Sunday, 29 September 2013

Adam and Hannah create an expansion

(thanks to Andrew for the title!)

The Easton four got together this Thursday for a gossip about new players and family growth. When the conversation flagged we decided to play St Petersburg, the fun and inspirational story of Tsar Peter the Great.

The backbone of the game is the honest toil of the working class, who you need to own a lot of if you want to get anywhere. Then there are the buildings that their toil allows you to purchase. Anja got two high-value buildings very early on to get points going very quickly while Hannah and I nabbed observatories that allowed us to pick up a card from the pile of our choice each turn - early on it was extra proles to help our money-making, later we both picked up Aristocrats.

Steve played a balanced game, but delivered a hammer blow to me by picking up the only aristocrat available on the last turn even though it benefited him naught. But those ten lost points didn't quite ruin my game and I snuck ahead of Anja at the very last with my nine out of ten Aristos:

Adam 79
Anja 75
Hannah 66
Steve 63

The non-observatory-pickers-up claimed the win was mostly due to how powerful they are (observatories, not Anja and Steve) so perhaps next time we should leave them out? The prize for the magnificent victory was more baby paraphernalia than even Tsar Peter would ever need... (thanks Anja and Steve!)

Hey Andrew - what does that do to the table?


I'll tell you... but I'll do it in a bigger font.

So in the end, our season didn't quite have the final day showdown like they did in Women's football, since James didn't play a three-player game on Friday. Adam's win consolidates his first place in Points Ratio and puts him in second. I'm king of the hill in terms of points.

Other little nuggets of numbers: Sam scored the biggest win, statistically speaking, with his 67, 41, 38, 37, 36 victory in Metro. However, he also has the biggest defeat, in Railways of the World that ended 81, 72, 68, 66, 58. A true all-rounder!

See you all in a couple of days for the opening ceremony of the new season!  Woo hoo!

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Run, Nab it, Run

A late report by James.

The Bracknell Bunch are trying to like Android:Netrunner. It’s certainly rather swish. It’s cyber-cool. It’s mega-corporations and hacking. What’s not to like? One could wear shades and a trenchcoat while playing this game. But it’s not quite clicking with anyone though. ...Yet.

Since they played it last, Chris has studied and re-studied the rules. James prepared by watching the video tutorials a second time. Boy, they’re slick. All throbbing blue laser arrows and sound effects, with a futuristic female voice-over. Presented like that, it gets you gasping for a game. Then you lay it out on the dining table and it’s like when you tried to play Tron down the car park in 1982. With a Frisbee.  To compensate, James made a hacking run arrow, using paper and a blue felt tip. If only his wife would have done the futuristic voice-over. From behind the dining room door. 

Perhaps not entirely fair that, because the game really is supremely well illustrated. It’s just the gameplay. When you think you know all the rules, some cryptic instruction crops up on a card and heads need to be scratched. So this game (third time for Chris, second time for James), James was doing the hacking – all subversive, like. Chris was the corporate giant. James started extremely well. Chris’ servers were about as secure as an Etch-A-Sketch left next to an unattended hammer. James was in and out and it was all rather exciting, as everywhere that James dipped his crafty little cyberpunk fingers, he nabbed a scoring card. He roared into the lead.

But then Chris began to seal things off good and proper. James’ gameplay ground to a halt. While new to this it does seem like you get some cards and think, who in the world would ever use that? Even so, it’s quite exciting to build things up and during the game, the whole thing almost clicked. Almost.

It was quite the stalemate for a while, as James’ attacks were fended off. His early success with the ‘sneakdoor beta program’ had been shored up by Chris’ Hadrian’s Wall barrier. You do find yourself slowly immersed in the game’s world. At first you feel silly saying you’re ‘rezzing your ice’. But it seems a bit arsey not to say it. Then you’re in the zone, spouting all the jargon. But some of the game mechanics don’t seem to produce the fireworks you hope for. Some results feel like damp squibs. And when James won, his first thought was merely, “Oh, right then.”

But somehow, both players do fancy another go.   

James 9, Chris 4.

Next, Agricola. Now, to be politically correct, James seems to be Agricola-challenged. To be blunt, he’s crap at it. But he does enjoy it. This time, he mapped out a game-plan  that would amass a frenzy of bonus points at the end of the game, mostly through occupations. As the game rocketed to its conclusion, James’ master-plan hinged upon Chris not using the occupation space in the last round...

Chris used the occupation space in the last round. James’ recruitment extravaganza (worth a game-winning seven points in his mind) was blocked, so he planted a bit of grain instead. For three points.

But James had been utterly deluded. Because Chris’ little-bit-of-everything tactics  won him the game by a mile. Looking back, James was never really in the running. Plus, Chris kept nicking all the stone. It’s like he wanted James to lose.

Chris 46, James 31.   

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

If Bruckheimer played Santiago

Tonight saw an attendance at the regular weekly meet that would put Roll For The Soul to shame! The two newcomers from the Thursday meet arrived, Gonz and Martin. Along with Joe, Sam, myself, Quentin, Adam and Hannah, that made a healthy eight players.

At first we all played Incan Gold since that’s a game that works well with some many people. Although we were frustrated when turning over high cards, only to have to share all that treasure with plenty of other players. It was all about getting out while the getting was good. Sam played it cool at first, nipping out of the first two temples early on, and picking up what hadn’t been shared out. But Adam faced down fickle fate and stayed in a temple until he had it all to himself, including two relics.

Adam 43
Sam 40
Joe 27
Andrew 19
Martin 18
Quentin 15
Hannah 14
Gonz 12

After this we split up, with three playing Agricola (Adam, Gonz and Quentin) and five of us choosing Santiago (me, Joe, Martin, Hannah and Sam). We even had to go into different rooms, there were so many of us.

Santiago may be visually bland but with five it’s at its best. There always someone who suffers and that’s what games are all about! And that’s how it was from the beginning. The canal overseer may have been the guy who got the worst tile in the bidding round but, more often than not, there were few bribes on the table to fill his or her pockets in recompense. It was harsh. Sometimes the bribes were so low it was more like an insult. Like a Hollywood version of Santiago where mean-looking guys in dramatic lighting slap down single notes and yell “This is what I think of your stinking irrigation system!”

Martin played a tough game, but he was stymied when his field of choice didn’t come out when he needed it. Plus, he was the only one not to use their emergency canal. But Joe played it cool. Neither tortoise nor hare, he diversified, picking up scores for every crop. Santiago as it should be played.

Joe 73
Martin 63
Hannah 59
Andrew 57
Sam 55

During this game I often popped in next door, partly to admire Gonz’s laminated cards and partly because they still had crisps on the table. It seemed close halfway through, but Gonz ran away with it at the end with his extra family members. Adam ended in last, muttering something about having forgotten how to play.

Gonz 44
Quentin 36
Adam 27

While they finished off Agricola, Sam set off home and us four had a quick game of Timeline. The game of historical fun! It was short and sweet, and I do know enough about history that I feel at least fairly confident when I play this. I knew that the diving suit was invented in the 1600s, for example. Meanwhile, Joe’s last card was The Formation Of The Earth, which obviously came before everything.

1= Joe
1= Andrew
2. Martin
3. Hannah

After this, we wended our weary way back home. The end of the season draws near. Not completely near, though. There are a few days left, which leaves the Division in a precarious position...

I’m top in Points and on the Medals Table, which is nice, and the gap is big enough that I hope I’m not in danger of being overtaken. Currently Joe is second by a knife edge. But the Points Ratio also delicately poised. Adam leads at the moment, but will the Thursday meet at Steve and Anja's be leaderboard? Will he risk it, since James from Bracknell is hot on his heels? Did the Berkshire bunch get together for a three-player evening? Is there one more twist to this season? We await news from both camps...

On the form table, it’s a hard introduction for Gonz, with that eighth place in Incan Gold weighing him down. But hats off to Joe who timed his run of form to perfection, as he glides into first place.

Joe1 1 3 1 3 9
Adam3 1 1 3 2 10
Andrew1 4 4 3 1 13
Sam 5 2 3 2 2 14
Steve2 3 3 3 4 15
Anja3 2 5 1 5 16
Hannah3 3 7 2 1 16
Martin2 2 5 5 5 19
Quentin2 6 3 3 5 19
Miles2 3 5 5 5 20
Jonny1 5 5 5 5 21
Lizzy2 5 5 5 5 22
Gonz1 8 5 5 5 24

A great season (if it is over. There may be more.) and hopefully we’ll see plenty of you next week for the start of another exciting new season! No break for us hardy gamers. Those cubes aren’t going to push themselves.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Guilding the Lily

Today saw an Adam-less Roll For The Soul evening. Joe arrived first, sitting by the window, a suspicious bulging bag by his side. It wasn’t until I arrived that he felt secure enough to put the games out on the table. Although, if he had done that while he was alone, people might have thought he was selling them.

We began with Zooloretto: The Dice Game. Joe explained the rules to me and then new boy Martin arrived. He knew Joe because he’d once bought a bespoke Pax Porfiriana baize playing area from Joe, which is enough to make him best mates for life, so Joe invited him along to a games night. He seemed nice enough, and Joe explained the rules to him too and we began.

Zooloretto with dice is a shorter and sharper version of its big brother. I enjoyed it a lot more, and it seemed easier to set up trucks that would annoy other people. Maybe that’s because there were three of us instead of four. I got the lions bonus, and no negatives so I won. Hurrah.

During this game, a Spanish guy, Gonzales Gonzalo (or Gonz, with the z pronounced as “th”) arrived and asked us if we were a group of board gamers. A very small group, yes, but still a group, said Joe. He joined us, even though he’d only been passing by chance. He was pretty clued up on games, though, and he said he knew Guildhall well, so that was the next one the four of us played.

Well, he said he knew it well, but he didn’t know about the “two actions per turn rule,” and he thought that each player only had one. However, he adapted quickly and soon became the person to attack. Despite all that, he still ended as a clear winner.

It was much more fun this time. I knew what the signs meant and what the cards did. It all seemed to make more sense this time, even though I came last by a mile. I was also a little put out by how quickly Martin learnt to read the symbols on each card, suggesting that my initial bemusement was more my failing than the designers.

Then we set up a new game. A brand new game that Martin had brought, that needed the cardboard pieces popped out of their boards before use. This is usually one of the best bits of any game, but I felt a bit self-conscious doing it in public. Unfortunately, there are no curtains on the windows at Roll For The Soul.

The game was The Palaces of Carrara, and Martin (who’d played before) suggested we dive in with the advanced version of the game, even though the advanced rules come in an envelope with a sticker that says not to play this version until you’ve played the basic game at least twice. It's not often you see rules with a health warning. But Martin thought we were up to it. He set the game out, explained the rules and we were off. On the table, it’s a bit of a beast, and has all the appearance of a lengthy strategic battle. So I began with buildings that would score money, which I could use later to build buildings that would score points.

Except, I never got the chance. Just as I was getting going, Martin ended the game. Each game has a different set of criteria that needed to be filled by one player for the game to end. It just so happened that in this game, they were all quite easy to achieve. We all had one turn left before the game ended, so the best we could do was to score what buildings we had available. And then in the end of game scoring, Martin sped off further around the score track, seriously threatening to lap us.

After this, we chose Las Vegas as a nice antidote. Random, silly and confrontational in a way that Guildhall isn’t: You can always blame the dice. Two remarkable rolls will live on in the memory. Joe’s final neutral dice that, if it were a four, would ruin Martin’s $90,000 haul. It was a four. And also my roll of three dice (two mine, one neutral) that came up all ones, and somehow knocked out Joe while giving me a quite undeserved win in his place.

But Vegas is like that. Every roll of the dice tells a dozen stories. Martin came first again, with me in second. I left after this, but the three of them carried on, with some card game about storming Hadrian’s Wall. I’m sure Joe will fill us in.

A good evening, with some exciting new people arriving at the GNN Mansion. We must welcome them and make sure they never leave.

I mean, that they stay here happily. Not that we kill them.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Guild until Dead

With people away or otherwise engaged, it was down to just the three of us tonight: myself, Joe and Sam. Sam came late and was initially distracted by the realisation that he’d misplaced his phone. He must have left back at the Encounters Short Film festival. But after a couple of phone calls to ask people to look for it, we began gaming. This, alone, marks him out as a gamer extraordinaire. I would’ve turned right around and gone back, but not Sam. He pressed on with his need for games. Amazing.

We began with a new game, Guildhall. This card game was recommended especially to Joe by the guy who works in our regular games shop. Whether this is a good thing or not is still undecided. The illustration on box of the game does not scream “We’re gonna have a good time tonight!” according to Joe. Unless board gamers are supposed to identify with a Peter Postlethwaite lookalike holding some pigs.

There are six different types of cards, and five colours of each. Each player has to get sets of five that they can then cash in for a Victory Point Card which is sitting in the centre of the table. First to 20VP wins.

But each card (even some of the VP cards) gives extra bonus actions when it is played. Careful timing and chaining of these actions is essential for success. It’s an odd game, sometimes a little counter-intuitive (it’s possible, for example, to discard no cards as part of your go).

Maybe it’s a grower, but it didn’t shine on it’s debut. It’s also quite confrontational, which is a fine line to walk here at GNN Mansions. We like our combat to be snide and as undetectable as possible. I was first to twenty points, thanks to picking up a “9 VP” card, and having enough to get another card the next go round. Sam spent most of the game using the word “shitbox” when looking through his cards. Joe went for farmers in a big way. Each to his own, I suppose.

Andrew 20
Joe 13
Sam 12

After this, with Adam absent, we broke out the High Society! This slightly-too-random game of trumps is high on our list of greats, even if it is an acquired taste. Like caviar, or the smell of the carpets in Harrod’s Executive Suite.

The first card turned over was a “x2”, and I went for it big time. It looked like I spent too much, though, since two times nothing is still nothing, and Joe started to pick up cards of his own. Sam played it safe and steered clear of the red bordered cards. Meanwhile Joe’s investment on a “x2” card was undone when he found himself picking up a “1/2” card putting him right back where he started. As it turned out, he scored fewest points and had least money. Talk about riches to rags!

Andrew 22
Sam 18
Joe OUT! (but he had 12)

After two light-ish games, we next decided on Africana. This game is a madcap romp back and forth across a continent. Sam went for early assistants, hoping the –5 damage would pay itself back. Joe got one and I foolishly got none at all. Any mojo I once had with this game has long since vanished, since I felt myself falling further behind. Sam scored in most bonus categories, but Joe’s specialisation in trinkets got him 18 points right there, which was enough to see him past Sam.

Joe 48
Sam 45
Andrew 34

A lovely evening, complete with “burnt toffee” flavour chocolate. On the form table, Adam still sits in pole position, but I reckon I can take him! He ain’t all that! Someone hold my coat!

Adam1 3 2 2 2 10
Andrew3 1 1 3 4 12
Sam 3 2 2 3 2 12
Hannah2 1 3 3 4 13
Joe1 3 2 4 4 14
Steve2 3 3 3 4 15
Anja3 2 5 1 5 16
Miles2 3 5 5 5 20
Jonny1 5 5 5 5 21
Quentin3 3 5 5 5 21
Lizzy2 5 5 5 5 22

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Bad case of the runs.

Last Wednesday Paul accepted my call to arriving a little earlier to try out Netrunner. After my inconclusive opening session with James I was keen to have another stab with the rules still fresh in my mind and that new game excitement still bubbling away. In the days since playing James I had been swotting up on the rules and trawling the forums to gain clarification on some aspects that had befuddled me.

Paul absorbed the rules impressively quick although an open hand set of turns was necessary to embed the process. I took the role of the Corporation as I felt it was a little trickier to handle first time round. My one game experience showed as Paul understandably hesitated over which cards to lay however the battle lines slowly drew up and turns rotated faster.

By now Paul was making frequent runs to search for my elusive agendas and coming away with nothing or only information on what my next cards were. Still I was getting stumped by exactly what some cards where telling us. In some cases it became clear, after a discussion, the appropriate action to take, others we left to be clarified later. In the meantime I was scoring agendas and had built a formidable defence. However, one area which I had left weakly covered was my deck of draw cards (R&D). Paul played an event card which allowed him to access the three top most cards on my deck on completion of a successful run. Swatting aside my flimsy protection he accessed the deck and revealed two agenda cards worth 3 points each. We were tied at six points each, the next score out would win the game. Two turns later I had it. 8 - 6.

The game was still missing something. Paul felt that a lot of his cards were too weak or too specific to be of any use. On my second game I still felt that it was crying out for a list of card explanations. 

I'm going to give it one more go to see if I can get to grips with it. Last week I was excited to play again but after my second game a lot of my enthusiasm has wained.

We then had 30 minutes to squeeze a game in before the kids turned up so we opted for little Agricola. Paul's rustiness on this game was greater than mine coupled with a nasty tactic I employed where I nicked the extra expansion field and compacted his farm.

Chris - 50 odd
Paul - 40 odd.

After dinner had been eaten and children packed off to bed, James arrived ready to play our second instalment of Taj Mahal. This one was another nail biter with the scoring positions remaining close all game. James even admitted toward the end that he was actually pretty tense as we went into the final round. However James it was who had managed his hand, done the maths and made the special cards work for him the best at the end trotting out the winner.

James - 54
Chris - 47
Paul - 43

Paul was then offered the choice of games to play next due to his third place in Taj Mahal (Which we might make a thing). He selected a strong favourite of his Alhambra and showed why by wiping the floor with both of us. Scoring a wall of twenty plus in each scoring round is never a bad thing. I did my usual trick of walling myself in, using up vital moves in rearranging the tiles and James had one of those games where he just couldn't get started.

Paul - 178
Chris - 128
James - 98

Rainy Day Games

On a wet Sunday there wasn't much to do in the house. Having exhausted a few appealing options (Lego, books, squabbling) the three boys in the house decided to break out the games.

The final front room

First to the table was Galaxy Trucker. Aside from the timer the boys are now at the stage where they can play this - Stanley completely independently; Joe given some assistance at the build stage. As a result of this assistance Joe always finished his ship-building first, which was to serve him well in a decidedly peaceful universe. I talk them through the cards and while the finer details are still hazy the gist of it - grab cargo, avoid attacks, arrive in first if possible - is pretty much there. However Stan's admirable independence in building his own ship meant he always travelled at the back; and the way the cards came out favoured the front runner. We played all three rounds and Stan and I were soundly beaten by Joe, despite him spending much of round three reviewing proceedings from a static piggy-back position (my back):

Joe 88
Sam 63
Stanley 60

Next up was String Railways. This was a bit of an impulse by after a first-play impression - I thinnk it's not been out of the box much since. Not enough for me to be fully cognizant of the rules anyway - we did a sort of basic version which Stanley won by a significant margin:

Stanley 32
Joe 23
Sam 20
It's impossible to get a serious photo. Impossible.

Finally with the boys really getting into the gaming spirit we brought out Portobello Market. This s a bit of a halfway house game - it looks like a full-on game but time-wise could be thought of as a filler, as it can be over in well under an hour. I realised my explaining skills were not confined to Tuesday nights - as I did my usual mistake of explaining the turn order without giving the theme - when Stan said "But what am I actually trying to do?"

Stan and I drew the first game (66 each? Can't remember) then we drew the second game 82 each with Joe - assisted, but enthusiastic - 1 point behind us.


Just like a Tuesday night though, all good things must come to an end. So we went upstairs and read a bit more of The Hobbit. It's really violent! I felt like complaining to someone. But who?

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Jonny finally showed

It’ll take a little more than steady late-summer rain to keep us gamers away from a table. Especially when it means a return for old-timer Jonny after a lengthy period of paternity leave from GNN. It was he, I, Sam, Adam and Hannah in attendance. We decided to play Ra, since Jonny had played it before and we wanted to avoid that old situation of Jonny having to learn a new set of rules every games night. Mind you, it had been so long since he last played that he needed a reminder anyway.

Adam brought snacks (or, more accurately, left overs) of ciabatta bread, and Sam laid on a small bowl of olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping. Jonny also brought sea salt and Chardonnay vinegar crisps. Horrendously middle class, but it did taste nice.

Ra began with a nightmare scenario. Ra after Ra was pulled from the bag, and before we knew it, the round was almost half done with most of us not having bid for anything. Thus, it was slim pickings and anyone who ended the round with more points than they started with was doing well.

Not nibbles: that's the discard pile

The second round, for me, was just as bad. I had weak tiles and came away with little. Hannah, though, noticed that there were far fewer Ra tiles coming out, so she hung back and waited until she was last. She had two tiles unused and so was able to take her pick of tiles that she drew from the suddenly very generous bag.

That was the turning point for her, and put her in prime position at the end of round two. And during the scoring I actually dipped down to having just one point, but I scrambled back some dignity with a nile. I was still convinced that I was heading for last place.

I did, however, go into the last round with strong tiles. I bagsied a bunch of buildings and Sam jealously guarded his lead on Pharaohs. Adam had a long Nile and buildings and this time, he was the one to have the auction track all to himself at the end of the round. But this time, there were fewer Ra spaces, and the round ended before he had a chance to pick up some final tiles. He then ruefully looked through the undrawn tiles, trying to work out where it had all gone wrong, and what might have been. Like a ruined man at a race course staring at the losing betting slips in his hand.

Of course Hannah won, and Sam a comfortable second.

Hannah 51
Sam 40
Adam 25
Andrew 21
Jonny 12

After this was a spell of everyone’s favourite battle against game theory The Resistance. The rules were explained to Jonny, but it was a strange introduction to the game. Sam spent most of the first round away from the table, making tea. Plus, Jonny himself was a spy, which is always difficult. It was made harder by Adam’s decision to put in a Fail in the first round, labelling either me or him as spies. This meant Jonny had to talk his way into the game and that was a lot to ask for a newcomer.

In the end, although I very nearly persuaded everyone that I was a spy, the Resistance won and the dystopian future was made all better. Nice to see that The Resistance is just as confusing for five players as it is for ten.

Winners: Sam, Hannah, Andrew
Losers: Adam, Jonny

One last game before we set out into the night. Tsuro was chosen as being quick and simple. I was in trouble early on, boxed in by Adam and Jonny but I lasted long enough that Sam was knocked out of the game first. Adam finished off Hannah and then he and Jonny found themselves face to face in a world without exits. If it sounds like a John Woo movie, it shouldn’t. It just means they came joint first.

1. Jonny
1. Adam
2. Hannah
3. Andrew
4. Sam

Adam now leads form table but it’s tight at the top. Jonny edges ahead of Quentin. Only a couple of weeks before the season’s end!

Adam1 3 2 2 2 10
Sam 3 2 3 1 1 10
Andrew3 4 1 3 1 12
Hannah2 1 3 3 4 13
Steve2 3 3 3 4 15
Anja3 2 5 1 5 16
Joe4 4 4 4 2 18
Miles2 3 5 5 5 20
Jonny1 5 5 5 5 21
Quentin3 3 5 5 5 21
Lizzy2 5 5 5 5 22

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Rule Fuel

That’s what Joe should have taken before two games which both needed a walkthrough of the rules before we began, and Joe felt the full force of The Explainer’s Curse.

But to begin at the beginning: It was the core four in attendance, with a possible late arrival from Will and faint rumours of a new gamer who may have joined us but couldn’t. This newcomer is one of Joe’s “internet friends” and we worried that Joe is being groomed.

Sam and Adam ate chips and we brought Trains! to the table. This “Dominion Plus” was raved about by Joe and Adam after there first encounter with it, so Sam and I agreed to it’s quick return to the table. Joe cleverly combined rule-explanation with the lengthy time needed to set out all the cards.

We chose the Tokyo side, which meant there were only two places where I could say “I’ve been there” so I didn’t bother. When we began, Joe seemed to be in prime position, with almost half the board to himself and the rest of us clustered in the Western half. However, we found that this game relies on riding in on others’ good works. It’s all well and good keeping all your points to yourself, but to get a good score needs a little (unwilling) co-operation.

Adam was chaining his cards together so efficiently that I wondered if he’d actually dealt himself more than five cards. I asked if he was cheating, but it was meant as a compliment. Sam picked his way through the rules and seemed to be doing okay. I seemed to be the only one discarding waste when I had the chance. In fact, we managed to exhaust the waste deck which can’t have been good for the environment.

In the end, Sam won comfortably, with Joe amazed at how badly he did.

Sam 53
Adam 41
Andrew 31
Joe 28

After this, a selection of games was considered, with Zooloretto being chosen. Not the tiny dice-based game, but the full, widescreen experience of tiles being drawn from bags and zoo expansions. Sam and I were newcomers, and Joe talked us through the game. Draw tiles, place tiles on a truck (of three tiles, maximum) or take a truck or pay money to do something. That’s the bare bones of the game and I’m sure that, given time, it’s underlying strategy may reveal itself in all its clever glory. On first play, though, I simply tried to specialise and hoped for the best.

There was a notable lack of money in the game and it wasn’t until the game was almost over that Joe remembered the rule that finishing certain areas got you some cash. By then, it was too late, and when we came to count up Sam discovered that he’d misunderstood the scoring rules, and his half-finished areas weren’t as valuable as he’d thought. Joe’s paternal instincts must have distracted him once again, as he trailed in last.

Andrew 22
Adam 21
Sam 19
Joe 17

On the Form Table, I remain top but Adam looks ready to pounce.

Andrew1 3 1 2 1 8
Adam2 2 2 1 2 9
Sam 3 1 1 3 3 11
Steve2 3 3 3 4 15
Hannah3 3 4 1 4 15
Anja3 2 5 1 5 16
Joe4 4 4 4 2 18
Miles2 3 5 5 5 20
Quentin3 3 5 5 5 21
Lizzy2 5 5 5 5 22

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Chips with everything!

It was the third Roll for the Soul evening, and after the hoards that attended last time, this week we were somewhat fewer in number. Five, at most, with only four playing at once. At first, there were two: Adam and Joe, playing Zooloretto. I watched for a bit and discussed with the cafe owner the fact that board gamers don’t ask for a glass with their bottle of beer, for want of precious table space. The game itself is baffling, and Adam won as I recall. But Joe’s chips were the real winner. Very nice, they were.

Then Hannah arrived and we bagsied a bigger table (not the sticky one in the corner, though) and played Tsuro of the Seas sans dragons. I won, thanks to Adam and Hannah passing the chance to finish me off to each other until I was able to place a tile that sent them both off the board together. Joe came in second once the space in his corner ran out.

We were perhaps a little put out by the fact that, outside, a family were playing an interesting board game, which involved using a length of elastic to twang small wooden pucks through a gap in a centre partition, while your opponent tries to do the same. I wish we'd popped out to ask what it was, because I can't find it on the internet. Alas, our geek pride wouldn't allow it.

Then we played a new game. Sticheln. The simple game of trumps, except you want to avoid tricks with a certain suit, and the first card in a round is never trumps. If it sounds peculiar, then it should. But I think we got the hang of it fairly quickly.

Hannah misunderstood the rules and went through the first round trying to not pick up tricks at all, but she has an excuse. We were all distracted by a big bowl of chips being delivered to our table for free since the chef had made them by mistake.

After round one, Katy arrived, and watched us play a second round of Sticheln while she ate roast veg in a wrap or something. With chips! By now, though, we’d all had our fill so she did not have to put up with us diving in like starving seagulls.

As far as the scores went, Joe scored most (9) in round one and Adam scored most (10) in round two, with everyone else getting negative points. I enjoyed it. It’s got a flavour of 6nimmt, but without taking up so much space and also it has the added aspect of sometimes wanting to pick up cards.

Afterwards, we pondered about what the five of us could play. Then Katy said she had to dash off in a bit, so we pondered about what the four of us could play. Then Hannah said she should probably go soon, too, so the three of us decided to play Trains! The Japanese train game that is just Dominion with a board and cubes and stuff.

The idea is to use your hand of five cards (which gets recycled into your own personal deck a la Dominion) to connect and upgrade stations around Japanese cities. I chose the Osaka side of the board, since I’ve been there twice and I was able to say “I’ve been there” whenever certain stations were mentioned.

It was very Dominion-ish. I’m not convinced the board made a huge difference, but it has been a long time since I played Dominion. Adam said he was enjoying it even before he won (beating Joe by two or three points, I was miles behind). Maybe it needs a little more time for it to grow on me.

Otherwise, a nice evening and, hopefully with a little more publicity, we can get right back to an attendance in double figures next time.

Intruder Alert!

Wednesday night saw James and myself take on one of the more inaccessible games around Android:Netrunner. On reading many reviews and speaking to the guys in the shop I knew that the game was unapologetically theme heavy and awkward to learn. Admittedly James and I probably aren't its target demographic as it is a Living Card Game akin to Magic (But not a CCG - Big difference apparently!) but almost every review and person I've spoken to says it's worth the learning curve.

It is set in a Blade Runner style (The word dystopian gets used a lot) future where Corporations are the real powers and Hackers known as Runners are their sworn enemies. It's a strict two player game where one side plays the Corporation and the other a Runner. Corporations are essentially defending their servers from attack by Runners and Runners are trying to gain access to those servers to steal information. The prime winning margin are things called Agendas. The Corporation installs them into their servers and tries to Advance them (Pay for them) and thus they can be scored. Conversely the Runner tries to steal them from the servers using programs that cut through the Corporations defences.

Still with me? The language gets a lot worse. After you've used a few clicks and spent some credits to rez your ICE or ICE breaker you feel like genuine nerd.
A dystopian landscape
The Final Flight Fantasy website has some really natty videos to help train you to play which we both watched ahead of the evening but after 5 minutes of me trying to explain the rules James felt his soul leaving his body and pleaded that we launch straight into it and treat the start as a training game.

When playing these more complex systems, getting a handle on what is a good move is quite impossible. Therefore we dove straight in placing down impressive looking cards and talking the talk. Our game play did speed up although a rule referral was never far away and irritatingly the rule book didn't supply a break down of the individual cards to aid comprehension.
Action tracker - thats clicks to you

In the end the result was a narrow win for me as the Runner. 7 Agenda points to 6, 7 being the winning margin. Chatting afterwards we agreed that the game didn't really click with us. We couldn't generate the tension that is supposed to be the best part of the game. I had a pretty powerful card and it seemed to rip through James' defences if I had enough money. We were left pondering whether we had played it entirely correctly.

We decided to give it another chance the next time we have a games evening because there is a cool game in there somewhere, we just need to see if we can find it.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Then we take Berlin!

Steve and Anja hosted for this week’s games night. Sam and I were only slightly late, which was a lot less late then Adam and Hannah, who arrived after twenty minutes! I almost put a red circle beside their names in the GNN register.

They arrived, and we decided on two three-player games. Anja had been keen on Wallenstein from the start, so she, I and Steve became a group. Adam, Sam and Hannah plumped for the equally-German Castles of Burgundy.

I was wished the best of luck, since I was up against two old hands at Wallensteining. Steve started the psychological games early, by reminding me of how I never stood up to Anja in the last game the three of us played. I stayed above it, vowing that it wouldn’t sway me from my tactic.

There was a quick rule refresher, during which I was briefly distracted by the fact that Burgundy (ie, the location of the other game) was on the map of the game we were playing. That both tables were playing a game in the same territory felt like a sort of Marvel-DC crossover.

The game commenced, and I leapt into action. This time I was determined not to wait for my opponents to build up their armies on my borders. Thus, when Anja threatened on my northern side, I attacked, despite being understrength. I got a result. I didn’t win, but I did nullify her threat, which allowed me to concentrate elsewhere.

In fact, tonight was not Anja’s lucky night. She fought one battle, and I put the armies into the tower, only to see her commanding lead vanish by a freakish number of farmers coming out too. The next time she went to war, she asked Steve to drop the armies into the tower, only for the same thing to happen again. She was sitting too far away to see, but there was definitely a stunned silence when Steve and I saw the result as we tried to work out how best to tell her. We tried to cheer her up by telling her that the tower must be packed with red cubes by now.

In the event, none of them came out until the very last battle. By that time, her strategy was in ruins. I had expanded from my position in the west, slowly but surely, eating into Steve’s territories and keeping Anja at arm’s length. I was helped by Anja and Steve fighting over Austria, giving me precious breathing space.

It was a long war, especially with Luther coming down for a visit mid-game. By the time we’d finished, Adam and Hannah had already left. Luckily for me, Sam stayed until the end so I got a lift back.

On the other table, it ended:

Sam 225
Adam 199
Hannah 173

And on our table, it finished

Andrew 56
Steve 51
Anja 46

Interesting to note how symmetrical our scores were: on Wallenstein, 5 points separated first from second AND second from third, while on CoB 26 points separated first from second AND second from third. Good work, everyone!

Wallenstein is great, if stressful. And it does tell a good story, in which alliances rise and fall and the path of history can change on the result of one battle. Not a game I fancy playing every week, but definitely worth a look every now and again.

On the form table, I think I reach a personal best! Sam squeezes into second on the best-most-recent rule.

Andrew1 2 1 1 2 7
Sam 1 3 3 1 3 11
Adam2 1 2 2 4 11
Joe4 4 2 2 2 14
Steve2 3 3 3 4 15
Hannah3 3 4 1 4 15
Anja3 2 5 1 5 16
Miles2 3 5 5 5 20
Quentin3 3 5 5 5 21
Lizzy2 5 5 5 5 22

Sunday, 1 September 2013


A lovely afternoon spent in James' back garden watching our respective children 'debate' the turn order on the slide seemed an unlikely place to fit in a new game. Many moons ago James, Charlotte (James' wife) and I passed round Dave Gorman's book (Vs the world) on playing games. One of the stand out games he played was a garden game called Smite. James revealed that he obtained a copy called "Knock Down" but was essentially the same thing.
The bits

The rules, a thing of simplistic beauty. Throw a lump of wood at a clustered array of numbered pegs and score accordingly. If you knock down a single pin you score the amount on the pin, from one to twelve. However if you knock down more than one you score the total number of pins knocked down. One to Twelve not the cumulative point score. You need to score exactly 50 taking turns with your opponent, if you bust you start from 25. The best part of the game is that as the pins get knocked asunder they are positioned upright where they fall. This rule is the key element to its attraction. The dilemma of going for a high pin slightly on it's own over going for numbers in clustered pins can be agonising. Especially when you cock it up.
An athlete

In the first game we (Jacquie Ashton Ava Rose and I) bust 3 times whereas they (James Charlotte and Jimmy) made steady progress reaching an unbusted 49. An accurate throw to the stranded number 1 peg sealed the game for them. In the second and third games Jacquie and myself made highly unlikely throws on pegs 7 and 12 respectively to win them.

It's Jimmy's birthday next week. I'm hoping Smite might be set up in the corner for the dads to pretend they're not really competitive whilst wanging a stick around. Smite is a fiendishly addictive game which kids and adults can play together in their back garden. It's great!