Wednesday, 2 October 2013

First and Last and Always

That’s how the new season began for me.

I arrived first and, having only recently learnt that the right way to knock on Joe’s door was to rattle the letter-box, I completely missed the new and handsome door knocker that’s now attached. Joe patiently pointed it out to me, and even gave a little demonstration, so I’d know for next time.

There were four of us: myself, Joe, Adam and Gonz. At the start of the evening, while we were waiting for Gonz, we decided to have a look at a new game: Renaissance Man. Joe had played this game half a dozen times as a single player, so he knew the rules well. When Gonz arrived we were still looking at it and, since it was already out we decided to give it a go.

The reception was not great. It’s sort of like Ludo, but with cards. In Ludo, you have no choice but to wait patiently for the right roll of the die. In Renaissance Man, if you don’t have the right card, then there’s not a lot you can do. The game looks as if it’s giving you options, but it’s only an illusion. Each card has an action, but to do those, you still need the right card. There are four cards in the middle of the table that you can fight over, but only if you have the right card. Also, as the game progresses, and people’s pyramids of cards are built, you get more actions per turn (one go per level) but fewer actions to chose from (you can only action those cards which are not covered).

At the end, Adam needed one more card to build his pyramid, and his game was reduced to picking up new cards at the start of each round, hoping one would fit, and if they didn’t, he couldn’t do anything. I was close, but I had a little leeway in my actions. Then I worked out how three cards in my hand would work together, so I was able to win triumphantly (or rather, put us all out of our misery).

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

Joe apologised as he put the game away. He said during the game that he didn’t understand how the problem of just waiting for the right card hadn’t come up in play-testing. Then he had the terrible thought that perhaps it had, but the play-testers had gone “Hey, this is fun!”

I could see how it might be an enjoyable single-player: just you, your objective, and a strict time limit. As a multi-player, it was very dry and with almost no interaction except over the four cards in the centre. I will hold off from rating it on BGG so Joe can trade it away before its reputation spreads.

After this, we were in need of a pick-me-up. Gonz suggested Space Alert, which was certainly a complete change, but we wanted something less co-operative. We chose Stone Age. A classic, by any definition of the word. Gonz needed some prompting since he was used to playing on the computer, which did all the collecting stuff/moving pieces for you. Adam, too, needed a helping hand since he seemed to “round up” some of his sums at the start of the game.

I went for civilisations, and had half a plan to go for people multipliers, but it wasn’t to be. Adam got into farms and axes early - the Sam tactic, as he later called it. Joe got a bit of everything and Gonz built his family up. But mostly we were all in thrall to the Stinky Cup. Oh, Stinky Cup! Somehow it’s peculiar aroma adds to the realism of a game based on unbathed hunter-gatherers.

Everyone except me went for huts in a big way. I was mortally hurt mid-game by two rolls for food that came up snake eyes, and me with no axes! I almost starved! Luckily, stone-age man could digest wood. We used two of Joe's finest dice arenas, and Joe managed to roll a die in such a way that it paused dramatically on one corner, before settling on five. Adam shot off further and further into the lead, and it was a comprehensive win by the end.

Adam 206
Gonz 185
Joe 181
Andrew 154

After this, the rain had begun and we set off into the night. A new season is underway! New hopes, new dreams, new horizons! Surely, if God hadn’t meant us not to play games, he wouldn’t have made cubes dice-shaped!

Adam125 5 518
Gonz235 55 20
Andrew415 5520
Joe335 55 21


  1. Hey, I just noticed that 206 is a new record for us on a four-player game of Stone Age: Adam beats his own previous best of 183!

  2. Well done Adaaaaam (through gritted teeth). But honestly, there was an aura of quiet confidence emanating from the yellow corner throughout, from the baffling 'buying a hut for as few points as possible' at the beginning through to the 'I'm not going to end the game now, let's play another round' at the end.
    Ah Stone Age - it really is a most perfect game I think; just the right balance of luck and strategy, with caveman parties thrown in. I think Martin Dennny's Exotica made an excellent musical accompaniment, though four albums-worth may have tested that theory to breaking point.

    It was in fact Gonz's dice roll that hovered on its corner for while - until Gonz pointed at it sternly, at which point it decided to be a five.

    And just for the record, Adam's race into the lead was all behind closed doors rather than on the board, as it were. I seem to remember he spent almost the entire game in third or fourth place; we've played this enough to know what that meant, but how could we have stopped him? He managed his endgame bonuses with aplomb; though I thought Andrew was in with a shout with all his civs.

    As an interesting side-note, what other games feature a 'party' mechanism, where you hand out free stuff to all the other players? It's a real nice little thing (which you can be sort of sneaky with).

  3. Some Intrigue cards in LOW allow you to give your opponents stuff. Puerto Rico's whole mechanic is based on it.

  4. I ve discovered a kindred spirit in your entry: I also rattled the letter box!
    Also, what's the point of opposable thumbs if not playing games?
    For games with party mechanics, Lords of Waterdeep does something like that with some intrigue cards.
    Had a blast yesterday, guys! All hail the smelly cube!

  5. sorry that was an excited exclamation by me, not a suggestion.

  6. I'd assume Renaissance Man would be a bit less annoying on the second or third play, but I don't see it becoming a lot of fun. An unlikely chain like the one Andrew used to win is probably the high point.

    On the other hand I'd forgotten how much I like Stone age. I was worried that the digital practise that Joe and Gonz have been getting would give them the edge. But copying Sam's tactic of axes and axe multipliers gave me extra resources and big bonus points, while my own tactic of cheap huts and hut multipliers gets you bonus points at a cut price. I think I was lucky that Gonz didn't value agriculture very highly - so I got extra fields and didn't have to go hunting and gathering.

    My forcing of the extra round was really in the hope that I'd be able to get two huts to use my stash of resources on, but everyone wanted a hut so that didn't work...

    I guess we should give Space Alert another go while we remember the rules, but it feels too much like being an incompetant Star Trek crew! Also I have a problem with authority.

  7. I too have the Stone Age app Adam, but the AI players act quite differently to human players do. I found that when I tried to play the same way with our group I lost quite badly and realised I'd forgotten the basics...

  8. I've played more Stone Age online against real people (and won) than I have against the AI, but it didn't help me . . . in fact the previous game was me, Andrew and Will who had never played before - and I came last! (I blame rule teacher's malaise).

    Getting farms quickly is a huge benefit, probably the best single first move. It does give the first player a big advantage if they choose farms - and if other players don't follow suit on their turn, and you can grab two farms in the first full round, that's huge.