Sunday, 29 June 2014

God bless Amerigo

It’s the last GNN of the season! A time for excitement as the result goes down to the last second of the game. Oh, wait... that was the Brazil – Chile game. As far as GNN was concerned, the season was wrapped up long ago.

But still, three hardy gamers were in attendance. We chose Amerigo for its second outing. Myself and Sam were keen to see how it played with three – the third player in question being Matt.

Amerigo looks daunting but it such a simple game, that the rules can be explained more or less as you go along. This is what we did and, at first, I felt a little bad of Matt as I shot into an early lead with Matt in last place (and Sam not too far ahead of him). But my rush for building on small islands was a false dawn. Both Sam and Matt focused on commodities, collecting them and their multipliers.

This meant I was easily overtaken by both of them, despite Matt falling prey to the feisty pirates, he still easily passed me. Sam, on the other hand, was out of sight, and had lapped both of us by the time the game ended.

Sam 177
Matt 124
Andrew 113

Then we packed it away, carefully dividing the myriad pieces into separate lock-tite bags. For our next game, we decided on something a bit more fun: Take It Easy. Only we found when we opened it that all the counters had been mixed together in the box and we spent yet more time carefully dividing the myriad pieces before we could begin.

As we played, we continued our habit of announcing each tile. I went for the old-fashioned rhyming couplets, while Matt decided on random Hollywood actors. By now the whiskey was out, and we all found this hilarious. When he said “Whoopie Goldberg”, I yelled out a delighted “Wookie Boldgerg!” Meanwhile, Sam cursed Harold Ramis for ruining his game. Finally, Sam’s choice of calls was things from the 80s. Everyone welcomed Talk Talk, but weren't so keen on stone-washed jeans.

As for the game, it was pretty high-scoring for everyone, with 127 being the lowest for a round. Sam scored 65 points on the last tile of the last round. He was so excited, he forgot to say what thing from the 80s it was. Maybe it was Leroy out of Fame, the TV series.

Sam 557
Andrew 449
Matt 411

And then we set off home, ending the evening and ending the season!

On the form table, Gonz wins, just as he’s about to depart for Spain for the summer.

Gonz 2 1 2 1 1 7
Martin 3 2 1 1 3 10
Sam 1 1 3 5 1 11
Andrew 2 3 3 1 2 11
Matt 3 2 1 4 2 12
Ian 4 2 1 4 1 12
Will2 4 23 5 16
Joe 4 3 4 4 2 17
Anja 2 5 5 5 5 22
Steve 4 5 5 5 5 24

On the Division, Martin wins the medal table and points, and he would’ve won points ratio too, if it hadn’t been for those meddlin’ Bracknell kids. James slips in under the radar and gets points ratio with his four games.

Congrats to our three winners, and let’s all rest before the next new season. In a couple of days. And here's hoping Adam and Hannah make a return soon!

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Keen as mustered

Five players, one table. What to do? The end of the season loomed, but you know what we did? We played two non-leaderboard games! Yes we did! Woo hoo!

The first game we played was 1812: The Invasion of Canada. Five players is its sweet spot, and when myself, Joe and Martin suggested it, Gonz and Sam were easily persuaded.

1812 is a simple war game, where the players form two teams: The Americans and the British/Canadians/Native Americas. I thought that the last time we played, Canada etc had won, but a glance in the archives told me that it ended in a draw. This time it was me, Martin and Gonz north of the border, holding back the massed forces of newly mustered soldiers belonging to Sam and Joe.

Gonz was the only newbie, so Joe explained the rules to him while Sam succeeded in stacking all of his cubes on top of each other.

With that challenge successfully out of the way, we plunged into battle. It was a ding dong affair, with the American forces making early inroads into the Canadian homeland. We struck back, with Martin’s tactical nous making the most of his Native American tracking instincts. Gonz, too, seemed well suited to his role as the warrior-like British who either kill or take commands, with no option to run away. I was the Canadians: prone to a bit of jogging in the heat of the battle, but mostly they did okay.

Admittedly, we played most of the game while misunderstanding a rule. When killing an opponent, we had assumed that the killer got to choose who he had shot. It turns out that wasn’t the case, and this scuppered Sam’s plans when a card of his allowed this “special” ability for just one round, but we’d been using it for the whole game! Oh wells.

After the American’s good start, we slowly crawled back and before long, we began to gain the upper hand. We discussed putting down our truce cards to end the game, but Gonz hadn't even drawn his from the deck. Again, somehow staying within character of a warlike British Empire who refused to back down

At the end, Sam triggered the end of the game with a truce card. He pushed forward with their massed ranks to try and force a win. The only army left to move were the Canadians. Prone to running away and leaving their allies to fight alone, perhaps there was still a chance. But no! Just as before, a final push by the Americans left a path to another “objective” state, and we were able to walk in, raise the flag and win the game. Just for good measure, I used a special card to attack an enemy-occupied state where I previously had no soldiers at all. That worked too, making our victory even sweeter.

1. Martin, Gonz, Andrew, 5 states
2. Joe, Sam, 3 states

After this game ended, I went to the toilet and when I returned I was presented with five options. Of those (which I don;t remember) I chose Kakerlakenpoker Poker.

At first it looked like a good choice, as everyone except me got trapped in a loop of doom: that moment in a game where, no matter what you say, your opponent will know exactly what you really mean. I had avoided that at first, but got stung by Joe. I kept trying to pass of my cards to him, but the tone of voice, or the look in my eye seemed to yell out information to him, as he confidently called me out every time. Luckily, I started passing on my cards to someone else, and the loop was broken.

We kept playing, and our number of cards started to run out. Gonz had no cards at all at one point, meaning that the next guess he got wrong meant an immediate defeat and victory for everyone else. But he held on. Martin and Joe didn’t have three of the same kind of cards, meaning they were fairly safe.

I was on the edge, with two sets of three cards – Cockroaches and Toads – which would put me out the next time I got one. But since I had the last cockroaches and toads in my hand, I knew that anyone who tried to pass them to me was bluffing. Which is what happened to Sam.I rejected his card, and put him over the edge, with four of a kind in scorpions. Or spiders. I forget which.

1. Joe. Martin, Gonz, Andrew
2. Sam

There is one more evening of the season, at Sam’s on Saturday. In the meantime, let’s all cross our fingers and hope the finale is a little more exciting than the England’s 0-0 exit from the World Cup.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Feld of dreams

Sam suggested a two-player game tonight, and I suggested Amerigo. We were both in agreement and so it was that Stefan Feld’s table-hogging opus got its GNN debut tonight.

It is a mix and match of a game. There’s a tower to put cubes in, like Wallenstien, and a sort of rondel, and a bit of Princes of Florence-style building and a few multipliers and end-game bonuses thrown in for good measure.

Despite it looking like a point salad, and ignoring the large amount of space it takes up, it's actually pretty simple. As a two player game, we were covering 3/4ths of Sam’s kitchen table, easily. Maybe with some careful stacking, we could get it down to 2/3rds but, face it, this is a beast.

So we set up the board, worked out the difference between progress tiles and production tiles, and generally learnt the rules as we went along. Sam had the advantage of a vaguely remembered review he’d seen on YouTube, but he shared its findings with me: that specialising was a good thing.

We started out doing very similar things, but soon decided to diverge in our strategies to see how the game progressed.

At the start, Sam took the lead, but mid-game, I had a couple of progress tiles that made building a lot easier and I shot off into a commanding lead. So much so that I decided I didn’t need to sail my ships around any more.

As it was our first go, we did not fully understand the subtleties of the game, such as taking gold instead of an action. The cube tower seemed to work fine, giving enough options to keep the game interesting, but also with the possibility of very few options at all, which may hobble any players plans if they haven’t planned ahead properly.

Almost everything is slightly randomised: the layout of the map, what actions are available, what commodities you can pick up etc. I think we were lucky that, in our first game, the pirates weren’t terribly scary so we could concentrate on other things,

We came to the end of game scoring. At first, I sped off into an even greater lead, even lapping Sam at one point. But he had his bonuses and multipliers still to come. It ended in the closest possible manner:

Andrew 143
Sam 142

What a game! What tension! But even before the scores were in, I was enjoying this game. The random nature of what options may be available, and the different paths a player may take to Victoryville sort of reminded me of Caverna. I’m sure there are untapped strategies to be uncovered, but whatever they are, I’m very happy to set off for Amerigo once more to discover them.

Hats off to Martin for dragging this one back from London via public transport. We salute you!

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

This is a LoW

Five players. Such a delicate number. Splitting into two and three is an option, but seems a bit mean when there’s a chance to play some five player games properly.

We were myself, Sam (hosting), Gonz, Ian and Matt. Joe and Martin couldn’t make it, with Martin preferring to watch the Brazil – Mexico match. Well, I hope he enjoyed his nil nil draw while we played games of skill and socialising.

We began with Coup as a nice short warm-up game of bluffing. Sam explained the rules to Ian and Matt and then got hit by Explainer’s Curse right away, after he was out almost immediately after two challenges. We slowly whittled players away until it was me and Gonz, and he had seven coins. This meant on my next go I could use a captain to take some money and postpone his coup.

Except I didn’t have a captain. In fact, I was sure that whatever I did to stop him, he would challenge and win. But if I didn’t, then he would trigger a coup and win. He won.

1. Gonz
2. Andrew
3. Matt
4. Ian
5. Sam

After this, we played Avalon, the medieval-themed Resistance. It’s identical, except for one rule: one of the players on the good side is Merlin. Merlin knows who the evil people are, but they don’t know who he is. If they fail in their mission, then the evil people have one chance left: if they can unveil who Merlin was. Merlin, of course, should be subtly guiding his colleagues to the right answer. We played happily, inventing scenarios for each quest (ie, killing a dragon) which quickly became more mundane (mending the castle wall).

Trouble was that I was Merlin, and I’d chugged my first two drinks, which left me a little confused. I saw who the spies were (Gonz and Matt) but during the game, I became so convinced that Ian was acting suspiciously that I wondered if maybe I’d misremembered. I started to cast doubt on Ian, until round four when me, Sam and Ian went on a mission together (a mission that I’d voted against!) and succeeded. After that, the solution was obvious. Plus, thanks to my insistence that Ian was a spy, no one guessed I was Merlin. Perfect.

1. Sam
1. Ian
1. Andrew
2. Gonz
2. Matt

Now for the main event of the evening: Lords of Waterdeep. It was chosen because everyone had played it, and it it works well with any number of players. Maybe Avalon put us in the mood for some questing.

I started quickly, picking up a few easy quests early on, but I was quickly pegged back. Gonz and Sam both started slowly, but Gonz had buildings bringing in a constant income. Sam had... well, not much.

It was a packed board, especially with the Ambassador in play. On one turn, Gonz couldn't use his final meeple in Waterdeep Harbour, since everywhere else was full. There were a few mandatory quests flying around the place. We did consider taking them out, but Gonz insisted they should stay in. In which case, it only seems right that he got the first. But as the game entered it’s final stages, Gonz began completing quests and pushing himself into a distant lead. It was a lot closer in the battle for second, with Ian’s bonus missions getting him the silver.

Gonz 128
Ian 108
Andrew 103
Matt 100
Sam 98

After this, I left. The others considered a short game to finish the evening, but when I saw it was Condottiere, I left. It’s not that I don’t like it but, despite the small box, it is not a small game. I later got an email from Sam telling me that Matt had won with three adjacent territories. Sam had passed in the final round, hoping that Gonz would beat Matt, and then leave Sam in a strong position with the cards left in his hand. But Matt won the battle, and ended the game.

Matt 3
Gonz 2
Sam 1
Ian 0

Gonz 2 1 2 1 1 7
Andrew 3 1 2 2 2 10
Martin 3 2 1 1 3 10
Matt 1 4 2 3 2 12
Ian 4 2 1 4 1 12
Will2 4 23 5 16
Sam 3 5 1 5 3 17
Joe 4 3 4 4 2 17
Anja 2 5 5 5 5 22
Steve 4 5 5 5 5 24

Friday, 13 June 2014

Guilty with Suspicions

There's a whole gang of exciting games in my cupboard that are currently unplayed: the Guilty Eight; as my excitement for new territories outweighs my time to play them. And as next week sees the draw for the new game of the month I thought I'd quickly run through them... in no particular order, then:

1. Terra Mystica. 
Strategy game ranking 3
Play length: 100 minutes

The game of mystical terras, where you terra-form landscape to suit your particular race and develop magical power at the same time. It sounds dry, it looks oddly abstract - and yet there it is at number 3 in the strategy rankings. Can't be all bad - and luckily for us Gonz is swotting up at the rules right now!

2. Mousquetaires du Roy
Strategy game ranking n/a (Thematic ranking: 167)
Playing time 75 minutes

A little out of the normal sphere of GNN, this quirky thing can be played as a co-operative where the players are the musketeers trying to defeat milady, or a player can take on the milady role. A hard one to score on the leaderboard, but one that has garnered a lot of approval on the geek.

3. Amerigo
Strategy game ranking 132
Playing time 90 minutes

What's not to love about Stefan Feld? Castles of Burgundy! Macao! Rum and Pirates! And here the king of points salads has taken the tower of Wallenstein and added his own unique flavour to it in a game of discovery/massive AP potential. And Martin brought it all the way back from London for me on the train, so it really should be played at some point.

4. Colonial - Europe's Empire Overseas
Strategy Game ranking: 452
Playing time 120 minutes

Okay it's a bit long and not as highly rated (still top 500 though) as the others here. But check out that board! Phwoar!

5. Darjeeling
Strategy Game ranking: 609
Playing time: 60 minutes

Darjeeling is all about picking tea. And just like picking tea in real life, your options are made up of a set of slightly abstract cardboard tiles and coloured barrels rolling down a plastic ramp. 

6. Magnum Sal
Strategy game ranking: 357
Playing time: 90 minutes

It's a bit like Coal Baron, but rather than dirtying your fingers with coal you're digging up salt. I think Coal Baron owes a little something to Magnum Sal as it too utilises a mechanic that allows the board itself to dig 'down' across the table, as you add tiles beneath it. And it's apparently "a bit like Caylus but more fun, and more interactive". Sounds good!

7. Jambo
Strategy game ranking 188
Playing time 45 minutes

This only plays two and frankly the box is disappointingly small for those of us who judge our games on sheer weight of meeples, cards, and other crap. But it's supposed to be good. 

8. Flash Point: Fire Rescue
Strategy Game ranking: n/a (thematic ranking 37)
Playing time 45 minutes

This is not as guilty as the others as we have played it a couple of times now. But so far we've played the basic game which is dead simple: rescue 7 victims from the fire before you lose four in the flames. To be honest I can't see it taking off at GNN as it's a co-op and we hate working together. But who knows. 

9. Shit I Forgot Olympos
Strategy Game ranking 266
Playing time  75 minutes

For some reason this box never excites me, but there is apparently a very decent game nestling within with a time-based mechanism. 

So there you have it. If I could put four games in the hat I'd say Terra Mystica, Amerigo, Magnum Sal and (already played!) Concordia.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Mars Attracts!

After last week’s lull, everyone was back from what they were doing, and there were seven of us players huddled in Sam’s kitchen, eager to chose cards and action them in an order usually determined by a number on the card itself.

Gonz, Joe, Matt and Ian played Mission: Red Planet, the Citadel-esque game of colonising Mars. Martin, Sam and I went for Concordia. I was interested to see how it played with more than two-players. After last night, I had a good impression of it, but I remembered how badly A Castle For All Seasons did when scaled up to more players.

Martin had read the rules before he arrived, so we were ready to leap into the game quickly. Martin and I went for the Architect move first, which I seems to be the obvious choice at the start of the game. Sam tried another tactic, of not moving his colonists at all until much later. It didn’t seem to make much difference in the long run.

We all struggled over getting particular resources, and Martin kept us all entertained with a stream of inventive terms of abuse whenever he felt frustrated. It’s that kind of game: managing your hand successfully and trying to think a few turns in advance.

By the end, both Sam and Martin had plenty of colonies everywhere while I had very few. I started buying up colony bonus cards, just so they wouldn’t get them. The plan seemed to work.

Andrew 113
Martin 101
Sam 100

Mission Red Planet was still not finished but, according to Joe, Matt was in a commanding lead. We decided on a new game (on sale cheap at The Works) Havana. This little Cuba spin-off is another card management game, but with far fewer chances (only one, actually) to get used cards back into your hand. The cards have number son, and you play two at once so that the numbers make a two-digit figure. These numbers define player order (lower number goes first).

It’s a smart system, but I wasn’t prepared for the lack of options towards the end of the game. Sure, you get all your cards back once you have only two cards left, but so does everyone else. I was poised to win, but Sam – who’d been somewhat bemused for most of the game – played a hand that allowed him to go first and he built buildings worth 10 points in his last round, stealing the win from me, and leaving Martin in third.

Sam 22
Andrew 16
Martin 13

By now Mission Red Planet had ended, and Joe’s prediction proved accurate

Matt 68
Gonz 48
Joe 39
Ian 28

They played Port Royal while we continued our game of Havana, and it ended with Joe, drawing card after card, hoping to steal third place from Matt, but also giving Ian hope that he might be able to overtake Gonz at the very last. Then Joe went bust, and all those hypotheticals came to nothing. Besides, Gonz could’ve bought something too: he had more money.

Gonz 12 (wins on money tie-breaker)
Ian 12
Matt 6 (wins on money tie-breaker)
Joe 6

Then, Joe, Martin and Gonz left. Us remaining four stayed for a “quick” game of Love Letter. Matt raced into an early lead, winning the first two rounds, but couldn’t get that last win to see him over the line. At one point it was Ian, me, and Matt all tied on 2, while Sam had none. He won the next round, giving him hope of an unlikely win. A short-lived hope, however.

Ian 3
Matt 2
Andrew 2
Sam 1

I lead on the form table by the thinnest of margins.

Andrew2 2 1 1 4 10
Matt 2 3 1 2 2 10
Sam 3 1 3 1 2 10
Martin 3 2 1 1 3 10
Gonz 1 2 3 1 4 11
Ian 1 2 4 3 3 13
Will2 4 23 5 16
Joe 4 3 4 4 2 17
Anja 2 5 5 5 5 22
Steve 4 5 5 5 5 24

Monday, 9 June 2014

Big Mac

Mac Gerdts. The type of guy that in another universe is being played in a movie by John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, or maybe Billy Zane. The very name strikes fear into those who wander the streets of gameland avoiding anything vaguely circular, around which you can move up to three segments at a time.

But fear not, Rondelphobes, because here into the light of the table comes Concordia, Mac's latest effort that dispenses with the rondel entirely in favour of a A Castle For All Seasons type card-management thingy (other comparisons are available). In ACfaS you decide which card to play and reveal simultaneously, and at some point you play a card (Master Builder) that allows you to return your used cards to your hand. In Concordia, you play cards alternately, and at some point you play the Tribune - which allows you to return your used cards to your hand.

But apart from that it's nothing like A Castle For All Seasons, which despite mine and Andrew's soft spot for it, has proved a bit of a dud for more than two players at GNN.

There are two sides to the Concordia board - Italy (2-4 players) or Europe (3-5). With the best will in the world Andrew and I couldn't pretend to be more than two people, so tonight we played Italy.

It's great. There is a page of set-up and then literally 4 pages (4 sides!) of rules. Admittedly the text is a little dense, but that's 14 pages less than Last Train to Nuremberg.

Despite the brevity, at the start I didn't really understand what the hell I was doing. Andrew professed to be in the same boat, but he certainly wasn't staring at his cards with the same stupid expression I was. It took a few rounds but suddenly everything clicked. This is what you do.

1. Play a card on your turn and do what it says.

2. If you played a Prefect and you were in possession of the Magnus card, double your goods rewards and pass the Magnus card to your right.

That's pretty much it. The theme is fairly light - we didn't really register it - but you're kind of expanding with colonists, building houses and getting resources. Very Euro-y and maybe not one on Gonz's Christmas list, for instance. But for those who like a bit of juggling short-term rewards with long-term gains and a nippy speed-of-play it was actually quite rewarding.

I thought from about a third of the way through the game that Andrew was going to cakewalk it - but the one thing I did concentrate on paid off - the end-game scoring.

Each card in your hand - as well as being something you play in the game -  represents a God; and the Gods supply your end-game bonuses, which are varied depending on what you've done in the game and what cards you've ended up with. So extra cards bought in the game will both reward you and notify your opponents of your strategy. I'd got 5 of the 7 Saturn cards, which rewarded expansion - and I'd expanded into all of Italy's territories bar one.

It was enough - just - to overhaul Andrew's multiple bonuses:

Sam 125
Andrew 116

We were both impressed with this one. The feeling on BGG is it's fast-moving but quite long, and I can certainly see that on a first play (we finished in about 90 minutes). But although it is long the downtime is pretty minimal and the board is really lovely. One for a Tuesday night soon!

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Sails and sales

Sam's in China; Gonz is in Spain; Andrew was... somewhere else, so a select group of four gathered at Joe's last night. Before Matt arived, Joe, Ian and I fitted in a quick game of current fave Port Royal. Ian was able to get to the crucial 12 VP on Joe's turn, which made for a rather anticlimactic finish as Ian could just do nothing on his turn and win.

Ian 12
Joe 9
Martin 8

I'd brought along Beowulf: the Legend a few times recently without success, but tonight it got its chance. Being a Reiner Knizia game, it's not the most thematic ever, with Beowulf's epic travails represented through the medium of auctions. I think it's a lot of fun though, with plentiful opportunities to play the odds and double-entendre-prone cards ("double fist" anyone?). Unfortunately for Joe, it seemed the odds preferred to play him, as he proceeded to fail almost every risk he took. It was a lot like last week's game of San Quentin Kings, but without the twist ending where he won.

Martin 31
Matt 26
Ian 24
Joe -4

Finally, Joe was eager to unbox his new acquisition Sail To India. I thought it was a very clever game, boiling the Euro genre down to its purest essence of cards and cubes. But I'm not sure I found it that much fun. It seemed like we each fell into one of a few fairly obvious strategies (I was the trader, Ian was the explorer, Matt was the banker and Joe focused on strongholds) and churned the cubes until we had a winner. Which was me ;)

Martin 23
Matt 21
Ian 18 (wins tie-break)
Joe 18

Martin 1 1 3 2 2 9
Sam1 2 3 3 2 11
Andrew 1 4 1 3 3 12
Matt 2 2 4 2 2 12
Gonz 3 1 4 1 3 12
Ian 3 3 1 3 3 13
Joe 4 4 2 4 1 15
Will2 4 23 5 16
Anja 2 5 5 5 5 22
Steve 4 5 5 5 5 24