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


  1. Thank you Andrew; how many million hits has the card-shuffling film had on YouTube?

    Sam's final round scoring of RR was incredible, there was no catching him! I ignored my own advice and muddled along a few different tracks, a sure fire way to lose. I was surprised at Adam feeling flummoxed, as I think of it as a pretty straightforward game - but there's a fair bit to take in on a first game. I still really enjoy it - thanks for playing!

    The best thing about A Study in Emerald (from an audience pov) was the hissing of "squid-loverrrr" when certain people made certain moves; but I'm fairly sure that wasn't in the rules.

    It seems like it might be a bit like Cosmic Encounter, where a few individual games can feel random and lop-sided, before you grasp the strategies for keeping the balance and manipulating it to your advantage.

    Thanks all for a lovely evening!

  2. From your description it sounds like A study in Emerald is evidence that game designers are running out of ideas! Are we over the crest of the hill here? There is nothing new under the sun of course but recently that doesn't count.

  3. ey! no fair! I go away for a few days and you plot to overtake me. I am looking forward to try Estudy in Smerald, in fact I had to help myself from participating in the kickstarter (the ugly board helped) So, you did not like it? Here, in Madrid, all of my tries to teach Agricola to my girlfriend are failing! Doom and despair! All she wants to play is Castles of Burgundy....
    Nice video, btw! I would be scared of putting my precious card in there, though...

  4. I enjoyed Russian Railroads, but it does burn your brain. As Joe says, multiple options mean it feels less fire-fighty than Agricola, but the flip side to multiple options is the AP we were all guilty of at one stage or another.

    However it's a good game, one I'd definitely like in my collection.

    We must play Bruxelles 1893 soon though, while it's still fresh in mine and Andrew's mind. That's another thinky one but interesting in that your workers serve three purposes. Andrew and I played a two-player and were cautiously enthusiastic - I'd really like to try it with 3 or 4.

  5. Gon, your cards would be fine, you just need to take them out of their protective clothing first ;-)

  6. Blasphemy!! what is next? using them as beermat?as post-it? madness, I say!

  7. Yeah I'd love to play Bruxelles - someone should have a strop during the game, so we can call the blog Bruxelles Pouts . . .

    Joel Eddy who does the excellent Drive Thru reviews on BGG describes Russian Railroads as a 'lever-pulling' game, i.e. pure mechanics with very little theme - and it's hard to argue with that (though he does like the game). However, there's one aspect which I think is very thematic, which is the way the scores snowball.

    After the first and second rounds scoring of 5 or 7 points, it's hard to believe that by the final turn 7 you'll be scoring (in Sam's case) 100+ points. It does feel very much like a train picking up speed. Is that a reach? Maybe, but it's interesting to ponder the oblique ways a game can echo its subject matter.

    Like the mental gymnastics required to get a rocket into space in High Frontier, which leaves you feeling like a rocket scientist; or the primitive 'I cut you choose' auctioning in Mammut . . .

  8. The ending of ASiE wasn't an anti-climax for me - I made a plan and it worked perfectly! I definitely had the benefit of having studied the rules though and can see how it would have felt a bit rubbish for the rest of you.

    Chris - bear in mind that Andrew hated the game. I really liked it, precisely because it feels so innovative and unlike the legions of worker-placement-with-a-twist games that have come out in the past few years.

    Gon, I think/hope you will like it, and I'm really keen to explore it - for sure it's not one you can judge on the first play.

  9. And the Cosmic Encounter comparison seems apt Joe, in that they're both going to depend a lot on the group. I've had some of my favourite board gaming experiences playing Cosmic with the right people... and some of my worst with others.

  10. I should point out, for the sake of impartiality, that both Anja and Steve said they liked it, and would give it another go.

  11. If there are accusations of squid loving I'm sure there's potential for Extreme Emerald Study.

  12. You can't so easily disregard a game that brought us quotes like 'Look at that Beard!' and 'Stick your Boulevard up your arse!'' At times we were at risk of having 'fun' on our table. Food for thought.