Friday, 12 May 2017

In Which Chips Were Chomped

Yes mateys, I've only gone and done it, I've only gone and written another blog post! What a mad lad I am. Actually I'm cheating by writing this before everything else so I am technically, right now, lying. Please report me to your nearest priest. Festivities started early this Tuesday with a respectable cohort (I mean respectable in the sense of numbers; never has there been a shiftier looking bunch to grace Norwich's cobbled lanes) gathering outside the Grosvenor to consume fried delicacies. Like sausage. After a brief period of confusion in which David and Matt thought they were going to have to share their chips (Lady and the Tramp style, for every one, we are assured), everyone's food arrived and was consumed in short order. We then made our lardy way down St Gregory's Back Alley (what a shame the hill doesn't go the other way...) greasing the lean earth as we walked along. Drinks obtained, we arrayed ourselves around the pub and awaited what the evening had in store. And what an evening! Games I observed were Blood Bowl: Team Manager, Amyitis, Dead of Winter, Hamsterrolle, Lords of Waterdeep, Machi Koro, and World Championship Russian Roulette. I myself was involved in Lords of Vegas and Avalon.

So let's get cracking — cracking some skulls in Blood Bowl: Team Manager I expect, where Joe "the crap wood-elf" announces he's "gonna go there, gonna steal the ball." I'd have thought sneaky wood-elves would be stealthier than to announce such plans to everyone, but there we are. He is a crap wood-elf, so I guess it's OK. Sam's response (from whom I assume the ball was stolen) is "Arsehole." Short, and to the point, just as one would expect an ork to be. Though they'd probably say "Waaarghsehole" or something. "I'm gonna smack you again," he declares, which I imagine is exactly in keeping with how an ork would let someone know before socking them in the face. At this point the table devolves into racial epithets like "tree-hugging pointy-eared bastards" and maybe I imagined "green-skinned, unwashed, fetid-footed troglodytes." Before the in-game brawl spread to the real-life players, I gathered that the wood-elves have typical elfin skills oriented around evasion and non-contact, but when they get into a fight with orks they "get punched in the face repeatedly and they don't like it." I retreat before I suffer a similar fate.

Probably a Wood-Elf getting squashed.

Next on my rounds I come across the impossible-to-spell-or-pronounce Amyitis which sounds like a very uncharitable way of describing your friend Amy's weight gain. (Actually a trip to wikipedia reveals that the etymology of the name may come from Old Persian Umati- meaning "having good thought." Take that, Amy-haters!) Amyitis was the wife of one of the Nebuchadnezzars, whose name is also hard to spell, but not nearly as easy to make fun of. Enough about Babylonian royalty though, what of the game?! Right, yes. The designers were presumably too up themselves and/or French ("same thing!" I hear you louts cry, but well, you might very well think that, but I could not possibly comment. Thankfully with my French ancestry I can get away with such xenophobia.) to call it "Hanging Gardens of Babylon: The Game," but that is in fact what it is.

Temples are near the top, gardens in
the middle, Babylonian Wyevale at the bottom.
The players are gardeners doing various things to try and make the best contributions to the Wonder of the Ancient World, like planting plants, collecting caravans to buy plants, going to temples to pray to plants and so on. As I arrive, Martin is racking up the points, gaining six and some money all at once — sounds good to me. And he then kicked some people out of a temple! Rude! Apparently you get a bonus for having a majority in them and it operates on a "first-in, last-out" or "FILO" system. Or perhaps they were just eating lots of pastries, I remain unsure. The game looks to be a "Guillaume classic" — fairly complicated and with oodles of tokens, bits of wood and things to do. Martin, Tom and Nicky weren't objecting to being subjected to it, though, with Nicky's strategy of "trying not to be last" bagging her first place at least at that moment in time.

Next was a chilly Dead of Winter even though the weather is finally showing hints of getting warmer. Some people live in the past though, I myself having finally played the game last week. Upon my arrival, Colin the slob had forgotten to take the rubbish out, the lazy sod. Tabby complained that it was just like student living again, though confessed to not having taken it out herself — her excuse was that she'd been busy building barricades, which is just the kind of nonsense art project students use to get out of chores anyway.

Zombie Cheerleaders?
Following the rubbish incident, Sean's plan is to "make shit-tons of noise and run," which sounds like a lark and pays off in the form of assault rifles. At this point it all gets a bit tense as Tabby accuses Matt and Sean of being traitors due to "being too helpful," and all the while Colin is building up a tidy stash and being rather secretive about it. (I had a look though and it didn't contain anything particularly juicy, and also snooped on his loyalty card which placed him as a goodie. Boring.) David was keeping a suspiciously low profile, especially for a DJ (which is his character's profession, rather than his. As far as I know, David is not a DJ, but perhaps it's his alter-ego.) However, his ability is more like a ventriloquist than a DJ, being able to make noise in other locations than his current one. I checked back in at the end of the game, and everyone but the poor ventrilo-DJ had won. I immediately assumed he had been the traitor but no — his personal goal required him to have a fuel can and I hadn't found one in the whole game. Poor guy. I bet it was hard to get anyone to listen to his mixtape during the zombie apocalypse, as well.

I rolled back through the pub by way of my table and ended up where a bunch were playing Hamsterrolle which is absolutely ludicrous. It's definitely not a board game, but John was playing it so it must nevertheless have the official stamp of approval. (I should mention that I did see them playing a sensible game beforehand so do not fear for our glorious leader's soul.) Hamsterrolle is like Jenga with a big wheel: a set of rules govern how you have to place wooden blocks onto the wheel, which has internal teeth to make this a bit easier. They also force you to place them further and further along so that each turn the wheel rotates a little bit. If blocks fall out on your turn they are graciously given to you, but the goal is to get rid of all your pieces. When placing a block, you're not supposed to wiggle the others and "shenanigans are called if you fiddle too much" — "oo-err," as Sam rightfully pointed out.

I looked back a little later and Sam was being admonished, "that doesn't work, Sam, that doesn't fit!" — "I've heard that before!" The regrettable follow-up was "no licking it," which I fear needs no comment from me. However apparently someone in another game had actually tried licking one of the pieces to get it to stick a little onto the wheel. Some people just take their love of gaming too far. The game can be made harder by removing the table-cloth, which means the wheel turns and wobbles far more readily. Sam was so confident at this harder version of the game that he was banging the table to give himself more blocks, but I never did come back to see if it worked out for him.

What we need is strong and stable
placement of wooden blocks on rotating wheels.

Rolling away again I accidentally rolled into the sea and washed up on the shore of Skullport to find the Lords of Waterdeep which was at an exciting moment in the game. Exciting maybe but not, I was disappointed to discover, sufficiently cutthroat. Elliot was gunning for the hat-trick, hoping to win three weeks in a row and, in spite of my encouragement to do so, his fellow players weren't really ganging up on him. Bad form. I wasn't overly upset though, because he wasn't winning. In fact, Hannah had just raced into the lead — bagging a 40-point quest to bring her from last to first with just two rounds left. Hannah, the charming little cherub, was completely free of corruption at a time when Victor was having to remove three — and after his betrayal of all of us in Dead of Winter last week I still suspect he's not entirely untainted. Elliot, perturbed by my call to arms, was pretending to be "no danger to anyone," but I wasn't buying it. He claimed that JD "just needs to build more buildings and he'll kick our arse," but it turned out than in the end he lost to Hannah by a mere two points (if I remember correctly.) So Elliot didn't win and we can all be happy. I should really be celebrating Hannah's victory rather than Elliot's loss, but I can't help that I'm a mean-spirited bastard.

Lords of Waterdeep, just as Hannah snags the lead
Final board state of Lords of Waterdeep

Over in Japan, Tom is about to win Machi Koro with just the harbour left to build. He puts it down to beginners luck and receiving a lot of help and advice — to which I'm sure you, like me, will react with gasps of shock and dismay. Beginners are to be crushed not counseled! Never mind, there are always other opportunities to send 'em running. David was also helping, not with advice but by giving him all his money, explaining his trailing position, with four objectives remaining. Tom's restaurants were just too good; "he just comes back again and again," apparently.

Machi Koro with expansions gets BIG!
After finishing Machi Koro, this bunch broke out the madness that is Dobble.

Card collision in Dobble!

I then sauntered over to a table where they were readying up to mutilate their minds in Cthulhu Realms, but hadn't started so I have nothing interesting to report. Instead I'll tell you a little bit about how their play of World Championship Russian Roulette had gone. You'll be pleased to hear that, miraculously, all four NoBoGlins who had taken part were still standing. Actually I was somewhat displeased to hear that there is absolutely no risk to the players at all, as they're not actually playing Russian Roulette and you don't even get any guns in the game box. No, it's more like the "Championship Manager" of Russian Roulette: you have to lead your team of hapless daredevils to either win the most points, or, naturally, be the last team to still have their skulls intact. The idea is to predict how many times you can pull the trigger without splattering your brains over the wall, with a push-your-luck and a bluffing element, since you can sneakily pocket your one bullet before the round begins, with other players able to call you out if they suspect you. Throughout the game you get extra abilities that retarget your shots to be aiming at the ceiling or other people and so on. All in all, the game sounds absolutely mindblowing. Ha ha. (Sorry, had to take a parting shot. (You weren't expecting so much punfire were you? (I hope this isn't triggering your disgust at puns (Please aim your ire elsewhere (OK I'll stop now)))))

So now it's time to sink into the ignominy of my own game of Lords of Vegas. This was the first time I'd played so here's a run-down of the rules in case you are similarly ignorant as I was. The aim is to obtain points by having casinos you control be activated by the cards which are drawn once per turn. Each card has a colour and activates the corresponding colour casinos. The trick is that each colour will come up a limited number of times, so you have to build the colours of the ones that will be most lucrative, and perhaps switch up once they run out. When your casino is activated you get money equal to the number of your die which is placed on it, and a point. Adjacent casino tiles of the same colour merge into a single casino worth points equal to the number of tiles, but the points are only given to whomever has the highest die value in that casino, with draws resolved by a roll-off. This means you can buy a casino next to someone else's which either starts off with a six or which you "reorganise" (re-roll the dice for) to get a higher number, gaining control of the whole operation, and all its points. (The money is still distributed to everyone.) This makes the game a constant fight for control whether by buying new tiles (which is not so easy, since you only get the purchasing rights randomly, and have to pay double the ordinary cost to buy otherwise and may then lose the spot next turn if someone gets the right card) or re-rolling the dice in an existing casino by paying one money per visible pip. This is made all the more important because after a few points, you have to actually gain points from a size-two to move up a single space, increasing the further you get.

Action shot of Laurie chucking a die
I found it reasonably fun but it was pretty difficult to have a decent amount of control over what happens to your empire. You rely very heavily on the card you draw on your turn giving you a decent spot to buy a casino on. Though you can buy casinos on plots adjacent to ones you've already built, it costs twice as much for effectively half the benefit (since on average you will lose it to someone else after half of the rest of the game.) Building casinos already costs a lot, so this seems like it's almost always a bad idea. There's also literally nothing you can do to prevent other players from trying to take over your stuff except re-rolling low dice and hoping for higher ones (a good idea anyway since it'll get you more money.) In a way it's nice to not have to worry about defending yourself, but it does just mean you will end up repeatedly losing control of your acquisitions and having to pay to try and get them back which is a bit frustrating. Still there's enough to think about on your turn to make it interesting, and not so much it takes ages. Though I did have the benefit of sloping off to gather blog material during the downtime.

Close-up of the hard-to-distinguish tiles
In the end it was a pretty close game. I can't even remember who won, but it wasn't me (I came joint second I think.) Oh and one parting thought: the colours are awful! Being what the politically correct call "chromatically challenged" games often have this problem for me, but most do pretty well. However, the casino tiles are not the typical bold hues that most games use for their pieces, and some of them are really easy to confuse. Gareth couldn't even tell the purple and brown ones apart, making him a special kind of hue-halfwit!

Final board state of Lords of Vegas

After rolling our final dice we skulked around watching various games end until it was time for a traditional episode of Avalon. I actually hadn't played it at at NoBoG ever, and hadn't played it at all for about a year, so I was very excited to once again be a... loyal servant of Arthur. YAWN! Lucky for me this is Avalon and not Werewolf so being the most boring role isn't that boring. In a controversial turn of events the first quest was immediately accepted and passed, with no opportunity to see more information from the voting. The next quest took two attempts but then it, too passed. Were the Minions of Mordred stealing a snooze, or just being superbly stealthy? Furious arguments took place over who would go on the second mission, and we'd agreed that we would take the two apparently-good guys from the first mission plus one other, and also agreed to switch it up for the third mission to ensure we had enough information at the end. But then, surprise! The third mission passed — had we just got lucky and avoided all the baddies, or had Oberon — the "mystery meat" of the game — forgotten which side he was on? It all rested on the Assassin to determine who Merlin was. But my forceful argumentation had convinced the evildoers that I had magical information, when in fact it was merely the searing power of pure logic that drove my debate. The Assassin targeted me, Merlin, the very man who picked the final mission, lived, and Good triumphed.

And thus ends the week! I hope you've enjoyed accompanying me on this adventure through time and space (well, from 6:30 to 10:30 on Tuesday, between the Grosvenor and the Mash Tun...) and will join me for another before too long. Adios! You thought you were safe from the gpuns? Well that's about to... backfire!

Thursday, 27 April 2017

In Which Cakes were Consumed

HEEYYYYOOOOOOOO it's NoBloG time! I'm afraid it's going to be another weedy one, but I swear it's not my fault. It's all Hannah and Lewis' fault for getting me to play Epic Spell Wars, from which I couldn't escape. It's not me, it's them! Oh well, I'm sure you'll cope. So the two tables I got to were playing Lords of Waterdeep and Orléans.

But before we come to that I must, in a minor plot-twist, forgive Hannah for her part in distracting me from my interrogations interviews, because she brought us DELICIOUS CAKE that wasn't even a lie. Not just any cakes — dice cakes! Like rice cakes except they taste of something. Thanks Hannah! We can definitely tolerate more.

See how delicious and moist it looks Going quickly Die close-up

But that's enough of my uncharacteristically forgiving streak — now to the Loire Valley and Orléans! Guillaume was subjecting people to the very lovely but fairly complicated romp through the French countryside. At the time I came in for a snoop-about, monks were being taken (it's always the celibate ones that enjoy that kind of thing, is it not?) and books were being bought. But what exactly is the point of taking books and buying monks? Or, err, whichever.

Orléans is not a simple game, nor a small game!

In medieval France, everyone wants food and books and stuff, but everyone needs lackeys to help them acquire them. You start out with a few such misbegottens, but must place them (it feels a bit worker-placer-y but you can't block other people's actions) on your board to acquire more minions and do everything else that gets you points. There's a hierarchy of sorts in that the second tier of workers, like lords, who unlock further classes like knights and so on, and a pool-building/management aspect as you only get to draw a selection of your guys each turn, and you can banish your unwanted farmers to the town council, giving you some points in return for losing your pair of hands. You can purchase buildings that give you extra actions, make others easier and give you various bonuses, and you can acquire "technology" which means you require fewer workers to perform a given action. In the end you hope to get a nice little engine going and run away with all the point-giving items. Don't be tardy though, because there are hefty bonuses for advancing up some tracks quickly. To answer the original question, then, monks are some kind of supreme worker being, able to perform any task, and books are one of the several things that gets you points.

Guillaume is sending people away. Poor people.

So how was it all going down this Tuesday? Well, at the time I peeked in, it was still early stages: not much of the goods available on the map of the countryside had been snapped up, and the players were mainly acquiring more guys and building up to rake in the points later. Mike was finding it all a bit bewildering, this being only his second time at NoBoG! Pretty crunchy stuff for a newcomer. But he was enjoying jumping in at the deep end, so hopefully we'll be seeing him + company (whose name I confess to not writing down) again soon. In the end he decided to go to the village in order to take a cratsman and a technology token. Seeing the game played reminded me that I still need to have another go and hopefully do better now I have some kind of idea of how it works. Though I fear I am still just rubbish at engine-builders and might fail once more, but we shall see!

Mike has already got some tech and is getting more!

Next up, to a soggy dominion whose rulers are the Lords of Waterdeep (with the Scoundrels of Skullport expansion — all sounds a bit grim if you ask me.) The first thing that occurred on my arrival was that I received a thorough admonishment for never having played it — OK, OK, I'm sorry, alright! My own deficiencies notwithstanding, I will give you a brief rundown of the principles just in case you the reader, like me the author, have never played this perennial of NoBoG.

Elliot makes some kind of move
in Lords of Waterdeep

The rudiments are that it's a worker placement game in which you have to perform actions first to obtain resources and then to complete quests from the available pool — doing so requires both the resources and placing a worker in the right spot. A player who completes a quest swipes the card representing it, so you can snipe them if someone else would benefit too greatly. New actions can be opened up by purchasing buildings — after which players have to pay Elliot the owner (which in this case was... pretty much always Elliot) of the building for the privilege of using them. Skullport introduces the corruption resource which you want to get rid of as it counts negative at the end. Once the game does end, you get bonus points for various things like which kinds of quests you've completed based on which Lord you are.

Action shot. With beer.

So as I arrived (after being roundly told off for not having played) I asked-him-knowingly if Elliot was trouncing everyone, but apparently it was pretty close. The game was in its final round or two, and eyebrows were waggled as John gains a last minute point in this, his first time playing. Tabby meanwhile is feeling actual, physical pain at other people's slowness, manifested in ululating vocalisations when David finally plumps for a move which nets him a massive 40 points, this presumably being obvious enough to do immediately. David maintains an air of mystery about what he might otherwise have done, and unfortunately I never find out what it might have been. Victor does something but I fail to catch what it is because we're too busy discussing how to spell his name (it does not have a "k", we determine.) Tabby (or "Muggins" as she dubs herself) feels that everyone has been dicking on her in a blatant display of sexism as she is not doing so well, and is simultaneously the only lady at a table occupied otherwise by what might be described, if viewed in a good light, as gentlemen. Plus Elliot. Jamie tosses aside the accusation with a laugh, but it is perhaps mere bravado in anticipation of some kind of lawsuit, while Tabby describes what she would write in the blog at this juncture as "it will just say 'fuck all of you' over and over in all different languages!" While I can't comment on whether such ire was deserved (having observed only a tiny sliver of the game) I do revel in other people's suffering and anger. John took what I believe was his final move and divested himself of some corruption (presumably acquired as a consequence of all that dicking... shudder) and I was whisked away to duel with wizards. Only later did I discover that Elliot, playing coy all along, actually had the Lord which received bonus points for each building, and so thoroughly cleaned up when the points were eventually tallied.

See that swathe of buildings on the right of the board?
All Elliot's.

And what of my own game, Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards? Well if I tell you that each round can take quite a while (in no small part due to my own inability to make decisions, though this did improve somewhat as the game went on) due to the winner needing to eliminate all other players twice (and thereafter being a little weaker and a much larger target) you can imagine that LONG might well be the, erm, short answer. Each turn every player assembles a spell using (ideally) one of each card category (Source, Quality and Delivery or beginning, middle and end.) After working out who goes first using a couple of rules to determine priority, you read each component in turn to deal damage to your fellow battle wizards (more like warlocks I'm sure you'll agree! Hhhehehe.) There are also various other effects, like healing, giving you bonus cards, adding more cards to the spell and so on. You have to pick carefully because certain effects can be much more powerful if you add more of certain types of cards to the spell.

Zanzabeast has not much blood, but
even more worrying is his lack of health.
You'd thing the two would be one and the same...

The whole game is decked in a colourful and extremely silly skin, so you tend to be throwing spells out that might be called, "Haggatha the Heffer's Motherforking Testi-kill." (The terrible things they're doing with genetically modified cattle nowadays...) You're encouraged to yell your spell names aloud, especially if you include the "Wild Magic" wildcard, which draws from the deck until you find a suitable one to slot in, which all adds to the overall ridiculousness. Spell effects can be a bit random — the more powerful ones rely on dice rolls, and the order of execution means your target may end up different to what you anticipated so you can't get too tactical. The game also suffers by having a lot of cards and some mechanics which only show up on a few cards. Thus it's all very well acquiring "blood" from a spell, but you may then literally never get another card which allows you to use it. This mechanic and some similar ones come from version 2 of the game, so I do wonder if this is a symptom of playing the combined version which mixes in a whole load of cards from before "blood" was a concept (a game-concept, that is, it already existed as, you know, life-giving liquid.)

Hannah's array of treasure (bonus ability) cards

In the end we agreed to end the game early as time was running out — in the last round we decided that either someone would win for the second time (thus winning outright) or there would only be one person who hadn't won a single round, who would be "crowned" the loser. So, ALL HAIL JD, KING OF THE LOSERS! In the end it would have been far more fun if it had just lasted an hour, but the game is a bit stuck because it's trying to come up with a way to have it be a fight to the death without kicking dead players out until the end of the game.

And that's it. Hopefully one of these days I'll get around the pub properly, more thoroughly quenching the thirst I know you all have for more gaming session writeups. But until then, good byyyyeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Friday, 7 April 2017

No YOU'RE a cylon!

Zhwummmm... zhwummm... I mean, err, hello! Hello from your totally human and not-at-all cybernetic blog-writer! Please ignore any possible, hmm, unusual redness in my eyes; it's all perfectly normal and nothing to do with robots. NoBoG was a bit thin on the ground this week, but of course, no less fun than usual. Games I surveyed this time round were Dead of Winter, Inis, Citadels and my own Spiel der Woche, Battlestar Galactica.
The start of the evening: not too many folks in.
The usually packed middle section

Even though Spring has been setting in in Norwich this past week, a cold bite returned though perhaps not quite leaving us in the Dead of Winter. When I arrived Chris (no, not me, a different one) said the team was working well together; though there could be a traitor, they had no concrete evidence and were close to winning. Chris thought it might have been easier due to the high player count of six. J-Dawg disagreed and declared that it actually gets more boring. (I considered asking why he was playing if it was boring but I suspected it was all a cover for being a traitor, and didn't want to ruin things.) At this point, Maddie (whose nickname I have deemed too difficult to type) was deciding her turn and was being called out for attracting the zombies after killing one. Now I'm not entirely familiar with how this game works but this did strike me as being a little bit out of the ordinary — maybe she's the traitor! When I inquired as to what kind of make-up or clothing might be used to attract a zombie I was informed it was best not ask. Thankfully my imagination was distracted before running away to dark and... disgusting places because Sean gave me chocolate. Whew.
Dead of Winter, teamwork in action.
In spite of the aforementioned teamwork, Gareth suspects that GaydogJ-Dawg (yes, this slip of the tongue actually happened, and yes, it had to be put in the blog. Journalistic integrity.) is a baddie on account of always screwing him over. J-Dawg counters that Gareth has been taking "outrageous risks!" and it all kicks off! Accusations fly left and right, that J-Dawg has been eating all the food, that certain people's mothers do certain unspeakable things for certain low prices and I make my exit. With certainty.
Would you like to attract these lovely lads?
When I return, I guess I'd missed the action because J-Dawg wanted to mime daggers flying through the air, piercing his back. This was a melodramatic way of announcing that Gareth had just shot him. I took some pictures and fled before I met the same fate.
Next up was pInis. This is a card drafting game in which you're trying to become King of the Island. Or the Inis. Pronounced "innish," which is where you go when you think you want to drink a beerish. I don't speak Celtic anyway (not Goidelic. Not even Brythonic, never mind Galatian.) There are three methods of becoming Kingish: you can become the chieftain of six clans, occupy six territories of the game board, or control six sanctuaries. The interesting aspect of this comes, though, because you gain a token for one of these victory conditions on your turn, but to win you have to not only still satisfy that condition by the start of your next turn, but you mustn't be drawing with anyone else who is simultaneously satisfying a victory conditions. The upshot is that while it's not that hard to get a victory condition, it's very easy to lose it, or to be tying when your opportunity to win comes around. In addition to the above, if you control the island's capital and possess a victory condition, you win even if someone else has one, too.
A board game...ish.
Inis has nice pieces.
As Tom put it to me, they'd got to the point, when I came by, where they were all quite close to winning but everyone was cock-blocking everyone else. Tom was, at least according to Emma, the biggest cock of all (or maybe the biggest block?) For the sake of balance I must also include that he protests that what befell Emma was not entirely his fault and that it would have happened without his interference. Then he and Dave fought each other too much and pissed away all their action cards, which are your only means of defence and of course throwing them away limits your possibilities, perhaps throwing your carefully laid plans awry.
The players contemplate their options in Inis.

I then swung by a game plaid by those men (and women) in the ivory towers of several Citadels, a game I love for its sometimes agonising layers of social deduction. The aim of the game is to have the most point-value of built districts at the end of the game, by paying that same point value in money to build them. Added to the mix is the fact that each round you take on a different role, chosen from a selection that is passed around, dwindling until the final person chooses from two. The trick here is that the special abilities of two of the roles which I will describe as the "fuck-you" roles target roles rather than players so if the most advantageous role for you is the merchant and you pick it, you may find yourself skipping your turn or losing all your dollah.
The citadels being built... and destroyed.
Joe seemed to be close to winning and his strategy was "just trying to go into 'game over' while everyone else does trying build big things," in other words trying to end the game by getting eight districts built, even if they're not worth so much. He'd also been the biggest dick, stealing all of Monika's money and other people's besides. "Crime does pay," he said, but it did turn out that he got his just desserts in the form of brutal murder for all his thievery. (In case you're wondering, after being murdered your city is taken over by your heir(s) in your stead.) Sam reckoned James was also doing pretty well, and I inadvertently aided him on his path to victory by clearing up his misunderstanding of the Warlord's special ability, pointing out that he could destroy one of frontrunner Joe's districts for free. The pot suitably stirred, I ran off.
And that brings us to the 5+ hour epic consisting almost entirely of pot-stirring that is Battlestar Galactica! Ahh, what a game. A special place it has in my heart, and I'd not played it for nearly a year. If you think you might watch the TV show, be warned that mild spoilers will follow.
The premise of the game, as with the show, is that humanity is trying to escape the blasted nuclear wasteland that was their home and strike out for the legendary Kobol, dogged all the way by their chrome-plated former slaves, the Cylons. Hidden amongst the humans, however, are sneaky skin-jobs who appear indistinguishable from good honest people with organs and souls and whatnot. They try to sabotage humanity's efforts by subterfuge and trickery, aiming to drop one of four resources to zero, to damage the titular Galactica six times, or to sneak a boarding party aboard her and have it disable the ship from within. These hidden agents can always do this by making or suggesting bad decisions, but secret actions complicate matters severely. Each turn the current player draws a crisis which must be resolved in an attempt to avoid or minimise its negative effects. Some of those are simply a choice for a particular player, often the President, between, say, losing a resource or discarding cards — skill cards which represent the particular skills of each character, like Leadership or Piloting. Others are skill checks, where each player in turn secretly contributes skill cards in an attempt to bring the total value of correct skill cards minus the incorrect ones to a given target. At this point, secret cylons may announce sweetly that they are single-handedly flying the planes, rallying the pilots and all else that is needed, whilst in fact contributing precisely the wrong cards. Once two random cards to reflect the hand of destiny have been shuffled in, it is no longer so easy to tell who has been telling the truth, and the accusations are let loose. In the midst of all of this, the cylons are typically sending raiders and other ships to damage galactica, threaten the fleet and generally screw things up — as things become increasingly chaotic, the humans must make tricky decisions about what to prioritise in order to avoid succumbing to any of the loss conditions.
In our play-through, everything started off swimmingly: there was not even an oily whiff of the cylon fleet, and we sailed through the void of space managing at first to even scavenge more fuel than we were using on our way to our mythical new home. At the four-distance mark, all resources looked peachy in spite of Madame President Meltem's insistence early on that food was not really so important, losing us two points in rapid succession. Our record on the skill checks had been patchy too, attempting and failing far too many for our liking. Yet the pilots were sitting in their ready room drinking ambrosia and playing cards with nothing to do; the enemy raiders weren't coming, and without that there was just no need to do better.
Just got to the half-way point: everything looks peachy,
though Chief's shown his true colours.
Kaan, looking sympathetic.
Four distance is the half-way point which marks the sleeper-agent phase where more loyalty cards are handed out to represent those who'd been cylons all along but who only now realise their true identity. It was here that the first signs of strife began to appear, as one of the humans turned to be rather sympathetic to the cylon cause; Chief Kaan slipped away from the human fleet and joined the cylons on our tail. Soon enough, the third jump had been made, bringing the fleet to 7 out of eight distance, guaranteeing a human win if they can just jump twice more, and still only fuel was in the red, with more than enough to close out the game. It was at this point, though, that the first full-on toaster-top revealed himself in the form of yours truly, Vice-President Chris Zarek, who first used his friends in low places to force the rest of the team to exhaust themselves in keeping another cylon suspect locked up in the brig. Zarek then blew himself away in a suicide attack that left Commander Lewis severely wounded. Respawning in Cylon-heaven, robo-blogger joined Chief Kaan in trying desperately to coordinate the cylon effort, which had as explained, been sorely lacking up to this point. The next round revealed also that Sam "Boomer" Valerii had been a sleeper agent all along and, though locked up and unable to cause any damage, she too offed herself and ended up on the resurrection ship.
This is what the board looks like when
the shit is hitting the fan.

With three toasters turned all the way up, defrost mode engaged, the humans' days were numbered. A massive assault was the all but the first sign of any real activity from the cylon fleet, orchestrated by Zarek. The erstwhile Chief used his connections to organise sabotage, damaging the hangar bay and preventing the launch of more vipers to defend against the amassed enemy. Boomer then coordinated every single cylon ship to attack, blasting the remaining meagre defences apart. An error in fleet management brought on by the chaos had left a dozen civilian ships unprotected, slaughtered almost to a man, and the humans finally broke, lacking the manpower to continue.
Cylon Centipede 2
Starbuck did not escape this encounter unscathed.
Cylon raiders, civilian ships, and their viper defence.
The cylons had won, proving the superiority of machine over man once and for all, but what had we learned? Well, first of all, never trust Adam "Starbuck" Thrace with the loyalty deck — if it weren't for good luck with the order of cylon reveals, we would have had four out of six players trying to screw the humans! As it happened, the third chrome-dome to be revealed had two cylon loyalty cards which doesn't turn him into some kind of super-cylon and has no further effect. He could therefore ignore the extra one without affecting the game at all. Second, it is extremely important that everyone read their loyalty cards for the exact same amount of time, especially if there are new players. I knew with almost certainty that Kaan's AI was malfunctioning because he spent a long time referring back to his loyalty card when others had finished reading — the "You are a cylon" cards having far more text. It would even be an idea to have everyone read these cards before the loyalty deck is made up to ensure familiarity. Luckily, this too didn't affect the game much as Kaan disposed of this card very quickly (giving it to me) on account of the rapid onset of the sleeper agent phase.
Cylon victory!
The destroyed civilian ship that ended it all.

And that's all for this week — citadels being built up and torn down, islands being fought over by great chieftains, the zombie apocalypse being defended in the bitter cold, and the inexorable march of the machines. Hope you've enjoyed it!

Thursday, 23 March 2017

The Grammaticist's Delight, or, the Semicompetent Semicolon.

Good evening; good evening; good evening; good evening and welcome to another episode of; no; not QI; you sillies; this is the one and only NoBloG! And what a night it was! Auspiciously did it start with a party of intrepid Grosvenorers; sallying forth to the chippy and feasting on deep-fried food products of various kinds. And delicious they were; too. I'd missed the previous week of fun due to accidentally faffing for too long before putting my tea in the oven; so outsourcing the tea preparation to a third party was the obvious and scrumptious solution. But enough about what I shoved in my face; "what about the games?" I hear you cry! Well as you may have guessed; some games were played and I am prepared to share a selection of them with you. As is often the case I didn't manage to get round even nearly everybody; but in my notepad today there are reports from Istanbul; Power Grid; Resistance; Archipelago; Aye, Dark Overlord!; Rock, Paper, Wizard; and King of Tokyo. (I hope, dear readers, that you appreciate the lesser spotted Oxford semicolon.)

So without further adieu, let us head for Anatolia, where East meets West in the bazaar of Istanbul. If you haven't played, the task is to travel around the city in the hunt of rubies (the first to acquire enough being the winner) by leaving a series of lackeys in various locations to perform advantageous transactions. You have to plan carefully though, as you are forced to backtrack to the same locations in order to gather your assistants again before you can dispatch them once more to other tasks. When you collect them, you can perform that same action again, allowing you to further optimise your actions. When I arrived, Matt had a whole load of bonus cards and a maximally upgraded caravan (if Pimp my Ride existed in the heyday of the Grand Bazaar, his would be the result) for the transportation of the maximum amount of cargo (which you sell for rubies). Matt however was not feeling too confident, as Gareth was feeling fairly liquid (in cash terms, rather than literally melting) and Siobhan was ahead of him on rubies. I should point out here that Siobhan is not Siobhan at all, but actually Maddie — no, not another nickname, but actually a joke at my expense, if you can believe it! Apparently I wrote down her name wrong on a previous blogging session and this was punishment for my error! The only thing is, I'm fairly sure I named her as Sinead, not Siobhan, but there we have it. (We could settle on Madnebhan?) Lazy lackeys (and forgetful bloggers) suitably chastised, I moved on.

The bustling bazaar of Istanbul

I found myself in an America of yesteryear, untroubled by the antics of a child left alone for too long with the orange paint, but suffering from a war for control of its Power Grid. Our players dubbed it, "Capitalism: The Game!" and the objective of course is to make the most money. How does one accomplish such a task? By generating power, of course! The object of the game is to buy power stations and the fuel to power them. Power stations are auctioned off, while the price of fuel is determined according to a supply-and-demand system that increases the cost if people are buying lots of a given type. At this point, fossil fuels were all the rage — typical American capitalists, you may say, but this was allegedly instead, "shortening our lives now for a greener tomorrow!" Colour me suspicious!

I proceeded to the next table only to find that the Resistance had collapsed, sabotaged from within by terrible treachery! And the scurrilous spies had not even the decency to creep silently away, instead revelling in their victory and the means with which they had achieved it: apparently Spy James and Spy Richard had managed to "check" each other's loyalty with mutually-reinforcing stories, so that when a third (Resistance) player claimed that one of them was seeking to undermine everyone's efforts, the seed of doubt was sown. When Sean then decreed an unfortunate mission team, the seed blossomed into a veritable tree of distrust. Or at least a shrub of suspicion, which was sufficient for the marauding moles to do their dirty work and bring it all crashing down, shrubs and all.

Getting to the next table involved a short trip by boat as they were based in an Archipelago, a game described to me as, "theoretically co-operative." Pushing for more information I discovered that this meant that if you didn't "cooperate" then the natives would get pissed off, murder and/or eat you and you'd all lose. But apart from that, you have completely free reign to backstab, betray, bugger and beat your opponents in any way you choose. In fact, wheeling and dealing is more the order of the day: basically you can make any deal you like, including bribing the person who determines the order of play for that turn to put you in an advantageous place in the order. Though Sam's previous play of the game was "sulky," he was feeling happier now because his monopolist card forced other people to give him money or stone, which in this game meant delicious victory points. He treated us all to some of his thought process which I will relate now: "Cattle bitches... I have enough fish... A healthy salad: fish, meat, stone and ore." If that doesn't convince you, I don't know what will.

The explored islands of Archipelago
The game features an exploration mechanic in which you pick tiles from a stack — either the top one which you can see, or the next one which is unseen. You then try to fit it into the existing configuration of tiles making up the eponymous archipelago. This is non-trivial because you may be unable to make it fit — at least two edges must touch existing tiles — and Emma had already explored four times without being able to lay one down. There's an action board where you place tokens to determine whether you'll be exploring or harvesting or hiring the natives or what. Sam has eschewed the last option as he reckons it's slavery and is taking an ethical stand, though Tom says hiring them actually makes them happy (and less likely to murder you to death.) Sam's derisive reply was, "Oh yes, they're just waiting around for the white man to come and hire them!" Some racial tensions in this colonialist enterprise are clearly coming to the fore.

Tom (aka the Slaver) makes a move in Archipelago.

And now turning to the games I was lucky enough to play, we first prostrated ourselves and proclaimed, "Aye, Dark Overlord!" to Lewis, the selfsame Dark Overlord. This is a very silly game. And we had very silly players, so it was even sillier than it might have been. In fact, even though there are literally several rules we essentially got rid of all of them, so I will explain the skeleton version we ended up playing. One player — the Dark Overlord — has sent the rest of you — his wretched minions — on a quest, which you have failed. The Dark Overlord tells you the quest you were sent on (you probably forgot, being so wretched and useless) and then points menacingly at one of you and cries, "YOU! Explain why you have failed," or words to that effect. The singled-out minion then selects a card from his hand, each of which has a monster, character, location or other eventuality which he attempts to use as an explanation for how the failure is actually the fault of some other minion. That player then does the same thing. At any time, and for any reason, the Dark Overlord may give a minion a withering look. If you receive three withering looks he feeds you to his pet monster and you get eaten and lose, ending the game. Naturally the game is not for those who require a great deal of structure and strategy, but we had a lot of fun convincing Lewis that Fluffy had been abandoned by JD, thus leading to a breakdown in the chain of command, which had been being used to tie Fluffy to a stick. And that Glibling the Leprous (whom some of you may know as "David") was not just trying to shag everything that moved in the dungeon, including the mice.

Some of the excuses available in Aye, Dark Overlord!
Centre stage: the Hellhound aka Fluffy. Glibling's first
Withering Look is visible to the right.
His Darkness, Lewis

After someone got eaten we played the slightly more tactical, though still quite silly, Rock, Paper, Wizards! In this quite original game you are trying to advance into a cave to acquire gold from a slain dragon. You accomplish this by simultaneously throwing out some kind of magical gang sign, of which four are allowable at any one time. These range from the dangerous "chain lightning" to the daring "imprison" to the downright kinky "dominate person." Each has various effects such as moving you closer to the gold, moving others further away, altering your target's spell or forcing them to donate gold. There is some second-guessing required if you wish to avoid falling victim to everyone's ire, though ultimately the game is a bit random and the winner will probably not be obvious until they are declared. In the end we all chain-lightninged each other to death, enfeebled one another's minds and generally blasted the shit out of that poor dragon's lair, until eventually Kieran arose victorious from the smoking ashes of our crispy corpses.

Hannah enfeebles herself
I can't remember what this spell was
Two chain lightnings and one anti-magic field
A cluster of Wizards in Rock, Paper, Wizards

After the smoke cleared and our vision returned there was still time to crown ourselves the King of Tokyo. I gather this is a perennial at NoBoG, but in case you, as I was, are unfamiliar, the objective of your monster is to score points by either rolling identical numbers on dice (which you can re-roll Yahtzee style) or by entering and remaining in Tokyo. You enter by rolling attacks, which hurt anyone inside Tokyo (assuming you are outside) at which point they can choose to withdraw, whereupon you must enter. It's dangerous in there, though, and not just because of the preponderance of magical girls (arch-nemeses of gigantic city-crushing monsters as any anime will tell you, at least unless the monster has tentacles...) — the industrial smog prevents you from healing your wounds, meaning you're liable to die if you stay there for long getting slapped about by all the outsiders. I got smashed early on after pushing my luck to stay in there, and watching James roll attacks on all six of his dice — just what he needed to crush me to a bloody, radioactive pulp. James went on to take the win after JD bit his nose to spite his face which, for skyscraper-demolishing edifices of mutated meat, means carpet bombing all of Japan, dealing damage to everyone. This killed Hannah, but left him perilously close to death, allowing James merely to sneeze on him to take the win. JD was happy with his decision.

A bloody jammy roll
Space Penguin is not the King of Tokyo.
Space Penguin is dead.
A King is crowned!
And that's the night! Whew! From bizarre bazaars to deceased beasts, an evening of victories and losses, strategy and silliness. And chips, of course - don't forget chips. Until next time, don't forget to brush your... game boards. They get dusty, you know.