Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Four pundred blows

Last time Martin gave up an evening of board games to watch the World Cup, I mocked him for choosing a 0-0 draw. I can’t make fun of him this time, as this evening was punctuated by Sam informing us of another Germany goal every time he checked the scores. But there was enough tension around tonight’s table as we focused on a number bidding games for this evening’s entertainment.

First we began with a Reiner Knizia game that was new to us: Hollywood Blockbuster. In this game, each player bids to receive the best actors/directors/camera/sound/explosions etc for their films. At first glance, it is not a welcome sight. The puns for the films and actors are feeble and it’s funnier to actually use the real names when describing your films, making everything seem like a cheap remake. Mind you, they couldn’t have afforded the rights to use real names, I suppose.

The Knizia twist to this game was that the winning bid is shared out to the losing players. Everyone starts with twelve chips, but these are constantly recycled during the game. I didn’t quite get the hang of it. Sam did, who got Best film for his epic several years in a row! Joe came close, as Best Director. Ian's and my films were straight to DVD.

Sam 85
Joe 81
Andrew 47
Ian 44

After this we chose Sigma File, another debutante here at GNN. The rules are simple: you can either move, assassinate or pay any spy on the board. If another player has already put money in that spy’s account, they can challenge. The idea is to transport a suitcase to your base in either Washington, London, Moscow or Beijing (Peking, according to the board),

The challenge is a series of very dignified guesses. The challenger declares an amount that he’s placed in the spy’s account (preferably not the full amount) and the challenged says whether that is “Covered” (ie, that have an equal amount) or “not covered”. It’s the kind of espionage that’s done in a back room of the MCC, or at a dance held by an Austrian archduke. All terribly civilised.

It dates from 1973, so the map has some nicely anachronistic geography, and it does feel like something from another time. A time when sophisticated board games were all about moving one piece and then sitting back confidently, waiting for your opponents to do their worst.

As the game began, it did seem like most of it was taken up by people wordlessly writing numbers in their bank books. Once it got going, it got interesting. The suitcase came close to reaching both Moscow and Peking, but just as I’m dragging it back towards London, Sam takes over and whisks it across the Atlantic.

It turns out that Sam had bought out two of the most useful spies on the Western half of the board, as he was able to give orders without being challenged. Before long, we were unable to stop him, and he won the game.

1st Sam
2nd Joe, Andrew, Ian

We also got an email from Gonz mid game, explaining that he played Dungeon Petz with his friends in Spain, and Glory To Rome, that was tricky to explain in a noisy pub.

Lastly, we played a couple of rounds of High Society, ending with another Knizia Classic. We explained the rules to Ian, and then were amazed at the most atypical game of High Society you could ever expect. Three red cards came out almost immediately, along with the –5 and a “lose a card” card.

We played on, trying to explain to Ian that normally it’s nothing like this, and eventually a few luxury cards came out. Just enough to tempt Joe into over spending and new-boy Ian won on his debut, having managed to get one point! Sam and I only had multipliers and nothing to go with them.

Ian 1
Sam 0
Andrew 0
Joe OUT! (least money, but 8 points)

We played again. This time, some luxury cards came out first. In fact, 10, 9, 8, and 7 did! We played big, but lost big. My $20m in the bank apparently not good enough for this table!

Sam 24
Ian 10
Joe 8
Andrew OUT!

And so the evening ended, and as I walked home, I passed a pub. Out of the hubbub of conversation, I could hear “Seven – one?” “Yeah.” I wanted to go in and say "You think that's weird? Let me tell you about the game of High Society I just played!"

Sam 1 2 1 1 4 9
Ian 2 1 2 4 2 11
Joe 3 3 2 2 3 13
Andrew 4 2 2 3 4 15
Matt 1 1 5 5 5 17


  1. You have to take your hat off to an espionage game whose central mechanic is accountancy.

  2. Thanks chaps, much fun.

    I liked Hollywood Blockbuster - it's very light and straightforward - might make a good entry to the Kniz's meatier auction games like Ra for non-gamers.
    Woody Allen's remake of Dances with Wolves starring Nicholas Cage (?) was made for an intriguing proposition - can't remember the other films I made.

    I actually really like Sigma File - it's so simple, and conjures up a 60s espionage vibe out of thin air (with a little help from John Barry's theme from The Persuaders).

    Once someone picks up the bag and makes a run for it, there's a nice tension between using one of your agents to potentially intercept him, or looking further ahead and paying off someone who can potentially stop them nearer home. But you invariably want to move someone *and* attack. It's very luck-based, of course, despite the insistence on the box that it is pure skill - they even include two unnecessary dice to push the point home. But it's short too, was it about 40 mins once we'd got the rules down?

    And High Society is a perennial fave. Pretty sure I've never won it.

    Nice write-up Andrew!

  3. I love High Society. I think Katie and Mark would really like that one so I might borrow it if thats OK Joe?

    I enjoyed all the games but I think Sigma File was pretty random - especially at the start. Maybe it's good for variations - e.g. each player starts with a colour agent that everybody KNOWS is theirs - but only up to the value of £1k, beyond which the 'starting player' isn't allowed to add any money. So you can potentially take control of another player's agent, but it's more expensive than grabbing one of the independent agents.

    Just a random thought.

  4. I quite like the start - until people start putting money on agents, all players can move agents with impunity, as no-one can challenge them. But when you move an agent, the assumption is that players will then pay off that agent to forestall your plans. But maybe they won't - maybe they'll put money on other agents to intercept you.

    I can imagine games going very differently, particularly
    It is random, for sure, but sort of in the way Skull and Roses or Kakerlaken Poker is - it's all in the heads of the players, and I really like that.

  5. Yes I get what you mean. There's something to be said for that simplicity. I guess I just like ownership… the investment-not-possession reminds me of Airlines Europe a bit.

  6. And I only just realised my mistake with the title. It should have been 400 Blows, not 100. I was referring to Truffaut's lesser known prequel