Friday, 16 June 2017

Please do not Adjust Your Board Games

What's up guys, it's me, Fish-Face. It's time for a quick NoBloG. You'll note my dedication to the cause as these notes were written on the same day as I finished enduring a downright harrowing experience. You guessed it — I got back from driving a manual car for the first time in 10 years, more or less unscathed. If you hear about any unexplained road deaths between here and the Cotswolds, say you don't know anything. But enough about me, what about the games?! Well on this sunny evening (sunny until the sun went down, anyway — funny how the weather forecast at night is never for sun, isn't it?) we played some of them. And the ones I will tell you about are as follows: Mysterium, Blood Bowl Team Manager, Carcassonne, Cottage Gardens and The Networks.

Starting up at the mysterious table where they were playing Mysterium, I don't have much to tell you — the players seemed quite engrossed and I just got a brief summary that it's "Dixit Cluedo." Intriguing. One player has a special role — the Ghost — and gives you clues which get you to pick the correct story describing what has happened. Other than that, Sam just told me that he is "fucking spanking at it," which I would have thought would be inappropriate at NoBoG, but the bar staff weren't saying anything.

Looks mysterious, right? It's supposed to.

Next I had a look at Blood Bowl Team Manager. I always like to imagine the Blood Bowl games as being about literal bowls filled with blood, though nothing I've experienced supports this view. Never mind. They were just getting started and resetting the score counters which had been co-opted in a different game. As I'm checking that the players are all setting their counters to zero and not 13 for some sneaky bonus points, I hear Jacob exclaim, "Allllllriiiiight" upon drawing his first hand. Unfortunately it's the sarcastic kind of "allllllriiiiight," as he's drawn his four linesmen, the worst of the starting cards, all at once. Before I was tempted away, he cunningly played his "crack linesman" to a match with crap rewards under the assumption that no-one would contest it hard.

A Blood Bowl is set up. Sans bowl, and sans blood.

I next found myself in a sprawling medieval metropolis: an absolutely massive game of Carcassonne was taking place involving expansions I'd never even seen. They had a cool meeple-shaped scoreboard and a starting mega-tile to replace the ordinary starting tile/river mini-expansion. I think the scoreboard should have replaced the countryside artwork with depictions of meeple-organs though, so you can describe your score not as the mundane "38" but rather as the glamorous and unique "in the duodenum." With such a big game of it, there was of course lots of jostling for access to various features: there was an absolutely massive field which was so juicy that the two players sharing the points from it had three meeples in it apiece. A third player was still trying to get in on the action and had even tried to pip them to the post with four meeples, but the others weren't having any of that and cruelly entombed the farmer in a tiny field surrounded only by roads.

I think this qualifies as "sprawling."
Also check out that sweet light
to illuminate dingy pub corners.
All this is a great excuse for lying down in fields — lazy meeple! — but what of the cosmopolitan life enjoyed by all up-and-coming brightly coloured wooden figurines? There was plenty of action there two with a similarly massive city sporting at least one cathedral being simultaneously built up by the inhabitants sharing it, and the other players no less avidly trying to prevent its completion — requiring just one tile to finish it off, the space where it would slot was, however, surrounded on all four sides making it a tricky proposition. In the end Tom (or maybe Dom? He was several fields away and it was tricky to hear over all the sheep!) won the game and, though he was in the field it wasn't the deciding factor — though had the farming pretender managed to get in, that would have done. Who said Euros couldn't be cutthroat?!

This meeple wants to be something... something MORE

Zooming in a little bit brought me to the Cottage Garden aka Tetris: the Board Game! The basic gameplay here involves taking tiles from a pool to place on one of your gardens, where you must cover up certain features and avoid other ones, which score you points. When you complete a garden by covering all of one kind of feature, you score points based on the number of visible features of the other kinds. Then you draw a new garden and start again, the game ending after a certain number of rounds. It all seemed very polite and proper, though as in Carcassonne I'm sure there was lots of backstabbing and all-round devilry going on beneath the genteel exterior.

Several cottage gardens
surround the gardener's
Looks nothing like
Wyevale to me.
The garden itself and
its scoring track.

That brings us handily to the game I learned and played — The Networks. In this game each player assumes the role of a TV Network commissioning and scheduling their prime-time shows, with the objective to accrue as many viewers as possible. The game plays out over 5 rounds — "seasons" — and each season the pool of available cards is topped up from the deck for the appropriate season. Within each season play passes according to the positions at the end of the previous one — bottom to top, giving the player in last place a significant bonus in terms of choice of the best cards. Those cards come in four varieties — Show, Star, Ad and Network. Your basic action is to purchase a show and place it on your schedule — hopefully in its preferred timeslot. But most shows require one or more ads or stars before you can buy them, which respectively provide a boost to income (great for shows with high running costs) and to viewers. Many ads and stars will have their own requirements so that you only get the benefit on certain kinds of show. Some shows have optional slots for these cards as well, but if you don't add them when you buy the show initially, you have to take an extra turn to apply them, which might mean being late to the end-of-round bonus party which gives you a healthy boost to viewers or money if you end the round for yourself early.

All in all it's a nicely themed game with a decent amount of tension between different choices — whether to grab the show first or the perfect ad to go with it, or perhaps the limited network cards providing special actions and scoring bonuses. The shows are all parodies on existing ones like "Found," "Communist-y" and "How I Lost Your Father," with silly pictures to go along with them. Your initial (worthless) shows are all such classic hits as "TV Test Pattern Hour" and "Biannual Bubble-wrap Popping Tournament" which I, for what it's worth, would watch the shit out of. I didn't win, sadly (actually I think I'm on a NoBoG losing streak — someone give me a pity victory!) in spite of being in first place going into the final round.

I forgot to take pictures of The Networks, but you can
see some of it artfully framed by my body, which in turn
is observed by JD.

And that was the week — another short one I'm afraid, so my apologies to those I never got 'round to see. I'm now going to settle down to a nice episode of Old People Complaining About Things.

Friday, 2 June 2017

The Bamboozling Business of the Baffling Board Game

Greetings, Gamers! I think you know the drill by now: this is a blog post about board games, I write it, you read it, we all achieve a state of enlightenment and oneness with the universe. Smashing. In this round of board-gaming zen I have reports relating to such wonders as Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle, Dark Souls, Trajan, Cash and Guns, Tiny Epic Galaxies, Keyflower and Resistance. Let's get gaming! or actually not gaming since the games have already been played and I'm just writing about them. COUGH
We first transport ourselves to a magical world of Magic, Evil and, err... Neville Longbottom in Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle. Yep, Elliot has landed the least desirable of all possible characters and even gets the pet toad, Trevor. James dispatches Peter Pettigrew because "he is an enemy who deserves to die," which seems very morally black-and-white but what do I know. Now at this point I must confess that a small argument broke out. This is because James made the unforgivable assertion that Neville Longbottom is better than Sam Gamgee. Now I know we have an election coming up and supposedly there are some important questions to be decided in that, but I'm sure we can all agree that it is absolutely necessary, once and for all, to clear this up right away. Sam Gamgee was the only one who could deliver a Strong and Stable Rinxit. What did Neville do? Kill a snake? #ConfundusOfChaos.
The state of play at Hogwarts
With that vital issue resolved now and forever, I got a quick run-down of the game. It's a co-operative deck builder with a varying difficulty, and most of the players are only informed as I'm talking to them that they're playing on the hardest difficulty. Oh dear... You have to build up your decks with extra spells, characters and items and work together to prevent the forces of evil from taking over the castle. Each character has some unique cards available only in his or her deck, like Neville's Toad Trevor, which when activated either deals some damage to an enemy, or heals Neville. I can only assume that he exudes some health-restoring drug/potion from his skin which Neville must lick to "activate." I'm guessing if he was stoned off his face on hallucinogenic toad-juice this would explain Neville's clumsiness in the books...
"Kiss me and I promise to turn into a prince,
and definitely not exude any toxin!"

I move on and find myself standing next to the campfire of Dark Souls. The players complain of a very unrealistic experience as none of them have died at all, yet. I haven't actually played the video games (yet) but nevertheless am well aware of how un-true this is to the source material. It's a co-operative monster slasher that has been getting quite a bit of play recently so presumably is quite good fun. It comes in a very hefty box with large miniatures which are just crying out to be painted (not literally crying out — though the name might suggest otherwise, Steamforged Games has not managed to actually embed the souls of the damned into the plastic figures) and indeed Sam has got started on a few of them.
"Cash me ousside, how bow dah?"
The monsters have some rules or "AI" which determines how they move and attack, so you have to try and play around that to get them to do the least damage to your team and put yourself in position to counter-attack. As I observe, poor Emma is actually being pushed into harm's way, but she is the tank (the tank role if you're not familiar with the terminology; this is a medieval fantasy themed game and does not feature armoured vehicles, instead Emma deals little damage but has excellent armour and so can soak up damage for the team) so it makes sense. This should keep everyone from getting leathered by the big dude who could, if not counter-played properly, hit everyone at once.
Emma the Tank moving things in Dark Souls
I leave them to their inevitable death and mosey along to imperial Rome where Trajan is holding court. Sam said, "I thought this was going to be the most boring game ever, but actually it's great." I'm not sure if that's exactly a grand endorsement, but there you have it. Personally I find such a U-turn completely contemptible. In Trajan the aim is to impress the Emperor (who presumably is Emperor Trajan, although I never did check...) by doing all sorts of stuff. That stuff includes conquering Europe (of course), build stuff, producing luxury goods, selling goods and probably more. Before I arrived Monika was winning, but now isn't winning and so, in an apparent fit of pique, attempts to destroy the game as she gets up to go to the bar. Bad form! (Mind you, I can't talk, as I'd had about three attempts at destroying Matt's Machi Koro box by the time the evening was up... I swear I hadn't been licking Trevor!) Whilst Sam was off "conquering the arse-end of Europe" (pretty sure there was something in the UKIP manifesto about that) Declan snuck up the senate track to get his pick of some end-of-game bonuses. Sam was rather miffed about this and tried to deploy dubious biology to convince him to leave the bonus Sam wanted, proclaiming that Declan was, "gonna have loads of spare bread! It grows on trees!"
Tragically Trajan
Returning from the bar (and having failed to destroy the game) Monika confessed that her strategy was really just to destroy Sam. I'm not sure that's actually a strategy but it's a goal, and more than that, it's a goal we can all get behind. On the other hand, Declan's goal was just to understand the game by the end of it — "I'm getting there," he said.
I believe these ranks qualify as "serried."
In a violent game of Cash and Guns, everyone agrees they're shooting Ben. Except they end up shooting at JD. Woops! Ben was the mafia boss and forced Hannah to aim at JD, whilst James was already aiming at him because he foolishly assumed he could count on everyone else to murderise Ben. Even though Hannah holds her gun funny, it was enough that JD would have been splattered against the bar, except he wisely ducked out. He had after all already been wounded twice (surviving despite the lack of medical facilities available in the Mash-Tun) and needed to play it safe.
Point guns! Point fingers! Point guns... kinda weirdly?

I fled the ganglands for the loneliness of outer space in Tiny Epic Galaxies, in which James is apparently cheating by farming when he isn't on a farming planet. The idea is to gather up the planets for your own nefarious purposes and then complete your (secret) missions. The game was in early stages; Lewis was the only player with a planet of any kind, having got lucky and been able to snag one without even possessing any upgrades. The game comes with cool unique dice (though what they determine I didn't ascertain) and some nice marked wooden cubes to mark your resource levels and other things on your player card. The two resources are "energy" and "culture" and this was a particularly uncultured game as everyone was using it up to try and screw each other over. I heard multiculturalism had failed anyway.
Some tiny epic planets to occupy similarly
diminutive yet awesome galaxies
This brings me round to the game I played, Keyflower. Keyflower got off to a slow start because the buildings we drafted initially were almost all in the 7–14 range and so were undesirable to get at the beginning of the game. This was the first time I'd seen this failure mode of the drafting rule (which was such a popular house rule for the base game of Keyflower that they included it as an official one in the expansions) the problem being that there's no mechanism to get rid of cards noone wants so you just end up with a poor, restricted selection for ages. I got pretty unlucky with this, frequently being unable to afford anything useful to me, compounded by Matt's investment into the red (i.e. dick) cards, stealing my (and everyone else's) money! At this point I should probably confess that, although we broke out Keyflower and started reading the rules, we decided it was too complicated to learn with none of us having played before (in spite of us all being experienced board gamers!) and, tacked onto the (always optimistic) playtime of 90-120 minutes, would probably leave us still playing by midday Wednesday. We therefore replaced it with Machi Koro.
Highlights of the game included me and Sam repeatedly deconstructing our landmarks for money and then forgetting we had done so. By doing this I once managed to roll two dice using my non-existent train station, make everyone put the money back they'd earned from the roll, and then go and roll exactly the same number with one die. I just like making people suffer. As the game progressed and the red dickery became old-hat, players started building up stocks of purple cards with which to screw each other. And how! Sam emerged as a clear favourite but as the game came to a climax(!) it was Dave's stack of number seven cards that brought him the win. Playing the probabilities always works (on average.) That is, if you can ever even afford to get a number seven card in the whole game. Oh well! Next time I might insist on the alternative card draft that is apparently a possibility, where you have split stacks of 1–6 and 7–14.
It IS Keyflower! Shush!Dave's winning spread
Keyflower (shush) over, it was time for a traditional round of deception games and tonight's pièce de résistance was, err, Resistance, aided by the foam guns from Cash and Guns, to pick the teams for missions. Because more guns = more fun. The game got off to a good start with a win for the eponymous resistance, though accusations were already flying. In fact they'd been flying since before the loyalty cards had been given out, so maybe that's not so relevant. Unfortunately the second mission was sabotaged — the terroristsfreedom fighters had a traitor in their midst! There was much consternation and a third team was eventually picked consisting of the tried-and-tested first time, plus one more. This too passed, vindicating those four players and casting doubts on the cacophony of voices calling for votes against the choice. It was only natural to make the fourth team up of the same lot, plus a fifth when, suddenly, not one, not two but three failures had made it into the pot! The table immediately erupted in debate and, unlike certain other debates this week, attendance was not optional! (And it went on for bloody ages!) What were we to do? This meant that at least one of the original, trusted team was a filthy spy! Accusations flew, established trusts were shaken. After what seemed like hours, the final team of five was selected, avoiding the now-suspicious dream-team from earlier. This was it! What would the final cards say? Success, success, success, success... FAIL! This was a surprise to no-one except me because in spite of being evil (and having played "success" on two of my three missions) I'd gone so far undercover I'd forgotten who one of my fellow agents was and didn't realise we had one on the final team. But more important than anything else: more important than winning, more important than convincing Dave I was good, more important than convincing Matt that Sean was evil (maybe I didn't have much of a hand in that...): I'd finally been on the bad team at a NoBoG deception game! The upstart insurgency had been quashed, though in light of having played the game, we are now all open to future accusations of calling the terrorists friends.
Someone else took this photo. I can't even tell
who it's of, but as punishment for messing with
my stuff, here you go!
And that was the night! Raucous, rambunctious and just a tad raunchy. And I got to be evil.