Thursday, 27 September 2012

Donkey vs Elephant

A subsidiary event on the GNN calendar tonight - a final hurrah for those poor souls who couldn't make, or couldn't face, last night's official tuesday night meet, and anyone else who had the stamina for more, upon more, upon even more games, after Septcon at the weekend.

Andrew arrived promptly at 7.30pm, and since we knew no-one else would arrive before ten, we scoured the cupboard for two-player main event games.
I had assumed that Castles of Burgundy would be high on Andrew's wishlist, having dipped his toe into the murky medieval French waters at Septcon; but no, something else had caught his eye. Something called 1960: The Making of a President.

I had practically forgotten I had it. I'd acquired it thinking it might be the one; the game to turn Charlotte's head. But it had failed in that regard, failed hoeplessly, and had since lain quietly in a corner of the games cupboard, awaiting its inevitable dispatch. Too time-consuming, and standing too far back in the queue of enticing two-player games to make a showing at GNN, it was waiting for me to spot it and put it on a a maths trade. And then Andrew picked it up and waved it around. And I thought - why not.

So Andrew was Kennedy, and I was Nixon; the rules are very straightforward, and gameplay is smooth and relatively swift - but it isn't until the very end of the first game that you see how certain bits fit together. We had a thin grasp of the benefits of advertising, the importance of issues became clearer as we went on; but debates? No idea until they happened. And endorsements? We couldn't even find a reference in the rules.

We squabbled over the east and the south, we quibbled in the mid-west, and towards the end of the game, we took the gloves off and had a slap-happy bitchfight over California. But this was all misdirection - the real battleground was Delaware. This penny-ante 3 point state south of Massachusetts caught Andrew's imagination early on, and it became a point of honour with him that it remain blue - it was his famed No Thanks strategy all over again. It swung back and forth like the child of bickering parents, until finally, election day rolled around, and Delaware was red.

The cards we'd put aside for Campaign Strategy were resolved - I had a better grasp of what these did, and had stored cards that help me swing a few smaller states my way. Andrew's cards made little difference, except in the case of Delaware, where he managed to remove my red cube, leaving it neutral.

And then we finally discovered the purposed of endorsements; all the points I'd pumped into these little red discs meant that I could swing undecided states my way, and on the whole board, that amounted only to reclaiming Delaware. Sweet victory was mine.

I won, and had that win been with a margin of less than three points it would have been pure poetry, but it was a little more cut and dried. I've heard there's an app that keeps score for you during the game, and that would have made the action much more tense.

Joe (Republican) 313
Andrew (Democrat) 224

Despite Kennedy's failure to achieve his historical victory, the game was a hit with Andrew. We'd played against the clock, knowing that Sam was due at 10, and hit it pretty much bang on - he only had to bear witness to election day. It could have lasted three hours if we hadn't had a deadline, but I don't think it's a game that needs to be pondered much - even in a first game, the main thrust is instinctive; clear your opponent out of a state, or bolster your own support.

With Sam in attendance, we settled on High Society, a game that only the three of us seem to like. It lasts only until the fourth red bordered card is revealed, and in all previous games I can remember, that has happened well before the stack was exhausted. For once, last night it went the distance, and the final few rounds were agonising, as all the negative cards came out and none of us had money to bid to keep from picking them up. In the final reveal, Andrew and I had $3M left, and were both eliminated, leaving Sam the winner - he would have won on luxury points either way, as I recall.

Sam 19
Joe 0
Andrew 0

I persuaded Sam and Andrew to stay for just one more round, which turned out in my favour; not as long, but still enough cards for each of us to have a tidy sum of luxuries in front of us. Andrew had been winning on this count for most of the game, but I felt sure that behind the glittering facade lay a fiscal disaster waiting to happen, and it turned out I was right - he was eliminated from the running. Sam I think had the same instinct, but of the two of us I had amassed more extravagant luxuries, or at least a card to multiply my extravagance, securing the win.

Joe 24
Sam 12
Andrew 0

High Society is a classic Knizia title; almost impossible to fathom strategically, but highly intriguing nonetheless; Steve hisses like a vampire when he sees it, and Adam is disdainful, but perhaps they need to play a three player game - it felt more controllable, the players' spending that little bit more trackable.

And 1960 was great - it has moved from possible trade to GNN two-player option, thanks to Andrew's willingness to give it a spin.
A lovely evening, thanks guys. TD (Tricky Dickie)

Andrew here... And so it's the end of the season. And this time, it's crept up on us unawares, since we were all giggly and excited over the games weekend in the country. Nevertheless, these are the final tables...

Adam2 1 1 1 1 6
Joe 1 2 1 2 2 8
Sam2 1 4 2 2 11
Steve1 3 3 3 2 12
Andrew 3 2 2 3 4 14
Anja 3 4 3 3 2 15
Hannah 5 43 4 1 17
Dan 15 5 5 521
Quentin 43 5 5 522

Adam wins on the Form Table, just falling short of the "perfect five" once again. Joe is in a comfortable second, with the rest of us squabbling over scraps.

In the Points table, Sam takes the win with Adam claiming the Points Ratio crown for himself. And as the medal table shows a similar tale, with Adam ("I'll be yellow- no... gold") sitting atop the pile.

Well done, Adam. A pretty comprehensive display. And well done Sam, for enusring it wasn't a clean sweep. And congratulations to everyone for making it to the end of another season. It was special. See you next week!

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Five's Companies. Four: No Thanks.

With the Games Weekend still visible in the rear-view mirror, it was inevitable that someone would find Tuesday night had come around too soon. But it was a shock to find it was Andrew, GNN stalwart and  linchpin. Everyone has their limits I suppose.

Instead Steve, Anja and myself joined Adam and Hannah in a wind-blown Easton for the final Tuesday of the season, if not the final games night (Joe's is open to takers this evening).

After some indecision over whether the migraine-recoveree Hannah would join us, that involved Ys being emptied onto the table, we eventually became a quintet and Batavia was chosen. New to me, and a distant relative to everyone else (Steve had memories of Quentin wiping the floor with everyone on it's GNN debut) the game is about sailing companies - owned by particular countries - represented by old and in some cases confusingly misrepresentative flags - establishing trade routes across the Middle East and the Orient. Players don't represent the companies (or the countries) but a kind of abstract capitalist, encouraging the companies to various destinations in order to establish a sharehold in a particular product - tea, cotton, ginger, bath mats etc.

Mmmm... smells like pirates

Throw into the mix some perversely moral pirates, who always attack the most powerful fleet on the sea, and you have a fairly confusing game. All of us at one point or another were confounded by the rules, though perhaps the least confounded was Adam, who saw the destructive potential in the pirates early on and sent them after Anja, then going on to manage his resources to engineer a strong win. I'm still not sure how he did it - there's a balance to strike between your cash, your ship cards (that move the ships) and making sure you have the strongest hand in a particular company that all seemed at least partly luck-dependent to me. Both Anja and Hannah spent valuable turns forced to pick up ship cards (and therefore were unable to do anything on the board) and my early lead was overhauled by Adam and, briefly, Steve, as my card management floundered at the bidding stage.

Oh yeah, there's bidding too. All in all a slightly muddled game to my eyes. But clearly there are strategies to be found, as the winning player will testify.

Adam 54
Sam 41
Steve 37
Anja 27
Hannah 22

As we'd started a little late it was nearing half past ten, so as Hannah retired to bed the rest of us rounded off the evening with a game of No Thanks, which newbie Steve won as my high-card strategy blew up in my face.

Steve 29
Adam 31
Anja 45
Sam 49

A text from Andrew on the way home told me if Adam had won No Thanks he would have gained the Perfect 5 (ie a five-game winning streak) on the form table! So that holy grail remains out there, tangible and yet beyond reach, like the deciding pepper share in Batavia that neither myself or Steve could grab for ourselves.*

Despite that Adam is the man to beat on the form table. So glad I got my boasting about SeptCon in at the start of the evening, when it still meant something...

*actually nothing like that. I haven't had much sleep.

Adam2 1 1 1 1 6
Joe 2 2 1 2 3 10
Sam4 2 2 2 1 11
Steve1 3 3 3 2 12
Andrew 3 4 2 1 3 13
Anja 3 4 3 3 2 15
Hannah 5 43 4 1 17
Dan 15 5 5 521
Quentin 43 5 5 522

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Three orthogonally-adjacent days of fun

Friday began like any other Friday. The sun rose, trains rattled out of sidings and into service, the recycling was collected, children went to school. But for a few of us, the heart beat a little faster. Because today was the first day of the games night weekend.

Sam, Joe and myself set off for a converted chapel in the middle of nowhere in the early afternoon, and arrived at around half past three. Paul and Chris turned up half an hour later, and we stood around for ten minutes or so chatting, before we realised: what are we doing? We should be playing games!

The weekend starts here...

Tsuro was the game to kick it all off. We trailed, we blazed, and we eventually toppled off the edge of the board like an ageing old man sinking face first into his soup. We then played Incan Gold twice and by now Joe had sped into an early lead with two wins out of three. But it was early days, and nothing substantial had been brought to the table.

When Jon, Steve and Anja arrived, all that nonsense ended. We split into two groups and set ourselves a real challenge. Anja, Steve and Joe went for that family favourite of recreating the German postal system, Thurn and Taxis. How anyone can call board games "niche", I've no idea. The rest of us (Sam, Chris, Paul, Jon and me) became Lords of Waterdeep. Sam talked the newbies through the rules and I tried to help, too. I remember explaining that you didn't get the owner's bonus if you used your own buildings by saying "... because you can't tickle yourself, can you?" I meant: you don't get an extra benefit from your own actions, but I don't know if that's how it came across.
"It looks like a pub" said Charlotte when she saw this photo.
Like that was somehow a bad thing. JB

(By now, you may be wondering where the scores are. Well, that would turn this blog post into an epic. So to save time, when I've decided to list the people playing I've put them in the order they ended, from first to last. So in the last paragraph, Anja won Thurn and Taxis, and Sam won Lords of Waterdeep.)

While Jon, Anja and Steve prepared food, we all played Lost Temple. Sam won this slightly silly race game by a tactic of finding a "Go forward five spaces" bonus tile five spaces before the finish line. Well done him.
Steve and Anja discovered some ancient artifacts to prepare food in. JB

After we ate some delicious food, Anja, Steve and myself played Wallenstein. I upset Steve by ignoring the unwritten rule of always going after whoever is in first halfway through. Instead, I went after him since he was in second and I was third. It made no difference.

Wallenstein by sunset

Hannah and Joe and Sam played Glory to Rome, while Paul, Adam, Chris and Jon played the multi-coloured strategy game Nexus Ops which really does look like armies of models from Games Workshop fighting over some puke.

But despite the dusk having long gone, a hardy band of gamers determinedly carried on. Joe, Adam, Chris and Jon tried Sewer Pirates (or Die GulliPiratten), a game which looked quite pretty, but baffling. Something about boarding boats. And snails are rubbish. I was too tired to watch for too long, and left them to it, well past one a.m.

The next day, I awoke at seven, and went for a walk in the early morning mist.

Outside. Complicated rules, but some great artwork.

When I came back, Joe was up and about so I taught him how to play Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small. This became the game of the weekend, with pairs of gamers using it as a filler while they waited for games to end or food to be served.

This was followed by me, Chris, Adam and Joe playing Alhambra while Sam, Anja, Hannah and Jon played Ys. But soon after that game, Jon retired to his room, ill, and wasn't seen again til the afternoon. Paul, too, didn't emerge from his room until noon, having not slept for thirty-six hours due to work shifts. Steve stayed in bed for hours, too. No idea why. Maybe he was still annoyed about Wallenstein.

There followed a flurry of short two-player games. Adam beat Joe at Manoeuvre, Hannah beat me at Mr Jack and Chris beat Sam at Scrabble. Once Steve and Paul had risen and dinner had been eaten (my hand made pizzas, although I shot myself in the foot since I'd put my own pizza sauce into a Sainsbury's pasta sauce jar. Didn't look very home-made.) we could start gaming in seriousness again.

Chris, Sam, Steve, Anja and a-still-not-100% Jon played Bohnanza and Joe and Paul played Aton. Then Hannah beat Adam at Mr Jack, and Sam, Chris, Paul and Joe played Biblios. Chris came second which, by now, was becoming a recurring theme.

But as Joe had always wanted, Saturday afternoon hosted a game every bit as epic and American as the old western that was probably on Channel Five at that very same time. Railways of the World: Eastern US is a monster of a game, and with five players, it was expected to last. Joe spent some time preparing the gaming area with comfy chairs and set up all the pieces beforehand. He reminded me of a bird preparing its nest.

Home-maker Joe

While Adam, Paul, Joe, Anja and Steve played Railways..., Sam, Hannah, Chris and me played San Marco. The three of them fought of first place, while I fell further and further behind. Then, with the railways of the Eastern American sea board still far from complete, Jon (looking healthier now), me and Hannah played Power Grid. I'd played this once before, and did not have great memories of it, but found it a more enjoyable affair this time. Perhaps in the years since then, I've learnt more about what makes a board game work. Sam and Chris played Macao.

Finally, after three and a half hours, Railways of the World was complete. Adam won, and I was impressed by their stamina. They all stood around and reminisced about the last few hours as if it were some great ordeal they'd all been through, and come out the other side as better people.
RotW in progress, with Power Grid in the background.
This is the exact moment Adam realised he could get his revenge
on me for denying him access to the rulebook. JB

The final board and scoretrack from space. And my socks. JB

After this, some of us went for a walk in the country side. Steve had the map, which lead to some... "creative" navigating. Leading us into a dark cluster of trees, insisting "It's all good" was only the high point of a series of exciting new rambling options he found. Meanwhile, Joe was startled by a cat and Jon trod down brambles like a real man.

... and we never saw them again.

Back at the house, Paul beat Chris by one point in two-player Agricola. Then with everyone back from the walk, Joe dug out Pickomino. This dice-based worm-collecting game is easy to learn and agonising to play. Sam, me, Joe, Jon, Steve and Anja battled out one game, and then Anja, Steve, Sam, Paul, Chris, Jon and me played a second round.

After food supplied by Hannah and Adam, we split into two. Adam persuaded Paul and Hannah to play Puerto Rico, and then duly won. Meanwhile, Joe and I convinced Chris and Sam that Lords of Vegas was the perfect game for a Saturday night. We adopted bad gangster accents, and rolled them bones while trying to set up successful casinos along Sunset Strip. I quickly built up a very commanding lead, but then watched in horror as Chris slowly gained on me, with me keeping one step ahead by some lucky dice rolls. For the last two rounds, I was just wishing each card would be the End Game card, which thankfully came just in time. Meanwhile Joe and Sam languished far behind, which shows up the game's flaw. Very few opportunities for catching up if you fall too far behind. Some games claim to be fun for all the family, but I'm not even sure if Lords of Vegas is fun for all the players. I like it, though.

Garish colours? Artificial lighting? It's Vegas, baby!

As we finished our game, Paul beat Hannah at Agricola; All Creatures... and Steve, Anja and Jon played Lords of Waterdeep. Then, once we were all between games, we decided on the only ten-player option we had: 6nimmt. The game was quite different, since every card in the deck was in someone's hand or on the table. There was no point in putting a card down, hoping that the cards immediately below it wouldn't be in play. Still, it was fun, once we'd worked out how to show that everyone had made their decision (place a finger on your card). Sam won.

After that, people retired to sleep, except Chris and Paul who played one final game of Nile. A card game of harvesting and speculating. I watched, and I think I understood it, apart from the speculating bits. Not too clear on harvesting, either, but apart from that...

Sunday dawned, grey and wet. Perfect gaming weather. Once again, Joe and I were the early birds, and Joe taught me Castles of Burgundy. Hannah and Jon played two games of Hey, That's My Fish!, sharing a victory each. Joe commended Jon on getting the emphasis right on the title. Jon called it "Hey, That's MY Fish", stressing the ownership of the fish in question. Joe had always said "Hey, that's my FISH", stressing the nature of the thing being argued over. But, Joe reasoned, what else would a penguin have to argue about? A stereo? Some flapjacks? Of course not. So Jon's pronunciation must be correct. Chris, Adam, Sam and Hannah played a third game, quite oblivious to Joe's eureka moment.

Following that, Adam beat Joe at Agricola: All Creatures, while Steve and Anja shared a Thelma and Louise moment, throwing themselves off the board in Tsuro at the same time.

Breakfast was done, and time was ticking on. For the majority, there was just one last game to be played. Adam, Joe and Jon chose Railways of the World, but chose the smaller, faster Mexico map. In the end Adam won a very close game by a tie-breaker on money. Hannah, Chris and I played Macao. I went for a new tactic of ignoring the items and relying on bonuses for cards. It didn't work.
Pretty little railways down Mexico way, at the end of the game. JB

Paul, Sam, Steve and Anja played Genoa. Paul won by delivering messages and bartering, with no contracts or owning any buildings. Quite an impressive strategy. Finally, it was time for some of us to leave. Chris and Paul went first, and then after a little cleaning (and discovering that the vacuum cleaner really smelt odd when you used it) Joe, Sam and I leapt in the car and sped away into the rain.

This left Jon, Steve, Anja, Hannah and Adam to finish off with one last game, Il Principe. Adam texted me the results, and it must have been a frustrating game for him, since he ended the text with "Don't ask."

So those are all words, what about the numbers?! There is no form table, since we didn't stop playing long enough to think about our recent form. (Forty-three games in three days, by the way. That's about that same we play in three months.)

Instead it's all about the Q-system. And we find a very interesting new face on top of the pile at the end of the weekend.

Chris' consistent form at coming in second is just what you'd expect from an Arsenal fan. But unlike his beloved Gunners, it puts him at the top of the pile. And well done to Sam for highest points ratio and for leading the medals table. Judging by his gloomy review of his own form as we drove home, I know he won't be expecting this result.

Sam wins on points and Anja takes the points ratio, demonstrating that these two aren't sprinters but are grand master tacticians, preferring a deeper challenge to the silly lightweight games.

(In this table, the points you get on the Q-system are multiplied by the number of hours a game lasts. So, a thirty minute game would see your points halved, while a game lasting an hour and a half would be multiplied by 1.5. Game lengths taken from boardgamegeek.)

A quick note to end, Paul wins on the absolute score. If you take his games and add them all together, he scored 1070 points, beating Anja (998 points) and Sam (997 points). Well done, Paul. I suspect winning Genoa helped. Here are all the numbers!

Thanks everyone for a great weekend. Quick wits, quicker strategies and some very good food.

Oh, and the list of labels was too long for blogger (200 character maximum, apparently), so a lot of the games are missing from the list below and that's why it says Agricola, not Agricola: All Creatures etc etc.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

The Tsuro Challenge

Sam has left twenty-one games at my flat, ready to be collected on our way to the Big Weekend. One of them is Tsuro, and I started thinking about whether there could be a one-player version. Then I thought I could set up a start position and an end position, and see if I could get from one to the other.

An early failure

To that end, I decided to see if it was possible to guide four dragons from a square in the centre of the board, each to a different side of the board. Each dragon taking a turn, as if in a real game, and every square being used.


It took a few attempts, but in the end, I did it. And very happy I was with myself afterwards. Now, however, I keep thinking up new challenges for myself. Such as starting with four dragons as above, but guiding them each to the opposite side they started nearest. Or maybe longest possible route for two players at once, or maybe something with all eight dragons. Or is that crazy?

UPDATE: 20/09/2012

Since the game's just sitting there doing nothing, I thought I'd try a new challenge. This time, four dragons from a square on the board, each to a different side, but all of them passing through the same square at the same time! Red Arrows, eat your heart out!

The moment of extreme excitement!

Unfortunately, I couldn't quite pull it off. It was quite a lot of fun getting the dragons to syncronise like that, like real barnstormers of the early history of aviation. Shame I didn't manage to land them all safely, but there's always another day...

Oooh... so close!

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Ys! We have no bananas!

Continuing the current trend for new rules and exciting new challenges, tonight saw another débutante arrive at the table. Namely, Ys, a game that's languished unplayed and unnoticed in Sam's games cupboard for some time. It also saw Quentin return to GNN action after a lengthy absence.

Ys is ostensibly set in Brittany, but any sense of location was quickly lost after the instruction mentioned something about dragons, and the city was split into the not-so-historical names of neighbourhoods 1, 2, 3 and 4.

The game is about worker placement, using your team of eleven advisors of varying values to take control of areas on the board. Half of your advisors have their values hidden, so there's an element of bluffing involved.

It's a little bit Agricola and a little bit Biblios, as part of the game involves you manipulating the market values of the four different goods. For most of the game we were constantly reviewing the rules. I played quite an obvious tactic, of trying to get as many points as soon as possible. I ignored the market, and also the black cubes, which act as bonus points at the end of the game if you have a lot.

Perhaps this was to be my downfall, as I saw my commanding lead whittled away by all three players as Adam made good use of his "Character cards" (or super powers) in the last round, and Quentin's and Sam's hoards of black gems pushed me into last.

Adam 89
Sam 76
Quentin 71
Andrew 67

"Room for one more?" asked Sam. I'm paraphrasing, of course, otherwise he would've sounded like a good old-fashioned bus conductor trying to cram one more commuter onto the London Omnibus. But he did suggest we end with Biblios, the game of baffling card-collecting that has us all in its thrall.

It was Quentin's first go, but Biblios is a game that is a great leveller in terms of experience: having played lots of times before is no guarantee that you know what's going on. As it was, he came in last, but only by a slender tie-break decision. Adam beat Sam by a similar decision, only in the other direction, of course.

Adam 4
Sam 4
Andrew 3
Quentin 3

A double win from Adam sent him home in raptures, and sent him back to the top of the table. Quentin makes his first appearance at the bottom of the form table and, apparently, with no chance to improve his standing next week as he can't make it.

If there is a next week, that is. See you on Friday for the weekend game-a-thon!

Adam 1 1 1 2 1 6
Sam2 2 1 1 3 9
Joe 2 2 1 2 3 10
Anja 3 3 2 1 4 13
Andrew 3 4 2 1 3 13
Hannah 43 4 1 2 14
Steve3 3 2 5 4 17
Dan 15 5 5 521
Quentin 43 5 5 522

Their hands met in a crowded tile bag

The latest stage of Project Arthur (turning Sally from games widow to games enthusiast via subtle NLP, opportunism and high-pitched wheedling) took place on Friday. Sally was keen - all things being relative - to play Biblios, but in an effort to expand her gaming horizons I set up Ingenius, the abstract game of making colours go next to other colours the same colour.

Initially able to contain her enthusiasm, Sally grew into the game and indeed seemed to recollect playing it before - something I don't recall myself, but then my retention is fairly flimsy.

Something we both struggled with was the scoring - do you score the number of symbols in each string, or the number of connections between them? I think it's the latter, but either way I kept staring at the rules like an uncomprehending dolt, something that still resonates today.

In our game Sally made the fatal error of letting one of her colours (green) fall way behind the others, and it was the greens I sought to cut off in order to preserve my win. But I made the even-more-fatal-error of not realizing she'd snuck it forward just enough to go past my own green marker - hence I was hoist by my own petard as Sally won with a low score of 11 Green to my 9.

I don't think it was the game to turn Sally but it didn't put her off either. Games are definitely a source of fun for her, just a slightly different type of fun (see her ironic post title above)...

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

The post that loved only numbers

After a quiet evening with a bottle of wine and a spreadsheet, I've got a little update on some of the statistics of the season so far. And what a season it's been. Looking at the medal table, it's Adam versus Sam, but look at the Q system and it's Sam versus me, while in points ratio it's Adam versus Sam again! It's a wonder we're still friends! Meanwhile, Sam has scored almost 1,500 points more than anyone else in the (rather silly) absolute points category (not shown).

But perhaps the most remarkable statistic belongs to Joe. Thanks to an early fondness for games which needed low scores to win (which go on the spreadsheet as minus points) and games where you don't score at all (such as Skull and Roses), he actually had an absolute points total of -44 on the 24th July, a full three weeks after the season had started! We at GNN salute our negative-scoring friend!

It was Tuesday. It was Easton.

… Two ingredients for our weekly games night. Or perhaps the opening lines of one of the less popular books in the Shades of Grey series. Adam was a late arrival, having only woken up an hour earlier, since he'd spent the weekend at some festival. We (myself, Sam, Joe, and the hosts: Steve and Anja) had already decided what game he wanted to play, and had set up a three-player game of Arkadia with me, Steve and an empty chair with his name on it.

Joe, Anja and Sam went for the hexagons and dice of Castles of Burgundy. Joe admitted as they set up that he'd played it a few times as a solo game "just to get the hang of the rules." Would his experience help?
Anja points an accusing finger at Joe's cluster of castles.
It looks as though Sam has ignored his moats completely - he'd begun to tidy them away

We described the rules of Arkadia to Adam once he'd arrived, and we seemed to do quite well as he used his pennants to score early. But Arkadia is a game where knowing the rules isn't enough, and he later admitted to being a bit baffled by what to do next. Steve, too, found that he was unable to plan any smart moves since either Adam or I would do them before it was his turn again. Arkadia is definitely a game where you wait for your opponent to make a mistake rather than forge any long-term strategies of your own.

In the end, the game was won on the last go, as I was able to place a building that completed itself and another building. This allowed me to change the values of the colours in my advantage, and I snuck in front of Adam right at the death.

Andrew 110
Adam 106
Steve 89

At the start of a very long road to St Petersburg...

Castles of Burgundy carried on, so we began a game of St Petersburg, apparently under the illusion that it was quite short. From the other table we heard Sam talking to himself, and Anja cry out in despair at Joe's last minute dash to into first place. I'm sure more happened than that, but in the meantime, the scores were...

Joe 82
Anja 81
Sam 78
Joe's finished estate. Only 2 pastures and 3 boats away from the full complement.

We were still playing St Petersburg, so they had a game of Biblios...

Sam 8
Joe 5
Anja 4

And as we were finishing off St Petersburg, they played 6nimmt.

Sam 26
Joe 31
Anja 62

Finally, as eleven o'clock threatened to turn into twelve, we finished our game. It had been a while since we all played, and there was a certain amount of rule checking at first, but before long we were back in the swing of things.

Steve started with an aggressive tactic of picking up a library early. Expensive but high-scoring. But this left him permanently behind in terms of cash. As Adam pointed out, the fact that Steve couldn't buy so much meant more choices for me, which explains how I was able to keep up with Adam, despite his two Observatories getting him cards as and when he pleased.

Adam 129
Andrew 125
Steve 83

The form table shows that Steve suffered heavily from the curse of the host: whereby looking after everyone detracts from the cold, calculating mind-set you need for Tuesday nights. He drops down the table faster than that bowl of popcorn fell off the couch when he was playing with his cat. Joe makes a charge into third.

Sam1 1 3 1 1 7
Adam 1 2 1 3 1 8
Joe 2 2 1 2 3 10
Andrew 2 1 3 2 3 11
Anja 3 3 2 1 4 13
Hannah 43 4 1 2 14
Steve3 3 2 5 4 17
Dan 15 5 5 521

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Not Another Agricola Report!

In the same way Andy Murray tournament finals arrive in a bunch after a long barren period so do game reports on Agricola. I had been looking forward to being the first person to report on Agricola - All creatures Big and Small when what d'you know, Mr Morrison of Bristolshire, pips me to the posting. 

My purchase was was never in doubt though. A two player version of a game I love, cheap, with rave reviews was always going to lighten my pocket. Paul agreed to play straight away after my 'reveal' and the rules were quickly digested. With our experience of the classic version, we found the game to play nice and quick save for our occasional moments of AP while we snuffled around for a good strategy. Early on I decided to get a few special buildings and an even spread of livestock. Paul went into sheep farming like a Welshmen with a fetish and in the end ran out of time (Which does come round quickly) before he could get any moo cows.

In the end my strategy bore out as I won 46 to 37

It had ended quite quickly and so we set it up again for a return match. This time Paul went to all livestock in a big way and romped to victory 53.5 to 35. The play time was much quicker and found we had a big enough window for yet another round, the decider! By now we were playing very rapidly and the strategies were much tighter as reflected in the final scoring. It was so close, a draw, and Paul winning by going second, that we did a recount. In the tally I noticed that I had a stall all covered in cows. A one point increase to me and 2 - 1 on the night.

Not Chris' house, but close enough.

We managed to squeeze in a very quick game of Nile before we made a dash for Paul's train.

Overall we both loved this version of Agricola. Andrew is right in the fact you can't do that much to influence each others game as such, but it is a game of subtlety and the order of which you place you workers is key.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

All Creatures Great and Short

I've found with games that generally speaking the cheaper options don't tend to stand the test of time. There are exceptions of course, but for every No Thanks there are plenty like Sabateur and Archeology who get one play then are quietly traded away. So that was what was going through my head on my periodic visits to Area 51 as I eyed up Agricola: All Creatures Great and Small. Basically Agricola for two, this game leered at me with it's "look, only £25" price tag and the fact it was like Agricola, but simpler, shorter, and seemingly well-received on the geek. But I guess what finally clinched it for me was realising that at £25 it wasn't actually that cheap after all. Sold!

Andrew and I played tonight and I think we would both declare it a hit. Partly because you get the Agricola flavour without monopolising the evening, but also because without the worry of feeding your family the strategy shifts to a less complex but still engaging battle of wits - that involves the usual worker placement and building purchases but the pattern-forming aspect of how to utilise your farm to a greater degree than it's big brother.

The aim of the game in fact is to maximise your farm's animal population - as many as you can of the four available options. So all the buildings bar one are about animal storage and there's no corn or vegetables to been seen. It's Agricola-light to be sure, but rather than simply feel dilute there's a genuine  shift here to a game that stands alone on its own merit.

Our game was closer than the score suggests, as Andrew's building specialising and early farm expansion looked to have put him in the box seat, only for a dearth of cows and pigs to count against him in the final reckoning:

Sam 42
Andrew 35.5

Then we played Biblios! Andrew had his revenge in another testosterone-fuelled battle.

Andrew 9

We called our deciding arm-wrestle a draw and I high-fived my way into the night.

Games! What kids do when they're not sniffing glue.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

A Septicon wish list

With a bunch of us committed to some solid gaming time in a couple of weekends, I was wondering if anyone had anything in particular they'd like to get to the table. I'm keen on playing Colosseum again, and maybe even High Frontier although I'll admit that may not pan out. Lords of Vegas might be nice too. And even Agricola (not Farmers of the Moor, though). I'd quite like to play Navegador again. Now we know there's a winning tactic, surely we can beat it?

And of course, loads and loads of eight-player Tsuro. It'll be intense!

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Ain't nothing wrong… with a little Hab 'n' Gut

Another tuesday, another games night: and the first meeting at the Berger house for a while. Andrew and Sam arrived promptly at 7.30 - Sam had brought a cornucopia of games, mostly playing a maximum of four people. I had dug out a few four-player options, plus Hab & Gut in case we were five. However, we didn't yet have a clear idea of who else to expect; Anja certainly, but Steve had been unwell. Hannah was definitely out, but Adam was shilly-shallying. So while we waited for news, the three of us played Rattlesnake. In my experience the start player often wins this unique and quite silly game. However, we each had a go at starting, and Sam won all three games! Pity it wasn't leaderboard, but he wins the 'Snake-charmer' achievement this week.

While we were playing, Adam texted to say he wasn't going to make it - shock-horror - but Anja and Steve were on their way, so we knew we were catering for a total of five. We three took the executive decision to set up Hab & Gut, and once the others arrived, we jumped straight in.

H&G is a delightfully simple game, and though Steve professed bafflement at first (always a worry - he tends to win shortly after uttering these words), within a couple of rounds it had clicked. It was also Anja's first game, but as usual, after asking a couple of astute questions, she was exhibiting all the signs of quiet confidence and keeping her own counsel.

At the mid-way point, church donations were revealed, and Andrew and Sam had both left offerings in the 400s, leaving the other three of us trailing. As Andrew pointed out, you want to have donated second from least to the church by the end of the game - just enough to keep you from getting kicked out, but having saved most of your money for your score. It was wise advice, and I decided to heed it.
The second round was a tricky affair; Andrew and I had a rack of almost all minus amounts, and the rack between me and Steve wasn't much better. In the final turn, Andrew sold two reds for a 500 note, and his win looked assured - we could only hope that he may have under-donated. But then Sam took his last turn, and cashed in 750 worth of shares! Since they couldn't both lose to the church, one of them was clearly the winner.

The moment when the church donations are revealed the second time is most exciting, and there was an interesting spread; Anja, despite her atheism, had been generous to a fault, offering 765. Sam, Andrew and I had donated 660, 645 and 605 respectively, but Steve had offered only 420, and was out of the running entirely.

Over- and under-donating are mistakes that had cost me my first two games of Hab & Gut, but it does seem to get easier to judge. Anja had asked if there was a figure to aim for, and I can't say for sure that there is - it's all down to the prevailing group-think, perhaps. That said it's interesting that the three of us who had played a couple of times before all offered similar amounts.

Sam's big haul in the last round, coupled with some canny wheeling-and-dealing earlier on saw him into first place with a comfortable lead of 250 over second-placing Andrew. I came third, Anja fourth and Steve didn't bother to count up, having incurred the wrath of the church - he didn't think that he would have been in the running though.

Sam 785
Andrew 535
Joe 465
Anja 385
Steve OUT

Hab & Gut remains a firm favourite with me, despite the fact that I haven't ever won - it's simple, clever and intriguing, and doesn't eat up a whole games-evening. Once we'd packed away It was 9.40pm, and we wondered what to tee-up next.

Sam was keen to play new trade Arkadia with three, leaving two others in search of a game. We briefly considered other five-player options, but most were deemed to light and fluffy, and it was a little late to start on another 'proper' five-player game.

Having recently acquired Castles of Burgundy, I was itching to try it out, and it seemed to fit the bill with Anja too, so we left the other three setting up Arkadia and distributed the myriad bits of Burgen von Burgund across our side of the table. There's lots of set-up, but the rules are relatively easy to grasp, and we were probably under way by 10pm.

It's the kind of Euro that I feel as though we haven't played much of lately, where you're building up a little empire, rather than knocking other people down (don't get me wrong, I love knocking other people down too, probably more than most GNN-ers, but I like to do it in open confrontation rather than under the guise of trading in the Mediterranean. Oh okay, I probably like that too).

Unusually for a Stefan Feld game, there are no punishments - even Macao has minus points for having cards un-played at the end - you're really just trying to maximise your little estate, with no plague-rats, mongol hordes or other calamities to worry about (they're probably in an expansion). Your dice give you 2 actions per turn, and you can use them to acquire tiles of six different colours from the communal board, in the hopes of later adding them to your burgeoning estate. Blue ship tiles allow you to trade goods and jump up in turn order, grey mine tiles give you money at the beginning of each phase, and dark green castles give you a single extra action. Light green add livestock to your pastures, scoring you instant points, beige buildings offer an immediate one-off benefit, whilst yellow knowledge tiles give lasting, rule-breaking enhancements.

Points come in various ways; trading goods, adding animals and some buildings - but the big points are scored by completing sections of your estate. The earlier in the game you achieve this the better, and the points also rise exponentially depending on the number of tiles in the region you complete, from 1VP for a single hex region, to 36 VP for an eight hex region.

The box says 30-90 mins, but there is a very clear in-game indicator, and we were not quite half way through the game at 11pm. Arkadia was wrapping up, so Anja and I agreed to play to the end of the third of five phases. Going in to the last round of that third phase I had a comfortable lead, but Anja managed to complete a five hex region of her estate and swept past me for the win. This achievement was slightly mitigated by the discovery, several phases in, that she had been playing one of her knowledge tiles as far more powerful than it actually was. But that's fine with me - you know me and the leaderboard; there's little love lost between us.

Anja 70
Joe 64

If a goldfish had to play Castles of Burgundy...

Castles of Burgundy was a hit with both of us, and judging by the chat from across the table, Arkadia went down well too - Sam will doubtless fill us in on the details, but the final scores were:

Sam 120
Steve 95
Andrew 88

A good night; shame to leave that last game unfinished, but very chuffed to have given it a spin, and to play Hab & Gut again. Until next time - roll high!
(unless rolling low is, you know, better in the particular game you're playing . . .)


Ersby, here. A little late, but here is the form table. Sam strides to the top, leaving Adam cursing his decision to make a bird costume instead of defending his lead. It's all to play for behind the two front runners, though. Also, it's worth noting that if our games of Rattle Snakes had been Leaderboard, then Sam would have a perfect five points, and also that Anja also has a perfect score of sorts: each of the five places (1st to 5th) are represented in the five spaces in the form table. Hoorah and Haroo!

Sam1 1 2 1 2 7
Adam 1 3 1 1 1 7
Steve2 5 411 13
Andrew 3 2 3 2 3 13
Joe 2 3 243 14
Hannah 43 4 1 2 14
Anja 1 4 325 15
Dan 15 5 5 521