Wednesday, 21 June 2017
And so, time has caught up with us once again. Regular readers will have noticed the somewhat erratic schedule of posts over the past few months and it's sad to say that finding people with both the time and the will to maintain the blog is becoming more and more of a challenge. As of such, this will be the last update that I make here (boo!) however we shall continue even when the lights are switched off. Well, not continue gaming obviously as we won't be able to see the board or tell what colour all the pieces are in the dark, and lord help us if they start putting the chairs up on the tables. No, I mean that we shall carry on with our session reports in the form of weekly 'Geeklists' over on BoardGameGeek, and who knows there may well still be the occasional new post on here too so keep your subscription on.
Here is our club guild page
The first geeklist for 21st June
Here then are the final session reports that bridge the gap between April and June... (sniff)... it's been a pleasure!
Wednesday 17th May
We started with 7-player Sushi Go. Really tight game, where Natasha showed that he was best at separating his Tofu from his Sashimi and Uramaki, and won by a few points. David stuffed his face with ice-cream all game, and Tonio just wished that he was at a real sushi bar.
Next up, was 3-player Flamme Rouge with Tonio and Neil, including the exquisitely-painted miniatures courtesy of Neil. Tonio's sprinter shot off on his own, but was hauled back on the second hill. Neil's pairing lagged behind for the first half, but eventually caught up with the peloton, and having not used any large cards (but collecting a fair bit of exhaustion on the way). After the last hill there was a bunch sprint for the line, with Jon just pipping Tonio and Neil to the line by one space. And for the benefit of James - no-one ran out of cards - AGAIN!!!!!
Tonio brought out Machi Koro (and all expansions) for a nice little run-out. Jon stuck with a one-die strategy, and despite Neil trying to tax his ass off (once a banker....) he managed to build his last building first (if you get what I mean...) and win. Tonio was too busy creating a McDonalds empire to notice...
Finally, Phil fancied some more Fabled Fruit - Jon has kept the game going and so we are now just over half-way through the deck. Although this doesn't get a lot of love, I think that it's great for a quick filler, and genuinely changes each game...
Wednesday 7th June
Contributors: Tom Juan, Jon
When I arrived, a game of Kingdomino was ongoing with David, Dan, Phil and James II.
Jon had arrived at the same time as me and agreed to a round of Okey Dokey. This is a new Hanabi style co-op, designed by Japanese designer extraordinaire, Hisashi Hayashi, with lovely animal artwork. The theme is entirely irrelevant but has something to do with animals putting together a concert – what it actually entails is a limited information exercise where you are trying to play suits in ascending order from 1 to 8; the twist is that all but one suit must be played in each column with the other being “reset”. Having played it once with two before, it was nice to give it another run out. I feel that 2 is both easier than solo and with higher player counts – with more, each player will only be able to play one card per turn which will require some difficult decisions.
Jon and I managed a comfortable win in the end but there were some hairy moments. I think he enjoyed it and will certainly bring again with a view to trying a higher player count. It offers a similar experience to Hanabi but with some significant changes whilst maintaining Hanabi’s low rules overhead. A good game.
After this was a seven player game of Magic Maze, another Spiel Des Jahres nominee. I think that I will leave the report to Dan as he will be able to do a better job than I. All I can say is let’s never let James II be in charge of the escalator again. A good laugh but would agree with others than don’t want to play it too often otherwise the novelty will wear off.
We then split up with me, Tom II and James II opting for my new 2nd hand copy of Sunrise City. This was a city planning game that I remember playing with Soren some years back when just getting into the hobby. I really enjoyed it at the time and have been looking for a copy ever since. Having played it again, it is somewhat lighter than I remember but enjoyably so.
Tom and James managed to push me out a few times in placing buildings and the end of the 1st and 2nd round; this coupled with clever play by Tom and good use of roles by James (earning himself an extra building on rounds 2 and 3) saw me some way behind at the finish. Tom II just managed to pip James by one point.
Mondrian: The Dice Game is a happy little hybrid of Tumbling Dice, Flowerfall and Dungeon Fighter: a dexterity game with area control and silly conditions on how you throw your dice. Played this twice and the second time around, it was obvious that although there was luck involved, there is also some scope for strategy (e.g. not going for black cards if others have picked up a decent majority already).
It does also have the pleasant screw you of trying to knock people away from good cards which is the major high point of any good game of Tumbling Dice. I went from zero to hero, being trounced in the first game by Phil and James II to victory in the second. Considering that the second game was against known dicks, Dan, Tom II and Phil (The Flicker of Doom), I was rather chuffed with the outcome! Very pleased to have picked this up.
Flamme Rouge was brilliant as always. We played with a fan-made course based on one of the stages of the 2017 Tour de France. It had a mountain within one space of the start, and then another one which went up, down and then immediately up again. Cue many groans almost immediately, as the 'wrong' cards were drawn...
David's sprinter took an early lead, but also took a shed-load of exhaustion cards, which left him way off the pace at the end. Dan hit the front during the final climb, and had enough left in the tank to just pip Jon to the finish line. Nice.
Fields of Green - this one was off my radar and I'm not sure what I was expecting, but this is a nice tile-laying (well... card-laying) game which is reminiscent of Habitats, or to a lesser extent, Suburbia.
It's got a simple drafting mechanism, and once you get a hang of how the harvest phase works, it flows nice and quickly along. The only downside is that it is pretty much multi-player solitaire - you are quite focused on your own farm, and the cards are too difficult to read upside-down to be able to tell what your opponents are doing.
Dan got some impressive points from his purple buildings to score a comfortable victory, with David, Jon and Phil trailing behind in some sort of order. Opinion? Inoffensive, straightforward, and I wouldn't say no to playing it again! Although I would probably rather play Habitats.... (nudge, nudge, Paul...)
Wednesday 14th June
Contributors: Tom Juan, Jon
With six of us in the pub and David showing interest, I suggested a six player game of Santo Domingo. This is a new release by Pegasus with Port Royal art and streamlined Libertalia/Caste For All Seasons gameplay. It played a lot more smoothly than I had anticipated on a solo run-through, with the time at which you gather your cards back up being more important than I had first imagined. James 2, David and I were stuck with one card in hand when the board opened up with a juicy number of VPs and goods. This allowed Sarah and Gareth to exploit the opportunity with Sarah winning at a canter.
Jon introduced Zany Penguins which James 2, Dan and I all jumped in on. It looks highly unimpressive in its tin but the sign of Bombyx and Bruno Cathala was promising... and it lived up to the promise! What a lovely surprise this game was - keeping the innovative Arboretum scoring and ditching the ball ache spatial rules. Throw in a tiny bit of card drafting and take that powers, give it a stir, and voila. Le jeux juste. Would happily play this any time as a quick opening filler.
Flatline would have been better without Tom 2 doing his best James impersonation and the annoying rules issues with when special abilities can be triggered. Luckily Dan had warmed to it a bit by the end otherwise Tom 2 may have had to go for a doggy paddle in the Thames to fetch it.
For Magic Maze, we were joined by Tong and his lovely girlfriend whose name I did not catch. This was great fun, especially the first game which involved Tong's missus being in charge of the vortex tile. Someone went to take it off her (it being the hardest role to play) but was met with a "don't worry - it'll be more fun this way". Boy howdy were they right! I'm not sure what was more glorious: the part where we discussed our next strategy in detail, only for Mrs Tong to completely ignore her instructions when the action started; or the infamous vortex loop of doom that the poor dwarf was subjected to. Dwarf visits his shop, vortexs away, travels down escalator to shop. Rinse and repeat whilst entire table wets itself with laughter.
In terms of Sushi Go Party, my position remains as before. It's simply too complicated. The beauty of Sushi Go is its simplicity. If I wanted a drafting game of this weight, there are quite a few better alternatives: Medieval Academy, Greed, Fairy Tale etc. It also made me very hungry. Cheese & Onion Pom Bears are not a good substitute when craving a delicious piece of eel nigiri!
A very fun night all told. Same again next week if you please.
Flamme Rouge was, as usual, loads of fun. We played another one of the fan-made TDF 2017 tracks, with some brutal hills. Tomtoo made an early breakaway with his Rouleur (not sure if it was deliberate, or if everyone else just slowed up...), and despite picking up an enormous amount of exhaustion, he managed to drag himself across the line for the win.
I quite enjoyed the mechanisms of the co-op Flatline, but the theme just seemed non-existent (not helped by the graphic design, which was clear, but very generic). The manic real-time dice-placement is lots of fun, and the rules are incredibly simple (despite our best efforts to make them incredibly complicated... ) I'd play again, even if only to berate Tom for rolling such awful numbers on the dice...
And forget what Tom says about Sushi Go Party!. It's absolutely brilliant and the choice of different cards gives it huge replayability, which the original version (good as it was), was starting to lack. Agree that Medieval Academy should make a reappearance soon, though...
Friday, 31 March 2017
Wednesday 1st March
It was boys against girls. (Actually, it was Sarah, Sandra and Gareth vs Jon, John and Phil, but make what you want of that....)
Sandra and Sarah were both throwing quizzical looks at Gareth's clue of "Stocks - two." They missed the fairly obvious 'Bond', but I'm still not sure how they were supposed to guess 'Canada' from that clue...
Result - a win for the boys.
Power Grid: The Card Game
4 players - Jon, Noel, John and James. John was the dark horse this time, seeming to be in trouble at the beginning, but buying a big $10 plant in the last round, to pip the other three players by a single point. Jon had the most Elektros left so claimed second place, but it could have swung in any direction at the end.
Yet again, the real Power Grid feel of tricky auction decisions, but in less time (and much less table space). Opinions are divided, though. Jon feels that it completely replaces PG, whilst Noel opines that it makes him want to play PG even more. Any other opinions anyone.....?
3 players and an hour to go, so Airlines Europe made a return to the IBG tables. As always, Noel proved to be king of the skies, and king of the stock market, to cruise to victory. At the end, it was quite close between him and John, and had John decided to lay his Air Abacus shares a turn earlier, it may have swung the result the other way. Regardless - Jon was floundering about in last place...
I'm not sure what it is about this game, but each time I play it, I come away feeling a bit dissatisfied. Maybe because it was a 3-player game, I felt that whatever I did would benefit everyone else just as much as me, because the marginal gains for investing in each airline are so small. Therefore, the pre-set dividends for Air Abacus make this the only course of action that guarantees a bigger return for yourself and less for other players - hence the fight for them towards the middle / end of the game. By the second scoring round (of 3), I felt that it was effectively game over. It's a shame, as I really feel that I should like this game more.
Ho hum. Anyway, it shows how apathetic I was, that I can barely even bring myself to mention the Air Abacus rule that we played wrong (and as I had the rule book in front of me, I'll take some of the blame for that...!)
However, it did make me think about 'stock' games that I do really enjoy, which include: Stockpile and TTR: Pennsylvania. I must dust off Chicago Express sometime too....
Wednesday 8th March
Battleship Express: James B, myself and Alex all played another Reiner Knizia dice chucker only this one isn't as good as Risk Express. Each player chooses to attack an opponents fleet and rolls some dice, match the symbols to destroy the ship. It's as bland as it sounds yet rolling dice is still fun. There's really no depth to this at all, even with the submarines. Alex won this one by using his Aircraft carrier well and destroying both James' and mine.
Codenames: Paul, myself and Alex on one team with James B, Gareth and Phil (who was eating on a different table) on the other. I can't remember much other than we beat them quite comfortably and that it lead to a game of..
Codenames: Pictures: The same teams only this time with pictures. We also managed to win this one as we didn't get a single clue wrong.
Colosseum: the new edition was next up. No one had played before so it was a fairly close game. I built up my Colosseum whilst putting on the worst shows each round in the hope I could put on a truly grand event in the last round and snatch victory. James B and Alex meanwhile went back and forth each round as the leader which meant I was stealing valuable tokens from them each round. TomToo meanwhile was gradually building his Colosseum up and preparing for something spectacular. When it came to the last and only important round I managed to put on a big show but it wasn't enough to catch Tom who had the bonus of visiting senators. Tom won with 92 points with myself in second on 79 and Alex in third on 71 and James B last on 62 something. The new edition is beautiful, different style artwork but it works. It also has metal coins which everyone enjoyed clinking about too much. I like how you are able to bide your time in last place before making the big push on the last round. I came close but badly misjudged the senators on the track and they were all too far away on the last turn to help me win.
Wednesday 15th March
PitchCar Mini: James B and I arrived early so set about flicking cars around for the first 30 minutes or so. We both managed to flick our cars around the room more than around the track but thankfully nothing went down the hole of doom.
Carcassonne: The Castle: We still had time to fit in some two player Carcassonne. Even though regular Carcassonne works well with two players, even more so with Carcassonne: The Tower expansion, I find I enjoy this more as you're constricted to building within the castle walls as well as gathering up the bonus tiles which is similar to the Carcassonne: The Messengers mini expansion. I won this one even though James had built the largest house, I managed to limit his bonus space scoring to 4 points and grabbed most of the bonus tiles around the castle walls as well as building a huge tower.
Batavia: was next with myself, John and James B. It's a strange hodge-podge of mechanisms but it manages to work. Perhaps not the best theme in the world but I like how the auctions work with the set collection and eventual culling of the largest fleet. John managed to win by pushing his luck collecting the 5 different country tiles and selling them off for maximum profit.
I meanwhile was selling at a lower price but more often so wasn't far behind whilst James was stuck collecting Dutch and English tokens. John won by a few points ahead of me with James B some way behind.
Tammany Hall: To end the evening myself, John, James B and Phil went for a game of direct conflict and some nastiness. The first half of the game, the first 8 years, went by incredibly quickly as we didn't have a Mayor for years 5-8 as it was a tie with neither party able to break the tie.
By the 9th year we were ready to hand out the new offices of power and the game slowed a little. I made the mistake of becoming Mayor for the last term which made a big target for everyone to attack. The fact I was leading by quite a few points might have had an impact as well. James B managed to hold onto Tammany Hall for all 4 terms which was quite an accomplishment, even Phil locked down the ward for 4 years helping him keep it.
The end game scoring was incredibly close. James B managed to steal the win from me by 1 point with John then a point behind me. Phil was a little further back having being forced out of a few of his wards in the last two terms. It's a great area Control game and something I would want to play again soon. If only to revenge my loss.
Wednesday 22nd March
Felix the Cat in the Sack
This brought back some very pleasant memories, as there was a time in the dim and distant when we used to play this all the time. And for good reason - it's loads of fun!
Especially when, as in this game, Paul bid 2 coins when only a '-5' was showing. Everyone else then immediately dropped out in turn (there were no coins to collect), gradually revealing that everyone (including Paul!) had placed a '-5' card. So he paid 2 coins for the privilege of -25 points. Priceless....
Despite Gareth sweeping up a mammoth haul in the last round, he had no coins left, and so first place narrowly went to 'bank of Jon'.
This was TomToo's game, which Gareth, Jon and Paul also joined in with. Tom did a great job of explaining the rules (which aren't brilliantly written, and he hadn't played it for 6 months) and the game commenced.
It's your usual worker placement fare, but in this case, you are buying buildings, employing workers, creating resources, exporting resources etc etc, but it's actually more fun than it sounds. There's a strange mechanism whereby each round, you need to collectively have reached the 'economic goal', otherwise your collective economy starts to fall. Fall too far and the game ends prematurely. I think this is supposed to encourage players to convert resources into points on a regular basis rather than building a big engine and doing a huge move at the end, but I'm not sure that it works too well, as it seemed to have little or no effect to anything in our game.
In fact, Jon was pretty far behind on 40 points at the end of round 5, but scored a mammoth 65 points in the last 2 rounds, and only lost to Gareth by one point due to having to pay 2 points penalty for having outstanding loans.
As with a lot of worker placement games, it suffers a bit from AP, if the 3 other players pick the options that you were going for, causing you to rethink your strategy completely. And with Paul & Jon in the game, it was never going to be a quick one...
Everything does hang together quite nicely and thematically in the game, and although we did play a couple of rules wrong (which would definitely improve the game experience), it was fun session. Would definitely give it another run-out, now that we know how everything works...
Tuesday, 28 February 2017
Wednesday 1st February
Contributors: David, Tom Juan
James B and I had time for a few games of Ivanhoe. I feel this plays best two player as it can drag on for far too long with three or four players. With two it's far easier to win tournaments and it often comes down to one or two game winning tournaments where both players go all in. I managed to win the first game by unhorsing James during a jousting tournament and changing it to a sword one which was the last tournament colour I needed to win. In the second game James crushed me comfortably even though I was stealing cards from him I didn't have anywhere near enough tournament cards to prevent him from winning.
After that was a game of Sushi Go Party with Jon, myself, James, James B and Tom. I love Sushi Go and was a bit concerned that the addition of new cards and more bloated rules might ruin what makes it so great. Thankfully it still retains the fast and fun aspect of Sushi Go and doesn't bog it down by being too gamey. It was fairly close scoring up until the last round and I was leading only to play three Miso Soup cards that were cancelled by other players on the last round as well as the minus six penalty for having the least puddings (I had none) to propel me into last place one point behind James. James B won I believe with either Tom or Jon just behind. I will buy a copy of this myself sometime.
The main game of my evening was Venetia. It's a great game but one I hadn't played for a few years. Both Phil and John showed an interest so we settled down for what turned into quite a long game. Each player is spreading the glory and influence of Venice throughout the region in three epochs, the rise, the apogee and the decline. Each turn various historical nations come into play and reduce your influence in certain regions as well as block sea routes. I went for an early strategy of spreading a lot of influence in the regions closest to Venice whilst John and Phil went further afield. By the end of the first epoch I found myself with a comfortable lead, both John and Phil ran out of time before they could exert enough influence.
In the second Epoch we saw rival kingdoms come onto the map and threaten our control, I was badly hit in Italy and Dalmatia whilst Phil was hit in Greece. Perhaps the most important part of the second epoch was John and Phil not preventing me from being elected Doge. I managed to score a lot of bonus points by being Doge at least three times and build monuments in Venice. I scored slightly less than the first epoch but still enough to keep in a comfortable lead.
By the last epoch I had managed to control most areas around Venice and remain Doge whereas both John and Phil also managed to increase their holdings it wasn't enough to compete with my large lead. I ended up winning with 61 points, John in second with 50 and Phil last with 35. It's one of my favourite games and even though it has been a long time since I last played it I knew what I was doing. It's not a complicated game but there are quite a few moving parts and minor rules.
Sushi Go Party was played as a five-fer. James II won, followed by Jon and myself, and Dave and James I in last place following a Mexican pudding off. I enjoyed it but I do like the lean-ness of the original; I certainly wouldn't want to muddy its simplicity when explaining to gaming neophytes (the exact audience at which I feel SG is aimed!) Also, losing the tension brought by determining good use of chopsticks brought it down a notch too - Tea wasn't really much a replacement.
Dokmus (Dork-Mouse: Jonathan, you fool!) was played by me, Jon and Paul - brought in by my pitch of it being Kingdom Builderesque. A very good abstract with thinking hats required but not so much that Jon entered an AP induced fugue state. Jon just managed to pip Paul following a rather elegant last move, with me galumphing around in last place. Paul classified it as his favourite game of recent showings so that was nice!
After Dokmus, we moved straight into Dream Home, having been joined by Sandra. Once again, Dream Home delivered in spades even without the premium dickishness of the 2/3 player version. I triumphed thanks to meet all of my functionality bonuses and garnering a bright orange roof (with a window no less!). Finally, managed to put the Ice Cream maker to good use for once; ice cream sundaes all round!
Now for the main event: a two-fer of Temple of the Shrieking Mes and Insider. Trying to put the Temple fiasco into words will be difficult as I'm not quite sure how to put the sheer hilarity into words. Bullet points may be needed:
1. Paul looked at his identity card, proclaimed "I don't know which is which" and then checked the rulebook (written in German).
2. Paul proceeded to play a grand game with David called "let's find all the treasures between us", outing himself and David as adventurers.
3. Sandra showed her true colours, lying to have a fire trap set off, proving herself to be a guardian. Later, in the final round, James brazenly declared himself to be a guardian and said in no certain terms, "the other guardian, if you have a fire trap, please say so now so that we can win this game". Paul jokingly raised his hand and replied "I'm
a guardian and have the fire trap".
4. The adventurers win with the last roll of the dice having deduced that Sandra had the final treasure, the evil minx. The problem was: who was the final guardian?
5. Paul flips his card, pleased as punch having won the game with his crafty play. The card showed a guardian. You know: the woodland creature surrounded by mystical fire rather than the stock Nazi from Indiana Jones. Paul had somehow confused the two. James and Sandra were not pleased.
Insider: let's just say, if there is ever a game where Paul is the Master and Phil the Insider then the world will come to the end, akin to the meeting of two doppelgangers. Tip to would-be Masters: if a word, say for example "arrow", has two meanings - choose one!!
Wednesday 8th February
Contributors: Jon, David
Sushi Go Party! - this is the first time I've played this with 7 players, but it seems to work fine. It certainly makes some cards more risky (likelihood of getting 4 different Onigiris is slim) - but if everyone thinks like that, then you may end up with a bargain! Playing with large numbers has the same effect as in 7 Wonders - you know that you're not going to see any of the hands of cards twice. However, you need to pay a bit more attention to your opponents across the table than you do in 7 Wonders...
Dan stomped to victory here (although it was quite close at the end) by scoring big points in the first 2 rounds thanks to some tasty Soy Sauce! Sarah was hooked on Uramaki, and despite Jon's collection of Green Tea Ice Cream, he still had a shocker, scoring just 3 points during one round...
Habitats has seen a number of plays in recent weeks, and it really is a lovely tile-laying puzzle. This week we maxed out at 5 players, which creates more competition for the year-end bonuses. Tong focused on these, and had amassed 10 points or so before the final scoring. Jon managed to complete his tricky 6-point buffalo, but an unwisely placed road at the beginning of the game rather stymied his progress. Noel had planted a veritable field of flowers (ahhh - sweet...) and Sarah appeared to be building the squarest zoo possible. However, Paul scored well with his roads and watchtowers, and this was enough to give him the victory in what turned out to be a very close finish. 5 players may be one too many, but it's still a really fun game. Keep bringing it along, Paul!
Santorini. Kudos to this game's presentation. It really is a supermodel of a game, with gorgeous white plastic buildings, that grow into a stunningly accurate representation of the real thing. James and Jon decided to pit their wits (such as they possess...) against each other in this abstract puzzle. They played vanilla to start with, and then added the special powers for later games.
It was a learning experience for sure, and honours were probably about even at the end of the day. Each special power adds a heap of strategy to the game (both in how to use it, and how to counter it), and it could very well be one of the best abstract games out there. It supposedly plays up to 4 players, but I would have thought that 2 is the obvious player-count. The only downside I can see is the price - currently around £40 - which is a bit steep for my liking. Glad that Soren bought it though!
WWE Superstar Showdown I knew James B and I were arriving early so bought this along as I haven't played it for a while. We started with a showdown between John Cena and the Big Show. The first match was quite close, I was using the ropes to good effect bouncing off and hitting the Big Show with some powerful attacks. The turning point came when James threw me out of the ring and then pummelled me. It took me a couple of turns just to get back in and by that time I had lost a lot of my deck. James ended it by delivering a few blows and pinning me. I had no kick out cards in hand or on the turnover so James won.
The second showdown was a tag team match between James' Big Show & Roman Reigns and my Big E & Daniel Bryan combo. This match ended quite quickly and we didn't even have time to tag in our partners. I landed some early blows onto James but risked it by not tagging out. It proved to be costly as James landed three slams in a row crippling my deck. I tried to get into the corner but didn't make it before James finished me off.
Mai-Star was up next with Tom who had just arrived to see James finish me off in wrestling. From wrestling to Geisha. Players are Geisha trying to attract and guests into their inn and whoever earns the most money over three rounds wins. First thing to say about this are the Geisha cards, they are incredibly powerful and some seemingly more than others.
I was hammered in the first round by both James and Tom and needed to pull off something special in the last two rounds to win. I couldn't as in the second round Tom scored well by inviting about five guests and having no cards in hand (which score you minus points). In the final round it was between Tom and James. It all came down to one card James played that allowed him to play a guest and discard his entire hand ending the round early. This left Tom and I with a big hand of minus points and gave James the victory.
I really liked it, there is a lot of take that and it felt quite swingy with the Geisha abilities. We did get one rule wrong about the Sumo Wrestler guest, the rules state that "A card effect stating “target player” means that you may target yourself" which makes it a much more appealing card. Apart from that though I thought it was good, great artwork and nice theme. I didn't realise that Adventure tours is effectively a re-theme of it as I was thinking of buying that cheap last year. I think Mai-Star is the better game between the two now I've played it though.
Porta Nigra I've had this sitting around for a while and didn't have a chance to play it (well really I just couldn't be bothered to read the rules as it looked a bit bland). I managed to convince James B into playing even though he usually dislikes Euros and Phil who enjoys them. It's set in Augusta Treverorum in the Roman Empire where players are Roman architects building the fabled Porta Nigra (yeah I had to google what it was as well). The map is split into quarters and players buy bricks from the central market and then construct towers of differing heights in each quarter to score points. There's so many ways to score, from building towers, to area majority in the quarters to honour cards and building cards that provide bonuses.
It was quite a close game up until the end game bonuses. This is where James crushed both Phil and I as he had managed to convert his four building cards into a high scoring honour card and then improved his honour card twice. It gave him a huge swing and the area majority bonuses at the end weren't enough to help Phil or I catch him. It's a really nice game, it looks visually interesting once all the towers are out and I really like how you use actions from a personal deck of cards. It reminded me a bit of Rococo in that regard. Only downside to it would be its length, it took us a bit too long as there's so many things to do that any AP can increase the playtime. It's a minor quibble really though as everyone enjoyed it, even James B who stated he's 'gone off Euros' before the game, maybe winning by a huge margin changed his mind.
Wednesday 15th February
Contributors: Daniel, Jon, David, Tasha
David and co. were already deep into a game so to get everybody else into the swing of things I picked out a cheeky little copy of Apples to Apples that was poking it's nose out of it's hidey-hole burrow at the bottom of the cardboard mound. It has literally been years since we played this at the club and was an enjoyably nostalgic romp for both myself and Jon who remembered the good old days when this had a run out on many nights as an early-evening starter - way back when people were still amazed by the novelty of deck-building in Dominion and hadn't yet considered shoving it into a shit game about Vikings, when kickstarting was something you did to a motorbike, and when the only salads on the table were the dubiously brown ones served from the pub kitchen.
We ended up with quite the crowd too, with seven of us playing. New to a bemused Sandra - it was the Ammerycun version after all so half the cards were a mystery (or just very badly spelled) even to us native Brits - and greeted in varying measures of suspicion by Tong, Sarah, Tomtoo and Tash. It is a testimony to the purity of the design that we all got into it lickety split and it did exactly what it's meant to do - break the ice and get everybody in a good mood for the evening.
The big game for the evening was Inis, which I am still digesting even now. I think that I liked it but there are some issues that I have with it. Tash and I had some interesting discussion at the end of the evening about potential flaws in the design and I think that there are a number of pinch-points in the design where it was questionable whether we were just very good at exploiting the opportunities on hand or things were fraying at the edges at a more fundamental level.
There was a weird finish to the game where Tash came back from nowhere to swing to a winning position in the space of one round; at the same time I also had a similar experience, but ended up just shy of being able to make a claim after Phil stymied me with the "oh no you don't" card for the third damn round in a row. We also kind of let him waltz into the victory after miscalculating Phil's own claim and thinking that neither could take the win as a result (much like Highlander there can be only one), but I don't think there was much that we could have done without me completely trashing my standing in the game simply to hold off proceedings for another turn (and even then I don't think it would have been certain).
It has this otherworldly feel of a long and complex game that plays like a short and simple one, where you are not quite sure which one you are playing at any given time - did we really wrap up so quickly and in only a handful of rounds? Did the balance of power really shift so heavily and rapidly? It felt like we had to battle against Phil's early supremacy time and time again but it was really only for a single round right?
Need to think about it a bit more before I can form a full opinion, but would certainly play it again.
I then joined Jon and Sarah for Ticket to Ride Nordic, another blast from the past game. This one has the reputation of being 'the nasty one' in the franchise, and with several key points on the map that can completely make or break your ability to reach your destinations it is a well-deserved accusation.
Most of my start cards were grouped in a relatively easy roundabout route buried in the South of the map and so I started with a clear plan of how to hoover up several of them with relatively few connections. However, they were all low scoring cards and I could see from the rapid North-South race that the others were indulging in, and the much more valuable routes in hand that was intimated by all this activity, that I would end up in trouble at the final count-up.
As I felt that I had all my current routes easily in hand I instead started to draw additional destination tickets. The first time I pulled out a doozy of another two that fitted into my current network with minimal additional work, but the second time gave me a tougher choice - I took a tiny three point build that I felt confident I could capture, but agonised over a much longer eighteen point route. I already had most of the network built for it but needed to snag three short routes that were in the heart of the area contested by Jon and Sarah. Deciding that I had to either go large or go home in order to win this game I kept the card and started to focus on bringing it all together. The first step was a river crossing, vital as there are limited spots to join up East to West and I had already claimed one of them (not in a place that I could use right now though). I then ploughed further ahead with a snaking coastal route that brought me within touching distance of my objective, a simple two-card step to assured victory. I just needed one more orange carriage to do it and was delighted when Jon turned two of them up into the market and Sarah decided to claim a route on her turn. And then Sarah started to put down her cards and it reminded me of that slowmo Poker reveal in Lock Stock and two Smoking Barrels, except infinitely more geeky. The first card came crashing down, one orange carriage on the table. And then the second card, another just the same, and my feet are swept out from under me as she lays her tokens down on that final route that I needed. I was smiling on the outside but inside... gahhhhhhh!
It was impossible for me to find another way around and so I resigned myself to pushing for an early finish in the hope that I could likewise screw everybody else over into holding incomplete tickets - alas to no avail. Just to rub salt into the wounds, at the final score Jon was thirty five points ahead of me.
Deep Sea Adventure - the usual mix of "stop breathing my air" and "why did you have to pick up another treasure when I'm still descending to the depths of the ocean, you oxygen-stealer..." This time it was James that came out on top, with David, Jon & Sarah gasping in his wake....
Trains - long-time-no-see for this Dominion clone. James hadn't played before, although he'd apparently played a bit of Dominion, but he made the schoolboy error of building a 'points' building early on, which started to clog up his deck a little.
Sarah stormed along, and although she didn't have much money, she was building lots of track, whilst picking up a couple of route bonuses along the way. She also used some evil 'discard lay rails' cards, which thwarted David and Jon's plans on at least 3 occasions.
Final scores were close, with Sarah winning by 4 points form Jon, with David 4 points further behind. Always a fun game this one, which fairly rattles along now we (sort of) know what we're doing!
James B and I played a few two player games of Fluxx and Ivanhoe before Soren and Phil turned up. We then played a couple of four player games of Santorini. Soren and I on one team and Phil and James on the other. First thing to say about it is how beautiful it looks. One of the best looking games I've seen in a long time. In the first game we played with no god powers. It's a little difficult at first with a team mate as you're not sure what they are going to do which Soren discovered as I think I passed up a few opportunities he had set up for us. Eventually we did win though as Soren set me up in a way it was impossible for me to fail. In the second game with god powers we crushed Phil and James. Soren was using his double build ability to set us up for the win in a corner whilst I was ramming Phil and James off the buildings using my Minotaur skill which allowed Soren to build up the towers and give us an easy victory. It looks wonderful and I'm sure there are many different ways of blocking your opponent once you learn it more. I would like to see how it plays with just two players and would happily play again.
Trains with Trains: Rising Sun and Trains: Map Pack 1 – Germany/Northeastern USA was as described above in Jon's report although I was first rather than Sarah with Jon second and Sarah third with James a long way behind. I was only four points ahead of Jon and it was a single completed route that handed me the victory. I was the only player to have Limited Express trains which allowed me to buy a lot of victory point cards and James B (my nearest competition on the map) gave me too much room to expand cheaply. I really enjoyed it this time and didn't make the same mistakes that I have done previously. I also think I prefer it over Dominion now simply because players aren't cycling their entire deck making far less downtime between turns. It's refreshing to see players play five cards and pass rather than watching someone play action card after action card as they work through twenty cards in their deck.
There was also a game of Mundus Novus to end the evening with Gareth, James B, Sandra and I. I think I done goofed a rule so we'll pretend that Gareth's victory doesn't count! It's a nice game with an interesting trading set collection mechanism with an open market an upgrade cards that help you build up the perfect hand each round.
On the positive side, I think that Inis is a really well thought out and attractive game that delivers just about the best "He's going to win stop him, now he's going to win stop him, now he's going to win stop him, no you stop him, no you stop him, oh God they're going to win, I won" gameplay of all those games that are like that. And there are a lot of games like that - all the way from Kill Dr Lucky to Cosmic Encounter to Alien Frontier.
It's better than the games I just mentioned because it reaches that stage of tension almost immediately after the game starts and presumably can carry on in that vein for as long as you can collectively be bothered to keep it going.
I think that is the essence of the negative of the game though. How long can you be bothered, and what is the point of it all? For all its exceptionally chromey-Celticky-leprechauny-Billy-Connollyey-themey chrome, with Epic Tales and Special Skills, more or less any action draws you inexorably towards one of the generous Victory Conditions and Soren's dripping-with-theme game introduction admitted as much - it doesn't matter much what you do in the first few rounds, he said, and my Round 2 bloodletting killfest which left me with 1 solitary living human did nothing to interdict my triumph two rounds later.
To win - I played no better than the others, and I'm not really sure there's much space to play better/worse. Just like Dr Lucky or Cosmic or AF, I was just the guy who was ahead when everyone else forgot to stop me / randomly ran out of stop cards / couldn't be bothered to keep stopping each other. I actually pulled a bit of a sneaky trick to win, with a bit of deliberate misdirection. It's not really what I look for in games to be honest, even though I do play a lot of Diplomacy.
Wednesday 22nd February
Great Western Trail was played in under two hours, which is the fastest I have ever played it by some considerable margin and ended even before the epic The Castles of Burgundy at the window table.
Tong played a straight-up no messing rancher: his impressive Cow Collection was sufficient to beat the rest of us with our half-hearted attempts at building and engineering badly built railways.
A great game which seems to just get better with every playing.