Monday, 30 December 2013

Walking Statue, meet Walking Dead

The start to 2014 was brought forwards by two days as Steve and Anja offered to host an evening of games. Five of us were in attendance, which made it leaderboard! The two hosts, myself and Sam, and Adam who was proudly carrying his new zombie game based on the hit TV show The Walking Dead. I glanced at it unsurely: zombie survival games are not a favourite at GNN Towers and nor are TV/film/book tie-ins. Put the two together, and it seems like a recipe for disaster.

But we’ll skip over that for now. In the meantime, we had five gamers who needed gaming. Which was it to be. Sam expressed a desire for an early night, so Railways of the World was out, as was Princes of Florence. In the end, the only game that felt right was Lords of Waterdeep.

Adam and Anja got a rule refresher and we got started. Five-player Waterdeep is a strange beast. Even with only two meeples each, options are limited. It seems that Intrigue cards are essential, since they give an extra “go” as you move your men out of Waterdeep harbour. And popular buildings, too, help in getting bonuses without doing anything.

Mid game, it looked like it was between Steve and Sam, with Adam bemoaning his fate in last place. But I couldn’t help but notice his large selection of cubes divided neatly into quest-completing groups. Before long, he took off in pursuit of Steve who had shot off into the lead thanks to some big-point quests. So great was his lead, that we felt no guilt at all in plundering some of his Christmas stash of chocolates to keep us going.

Steve's lead.

In the final reckoning, Sam, Anja and I were all in close competition for last, and it was decided on our baron bonuses. At the business end of the scoretrack, Adam found that his healthy 36-point-bonus just fell short of catching Steve, who started this season with a win!

Steve 137
Adam 134
Sam 123
Andrew 115
Anja 109

We then debated our next game. Something short, so Sam could get his early night. Adam said he’d brought 6nimmt, so we happily agreed to a couple of rounds. Imagine our surprise when he brought The Walking Dead to the table. It turns out that this TV-tie-in is just 6nimmt with different graphics. Instead of some cows, it’s all about zombies and bullets. Otherwise, the game is identical.

Zombie ladies! Everywhere!

It does have a certain thematic quality, as the rows of zombies spread across the table, it can be likened to massed hoards of the undead pushing themselves against the windows of the lonely cottage where you’ve all chosen to hide with only a shotgun and half a can of gasoline to protect you.

I didn’t have much luck with the cards, but who am I trying to kid? If it was about luck, then it wouldn’t always be between the same two players: Sam and Adam. Sam took the win this time.

Sam 13
Adam 14
Steve 28
Anja 44
Andrew 51

And so we at GNN celebrate the New Year a full 48 hours before anyone else! And 2014 begins with Sam sitting on top of the form table.

Sam135 55 19
Adam225 5 519
Steve315 55 19
Andrew545 5524
Anja455 5524

Carcass: Four

Yesterday Sally and I joined Mark and Katie for a post-Christmas drink or two, and as often happens, post-kids-bedtime found ourselves congregating round the table for a game.

I'd brought a few options and subtly (ie transparently) mentioned that Tinner's Trail was my favourite game. Already a margarita or two to the good, nobody bit. Instead we played Love Letter, the game where each player is a suitor desperate to get a letter to the princess. Why she'd go for any of such a bunch of cut-throats  is anyone's guess, but after a tentative first round we were quickly up to speed, and it was Katie who won the Princess' heart:

Katie - 3 cubes
Mark/Sam - 1 cube
Sally - no cubes

courtesy Nekau, BGG

After that we moved on to hardy perennial Carcassone, the game of geographical and geometric discovery and possession. You place tiles; you hope no-one notices your farmer stealthily encroaching on someone else's. Sally spent the first half of the game picking up chapels and the second picking up roads, so much so that I assumed she was no threat and used the last tile of the game to complete her one city (benefiting my farmer). It was a mistake:

Sally 83
Sam 79
Mark 59
Katie 57

Sally's incomplete chapels and very long cul-de-sac (12 tiles!) were enough, aligned with one productive farmer, to cement her victory in a game of curiously few completed cities. When she realised she had won the look on her face was one of several competing emotions - I think shock won out over disbelief and awe.







All of which means my iron grip on the table has been loosened, and there's some jostling for position below me as Katie and Sally both climb past Mark, pushing him down to fourth.

Then we all slept really badly and woke up with margarita heads. See you tonight!

Saturday, 28 December 2013

The 13th, 14th and 15th Games of Christmas

Saturday night. Andrew was on his way over, and Railways was set up and ready to go. My new game Olympos didn't play two and neither did Canal Mania, which Andrew and I are both keen to revisit, so Railways it was.

 mmmm railways

Having set the board up, I took longer than usual studying it. I didn't think it was fair also knowing my Baron or the Railroad Operation cards, but I did peruse the board for a while and work out what my first move what be. Then Andrew arrived, we turned over the Railroad Operation cards and my plans completely changed.

Andrew didn't contest the obvious opening move too much; clearly he was thinking long term. I had the benefit of scoring 5 points in the opening round and getting myself in a reasonable position on the scoretrack, whilst Andrew mirrored my last game and took bonds to the extent he had to pay back money to the bank.

In fact I surged into such a healthy lead I started to feel confident and even said "Maybe this is the night!" - having never won Railways before. But of course Andrew came back at me - and we commenced a game of cat and mouse, as I would surge up the track only to find him breathing down my neck again. The difference this time was the bonds - for once I'd managed them with some restraint - and Andrew cursed Martins name, as the last time we saw him he said he regularly took 15 or so bonds. Andrew ended the game with ten, and it was too many:

Sam 107
Andrew 92

I was overjoyed to finally win a game of RotW, even if it was a 2-player. I first played it nearly two years ago! However games are a fickle mistress and we swiftly moved on. Andrew was in the mood for Arkadia, something he and I have played a few times as a 2-player and always enjoyed (it plays up to 4). The theme is gossamer light; basically it's a game of puzzles and patterns.

mmmm arkadia

Having not played in a good while we started slowly, but both of us built up a head of steam in what will go down in Arkadia Lore (admittedly a niche interest) as a classic. I thought I'd done enough to win, but when Andrew revealed his final cache of seals he had heaps - enough to catch me up and force a spectacular draw:

Andrew/Sam 110

We didn't check for a tie-breaker rule actually. Oh well.

By now we were fairly drunk and there was just enough time for Biblios. Both of us fretted our way through the game as the dice values skittered up and down and nobody seemed 100% sure of what they had. But when the cards were revealed I managed to hang on to the Mr Biblios title - for now.

Sam 10
Andrew 3

Very nice night, thanks Andrew. Happy New Year everyone!

12 Games of Christmas

This Christmas was the first Yuletide under our roof where it felt like actual activities substantially outweighed behavior-management. Stanley and (Little) Joe continue to have their moments of course, but their evolution from meeple-scattering tots to brow-furrowing AP merchants has taken a giant step forward.

As well as the savage violence of the allegedly infant-friendly The Hobbit we've managed to get several other games on the table. During the Morrison Christmas (23rd) Stanley, my mum and I played Love Letter. My mum displayed an impressive range of table manipulation, and though as much of it was directed at a 6-year-old to be fair she did enough to win. It's always the quiet ones, isn't it?

On Christmas Day Stanley and I played Lords of Waterdeep for the first time. And while some of the subtler tactics (or screwage) were beyond him, he clicked into the quest-fulfilling immediately and whilst I stagnated at the start, shot off along the score track. I never recovered:

Stanley 104
Sam 99

Then whilst Stan was off playing his drum kit Joe and I played a round of Galaxy Trucker. Joe beat me (though I did help him build his ship, so, y'know) and then we set about building the ideal third-round ship together:

only thing is should there be lasers pointing sideways on those horizontal sevens?

On the 27th Sally's family arrived en masse and what brother-in-law Matt and I have christened "The Chatothon" commenced. As relative light-weights in that department we managed to sneak in a couple of games of Biblios. Despite having never played it before Matt wiped the floor with me, chalking up what I think is a maximum win at 15-3 in his favour. Obviously I wasn't going to let that stand, and beat him in the return 9-5.

And several times Joe has requested Sumeria. We're playing it more or less correctly; on everyone's turn they add a trader to the land of Sumer, boosting that particular region; which means it moves to the left (or "up") in that row of region cards you see beneath the board. So throughout these regions are jostling for position. At certain stages of the game the top three regions reward those with a presence in them with some goods. And at the end of the game players score the amount of goods they have (any particular colour is squared, so 3 blue goods tiles gets you 9 points whereas 1 goods cube of green, blue and yellow would only get you three points)

Joe and I have played together; we've played with Stanley, and we've played with Stanley and Sally. I've won all these games, but losing doesn't affect Joe - he just announces that he won anyway. 

It's good fun - and as with Waterdeep, Stan has cottoned on to it - when all four of us played last night, the scores were:

Sam 32
Stan 22
Joe 1
Sally 1

We've also played Old MacDonald Lotto, Plop Trumps (don't ask) and a number of games of Pitch Car, which Joe has a bit of a knack for, beating me and Stan. Occasionally I think 'Oh I'll start taking this seriously' and promptly flick my car off the track...

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

The Bristolian year in review


A slightly melancholy start to the year, as our seemingly endless rise in gaming excitement finally levelled out. We went to Stabcon and found it a slightly hollow experience. Surely, some of the blame was ours: a distinct lack of socialising, but equally we decided it made more sense to arrange gaming weekends around the needs of our friends and family rather than the needs of some geeks who know the rules to every game off by heart, but seem to have forgotten where they put the soap.

Hacienda made a brief two-player appearance, and Joe put together a detailed description of Commands and Colours, complete with arrows drawn on the photos.

Other notable events: Adam came last in Railways of the World! Adam got Norovirus at Stabcon! Not a great month for the creeping custard.


This month saw a rise in fortunes for the yellow smartie. I don’t mean Adam, but the sweet, which was used in a game of Downfall Of Pompeii due to a lack of meeples.

We also discovered the joys of Eclipse after Quentin gamely brought it one evening, despite it being shooed off the table last time he suggested it. If at first you don’t succeed... Also, Snowdonia became briefly fashionable while Libertalia had an unsure debut.

The highlight of the month was the weekend in the countryside with no telephone signal, but there was wifi. A strange sort of isolation. Nine of us squeezed into a small cottage, with table space at such a premium, that dinners were eaten off laps or sat on the floor.


This month saw Joe’s brave attempt at mixing babysitting and a games night. Some hardened gamers put their wits against Joe’s three daughters at a game of Long Shot. The game was fun, but a little overlong. The children were funnier.

As for other games, it was a month of newcomers! Kingdom Builder appeared on our radar, as did Call To Glory, Scripts and Scribes, and Canal Mania.


This month began with Tzolkin getting some cautiously positive vibes, but ended with it firmly in Joe’s bad books. I guess the mix of four players, multiple scoring methods and paths to get there plus a board that keeps moving wasn’t the right combination for him.

Meanwhile, I was not impressed by Spartacus. Samurai, though, was much more fun. Bora Bora made its first appearance. We taught Adam how to play Castles of Burgundy and then he taught us how to win Castles of Burgundy.


After Spartacus got the thumbs down, another Ameri-trash game turned up, giving it all that. Blood Bowl brought out the gleefully sadistic child in Jon but, as I recall, left Adam unmoved.

There was a rare excursion to Will’s house, but surely the high point of the month was Joe hitting the jackpot, picking up not one but two new dice arenas. The star of the show (simply because of the amount of space it takes up) must be Das Exclusive. Big enough to have it’s own pen holders, it’s a luxurious throwback to a time when smoking indoors was considered perfectly reasonable behaviour.


In this month, I finally scratched a gaming itch that had lasted for about thirty years. I had a fond memory of a chess-like game called Campaign played once in my childhood. Since Sam had a copy, we got it out at my request. Well, all I can say is: memories can be cruel.

A Castle For All Seasons made its debut. Another game that started well, but has found itself failing on a couple of aspects, so now it often gets passed over for other options despite it belonging to that rare group of deep-yet-short games.

And Sam scored zero in Biblios!


It was a crazy summer of love for one game: Cube Quest. It turned up like a holiday romance and we were all besotted. It still makes an appearance occasionally, even if the ardour has cooled.

Joe also dazzled the gaming world with his skills in fitting thirteen games into a shoebox, in readiness for a holiday of games, games, games! I’m sure his wife was overjoyed when she saw that.


This month saw the first ever Roll For The Soul evening. We played out in the open (or, at least, near some windows) for the first time, hoping to trap any passer-by who saw how happy and fulfilled we were, and asked what we were doing. It hasn’t usually worked out that way, but it’s still early days.

New for this month was the deceptively mean-spirited Metro. Very confrontational, even if you’re trying hard not to be.

Also, we finally got Space Alert! to the table, after months of putting it off. It’s similar to Galaxy Trucker in that there’s the same sense of fighting off danger at every turn. Joe was our captain and, like every good captain should, he went down with his ship.


Two new people arrived at GNN Towers this month! One recruited (or groomed) on Board Game Geek by Joe, and the other just happened to be passing Roll For The Soul when he saw us playing board games and he recognised some kindred spirits.

Martin introduced us to Palace of Carrara, a game that baffles and bemuses until Martin does the decent thing and ends it all by winning.

And there was the little thing about Adam and Hannah announcing the arrival of their new meeple.


Adam finally made history by being the first person to score five leaderboard wins in a row! How happy we were for him. And he completed it at his home venue, too.

In terms of games, Eclipse made a welcome return to the table, although I should’ve been more ruthless and sealed the win instead of looking for a fight in my last turn. Renaissance Man seemed to be a bit of a dud.


Games weekends are few and far between now that almost everyone connected to GNN Bristol has now got children to look after (who will be next? Me or Gonz? Place your bets.) But Steve and Anja kindly hosted two days of board game mayhem this month. The highlight of that must have been the long and agonising game of The Resistance as the two brave spies tried to save society under some impossible conditions.


In the last month of the year, Kingdom Builder reappeared on our tables, we played Africana next to a suitably hot real fire. And Sam’s son got his very first board game!

Also, the year ended pretty much as it began, with Railways of the World being the game of choice. Especially now that a game on the Mexico or UK maps barely fills ninety minutes.

All of which leads us to the division for the whole year! What larks! And it turned out to be very close. Sam just snuck the win on points thanks to the last game on the last day of the season! An amazing end to an event-packed twelve months. Adam takes the medal table, winning over a third of all the games he played. And there’s a new name on the GNN Hall Of Fame as Jon picks up points ratio with a very healthy lead over his nearest rival, Quentin. Welcome to the club, Jon. Your regulation tweed jacket and jodhpurs should be with you shortly.

Congratulations one and all! Merry Christmas and and Happy New Year!

And by request, here's a list of the games that counted towards the leaderboard, and the number of times each was played.

7 Wonders10
Coup 9
Railways of the World8
Kingdom Builder6
Lords of Waterdeep6
High Society5
Tinners’ Trail5
Castles of Burgundy4
Incan Gold4
Downfall of Pompeii3
Hey That’s My Fish3
Airlines Europe2
Hab & Gut2
Love Letter2
Metro 2
Nexus Ops2
No Thanks2
San Juan2
Stone Age2
Taj Mahal2
10 Days in Africa1
Blood Bowl1
Bora bora1
Castle Dice1
Las Vegas1
Lords of Vegas1
Modern Art1
Palaces of Carrara1
Princes of Florence1
Renaissance Man1
St Petersburg1
Scripts and Scribes1
Skull and Roses1
Smash Up1
Snow Tails1
The Agents1
Thurn and Taxis1
Wall Street1
Web Power1

Saturday, 21 December 2013

An Unexpected (Killing) Party

Stanley was given The Hobbit boardgame for his birthday* and today we broke it out and played its debut game in the Morrison house. I think I was under the illusion that this is a Knizier game - it's not. Or at least it doesn't seem like it. And it doesn't credit the designer - at least not openly. I haven't checked the small print. All of which preambularly leads us to the game itself.

There seems to be quite a few Hobbit games knocking about (not to mention the ubiquitous Lord of the Rings) but this is the one allegedly suitable for kids. From a strategic perspective it is - it's rolling dice and picking up cards. Thematically however it's pretty brutal, as the game is all about killing monsters - no ring, no Smaug, no Battle of the Five Armies and not much of a narrative.

Basically each player starts with a character (Stanley was Gandalf, Joe was Bilbo and I was Thorin) and together we travelled through four realms, adding extra capacity to our initial weapon, armour, and power levels (power being skill, strength and health). Then when we feel ready one of us takes on the monster in that realm, hoping our levels will outperform theirs in a set of three battles.

If you play the proper rules then every player has to defeat every monster, which could take some time, so I adapted it so as long as one of us defeated them we could all move on to the next realm. Which also made it a co-operative - not something the boys find satisfying at the end, but easy to table-manage. As it was Joe abandoned us in the third realm when he learned Sally was making cake, and whilst his cries of chocolate fuelled delight echoed through from the kitchen Stanley despatched the final monster (a Warg Rider).

I don't see this coming out on a Tuesday night unless we collectively regress 180 years, but it was fun to play with the boys. I didn't know whether to be pleased or worried when Stan said "It's my very-first board game!" with the clear implication that there would be more...

*also a stunt scooter, which he is admittedly more pleased with

Last Train for Yuletide

With Christmas threatening to erase all our fun with festive cheer and public holidays, Sam, Chris and I managed to squeeze in one last night of board games before Santa takes over the world.

I got to Sam's house a little late, and found Chris and Sam nearing the end of a game of A Castle For All Seasons. This game of worker placement and bonus-building has been a semi-success in GNN towers. It would be an unqualified success if we could just work out what to do with one bonus building that always seems to be the decider in who wins. We really should check on Board Game Geek. Anyway, Sam won, beating Chris who scored a respectable 60ish points on his first go compared to Sam’s 80+.

After this, we discussed what to play. We decided it should be something that Chris had played before, but didn’t own. After a little debate, we went for Railways of the World again. To be honest, I was a little sore after my recent third place and I was desperate for a chance to put things right, so when it was suggested I tried to be nonchalantly keen on the idea in case my eagerness put people off.

We used the Mexico map, and I was in charge of distributing the cubes across the various cities. I didn’t do a great job. Most cities had cubes of the same colour, unable to move until the later stages of the game. We all sat and stared at the board, a little baffled as to where to go at first. But there were two New Industry cards in the first round, which Chris and I used to good advantage, creating two new coloured cities to deliver to.

It seems that Martin had an influence on Sam’s and my tactics (that's semi-regular GNNer Martin, not Martin Wallace). At the end of the last game of RotW, we counted up our number of bonds and he said “Wow, we usually finish with fifteen!” With this in mind, this time the two of us were less frightened by the looming debt, and went for broke. In fact, in the first round Sam had to take a bond to pay back the debt caused by his other two bonds, which I think is a first. Chris, meanwhile, kept a close hand on the purse-strings and completed the game with only one bond.

It was pretty tough out there. We all scored bonuses for routes or cards, we scrambled for engine upgrades and tunnel engineers, and we made awful puns on a train theme: “I’m getting up a head of steam now,” “I just need a platform to build from,” “I’m going loco!” But before too long we we’d run out of puns and were just saying anything related to trains: “High visibility jackets!” “Shrink wrapped sandwiches!”

I was totally invested in this game. I even turned down Sam’s offer of some Waggon Wheels because they weren’t thematic enough (and also because they’re quite nasty) and I took photos of the board every couple of rounds, so if I lost I could go back and pinpoint where I went wrong.

It remained close on the score track, but Sam’s eleven bonds dragged him back into third. In the end, the result was decided by a choice Chris made right at the very start of the game. When he got two baron cards, he discarded the one giving a bonus for most money and instead went for one that gave bonuses for owning hotels. As it happened, he ended the game with most money, and hardly any hotels came out at all. If Chris had got the bonus for the money baron, he would have ended level with me on points and, of course, won the money tie-breaker.

Andrew 63
Chris 57
Sam 53

What a game! Even with a starting position as miserable as the one we had, it still offered possibilities for fun and profit. I am in awe of Chris’ amazing powers of wealth-generation. If I ever want to start a company from scratch, I’ll be asking him for advice.

And it still wasn’t even ten o’clock. We decided on a new game for Chris: Love Letter. We told him the rules, and we were off. It is, like A Castle For All Seasons, one of those games that you need to play once before you can really understand it, but Chris did well.

Apart from the time when Sam read the rules according to Sausage & Mash rules (read some text but substitute any word stating with “s” with “sausage,” and any word beginning with “m” with “mash” remembering to keep plurals, verb and adjective endings intact, i.e. “-ing”, “-ed”, “-ly”) the highlight of the game was one short lived round when I, on a whim, used a Guard to accuse Sam of having the Princess.

At this point Sam hadn’t even looked at his card and he said “If I am the Princess, I’ll be very angry.”

He looked at his card.

“I’m very angry,” he said as he revealed the Princess.

Next was Chris, who then accused me of being a Baron. I sighed as all my good work was undermined: I was the Baron. Chris got a win on a freakish stroke of luck (or maybe he’s psychic? Actually, his final score would suggest not...)

Sam 3
Andrew 2
Chris 1

After this, I left, preferring to head down Gloucester Road before the pubs shut. Chris and Sam stayed for a couple of rounds of Biblios. Sam texted me the scores:

Chris 7
Sam 5

Sam 13
Chris 5

A lovely way to finish the GNN term before Xmas (unless any one else can squeeze something in?) and I was certainly buoyed up by my win on RotW. On my way home, I strode past the stragglers and pub bouncers with the confidence of a man who knows how to move wooden blocks over cardboard hexagons. Surely this is the level to which all people aspire.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Aton of fun!

After my no-show at Tuesday's great Christmas games night at Sam's, I managed to entice Martin down to my studio for a couple of late afternoon two-player sessions this week, before we all drift in to the oblivion of the holidays.

We had our sights set on Sekigahara: Unification of Japan, a lovely-looking and stunningly-simple GMT block war game. However it seemed a bit rash to try and embark on such a big number with the small window of play-time, so I suggested Aton, eager to introduce Martin to a game he hadn't tried (no mean feat, as a glance at his list of commented games on the Geek will demonstrate).

Sam and I went through a bit of a lunchtime Aton phase a couple of years ago - in fact I think we once, in a fit of unselfconscious-ness, played at Royce Rolls, didn't we Sam? We GNN-ers only play at cafés with the word 'Roll' in them...

Because of its strictly two-player nature, Aton has only once seen a Tuesday night outing, when Adam and I played a couple of games, but it is a real gem, and I had a feeling it would be right up Martin's alley.

It's essentially an abstract area majority game, with players competing for dominance in four 'temples', each with 12 available spaces. On your turn you'll place up to four of your discs, and possibly remove one or two of your opponent's. Removed discs go into a track with eight spaces, and when the track is full, a scoring phase takes place. If a player hits 40 points, the game ends and they win. If not, you keep going.

Each round, you deal yourself four cards from your deck, all of which are numbered one to four, and secretly assign them to your four 'cartouches' - these dictate how many pieces you can put on and take, and from which of the four temples. This card mechanism has brilliantly subtle ramifications, and although it's random, you'll go through the deck in most games, so your luck will even out. Good card play can net you points outside of a scoring round too, which can really swing the battle and add huge tension to the endgame.

The other clever thing is the insta-win conditions: fill a temple with all your pieces, or fill all of the 14(?) green or yellow squares that range across the temples, and you get an immediate victory. So just as one player is be about to dominate a scoring round, the other can sneak an outright win - eight out of twelve spaces in a temple is enough to really put the frighteners on - get ten in there and really, the insta-win is inevitable.

So we played two games yesterday, and won one each. The first was a score track victory for me, the second an insta-win for Martin. We met up again this afternoon to play the decider, and then played another three games.

I'm not here to gloat (much), but I did win all four games this afternoon. What's brilliant about Aton is that you get better quickly, and the games get much closer - each strategy has a viable counter, and you're guaranteed a nail-biting finish. I remember Sam and I reaching the point where the games were unbearably tense, and after six games with Martin, we were up to speed, and the last two games both came down to a card-draw... 

In the penultimate one, Martin was poised for an insta-win in temple one, and I managed to stave it off just long enough to trigger a scoring round for the win (mostly through exceedingly lucky card draws).

The last game was just brilliant. Martin had mastered the art of creeping up the score track, and that plus a healthy scoring round left him up into the thirties - poised for victory.  Even if it went to another scoring round I couldn't catch him, so my only option was to try an insta-win. I had six counters in temple four, which doesn't seem that threatening, only 50% full, but a lucky hand including two fours meant I could pile another four counters in, which is past the tipping point.

Martin was on 38 points by now, so in the next round I needed a four to stop him winning with points, and I needed another four to put the extra two counters in temple four for the insta-win. Should neither of these happen, a scoring round would ensue, and Martin would win. As it happened, I drew two fours and two twos, perfect. Glorious insta-win for me (thanks for sitting through my exhaustive account of my own victory, I'll stop now). 
Here's a picture of the final board state - a high drama played out in cardboard and wood…

Aton is marvellous fun, can't wait to play again - and I'm sure it's only a matter of time before Martin becomes unbeatable, so I have to record this small victory for posterity.
Here's his reaction:

I guess there's the possibility that as both players get really good, it could always come down to a card draw, which would get tiresome. But I'm not sure that's the case, and also, you each get one chance per game to draw a new hand, so you could mitigate that luck a little by holding on to your free draw til the final showdown.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Solace in the solstice

Paul and Chris made the journey across the wild landscape of Southern England to be with us on this most holy of nights: the last day of a GNN season. Joe couldn’t make it but, despite all our ideas and planning, there didn’t seem to be any desire to call him up and make him play blind.

There were seven of us: Sam (host), Chris and Paul, myself, Martin, Gonz and Adam. When I arrived, Paul and Adam were engaged in a bloody and brutal game of Cube Quest. Every shot sent cubes of into the darkest corners of Sam’s kitchen. It ended with Adam’s king stranded on the halfway line after a misjudged attack. Paul dispatched his opponent with distain, flicking the king into Adam’s plate of chips.

Paul and Chris had come down especially to play Railways Of The World. Adam and I joined them. Luckily, Sam had already talked them through most of the rules, which saved us a bit of time as Adam just filled in the final gaps in the rules.

Sam, Martin and Gonz went to the other room to try and work out a game that suited all of their tastes. This took a while, so while they thought about what they wanted to play, they played Hanabi instead. That’s an odd compliment for a game: it’s what people play when they don’t know what to play, but it’s good to see Hanabi get some table-time recently. They scored 19. I don’t know what that means. 19 out of a billion? It’s not leaderboard, so who cares?

In our room, we began RotW on the Eastern US map, since Adam and I thought it would give each player some space to establish a little network and get a feel for the game. Little did we know that within a couple of turns, Paul and Chris had invaded our personal space and threatened our networks.

Adam began with three single track lines, going after bonuses. Chris, too, went for bonuses. I locked into the New York/Chicago area, and I think I exploited it pretty well, but even so I started to fall away mid-game as Chris threatened Adam’s lead. At least, he did until Adam put together a huge 20-point bonus link. Clearly, Adam had something to prove after his previous defeat.

In the other room, they’d started playing a game called The Agents. I know nothing about this, except the scores.

Martin 43
Sam 35
Gonz 35

After this, they played Sticheln.

Martin 30
Sam 12
Gonz 5

By now, when I heard these scores, I was starting to think that Martin only payed games that his opponents hadn’t played much of. But they ended their evening with Love Letter which reassured me that wasn’t the case (although I did notice Palaces of Carrara in his bag).

Gonz 3
Sam 2
Martin 0

By the time Love Letter ended, we were also just about finishing off. I’d made some foolish last minute choices, meaning a second place was out of the question. Adam, though, was off in the distance and couldn’t be caught. Although we did think about docking Adam some points after he miscounted his number of tracks, giving Paul a fleeting moment of satisfaction at having gained the bonus for most track tiles. In order for it to mean anything, we would’ve had to taken off more than twenty, though so we didn’t bother.

Adam 92
Chris 71
Andrew 59
Paul 43

If that wasn’t enough, we all kept going! Gonz had to go, since he was off to Spain for the next three weeks and he needed to pack. So we six played Kakerlakenpoker! The simple version, without the Royals. It seems our constant mocking of Adam’s tactic of always checking the card and passing it on finally paid off, and he even challenged a couple of people. At least, I think he did. I may be imagining things. He didn’t actually lose, though. That honour went to Chris first and then Sam.

After that, we finally drew the curtain on this season. Thanks to the calendar, there’ll be no more leaderboard shenanigans, but hopefully something will happen between now and the new year to keep us going.

In the meantime, Sam tops a very close leaderboard. Well done, everyone!

Sam2 2 2 2 1 9
Gonz1 3 3 1 3 11
Adam1 4 4 1 1 11
Chris2 1 1 3 4 11
Martin3 1 1 1 5 11
Andrew3 3 2 3 3 14
Joe2 4 2 3 3 14
Quentin4 1 1 5 3 14
Matt3 2 5 5 5 20
Steve3 2 55 5 20
Anja3 3 55 5 21
Hannah2 5 55 5 22
Paul4 5 55 5 24

And on the division, it’s all about a man called Adam. He takes the medal table, points and points ratio (Hannah's remarkable points ratio of 10.7 doesn't count since it was only one game, and I'm too lazy to do the table again). Let’s see if he can maintain that run of form when he has to look after a child! Ha!

And a look at a graph (mmm... graphs...) of the season shows that Adam lead from the very start. I was in sixth at one point and pulled myself up into third and so was Sam and he ended in second! Gonz is the first player outside the core four to finish above fifth! Aren't we all marvellous?

Monday, 16 December 2013

Oh my Guadalajara!

It may be the Christmas bash tomorrow, but when a window of opportunity opens, Sam and I are through it quicker than two house-thieves who’d spotted PS4 boxes being left in the recycling just the other week.

So tonight it was the two of us, facing of across a map of Mexico, some wooden trains and cardboard hexagons. Yes, it was Railways of the World: Mexico that lay before us. And if you think about it, so many games have been based on them and wars have been fought over them, it’s almost as if maps were designed for conflict.

Anyway, that’s enough philosophy for one week. Sam and I had more important things to worry about. Like how to move those coloured cubes around our network. We began slowly, as we studied the lay of the land. Mexico City looked like a good bet, but I thought the Pacific coast also held promise. Sam went for the big city, and I went for the mountain route.

Sam started well, and I fretted about my long term plan coming too late. But after a while, I started moving cubes around, even though Sam’s near monopoly in the south meant he often benefited too.

During the game, we both completed two routes each for 11 bonus points, and we got our baron bonuses, too (me, 6; Sam, 8) but thanks to my more-powerful engine I came home a winner once again. My second RotW win in a row. Hurrah!

Andrew 92
Sam 88

After this, Sam only had a little time left, and so suggested a game of Contract Whist, with a couple of pounds in the pot, just to make it interesting.

This time, it was me who leapt into an early lead, thanks to a successfully predicted clean sweep of all eight tricks early on. After that, it was up to Sam to whittle away at my lead in increments. At one round, he said he could level the scores if I chose “1” and failed, and he chose “3” and succeeded. I looked at my hand, and chose the only sensible option: 1.

He looked at his cards, he looked at the scores written down in my sketchbook, and then back at his cards. Then he chose “3”. Was it destiny? Was Sam fated to win the game in a stunning comeback? Indeed he was, since that’s exactly what happened, levelling the scores, and from there Sam went on to take the game in the last two rounds. A marvellous performance from a hopeless position.

Sam 57
Andrew 48

See you all tomorrow!

Friday, 13 December 2013

Thinking about the No-Joe Show

Next week is the Christmas GNN, but unfortunately Joe can’t make it that day. I started wondering if there was a way of him joining in the fun, even though he wasn’t physically there. In the event that he can’t rustle up a games night of his own, I started wondering if there are any games that he can play by phone or text.

The first, and most sensible answer I came up with was the online version of Brass. It works fine on a mobile phone, no worries. And I’m sure that there are other similar apps that offer you a chance to play your favourite board game remotely.

But then I started thinking, what about an actual physical board game? Are there any that he could join in with? We could even have an empty chair and a glass of cranberry juice to mark his presence.

Auction games would be impossible, so Ra and Medici are both out. Similarly, any games where you have to share cards, like 7 Wonders or Kakerlakenpoker, can’t be done.

After some thought, I decided that Incan Gold is playable over the phone. As long as we tell him what’s going on, he can keep track of the game quite easily, I reckon.

Stone Age, too, is a possibility. It’s more complicated: he’d need to set it up himself and pick out the cards and huts as they’re revealed by us, but otherwise it may be possible to play this over the phone. And I’m sure we can rely on him to be honest about his dice rolls, as we will be honest about ours.

Castles of Burgundy could also be done, but that’s because it mostly feels like everyone’s playing a solo game anyway. He could just play on his own, and then text in his results. Not terribly interactive. But then, CoB doesn’t have a great deal of player interaction anyway.

The Resistance might be possible with a little preparation. We’d have to know the number of players well beforehand and then put a spy/resistance card in an envelope and give it to him earlier that day. Preferably at a park bench, while wearing trench coats and black leather gloves. Then, when we come to play the game, he opens the envelope, the rest of us draw the remaining cards, and we play with Joe on speaker phone! It’d be fun!

And I’d love to know if it could be possible to do the same with RotW. It’d have to be by text, since two and a half hours on speaker phone would wipe out most phone’s batteries. As long as Joe doesn’t mind passing on every auction then, once we’d got the board set up in both houses, it may be possible. Or is that just a crazy dream?

Of course, there are probably apps and websites that do all this for you. But it would be nice to have him physically there, if not in person, at least in meeple.

Rolling back again

After last fortnight’s hiatus, games night at Roll For The Soul was back in full swing, with chips and wraps and beer. In fact, the City of Bristol was so excited about the return of GNN to its streets, that it set up some searchlights outside Colston Hall for no apparent reason!

I arrived last, with Joe, Adam, Katy, Martin and newcomer Tom about to plunge in Magical Athlete. Gonz and I started on Hanabi, a game which we had both only played once, and only had instructions in German to guide us. It was tricky, but we managed it. It feels different with two players. There are fewer distractions, and less opportunities for comedic acting as you try to influence the other players.

No idea what happened with Magical Athlete, but Adam said he hated it.

Then we split into a group of four playing Kingdom Builder and a group of three playing Palaces of Carrara in the gloom of candles and subdued lighting.

Guess who was playing Palaces... yep, me, Martin and Joe. We set forth once more to cover Italy with marbles buildings. We played twice and, amazingly, Martin was chosen as starting player both times by our clever random method. At the end of the first game, Joe trailed in last, with me in middling second and Martin off into the stratosphere in first.

Joe seemed to reach the end of his marble tether with that result. He was just about to admit that he and this game didn’t get on. But with the game set up, we were able to persuade him to try one more game.

As we did, we were slightly distracted by a man watching us from outside, drinking from a 1.5 litre bottle of water. He gave us a thumbs-up when he caught our eye. Probably a big Eurogamer.

This game was closer, thanks to some tricky end-game conditions. We all had to build expensive buildings this time. I went for a super luxurious 8-pointer in the exclusive neighbourhood of yellow marble. It got me a lot of money, but not many points.

In fact, this time it was a lot closer, with Martin scraping a win barely five points ahead of Joe and me close behind in third. This reassured Joe that perhaps there was a future for him and this game. It also made him suspect that going first may be an advantage.

Finally, the three of us set up a little light game to play while Kingdom Builder ended. It’s called Take It Easy! A title that tells you almost nothing about the game. It’s very simple. Everyone has a board of hexagonal spaces, and they all have their tiles laid out face up in front of them, except one who has their tiles face down. That person draws a tile a random, announces it, and then everyone else has to play the same tile from their collection, trying to match coloured lines together. In other words, everyone plays the same tiles onto their own board. You’d think that everyone would do the same thing, but no. And small differences soon become big differences.

We set up to play, and then Katy on the other table saw all our brightly coloured hexagons and abandoned the final points-calculating of Kingdom Builder (Tom won) and quickly switched allegiances to our game, with a “Screw you guys!” over her shoulder to her previous game-comrades as she left.

And so we four played. And it was fun, hoping for the right tile at the right moment was a bit bingo-ish. I even tried to come up with some bingo calls, but they didn’t catch on. Martin won that one, too, making him regret that Thursdays aren’t leaderboard.

After that, Joe and I set off into the rain and into the night. He forced me to go all the way up the Christmas steps. Like, from the bottom to the top! It was like being in boot camp but only if the commanding officer, instead of yelling insults at you as you struggled, asked if you thought maybe there’s an advantage in going first on Palaces of Carrara.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Games of the Year 2013!

It's that time of year again - the time when I don't have any pressing work and can peruse the gaming universe at leisure. And as it also happens to be December, I thought I'd launch us on "games of the year" -

The rules - choose your favourite games that you played for the first time in 2013.

So my perennial favorites of Lords of Waterdeep, Macao and Tinner's Trail are out. And Snowdonia - which I like - just misses the cut for me, as I played in in December 2012.

I must say the ten below as a collective are not quite the classic group of last year, but I guess as our gaming knowledge expands there are fewer and fewer things to discover.

Here's my top ten, in reverse order:

10 A Castle For All Seasons

If this were a top-ten of two-player games then ACFAS, as it's affectionately known, might be nearer the other end of the line. Andrew and I have spent many an hour on this mixture of worker-placement and card-play alá Citadels. It's got a lot going for it. What goes against it is it doesn't seem to translate well to multi-player and in both instances there's one building that's potentially too powerful.

9. Castle Dice

The game that shoots itself in the foot with apparently three different designers squabbling over how it would look. The cartoon dice? The differently cartoon cards? Or the Workers In Road style infographic Villagers? I have a lot of time for this game but, as I didn't anticipate, it doesn't seem to fit into the GNN bracket. Conversely my kids love it. Perversely so does my mum.

8. Samurai

A very Knizia-esque puzzle-type game where apparently optimum moves can be undone by other players. Simple rule-set, lots of depth... just a wee but dry and abstract.

7 Canal Mania

The game you don't want to drop any letters on in a google search. For those of us who find Brass too long, too confusing, or too bound up in imminent fated loss, perhaps Canal Mania is the way forward. We played it once, we all liked it, we never played it again. I would like to.

6 Kakerlakenpoker

I'm terrible at this, but it's great fun. Someone passes you a card and tells you it's a rat. Are they telling the truth or not? If you're Adam it doesn't matter, as his always-pass-a-card-on system has served him well. Or if you're Gonz, you simply use you X-ray vision to look into that person's brain.

5 Taluva

Another game with streak of losses for me, I'm not even sure it's seen the table at GNN? It's pretty simple rules, but aesthetically more pleasing than Samurai.

4 Kingdom Builder

Making a trio of games I suck at. But I do like Kingdom Builder - it's great actually. I just don't like coming fourth.

3 Sticheln

Excellent trick-taking game with some nuances that now escape me. There are some numbers you don't want? Or colors? What are the rules, Joe?

 2 Love Letter
Out-couping Coup in my eyes is this less-agonising, faster moving (but longer) game of elimination. There are less opportunities for bluffing so I guess it's quite a different Beast to Coup in some ways, but  quick to pick up and play.

1 Cube Quest
 If I was ordering these in the order I feel like playing now, Cube Quest would be lower. But no other game has had quite the impact on the (male side of) GNN, racking up a series of plays over a fortnight. Since then it's receded from sight a little, but I think it just about deserves top spot. 

 That's mine then. What are everyone elses?