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.

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