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!