed to get Rokoko to table for only its second NoBoG outing - this is a solid euro game with a wacky ( and unique ? )  dress making theme that has only one arguable flaw in a slightly overpowered gold VP card, which assuming you're not playing with Pete ( or possibly Owein who also delights in breaking games ), probably never comes up as an issue anyway. Rokoko is a nice game and plays out surprisingly quickly for what it is.

Brewcrafters has largely gone on hiatus with David mostly not being able to make it to NoBoG due to work commitments - perhaps I should start bringing it to pick up the brewing slack !

Clacks being played cooperatively
Another new to NoBoG game, Stacey brought along Clacks fresh from the UK Games expo - one of the board games in the Discworld setting. This one is an abstract game of setting and matching patterns on a four by four grid ( the optical telegraph display itself ) before everyone else does, or if you're playing cooperatively, before the game timer runs out.

James also had another kinda new game in the form of Artifacts Inc., a dice worker placement type game ( similar mechanics to things like Kingsburg ) which was a nice archeology themed card collecting engine building kinda game that seemed pretty solid, butttt, probably went on for about 30 minutes longer than it needed to. It runs a bit long for what it was basically, but to be honest, it's a minor grumble and it's pretty nice.

Fillers seem to be a mixed bag at the moment, and whilst Secret Hitler is being played, Sechs Nimmt has crept back in as the stalwart fun filler, Guillotine is still popping up here and there, Resistance has had a few blasts and One Night Werewolf is doing a fair trade. I'm getting quite a few plays of Divinaire in as well, and Port Royale is showing up once in a while. Despite having the expansion for Mafia de Cuba, this filler has gone pretty much unloved, and things like Saboteur haven't been played in an age. Which reminds me, I should make more of an effort to get some regular Tichu play in - a great four handed card game.

Plenty of other games have been played too many to mention, but including Dead of Winter, Panamax, Robinson Crusoe, Kingdom Builder, Archipelago, Galaxy Trucker and Cauldron.

Chairs have steadily been going awol on their own missions in the Tun, first the Gin Palace decided to help themselves to some of our more old school chairs - and were then retrieved - before the Pint of Science event then helped themselves to all our chairs downstairs, before finally this week, the Tun itself deciding that some of our nicer chairs were far too good for us, and placing them at the front of the pub and out of our use.

To one extent or another this puts me on the borderline of either just letting it go, or being annoyed at the liberties being taken. Having had to kit out our own chairs and tables to accommodate numbers it seems at the very least impolite that everyone and their mom has then come along and helped themselves - without so much as a please and thank you. I demanded the chairs back from the Gin Palace ( outright underhand theft imo after they'd tentatively asked about buying them, not pursued it and then just decided to take them anyway ), let the Pint of Science event slide, and have politely pointed out to Luke this week that four of the chairs at the front of the pub are actually ours. On the one hand we have plenty of chairs to go around and am happy to let others use them so long as we don't need them, on the other hand, some of the nicest chairs have been swiped which left this week Lewis sitting on a not so great chair upstairs. I feel there is a case there, that if the pub is short of nice chairs, it should go buy some nice chairs and probably not just help themselves to ours ? Or at the very least ask and say, hey, we are out of chairs, can we use some of yours. Sure. Except. They're not out of chairs at all. They just liked our ones.


According to my personal code of ethics that makes the perpetrators at the very least rude. You certainly wouldn't catch me just helping myself to stuff. Maybe I am old fashioned.

If it keeps happening I fear we will need to enact plan Nuclear, retrieve all the tables and chairs and brand them with some serious ass NoBoG logoing. Heat branded. Or engraved. Or some shit. But surely it won't come to that. Maybe I'll just take a pocket knife to whittle with every week whilst I game.

Or maybe I should just not worry and let things land where they may ? By all means let me know in the comments.

As always. The gallery. A monstrous several week gallery full of pretty pictures of games that statistically you probably weren't playing. ( although technically I skipped an entire week of taking pictures... so there's a lost week of May in there somewhere )

Kingdom Builder

Champions of Midgard

Sheriff of Nottingham


Pete terrorises a group new to the game at German Galaxy Trucker with all the expansions.

Steam Time

Dead of Winter

Castles of Mad King Ludwig

Skyline 3000 - this was the game that did 300 miles

Imhotep... Imhotep... Imhotep.... sorry.. Mummy flashbacks.

Dead of Winter

Robinson Crusoe


Lords of Waterdeep
Battlestar Galactica

Cauldron. Despite making their ears bleed the last time they played, Adam and Mel have another go of this.

Artifacts Inc.


Lords of Waterdeep



* Because modernity is often self congratulatorily awe inspiring and has absolutely zero sense of the irony of how it will itself look in another hundred years time. If history is your grandparents, then modernity is the teenager that rolls its eyes and knows how awesomely awesome** it is.

** Or fleek. Or snatched. Or whatever modern word the kids are using to mean good. And for anyone over the age of 16, no, I haven't made up the words fleek and snatched. Snatched is the new fleek. And fleek. You grandpa/grandma means good. Sheesh. Get with the program.