Thursday, 30 January 2014

James gamer on!

The title of this post follows on from Andrews director based pun heading and like his this one has very little to do with the evening itself. Hectic preparations proceeded last nights event where the venue was switched to James' house and I had an After School Club committee meeting to attend before collecting Ashton, picking up Paul from the station, eating dinner, bathing kids and putting them to bed.

Alhambra was the first of our cardboard based treats, carried over from last weeks selection. Additional games drawn were Industry and Carcasonne. Industry was deemed to long to play after Alhambra so it was left until next time.

I made myself promise that I wouldn't block myself in when building my town this time. Due to the nature of the tile design this quite difficult to do. The type of building you're chasing nearly always has a wall facing the wrong way or conversely the piece you really want is on yellow money and you have a fist full of greens.

Paul made the early running with an impressive long wall in the first scoring round. I was being partly successful in keeping my complex open and when it wasn't I had Paul to remind me (politely) I was stuffing it up.

Then a shift in play occurred (unnoticed by all) where James emerged from second place to post a useful lead going into the final act. His tussle with Paul over the most towers proved decisive as the final scores show.

James - 151
Paul - 137
Chris -129

Next up was Carcasonne but instead of my boring old original copy out came James' winter themed gingerbread version. That's right you heard me. The game is essentially the same with one variation, the gingerbread man piece. This little guy hangs around in partially completed cities waiting for one of the six additional specially marked tiles to appear. Once drawn he is off, scoring points for the person in control of that city, and jumping into another unfinished one. There were a few other changes as well in that there are a few more cloisters and more roads than cities. 

I decided early on to try and monopolise the farm land spaces which was going well until the others cottoned on and started challenging by using clever placement of tiles. Damn them. In the end James' adventurous decision to build a big city paid off and scored a big 22 points with his penultimate tile.

James - 118
Chris - 108
Paul - 66

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Martin Scores Hazy

Ha ha! The title sounds a bit like “Martin Scorsese”! Either I’m a genius, or I can’t think of a proper title for this week’s GNN because, frankly, Martin didn’t score that hazily if I’m being honest. Hey, it’s almost one o’clock in the morning. Cut me some slack.

This week’s GNN meeting took place under Joe’s roof. There were seven of us: Joe, Sam, me, Adam, Martin, Gonz and not-quite newcomer Matt.

At the start of the evening, five of us were waiting for the final arrivals, and we decided that instead of watching Adam eat chips, we could be playing a game. We decided on a quick fix of Take It Easy: just one round until the final two players get here.

Take It Easy is still a giddy mess of opportunities offered in a way that is more about regrets and hoping that fate will smile upon your absurdly ambitious dreams. A little microcosm of life, in other words. This time Joe was the big winner, and I am getting tired of finishing one point behind Martin in this game.

Joe 200
Martin 178
Andrew 177
Adam 163
Sam 134

Then, once Gonz and Matt had arrived, we split into two groups. One suggestion was a game of Sentinels of the Multiverse: a co-operative game, which meant Adam immediately counted himself out. Instead, he, Martin and me looked over Joe’s collection to see what we could play instead.

Martin suggested Chicago Express, saying it barely took an hour to play. Adam and I both turned it down, knowing that it would last a lot longer in our hands. I mentioned Pergamon, and happily both Adam and Martin were happy to play.

So we set up our little archaeological expedition, and started tapping away at the ancient soil. I was the first to put up an exhibition and, against Martin and Adam, I was worried that I’d peaked too soon. Luckily (for me and Adam, that is) Martin found himself screwed by a lack of money. Twice he put himself at the far end of the queue for funding, hoping that he’d pick up a large surplus. But both times, the cards showed barely enough money that round to cover mine and Adam’s expenses, leaving him out of pocket.

I got a nice big exhibition on the board fairly early, and I scored a few bonuses for older artifact too. Included one that Martin thought he had sown up. I played well, even if I do say so myself.

Andrew 29
Adam 27
Martin 21

During this game, we were distracted by a variety of absurd sentences as Joe, Sam, Gonz and Matt tried to defeat the evil Omnitron. Sounds like a type of vacuum cleaner, but apparently it was threatening the world. In between discussing whether or not they should punch a veloceraptor, or if it was safe ofr Gonz to levitate, they did finally wear Omnitron down and the world was saved. It seemed to wear Sam down, too since he left after that game, looking quite exhausted.

Meanwhile, as we waited for them to finish their game, the three of us rattled off a round of No Thanks. Since I’d just seen this played out on Korean TV, I was in the mood to play it again. Isn’t it funny how wrong moods can be. My whole game was plagued by me thinking “I’ll just wait one more round before picking this up” and then Adam or Martin would pick it up.

Adam played a masterful (if lucky) game, as he chained the thirties together.

Adam 19
Martin 42
Andrew 81

By now Omnitron was defeated, so we (minus Sam) were all together. What game could we all play? Gonz kept mentioning 7 Wonders, as if it were fun with more than five players which we all know it isn’t. Instead we went for a Riener Knizia game, Winner’s Circle. The fun game of betting on a horse race and then watching the horse race.

It was kind of amusing, trying to influence the horses so that your favoured bet does well, while trying to make sure others failed. But ultimately, there was too much dice rolling and passive watching. We only played two rounds out of the officially recommended three, and as we walked from Joe’s house, Martin did say that the game isn’t supposed to last as long as we played it. Even so, I can see myself voting this one down the next time it gets mentioned. Long Shot (the other horse betting game) is longer, but there’s more interaction and opportunity to bet. This is too much like real horse racing, and I just don’t care for horse racing.

Gonz £1,100
Martin £1,000
Adam £700
Andrew £550
Matt £450
Joe £100

And so finally we stumbled into the night air, leaving behind a stack of empty bottles and a skittish dog who’d seen something in the garden and couldn’t get settled all evening. A good evening. Omnitron lay dead, and a bunch of other stuff happened too. Not bad for a Tuesday.

On the form table, Martin holds on to top spot despite not having a great evening. Gonz climbs to second and Steve rises to third without even turning up!

Martin2 2 32 1 10
Gonz1 2 6 12 12
Steve1 3 31 5 13
Adam3 1 2 4 3 13
Andrew4 3 1 3 2 13
Sam5 4 2 3 1 15
Joe6 1 5 1 2 15
Anja3 2 45 519
Hannah5 23 5520
Will3 2 5 5520
Matt5 5 5 5525

As far as The Division goes, it’s close but I lead the pack in terms of Points, Martin just edges ahead on the Medal Table, while Steve has a comfortable lead on Points Ratio.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

They’re playing No Thanks on Korean TV!

There’s a game show on Korean TV at the moment that I’m a big fan of, called The Genius. Every week the same contestants meet and play each other at “Prisoner Dilemma” type games: the kind where it seems like luck how well you do, but there’s always a method to win. Each week, one contestant is eliminated from the game.

This week, they played No Thanks! They called it The Minus Auction, but it was definitely No Thanks. It wasn’t exactly the same. There were plenty of breaks during the game which game people opportunities to form alliances, since only the person who came last would be punished. This changed the game quite a lot, especially since you were also able to give people chips.

This meant I wasn’t able to learn any new tactics that I could use at a games night, but I will just mention this: the person who took the lowest values came joint first! So that strategy can win!

It was nice to see a board game get played on TV, even if it is several thousand miles away, and it’s sort of disguised so it doesn't look like a board game. Plus, all of the contestants said how much fun it was. So what next? 6nimmt? Skull and Roses? I think these games have TV potential. And who knows, if those are successful, then Railways of the World can’t be far behind.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Games are fun

That's what I thought as I walked home after this fortnight's Roll For The Soul evening.

But Roll For The Soul with no Adam or Joe is a delicate proposition. No Ticket To Ride, nor Joe’s selection of light games. But Martin and Gonz had said they’d be there, so I could be sure we wouldn’t be playing Tsuro all evening.

There were five of us in all: myself, Martin, Gonz and Katie and Tom even though Katie said she might go upstairs in a few minutes to watch a Cuban zombie movie. We might have been seven, as there was a couple that Katie recognised from an earlier games night, but we weren’t sure if they were here for games or not. They left without saying anything, but were we supposed to ask them over? Oh, the etiquette of board gaming in public: it’s a minefield.

The five of us began with a new game: Fauna. Possibly the most underwhelming title of any game since Draughts. Martin explained the rules of the game: Place one of our six cubes on a map of the world or on three scales of weight, length or (if applicable) tail length. Accurate guesses score big, close guesses not so big, wrong guesses means you lose your cubes.

This game, so simple to explain, caused much thought and debate as we scraped through our memories for any mention at all of the Moonrat, the Collared Peccary, or the Northern Brown Bandicoot. This latter, in particular, confused a lot of people. The word “Northern” made most of us think it was in the northern hemisphere, but Gonz had played the game Crash Bandicoot on the old PlayStation, so he knew it was set in Australia. He cleaned up on that round, but it was to be a fleeting victory. He ended in fourth, just ahead of Tom.

I played it fairly safe, going for adjacent areas on the map, which meant I usually put a cube on the Tibetan Plateau and the North Indian Ocean since they were next to lots of places. You can imagine everyone’s surprise when one of these guesses turned out to be spot on. Who’d have thought a small furry rodent would live in the Indian Ocean. At the end of the game, I placed second, one point ahead of Katie, and Martin won with over a hundred points that caused the end of the game. We all enjoyed it, and Katie said it was more fun than a zombie movie in Spanish. She certainly got into it, yelling “Yes!” at the top of her voice when she correctly guessed the weight of an animal.

After this, we chose Niagara, the game that Gonz has been hopefully suggesting at several GNN nights recently. Roll For The Soul is exactly the kind of venue for tiny canoes on plastic discs slowly being pushed off the edge of a board, so this time his suggestion was happily accepted.

It was another game with very few rules to learn: use you cards, 1-6, top move your canoes back and forth, picking up coloured crystals and bringing them safely back. I started out as the nice guy, using my cloud card to slow the flow of the river. Later on, though, I turned evil, speeding the river up in an attempt at getting myself to the end quickly, and also maybe sending a couple of opponents off the edge.

Meanwhile, Katie also played an evil game, stealing crystals from myself and Gonz. Not that it made any difference. He calmly picked up four crystals of the same coloured, and paddled his way to victory.

It was still barely nine o’clock, so the next game we tried was Hanabi, the game of firework displays. When Katie heard this, she was definitely keen to give it a try, and even accompanied Martin’s explanation of the rules with “oooh, aaah” reactions, as if the fireworks had already begun.

Mostly it went fairly smoothly, apart from when Martin told Gonz about a particular card because he wanted him to not play it yet. Gonz misunderstood and discarded it, ruining our green fireworks. Otherwise, it was mostly a case of using slight intonations of voices or looking for reactions when considering playing a particular card. Funny but silly. We ended with 19 points.

There was just enough time for one game of Tsuro! Martin hadn’t played before, so I explained the rules. Most of them, anyway. He’s a clever guy: he worked out the rest. We all lasted for quite a long time before Gonz sent Katie off the board, and then Martin and I ended up in the same corner with no available exits. Another win for Gonz.

By now it was ten o’clock, and even though the night was young I am not. So I'm quite glad the evening had to end there. A very nice evening. Thanks all!

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Ural-y got a hold on me

Today’s regular Tuesday meet attracted eight gamers to Sam’s abode: Sam, Joe, Adam, Steve, Anja, Gonz, Martin and myself. With eight people around Sam’s fully extended kitchen table, two four-player games seemed like a logical choice, but there was a desire to keep rule explaining to a minimum. With that in mind, we split into three. Adam and Martin took Race For The Galaxy into the front room. Anja, Steve and Gonz played Seasons. Finally, Sam, Joe and I played Russian Railroads.

Joe had been keen to get Russian Railroads to the table, but he’d always been slightly scuppered by the self-effacing way in which he suggests new games: he described RR as “a spreadsheet”. But tonight, perhaps fresh from our RotW escapades, Sam and I were amenable to a new train game. And so, with a range of quality alcohol in front of us, we all began.

Joe explained the rules: despite the theme, there is no track building. Instead you move your pieces along four scoring tracks, accord ing to where you placed your meeple on the main board. The mass of options is quite overwhelming. Sam asked Joe if it was better to specialise or diversify. Joe said to specialise, which is exactly what Sam did.

While I played I tried to block out conversations drifting over from the other side about “The Icon Of Familiars” whatever that is, and the difference between a crystal and an energy token. Seasons looked interesting, but also baffling. There were four sets of big dice (bigger than a meeple!) which had mysterious symbols on them. It all seemed very runic.

Halfway through, Martin and Adam popped in to see how things were going with us and to report the scores from the first game:

Martin 30
Adam 17

Then, after satisfying their curiosity about our new games, they went back to their room for another Race For The Galaxy.

Back in Serbia, I went for a bit of everything, but mostly going for a “score 20 points per round” bonus halfway up one of the tracks. I enjoyed this game, and it seems to offer a lot of flexibility. I shot off into an early lead and I managed to hold onto it. Sam’s incredible 100+ scoring Trans-Siberian railway wasn’t enough to get him past the King of Engineers, Joe. It was very close, though.

Andrew 293
Joe 288
Sam 279

Martin and Adam had also finished there second bout of Race, with the surprising news that new-boy Adam had just beaten Martin on a tie-breaker.

Adam 32 (plus seven cards)
Martin 32 (four cards)

Seasons still had a little time to go, so Martin and Adam played a tie-breaker, and after we’d packed away, Joe, Sam and I went for a little game of Rocket Game, for ages 4-7. It’s basically all luck, but I’d had a whole bottle of wine by now, and confident after my win, I said this should be leaderboard. I forgot the old saying: lucky on trains, unlucky in spaceships.

Joe 11
Sam 10
Andrew 1

By now Seasons had ended, with scores at

Steve 195
Gonz 164
Anja 98

And the third game of Race For The Galaxy had ended, too. I don't know the scores but apparently it was a comfortable win for Adam.

After this, Steve and Anja had to go back home. A majority vote saw everyone keen for a game of Take It Easy. Everyone except one. Gonz couldn’t get over his previous last place, and he bowed out of the evening at this point.

The five of us played three rounds, doing our best to come up with bingo-style calls for the numbers. I can’t remember any, but I have a feeling that a lot of them were quite similar.

It was another close game, and Martin can feel relieved that his only leaderboard game of the evening ended with a win:

Martin 391
Andrew 390
Adam 387
Sam 384
Joe 246

Adam also got the GNN record for most points in one round: 202.

I went home, drunk but happy, only to find my computer no longer recognised me as a user. By two o’clock I’d sorted it out and then went straight to bed, hence the delay in the write-up. I usually prefer to still be drunk while writing these reports. If I wait until the next day when I’m sober, it all seems a bit... silly, somehow.

Martin1 1 2 1 3 8
Andrew2 3 1 23 11
Sam4 2 3 11 11
Steve1 3 31 5 13
Adam3 2 3 3 2 13
Joe5 1 2 3 2 13
Gonz2 6 12 516
Anja3 2 45 519
Hannah5 23 5520
Will3 2 5 5520

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Your place or mining

One Sunday afternoon, Sam sent out the call for gamers to congregate, with the helpful caveat that he was willing to host or travel. Happily, Will was able to host, and so Sam and I descended on his impressive homestead for an evening of games.

We descended too soon, since Will’s family was running late in their schedule and I arrived just in time to see his family start their evening meal. We made small talk until they finished, and then the cutlery and crockery was swiftly put away and we were finally able to break out the games. Sam brought a selection, but after only a little discussion Tinners’ Trail was chosen. Will was given a rule-refresher, and we were off.

Will may have been rusty on the rules, but he came up with a strategy that we hadn’t seen before and paid off handsomely. Having bought up one mine in the not-very-promising East End of Cornwall, he then proceeded to bid for undiscovered mines for just one pound. Since they didn’t fit in with Sam or my plans, we didn’t contest the auction. In the second round, he forsook any real attempts at mining in favour of building up an empire of mines and, with some good dice rolls, he was soon sitting pretty on a pile of tin and copper.

It was a smart move that saw him safely into second. It wasn’t enough to trouble Sam, who played a solid game of steam-pumps and last-minute cheap mines. I came third, but can’t honestly say I was very disappointed at my score or my tactics. I was just beaten by two superior players.

Sam 138
Will 120
Andrew 109

After this, Sam suggested Take It Easy. He’d borrowed a copy from Joe and this light-but-agonising game is a perfect way to end any evening. We explained the rules to Will, and we began. We cursed and sighed when the tiles were wrong and we almost stood up and applauded if they were right. In our three-round game, only one point separated Sam and I (306 points to 305) at the end of round two but Sam had the best of the final round, winning his second game of the day.

Sam 450
Andrew 439
Will 378

We packed up and set off, satisfied in our hearts. I said "We should do this more often" before I had to admit "actually, we can’t do this more often."

Sam111 3 2 8
Martin1 2 1 3 2 9
Andrew234 1 1 11
Adam2 3 3 2 3 13
Joe3 2 4 4 1 14
Steve3 31 55 17
Gonz6 12 5519
Hannah5 23 5520
Will3 2 5 5520
Anja2 45 5521

Friday, 17 January 2014

Paul's Thurn.

On a blustery Wednesday all focus once again turned to the little Tesco bicarbonate of soda container which holds the names of the remaining unplayed games. First out of the pot was quickly returned by Jacquie. Whilst I was upstairs reading the children's stories James had pleaded with her not to pull out Agricola due to his lack of sleep affected fatigue. Next out was Thurn and Taxis. Then Alhambra after a few miss draws.

It had been a while since the game about the 16th century swiss and german postal system had some table time therefore we decided against adding the expansion. A brief recap for all and then it was to the roads, as we began to create meandering routes across the board. Being one of those games where you can only get a feeling of the points total due to the closed scoring rule it was difficult to truly perceive who was ahead. However, it was evident that although James and I had been playing a steady game, Paul had been taking a few more first place tiles than us.

The game has an interesting risk reward mechanism where you need to assess how likely it will be that you will be able to add to your route next turn. Failure to do so means you lose your route and have to start again. In a game where the difference in points is in ones and two's it was vital this didn't happen.

However, I did manage to create a totally unnecessary route and have to start all over again. Not a clever tactic although the way Paul was motoring it made little impact to the final result.

Paul - 39
James - 30
Chris - 26

What should have been next was some palace and wall building in the form of Alhambra. A glance at the time showed that we wouldn't make it for Paul's train so instead we plumped for a non "leaderboard" game of Medici. This game will be remembered (if at all) for the gold cargo that appeared in every round causing havoc and the brutal bidding which saw a lot of cargo tossed into the sea, deemed so inferior that it was better to have nothing in it's place! My small leads in the first two rounds was eroded by some astute cheap purchasing by Paul. Greatly overpaying to be first in the boats saw my lead disappear as the goods were totalled. Another win for Paul!

Paul - 135
Chris - 115
James - 89

The Table so far:

Chris - 3
James - 2
Paul -1

Some Assembly Required

Thursday. Having missed all but one or two Rolls for the Soul I felt like I was still owed something by life. I suggested a game to Andrew and he agreed without needing too much persuasion - which was a good omen for the future, otherwise my finances might be about to take a big hit.

First though I had to go to Ikea to get some lightbulbs. I texted Andrew in case he was anywhere near a shop, asking if he could get me some beer. But he wasn't, and it was raining heavily. Luckily, Ikea sell beer. It's basically it's own flat-packing eco-system in there.


As the picture might give away, we played Railways of the World. Twice. We're now so up to speed on this game that we finished the first game in an hour, and the second was even quicker.

The opening game had a very alluring available move that forced the initial bids up. Having won it, though, I got off to a good start, picking up bonuses. And Andrew was forced to build a lot of track, pushing his bonds up to, eventually, nine - whilst I managed to stay at three bonds. I carved a path down the west of Mexico, Andrew monopolised the south then headed north. I thought I was safe from very early on in terms of the win, but I thought wrong. Andrew moved goods around imperiously, and pushed the game to a very close finish, both of us getting our Baron bonuses:

Sam 82
Andrew 80

It was only ten past eight, so we reset the board and started again. I was pleased as punch with only my second win at Railways, but any misplaced confidence was about to evaporate as I was handed my backside on a plate by Andrew. I won the opening bid again and went for what I thought was the obvious move; setting up down at Mexico City. But Andrew had made a shrewd study of the board and after lagging for only a couple of rounds, surged past me on the track. Andrew's proclamation that the Barons can be a curse came true for me - as in the first game, I had the "fewest bonds" Baron, and for much of the second I vacillated over building track, hoping Andrew would pick up more bonds and thus give me my bonus at game end.


It didn't work out that way. What happened was I trod water, picking up Operations cards I didn't need and wasting precious time. If I'd dived in and sacrificed the Baron idea earlier, who knows? To be honest I think Andrew still would have won, but perhaps not quite as humilatingly as this:

Andrew 86
Sam 55

My end-game threats of forcing him to play Hive didn't work, and my last-gasp chance at getting myself up the scoretrack imploded, when I tried to force the bidding too high - Andrew passed, and all my money was gone! At this point we were both slightly giddy and hysterical, probably from all the Railways. Or maybe the Ikea beer is stronger than it alleges. Andrew was drinking tumblers of wine.

Anyway it's back to the drawing board for me on Railways, as I am left staring bereft at the various components, bewildered, bewitched, and unsure of my next move.*

*like putting together Ikea furniture. Yeah? - I'm here all week.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Duff and Chuff

This week, seven gamers gathered together under rainy skies to forget about the struggles of life in favour of some entirely self-inflicted struggles of our own.

Adam and Hannah hosted, with Sam, me, Gonz, Martin and Joe in attendance. At first, while Adam and Hannah ate their supper, Sam and Martin began with a quick game of The Hive.

At first, Martin corrected Sam on a rule: that when placing a piece, it must be next to one of your own tiles. Some minutes later, another look at the rules clarified this: you cannot place a piece that touches an opponents piece. They started again. Then they saw the rule that you cannot move a piece until your fourth piece has been placed. The game was abandoned in despair. Still, it’s almost as if Sam has a new game! I wonder what it’s like.

We split into two groups. I had texted Joe earlier to ask him to bring Hab & Gut, and when it was suggested, I was pleased to see it get a favourable reaction. Adam, Gonz and Martin chose Kingdom Builder, and set off into the other room, while the rest of us got ready for a little Hab & Gut.

Hannah had never played before, so Joe explained the rules. We wheeled and dealed in the six commodities which, at the end of the first round of fluctuating prices, were almost in a line across the board just a few spaces further on from where they’d started.

Into the second round, and people started getting cagey about when to donate to the church. Whenever someone decided to donate, the other players would tut annoyed at having to play our dues. In the final count, Hannah donated the most, and I donated the third largest amount, allowing me to avoid the wrath of the church.

Andrew £625
Sam £550
Hannah £420
Joe OUT!

In the next room, they’d played one game of Kingdom Builder and had started on another game.

So we filled in the time with a round of Biblios. Much like Hab & Gut, a glut of church cards sent several dice values soaring, and while I did my best to bring them back down again, I wasn’t at all confident of my chances, having only really enough to secure the red dice with its lowly “2”.

As we totted up the scores, we saw how well Joe had played the game: he’d kept pushing up the value of the orange die so that no one else went for it. He picked it up with a score of just three. On the other hand, he did mistime his spending, which meant he was able to bid 13 gold on the last useless card. I got a stroke of luck when I picked up greens to go with my reds, giving me a winning score.

Andrew 5
Hannah 4 (wins on browns)
Sam 4 (wins on blues)
Joe 4

The Kingdom Builder people were strangely coy about sharing the results but the positions were:

Game one: Gonz, Adam, Martin
Game two: Martin, Gonz, Adam.

I think that’s right. I'm still waiting to get the results.

By now we were all together again, and Joe suggested a seven-player game of Take It Easy: the game where you really don’t take it easy at all. He had procured a second set, which meant that up to eight could play! Newbies had the rules explained to them, and we were off!

Take It Easy: the reaction of Martin (top right) indicates
that the tile he needs has not been drawn from the bag.

Being so simple and yet so agonising, it was probably more fun to listen to the agonised wails or curious squeaks of your opponents than it was to play the game. Suffice to say, a lot of those noises game from Gonz who sounded like he was slowly deflating as the game wore on. The rest of us took turns to display bullish confidence and angst-ridden despair. After three rounds, the final scores were

1. Sam 485
2= Joe 457
2= Martin 457
3. Adam 445
4. Andrew 432
5. Hannah 411
6. Gonz 326

What a great game! Sam, Gonz and I went off early, but the remaining four were discussing what to play next, so there’s still more to come for this report. (EDIT: Joe has updated us in the comments below)

With the scores from the last game of the evening in, the form table looks like...

Martin1 2 1 3 2 9
Andrew4 1 1 2 1 9
Sam1 3 2 2 4 12
Adam2 3 3 2 3 13
Joe3 2 4 4 1 14
Steve3 31 55 17
Gonz6 12 5519
Hannah5 23 5520
Anja2 45 5521

Martin leaps to the top on the best-most-recent-score rule.

And the blog title came from Sam’s description of his board during a round of Take It Easy. Something like that anyway. I can’t remember that either. I really need to start taking notes...

Monday, 13 January 2014

Cold Comfort Farms

To be fair to Andrew, he didn't actually want to play games tonight. I plied him with the promise of crisps and beer. In a ghoulish case of life imitating art, or more specifically life imitating our recently-created script, I had to pay a friend to play games (in crisps and beer).

However Andrew's initial pallor brightened when I arrived with Agricola in the car. I also had Railways of the World and Sutter's Mill, but as soon as I mentioned Uwe Rosenberg's classic, Andrew's eyes lit up. "We have to get you back on board with that game" he said.

this Farmer is royalty-free

I thought Andrew had played recently, but no: that's been mostly Adam and Gonz. So neither of us remembered all the rules, and it soon became apparent we didn't have a clue what we were doing. Of course Agricola is accessible from the get-go in terms of options, but when it came to strategy, well; we were both wandering around our farms, staring disconsolately at piles of wheat, ploughing fields that lay fallow and fencing pastures that lay empty, and in the unlikely event a sheep made it to lambing season you could bet your last bit of fence it'd be into the pot on the next round. Andrew charitably let me take one begging card when I should have taken two for the first harvest, as I didn't realise your family needed two food each, not one.

The score-pad showed when we'd last played a two-player - probably about two years ago - Andrew had beaten me 38 to 36 points. This time I beat him by 18 to 9. Although Andrew had built a large stone house he had quite a few empty spaces on his farm, whereas mine at least had some cattle milling about on them, surprisingly giving birth.

It was a shocking performance really, but in fairness we've both been out of this agricultural loop for some time... and although I enjoyed it, it didn't convince me I wanted to rush back to a lengthy 3 or 4-player experience. It's a lovely game, but I'd rather play Railways to be honest. I'm not sure why that is.

Much less imposing on this (lightweight) gamer's eye was Biblios, which we rounded off with. Halfway through Andrew was confident, and I less so. But as he used up his gold devaluing my objective dice, I junked lots of colour to pick up the gold in the auction phase and grab the available remaining colour cards:

Sam 9
Andrew 4

I departed a little after 9pm, glad to have refreshed my memory on Agricola, but also reminded of the stress of the game. It's like Year of the Dragon set in the Cotswolds.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Artifacts and Everything After

This was a special day. The day that after three years of waiting, the Race for the Galaxy: Alien Artifacts expansion finally arrived! I immediately texted Joe to see if he was up for a game and he responded enthusiastically. It turned out he'd just bought a copy too. So I headed round to his studio (aka the Afternoon Den of Fun) for a quickie before Roll for the Soul. We decided not to explore the Orb part of the expansion just yet and simply throw in the new cards and get going. In the first game I went the tried and tested production and consumption route, while Joe assembled a monstrous horde of aliens. In the final reckoning I had pipped him by a tantalising point!

Martin 50
Joe 49

An immediate rematch was necessary. Once again I favoured consumption while Joe liked military. This time he had an interlocking set of bonus cards for Rebel, Imperium and Uplift cards and we were both drawing a huge seven cards each time production happened. And again I scored a narrow victory, thanks to 14 points of consumption on the final turn. 

Martin 58
Joe 49

It was time to head off to Roll for the Soul, where we found Adam, Tom, Katie and new (I think) Andy taking their penguins fishing. While they finished off, Joe and I had a quick game of Romans Go Home! I'm not sure of the exact score in Hey, That's My Fish! but Katie came running over excitedly to tell us she'd scored her first win at 'games club'. Meanwhile, Joe dominated Hadrian's Wall with some neat tricks:

Joe 34
Martin 17

The six of us now teamed up for the terrifyingly thematic The Walking Dead Card Game.... wait a minute, this is just 6 Nimmt with pictures of zombies and bullets on it! The new artwork doesn't really get in the way of the same old great game. Joe, Adam and I showed that experience does count by alternating the lead between us while Andy raced to the finish line. We weren't entirely sure he was joking when he said he was going for most points. Thanks to a zero in the third and final round, I just sneaked past Joe for the win. I'm afraid I don't have the full scores as I didn't know I would be thrust into the role of narrator for the evening!

As the zombies lumbered off into the distance, Gonz arrived decked out in a voluminous cagoule that put Adam in mind of a World War One soldier. He had games with him but couldn't resist the lure of Agricola with Adam and Andy. They'll have to fill in the details in the comments, but I have been reliably informed that the final score was:

Adam 39
Andy 35
Gonz 35

I suggested Kingdom Builder to the others. Katie and Tom had played it at RFTS just before Christmas, but they seemed to be in that gaming honeymoon phase where they want to learn something new every time. So, what could I do but propose the other game I'd brought with me, The Palaces of Carrara? It wasn't my fault!

Joe and I agreed that with two new players we should stick to the basic game and off we went. It was a bit of a strange one with all the cheap buildings snapped up early, Katie having a fetish for flags and a few rules misunderstandings along the way. I finally managed to achieve the game-ending goals, but only with the very last building, which would have ended the game anyway. Again, I don't have the full scores, but I won, followed by Katie, one point ahead of Tom, and poor Joe trailing in last. "I'm done with this game!" he pronounced furiously. I hope he doesn't really mean it...

The others were on the final round of Agricola and closing time was drawing nigh. Just time for the four of us to have a quick bout of Love Letter. I took a 2-point lead, but couldn't close it out and when we had to stop the scores were poised at:

Katie 2
Martin 2
Joe 1
Tom 1

Into the night we made our way, our heads full of games and our bellies full of the delicious Everything Wrap (or maybe that was just me). 

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

The Follies of Berger

Just a couple of days ago, tonight looked like being a bumper crop of gamers at Sam’s. But yesterday, Quentin bowed out and then today Gonz got a puncture and so he couldn’t make it either. But seven is still a healthy turn out. Along with Sam and myself, Steve, Anja, Martin, Adam and Joe were present. Sam's kids offered a heart-warming message for us all:

At first, Joe told us of his most recent find in the Charity shops of Bristol: The Sigma File. This 1970s game of espionage is set on a by-now inaccurate map of the world (East Germany? Yugoslavia? Bombay?) and involves moving around plastic men in search of a suitcase containing the notorious Sigma File. He then has to get back to his base. It sounds intriguing, and was a definite possibility for a while, but it does need four players, and we just didn’t divide up right.

Sam, Martin, Steve and Anja went into one room to play Sutter’s Mill, since the rules were still fresh in Sam’s mind. In the kitchen, me, Joe and Adam played Steam, another new arrival on the doorstep of GNN Towers.

Joe explained the rules to Adam, and before you knew it, we were off. Joe started fretting very early, as Adam and I built up our cash reserves while Joe’s bank balance hovered around the zero mark. Something inside him must’ve snapped, since he played a very combative game. He insisted he didn’t mean to, but he tried to block tracks built by both me and Adam.

It was a long, arduous game. Any description of it as being “Railways of the World Lite” is hopelessly wrong. In such a small space, some kind of conflict is inevitable, which leads to a lot of AP as potential moves are worked out way in advance.

We heard the sound of laughter from next door, and when I went in, it looked like quite a different game to the two-player version. Far more crowded. There was practically a bar room brawl in Odd Fellow’s Hall!

Our game, meanwhile, put us through the wringer. Options became more and more limited, and by the end, there were no cubes left to ship. I suspect that we played one round too many, but it could be that three RotW experts like us are able to get the most out of our resources. In the end, I edged ahead of Joe thanks to my position on the money track. Adam ended with a healthy lead.

Adam 79
Andrew 68
Joe 65

The folks from the creek across the plains (ie, in the front room) also ended around the same time as us. They didn’t, though, finish at the same time as each other. Since part of the game is to get your guys out of town before the gold runs out, Martin did so quicker than his opponents, so he came in to watch us play for a bit.

Once all four had ended, the scores were

Martin 68
Anja 66
Steve 45
Sam 18

That’s not a typo. Sam got hit by Explainer’s Curse as hard as it’s ever hit anyone. Sam could only say “I played my cards badly” by means of explanation. Steve and Anja gave me a lift back, and they mentioned how impressed they were by Martin’s ability to pick up the gist of the game. Although Steve did point out that Martin read the rules. That probably helped. Anja must just be good at picking up gold and running away with it. Steve said he was baffled by the whole experience.

But although me, Steve and Anja had left, the other four fought on with a bracing game of Love Letter. I got a text telling me the scores:

Joe 3
Martin 2
Sam 2
Adam 0

In the text, Sam suggested that Martin knocking him out of the last round may be a tie-breaker, but is that in the rules? It goes down as joint second for now.

A very enjoyable, if somewhat exhausting, evening. I head the form table, which is nice.

Andrew2 1115 10
Sam2 4 222 12
Joe1 3 333 13
Adam3 1 225 13
Steve3 31 55 17
Martin215 5518
Anja2 45 5521

Monday, 6 January 2014

Mined over matter

The Gods smiled down on two weary gamers, as the planets aligned and the clouds parted and other things happened in the sky and Sam and I were able to fit two games evenings into two real evenings. And there’s the official GNN tomorrow! We are living the high life !

One Sunday we played a new game, The Hive. No photos from this day since my phone was across the room, plugged into the speakers, pretending to be a juke box. The Hive is a simple strategy game (or maybe it’s very complicated and I just haven’t twigged it yet) whereby the aim is to place and move your hexagonal pieces so that they surround your opponents queen bee.

The trick is to trap her long before that happens, since a piece cannot move if it breaks the hive. It’s intriguing, but it needs more table time. I’m sure there’s more to learn. The end is usually an anti-climax, since it can be clear who’s won several moves before it’s happened, without anything you can do about it.

Sam won three times, and then he won at 7 Wonders, with Dirk pushing me into third place! Is there anything more humiliating than coming third in a two-player game?

But that’s enough about Sunday. Again today, the two of us met up for more games! And again, there was a new game on the table. Sutter’s Mill has been sitting in Sam’s games cupboard almost longer than the Gold Rush lasted. Now was it’s chance to shine. Would it be 24 carat, or fool’s gold? I didn’t care, since my character had a cool hat and a shifty look. Good start.

Since it was our first play, any thought of strategy was secondary to working out what did what. The rules weren’t great, with large chunks repeated throughout. But the game is clear enough, once you’ve worked out what “conducting business” means. It means getting gold according to how buildings you have. You get buildings by combining men and cards in order to have the most influence in them.

And that’s how Sam played it: he owned buildings, even if they weren’t actually useful at the time, in order to get gold for buildings. I owned buildings which got bonuses for mining gold at a particular stage in the game.

Then, after mining for gold, the trick is to get your meeples and cards out of town as much as possible. Preferably leaving a low-valued card and one lonely meeple in town once the vein of gold has been exhausted and the game ends. Anything left in town counts against you. Gold and cards you managed to save from town get you points. We counted up, and despite the rules assuring us that ties were rare, it couldn’t have been closer.

Andrew 116
Sam 115

Sam had more gold, but I got all my cards out in time. An interesting game. Perhaps better with three, which would make it harder to keep track of what your opponent is up to.

After this, I requested Samurai, which doesn’t get enough love here in GNN. This time we played strictly according to the rules, which made the game drier with far fewer opportunities to parachute in plenty of troops at once (not that Edo-period Japan had invented the parachute. Or perhaps they had, but they certainly hadn’t invented the aeroplane, making parachutes somewhat redundant).

So we patiently built up our forces, and a lot of pieces were taken off the board as many battles ended in a draw, but Sam was a clear winner.

And so we finished the game and the evening. And there’s more to come tomorrow!

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Elephant Memory

Friday night saw the three of us resume gaming competition following the holiday break. Carrying on with our new 'out of the hat' selection process, Jacquie adopting the role of glamorous assistant drew out Taj Mahal and Trans Europa. We only needed the briefest of rule reminders before playing and felt quite pleased that we didn't make any mistakes the whole time.

The time gap since the last play had been sufficient to prevent any of us remembering any solid strategy although I justified my statement of "quite loving elephants" to take the early goods tiles. James grabbed the plus 2 points special card which he used to great effect whereas Paul fell behind after losing out to some aggressive bidding from me. His time was to come however as the game has this lovely balancing mechanism that means staying in the bidding sees that you collect fewer cards therefore reducing your ability to compete later on.

And so it was, the daunting lead generated by James and myself was clawed back and passed by Paul and his massive fist of bidding cards. When it came to the final visit I was down to two cards. I put one down that would entitle me to place two palaces, nick a few special cards and be the first to take my new cards from the 5 on the table (You score special cards and the colour you have most of at the end) and hope that the guys would contest the resources and lay elephant cards. The planets must have been in alignment because my luck held out and thats what happened. The finest of margins are the difference between final scores in this game as I pipped Paul by 2 points.

And thats how it finished folks.

Chris - 59
Paul - 57
James - 49

We then hastily set up Trans Europa. The game pretends to be a quick light game but it always takes longer than you think. After we each won a round the scores were 7 for James and myself and 9 for Paul. That was how it ended as time ran out. James and I decided that we would rejoice in our shared victory.

Our table looks like so.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Daytime thinking

It’s been too long since Joe’s presence graced the pages of this blog, so it was high time for a glorious return. He sent out texts, tentatively asking if people wanted to meet up at 2pm for a game or two. When I got the text, I was already in town, so I thought “Great! An invite to Joe’s Afternoon Den of Fun!” But after I went to his studio, he didn’t answer his buzzer. I texted him “I’m outside your door,” and he texted back, “No, you’re not.”

Really puzzled, I had to phone him to work out what was going on. He was back at his house! I was outside the wrong door. I quickly set off once again to his place. Lucky I was due to arrive early, and I got there with plenty of gaming time still in hand. Joe told me that he was slightly spooked: apparently my message that I was at his door when I clearly wasn’t, plus some weird echo on my phone when I spoke to him made him suspect I’d fallen into a parallel universe.

But anyway, that’s two whole paragraphs and I haven’t mentioned any games yet. Joe had got out Steam, as a sort of Railways of the World alternative. It’s smaller, shorter, less random and more confrontational. We made a decision on behalf of Sam, who was on his way, that we should play this, and started to set up.

Sam turned up with his two boys in tow. The plan was to sit them down with a film while Sam was in the kitchen, playing games. But Little Joe had fallen out of the car onto his arm and wouldn’t settle down. Sam was concerned enough to take him off to A&E just to make sure it wasn’t anything serious.

So they set off, leaving Joe and I to play a two-player game of Steam. Thanks to my recent experience on RotW, I got into the swing of things quite quickly. Joe spent big and spent most of the game in the negative half of the income track. I was prudent and sensible, and stayed out of the red as much as possible.

The main difference between this and RotW is the ability to move a cube as long as you have at least one piece of track along the route. This means it’s much easier to take a cube that was about to score big points for your opponent, and send it off down a much less profitable route. Which is what we both did. I even went to the trouble of building a length of track solely for the purpose of stealing a cube that would’ve got him 6 points.

I won by a handful of points, 58 to 55 I think. It would’ve been closer, or even a win to Joe if he hadn’t built a new city and track leading to it, and then not used it. It was a fun game, and due to its similarities to RotW, it needs very little rule explanation. If it was combative with two-players, I can imagine it being worse with four. Maybe, like, twice as worse!

By now Sam and the boys had returned, after Little Joe stopped crying before they’d even got to the counter at A&E. The two boys settled down to watch a film, and the three of us chose a few bracing rounds of High Society.

I wish I’d made more notes, but in truth each game was much the same. Joe spent big on high cards, but then came last each time due to having least money. Sam seemed to go for multipliers. At one point he had two “x2” cards and a Four. We realised that if he got the Seven currently on offer, he’d have 44 points! Obviously, this was stopped. I went for middling cards, and on two occasions I had enough in reserve that I was able to get high cards near the end for cheap, while Sam and Joe held on to what little cash they had left. I ran out a winner three times, making it a day of victories for me! I did say it would be leaderboard, but that’s when I thought I’d be able to remember the results because I wasn’t drinking. Turns out I can’t. Still, it deserves a blog post, don’t you think? Especially with the hospital dash and parallel universes.

Sam 222 1 3 10
Adam225 5 519
Steve315 55 19
Joe333 55 19
Anja455 5524

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Trail of Destruction!

New Year's Eve. I took a selection of games to our friends Marieke and Simon's house, one of which was Tinner's Trail. Simon was cooking up a storm with parma ham and melon starters and coq au vin to come. "We've got a Viennetta for later!" he exclaimed. Times were good.

After a couple of glasses of wine we began playing Love Letter. Simon, despite to-ing and fro-ing to the stove, picked up a win. I was knocked out three times by the guards. Marieke, who had just been describing how her daughter was a dreadful cheat, was a dreadful cheat. But the first sign that all was not well was Sally professing to be confused by the game, despite playing it only two nights ago. We were all being a little liberal with the wine, but I didn't realize until later that Marieke and Sally were also drinking port. The whole thing took place over a rather busy festive tablecloth:

spot the lady

After the meal Marieke and Sally both chose Carcassone. But Simon's passion for Cornwall overrode everything as he insisted we play Tinner's Trail. And he had a willing accomplice in myself.

Before describing what followed I should clarify I have been patiently biding my time with Tinner's Trail, wanting to introduce it at the optimum time to Sally to maximize the admittedly minimal chance she'd like it. It's been months, years, and I've rarely suggested it and never insisted. However all my careful plans were to fall into tatters, because frankly I was drunk. Gripped by a mad optimism, I told myself what could go wrong? We're all here having fun! Now we can have fun playing Tinner's Trail!

We set up and embarked on a 2-hour journey of confusion. Despite my insistence that it was straightforward, it wasn't. I'm not the greatest explainer at the best of times, and apparently cheerfully saying "You'll get it as we go on!" does not a self-fulfilling prophecy make.

Marieke regularly looked me in the face to say "I'm not being funny or anything, but I don't like this game". Sally simply stared at the board before muttering that she didn't know what was going on. Essentially I was playing for three people. Simon was a beacon of light, however. He got it all and threw himself into it with abandon. "This is great!" he exclaimed. "It all makes sense!"
I love you, Simon.

An extra spanner in the works was that Cornwall was drowning in water. There were only three territories with less than four blue cubes in them, and nobody was picking up adits as we didn't have adjacent mines. Every time someone tried to buy a new territory Marieke banged her fist on the table and yelled "Five pounds!" meaning everybody was soon completely broke. It became a game of competitive pasty-selling.

Then Sally, in a moment of tin-lust, knocked her wine over the board. In her haste to clear it up, she knocked it over again. There was wine on my trousers, the meeples... the lizard was swimming in Rioja.  We executed a real-world rescue and play continued.
But Sally was fading. "I think I need to lie down" she croaked bleakly, "It's the wine"
"It's Tinner's Trail!" I shrieked, staring accusingly at the board.
"It isn't" Sally tried to reassure me, but I knew it for a tissue of lies.
"You haven't had your Viennetta yet!" Simon pointed out.

With the aid of coffee Simon persuaded her to stay up for the last round, which was nearly over.

Marieke bought another mine she couldn't afford to extract anything from, and Sally insisted on mining tin when copper was more valuable. Marieke accused me of helping Sally more than I was helping her. She disappeared for several minutes and Sally insisted she was going to return in her underwear, which made it quite hard to add up the scores. After we invested for the last round I put Marieke's investment cube in the column for round three - we think - but it didn't matter - we think - because I would probably have won anyway. Simon came last, which was far less than he deserved.

As we packed away, tin and copper scattered itself over the room after Marieke attempted an adventurous bagging technique, and I found Simon's investment cubes nestling in some slices of oxidised apple. We hadn't eaten apple all evening so it was rather baffling. I wondered what else was hidden in plain sight in the festive tablecloth...

We ate Viennetta as I bagged up the slightly-red yellow mines. Then we went to bed.

It was 11.20.

Happy New Year, Wallace!