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.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

In which NoBoG nicknames get a little more ridiculous.

Happy Lententide, board gamers! What awaits us in this divulsion of board-based diversions? I'll tell you what: a veritable trove of tabletop treats. And speaking of treats, Lewis gave me a rolled up chocolate crepe thingy to celebrate pancake day. What a time to be alive! And what a time to be attending NoBoG! I was tardy to the Tun — not, this time, because of any pancake-related procrastination but due to the rather mundane delay involved in waiting in a queue to get cash, and then typing my PIN in wrong. I'm not good with numbers, OK?! But this was not enough to stop me getting in on a game — oh no! — I arrived to the main room, pint in hand (I had to put that cash to good use, after all) and immediately bagsied a spot in Dicenstein. I then discovered that all the spots had been bagsied already so I sort of dithered a bit, but then two other people un-bagsied their places and the resulting polite-off culminated in my playing it. But more on that later — read on to find out to what everyone else was getting up.
My first excursion was to a game I can't think of a decent pun for because it's called bloody Tash Kalar which just doesn't lend itself to jokes in the English language. All I've got is something weak to do with moustaches, so leave your suggestions in the comments. Anyway, my first impression of this game was that it looked pretty complicated. This was confirmed by Sam whose first words to me were "I'm enjoying it but it's fucking hard." The basic gameplay consists of what he described as "combat Othello" — placing tokens in certain patterns which allow you to activate cards, each of which requires a certain pattern of tokens, summons something special and potentially has some special effects. The more powerful the effect and summon, the more complicated the pattern is that you need to have already. Sam wasn't feeling to confident about the game because Alex already had a fire elemental out which had wiped out a whole bunch of stuff all at once — the potential for chaining things together and wreaking destruction seems quite high.
A rather unclear shot of Tash Kalar. In the
middle is the grid on which you put your tokens.

I checked back just after the game had ended and now Sam was rather enamoured with it as "it went brilliantly because I fucking won!" Monika accidentally took victory from the other two players and handed it to Sam. They both insist that she would never do anything nice to Sam on purpose so this was not a deliberate coronation, but kingmaking is obviously a possibility. It seems like it could be a bit of a mind-bender — "You feel you could do a lot better if you were a lot smarter because you have to think so many jumps ahead."
The game looked really interesting as well as the card designs being gorgeous and I'd quite like a go at some future NoBoG (hint!)
Next I was off to spectate a race where the prize is the whole galaxy! Quite high stakes. I've played a couple of times before but apparently I've forgotten all the symbology of it, which is (famously) intense. I should be ashamed of myself really — we mathematicians are supposed to be good at memorising and understanding crazy abstract symbols. The players had an embarrassing situation of their own though; Joe — a first timer! — looked set to win! "If he's developing, I'm definitely developing, said one nervous player.
It's a race! Newbie Joe is middle-left with
more developments than everyone else.
J-Dawg (the nickname has apparently stuck!) revealed "for the record" though, that "this is not the real game" and was just a practice. Why? "Because there are new players" — like Joe — who "might be accidentally succeeding." Well that's a new euphemism for beginner's luck! And a very cruel slander to someone who could already articulate a clear strategy of "build cards. Game." He did seem to have about ten times as many cards as any of the other players, which even I can remember is a good sign.

In front of the bar the mild week was nevertheless experiencing the Dead of Winter, a game which I still have not played (they tried to convince me this week, but I wanted something a bit more duck-outable.) They'd already experienced one unpleasant eventuality in which one character found insta-death on the exposure die which you have to roll when you go a-wandering. I unsubtly inquired about the existence of any early suspicions, and even though Meltem copped to "always having a suspicious face" they weren't ready to properly finger anyone and thought there might not be one.
Dead of Winter set-up.
Having still not played this perennial favourite I asked for a quick run-down of the gameplay. Apparently the long and short of it is: feed the colony, search piles of equipment, avert crises, do/fail the main objective (delete as applicable depending on whether you're a baddie) and do your secret objective (or skip this part if you're Matt, according to post-game facebookery!) The end — simple! Given the quantity of bits I suspect it's a bit more complicated. The moral dilemma of what to do with the survivor tokens, which represent food consuming babies and old people, had not been resolved — and apparently my suggestion of just letting them die/turning them into Soylent Green was no good as you'd lose morale and then everyone gets sad and you lose. Bleak.
Serried ranks of soldiers in Dead of Winter.
On my return the game was getting close to completion and the survivors were worried about not having enough tool cards to complete the objective. Recent turns had been fairly quiet due to not moving much (staying holed up is safer of course, just sitting in front of your fire fueled by zombie-parts and doing some knitting I guess) but Meltem was still suspecting Adam of being a traitor ("because nine times out of ten he's a traitor!") Unfortunately I didn't catch the very end of the game so I may never know what befell the four!
Things hot up (cool down?) in Dead of Winter
At this point I interrupt your regular programming to relate a tale from the Epic Spell Wars table wherein Hannah loudly lamented that, "he had three wild magic and I killed him before he had to use them! I'm so terrible!" For those not in the know such a card requires you to shout "WILD MAGIC!" whenever you activate a spell with them, hence being seen as something of a forfeit. We share your sorrow, Hannah. Though to be fair there was quite a lot of extremely wild magic being flung back and forth!
So, to return to the regular schedule, I went exploring! Specifically I explored the little alcove where they were exploring early 19th century America just like Lewis and Clark. In Lewis and Clark you are trying to get from one side of the continent to the other first by river, then over land, then by river then land then river. (If I have correctly remembered the precise sequence of river/land which I may not have...) You do this by acquiring lots of little hexagons. (Actually hexagonal prisms...) Effectively it's a "really complicated race" in which the hexagons represent canoes, horses, logs, meat, tools and skins. They're not really called skins, but these particular players want to sell four of them at once. hehe. The player possessing Lewis from the start was a bit miffed that this didn't confer any advantage, but when I asked what it should give you, he said it should make you automatically win, so I'm not sure he can be trusted to devise balanced house rules. You also have Indians whom you can hire to help you, but they slow you down because when you break camp to actually do some movement, the more Indians the less you move.
Hexagons! More than four skins!
The fundamental means of making progress is paying resources in order to use cards, to do which you actually have to play two cards together — each in a different role, so you have to choose which of the card's sides is best to use. Tim, whom I am now required to quote as Timbelina, said the game was "a bit brain melting" and this effect seemed to already be underway as he was already talking to himself, asking why he was only playing a one-power card when he had something that needed more power! Goey Joey (what have I got myself into with these nicknames, seriously?!) was the only one who'd ever played before but wasn't exactly racing ahead as when I looked in for a second time they were all stuck on the mountains. The reason for this is that you tend to grab a load of stuff which is useful for progressing through the river and have a bunch left over when you get to the end of the river section, but it is apparently avoidable if you plan ahead well.
Trying not to let his mind melt onto his hand
and ruin the cards.
I wound my way back around the tables to find a heavenly game of Celestia in the offing. A quite unbelievably cute airship is captained by a new player each turn who may or may not be able to pilot it from its current station to the next one. If you think the captain is capable (which is to say, possesses the right resource cards), you stay aboard in the hope of a far-off land flowing with milk and honey (note: not actually sure what the resources you pick up are; probably not milk or honey.) If successful, you, the captain and the other True Believers move on and the captaincy moves to the next person. But if you are too trusting in your pitiful pilot, you go crashing down with the ship and get nothing, and the ship returns to the start. You do always have the option, though, of expressing your lack of confidence in the captain by simply disembarking. You then get whatever meagre rewards await where you are, which are of course not as delicious as those at loftier destinations. It seemed a neat, simple concept with lovely pieces and cards.
Trying to decide whether to trust the captain.
And that brings me roundly back to the spooky graveyard of malformed cuboids forming the Dicenstein! Now an iniquitous past in Warhammer has given me a love of games with ten trillion dice which is exactly what Dicenstein is. Though as I will explain, there are some missed tricks here, but all those dice, each having little pictures and weird symbols printed on them, make a cool first impression. The figurines, too, are quite nice, though the size seems a bit off — they don't stand up well and laying them down doesn't work well with all the dice that clutter the board at the beginning.
My goodness, that's a lot of dice! Note fallen-over
Dracula-figurine, because trying to keep them
stood up was just too much effort.
The aim of the game is to accrue points by digging up graves containing monster parts (represented by dice) and either cashing them in or using them to create your own, better monster and battering the other beasts with it. You start out as a craven hunchback which will automatically melt into nothingness after three turns, but when you melt, die by being clawed to death by a mantis-creature or return to your lab, your monster disintegrates and you reform it by rolling all your acquired dice and selecting four (one head, one body, one each of arms and legs.) Each die has stats that you add together to make your terrifying hybrid beast of brutality, and then you venture out again. Each type of dice also confers a unique power on your new monster, like being able to move diagonally or to re-roll some of your opponents' attack dice. Before you do this you have the option to return a set of dice — but you have to balance getting cash with having enough dice left to make a good monster.
Lewis tries to serenade a swarmling.
I don't think it's working.
Our game proceeded in two clear phases: in the first, two of us made monsters with huge amounts of "dig" stat which essentially cleared the board of dice. Then we focused on making the most horrifying and deadly mutants of mayhem and went on to clobber each other to death as violently as we could while trying to sneak back to our labs before dying ourselves, in order to regain health and cash in dice.
I acquired quite a lot more dice than this over
the course of the game: you can see why it got
hard to roll them all at once!
So how was it? The game is fundamentally fun but pretty limited. There are clearly quite a few different tactics to explore given the many different powers and stats, but I suspect the majority are dead ends. A simple example is that the dig stat is totally useless once most dice have been dug up. The clown parts seem to have poor stats and a weak special power. If you have a gargoyle part you essentially no longer need to care about your speed because the arena is so tiny (just 4 by 4 squares) that, coupled with the diagonal movement from the gargoyle, you can move anywhere in one turn (and often you can move back in the same turn.) The game might have gone differently if anyone had tried to interrupt the shambling mole-creatures which just dug up the entire graveyard stuffing the invisible man's limbs (how do you see them once you dig them up?!) into their hamster-like cheek-pouches, though in the end this didn't make or break the game. Nevertheless clearing the board of dice severely limited my opponents' options and if I hadn't made a couple of tactical blunders (including forgetting one of my special powers which could have allowed me an extra go at scoring some dice) I suspect it would have got me a win.
Once mostly cleared of dice, the pokey size of
the 4x4 game-board is revealed.
My main gripe though is with the dice — for starters you just don't spend enough time rolling them! This surely is the most satisfying part of any dice-rolling game but you only do it when re-forming your monster. They also have tiny symbols and are often hard to differentiate from one another, which you need to do to work out which special power they confer. This means you spend a lot of time sorting and hunting through the dice to work out which of yours you want to put in your creation and which of those on the board are best to snatch up. Though it's undoubtedly cool to form your monster out of the dice, it would perhaps also do more justice to the promise of a name like "Dicenstein" if you could acquire a bunch of dice in different stats which you then had to roll to perform each action. The fact that you can only form your monster out of four dice also seems a bit underwhelming. Imagine if you could create arbitrarily large monsters by laying out dice according to certain rules, but then had to decide when to start dismantling it in order to cash in the points, while still not becoming too much weaker than everybody else so as to avoid becoming fish-man food.
Still, for this first game it was definitely enjoyable — perhaps could have done with some refinement to the mechanics, but we suffered no terrible frustrations. So hurrah! John won, and then only bloody won Port Royal too, continuing a winning streak he said stretched into last week! So your task for next week, NoBoGgers, is clearly to beat him at any game you can. Not that I'm bitter for coming two points behind him in Dicenstein and three in Port Royal. Shush!
Lewis selects from some pirate ships and shipmates
in a final quick round of Port Royal.