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!