Friday, 23 January 2015

The Treaty of Versailles

The games began early: my working day ended at about 2pm when I had to dash off and take Finn into Little Joe's class for a visit. That done, we returned home and the boys requested Cube Quest. They both played me and I won both games! If that sounds a bit like Competitive Dad, Stan normally beats me at everything, a fact he proved when we moved on to Alien Frontiers. I did chip in and help him quite a bit, but even so a 7-2 victory to him was a bit of a trouncing.

Joe goes for the Inverse Corridor set up whilst I play the phalanx

The evening arrived, and so did Ian and Andy: the plan was to play Versailles. I had sworn off new games for a bit, but then I got an email saying I had money in my Paypal account, which of course is only good for one thing.

Versailles is thematically similar to Pillars of the Earth, as each player contributes to the building of the palace (or cathedral, in Pillars) - in this instance for the pleasure of King Louis XIV, who is making his stately way toward the site to survey the finished article. Mechanically it's a little like Mancala-style games, where you move pieces clockwise around the board. Rather than worker-placement, it's worker-movement. Each player starts with their guys set up on the board, and on their turn they move one of them (or two, if they can afford it) to a new place and take the benefit that place gives them.

Hand not included

As you'd expect some of these are the stuff you need to build a palace of opulence: wood, marble, gold. There was a place to get your ornate decorations made and a place to buy the tile (theme gets a bit shaky here) that you'll then try and build in the centre of the board above - like Alhambra or Carcassonne, tiles have to match each other. Unlike those games, you can get screwed by people deliberately building a part of the palace that means your own tile won't fit anywhere, and is good for nothing but a paltry point at the end of the game.

However there's also the Alchemist Guild, the classic euro way of saying the game wasn't tricksy enough so we added this. Here you can go up one of three tracks and they get you the following benefits - extra resources when you get resources, extra resources when somebody else gets resources (as long as you have at least one worker there) and actioning the tile-buying, decoration-buying, and construction areas whenever someone else does - again, as long as you have a worker there yourself when this happens.

Andy twigged as to the power of this last track early on and utilized it very well - letting Ian and I move our guys from place to place whilst he picked up the benefits. Stanley, who had roamed downstairs to join us, went into the front room to do some printing - so the grown-ups were playing a game whilst the 7-year-old busied himself with making artwork...

Versailles, then. I would go so far as to say this was a really good game - for the first hour, that is.

What happened after this hour was a real rarity on GNN - the game kind of ground to a halt, to the extent that we all agreed (treaty, see? I'm here all week) to abandon it.

The problem was that the game ends immediately when one of three conditions are met: the palace is finished, you run out of palace tiles, or the King arrives. He's been edging closer all game, in theory.

But in our game we needed a particular tile to finish the palace, and it was neither visible on the board nor, as we subsequently discovered, in existence at all. So we couldn't finish the palace, and all the tiles available for buying were only worth a solitary point. The King was miles from arriving and looked like he'd stopped to examine the flora en route. Our only option on the board was to travel around slowly accruing more resources to get a few more points at the end: the worst kind of gaming exercise, really. I suggested we bail and Andy and Ian readily agreed.

The king may have been expecting a bit less garden

It struck me as ironic that a game about architecture had such an inherent flaw in the design. As we remarked last night, it's all about how the tiles come out and get placed. If those metaphorical cards had been dealt differently, we might have wrapped it up half an hour sooner and been very positive about the game today. Andy had done his homework and said this had been commented on in BGG - I'll look into it as there is enough there to merit keeping the game if there is a fix.

I think we can still call it leaderboard though. Ian - despite his predictions - managed second place when his decorations allowed him to sneak past me in the final scoring. Andy was way off in front:

Andy 82
Ian 64
Sam 63

The only light relief during the final stages of this game was Finn's remarkable - even for him - insistence on changing chairs to whichever had been most recently vacated. Even giving him his own chair didn't resolve this.

That's where I was sitting

We packed away whilst debating possible ways to make Versailles not outstay its welcome, then I left the guys to choose the next game whilst I went to the toilet, cursing my impulses (in buying games, not weeing). When I returned, they were setting up Biblios!

I was surprised to hear Andy was new to it so I did my best to explain the workings. Andy refreshed his memory by checking the rules throughout, and discovered yet another rule we've been playing wrong! In the auction phase after the active player flips the card, the bidding starts with the person to their left. 

Ultimately it made no difference. I kept bidding or passing immediately anyway, giving away my plans. Considering I'd only had a couple of beers I was curiously tipsy during Biblios - I twice announced what card I was putting in the auction pile during the Gift phase. Still, I did enough to claim the Mr Biblios crown, as Ian grabbed the blues and browns and I, wriggling out of explainer's curse, got everything else. 

Sam 7
Ian 5
Andy 0

There was still time for more game. Nobody wanted anything long though so even Love Letter was eschewed in favour of No Thanks. Ian ran away with the first game whilst Andy and I fought over scraps:

Ian 34
Sam 45
Andy 58

And it was so quick, we played again. This time Ian went for chains that didn't quite link:

Sam 27
Andy 35
Ian 65

And that was that. 


My insatiable appetite for playing right now isn't quite enough to knock Adam off the top of the form table, but I move up to second. Andy and Ian are close behind, moving ahead of Katy, Hannah and Martin. 


  1. Did you hear one of Tim Harford's sons saying Cube Quest is the best board game ever on More Or Less this week?

  2. No, but someone mentioned to me he'd been on R4 and was saying he's a games nut. Cube Quest is great I think. Bets played by two people surrounded by hecklers!

  3. *best played. Although bets aren't a bad idea...

  4. Shame about Versailles. It sounded so original ;)

  5. Not everything can be about trick-taking Martin!