Friday, 20 January 2017

Blood and Cocaine, or, A Regular Night at the Mash Tun

Hello, good evening and welcome to another exciting episode of the NoBloG: the show where, well, I wrote about what happened at NoBoG. I guess you could have anticipated that since you are, after all, at the NoBoG BloG. No BloGs BloG just as much BoG as a NoBloG BloGgeD if a No GoB GloG BloB GllNlooGlBGolGNGGolGNlBlo.. Ahem. So what happened this Tuesday? It was a reasonably busy night with a good variety of games on the go: read on to find out!

The first game I observed, and one which continued for quite a while, too, was Epic Spell Wars. I didn't find out too much about this game though I gather it involves a lot of blood. Indeed, the players seemed almost obsessed by the collection and disbursement of haemoglobin—perhaps Epic Vampire Wars is the alternative title? Blood was found to be a hydrating resource and was thought to be imbibed in the form of a cocktail.

Owen plans a spell. But how is his perfusion?
And O2 sats? No, this is NoBoG, not Casualty.

A little while in and Sean was getting a bit disheartened and seemed to be close to being effectively out of the game—I guess it has issues with effective elimination. Meanwhile Owen, ever the blood-lusty, had what I considered to be a fairly respectable 7 blood although he characterised it as merely average. A round or two later and he was clearly in contention for the win, so it evidently wasn't too shabby a result. I'd be happy to have that much blood to be honest, I think these days I only have about three—and that's after a rare steak.

Blood changes hands. Or veins. Maybe hand-veins.

My next trip around the tables took me to an entirely foreign city, or at least its suburbs in Suburbia. Various strategies had taken form in the management of these microcosms of circum-metropolitan life. Take for instance the "poison lake" strategy which started with a lake by a factory and, when I returned, had taken an extreme turn with the addition of a landfill and an airport. Perhaps the fluorescent mutated fish make good eating—I'm not sure. The lake-poisoner was not too confident about his secret goals requiring requiring the highest reputation but lowest income—tricky but not impossible to accomplish. Andy, meanwhile, was a newcomer to the game and had no strategy at all. In true NoBoG style, however, he remained hopeful for the win. Strategy is overrated anyway. That's what I always tell myself when I don't have one. I checked on them later and Andy's borough was rather nicely zoned so he seemed to be getting the hang of things.

Mmm-mm! Delicious effluent.
In for a penny, in for a pound:
choke the lakes with toxic waste!

I was very interested to stop by the table where they were playing T.I.M.E. Stories. The game takes place over multiple play-throughs, the idea being that the first play-through you may fail horribly and die, but in doing so you uncover some information which you retain for the next one, meaning you can progress more quickly and without dying so horribly.

Monika sets up T.I.M.E. Stories.

Dying horribly is par for the course, as the time-traveller dudes you play as are actually possessing the minds of the patients of a mental asylum and are surrounded by (indeed they are themselves) the dangerously unhinged. Perhaps not too foreign a concept; Sam seemed to be enjoying his steak-eating cocaine-addict alter-ego a little too much. The aim of the game (while maintaining a sufficient supply of snow) is to prevent a temporal rift from occurring while avoiding being whallopped by monsters or loonies or whatever.

One should always take T.I.M.E. to read the rules carefully

The game certainly seems quite flavourful, though perhaps sometimes without commensurate gameplay effects for all that theme: when I arrived the players had just finished dancing at the behest of a tux-clad eccentric who was himself reacting to them having given him a plunger, but this was basically just flavour text, rather than having in-game ramifications. Still, you end up with a lot of humorous pronouncements and it's certainly not every game where you hear someone ask, "are we going to give the cocaine to the chef?"—"he'll probably just give us cat meat!" Sam the addict was less than keen to give up the coke but thankfully they ended up not having to and received their meat (which appeared to be beef, not cat) without sacrificing any of it. At some point during all of this cocaine-and-meat-fueled excitement he punched a Manticore to death.

The map changes as the game progresses.

The game also looked gorgeously designed with quality artwork and a butt-ton of little tokens. I discovered that the blue ones represented cocaine in this particular game, but that they could be different stuff depending on the scenario. I was told by someone who'd played a few times that the replayability could be a bit lacking because, once you'd done the first play-throughs and worked out what places were necessary to visit and which could be skipped entirely—even in a new game which didn't form part of the same campaign—it became a little trivial. Still, it seems that with the multiple play-through mechanic and a few different scenarios and characters to play, this is perhaps not a major issue.

The Adrenaline junkies were at it for the third week in a row. People were getting shot all over and trying to dodge out of the way wasn't helping too much. This week I learnt a little bit more about the game: when you shoot people you put damage tokens on their health bar which turn into points when they are eventually slain. Thus you don't need to actually get kills in order to gain points. Also when you die, you respawn and are not worth as many points any more, which sounds like a nice way to even things out and prevent anyone from being the punching-bag.

Lewis' Rainbow array of death is displayed top-left.

Passions were running high as Elliot exhorted another player to "blast that fucking shit right away", and Lewis had a veritable rainbow of different-coloured damage tokens, perhaps because his character's colour was itself grey. He claimed everyone else had started beating on him like paper Mario, but he won in the end regardless.

There was a rather toxic environment surrounding the table where Plague, Inc. had just been completed where three rather nasty-looking bacteria had just finished rampaging across the planet and killing most of its population. You don't have to be a bacterium—the base game allows you to play a virus and there is apparently the possibility of other pathogens with expansions/stretch goals. However, the pathogen you start as doesn't affect the game that much—it just gives you plus or minus a couple of stats which you can obtain or buff easily enough during the regular course of the game.
The objective is, as many of you will know or have worked out, to infect and kill as many people as possible. There's a bit of a snowball-effect as you buy traits with points you receive for achieving mass death—the traits being worth the same number of points as they cost at the end of the game. The game rapidly accelerates towards the end, as you need to acquire traits like heat resistance to infect certain countries—as you obtain them, the number of countries you can spread to increases rapidly.

The aftermath of three worldwide epidemics
Unlike in the board game Pandemic or in the computer variant (in the former you are trying to cure a disease, in the latter you are, as in Plague, Inc., playing as the disease) there is no force trying to come up with a cure or lock you out of certain countries. It's just you, your opponent lurgies and 7 billion innocent human beings.
Even the die looks pustulent!

Upstairs there was the vast game of Vast. Well it was a sort of normal-sized game really, but I've decided not to write a complaint to trading standards as it looked very interesting. The game is highly asymmetric: you play as very different roles with completely different rules, abilities and objectives. In this game we had the Dragon, the Knight and the Goblins. The Dragon is trying to wake up from its ancient slumber and escape the confines of the caverns—presumably to then wreak slaughter and misery o'er the land—the Knight is trying to slay the Dragon and the goblins are trying to gobble the Knight. I'm not sure who, if anyone, is trying to kill the goblins. Maybe they kill each other since there are multiple tribes—I can't imagine inter-tribal diplomacy is very amicable with goblins.

Look! Caverns!

The Dragon, in spite of being asleep, can still walk around, which I found very confusing. She must be sleepwalking. As the cavern is explored, tiles are placed surrounding the walkable areas with different tribes' symbols, representing where the respective tribes of goblins can spring from. The Dragon seemed to be suffering from a severe case of the lazybones and wasn't waking up any time soon in spite of the Knight exploding bits of the cave with bombs. The Knight then snuck through and wished to attack the Dragon, sending them scurrying for the rules to see if this was possible before she was awake. I can imagine that playing the game a second time as a different character might require completely re-learning it as the abilities are so different. I left the game as John declared that he needed "another three wotsits to wake up." I personally think Monster Munch would be better food for a dragon.

Awake dragon—so cute!

Then over in medieval England the townsfolk were building a cathedral that, rather self-importantly, was supposed to form the Pillars of the Earth. When I arrived the cathedral was looking a little post-modern in its architecture—on stilts "for flood avoidance" apparently—but it transpired that the game was already over and it had been rearranged that way from its more traditional style. Disappointingly, the rather cute wooden cathedral is just a marker to show the progression of the game—it would be cool if its stages tied in more with the actual events that unfold in the game. The game itself is a little engine-builder where you try to gain resources and produce things that will end up being useful to the building of the cathedral. So Ewan won by building pews. Now don't get me wrong—surely no cathedral would be complete without pews—but it strikes me that there are more critical things in a cathedrals fitting and building than the seats. Perhaps the walls might be more of a pressing matter, or the roof? Or even the stained glass? But it transpired that Ewan's tactics were as underhand as his benches were underbottom: he had a friend in the clergy who'd granted him extra favour in spite of his uncomfortable berths.

Unusual architecture: the cathedral
looks like some kind of gothic-revival sheep.

A wider view of the temple to the sheep-God

Last but not least I will indulge myself with a description of our game of Betrayal at the House on the Hill. I'd been trying to get a game of this for a few weeks, having played it a couple of times a year ago but not having done so since. The premise, for those not in the know, is that you are exploring a haunted house by stepping into empty spaces and placing down a tile, which may result in some kind of awful event transpiring, receiving an item or most spookily, receiving an Omen. These give you often-powerful abilities but progress the game towards the second phase in which one player becomes the traitor and attempts to murderise/eat/curse you all, according to a specific scenario drawn from a large book, providing a lot of replayability when paired with the many house tiles and items.
Poor Jen started the game unluckily by contracting a bad case of what we decided must be "haunted miner's lung" causing her to sustain physical damage every turn until she could find some fresh air. Fresh air was in rather short supply though, and we couldn't find the house's garden or balcony, for example, from which she could finally breathe easy. With her life force ebbing with every rattling breath, the House threw fresh terrors at us as haunted mist poured from the walls, we fell through rotten floors and acquired knives that attached via syringes to our very veins. And I found a teapot.

An explorer moves into a new room to, well, explore it.

The Haunt—the name of the second phase—was narrowly avoided when I foolhardily chose to draw an omen card—but the circumstances dictated a particular scenario which we couldn't do, so the rules told us to play on. Not long after though, it all got too much for the explorers and the Haunt was on. And it was Jen who, though now cured of her consumption was still rather at death's door, was the traitor. Though "traitor" is perhaps the wrong description; in fact it was the rest of us who were Haunting her! We were the ghostly denizens of the devilish dwelling, and, in a twist on the usual types of stories, Jen had to exorcise us. We could no longer actually be killed, but while we could sacrifice our sanity to move through walls, Jen could steal items from us and sacrifice them to destroy our tether to the house, freeing our spirits and herself.

Reading what has befallen the poor—and spectral—explorers
after the Haunt begins.

Unfortunately her efforts were in vain—her earlier run in with the choking dust of the old mansion leaving her weak, and no match for the—magically enhanced with a lucky feather—attack of us ghosts. "Welcome home! Welcome home!" we chanted to our new housemate, joining us for eternity.

"Welcome home!" The final mêlée is concluded outside the bathroom.

Though the game is always fun simply for the spooky stories, it does highlight a recurring problem: the first half of the game contains little to no player interaction, there being essentially no incentive to do anything but explore, unless you can help someone dying of TB or something (which we couldn't.) The second phase can then be over very quickly: just three people had turns from the haunt being declared to the game ending. It might make for some annoying rules, but it seems that if killing the traitor is all that's needed for the others to win, the rules should take account of the possibility that the traitor has only 2 HP remaining and is about to be attacked by 5 overly-friendly fae spirits.

So, kids, what have we learnt? I dunno, this was a night of board-gaming, not a school lesson. Get out of my house! Blood was stolen, cocaine was hoarded, ghosts were spooky, plagues were incorporated (into people's bloodstreams) and lakes were pumped full of toxic garbage. If that's not some kind of lesson, I don't know what is, though that doesn't mean I know what kind of lesson. See you next time!

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

I'm Telling a Tale

Good evening, Board Gamers. Well, it's evening now I'm writing this sentence, but through the magic of the written word, you could be reading this potentially hours later. Please adjust greeting as appropriate. Another NoBloG, another writer: me, also known as "Chris."

This Tuesday saw a quite reasonable gathering of gamers, especially given the pre-term time of year and bum-freezing weather. (Am I allowed to mention bottoms in the NoBloG? Let's assume I am. Mine is chilly. Makes a change from the soggy ones they always seem to have on Bake-off.) There were new faces, too — fresh-faced due either to youthful vigour or the frigid air. After my late arrival due to an overly large dinner (I find it's the best kind, especially before an energetic round of gaming) folks were almost ready to settle down to play, and the main groups had already formed: New Angeles, Adrenaline, Kemet, Scythe and Dead Men Tell no Tales. I must apologise that this post has not been written in pirate-speak, but— wait, you know what, I'm not really sorry because it would have been bloody ridiculous.

Reading the residents of New Angeles the Riot Act.
It doesn't seem to be working.

New Angeles seems to be a cross between Pandemic and Dead of Winter: the goodies try to prevent a city from being taken over due to riots and the creeping influence of an evil government, whilst a potential saboteur attempts to set everything on fire. Not literally — put the jerry can down! At least, I don't think the naughty player is allowed to ignite anything, and the Tun was still fairly not on fire when I left it, though the same cannot be said for my pirate alter-ego, as I'll come to later. Anyway, then the goodies win if they meet their secret objective and the city isn't a pile of ashes and government agents, whilst the baddie has a special goal. Lewis and Sam managed to both win — Lewis by achieving economic dominance and doing better than three other corporations, and Sam by doing better than his target player. The other three — including the saboteur — lost.
The game's over and some people have won.
Others have lost. Losers!
There seemed to be quite a lot to the game and plenty of bits and pieces for people who like that kind of thing, though there was the incongruous use of a 5p piece to mark the Threat level. In this post-Brexit world, I suppose actual money is basically worth the same as bits of cardboard, so why not?

Shoot people! Avoid getting shot!
I think that's the general idea.
The players of Adrenaline were busy shooting each other. This seems appropriate, as it's supposed to be a bit like a first-person-shooter video game, although I think you'd have to get your face rather too near the board for comfort if you really want to get a first-person view of things. Still, whatever floats your boat and all that.
D4s - not just generators of
quadratic randomness!
Off in the lands of ancient Egypt we found lots of D4s on the board for Kemet. But do not be fooled, for those D4s do not merely look handily like pyramids, they actually are pyramids in the game! Though, point of order, Kemet designers: Egyptian pyramids are square-based, not tetrahedrons. I await the next release in which fair square-based D4s are included. Having said that I'm not holding my breath.
One of our newcomers was playing Kemet and, in his own words, was "actually enjoying losing!" That's a good sign. Losing is fun! The game revolves around buying special powers which combo in useful ways, with the two more experienced players already having double the powers of the less experienced two. Nevertheless, Monika (in the latter category) with a mere 4 power cards, was doing well enough to be described as "terrifying." Though there was some debate as to whether this was strictly to do with her prowess in the game, I think it would be both uncharitable and unsafe for me to firmly attribute it to anything but her strategic skills.
Stompy robots which haven't quite
started stomping on anything yet.
Then there was the much-hyped Scythe! Regular gamers and readers of the blog will know it well — I know it only by reputation and haven't played it myself. Pete, the buyer of this particular set, was very happy with it in spite of its lukewarm reception by some other Tun-goers, though he did say this was possibly due to a kind of reverse "buyer's remorse" effect in which he incorporates the hype into his very self, becomes one with the hype and, in turn enjoys the game regardless of any flaws. He was also said to be winning, which might have something to do with it, although having placed all of his workers, things were beginning to get expensive. The players were in any case having a good time of it, hype or no hype.

In spite of another player camping the fairly-important factory, bolstering his defences and buying POWER, the other players agreed Pete was still going to win due to actually being Terminator. Apparently he has some kind of heads-up-display in which all the various probabilities and pay-offs are calculated and displayed, allowing him to analyse out the best way to proceed at lightning speed. I wish I had that, as it would prevent all my fellow players getting frustrated at my own incredible ability: that of stretching out a single binary decision to take 5 minutes, every single turn. Unfortunately the game was over and packed up before I had a chance to check who did win, in the end.

Matt adding MORE FIRE to a ship with already
And now to the game I actually played, and thus a little more detail, though perhaps I should keep quiet as Dead Men Tell no Tales. This is certainly a gorgeously-designed piece of boardgamery — every card and token has scintillating artwork, the tiles representing the burning, sinking undead pirate ship (I think a large proportion of NoBoGers would already be sold) look great, and even the little tokens to represent the undead deck-hands who hinder your actions and movement through the ship are made from wood with a tiny skull-design printed on. There's a handful of red and yellow dice which also look nicely dyed, though sadly you never get to grab a bunch and roll them all at once, since they're almost never rolled, and always placed with an explicit number facing upwards, then later manipulated.
The game has a cooperative treasure-extraction-fest, your objective of removing five (in easy mode) of the six treasure tokens from the burning ship to your dinghies being harried by the ghostly and/or skeletal crew and facing the ever-rising danger of fire which spreads through the ship. During the initial turns of the game, the players place tiles representing newly-explored sections, Betrayal-style. Each tile gets a dice representing how badly the fire is raging in that section and a token representing potential goodies guarded by undead crew or trapdoor from which spring bony lackeys. As the ship is built up your team of (living) pirates must travel through, trying not to overheat from the fire, killing the pirates which guard the treasure, and removing to the waiting launches. You usually have 5 actions per turn with a wide choice, including movement (incurring damage by traversing hotter sections), quenching flames, grabbing loot and psyching yourself up for battle.
The early stages of the game

You can lose by several mechanism, two of which are central: fire and deckhands. Every turn, a card is drawn which tells you which fire dice to increase. If any die would be turned to a six, that section explodes. When a section explodes, anything on it is lost which could mean you run out of crew-members or treasure. If too many sections explode, the boat sinks (though on the plus side, it will then cease to be on fire, so that's something to be happy about.) Also, an exploding section increases the blaze in each adjacent tile, leading to potential chain-reactions of orange-red boomy death. Ow. Each of these cards of doom also has the potential to spawn a deckhand out of each trapdoor, or spawn deckhands into each room connected to a trapdoor, limited by how many deckhands are on the trapdoor tile already. If you run out of tokens for them, you lose. This and the increasing fire lead to rising tension and lack of control which should be enjoyable for all.
The game is of course not perfect. While the theme is well tied in and excellently evoked with the artwork, the board you get looks nothing like a ship. This matters less with Betrayal or Carcassonne, where your twisty haunted house or weird, partial collection of cities and pointless roads don't seem to need to resemble anything practical. Here it's a shame as other aspects of the theme are so strong. Some of the special abilities could do with clearer text — which are free actions and which augment your existing actions, for example? Both should be explicit. We also missed a change to the damage-taking rules for when you're carrying treasure which could easily have been printed on your cheat-sheet card. But the fundamental gameplay seems very strong, and the mix of mechanics and great style definitely makes for an enjoyable play.
Our first playthrough: two sections have exploded
and the third is coming soon, spelling our doom.

We played the game twice and lost both times. It's clear that we weren't playing optimally, and that you really need to make your actions count. Too many actions wasted making your battles with pirates safer means you can't tackle the fire or skeletons (who are quite weedy compared to the full undead crew) properly and this contributed to our downfall (spewing flames and gunpowder as we went) both times. The first game though also had a definite streak of bad luck: we got several nearly-exploding tiles early on in the game and very quickly lost one room to explosion, luckily with just a trapdoor. My strategy of acquiring as many swords as possible was dispatching the undead foe one after the next, but playing it safe (if you can call striding through a burning ship full of zombie-buccaneers and charging at them with two swords "playing it safe") meant that my section of the ship was rather more on fire than ideal, and after a little while the next section exploded, taking with it one of the six treasure chests. We only needed five, but unfortunately there was not enough time to quell the flames which were already consuming the vessel, and before long a third section containing a second chest loaded with booty succumbed to explosion (why do pirates insist on storing so much gunpowder around? The undead ones especially quite clearly never attended their health and safety briefings.) The reward now too little, we had to call the mission off and return to shore, covering our faces with our dashing tricornes in shame.
The second round went rather better, especially with keeping the fire down. It certainly presented an ever-rising threat, as after one run through the deck of doom-cards you're very likely to have a bunch of tiles all with the same fire level and ready to all be simultaneously increased by the next unlucky draw. However, it was the skeletal scoundrels pouring out of the trapdoors which got us — if you have a couple next to each other they each cause the other to more frequently produce skellies. Eventually the bony tide swamped us, and we were pulled down with the burning ship.

So, I'm afraid I won't be able to join you all for NoBoG next time as I'm currently sitting in Davy Jones' locker, feeling quite soggy and (un)dead. At least I'm not on fire any more, and those ghost pirates are quite friendly when you get to know them.

There were also fillers such as the classic Resistance, with suspicion and cries of innocence being thrown in all directions, but that is all I've managed to register in the cold, silicon databanks of my robot mind. Oops, I went a bit too far in the Terminator fantasy, there, didn't I? Still, a guy can dream. Of electric sheep, I guess.