Sunday, 28 February 2016

Sunday drivers

Sunday. With a recent flurry of new games arrivals courtesy of the maths trade I (Sam) was keen to try out one of them, and as Steel Driver only had 3 pages of rules that felt like the right choice. I was marginally pushy enough to overcome Ian's mild reticence. Andrew is always willing to try a Martin Wallace game and Chris arrived late, so had no say. We set up.

The game sees you the players as brokers in the railway track-laying industry across the USA in olden times. Over five rounds you bid for control of train companies (there are six) and then, assuming you win, you both receive a share in that company and choose where to build the track using the value of your bid to pay for it. Where you build gets you different cash rewards, and as the ultimate winner is the richest player this is a fairly key part of the game. But - everyone who has shares in a company will get the cash rewards each round - and after the final round there's a kind of reverse-Railways effect where all the cities suddenly get populated with goods cubes. Players who have the most shares in a given train company can take a cube their track is connected to - the catch being that several cities have more than one train company attached to them, so you may be beaten to the punch. Cubes score in sets, so different colours are good and lots of the same colour offers a fairly paltry return.

It was interesting. Myself, Andrew and Ian all found ourselves unable to resist controlling the same company over and over, having invested in it early. Chris went for a more broad spread of companies and in another game that might have proved a winning strategy. What helped me in my ultimate victory wasn't the five green shares, but the fact that I had a wide range of goods cubes to cash in; having been the only player to start building track on the west coast I'd had licence to spread in three directions. The other train companies started in the east, and ultimately got under each other's feet in the eventual goods-cube-bunfight.

Thematically speaking it's perhaps less Wallace-y than Tinners' Trail or Railways, but I enjoyed it.

We then played Push It which I also won, albeit by default when Chris and I were both poised to win and somebody sent my disc spiralling into the jack. The game was also notable for a couple of other things - I broke the rules by rolling a disc between some others (fortunately this wasn't contested as it then rolled much too far to be relevant) and Ian's decision to go fairly aggressive, barrelling into everyone else with arms metaphorically flailing. Not successful, but quite amusing.

After that, Ian and Andrew retired and Chris and I bashed out a two-player Biblios. It was brutal for Chris - in the end the whole game hinged on the alphabet, and fortunately I was lexiconically younger:

Sam 9
Chris 5

Steel Driver gets a thumbs up from me. I'd be interested to hear the other's thoughts.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Traveling Tales

This Thursday evening, the near-mythological figure of Paul visited for an evening and so, he, Chris, Sam and I congregated in Chris’ kitchen dining area for some cardboard-based entertainment.

We began with a little bit of Codenames to break the ice. The last time Chris, Sam and I played this, Chris’ wife was the fourth player and she and I comfortably beat Sam and Chris thanks to their unerring attraction to the Assassin card.

This time Chris and Sam teamed up again to see if they could beak their run of bad form. But it was not to be. Despite Paul being new to the game, he and I kept our clues simple. Chris and Sam made few mistakes, but enough to give us the edge in both rounds. Their run of bad form continues.

Next we got out the new craze in the GNN world, Marco Polo. It was new to Paul but, as we discovered more rules we hadn’t noticed before, it was still pretty new to the rest of us too.

Sam’s character came with two extra trading posts and an extra bonus for getting them down, too. However, with no money or camels to help with the cost of traveling, Sam found it difficult to get going.

Chris was Marco Polo, so got an extra dice and a steady supply of new contracts. Paul’s character was able to teleport from oasis to oasis. Mine had two different travelers, which was nice.

Andrew 62
Chris 50
Sam 28

Chris seemed happy with his second place, and I was possibly happier with my win. Paul enjoyed it too. Only Sam seemed disappointed, saying that his character was more of a curse. Chris agreed, having had the same role before. Perhaps it's something for the more advanced player, since Andy had it too, and he didn't do so badly. Still didn't win, though.

We followed this with good old 7 Wonders. We've played it so often that I forget that Paul doesn't play it very often, and needed a slight rule refresher of the icons on the cards before we got going.

But when we got going, going got we did. Or something. It was a fascinating game. We each had our specialties: me, science; Paul, military; Sam, blue buildings; Chris went for the unorthodox choice of lots of yellow buildings.

My sciences won the day, by a comfortable margin. But I almost didn't chose sciences when the chance came up in round one to build one for free, because we'd been talking earlier about how you have to challenge someone when they start collecting sciences. I ended up with 48 points just from that category alone.

But they didn't. I guess they always had a card that suited their plans better than ruining mine.

Andrew 67
Paul 57
Sam 50
Chris 41

We ended with 6nimmt. This game never ceases to amaze with its evil twists and turns. With only four players, there were occasions when we could relax since we knew no one could pick up cards, but there were also occasions when there was no escape from a heavy forfeit.

Notable events were: Paul and Chris both getting zero points in the same round, Sam going from first to last in a single round, and then Paul doing the same in the final round.

Chris 44
Sam 64
Andrew 69
Paul 70

And with that, we set off home. Except we didn't, since Chris was putting us all up for the night. That meant we could all spend the next morning actually talking to each other for a change. Nice, but it'll never catch on.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Get the puck out of here

Tonight, after an absence so long that I started to think they’d gone off board games, Adam and Hannah hosted for an evening’s gaming goodness. Including the hosts, we were eight in total. The visitors were Martin, Ben, Katy, Ian, Andy and myself.

Amazing snacks courtesy of Ben

We split into two groups. Martin, Adam, Ian and I fancied a bit of Kingdom Builder and so we decamped into the front room. Andy, Katy, Hannah and Ben stayed in the kitchen and played The Castles of Mad King Ludwig.

Kingdom Builder is a great but cruel game. A series of fields and desert cards meant that I was stuck in a tiny portion of the board, which was no good when one of the scoring criteria rewarded placing houses in all four quarters. However, I can’t completely blame the cards. Ian got four flower cards in a row, yet he still scored more than twice as much as me.

It was all about Adam versus Martin, and poor old Martin howled with agony (or looked a bit miffed) when his counter on the score track fell just two points short of Adam.

Martin surrounds Adam's wagon, rendering it useless

Adam 58
Martin 56
Ian 44
Andrew 20

We set up another game with new boards and new goals. It was very, with one large body of water that curled across all four boards. I got more tiles this time, and had more options. Adam, however, found it difficult to get going. This was made even harder when Ian and I managed to block him from making his preferred final move. We didn’t mean to, but it was satisfying to find out that we had.

Martin 78
Andrew 58
Ian 52
Adam 46

In the other room, they were heading towards the end of Castles... but, as Martin reminded us, the final scoring can go on for ages, so he suggested we play the original Biblios: Scripts and Scribes. And if there were any doubt that we were going retro, it came in its own VHS cassette box.

The game was essentially the same as Biblios, but with quite different designs which took some getting used to.

There was a bit of saying “Eat shit” when putting down a one gold card, but there’s no such thing as Extreme Scripts and Scribes. Especially when Martin shuffled the Auction deck before the second phase of the game. It’s not cricket, I tell you.

During the game, everyone became more and more convinced that Ian was going to win. Martin spent all of his money way before the auction deck was finished, leaving him with limited options. But Adam won again, picking up two dice. He even grabbed the most valuable die (with a value of 5) from Ian by a tiny margin. Had Ian got that die, he would’ve won.

Adam 8
Martin 4
Andrew 3
Ian 0

Finally, Mad Ludwig came to a close. I noticed with interest that they were playing the proper version of the rules where doorways can only match with doorways, with no option to brick over them with walls as Sam and I would play it (which is more like what a real mad king would do, too, I think).

An early version of Hannah's sensible castle

Katy 96
Andy 92
Hannah 89
Ben 67

After this, since we were all together with two copies of Push It we had a big old game of Team Push It to finish the evening. And what a game it was. Martin & I leapt into an early lead, picking up two points, but then didn’t score again. Andy & Adam collapsed to a woeful –3 points while Hannah & Katy and Ben & Ian tussled on three points, just two points from a win.

Then something miraculous occurred. Adam & Andy scored enough to get them back to positive numbers. Then they got to two points, level with Martin & I. In the next round it looked as if their steady rise up the rankings was finished, since their red pucks were safely distant from the jack. But Martin’s last puck was sent into the fray, and hit the jack which then slid to a spot pretty much equidistant between the three reds. What a victory.

Andy & Adam 5
Hannah & Katy 3
Ian & Ben 3
Martin & Andrew 2

And let’s look at that rags-to-riches story in the form of a graph.

And a quick mention to Ian's amazing shot which went from one corner of the table to the opposite one, and ended like this:

After this, we set off home at a sensible half past ten. Thanks Adam and Hannah for hosting. It was lovely to see you and the guinea pigs again.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Below Zero

Tuesday at Joe’s. Six gamers sat around his kitchen table: Joe, Andy, Martin, Katy, Matt and myself.

With six at the table, with Sam absent, there was talk of giving I’m The Boss an airing. But first, we decided to bring back an old favourite: Midnight Party. Strictly speaking, this game is banned for being too rowdy, but Joe figured it’d be okay at the start of an evening.

It was almost too sedate, in fact, with Hugo hardly moving at all. This lead to a bit of a bottleneck near the top of the stairs.

But, despite all this tension, round one was quite peaceful with only three guests being eaten. Hugo woke up a bit in the next two rounds, but not enough to outwit Katy who managed to clock up a non-negative score in this most unforgiving of games.

Katy 0
Joe –19
Martin –22
Matt –23
Andrew –28
Andy –44

Then we played team Push It, despite Andy’s protestations that he was terrible at it. Katy assured him that she was bad at it too. Perhaps she didn’t expect Andy to go for the puck so aggressively. Perhaps it was a strategy to get the puck nearer to Katy, making it an easier target. Or perhaps he didn’t know his own strength. Unfortunately it lead to a couple of occasions when the puck went clean off the table for –2 points.

Matt and Martin made the early running, and after six rounds it was 4, 0, 0. Then Joe and I clawed back into contention and after round eleven the scores were 4, 4, -1. Then, a few rounds after that, a mis-flick from Andy meant that Joe and I scored two points in one round to steal the win! Poor old Katy got that negative score that she’d worked so hard to avoid.

Joe and Andrew 7
Matt and Martin 6
Katy and Andy –1

Once again, I’m The Boss was discussed, along with a chance to play Winner’s Cirlce. But Martin steered us towards his new card game Mai Star (舞星 – Mai meaning “dancing”). The aim of the game is to be the best Geisha. The theme of the game did not sit well with Katy, especially after last week’s pure capitalism of Marracash.

Nevertheless, the game was simple enough. You have to discard cards in your hand to win the round. You can use a card as an advertisement (in which case it is replaced) which increases your reputation. And you can use a card as a guest (if you have enough reputation to attract him) which you don’t replace. Almost every guests allows you to do an action against another player, such as forcing them to lose a guest or advertisement, or pick up some cards.

It was fun. Nothing amazing, but each geisha in the game (there are six) has their own back story so, you know, they’re more than just cards in a game.

Martin 26
Andrew 19
Katy 15
Joe 8
Andy 8
Matt 7

Andy had started Mai Star strongly, but then scored minus points in rounds two and three. Put this together with his performance of the evening, and six sevenths of his game time so far had been spent scoring below zero.

Luckily, there would be no minus points in our final game: Winner’s Circle. I was too tired for the high tension wheeler dealing of I’m The Boss, and so the high tension betting and fixing of Winner’s Circle was chosen instead.

Katy noted that she wasn’t keen on horse racing either, but even she couldn’t resist the attraction of hand painted model horses. This attraction didn't last long as she failed to back a winner in the first two rounds and should’ve lost money for backing the last place, but there’s no negative points in this game so she stayed on zero.

No such trouble for Andy who finally showed what he was capable of, with one successful bet after another. I kept trying to appeal to everyone’s sense of romanticism by betting on the horse that starts last but no one joined me. Except Katy did, in round one, but my bet on that horse was a bluff, so the horse never stood a chance. Sorry, Katy.

Matt started by always choosing the option that would benefit his own horses but at some point during the game he switched to hindering his opponents. Joe, meanwhile, admitted to not understanding some of the finer details of the game.

But I loved it, and Joe’s wooden money made it that little bit more special.

Andy 2150
Matt 1200
Martin 1150
Andrew 1100
Joe 700
Katy 500

And so we left another games night, weary but satisfied.

On the Division, Katy edges up one spot, but otherwise it's all about Martin as he tries to win as much as possible before the baby arrives.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Happy Returns

Wednesday isn't usually much of a games day - not at my (Sam's) house anyway. I'm normally playing football. But with Sally out and Andrew celebrating - I use the word guardedly - his birthday, we decided to convene at the table with Chris and Ian to see in Andrew's new year.

Chris was running slightly late so we started with Push It. I think Ian won the first game and during the second, Chris materialised. Not literally; that would be silly. But he did arrive bearing gifts and after not much debate at all we set up Tinner's Trail, the hardy perennial of GNN Towers.

I decided early to try Adam's strategy of building a mining empire and not worrying about investment cubes in round one. Ian got off to a good start and with Andrew and Chris also scoring points I did question the wisdom of this approach, especially when the prices for both tin and copper in the final round were rock bottom. At this point I had eleven tin to harvest and smattering of copper, so who knows? Had the prices been different it may have worked. As it was, I surged past Andrew and Chris, but couldn't catch Ian. Despite losing money on a mine, he still trounced us again!

Ian 95
Sam 88
Andrew 78
Chris 77

The night was young and we were full of bon viveur, or something. I was drinking Jaegermeister in an effort to ward off a cough, and a mishearing of Chris' prompted a round of smutty interpretations of the name. With three of us in our forties, this wasn't really acceptable. But hey.

We next played Celestia, the gravity-defying game of flying ships and evasive captains. "Can we make it sir?"
"I'm not going to tell you. You'll just have to hope I'm capable, even though I know I'm not"
I was not capable. I didn't make a note of the scores, but Andrew won with Ian and Chris scoring 40+ each. I was lagging back on 29.

After a bit of discussion we decided to finish off with Push It again, playing as teams this time. Poor old Chris was teamed with me. I've lost whatever vestige of mojo I once possessed with this game, and even my attempted bludgeonings led to very little. Andrew and Ian won the first game, and somehow Chris and I managed to pull a win from the fire in the second.

Then they went. It was an early finish, but we were sated. Best wishes Andrew - and also Matt, who shares a birthday with him!

Mmm, capitalism

Tonight we numbered seven in total as we gathered around Sam's kitchen table: Martin, Ian, Katy, Andy, Joe, myself and, of course, Sam.

We began without any of the usual warm up group game, and immediately split into two groups: Sam, Andy and I played The Voyages of Marco Polo, while the others went for the Downfall if Pompeii.

Marco Polo may be a new arrival to GNN, but Andy has a fair amount of experience playing online. In fact, this was his first time playing the physical version.

At first, it looked like Andy and I had plans in motion, while Sam was bereft of goods and camels. This panicked him into making a number of high point scoring decisions, convinced that he'd be pegged back by our end of game bonuses. In fact, even when his score marker was on the other side of the board to ours, he was still predicting his own demise.

And although we did close the gap in the final round (Sam’s lead of 26 dropped to 15 by the end), it wasn't enough to catch him.

Sam 72
Andy 57
Andrew 51

In ancient Rome, it was the usual kerfuffle trying to get everyone out of Pompeii. There was a moment of excitement when it looked like the first six lava tiles would match each of the six different starting locations. But then Ian drew a duplicate and the moment passed.

In the end it was close. It usually is in Downfall Of Pompeii, but not this close.

Ian 8 saved, 10 in the volcano
Martin 8 saved, 11 in the volcano
Katy 8 saved, 12 in the volcano
Joe 7 saved

According to Martin we still appeared to be “balls deep” in Marco Polo (oh dear) so they began Marracash. Something to do with shops and top-heavy meeples. It was this game that caused Katy to ponder "Mmmm, capitalim" and so a blog title was born (although she insisted it was more like "grrr, capitalism")

Ian 5750
Martin 3750
Joe 3400
Katy 2350

By this time Marco Polo had ended and we three had chosen Take It Easy. The topics of our bingo-style callings were Magazines (from Sam), things about parapsychology (from me) and songs from a particular band that we had to identify (from Andy).

We each had a round in which we scored the least, only Sam’s least was much better than our leasts.

Sam 509
Andy 460
Andrew 443

We followed this up with a quick game of Dragon Run (very quick, with the dragon lurking near the top of the draw deck nearly every time). Poor old Sam went in looking for treasure, but came out with a handful of useless potions and some loose change.

Andy 18
Andrew 11
Sam 3

At this point they were totting up the final scores to Castle Crush. I hadn’t seen much, but I did witness Ian missing completely with one of his attempts on an enemy castle, and also Joe’s last castle getting hit and standing up fairly well, except that the two meeples it housed popped out of the back.

Martin 60
Joe 56
Katy 49
Ian 49

Martin was glad that he finally won a game, while Katy’s run of form for this evening left her feeling very unimpressed.

Since we were all together, we decided on one last game together: 6nimmt!

And what an epic it was. Lady Luck took turns in slapping each on of us in the face. “Spiral of Death” was very much the word of the game, as people succumbed to multiple beatings. After three rounds, no one had less than thirty-one points and there was just twelve points between the top six.

Joe triggered the end of the game in the next round and Ian amazingly snuck in for the win, ending his game with two clear rounds.

Ian 39
Andy 42
Andrew 50
Martin 55
Katy 60
Sam 72
Joe 77

And with that we were gone, out into the night air, with the taste of Apple Cake (thanks Sally) and the GNN whiskey (thanks Katy) still on our tongues.

Meanwhile, on the exciting Division, we see that no one has changed places except for Andy who has just edged ahead of Joe.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

It started with Eclipse

On this Friday, Chris found himself banished from his own home and thus needed somewhere to pass the evening playing board games. Since I was in, and I figured my table was big enough for two-player Eclipse, I hosted a little tête-à-tête across the vast distances of space.

With two-players, there are only five III-level spaces, so the game really funnels the two players towards each other. Also, Chris suggested we try out the alien option. I was a warlike race, with high initiative and energy capacity right from the start while Chris could upgrade three times in one go, and could build for less money.

And talking of money, I had one of those games where I could barely get an orange cube down. It was frustrating, and I soon realised that, as Chris improved his fleet, I needed to make a mad dash for the centre and hope to hold onto it for the rest of the game.

Except I went in under prepared, hoping for some lucky dice rolls by the ancients. I had strong attack (+5) but next to no hull. It was an optimistic plan and one that didn’t work and also left me weakened and unable to stop Chris from rolling in on the next round.

In the end, I was forced to use influence discs to make sure I didn’t go bankrupt and, with that, my ignoble defeat was assured.

Chris 40
Andrew 23

After this we tried Tsuro of the Seas which was fun while it lasted but it can’t avoid a massive sense of anti-climax when someone dies. In this game, Chris died when a new dragon entered the game right where his ship was. Not a lot you can do about that.

1. Andrew
2. Chris

And finally we ended with Roll Through The Ages. There’s some luck already in this dice-rolling game, but Chris won thanks to an extra bit of luck on top of that.

When he built his fourth development, he decided to buy Masonry. As he did, he idly wondered aloud who would ever choose to get Granaries as it seemed fairly useless. Then I took my go and built my fourth development. And when it was Chris’ go again, he realised that he’d actually ticked off Granaries, and not Masonry.

He gamely played on, anyway, and then realised that thanks to Granaries he could sell a spare food for four coins, which meant he could build an Empire, getting him fourteen points and the win. Jammy sod.

Chris 32
Andrew 23

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

How very a-neue-ing

This evening almost ended before it began for me, as I got into my car and found that the interior rear mirror had fallen off. Quickly I strapped it back in place with some masking tape, just enough to get me to and from Martin’s place for this week’s gaming goodness.

At first there were six of us: Martin, myself, Ben, Katy, Ian and Andy. While we waited for Sam and Chris to arrive, we decided to have a game of Why First? This game rewards coming in second and, as such, we did wonder if it was too unthematic to play it first. But that didn’t stop us.

Andy shot off into an early lead, and then tried very hard to make someone else do better than him. In fact, both Katy and Ben scored more than him, but Ben was just too good at being second and so he lost. We ended with Martin muttering something about stupid random games.

Katy 9
Andy 8
Ben 11
Martin 5
Ian 0
Andrew 0

By now, everyone had arrived and we split into two. Martin, Katy, Ben and Ian quickly decided they would like to try Discworld again. The remaining four debated our options and I mentioned Tigris & Euphrates. This got a certain amount of guarded interest but perhaps it was Martin’s anger at us playing his favourite game without him that helped us decide.

And so it was, four players sat down to a game that they barely remembered. Martin kindly stopped setting up Discworld long enough to explain the rules to us. Once we were going, it was a slow thoughtful process. We vied for territory and struggled to remember the difference between an internal and an external battle.

I played quite badly, never getting anywhere near a temple, and I sealed my defeat near the end of the game by taking on Chris in a hopelessly misjudged battle. He won easily and picked up a load of points in the meantime. Sam was first to get a temple down, which meant he ended the game with 17 points in one particular colour. But it’s your weakest colour that is scored, and in the final tally Chris had the best all round game.

Chris 10
Sam 7
Andrew 6
Andy 5

And with that done, Andy was satisfied that at least he now knew for sure that he didn’t like T&E and he could trade it away.

As it happened, Discworld ended at the same time:

Ian 96
Katy 81
Martin 73
Ben 44

With Martin especially keen that I should note “piss poor” next to Ben’s score.

At this point, the teams shuffled. Sam, Martin, Andy and Ian went for Neue Heimat, an abstract-looking game with coloured blocks and hemispheres. Ben, Katy, Chris and I went for Safranito: the fun game of spice mixing.

There was a distinct lack of garlic throughout the game, which made things difficult to finish those garlicky recipes. Chris went for the secret recipe option twice, but seemingly had little luck. I was the first to complete three recipes, thus winning the game. The final places were decided by a money tie-breaker.

Andrew 3 recipes
Chris 1 recipe and $220
Katy 1 and $160
Ben 1 and $70

And also at this time, Neue Heimat ended. Martin worked out the scores and they sounded more like something you’d get at the end of an episode of QI.

Martin 9
Ian 0
Andy –17
Sam –79

I’ll leave it up to them to explain what went wrong or, indeed, if this is a normal spread of scores.

And with that, the evening was done. At the last minute, Katy said we’d forgotten to play a game in Joe’s honour (since it was his birthday, hence his absence). So, as a last minute substitute, we put Martin’s table back the way it was in honour of Joe. Hope he appreciates the gesture.

And this is the Division