Sunday, 28 August 2016

Blitzer the First

It's about this time of the year, if you are into such things, that a collection of Olympic grade athletes, power lifters and big guys reaffirm their devotion to football ( American Football ) with the start of a new season for the punishing game. Because why be an Olympic level athlete and do Olympic things, when you can be Olympic standard AND get to hit people into the dirt AND get to play every year, not every four years AND get to earn more money in a single day of your career than an Olympian sees in their entire life.

When you put it like that, it's a no brainer - and speaking of that it also assumes you're a guy that is ok with being repeatedly hit hard enough to lose your marbles and literally be a no brainer by the time you're oh, let's say, mid 30's. Which is a thing. That everyone is trying desperately hard to ignore the science of at the moment. Repeated head blows are a bad thing. Who'da thunk it ? Certainly not those who have already received repeated blows to the head that's for sure. Too soon ? Too soon.

Into this heady mix of top level athletic capability, crowd pleasing bone crunching, and the unsettling can of worms of the long term consequences of any contact sport slowly killing people, Blood Bowl this week made an appearance at the Mash Tun.

Blood Bowl is by and large the board game equivalent of American Football. If you drop a lot of the clever strategy, double down on the maiming, and introduce a wide and interesting variety of fantasy races into the competition to give you contests such as the faffy elegant elves versus the more brutal punch you in the face orcs.

Blood Bowl is a pre modern era game - it was around before all this elegant modern Euro game design nonsense came onto the scene with the likes of Agricola - and has a lot of hangover from that older era. Namely in the form of dice being the driving force of the game, and a luck / random number generator factor that is so far off the charts, they study the quantum effects of the ensuing player rage that is generated when that stupid goddamn goblin fails his dodge test YET AGAIN at the theoretical physics lab at Oxford. One of the first core lessons of the game is - try not to roll the dice until you really have to. Really. I'm not making that up.

In a modern sense, Blood Bowl has been around forever ( * IE about 30 years ). It is fun, silly, brutal and has a brilliantly compelling season / campaign set of rules, where you can nurture your players into better players and even into Star Players before inevitably, like all things in Blood Bowl the dice roll bad and your carefully developed player ends up with their legs torn off. The game is also up there in the category of most rage inducing experiences ever. Which after seeing something you've worked on over real time weeks of play suddenly crash and burn because of the most ridiculous dice roll ever with no takesy backsies is not hard to imagine. Particularly in those with a glint of rage already in their eye. There are some players that after particularly bad matches swear off the game forever and never return. It's that bad.

Fortunately there are always new recruits to this old game. And Sam and Joe were experimenting with Blood Bowl this week. I can't recall ever actually seeing it at NoBoG before - although it has been discussed a plenty, and even played online. But it might be the first ever NoBoG show of Blood Bowl. The official record keeping goblins would have to confirm.

Anyway, Joe has his own report on what went on -

Blood Bowl, Sam's orcs teach the stinkin' 'oomies a thing or two
I was going to write a beautifully eloquent review of my glorious defeat of Sam's slow and clumsy orcs.

I would have spoken of the flair shown by the human catcher "Catchy Catcherssen" receiving a long ball from "Throwy Throwerson" in the dying seconds and running in a 4th score following the death of Sam's second black orc, "Fikkuz Krudd", after a ill-fated attempted to turn through 90 degrees.

I could retell how "Blitzer the First" managed to rack up 5 blocks in a row, with 2 killed outright, 1 injured, 1 knocked out and another stunned.

You could marvel at the story of "Jonny Commoner" a lowly lineman, was drafted in at the last minute as a replacement for his brother who was killed in the last match against the orcs, and who made a goal line blitz in what seemed to be a definite score for the orcs, and then went on to run the length of the pitch weaving through the orcish defence like a like a thread of wool thread through grandmother's oversized tea-cosy to selflessly hand-off to "Blitzer the Second" so that he might pick up the glory in front of his young son, watching for the first time.

Unfortunately, none of that happened and Sam beat me 2-1, with my having made one too many unnecessarily risky plays. So here's a picture of Sam's orcs running in the winning score right at the last moment. Boo.

Beautiful. Thanks Joe ! With character naming skills like that you should think about screen writing for a living. With Idris Elba as Banky McBankRobber and Brad Pitt as Officer Negotiater the First. Although Sixth Sense might have been a whole lot less clever with Bruce Willis as Deadface McDeadDoctorDiedAlready.

Moving on. Terra Mystica was on table again, David keeping up its renewed interest at NoBoG , and in something of a week for  "longer games that are getting rattled through at quite the pace", David reports on completing this somewhat crunchy Euro with five players in an astonishing 2 hours and 10 minutes. No mention of whether electric cattle prods were used or some other form of motivation.

Scythe. And the ridiculous tractor like yellow mecha.
If Norfolk designed Mecha, they might look like that.
Scythe was also present again this week at NoBoG. It's getting a lot of plays in at the moment, but I'm still yet to see anyone who has painted their stuff up. C'mon. Paint those clunky steam punk mechas ! Kickstarter backer James reporting on what he thought the game was like was that it was acceptable but not outstanding - which I think is very fair. And typical for Kickstarted games. Not a big surprise when you take game publishing decisions away from a hyper critical, risk averse single publisher, and put it into the hands of generous, cash rich, not too picky crowd sourcers ( Kickstarter ). You end up with much more game choice with Kickstarter. Some amazing hidden gems and risky game concepts that might not otherwise see the light of day. But you also get a whole gaggle of average unspectacular games that pander to easy popular ideas without ever really delivering, and a bunch more hot messes and outright failures. I'm sure at some point we'll go full circle with Kickstarter, everyone will get fed up with the mediocrity and randomness of final product and start demanding an elite, critical, picky service that presents only the very finest of designs.

Robot Wars.
Lee reflects on the bullying going on.
Classics Ticket to Ride and Lords of Waterdeep were also going on at the Mash Tun this week, along with a very excitable game of Robot Wars which seemed great fun.

In the second time in as many weeks I got to play Ora and Labora again, Alfie tried this and loved it - he assured me it was not because he had ended up winning. Pfah ! I struggled to get my ducks in a row this time around, buildings were bought just before I could get to them, timings were off on when others were using their own buildings, and I made some mistakes with building placement. Super enjoyable though. I'll do better next time.

Ben back from Japan for a couple of weeks spent one of his final nights with us again at NoBoG. Because of course. NoBoG is that good. He reports that he has been corrupting his colleagues over in Japan with the delight of board games and plans to give Tokaido a try out in the near future. Very cool !

We got to finish the evening with a raucous hand of Secret Hitler, where Ben was the obvious fascist, I called 2 out of 3 fascists, wasnt quite sure of Hitler, and got shot in the face for literally "being too good at this game, I've seen you win this before and you could be Hitler." I wasn't. Shooting me for not being able to tell if I'm lying and it being safer if my smart ass mouth was dead is just.... pfft.

Ora and Labora - my team yellow gals getting it done.
The game was awesome fun and very funny, Andy battled hard to call out the fascists who were throwing his card choices back in his face, but didn't help himself when he started supporting the most obvious fascist at the table. The game ended in deadlocked votes, and a close up til that point game ending with a couple of fascist winning random policies added to the board. I'd like to say I told you so, but, the fascists had the bullet card, and no matter what they would have very likely shot me in the face regardless.

Eliza is still muttering about making a re-themed Secret Hitler where everyone is Jedi. Which on balance, sounds like a bazillion times more popular and marketable than Secret Hitler and an extremely good fit. Albeit with the pesky uber litigious Disney in control of the IP. She's been threatening to draw up some art for it lately.

Codenames, Thiefs Market and veritable NoBoG grandee Betrayal at House on the Hill also got a play, Thiefs Market looks cool, I need to give this a go. And don't forget, an expansion to Betrayal at House on the Hill is going to be released this Autumn, for all you Betrayal fans - another 50 scenarios to blitz through ! Make friends and then stab them / turn them into zombies ! Fun times.

Well done to Sean this week who decided to give the game roll call a whirl, and then took on duties of organising any left over newbies and undecideds into their gaming groups. Good job sir - I got the night off to concentrate on all the Ora-ing and Labora-ing.

Monday NoBoGs continue to hold steady with its small cuddly number of players. A couple of tables of roleplayers, and a couple of tables of board games this week, Dominant Species on one table, and I got to introduce Isle of Skye to people who had never played it before. And I won. Muah ha ha.

Numbers - 18 on Monday. 44 on Tuesday.

Thanks to all and sundry for submitting their photos and text for the Blog this week. Good going guys !

Outta here. Enjoy your bank holiday for you Brits. And for our offshore readers / lurkers, I guess you get to enjoy work. Never mind. Read some old NoBlogs to cheer you up.

*drops mic*
A very handsome set of boozy monks in Ora and Labora. Alfies team green who went onto win.

Aw'right boy ? The Tractors move in. Scythe.

More meeple-y things than you can shake a meeple stick at. Scythe.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

It's About Time

Greetings NoBoGers, lurkers, accidental wanderers and distant immeasurably superior alien observers ( H G Wells high five ). The NoBlog is back after an extended hiatus where we pressed the big red button of Brexit, everyone panicked and said they didn't mean it and the NoBoG goblin editing staff hit the emergency low orbit lifeboat exits and went back to the Goblin Kingdom.

Now we're back. The Goblins have returned from something less of an exile, and more of an excuse for a long booze cruise. We've forgotten about stupid politics. And the only important thing - the serious business of gaming at the pub - can be attended to.

So what's been going on ? So much that it can't possibly fit into one tiny blog ! So we won't bother. Suffice it to say there has been lots of gaming going on. LOTS. And as ever the game meta has shifted, new things come along, old things fade, classics stand the test of time.

We've also had lots of new people turning up as ever. And special mention has to go to Sean, who very good naturedly bailed out of his own game to oversee an eventual table of more than 12 newbies - who all got to experience the delights of filler games. ( Apparently they had seen the Mustard TV bit on NoBoG, and decided to come along and see for themselves ).

We've also welcomed a steady stream of new and interested people, those just getting into games, those that have been into games a long while but lapsed, and it's been great to see everyone at NoBoG really being very welcoming and helping new people out. It gives me a very good feeling to see those that were newbies themselves at NoBoG once upon a time really get into the swing of things, take on a more experience role to reassure and guide a new set of newbies walking through the door. As ever a fantastic community of all backgrounds. Great job guys !

So game wise. What's out ? Champions of Midgard, Secret Hitler. Both of these games have seen a dramatic decline in plays, that being said, Secret Hitler was back this week with an on point Sam loudly berating everyone else at the table for being Aryan, before at game end roundly calling everyone else dicks or something along those lines as the good guys took the win. It was like old times.

What's in ? Scythe.

If you've been living under a rock, or perhaps you're more laid back with your gaming, Scythe is the current new hot board game title recently released from the fetters of its Kickstarter origins to delight gamers with its sophisticated art and blend of Euro and confrontational combat area control.

Look at that. Look at it ! Awesome.
Some of Jakub's lovely work.
For me you can't talk about Scythe without taking a look at it's art. Scythe is a game that has paid particular attention to the artwork and aesthetic of its world, with Polish concept artist Jakub Rozalski lending his particular anachronistic art style of late 19th century scenes with mecha to the game, providing at times almost an art piece that kinda also happens to have a game attached to it.

His art style for me strongly vibes on the original concept of things like War of the Worlds - the alien and modern in a Victorian world, and blends Constable type art with ungainly steam punk / diesel punk.

You can check out his artwork here if you're interested in more of his alt world stuff. ( I recommend it, it's great ). * ( see below )

The problem for me of having such beautiful and obviously high class art attached to a game is that it starts to set the expectation bar very high about the quality level of the rest of the game. It's great when that quality shines through everywhere. However it can be a bit... weird when parts don't match the quality of others. A bit like playing Munchkin with nothing but grandmaster art. Sorry Munchkin. But Grandmaster game you ain't.

Enough gushing about the art. What about the game dude. No one cares about the stupid art. If I want art I'll go to a gallery ( you say as you push about your lovingly bought specially crafted resource tokens shaped to look like miniature bits of wood, metal, pigs, sheep and stuff ... ) !

Scythe is a game that comes with quite a few bits. It's not utterly FFG bonkers level of crap, but it certainly occupies a full table with counters, resources, money, cards and crap. Depending how much you've shelled out on the kickstarter you could be looking at tokens or actual full on tactile pieces of physical art.

The game itself comes down to a simple action selection / worker placement dealio, where by and large you gather some resources, spend some resources, increase your capabilities and rinse and repeat. Along the way hopefully you're making some gains towards victory points, and you're jockeying for territorial influence on the map.

The player factions are mildly asymmetrical, your own setup and powers are slightly different to everyone elses, but everyone has the same stuff by and large, just laid out in a different way. Don't expect massive amounts of Them v Us asymmetry here ( present in games like Space Hulk ), this is more of a subtle setup variation.

Scythe ! The game of the moment

Scythe for all its busy ness and pieces is actually remarkably simple at its heart. There are no deep synergies going on here - get some resources, buy something, make something slightly better or cheaper in future. The resource tree is shallow, the production tree is about as short as it can get - if you have a dude somewhere, you produce that good ( no specialisations, no clever efficiencies or riffs ), and the skirmishing on the map is... also simple. Direct confrontation is expected but mechanically punished in the form of losing popularity for assaults on opponents workers. Fights occur straight up out of a Dune ( or TI:Rex for the modern audience ) board game setting in that you choose your strength in secret, throw in a combat card strength, compare values and resolve - with any strength used in the bid going straight into the bin.

So the game comes down to a bit of maneuvering, some simple action timing, some simple resource gathering and spending and keeping an eye on your opponents.

So is it any good ?

Tricky ! It depends what you look for in a game. Scythe in my opinion certainly doesn't make any design howlers, there are no ridiculously broken bits or eye rolling moments, and allows you to play out a couple of hours of a relatively simply jockeying of position for resources ( ultimately it really just comes down to how much shit you've collected and when you spent it ). On the other hand the game is shallow. The actions are pretty straight forward without requiring much, or indeed, any debate about which path you should follow. I need shit. I should get shit. Spend shit. Repeat. The combat is vanilla if not downright unexciting - mechanically a copy of Dune, but it does not have the depth of deception and sleight of hand that Dune has to back this up, and the combat cards are an easy to obtain resource.

Blurry Scythe
Being super critical about it, Scythe falls into a class of game for me that plays like a game, but isn't actually much of a game in a problem solving, player interaction or exciting moment kind of way. The game has large bits of a solo exercise in some very simple resource gathering, there are some slightly bizarre and fluffy bits that could probably be trimmed ( a whole deck of encounter cards, complete with gorgeous art that basically just give you a choice of 3 different rewards with a whole bunch of pointless fluff text that comes down to - do you want this resource, or that resource ).

It's a bit like Risk, without the excitement of tackling an out of control RNG monster in the dice, combined with bare minimum of Euro design elements enough to tick the boxes.

Sam and Pete lost in thought with Scythe
For me ultimately the game is a pleasant bore. It is inoffensive. It is pretty. It has no serious design issues. And it's engaging to play for 2 hours. But it's never going to be clever. Or super interesting. Or much more than a series of foregone conclusions and busy work of shuffling a very simple set of resources. A good example of a laid back game that doesn't demand you pay attention to it so that you can instead talk shit to the rest of the table. Which is fine. It just depends what you want of a game, or what mood you're in. For my money something like Eclipse does the concept of Scythe farrrrrrr better. Eye wateringly better. Albeit without Jakubs excellent art. I think all in all, Scythe is a missed opportunity of an intriguing aesthetic and setup, it's a bit of a kickstarter mediocre baby, but not a kickstarter disaster. Kickstarter as ever, has a lot to answer for in the delivery of all that is mediocre and shit into the board game world ( along with some cracking jewels - the exception rather than the rule ). So yeah. Scythe cannot hope to live up to the bar of its art. Shame.

Despite me being my critical miserable self, the response at NoBoG to Scythe has been overwhelmingly positive ( although I've not heard anyone raving about how awesome it is either ) and it's getting regular plays every week, often two tables at a time. I've not heard a single bad word said against it ( unless you count me talking to myself ). An expansion for it is already forming up, and several NoBoGers are already rubbing their hands at getting more Scythe for their table.

Moving on.

What's in, what's out, leaves us what are holding up as the perennial classics ? This probably has to go to Sechs Nimmt and Lords of Waterdeep. Unlike Champions of Midgard, LoW is still getting plays, and Catan seems to be popping up more often - the veritable old guard of the modern era. Sechs Nimmt has wormed its way into the hearts of all and sundry, its ridiculous cow picking delighting players and getting to table oh so easily due to its undemanding short play time and easy setup. Skull and Roses is also another solid favourite that gets regular plays.

Pax Pamir turned up at NoBoG again, the successor to Pax Porfiriana, and if you've never heard of those then it's not hugely surprising as whilst both games are on the radar of the more serious gamer, they are also edgy enough to pass completely unnoticed by the more casual type. Pax Pamir is a card game ( but don't be fooled by this, in practice the cards act as proxy board, resources and everything - it's more like a board game that just happens to have all it's pieces in the format of cards ) - set in the wonderfully dubious setting of power shenanigans in 19th century Afghanistan ( a thorn of contention that has stretched right into the modern era ) between the major powers of Britain, Russia and the Afghans themselves.

The game is a lovely balance of deploying and organising your own resources in some fairly complex interactive ways, as well as projecting power onto the map, and aiding or thwarting an ever shifting set of allies. If you like mechanically solid and interesting games that are hard to predict from game to game you really should give Pax Pamir a go ( despite the arguably very unsexy setting ).

The shifting alliances and power levels is arguably one of the key and interesting elements of the game, where players are free to represent the British, Russians or Afghans ( and win as those factions ), but only the player who has the most influence with that faction gets to be the "winner", and if someone has better influence, or you lose influence, you could be out of luck. Not to mention being able to suddenly just ditch allegiances and switch to a more lucrative faction at will ( the caveat being you cannot support more than one faction at a time, and to really be a power in a faction takes a little time, or at least, a lot of coordination ).

In effect Pax Pamir allows you to pick a side. At any point during the game. And more than one player can be on a given team. Or usurp control. Expect shenanigans.

For those familiar with the COIN game series, Pax Pamir comes across as a streamlined condensed COIN game which does a very good job with a very limited setup of basically a large deck of cards. You can see the design has taken what has gone on in Pax Porfiriana and honed it to a finer edge - Pax Porf comprises many of the same interesting design concepts - shifting victory conditions, shifting alliances and powers - but can suffer a little from stalemating, and not being tight enough. Pax Pamir addresses these issues and doubles down on the shifting alliances.

Thumbs up for Pamir, and this should probably be one I need to get for my own collection.

Golden Ages - the world begins to reveal itself
A lot of other interesting games have passed through NoBoG, but I think we'll leave it there, with maybe a mention for Golden Ages - yet another civ clone type game that sees you progressing through the ages, exploring the world, and earning points for doing civ type things ( technology, building monuments, grabbing territory ). It's a cool game, and scratches the civ type itch, but ... and you know there's a but.. it increasingly frustrates me that so many games have you play 2 hours - the first 90 minutes of which are dicking around over a handful of points, only for the last 30 minutes to score you all your points, make a whole chunk of the early game decisions nothing but pointless busy work, and you wonder why the heck everyone was bothering with the first hour of the game, other than pleasantly feeling like you're doing something and chatting to people. I think it's a particular problem of board games that try to capture the sense of Civ computer games - they have a score and achievement progression that just.... ends up kneecapping the point of the start of the game ( where as the computer game it can be very critical in terms of wars, territorial position and relationships ).

Numbers have been reasonably steady. Anything from high 30's at lowest, through to mid 50's. 55 this week, highest in the last couple of months has been 58. Lowest 38. But the exact number recording has gone out the window. I have a rough idea of them though. Alas poor stats. I knew you well. I know this will cause outrage, OUTRAGE in some of the more stat interested NoBoGers.

NoBoG Mondays are holding steady - we're usually getting a table of roleplayers and a table of board gamers, so very low key, but numbers enough to play games with - and try all sorts out. This last week we actually got up to the heady heights of 17 people, with 11 roleplaying and 6 board gaming, and I managed to bust out Ora and Labora - a Uwe Rosenberg I have an inexplicable love for - and managed to beat out game newbies Mischa and Hazel ( by a single point in Hazels case boo ya ! ).

Mondays have also seen the discovery of what I think is an absolutely lovely little filler game - Crossing - brought along by Guillame who often has a surprising and interesting game up his sleeve ( as well as being one of the toughest Euro players at NoBoG ). Crossing is as simple a game as it gets, mushrooms get gems placed on them, point at a mushroom to pick up the gems. The most gems ( and sets of colours ) at the end wins. The rub is that everyone does this picking simultaneously, and if more than one person points at a mushroom, no one gets the gems, and they rollover to the next round. And the other problem is that someone can point at YOUR stash of gems and take yours instead. Rude. The game is funny with the right crowd of people, bluffy, bullshitty, exasperating and just plain fun. It's a game that would go down a storm with kids as well as entertaining adults, and is a really nice no brainer piece of fun. Its longevity is maybe somewhat at question. But for what it is, a really nicely produced filler, it's a great game and I highly recommend it.

I also got to torture Hal recently at NoBoG Monday by forcing him to play the filler Artificium which he now hates with a fiery passion. The ever reasonable Hal agreed to give the game another try despite misgivings, increasingly grumbled about RNG and not getting the card he wanted, before finishing the game as winner but also hating the experience. Which I kinda felt guilty about. As Hal recently won the world award for Person You'll Least Likely Want to Torture due to his ridiculous levels of agreeableness. Oh well. I still quite like Artificium, although for sure, it's not going to win any major awards. We then had a discussion about all the other games he hated like it ( like Imperial Settlers... harsh man... harsh... but apparently Race for the Galaxy gets a pass as you have more control of your destiny )

Talking of awards it was great to see Isle of Skye get some well deserved recognition as it was nominated and then won the Kennerspiel des Jahre 2016. Isle of Skye is a lovely game, and it really does deserve the win, beating out T.I.M.E Stories and the very popular Pandemic Legacy to secure its award. ** ( see below )

Big thanks to Lewis for last week fulfilling the role of friendly NoBoG Granddad - doing the game roll call, and keeping an eye on newbies and those without games to make sure everyone had a good time. Well done Lewis for stepping up. It's been suggested over in the Twitter universe that we should have guest roll callers in future, which seems like a great idea, so maybe we can start a rotation of anyone that feels the call to be chief Game Organiser and Newbie Nurturer or pull guest appearances out for special days / weeks. Halloween costumes and special hat days encouraged.

Thanks again to all the more experienced hands at NoBoG - anyone that's been there for more than a few months basically - for continuing to make the group friendly and welcoming, and helping out new people feel right at home. It's you guys that make NoBoG the exemplary gaming group that it is.

Right that's it. The NoBlog will be more on time in future. Honestly. And I'm still toying with getting an audio version on the go.

Oh one last thing, the Jay Von Zee  (which has surely got to be his rapper name, or Jarryd if you insist on being all formal like ) has delivered a working beta of his game night software which you can find here Give it a poke and a test, and we'll see if we can give this a proper roll out for NoBoG and how well it works for future game night organising. Exciting stuff !

I leave you with a few weeks worth of pictures. I've been slacking there as well. Thanks to the lovely Monika for filling in for some of my slacking with her own snapshots !

Mice and Mystics. The journey of cheese obsessed Mice continues.

The awesome TIME stories

Terra Mystica

Dracula stalks around Europe

Golden Ages start

Lords of Waterdeep !

Dominant Species. Mischa admitted this game blew his mind.

The game that scared Jen off. Trickerion. Come back Jen. We promise Sam wont force you to play this again !

Joe gets his own special table for Trickerion. Sam helps.

Dominant Species continues

Imperial Settlers. I romped home to a win as Japanese with this, with Rich IV in close pursuit.

Ben considering his Overlord options.

My game winning Japanese with a bazillion Samurai standing guard.

Tricky Trickerion. That's a post for another day !

* At this point you could start digressing into the exploration of alt world concepts, the weird world wars, power armoured WW2 troopers, Nazi flying saucers and even things like Captain America, Hydra, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Hellboy with it's blend of anachronism, contemporary and fantasy, mainstream steam punk, diesel punk and the interest level of mashups of familiar settings in unfamiliar ways. But that's a whole other discussion. 

** ( For newer people who are maybe not familiar with what the hell a Kennerspiel des Jahre is, this is basically the very prestigious best board game of the year malarkey. It comes in two flavours, the Spiel des Jahre - game of the year and Kenner Spiel des Jahre - expert game of the year, although the term "expert" is loose here and mainly just means somewhat more meaty than a simple game, but long story short, a nomination / win here means your game was the tops for the years releases. Impressive ! ).