Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Choosing the best of two strategies

Tonight we arranged ourselves around Joe’s kitchen table. We were five in number, which is perfect for a game of A Fake Artist In New York, except I’d forgotten it and left it at home. Instead, we (Joe, Martin, Sam, Matt and myself) pondered what to play, idly casting an eye over a pile of games but never really approaching a decision. We almost thought about never choosing a game, and just spending a relaxing evening discussing them.

But then the deadlock was broken when Joe brought in Blockers. This underrated abstract game got my instant seal of approval, and debutante Martin was willing to give it a go. He was given a walkthrough of the rules, but asked that Joe not read out the section marked “Strategy”, wanting to work it out for himself. You win the game by having the fewest distinct areas on the board, and having captured the least number of opponents squares.

So we played and blocked and from a very early stage, we got in each other’s way: everyone seemed to try to take control of the middle area. There was a lot of cursing at bad luck, in a very Take It Easy kind of way, as each time we picked up a new tile, it was never quite what we wanted.

It was Matt who really impressed, though, joining up his disparate red nations in a long column that stretched from one edge of the board to the next. It was to prove to be decisive move and one that left him in a strong position for the rest of the game.

Matt 4
Martin 5, wins on a tie breaker
Joe 5
Andrew 6
Sam 8

Finally, after the game had ended, Martin looked at the strategy guide in the rules. We discovered that it recommended one of two strategies: either focusing on having fewest areas or capturing the least tiles. In other words, it just told us what we already knew. It dressed it up a bit by talking about a “Balanced” strategy or the “Edge” strategy, but nothing seemed very deep. Not exactly a discussion on the Sicilian Defence.

It was during Blockers that we decided to play five short games this evening, each chosen by a different player. Joe had chosen Blockers and, since Matt won it, he was given the next choice. He went for Skull and Roses.

It was an odd game. Or maybe all games of Skull and Roses are odd. Joe was an early loser, and was quickly down to one tile that everyone knew was a rose. That didn’t stop him from winning a round with just that one tile.

Meanwhile, Matt, Sam and I all lost a round or two while Matt and Sam won a round. It was then that we suspected that Martin was the only player left to have a skull. This put him in a position of considerable power, if only he’d fully believed it himself. After several rounds of him stopping people from winning, he foolishly played a rose, allowing Matt to guess he’d done that and so he won the game.

Matt 2
Sam 1 (more tiles remaining)
Joe 1
Martin 0 (more tiles remaining)
Andrew 0

Matt had already chosen a game, so Sam was given the choice. He went for High Society, the game of bidding just the right amount or be damned to a cruel last place for your greed.

I think this was the first time we’d played with Martin, who certainly seemed appalled at some of the high bids made for the cards early on. Time after time he’d pass on a bidding round for a mediocre card that was already $20m+ in value. He managed to get the 10 card, though. Matt, meanwhile, was looking good with his x2 card until he picked up a ½ card to go with it. Cautious Sam, with his 7 card and a x2 won it. I found myself in last place, having misjudged the last bidding round. Oh wells.

Sam 14
Matt 12
Martin 10
Joe 8
Andrew BUST! (with 11, for the record)

Since Matt and Sam had already chosen, it was now Martin’s choice. He went for Abluxxen: a swift three round game. However, he didn’t reckon with a tipsy Joe needing a rule refresher on every turn. After the first round of confused gameplay, Joe actually found himself in the lead.

We decided to limit the game to two rounds for the sake of time. Martin must’ve mentally rolled his sleeves up, determined not to let a drunken ingenue take first place, and he did it with some style, finishing with a four of a kind just before I was about to put down a five of a kind.

Martin 26
Joe 17
Matt 13
Andrew 11
Sam 6

Finally, it was my choice and I suggested No Thanks! Sam went for what now seems to be called The Endersby Strategy of picking up low value cards (just like Blockers, this is one of two strategies available: Endersby and Non-Endersby. Although the Non-Endersby Strategy does tend to be quite varied).

We were slightly distracted by the large jar of old school sweets that Joe had on a shelf in the kitchen, and he got it down so we could relive the joys of sherbert lollipops and love hearts (Martin’s first love heart said “Grow Up” which made us all wonder how it knew we were playing board games). Sam, however, did not appreciate the synthetic taste of a Fruit Salad sweet, having to spit it out after only a few seconds chewing.

I went for the middling cards but couldn’t get my two chains to join up and Martin picked up an early 33, deciding he wanted to control the top end, but then let a 34 card go round once too often and Matt picked it up. This sealed both their fates. Joe, though, got a streak of luck and ended with a negative score, to go with the one he got five years ago that he likes to mention every now and again.

Joe –2
Sam 21
Andrew 27
Matt 28
Martin 58

What an evening! Martin convinced us to play one more game of Go Stop before we left and while we finished the whiskey kindly supplied by Joe. We did, but we forgot that Matt is Kryptonite to Go Stop. Just like the last time he played, he ended the game by getting the highest showing card. Thank goodness it wasn’t leaderboard.

Which now looks like this. With Andy and Ian away, Martin stretches his lead at the top to what is surely an unassailable position with only one week left.


  1. Lovely evening, apologies for my Abluxxen brain-fart. I don't feel terribly well this morning :-/

    1. Just as well I saved you from yourself by downing my whisky :)

  2. Hey, I got a 12345 over the course of the night. I really enjoyed the 'pick one each, no more than half an hour' format!

  3. Oh and I think Andrew's email needs recording for posterity:
    "I'm going to suffer tomorrow, but games night was so packed with incident that I just had to get it all down before (a) I forgot, or (b) decided it wasn't that important."

  4. "That's a lovely dress you're wearing... No, that's just a T-shirt"

    Mmmm, Lambchop.

  5. Good night! I realised I cheated in Blockers. I knew what my last face-down tile was so I picked it up and was fiddling around with it. Then when my turn came I played it! Don't think it made any difference to my score though... I liked that game.

    1. That's not cheating - we all drew our last tile and then played one more round.

  6. Yeah but I played it when it should have been face-down. I still had 5 tiles on my rack. Fortunately I was 5th either way!

  7. It was a good night. I really liked Blockers and Abluxxen. I thought I'd played Abluxxen before but I think I was thinking of another game with fox heads on cards... maybe it was Beowulf.

    My winning streak was short lived but as soon as the perfect 5 was mentioned I think I started hoping to win and my ability to do so quickly diminished, as my 11234 demonstrates.

    I have a very simple Go Stop strategy. I just assume everyone assumes everyone else is going to play their Stop! card on the high card and then assume that therefore no one has. I'm surprised it worked again.

  8. Got a copy of Blockers for 99p on eBay :)