Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Shares and Graces

A rainy evening in Easton! The glitz, the glamour! The closing ceremony of a tiny guinea pig coming out to sniff my hand and then run away again! It can only be the last day of the season. Five players arrived hoping against hope to topple Steve from the top of the Form Table.

We began with a game of Tsuro while we waited for Anja to arrive. Perhaps we were all too aware of the leaderboard, but it seemed more cagey than usual. I was able to wipe out Joe and Sam in one go, but then spent the rest of the game running parallel to Adam, hoping to find a path to escape down that didn't send me skittering off the board. No such luck.

1. Adam
2. Andrew
3= Joe
3= Sam

Then, after some heavily self-conscious conversation about board games while Adam's non-gamer housemate did normal things in the background, the doorbell rang and it was Anja. We decided on the brand new experience of Airlines Europe. This game involves building routes across Europe which only score you points once you've got shares in them. Similar to Chicago Express, this can mean that you spend time and money on an airline only for someone to swoop in as majority share holder and take most of the points.

I got grey shares early on, and concentrated on those. Adam hoarded some cards, and sprang a last minute attempt at taking over purple. Anja had a portfolio that had a little bit of everything, whereas Joe specialised in only about five different companies (out of sixteen. Or fourteen.) Sam cleverly went for shares in a company that had no planes at all! Sounds like a money laundering operation to me, but it was enough to give him a tasty 16 points at the end.

There was lot of thinking and downtime between goes, which allowed us to enjoy Sam's range of unhealthy nibbles and Anja's liquorice (Sometimes sweet, sometimes salty! Try your luck!) and it also gave Sam enough time to take a photo from a chair and then bump his knee heavily into the table as he nimbly leapt off the aforementioned chair. The game was fun in a brain-melty kind of way. As the game came to a close, I had no idea who was first. But I soon discovered...

Sam 87
Andrew 81
Anja 80
Joe 66
Adam 60

The end of the evening loomed, but we convinced ourselves that one more game wouldn't hurt. So we chose 6nimmt. This game of bluff, double-bluff, counter-double-bluff and plain luck is a cruel slave and a terrible master. I don't think anyone's quite worked out the strategy, as shown tonight when everyone had a poor round. In the end, Sam squeezed past to score his second win of the night, to send him home rejoicing in his two victories!

Sam 35
Adam 42
Joe 45
Andrew 51
Anja 66

The Form Table shows Steve sitting triumphantly atop the charts, and congratulations to him! I sneak back into second with Adam a solid third and Sam in fourth despite that seven-point millstone around his neck. Meanwhile, Anja can reflect on her choice of that final game. As she ruefully said, you should never accept a game of 6nimmt at the end of an evening, which made her sound like an alcoholic blaming her hangover on that one last drink the night before.

Steve2 2 2 1 2 9
Andrew4 2 2 3 1 12
Adam2 5 1 1 4 13
Sam1 1 3 2 7 14
Joe3 4 3 2 2 14
Hannah5 4 1 1 3 14
Quentin 1 35 5519
Jonny 2 25 5519
Paul 3 15 5519
Anja5 2 5 3 4 19
Sally 3 55 5 5 23

Finally, the other scoring systems show that I was the winner overall on the old system, with Steve coming top of the pile in points ratio. Adam takes top spot on the Olympic-style leaderboard with Sam's late burst pushing him into second.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Railways of the Whirled

Tonight, Joe had to hold fort while his wife was out for the evening, so of course, he sent out the clarion call to amass board gamers to his door. In the end, it was the three of us – myself, Adam and Joe. Few in number but all welcome faces, nevertheless.

Today's game was Railways of the World. In particular, the eastern seaboard of the United States. When Adam and I arrived it was already set up, and Joe talked us through the rules. This did not take long, since it resembles another game (Age of Steam) quite closely in that the main part of the game involves building tracks and then transporting goods along those tracks.
Good bits.

I am not very good at Age of Steam, and so it was with Railways of the World. I simply don't know the best way to balance building things with moving things. And then there are the cards giving you extra scoring options to bear in mind. This lead to some sombre pauses during the game as we all weighed up various options.

Joe did his level best to distract us with the new snack crack, Honey Mustard Pretzel Pieces, which is like having an awesome party in your mouth. It certainly worked on me,but Adam is made of sterner stuff... Fimo, I believe. During the game, he snaffled bonus points and stopped others from getting theirs while calmly fulfilling the criteria for his end of game bonus.
Endgame - my unfulfilled Railroad Baron card is thrown down in disgust,
and only Adam has breached the  Apalachians . . .

As we finished we wondered if we hadn't made a mistake somewhere as we ended with tens of thousands of useless dollars in our hand. Perhaps our bidding for first place had been too timid. I say "our". I mean Joe and Adam. I was usually first. Fat load of good it did me.

Adam 92
Joe 79
Andrew 63

I enjoyed it, but I'm a long way from understanding it. Or Age of Steam. Or Chicago Express or Trans America/Europa or Ticket to Ride. Any game with a train in, and I feel compromised. No idea why.

Meanwhile, we enter the last week of the season with the Form Table looking like this...

Steve2 2 2 1 2 9
Adam1 4 1 3 2 11
Joe2 2 6 1 1 12
Andrew3 1 3 2 3 12
Hannah5 4 1 1 3 14
Sam2 7 4 4 1 18
Anja5 3 4 3 3 18
Quentin 1 35 5519
Jonny 2 25 5519
Paul 3 15 5519
Sally 3 55 5 5 23

Friday, 22 June 2012

Man oeuvreboard!

photo by James Smith on BGG

Having managed to get Maria, Mammut and Manila to the table this year, it only remained for me to tempt a single player to join me in a game of Manoeuvre, and my 'M's would be complete. And although the plan was to play Railways of the World last night, in the end Andrew alone was able to brave the treacherous weather, so we seized the opportunity to do some WAR.

Technically speaking, Manoeuvre is game of battle rather than war. Played on a chessboard like grid of 8 x 8 squares, each player has 8 units from one of 8 napoleonic armies, with a strength ranging from 5 to, you guessed it, 8.

Six infantry units, and two cavalry. The mechanics are simple enough, move a unit, attack a unit by playing cards from your deck. Each unit has two states, full strength and half strength when flipped; and after that it's bye bye.
Within the simple rules there is enough room for lots of variety, from the units as well as the cards - some armies have more cavalry units but weaker; the Russians are hardy, in that their half-strength side is only marginally less than full strength, etc.

In practice the 'manoeuvring' of the title is two-fold; getting your units in to the right positions, and also trying to get your hand of 5 cards in good enough shape to launch an attack. There's some nice cautious postioning at the start, with perhaps a tentative artillery volley to free up a card slot, but it's not long before the air is filled with the smell of gunpowder and garlic.

I played the French, and Andrew the English. Of the eight armies, these two are probably the most powerful and evenly balanced, good starting armies. That said I've played the French a fair bit, and it might have been a more even fight if I'd chosen a less familiar army.

Andrew assimilated the rules valiantly, but I had lots of lucky dice rolls, and my prior knowledge of the tactics involved saw an attrition victory for the French just as the day was ending (after which the winner would have been decided on control of the board).

I'm not sure Napoleon would have been proud, though. We both laughed at the pathetic sight of my weakened infantry hobbling after Andrew's injured Dutch Belgians,  somehow managing on a roll of snake-eyes to topple them in to a ditch. I basically threw a clod of earth at them and they fell over.

I love this game - it's very playable, a lot of fun and once you know what you're doing you can get a couple of games in in an evening. Andrew will have to share his thoughts in the comments . . .


Monday, 18 June 2012

Still Water Runs Deep

Despite our best efforts, we could not persuade UEFA to change the England match from a Tuesday. And so it was that we reluctantly altered our schedule and met up on a Monday evening.

It was myself, Sam (the host), Joe, Hannah and Adam in attendance. Joe was a little late, so the four of us decided on flavour of the month Lords Of Waterdeep. Except, this time, with the Mandatory Quest cards removed from the pack as we felt they were a little arbitrary, mean-spirited and passive-aggressive for our tastes.

With that rule change agreed and Joe safely arrived, we got stuck into the game. Hannah ignored the building hall and concentrated on quests and stuff. I did the opposite, thanks to the lord's quest I'd been given at the start: a fat 6VPs for every building I owned. Sam and Joe went for quests a-plenty. I'm not sure what Adam was doing. He was in last for a lot of the game, which made me nervous. I was expecting a sudden flurry of victory points.

As it was, that never happened. Through most of the game we were all closely packed together. But then I built some sort of shrine thing which netted me 25 victory points. From then on, I looked good for first place. Behind me, though, was a maelstrom of Analysis Paralysis as players took increasing amounts of time as everyone weighed up potential gain versus potential loss versus potential gain for opponent versus potential loss for opponent. At a little after nine we were halfway through the game and talking optimistically about maybe another game afterwards.

As the game drew to a close, it was after half past ten and the endless analysis had worn us down. The final scores were added up, complete with sudden pangs of regret as we all realised what a better strategy might have been to edge us up by few precious points. Well, all except me. I won by miles.

Andrew 136
Joe 116
Sam 114
Adam 112
Hannah 100

Meanwhile, on the Form Table Steve remains aloof from all our struggling. Also, spare a thought for Joe. If it weren't for that sixth pace finish, he'd probably be first by now.

Steve2 2 2 1 2 9
Andrew1 3 2 3 2 11
Joe2 6 1 1 1 11
Adam4 1 3 2 1 11
Hannah5 4 1 1 3 14
Sam2 7 4 4 1 18
Anja5 3 4 3 3 18
Quentin 1 35 5519
Jonny 2 25 5519
Paul 3 15 5519
Sally 3 55 5 5 23

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Manila Dice

Only a few days after we descended on Adam and Hannah's place, we return to their house for another games night. At first, there were five of us: Joe, Sam and myself as well as our two generous hosts. While we waited for the arrival of Anja and Steve, Joe treated us to a game of Wizard; a game he'd bought on a recent trip to Germany where the streets are lined with games shops and people play board games on trains.

Unfortunately, the non-English rules meant that we couldn't really play it properly. It is very similar to Contract Whist with a couple of extra types of cards, so whenever we were unsure about a rule we always found ourselves using the rules from Whist. In short, we were playing Contract Whist. And, as with Tichu, I am not keen on games which are based on already popular games and, frankly, while playing Whist I've never thought it could be improved with a few giants and dwarves.

We ended when Steve and Anja arrived and split into two groups. Sam, Anja, Steve and Joe went for Lords of Waterdeep, while Adam, Hannah and myself chose Manila. We went into the front room, and reacquainted ourselves with the rules. We also tried to remember where we went wrong last time, and decided that we'd all bid too low for the Harbour Master.

As such, the bidding was fast and furious from the beginning. But the real decisive aspect of the game were Adam's nemeses: dice. They took real delight in leaving his boats becalmed at the harbour mouth, or landing in the lap of a pirate or two. Unless he was the pirate, in which case they'd glide by serenely. In the end, I think that mine and Hannah's successful pirating helped, with Hannah winning with a strategy of hardly ever being the Harbour Master.

Hannah 196
Andrew 175
Adam 121

Maybe we paid too much to be the Harbour Master...

Then we rejoined the other group in time to watch the final round of Lords of Waterdeep. Joe was in a clear lead, and couldn't contain his satisfaction. Sam was in last place, bemoaning his fate of owning another game he liked but was bad at. Steve and Anja fought for second place like tigers (playing a board game).

I'll leave it for them to explain the cries of anguish/victory that we heard through the walls while we played Manila. Meanwhile, the scores were...

Joe 128
Steve 114
Anja 109
Sam 104

Then we decided on a last game with all of us together. We chose 6nimmt as the only one that could accommodate all seven of us, and we began. Although the game almost came to a premature end, as halfway through Steve innocently asked if he was supposed to have just one card left.

No one could work out what had happened, but I'm willing to bet that Joe's bottle of 6%+ ale had affected his dealing. Steve was given enough cards to fill his hand, and we continued. 6nimmt is a hard game to get a hold of. I was constantly undone by people choosing to take the row of cards that I was going to add to. In one go, I simply shuffled my hand and chose a card at random. Didn't do too badly, either. But I guess we all have our sob stories. Adam, though, squeezed into first after two almost clear rounds and an abysmal final round.

Adam 29
Steve 33
Andrew 42
Hannah 43
Anja 50
Joe 55
Sam 62

An excellent evening of high drama concerning quests, intrigue, betting and Pringles. Thanks for hosting, Adam and Hannah.

No change on the Form Table, except for Sam's precipitous drop. Oh well, there's still time to turn that round. Or, failing that, there's always next season.

Steve2 2 2 1 2 9
Hannah4 1 1 3 1 10
Adam1 3 2 1 4 11
Andrew3 2 3 2 2 12
Joe6 1 1 1 3 12
Anja5 3 4 3 3 18
Quentin 1 35 5519
Jonny 2 25 5519
Paul 3 15 5519
Sam7 4 4 1 3 19
Sally 3 55 5 5 23

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Lords of Easton

A rare Saturday night gaming opportunity opened up last night - unfortunately not everyone was able to make it, but with enthusiasm brimming over Andrew and I arrived at Adam and Hannah's house for a 5pm start; and our first game was the box-fresh Lords of Waterdeep.

I was quite excited about this game - partly because it's highly rated on the geek (Tom Vasel loves the box especially), partly because the Joe 'The Knowledge' Berger recommended it, and partly because even though Fantasy themes are not something I generally go for, the Dungeons and Dragons label resonated with the little boy inside me. Those heady, far-off days, when one inhabited a magical world represented by dice, character sheets, and the tempestuous whims of the dungeon master... When girls weren't interested because of my bad skin and bulbous side-parting, I could escape to this world.

But I digress. Lords of Waterdeep is only D&D in terms of its branding, so role-play is merely an optional icing for enthusiasts. The gameplay is quite simple - you send your agents out to collect adventurers and gold from the city buildings of Waterdeep, and then use them to finish quests - represented by cards. But there are a few extra options that give the game a lot of variety; you can build new buildings which you own and when other players go to that building, you get a benefit. There are Intrigue cards that either aid your quests or hamper someone else's. There are ways to generate an extra agent, or make your agent function twice in one round. And throughout the game each player as a secret identity (one of the Lords of Waterdeep) that help score you bonus points after the 8th and final round.

We really enjoyed it - or at least Andrew and I did. And I think Hannah did, because she won. I lagged behind for much of the game until my gamble in investing in an extra agent (the lieutenant) paid off in the late rounds. But both Adam and I made mistakes in the ultimate round; Adam miscalculating his quest requirements, and me wasting an agent blocking an area that no-one had an interest in; an error that cost me a possible second place. As it was Andrew finished a distant runner-up to uncontested Lord Hannah:

1 Hannah 120
2 Andrew 95
3 Sam 94
4 Adam 87

We then broke for a delightful tea of lasagne, salad and garlic bread in the garden. As Andrew pointed out, the Tuesday night Pringles won't quite have that sheen of sophistication any more. Suitably sated, we returned to the table where Adam pulled the oldest trick in the book: setting up a game in order to subsequently say "We might as well play it" - in this case, the game being Amyitis, the game of gardening, irrigating, and camel-riding in Mesopotamia. This was new to Andrew and I, but thanks to Adam's powers of communication we picked it up reasonably quickly, even if the rules evolved over the game.

Amyitis reminded me of Year of the Dragon and Hansa Teutonica: you can never do all the things you want to do, so it's about managing to do some of them without being stymied by the other players, all of whom will be trying to stymie. Whilst attempting to water the gardens being built for Queen Amyitis, you also have to keep hassling a recalcitrant camel to move around the place in order to put anything into action, as well as plant as many fields as you can to pay for the actions, and occupy as many temples as you can to collect their helpful proceeds.

It was fun. Ish. I think I find these juggling-of-possibilities games a little frustrating because it feels like the defining factor is What options are closed to you? Whereas the likes of Agricola, and the aforementioned Lords of Waterdeep, it feels more like What options are open.

In a tight finish Adam and I ended equally hydrated:

1 Adam/Sam 45
2 Andrew 41
3 Hannah 35

By now it was ten o'clock, Nina and Flossy (the guinea pigs) were in bed, so we decided on a short-ish game to finish with: in this case, Poison. Once a regular staple of Tuesday nights, it's a rarely spotted beast these days. I seemed to recall I had a bit of decent form with it, but in this case a bad round at the start and end, and two indifferent ones inbetween, put paid to that optimistic theory. It was Hannah, with her second win of the night, who advanced mercilessly on first place as the rest of us - well, Andrew and I - floundered:

1 Hannah 12
2 Adam 21
3 Andrew 35
4 Sam 38

An exceedingly pleasant evening - thanks to our hosts in particular - drew to a close and we made our merry ways home, where I personally couldn't get to sleep for an hour and a half after our gaming half-marathon. Or maybe it was the knives Adam and Hannah keep on display...

On the form table Steve keeps hold of the number one spot, but competition for second is fierce, with Hannah edging ahead of Adam and Andrew by virtue of the most-recent-result rule. I stay in 7th, albeit with a fractionally improved average.


Thursday, 7 June 2012

Scores upon scores

Hidden beneath the raging torrent and unpredictable eddies and currents of the Form Table, there are still three other scoring systems in operation. I thought I'd post the current standings of them now to give people an idea of what to aim for in the last few weeks of the Spring season.

I do so at the risk of jinxing myself, since I currently sit atop the table for points awarded by the Q-System* thanks to an uncommon run of form over the past few weeks. Steve leads the way in the Holy Grail of GNN kudos: the points ratio, while Adam is first in the very close Olympic-style leaderboard.

Quentin and Paul are neck and neck in each category, although I suppose Paul should win by "miles travelled"

And if that weren't enough, I decided to go back and update the High Score section, including new favourites. Here they are, in all their victorious glory...

Sam 46

Sam 157 (three players)
(beats his previous best of 141)
Sam 120 (four players)
(beats his own previous best of 113)

Ascending Empires
Hannah/Quentin 40
(just beats Sam's previous best of 39)

Adam 204
(beats Joe's previous best of 191)

Sam 96

For Sale
Andrew 68

Galaxy Truckers
Sam 132

Hansa Teutonica
Joe 72

Incan Gold
Sam 51

Chris 116 (two player)
Sam 74 (three player)

Lords of Vegas
Joe/Steve 44

Andrew 139
(Hmmm, we've only played it once, but this is the only way I'll get on the High Score table)

Adam 120

No Thanks
This may be pre-blog, but I do remember Joe getting negative points once.

Chris 6 (three players)
Hannah 6 (four players)

Sam 54 (three players)
Joe 43 (four players)
(Joe snaffles Hannah's high score of 40 away from her)

Steve 113

Seven Wonders
Sam 73 (two players)
Adam 63 (more than two players)

Stone Age
Chris 318 (two players)
Sam 265 (three players)
Adam 183 (four players)

Ticket to Ride
Adam 131

Tinners’ Trail
Sam 154 (three players)
(Sam just squeezes past his own previous best by four points)
Sam 115 (four players)

Trans America
Adam 0

Trans Europa
Sam 1 (three player)
Paul 3 (four player)

Anja/Steve 57
(Steve won the game by a tie-breaker, but as far as the High Score table is concerned, 57 points is 57 points)

* The Q-system: Winner gets 7 points, plus the number of players, divided by two (ie, coming first in a six player game: 7+6/2=6.5 points). Second place gets one point less, etc.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

New Horizons

Like Adam playing Hansa Teutonica, the domain of GNN slowly creeps across town. Tonight we met at a new venue: Steve and Anja's house. There were six of us: the aforementioned hosts, myself, Sam, Adam and Hannah.

First we were given a tour of the house and of the garden, with its signature feature: a two-foot drop from the patio doors to the ground below. Nothing that a step or two won't solve, though.

At first there was the usual over-polite "No, what do you want to play?" discussion. In the end we decided on Sam, Anja and Hannah playing Stone Age, and Adam, Steve and I playing Batavia. It was my first attempt at this game, and Steve and Adam also needed a rules refresher.

In this game, each player trades commodities with different countries' territories in the Indian sub-continent by playing the most cards of a particular nation than any of your opponents. The countries are depicted by flags, and Britain is, confusingly, looks similar to a flag used by the British during our rule over America, but is (according to Wikipedia) the flag of the British East India Company. So that's okay.

Also, there are some pirates who turn up every now and again and take away some cards. They don't seem to do a huge amount of damage, but they do stop the table top from getting too crowded.

It's a nice game, with definite possibilities for deeper strategies once you're familiar with the rules. Our inexperience showed painfully at the end of the game when one commodity has not been traded at all, and eleven points went begging for anyone smart enough to buy just one of them.

However, Adam won by simply picking up the highest scoring commodities. Obvious, when you think about it.

Adam 54
Steve 38
Andrew 36

I'll leave it to one of the others to fill in the details about Stone Age, and why they were laughing so much. We watched the closing stages and I noted with approval that Hannah ended the game with no resources left over. I like a gamer who's frugal with their imaginary supplies. But Sam won it in the end with a wide range of multipliers.

Sam 256
Hannah 228
Anja 143

While Stone Age was finishing, Adam optimistically set up Tinners' Trail, so that anyone who wanted to could jump right in. But by the time that Stone Age was over, and Steve had made the popcorn, there wasn't really time for anything so deep. Instead we chose Skull and Roses. Or, in this case, Picture Card and Non-picture Cards, since we were playing with a ordinary pack of cards.

Oh, how we wished Joe was here as we explained the rules to Anja, Hannah and Steve. In the end, we managed to get all the rules in the right order, and we were ready to begin. (There must be some secret to explaining rules. Joe, you should write something about it.)

1. Steve
2= Andrew
2= Adam
3= Hannah
3= Anja
4. Sam

After this, Adam and Hannah went home, leaving the four of us to play one last game of Picture Card and Non-picture Cards. Most of which we played with a cat reclining with supreme indifference across the table. I took victory with a daring bid of four when there were only four cards on the table. End with style, that's my motto. (For tonight, anyway.)

1. Andrew
2. Steve
3. Sam
4. Anja

Barely any change on the leaderboard as we enter the last month of the season.

Steve2 1 2 1 1 7
Andrew 1 2 3 2 2 10
Adam2 1 3 3 2 11
Joe1 1 3 3 4 12
Hannah3 2 3 5 1 14
Anja4 3 3 2 2 14
Sam 3 4 1 4 4 16
Quentin 1 35 5519
Jonny 2 25 5519
Paul 3 15 5519
Sally 3 55 5 5 23