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.

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