Friday, 28 February 2014

Once a Lord always a Lord, but three times a Knight is enough.

The 3 player league took a back seat this week due to the emergence of my new purchase Kingdom Builder. This new addition was not, as one might expect, bought owing to reports from the pages from this esteemed blog but rather down to the fact that I was milling around my local games shop and running out of time. It was a recognisable title at the right price point and I needed to get out of there before the weight of choice crushed me into buying nothing.

The choice, it turns out, was a good one. Three games in total was played such was it's popularity. Both James and Paul had read up on game play before the evening and so we launched straight in. Our scoring methods were to be dictated by Knights, Merchants and Citizens for this first game and by all accounts this was a good combination for new players. The choices were easy to work out and left us to concentrate on getting the adjacency rule right. I tried to do well in all categories but was beaten by Paul and James's superior specialisations. James with a sprawling metropolis and Paul with his handy network of location connections. In the end Paul steamrollered us into dust.

Paul - 49
James - 43
Chris - 40


With the game's tactics safely tucked into our belts round two started with new boards and completely new scoring cards - Farmers, Hermits, Fisherman. James's two paddock tiles meant that he spent a portion of the game making very useful small settlements all over the board. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to build in one sector and failed to score in Farmers. This game was a different experience from the first. The combination of location tiles and scoring cards made the choices very difficult and the game moved along much more slowly. The game looked close and the final scores revealed the same.

Chris - 46
Paul - 45
James - 44

In our final game with Lords, Citizens and Discovers selected James found him self wedged in one corner unable to break out due to the combination of terrain cards he was getting. Each card meant he was performing the gaming equivalent of "stacking shelves", as he put it. Meanwhile, whilst Paul was cutting me a break by not blocking off my chain of settlements, I was sealing off the entrance to the Oasis sector, keeping all to myself. Earlier each of us had missed the opportunity to place our little houses in the city island and it remained unpopulated for the rest of the game. James eventually broke out of his corner but it was just too late to influence the scoring effectively.

Chris - 65
Paul - 63
James -57

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Art for art’s ache

This week’s regular meet was held at Adam and Hannah’s. There were seven of us (Adam, Hannah, Martin, Sam, Joe, Gonz and me) but despite 7 Wonders being the only available option if we wanted to play a game together, we passed over that option and went straight into the evening’s main courses. There was a four-player game of A Study in Emerald (Martin, Gonz, Adam and Hannah) and a three-player game of Bruxelles 1893 (me, Sam and Joe).

The three of us went into the front room where we had to spread the game across three occasional tables, delicately balancing the main playing areas on the largest oval table. Just getting the layout right took several attempts, and quite a few minutes. It was to be an omen for what was to come.

We explained the rules to Joe, who asked insightful and intelligent questions. This made me think he already understood the game better than I did. I had a plan in round one, but even by round two I was being squeezed out of auctions and when round three finally began, I’d pretty much forgotten what the plan was at all.

If it was long with two newbies, it was a dirge with three. We added at least an hour to the recommended playing time for three, and this is not a game that gets better the more it goes on. While it has some nice ideas, it has far too many of them. They may overlap, but they never really gel.

I popped into the next room to see how Victorian London was coping against a battle between anarchists and octopuses, but I found that board equally baffling. In the end, Martin went mad in order to end the game at an opportune time, putting his colleague Hannah in second and leaving the two beastly loyalists in last.

Martin 9
Hannah 4
Adam 5
Gonz 3

When they’d finished, we were still knee-deep in art. Our game was taking so much time we even quipped "Bruzelles 1893? That's when we started playing it." So they began another game: Kingdom Builder. Another new game for Hannah, I think. Gonz took revenge for his recent last place.

Gonz 70
Hannah 51
Martin 51
Adam 37

When Bruxelles finally came to a close, we even had a few minutes debate about the score track, since it only went up to eighty before resetting to zero. Sam scored over one hundred, so should he put his counter on 20 something or 0 something? By now I was exhausted. If a game can’t even get the scoretrack right, it’s a bad sign.

Joe 133
Sam 126
Andrew 85

And there the evening ended. Sam suggested a final game of Raj but sorting out who’d play a five-player game out of seven people was one logistical puzzle too many for our frazzled brains, and in the end the offer was never taken up.

And if the evening wasn’t long enough, on the way home Adam called me to say that Sam had left his bag behind, with his keys etc. in them. Sam dropped me and Gonz off before one last dash across Bristol to round off quite a fraught evening for all concerned.

Joe1 2 1 1 3 8
Martin 2 1 1 1 3 8
Sam2 1 2 2 1 8
Gonz1 4 2 1 2 10
Hannah2 2 1 3 4 12
Steve 4 1 3 31 12
Andrew3 3 1 4 3 14
Anja2 3 2 45 16
Adam 3 3 3 3 5 17
Will3 2 5 5520
Matt5 5 5 5525

And on the monthly division, Martin leads on points and medal table, while Steve still holds on to points ratio.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Indian Summer

There was a maths trade on BoardGameGeek recently and I traded away some unpopular games for new territory. One I had meant to take off the list was Ankh Morpork - inevitably I got it in the trade - and another was Raj. 

Raj alleges itself to be an "outrageous" bidding game, which is a lot of hype to live up to for a card game in a board-game sized box. I'd read the basic game was OK but the Tournament version was quite addictive, so was looking forward to trying it.


The game is very simple - there are 15 tiles; valued 1-10 and -1 to -5. Each player has 15 bidding cards and when a tile is drawn randomly from a the pile and revealed, everyone makes a bid. The highest bidder picks up the value tile, the lowest bidder receives the minus tiles (which are, as you may have guessed, bad). 


But if there are any identical bids, they cancel each other out, so you have to be very careful about when you play your high cards. Stanley really liked this game and keeps asking to play it, so we've played 3-handers with Little Joe and two-player games against each other. Joe's tactic of always playing his highest card didn't get him anywhere, and when I suggested he play some low cards he took me at my word and played his lowest card every time instead. The result: he wiped the floor with us! I'm pleased to say that tactic only worked as a one-off, however. Stan and I twice played high cards that tied, giving Joe easy (default) pickings early on with his low-value cards.

Andrew liked it too - you need to keep track of what tiles are left and, if you can, what cards your opponent has. It's very moreish and we played three times on the trot.

We also played Ankh Morpork, which was pretty dull - silly of me to suggest it for two but I wanted to try it again. I am baffled it's relatively high rating considering the randomness and repetition though.

 And as the evening closed out we bashed out 7 Wonders - Andrew took the sciences route, but passed a lot of science cards to Dirk, meaning I grabbed a convincing win. Only Gonz has really made the sciences look indomitable, and that was in a game where Andrew I kept passing them to him thinking he was digging his own test-tube grave. We won't make that mistake again!

I'll bring Raj on Tuesday - it plays the basic game in ten minutes and hosts up to five.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

From Truro to Tsuro

Last time I went to a Roll For The Soul games night, I got there at 7.00 and because I was so late, I had to sit out the first game. This time, I was determined that the same thing shouldn’t happen again, so I turned up bang on 6.30, ready to play. I was the first, so I ordered food and began to wait.

Martin turned up at around 6.45, which reassured me that the evening hadn’t been cancelled without me knowing, but no sign of Adam. Luckily, Sam and animator Ian popped in on their way to a posh restaurant’s opening night. They had time for a quick game so we played Divinare, the game of psychic intuition. It was new to Sam and Ian, but they seemed to get into it quick enough. Certainly, they didn’t ruin their chances in the first round with a –5 score like I did.

It was fun and pretty tense at the end, when you have to wait to see what the final cards are and how that effects your prediction. Martin rode out the clear winner with 16 (all values approximate), with Ian just beating Sam by a point to claim second place (10 to 9, I think). I was miles behind with about five points.

During this game, I texted Adam to find out how far away he was. He texted back that he’d forgotten all about it! Amazing! He and Hannah arrived after half an hour or so, just as Divinare was winding up. After his recent two last places and now forgetting about an entire games night, maybe impending fatherhood has taken the edge off Adam’s otherwise steel-cold clear-thinking brain.

Sam and Ian left, and the four of us chose Tinners’ Trail as the main game of the evening. Martin and Hannah needed only a slight refresher of the rules, and we were off! This time Tinners’ Trail was uncanny in its topicality: our Cornwall was every bit as sodden as the real one. And it got wetter as the game went on.

Tinners' Trail, after the end of round two

Despite the water, prices were high for the first two rounds, so mining was worth it. Even in the final two rounds, the market never collapsed, which was a relief for me. I concentrated my efforts into three generous but soggy mines, using adits to maintain their levels of copper and tin throughout the game. Hannah built an empire in the east, and Martin tried his luck at additing into an empty area and then buying it cheap, only for it to turn out to be a slightly metallic lake. Adam squeezed his plans into the area around Land’s End and Lizard Point.

As the final round began, I had plenty of copper in my mines, and not much else. We remarked that my whole game relied on the dice roll for the price of copper. As long as it didn’t bottom out, I thought I’d be fine. It was £4. I breathed a sigh of relief and managed to scrape the win by the thinnest of narrow margins, winning on the money tie-breaker. Me and Martin got 107 (but I had £3, he had none), Adam 101 and Hannah 97 or 94.

I was very happy with my win, and somehow it seemed more enjoyable because the opposition was so strong and because it was so close. Mind you, Martin spent most of the game moaning about his dice rolls, and he still almost won. I’d hate to see him play Tinners’ Trail when the dice rolls go in his favour. Adam remarked it was the first time that he’d seen the adit tactic work, but then we concluded that the watery nature of the game probably suited it.

After this, we ended on a lovely game of Tsuro, with Hannah going out first, boxed in by me. Adam then left Martin with no choice but to kill himself. Finally we met in one corner of the board and Adam was able to lay the fatal tile that ended the game in his favour.

Another Roll For The Soul over, and the evening ended with a rare threat: a lift home with Adam and Hannah. In a car. It’s a shame that, as pedestrians and cyclists, we weren’t sure of the quickest way back, and I sent them down a dead-end street on the way, but they got me back in less time than walking, and that’s all that counts.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

The adventures of sheer luck

Dusk on Tuesday brings Bristol’s finest out to the best games night there is for miles around. This week it was Joe who was hosting, and Martin, Adam, Sam and I arrived first, with Steve and Anja expected shortly.

To fill the time until their arrival, rather than talking to each other, we thought we should play a game, even if it meant Adam reaching awkwardly over his plate of chips and between various condiments when it was his turn. We chose No Thanks, because it’s a good game. I poo-poohed my “take the lowest card” strategy in favour of a “take a fairly low card” strategy. Not much of an improvement. Me, Martin and Adam were swept aside by Sam’s high-card tactics and by Joe’s joining of cards 28-24, with plenty of chips in reserve.

Joe 11
Sam 13
Martin 20
Andrew 27
Adam 36

There was still no sign of Anja and Steve so we played Timeline. An excellent game (if you know history) and a perfect excuse to see Joe’s automatic shuffler in action.

Once the game got going, we placed our bets and showed our ignorance. Wrong guesses were, for the most part, only out by a decade or two. I think I made the least accurate guess of the evening: Apparently, microbes were discovered in the 1500s, and not in the late 1800s as I had thought. But I still battled back to run out joint winner with Joe and Martin. Sam came second with Adam in third, having made one correct guess.

From the invention of writing to
walking on the moon, in one evening

1= Joe
1= Andrew
1= Martin
2. Sam
3. Adam

By now, Steve and Anja were here. The seven of us decided to split into two groups of four and three. Adam, Sam and Joe went for Russian Railroads. Me, Martin, Anja and Steve chose A Study In Emerald. This had been mentioned in emails before the evening, and I’d got the idea into my head that this was some kind of cross between Mr Jack and Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective.

My discovery that the storyline included giant octopuses and was based on a short story by Neil Gaiman was offset by the fact it was designed by Martin Wallace. But my initial doubts grew into convictions during the game. It crammed into one game the secret identities of Revolution, the rule of avoiding last of High Society, the deck-building of Dominion, the sudden endings of Palaces of Carrara, and the area-control of, oh, lots of games.

A country called "Gary"

The secret identities bit didn’t work at all, as I accidentally attacked my team mate, and then the next go, before I could undo my mistake, Martin saw which way the game was going and chose an option that luckily allowed him to end the game. A bit of an anti-climax, frankly.

We were in two “teams” but since the winning team came first and second, I’ll just put the points as we ended.

Martin 18
Anja 13
Andrew 11
Steve 7

After this, Steve and Anja went back home. The game of Russian Railroads still had half an hour to go, so Martin and I sped through a game of two-player Agricola. We scooped up wooden meeples like poker chips, and before you knew it, I’d lost again 52-30, despite Martin’s disgusting battery farming of horses. There must be a law against this.

Finally, RR came to an end. Martin and I marvelled at the final round scoring of 100+ points, and that’s before bonuses. It seemed like one opportunity after another to add to your score. In the end, Sam won, using an improved version of the strategy he used last time. The first time we played, the three of us ended 14 points apart. That didn’t happen this time:

Sam 482
Joe 424
Adam 397

By now it was almost eleven. We drew this evening’s entertainment to a close. Joe insisted he could clear away the bottle-strewn, meeple-infested table after we’d gone. And so, we went.

On the form table, while Gonz is away in Spain, Sam takes the opportunity to steal top spot. It’s a narrow margin, though. Only the "best most-recent score" rule separates them. Despite coming last, Steve actually improves his score. But the big winner tonight is Joe, who replaces two “6”s and a “1” with two “1”s and a “2”, sending him up from ninth to fourth.

Sam1 2 2 1 2 7
Gonz 2 1 2 1 1 7
Martin 1 1 3 2 3 10
Joe2 1 1 3 3 10
Steve 4 1 3 31 12
Andrew3 1 4 3 3 14
Hannah1 3 4 3 4 15
Anja2 3 2 45 16
Adam 3 3 5 2 3 16
Will3 2 5 5520
Matt5 5 5 5525

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Love games.

Friday was Valentines day and what better way to spend it than with your old mate playing board games. And before everyone out there thinks that maybe I'm some sort of prehistoric oaf I'll have it be known that Jacquie was cordially invited to join in but declined. For some reason.

As the wind howled away outside Paul took advantage of his opportunity to choose all the games for the evening.  For the second time in a week it was Lords of Waterdeep. Even so I very happy to see it brought out again. Early activity saw both players establish bonus producing Plot Quests, helpful buildings and a few Mandatory Quests. On two player Lords you receive 4 agents to start with therefore you are pretty much completing a quest if not two every round. If 4 and 5 player is a resource restricted marathon 2 player is a abundant riches sprint. The rounds turned over quickly and even though most choices are obvious it's still fun to do.

For the second time in a week I managed to screw up the final scoring and this time we both stood staring at the board pouring over it discussing Paul's nice win and impressive 10 completed quests when I noticed that my three plot quests tucked under my tavern hadn't been counted. Paul met this with a typically understated "Ah well" and I managed to pip him.

Chris - 204
Paul - 196

Still in resource grabbing mode Paul selected Mini Agricola next. Paul's balanced approach meant that I was almost forced into producing the gaming worlds largest sheep farm, complete with petting zoo. Both our farms layout would've given Feng Shui masters a serious headache. Totting up the scores showed that maxing out on sheep out weighed the negative bonus points for not getting enough horses and cattle. The game seems a little unfairly balanced in this aspect. It is only possible to get a maximum 14 of each (Allowing for breeding) if you picked them up from the first round and then you need your opponent not to keep nicking them. So my 23 sheep was something of a strong tactic.

Chris - 49
Paul - 40

Finally, to reflect current affairs, we shuffled the cards to Nile where each turn is prompted by a flood card which forces a harvest. Somerset should have piles of Flax, Wheat, Papyrus, Lettuce and Castor when this season is all finished. I struggled to get any Flax in this game and Paul knew this making sure I had to rip out the crop each opportunity he got. In the count up my solitary Flax card fell short of the required 2 needed to even push the scoring to the next highest crop. Paul won in all areas.

Paul - 2
Chris - 1

Thursday, 13 February 2014


On seeing Dominion being drawn from my bag James looked as if he had eaten a tasty looking blackberry only to slowly realise that it had been the cosy residence of a flatulent grub.

This elaborate game of multiplayer solitaire hadn't seen the light of day since I introduced him to the seedy underworld of euro games. However, when I refreshed the rules James quizzically enquired as to why it had seemed so complicated originally. How far he's come....! By the end his opinion had completely switched and was hoping we could have another crack soon.

I selected the Victory Dance set of 10 which allowed for plenty of victory points. Normally my main tactic is to gather as much money as possible quickly and then buy up all of the Provinces but the allure of the Kingdom Cards such as Masquerade, Ironworks and Bridge drew me in. Across the table James was collecting mostly money. In the end James had spotted a neat victory point earner in the Duke which a point for every duchy in your hand. I thought I had bought some as well but I hadn't. James won quite comfortably although it felt like it was going to be closer.

James - 80
Chris - 65

Next up was another card game in the form of 7 Wonders. The two player variant includes the virtual 3rd player Dirk who is generally used to stitch up your opponent by giving him cards you know they want. The choice can be agonising as well as the fact that he gets cards for free first before purchasing from other players. James asked the question what would happen to our league if Dirk won... We decided that it would fall to our relative positions.

In a tactical game involving a good deal of stitching up my win came about in fairly fortuitous circumstances. In the final round I had a choice of the Arena (3 gold and 1VP for each wonder built) and the Craftsman's Guild (2VP for each of my opponents grey cards). Due to my miscalculations i thought they were worth the same because I thought the Guild gave 1 point instead of two. I decided to pick the guild because I thought guilds were nicer. (True story). At the count up James's strong sense of fair play compelled him to point out my error. Had he not done so he would have won due to money count back.
Well done James :)

Chris - 51
Dirk - 48
James - 47

Dirk's shock 2nd place was down to his really strong showing in sciences, which of course we were only too glad to sling toward him...

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Twin Kingdom Valley

After some last minute rearrangement based on Sam’s car being broken, we congregated at Sam’s place for this week’s regular GNN fix. Getting there was no picnic, though, as rain turned briefly to hail in the half hour before we were due to begin.

Some hail, today

Six of us were there: Sam, me, Adam, Hannah, Gonz and Martin. We chose an old favourite to begin with. One we could all play together as a sextet. It was Poison. It’s been a long time since I played. I’d like to think that was why I did so badly, but it’d been a long time since anyone had played. And Gonz had never played at all.

Gonz 5
Martin 12
Hannah 15
Sam 15
Adam 17
Andrew 27

Afterwards Gonz didn’t seem impressed. He said the game just played itself: it was always obvious what the next go should be. I wish it had been obvious to me.

After this, we split into two groups of three. Adam, Gonz and Martin went for Kingdom Builder. Hannah, Sam and I chose Fresco, but it was a last minute change of heart from Hannah, since we were seconds away from breaking out Tinners’ Trail. But the new flavour of the month won a second appearance on the table in two days.

The three of us were too involved in our fresco painting (or “frescing”, as I called it) to pay much attention to the Kingdom Builders at the far end of the table, but they did end halfway through our game, and the scores were pretty tight.

Martin 70
Gonz 64
Adam 60

As they began another game of Kingdom Builder, we kept on with our depiction of various biblical scenes. At first there was some leapfrogging over each other on the score track, but before long, I started to fall behind. I put everything into a last minute push of three sections of the fresco completed in the final round (probably done with crayons, such was my rush) but it wasn’t even enough to get into second. Hannah took first place with a measured performance. I was especially impressed with her demonstration that a heavily pregnant woman can still pick up a small yellow cube from the kitchen floor when she’s dropped it. A true gamer.

Hannah 87
Sam 81
Andrew 78

After this, the second game of Kingdom Builder was drawing to a close. This time, it wasn’t so close.

Gonz 78
Adam 62
Martin 43

Then Adam and Hannah set off home, and the four remaining gamers played Love Letter (with After Eights and whiskey – how sophisticated) to round the evening off. Sam played his courtly cards better than the rest of us.

Sam 3
Gonz 2
Martin 2
Andrew 0

On the form table, Gonz remains top, Hannah leaps up a few places, and Steve continues to bob up and down between third and fifth. This week, he's fourth.

Gonz 2 1 2 1 1 7
Sam 1 2 3 3 1 9
Martin 2 3 1 2 4 12
Steve 1 3 31 5 13
Hannah1 3 4 3 4 15
Adam 2 3 4 5 1 15
Andrew3 3 5 2 4 17
Anja3 2 45 519
Joe3 3 6 1 6 19
Will3 2 5 5520
Matt5 5 5 5525

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

The Da Vinci Mode

Yesterday was Andrew's birthday, and would you believe, he initially refused my offer of a game. But one doesn't turn 43 having a quiet night in, and when I waved Fresco under his nose, Andrew's gaming gene kicked in and he succumbed.

Hopefully he feels it was worth it. I really liked the game. Each player assumes the part of a painter, collaborating on a fresco in some cathedral or other. As you paint, you send your assistants off to market to buy paints, to the workshop to mix them, or occasionally sell a painting for a bit of cash. And there's a Bishop wandering around in the cathedral - if he witnesses you doing a particularly handy bit of the fresco it's worth a little extra on the victory point track.

Fairly straightforward then. Only there are a couple of teeny twists. One is that each player chooses what time to get out of bed - get up early and you get first dibs on everything, but the market is more expensive and your assistants can get in a bad mood - potentially bad enough for one of them to abandon you. Get up later and everything's rosy - but that green paint you wanted from the market may have gone.

The other twist is that everyone chooses where to send their assistants secretly before revealing. I think this would be more nail-bitey in a 3 or 4 player game; in a two player (as it was our first game we ignored a dummy player rule) it didn't affect us too much - until the last round when suddenly it was really tense! I loved the ramping up - not too brain-burny at the start, but not a stroll through the end.

Great game. I'll bring it tonight.

Sam ?
Andrew ?

As it was still early and we were flushed from our experience, we decided to try out our long-mooted idea of the 2-player variant of Tinner's Trail (Wheal of Fortune) from the geek. Unfortunately it wasn't a great success on this occasion - there's a dummy player who is basically a spoiler for your best-laid plans; dice are rolled for him, and usually he sinks a ship or throws a miner into the sea. He spoiled Andrew's game more than mine, and I nabbed a win.

I felt we couldn't end Andrew's night on such an underwhelming experience, so we chose our cars and played Monza. This little game comes in a little box - you rolled coloured dice and move little cars as far as they'll go. But about a year ago we (me and the kids) played it so much we made our own Monza track, with room for Matchbox cars to career around it.

Andrew rolled well and despite rattling around the track in a camper van he took the win from my sportier car. Nice way to end the evening... Andrew left for home with three more games in his belt for his 43rd year.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Saturday Night Clever

While the cat’s away, the mice will play. And when two cats are away, the mice all get together and play games until the early hours of the morning! The combined absence of Joe’s and Sam’s wives meant that a big sleep-over was arranged by the two husbands, with the clear aim of playing lots of board games once the little ones were in bed.

First, though, was the delicious meal of chili and burritos laid on by Joe. The six early arrivals (me, Joe, Sam, Martin, Adam and Hannah) all happily ate our way through Joe’s generous offerings. And it was his birthday recently! We should have been treating him! Maybe next year. At least Gonz was thoughtful enough to bring a cake when he arrived.

We discussed what to play and we soon split into two: Martin, Adam, Hannah and Sam chose Discworld:Ankh Morpock. Joe, Gonz and I chose Caverna, an Agricola variant which is apparently much easier to play despite coming in a far bigger and imposing box.

Both games needed rules explaining and, in the case of Discworld, some pieces added. Gonz had brought it in a Kingdom Builder box, and somehow while transferring the pieces across, some things got lost. As such, one player had to improvise with sheep from Agricola for their meeples. I’m sure Pratchett would approve.

I’m sure this only added to the fun. Meanwhile, we were making our way through the rules which was not so difficult thanks to our familiarity with Agricola. I was impressed with the wooden pieces, but it does take up a lot of space. I even took a photo of the game board, so I could look at it on my phone rather than leaning over the table, squinting off into the distance.

My strategy was single-minded and perhaps foolish. It was also the least Agricola-esque way to play the game. While Gonz bred animals and grew crops, I went on a rampage, giving both my farmers weapons and sending them out on expeditions every chance I got. Joe went for ruby farming, no doubt helped by the fact that neither Gonz nor I really bothered with them.

It’s a slow game. We sped through the first few rounds, but before long things started to slow down. Over on Discworld, things were slow but faster than us. They finished first.

Adam 100
Sam 92
Hannah 66
Martin 59

Martin clearly got a bad case of explainer’s curse. We on Caverna still had about half an hour to go, so the four of them played 6nimmt.

Sam 36
Martin 45
Adam 52
Hannah 79

By now, Hannah’s recent good form on Roll For The Soul was obviously at an end. After this we were still wading through the final stages of our game, so they were able to squeeze in one more game: No Thanks.

Adam 13
Sam 13
Martin 50
Hannah 78

By this time, Caverna had finished. In the end, while my tactics were solid, I was undone by not having any children. I still had the same two farmers/adventurers that I started with, while Gonz and Joe had four or five each. Joe really benefitted from his ruby monopoly, since he got about 20 points alone from his stash of jewels

Joe 88
Gonz 67
Anderw 49

Now that all seven of us were free at the same time, we chose a game we could all play. After some discussion and voting by pointing to our favourite choices, Incan Gold was chosen.

Hmph, "Incan Cold," more like. None of us had ever seen anything like it: zombie ladies, spiders and snakes were piled up against the entrances of each temple. You either got out quick or ended empty-handed. Sam did just that, and ranked a respectable third. I won, simply by fluke. With five of us eyeing up an artifact, four of us left in the same round to try and take it. Only I was left. I stayed for one more card (a lowly two) before I, too, ran away. It was enough to give me the win in a very low scoring game.

Andrew 18
Gonz 14
Sam 13
Hannah 8
Adam 5
Joe 4
Martin 4

Now, Adam and Hannah left and Sam went upstairs to take care of his kids. This left the four of us to discuss and debate almost endlessly over what to play next. Sigma File or Kingdom Builder? Africana or ten Days In Africa? 7 Wonders or Hab and Gut? Finally we took a secret ballot which at least narrowed it down to three. The first one we played was Dixit, the game of describing pictures so that only one person chooses it.

And what a controversial game it turned out to be. Joe tactic of saying something that only one person would understand was challenged by Gonz. The phrase in question was “It must be lunchtime.” And the target picture was a man with a newspaper. Martin chose it, because he and Joe sometimes met up at lunchtime to do the crossword. Gonz was not impressed, saying it was too exclusive and not everyone would have a chance. Joe agreed to drop this strategy.

It’s a great game. Another relaxing game, all about looking at pretty pictures and making connections. Another game we should play more often.

Gonz 31
Martin 29
Joe 28
Andew 26

Finally, the evening ended with Las Vegas. Dice! Casinos! Whiskey from a plastic bottle! IN other words: the perfect way to end a Saturday. Joe brought out a couple of dice arenas for the occasion. It’s always good to see Das Exclusive, even if it is so big it doesn’t leave much room for the game.

Las Vegas is a great game, full of excitement and crazy stories. Unfortunately, mostly of the “you had to be there” variety. Anecdotes about people rolling dice never impress. Although Joe rolling all ones, and thus prematurely ending his round still makes me chuckle when I think about it.

Gonz won on a tie-breaker. I never even knew Las Vegas had a tie-breaker.

Gonz 370,000 (won with more cards)
Andrew 370,000
Joe 260,000
Martin 220,000

And with that, it was heading toward one a.m. and we set off into the rain. A great evening. Thanks to Joe for hosting and feeding us.

Gonz rises to the top of the form table after a good performance. Sam climbs to second.

Gonz1 1 2 21 7
Sam3 1 1 2 1 8
Steve1 3 31 5 13
Andrew2 4 1 3 3 13
Adam5 1 3 1 3 13
Martin4 2 6 2 2 14
Anja3 2 45 519
Joe3 3 6 1 6 19
Hannah4 3 4 3 5 19
Will3 2 5 5520
Matt5 5 5 5525

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Ladies’ Night

I got to Roll For The Soul at seven o’clock only to find all the places at the table taken and a game of Fauna in its early stages.

I sat it out and watched the six players (Joe, Adam, Katie, Hannah, Martin and newcomer Andy) make their best guesses about obscure mammals and lizards. It turns out that Hannah’s strategy worked best: she would weigh an invisible version of the animal in her hands, thoughtfully miming out how heavy it was. We laughed, but she scored an average of over 20 points per round and ended far in first place with 87 points after the fourth round. The rest spread themselves out equally, from Katie in 2nd place to Martin in last, cursing his luck at only ever scoring for adjacent guesses.

After that, Hannah and Katie thought about leaving, but were persuaded to stay with the promise of a game of Take It Easy. Now I was allowed to play, the seven of us drew tiles and laid tiles and moaned and fretted and cursed in the by-now familiar Take It Easy way.

Once again, Hannah took top spot, and in doing so takes the crown for highest single score: 211. Katie came in second, once more leaving the chaps to fight to claim the lower places. I came last with a dismal final couple of rounds.

Then the two overlords of tonight’s GNN decided to leave. Hannah and Katie were clearly satisfied with their evening’s work. The five remaining guys debated what to play. The only five player options were Ra or Modern Art. I’d never played Modern Art, and I was happy to try something new.

The game is simplicity itself. Buy art by four particular artists and at the end of a round, sell them. Its value depends on how many of a particular artist were bought that round: the more, the higher their value to anyone who bought them.

It’s a fun game. I’m not sure it’s meant to last one and a half hours, but by this time it was late and Joe was drunk, and some auctions were almost Pinteresque in their long silences before someone blurted out a new bid, triggering a spell of quickfire bidding before we fell back into silence. As we played, the cafe staff mopped floors and put chairs on table around us but they insisted we didn’t have to leave just yet.

In the end, Martin won. This came as a relief to him, since he claimed to have never won it. I came second and was pleased with my performance. Joe came last, and was appalled since he’d thought he was playing a really clever game.

We left the deserted cafe and walked out into the fine mist of rain, another evening of high anxiety and coffeehousing behind us.

Highs and L.O.W

James and I resumed our two player battles last night with another randomly picked selection of Lords of Waterdeep and Aton. James said that he had been daydreaming about Lords of Waterdeep on the way over and was pleased as punch when it came out first. L.o.W gets a bit of a hard time on forums for being a bit light but I never think "Oh no not that again" and it always leaves me with a happy feeling afterwards and I quite like a complicated game.

Due to our collective experience it was going to be a close contest. It became obvious after the first few rounds what type of cards we aiming at to gain the extra lord bonuses and even though we both sought Warfare it didn't create any problems. With both of us completing a mixture of helpful low scoring cards and picking up goodies or plot quests (On going bonuses) and expensive big scorers our little scoring counters played a twee game of leap frog around the board. In round 8, the final round, I was able to complete one more quest than James which pushed me ahead just enough to escape his impressive 10 card and forty point bonus at the end.

Chris - 207
James - 188

Next up Aton. Both of us needed a rules refresher. The winner of this game was going to be the person who could recall any tactics from the many matches we had played in previously. In the past James was quite a pro at this one. Although the rules were a little hazy the successful tactics had remained hidden in a tiny unused section of my memory marked "winning moves" and suddenly I was filling up the temples with red markers and scoring heavily..

Chris - 61
James - 34

No idea what this does for our mini league. James might know. I think I'm still a big behind.

Monday, 3 February 2014

The Belle Epic

Thursday is too far away for some gamers. Sam and I met up for an evening’s entertainment, and we chose new arrival Bruxelles 1893. It’s very pretty, neatly designed in a convincing Art Deco style. Quite fussy, but still easy to pick out the various game areas.

We began to wade through the rules. This turned into something of an ordeal. The basic mechanic is worker placement but, most of the time, putting down a worker achieves three things: makes an action, places a bid on a bonus card, and tries to claim a shield that sits between the action spaces.

Worker placement, area control and bidding, all at once

On the other hand, you could place your workers on another board, which allowed cheap actions with the caveat that whoever had the most players on the board would lose one of those workers to the courthouse, and you had to get them out by using a particular bonus card.

If that weren’t enough, there are several ways to score. You can place your point-scoring cards next to a particular bonus. If you think you’ll end the game with lots of money, then put your cards next to the money multiplier. Similarly, you can bet on number of workers, materials or works of art. Or you can build up your architect bonus and get points for how much of your delightfully designed house you build.

Sam and I read through to get an overall understanding, but after a lengthy spell with the rule book we were keen to jump in and give it a go, even if we weren’t sure about some of the areas or, indeed, the finer details of the final scoring.

Sam heads off along the lovely score track.

It was pretty good. After all those rules, it’s actually pretty easy going. It’s certainly quite short: six rounds, and the rules suggest twenty-five minutes per player. It plays up to five, though, so I can see it being a bit of a grind with many opponents.

But otherwise, it was a fun game. Kind of dry, but that could be because we didn’t know what to go for. But there was certainly enough there to bring it back to the table soon, I hope.

In the end, Sam won by 80something to my 60something, since I misunderstood one of the final scoring rules. But that’s my mistake.

However, as we packed away, we were still baffled about the City Hall area of the game board. It didn’t seem to do anything or score anything. Sam reread the rules, but couldn’t find anything about it. Eventually, he even went on the internet to see what other people were saying, but apparently we are alone in our bemusement. We must be missing something obvious.

City Hall. Your guess is as good as mine.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

The very definition of “Railroaded”

There will be no GNN this Tuesday, but three lucky tearaways managed to squeeze in one more evening of games before the month ends. It was me, Sam and Martin at Sam’s house. I arrived a little late, since I’d been held up on Gloucester Road because I had to nip into a pub to use their toilet, and was appalled at having to queue. What have men become? You get in, you get out, you don’t wash your hands and you certainly don’t chat. Those are the rules.

Anyway, when I got to Sam’s, he and Martin were just finishing off a game of The Little Prince (Martin won, by a narrow margin). We discussed what to play. Martin had brought Palaces of Carrara, hoping to teach it to Sam, but I suggested Railways of the World. I was keen to see Martin’s high-bond strategy in action.

Turns out it was a highly effective. He happily took out more bonds to pay off his early debts, having not shipped anything for the first round or two and I thought "this can't possibly work." But soon I found myself following Martin down the high-bond route, not to emulate his tactics, but because I’d painted myself into a corner around Mexico City and couldn’t get out. Sam kept his bonds low.

Before long, Martin’s bond strategy pushed him into the lead and into profit. He got a delivery bonus and a three-link bonus all in one go, and shortly afterwards, he got the bonus four deliveries of four different colours.

Early in the game, but Martin already
has the upper hand.

If that weren’t enough, at one point Sam considered building a route which would’ve damaged Martin’s otherwise unstoppable march forward. He even laid the tiles on the board to see how they looked. Then he reconsidered, built somewhere else and Martin build there as soon as he could.

After that, it was just a case of Martin finishing the game as quickly as he could. And I, stuck in third, kind of hoped he would. Sam urbanised to try and squeeze out one more round from the game, but it was futile. At the end I felt like I’d asked to see Martin’s strategy in the same way a boxing enthusiast might ask Mike Tyson to punch him in the face. Sure, it was an education, but I kind of regretted it afterwards.

Martin 78
Sam 57
Andrew 32

After this it was still early. We suggested Biblios because Sam was still smarting after his recent third place and I was just keen to play a game where I felt like I had a chance until the closing stages. Martin said he loved the game, and even reminded us of the values of the cards in the pack and then told us Bibliards (my new name for people who play Biblios) that the auction pack needs to be shuffled. We checked the rules: it does! To be honest, I prefer our way, since not shuffling removes a bit of randomness and adds an element of memorising to the game. Not that we ever do remember what cards we put down, but it’s nice to know the option is there.

We taught Martin the rule of Extreme Biblios: say “Eat Shit” whenever a “one gold” card is offered to an opponent. He seemed to get the hang of it. Sam, though, is not distracted by new rules about shuffling. At the final scoring, he swooped in on the last two dice to take the win from Martin.

Sam 8
Martin 5
Andrew 2

Finally we went for Sticheln to finish off the evening. After three beers and a whiskey, I couldn’t remember any strategy and for a brief moment, I though we were playing Pala, the game of colour-mixing trick-taking. We played three rounds, and in two of those rounds, two people chose the same “pain” colour. Martin said it made a real difference to his strategy. I just nodded.

Sam 32
Martin 30
Andrew 10

Martin remains atop the form table, with Sam heading upwards with real intent.

Martin2 2 1 2 2 9
Gonz1 2 6 12 12
Sam1 1 2 5 4 13
Steve1 3 31 5 13
Adam3 1 2 4 3 13
Joe6 1 5 1 2 15
Andrew3 3 3 4 3 16
Anja3 2 45 519
Hannah5 23 5520
Will3 2 5 5520
Matt5 5 5 5525

As for the Division (since it is still, technically, the end of January, I thought I could squeeze in an update) Martin steals top spot in terms of Points, but loses Medal Table to Sam. James leaps up four places after his recent two-win evening.