Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Tonight, Matthew, I'm going to be a Cylon.....

Players: Philip, Barrie, Jon, Ian, Gareth, Iain, Daniel, Tonio, Toby, John, Niko

4 newcomers to the IBG’ers tonight – a very warm welcome to Toby, John, Niko and Tonio, bringing our cohort into double figures. Unfortunately, there was some confusion over the reservation of tables in the Riverview room, which rudely interrupted our first game, but nothing which some swift furniture re-arranging couldn’t solve….

Ian graciously stepped to one side to allow the other 10 of us to have a go at this little ‘hidden identity’ card game. (Actually he was graciously stuffing his face with some of the London Apprentice’s fine fare, whilst competing with Philip for the title of ‘smartest-dressed boardgamer in West London’)
Anyway, back to the game. This was new to a few people, so after a brief rules introduction by Jon (who somehow made the game sound incredibly complicated) we dived in. With 10 players, the draw deck exhausts after only about 2 rounds, so the game ends pretty quickly, and you really do rely on everyone to work collaboratively to find the gold.
In the opening mine, the saboteurs played with great subtlety at first – perhaps too much subtlety, as the gold was discovered without too much difficulty. The roles were then re-dealt and Ian switched places with Tonio, who also had an appointment with something of a comestible nature. It was at this point that the local church fundraising committee appeared, and it turned out that we had mistaken their ‘reserved’ sign for ours, and nabbed their tables. After some swift negotiation and some musical chairs, we relocated to the west end of the room, and continued the game.
Philip chose to play a broken tool on Gareth very early on, which turned out to be a bit of an own goal for the good dwarves. Iain finally mended Gareth’s pick-axe with about 1 card left to play, completely disproving the ‘better late than never’ maxim. This time, the saboteurs were more blatant, and before long, the mine had pretty much ground to a halt.
It turned out that there were 4 saboteurs – all sitting next to each other – and all looking quite pleased with themselves at their collective skulduggery.
Due to all the general table confusion, time had ticked on a bit, so it was decided to call a halt to the game rather than playing the 3rd round.
Daniel 6; John 6; Jon 4; Toby 4; Ian / Tonio 4; Iain 0; Niko 0; Gareth 0

A game of Battlestar Galactica had been eagerly anticipated, so all the newcomers plus Gareth and Daniel went off to hunt down Cylons, whilst the other 5 chose to have another bash at.....

Age of Steam
The Germany map was selected by Iain, and its own special rules were explained. This was Jon’s first playing, and Iain made a reasonable job of guiding him through what the game was all about.
AOS isn’t a hugely complicated game in terms of mechanics, but it’s pretty hard for the newcomer to get to grips with in the first few turns, as current decisions are largely based on future actions (i.e. you issue shares on the basis of what track you might build and what goods you might ship later on in the round). Having said that, the other players were generally quite generous with their advice to the newbie in the first couple of turns. This advice swiftly stopped after Jon managed to transport a good that Iain was rather relying on, and also nearly shut Ian out of Berlin, in subsequent turns.
Philip set up camp in the south, and had rather a nice little circular route going on unopposed for much of the game. Jon headed for the North-West and managed to connect to a border city in the North-East for a nice long route. Ian and Iain created a maze of routes around Berlin, and Barrie played the opposite tactic to his first game, and mixed it up with everyone else.
Iain made some expensive connections early in the game, and ran disconcertingly close to bankruptcy (after warning Jon against the dangers of doing precisely that). Ian had a nice little network going, but just failed to transport enough goods to bolster his income.
Barrie built the most track but also issued the most shares. Jon benefited from being able to transport a few goods largely unopposed, but didn’t see the end coming and wasted his penultimate couple of turns. Iain successfully kept the bailiffs at bay (just), but Philip’s combination of highest income and lowest share issue was more than enough to give him the victory.
This was a long game (the last round was rushed through at break-neck speed as ‘time’ had already been called at the bar) and seems to be one that favours those of a very mathematical predisposition (so what’s your excuse, Ian?!)

Battlestar Galactica (thanks to Gareth for the report)
The board was set up quickly and Dan gave a good overview of the rules, while our stand-in waiter, Philip (hereafter known as ‘Manuel’), managed to spill Barrie's pint. Luckily the board and table were narrowly missed, but not so Gareth’s shoulder and back (another shirt for the new missus to lovingly wash and iron).
After selecting characters, the game started in earnest. Very quickly Galactica was under attack. Tonio and Gareth got to roll the dice lots of times, dispatching the plastic raiders with ease, whilst Niko launched salvoes at the two base ships that had appeared. John patched up the FTL drive and Toby and Dan tried to explain tactics.
The first jump was made and things quietened down for a while. Accusations were made over who was a Cylon, which were cut short when Niko initiated Martial Law and took the presidency from Toby. The power of being Admiral and President going to his head, he proceeded to start nuking base ships. Civilian ships were being lost and resources were starting to be depleted at an alarming rate.
More jumps were made and everyone was then assigned a second card indicating who was a Cylon. Toby was found to be a collaborator and thrown in the brig. An election was called and the presidency was transferred to John. Scouts were sent out and lost, more dice rolling by Gareth and Tonio as fighter battles raged and further accusations made over who was a Cylon.
Finally, after 3 hours, the game ended abruptly as the landlord called time. No clear winner, but a fun game had by all.

Dan (Saul), Gareth (Starbuck), Toby (Giaus), Niko (Admiral Adama), John (Tyrrel) and Tonio (Lee Adama). As it transpired Dan and Niko were the Cylons.

The next games night is next Wednesday, 7th October, same time and place. Hopefully we’ll get to finish some games this time!


Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Should I stay or should I go.....

Players: Barrie, Ian, Jon, Gareth, Philip, Russ, James, Daniel

A warm welcome to our latest newcomer, Daniel, who had the decency to come last in one game (and helped make Gareth last in two others), and so will be even more warmly welcomed back to the group next time.

The first 5 through the door had a quick go at this great little auction-based filler...

High Society
This was Daniel's and Russ's first attempt at this game, which resulted in some rather over-zealous bidding by Daniel at the beginning of the game. Russ took the thief very early, and was then unfortunate to only see high status symbol cards get turned up for several turns. In the end he found himself bidding on the '4' card, which he instantly had to turn in along with the thief.
Gareth went on a mid-game spending spree, leaving himself with little purchasing power towards the end, whilst Ian seemed determined not to win a single card all game! Daniel was on a very healthy 16, but was then forced to take the '1/2' card (as a result of having less cash than Lehman Brothers at this point).
Jon was fortunate to pick up a '2x' for only $25,000, and the game ended before Ian could pick up any more points with his wodge of cash.
The final reckoning saw Daniel eliminated with only $6,000 left, and Jon sneaking the victory with that final purchase.
Jon 12; Gareth 7.5; Russ 4; Ian 3; Daniel 8 (eliminated)

By now, everyone else had turned up, so we split into 2 groups - the first group choosing 18th century farming, the other choosing Gareth-bashing.....

Agricola (thanks to Philip for info on this game)
This game was new to James, so Barrie taught him the rules whilst Philip set the game up. It seems that James was thrown in at the deep-end, as he didn't get the luxury of playing the 'family game' before being presented with the myriad of potential card combinations on offer in the more advanced version. Having said that, he still beat Barrie....
If you want an in-depth description of how the game played out, then check out Philip's comprehensive session report on BGG. For the purposes of this blog, though, we simply raise the question of how Philip could possibly score as many points as Barrie and James put together. Avenues of further enquiry could be:
1) Barrie taught James the rules. (In the 18 months that the Isleworth Boardgamers have been meeting, Barrie has never taught the rules of any game to any player...)
2) Philip set the game up (or set up Barrie and James...)
3) Barrie always gets distracted by the wild boar (and shouts "Wild Boar" at the top of his voice whenever they appear...)
You pays your money, you takes your choice.....

Small World
Whilst Agricola was being played on the other table, the remaining 5 broke out this recent remake of Vinci (which Daniel had played before).                                                       Gareth got us underway with some Underworld Sorcerors, which couldn't use their special ability on either the first or second turns, as there were no single active race tokens available to conquer. Jon set up camp with the Bivouacking Halflings, and Daniel flew in with some Flying Ratmen. Ian's Wealthy Ghouls were next, and then Russ's Stout Orcs came and went quickly. Ian scored a healthy 13 once his Amazons entered the fray, whilst Russ went 1 better with some Dragon-Master Tritons.
After his success with Elves last week, Gareth tried to recreate this scenario - but failed, needing to rely on some Swamp Wizards to pick up a few final points. Daniel and Ian seemed intent on having their own private battle, leaving Russ's Mounted Humans to ride unapposed across the board. Jon declined his Halflings too late to get a third race into play, by which point, Russ's Tritons had all but seen them off.
In the final reckoning, Russ had indeed stormed away with the victory, although it was very tight for second place (but not last place...)
Russ 93; Daniel 80; Ian 79; Jon 78; Gareth 62

There was still much ploughing and fence-building being done on the other table, so it was decided to take a trip to Ancient Egypt...

A new game for Russ, but after a quick rules summary, he jumped straight in like a pro. Ra always seems to pack a lot into an hour or so, whilst the rules are incredibly easy to learn and teach. It has a nice little 'push-your-luck' element, when a player is left alone at the end of an epoch, which set us up nicely for Diamant at the end of the evening (more on that later...)
Anyway, in this particular game, Ra tiles were very sluggish in coming out during the first Epoch, so much so that it ended before all 10 could be drawn. Disasters and flood tiles were also conspicuous by their absence, leading to some good Pharaoh totals, and civiisation bonuses. Russ picked up most of the Pharaoh bonuses, whilst Jon opted to take the 2 point hit each round and concentrate on something else (shame he didn't ever really decide what that 'something else' actually was....).
Ian started of with a nice bunch of monuments, and Gareth continued on his mission to make Daniel look good.
By the end of the third Epoch, Ian was left on his own to hoover up even more monuments (the chants of "Ra!" from the other players failing to materialise the much longed-for sun god), leaving him with a full set of 8 different ones plus a couple of triple-duplicates - 25 points in all.
Ian 46; Russ 34; Jon 34; Daniel 25; Gareth 23

It was 10.30pm - enough time for the whole gang to reconvene for a couple of quick games of -

A full complement of 8 made this a fantastic way to round off the evening. It's amazing how the group psychology can be so intense in this game. When the '13' is turned over as the second card in a mine, leaving 5 gems available for the first person to run, you can almost hear the cogwheels turning - "If I run now, I'll get 6 gems total - not a bad return. But what if anyone else chooses to leave - I might only end up with 2 or 3 gems. But I'm sure that nobody else will be that chicken so early on..."
So what happens? 6 players all decide to cut and run at the same time, netting a measly single gem each and leaving the mine wide open to exploitation from the 2 remaining brave adventurers (in this case, Ian and Russ). Of course, next time that situation occurs, everybody is wondering if anyone is going to be so stupid as to make the same mistake again, resulting in no-one leaving to pick up the ample booty (hereafter known as "the Jennifer Lopez") on the way out.
No-one could catch Ian after his early jackpot. After picking up 6 gems in 1 mine, Daniel uttered the fateful words - "At least I won't be last now" - an anti-prophecy which only failed to be fulfilled due to Philip omitting to count his gems before returning them to the pile.
Ian 34; Russ 30; Gareth 18; James 13; Jon 11; Barrie 11;
Daniel 10; Philip ??

It was during this second game that Philip decided to adopt the somewhat unorthodox method of indicating his decision to stay or go by extending alternating hands in quick succession, in a surreal emulation of the lightning hands of the Karate Kid. This strange decision-making process appeared to confuse Philip himself more than anyone else, although it may have bemused James to the extent that he somehow failed to secure a single gem.
This time, however, there was a much closer result, and Gareth won back some pride by chickening out early in nearly every mine and ending 2 gems ahead of the 2 Daniels (Daniel the newcomer, and Philip "Daniel-San" Thomas) for the win.
Gareth 18; Daniel 16; Philip 16; Barrie 14; Ian 14; Russ 14;
Jon 7; James 0

And that was all there was time for. Except to mention that James did his very best Arthur Daley impression in flogging some second-hand games ("only one, careful, lady, German owner....")

Roll on next Wednesday....

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Pedal to the metal.....

Players: Barrie, Gareth, Philip, Jon, Russ, Johan (late again...)

We welcomed newcomer Russ, and although there was some sort of committee meeting in the room upstairs, we still took up our regular camp (and quickly saw off the young couple sitting behind us, trying to have a ‘deep-and-meaningful’). Whilst awaiting the inevitable late arrival of Johan, we decided to go motor racing….

Formula De
In memory of the absent Johan, we set up the Zandvoort track and got going with 2 cars each on a single lap. Philip and Jon both stalled at the start, and Gareth got off to a flier. It seemed to take an eternity for everyone to clear the grid, but eventually we were off and racing. Helped by some nice dice rolling, Gareth’s first car absolutely stormed round the first few corners, hardly needing to change down gears at all. Russ and Barrie also got one of their cars to pull away, but the rest were stuck back in the pack, with more than a few potentially damage-inducing collisions occurring.
Things started to spread out again, only to bottleneck once more at the “2 stops” Turn 4. It was here that Gareth’s second car’s gearbox nearly detached itself from the chassis, as he desperately tried changing down gears to prevent a massive overshoot – catastrophe was narrowly averted.
At this crucial point in the game, with tyre and brake points being used up with gay (I use this word advisedly…) abandon, the single pencil that we were using mysteriously disappeared. Several accusations were levelled at various parties, but the elusive scribing-tool failed to materialise. (Gareth nearly had a coronary when Jon suggested using a pen, so we improvised.)
By now, Gareth’s lead car had turned the final corner, so Russ made a valiant effort to catch him by changing up to 6th gear, with anything but rolling a 30 putting him in a great position. What happened next? Silly question - he rolled a 30 and spun out. Everyone’s tyres, brakes, bodywork and engines miraculously survived, so all cars crossed the finish line.
And the result? After shooting past Russ’s stricken car on the last bend, Barrie came in 2nd and 6th, which was enough to win him the overall championship by a single point.

(Postscript: This game has the unfortunate combination of tiny plastic pieces placed in exact positions on the board, and multiple large dice. Add to this a player who seems hell-bent on bringing these 2 components into an unfortunate marriage, and you have a level of drama that I’m sure the designer never intended for this game….)

The "not so" flying dutchman had now joined us and we split into 2 groups, one group heading off to ancient Mesopotamia to build civilisations, and the other engaging in violent conflict with fantasy races.......
Tigris and Euphrates
(Thanks to Johan for info on this game)
It was a little while since everyone had played this game, so Philip give a quick explanation of the rules, and then it began.
Russ and Philip started attacking each other in the first 2 rounds, whilst Johan quietly built his little kingdoms. Russ initially accumulated a great deal of the blue (Farm) tiles, whilst Philip started off with four red (Temple) tiles.
The 2 protagonists very quickly saw that their aggressive strategy was counter-productive, so they started building up to attack Johan, which they eventually did with great success. On one of his turns, however, Johan swapped his six tiles and was fortunate enough to draw four red (Temple) tiles, which he was able to use to attack back and regain the kingdoms he had lost.
In the meantime, Russell build a monument (blue and green) and started collecting these quite successfully, whilst Johan built a green and black monument.
In the end game, Russ made a crucial mistake by joining two kingdoms and having Philip and Johan battle, and in the process was left with a very small kingdom himself, due to the removal of the tiles. Johan - who won the battle – inherited a big kingdom, and then ended the game by taking a blue and a treasure cube.
The end result was a tie between Philip and Johan for the most cubes in their lowest colour, but Johan won by having one more red than Philip had black in the next fewest (that sounds a lot more complicated than it actually is!)

Small World
This was Gareth’s first outing with this game, Barrie’s second and Jon had played twice before.
Jon started and used his Pillaging Ghouls to set up camp in one corner of the map. Gareth then waded in with some Merchant Orcs which gave him some nice bonuses. Barry then did the Small World equivalent of invading Poland, and took a big chunk out of Gareth’s Orcs with his Dragon-Master Skeletons. Jon declined almost immediately, keeping all the Ghouls and bringing in some Sorcerors. Gareth then proceeded to wreak his revenge on Barrie (with a touch of encouragement from Jon) and hit back with some Forest Elves, which led to some interesting back-and-forth encounters. (Barrie: “Why don’t you attack Jon’s Sorcerors?” Gareth: “Because you attacked me first…take that!”)
Somewhat surprisingly, Gareth kept the Elves for the rest of the game, as they had some good forest territory and regenerated every turn, bringing in at least 10 points each go. Barrie had a brief flirtation with some Tritons, before ending with a hoard of Ratmen. Jon eventually ditched the waning Ghouls and brought in some Amazons for one final push.
There had been an interesting selection of Races and Abilities on offer during the game, as very few defensive capabilities were available, which was reflected in the slightly lower scores, with the result perhaps closer than some had expected...
Jon 91, Gareth 87, Barrie 74

So it seems that the Elves aren’t quite as namby-pamby as they first appear, and Barrie suffered the same fate as the Third Reich…

And, not withstanding a valiant, but ultimately futile attempt to squeeze in a game of High Society, that was the end of another very enjoyable evening of gaming (made even better by Liverpool winning their first match in the Champions League...) See you in 7 days time!

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Full steam ahead...

Players: Barrie, Ian R, Jon, Gareth, James (minus beard), Philip, Iain C, Johan

The first 5 through the door decided to break out a quick little starter...

No Thanks!
This is a very simple little bidding game where the object is to take cards of lower values than anyone else, and preferably build up some runs in your hand. It is much more difficult to get consecutive numbers with 5 players, making the auctions reasonably tense. James ran out of bidding chips twice, Philip seemed to be able to pick up less cards than anyone else, and both Gareth and Jon were disappointed at the turn of the fnal card to realise that the cards that they needed to complete a sequence were not in the stack. Ian generally kept under the radar and tied with Philip for the win (even having the same number of chips left). 
A fun way to spend 10 minutes at the beginning of the evening.
Philip 44, Ian 44, Gareth 54, Jon 61, James 78

Iain had now arrived, and Johan was expected imminently, so before the ‘main events’ of the evening, we went exploring for rubies and diamonds….

This is a great ‘push-your-luck’ filler, which can support up to 8 people (in fact, the more the merrier). Gareth had a fantastic opportunity to grab fistfuls of gems when he was left alone in the second mine - but got too greedy and lost the lot. Mines 3 and 4 ended before they had even started, and it all went down to the wire in the final mine, with Barrie just picking up enough gems to pip Iain and James to the post.
Gareth’s parting comment? “I nearly won that!” (hmm…except you didn’t…you came last, with zero gems…)
Barrie 18, Ian 15, James 15, Jon 14, Ian 13, Philip 7, Gareth 0 

By now our token Dutchman, Johan, had arrived so it was time for the main course. Iain had brought along Age of Steam and managed to recruit 3 other willing (?) volunteers to join him. The rest of us decided to spend the evening building power stations to provide Germany with much-needed electricity.

Power Grid
James was new to this game, so we picked a fairly open set-up on the Germany map. At the beginning of the game, 2 or 3 large power plants made their way onto the current market, and Gareth tried the interesting strategy of pretty much bankrupting himself to get 2 “sixers” during Step 1. Jon also picked up a “four”, which enabled him to start building cities quite quickly. James played the newbie strategy of buying lots of power plants, and Johan positioned himself in the middle of the map, which left him with some expensive connection costs.
Step 2 occurred without too much of a ‘stall’, but suddenly there were no large power plants appearing in the current market. Gareth’s strategy of buying big plants early seemed to be paying off, until Johan suddenly played his ‘masterstroke’ and bought a coal-powered plant simply to hoard all the coal and leave Gareth powerless. Jon was also heavily reliant on coal, but had enough stocks of it to power-up a couple more times.
Step 3 began with a mad rush to buy big power stations, but with only enough fuel for one more turn, Jon decided to try to end the game by building to 17 cities – and managed it with only 10 elektros spare. Despite having the largest potential, Gareth was still impotent due to the dutch coal mountain, and could only power 10 cities (although had power plants enough to power 16). Despite buying lots of plants, James still ended in a very creditable 2nd place, only 1 behind Jon.
And the evil Dutchman? Last seen buried up to his neck in fossil fuels……..
Jon 15, James 14, Johan 13, Gareth 10 

Age of Steam
(Thanks to Barrie for the info on how this game played.)
Other than Iain, no-one had played this "classic" as he put it, so the others elected him as mentor and took the plunge. AOS is one of those games where the rule-book would break your toe if you dropped it, but when playing it took just a few minutes to grasp the idea, and to realise that it would take a lot longer to master!
Early game play was a little stunted, as everyone was learning the ropes and following Iain's lead, but a couple of early strategies began to surface. Philip went for the 'build all you can' approach at one stage, leaving him track rich but cash poor, whilst Ian was more measured and took an accountant's view (well, he is an accountant) and built a steady empire which fitted together quite well. Iain also went for the steady approach, but obviously benefitted from having played the game before. Barrie, on the other hand, went wild, spreading himself around and generally testing the game's mechanics to near-destruction - maximum shareholders, lots of track but sadly not enough income (the AOS equivalent of the credit crunch.)
The end game was close, with 3 players all in with a chance, but Iain narrowly edged Ian out of first place by 1 point.
After the dust had settled, it was revealed that Barrie had taken Iain's advice at the beginning of the game to "not bunch together too much" to the extreme, and took a little corner all to himself, where he was promptly hemmed in, much to his chagrin.
After a steward's enquiry, it was also admitted by Iain that he had taught 2 rules wrong. As he is relatively new to the group, we will reserve judgement on whether this was an honest mistake, or if he was trying to "do a Gareth"....
Iain 79(60 income+19 track), Ian 78(54+24),Philip 64(45+19), Barrie 42(21+21)

And that was it for another week – both of those brain-burners had taken us up to closing time.
Don’t forget to check out our new Guild on BGG.

See you next week!


Friday, 4 September 2009

Auctions all the way...

Date: Weds 2nd Sept
Players: Gareth (+ wedding ring), Jon, Philip, Ian and James (+ beard…)

A rainy night outside (which meant a quiet pub and a deserted upstairs room) led to a night of bidding games inside………

For Sale
While we waited for any late arrivals, we had a quick go at this excellent card-based property auction game. It was new to James, and I’m sure that he’ll be much more competitive next time. There's probably a tie-breaker for this one, but as Gareth is a newly-wed, we allowed him the pleasure of a joint-victory.
Gareth 58; Jon 58; Ian 51; Philip 45; James 38

This was new to Ian and James, and is quite a different game with 5 players as opposed to 3. You don’t get so much opportunity to control when Ra! is called, and sometimes simply bidding on a couple of tiles can be worth it.
Before we knew it, Ian had won 3 bids and had a healthy stack of monuments in his collection. James amassed a veritable tombful of pharaohs whilst Philip and Gareth played the waiting game. After the first scoring, Philip and Gareth had less than they started with, Jon had broken even, and James and Ian had sneaked into an early lead. Everyone piled on a few points during the second epoch, and by the end of the game it came down to the sun totals – Jon had the highest and Ian the lowest – and that 10 point swing was enough to win it for Jon.
Jon 45; James 39; Ian 34; Philip 17; Gareth 15

Now that Ian and James had very much got the idea of the game, we plunged straight into a second round. Gareth decided that negative points were not an option this time, and quickly grabbed a number of pharaohs. James went on a Nile-tile frenzy and Ian concentrated on monuments again. Philip and Jon tried the middle-ground strategy. During the last round, James failed to get a flood for his numerous Nile-tiles, and Jon somehow found himself with the 1,2 and 3 sun tiles to bid with – with predictable results.
A tense final scoring ensued with Ian just pipping Gareth, thanks to his impressive monument-building.
Ian 39; Gareth 38; Philip 34; James 30; Jon 28

Another bidding game to round off the evening, and this one was new to James, Philip and Ian. This can be a tricky game to know exactly how much to bid, as (like with Ra) you only get one bid per round. Gareth shot into a massive 1st round lead, after paying almost nothing to pick up the 30 point bonus for highest value of shipment. However, James somehow managed to pick up a sackful of spices in the second round, and ended up at the top of the spice-pyramid, picking up 30 points for the 2nd and 3rd rounds. Even Gareth’s enormous good fortune at picking up two 5’s and a 4 for 1 florin in the last round was not enough to overhaul James’ impressive total.
James 117; Gareth 97; Jon 96; Ian 86; Philip 77

And that was it for another night at the Apprentice…see you next week….