Wednesday, 30 March 2016

What A Great Sense of Yuma

Tonight was the last evening of the season. Some weeks back, Martin had boldly set a target for the chasing pack to reach before April while he went of to do Dad stuff. The evening began with Martin only a 4.57 point lead over Ian and barely two points further back was Katy. A delicate situation. Martin needed us to play only a couple of games and for Ian and Katy to do badly both times to stand a chance.

The top four at the start of the evening

There were six of us: Joe (host), Ian, Katy, Ben, Matt and myself. We began with Birds Of A Feather, the simple yet charming game of birdspotting.

Joe explained the rules to newcomer Matt using, whenever possible, the actual names of the birds instead of just referring to the icons. A nice touch, but the educational aspect still eludes me. After four games, I still can’t remember a single bird’s name.

Ian 28
Joe 25
Ben 23
Andrew 23
Matt 22
Katy 21

And with that victory, Ian closed in on Martin still further.

Meanwhile, we played Birds Of A Feather again, reminding Katy that this was a new game and not the second round of the same game as before.

Andrew 31
Joe 27
Katy 27
Matt 26
Ian 23
Ben 14

At this point we decided to stay as a group of six for the rest of the evening. After a little discussion, we chose Last Spike as the evening’s not-too-heavy main course.

This game of placing track and buying stock in different cities (which only pay out when it is successfully connected to another city) is simplicity itself, if a little bit luck dependent. Ben started badly, needing to pay double for a piece of non-adjoining track. He then invested heavily in the city of Yuma (hence the blog title) which luckily paid out for him in the later stages of the game.

No one needed to sell any shares due to lack of money, although it was close at times. And Katy and Joe both got three free shares for being the first to build from a particular city. Matt, meanwhile, built up a stack of cash hidden behind a bowl of pretzels.

I was lucky enough to put down the final tile, getting me a $20K bonus, otherwise I’d have been left in joint last place.

Joe 71
Andrew 65
Matt 63
Ben 56
Katy 54
Ian 45

Another poor performance from Ian and Katy, but Martin’s title bid is over. I, on the other hand, may just force a late surprise.

Next game to the table was A Fake Artist In New York. I explained the rules and I began as Quiz Master. My topic (“xylophone”) was deemed too specific by Katy and she argued about its suitability throughout round one. Interestingly, Matt joined in with the debate. I say interesting, because he was the fake artist. Clearly, he was trying to look like someone who knew what the topic was. It worked, since he wasn’t chosen as the fake artist.

Joe turned out to be an excellent fake artist once he’d quelled his desire to draw something recognisable. Halfway through the round where he was the fake artist, he said “Surely, this should be...” and then turned the drawing up the other way. An audacious bluff, and a great success.

In the final round, Katy chose “Joe” as the topic and Joe as the fake artist. A bit of a giveaway, really. But we did end up with a nice piece of minimalist portraiture.

Ben 6
Andrew 6
Matt 5
Joe 4
Katy 2
Ian 1

More faltering stumbles from Ian and Katy, and I’m up into second!

As the night progressed, so we introduced Ben to the joys of Incan Gold. I say “joys”, but his inaugural game was notable for the speed with which enemies threw themselves in our path. Temple three may have claimed a record for brevity: zombie lady, rockfall, spider, zombie lady. Joe managed to make his way through a temple far enough to get plenty of treasure and one example of each type of danger. But he just had to push it one card too far.

Katy 13
Ben 12
Matt 11
Ian 6
Andrew 5
Joe 5

Did this result signal a change in Katy’s fortunes? Although we didn’t know it at the time (I wasn’t updating the division as we played), she had claimed top spot.

If she’d known this she may not have eagerly agreed to another game of Incan Gold.

This was a more entertaining game of Incan Gold. The temples didn’t fall down upon us the moment we entered. I had one of those games where you know whichever decision you make, it’ll be the wrong one. I leave: the temple is large and profitable. I stay: it’s hello zombie ladies.

A nice temple (me, absent)

Joe 35
Katy 30
Matt 28
Ben 16
Ian 15
Andrew 10

And so, the evening was done. The season was done. Well done to Martin for winning points ratio (the proper mark of a champion) and the medal table but also congrats to Katy for taking top spot at the last minute.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Delicate Riffles

This Saturday, Sam said Chris would be in town so I agreed to meet up for an evening games session. During the day, however, the weather was terrible and I had started to regret my choice. Luckily, God loves games and just minutes before I was due to leave, the wind and driving rain were replaced by something more welcoming.

When I arrived, Ian was there too, setting up Riff Raff. Chris wasn’t there, so we decided to start playing and he would be bound to turn up. Seconds later, he arrived.

It was a longish game of Riff Raff, with all of us picking up fallen items at one point. Sam’s revolutionary tactic of hanging the sailor off a yardarm by his other arm worked a treat and he stayed there for the rest of the game, but it was Chris who got all his items aboard first.

Chris 0
Andrew 1
Ian 5
Sam 5

Then we discussed which game to play as our main event. We all stood in front of Sam’s games wall, slightly pulling out games that we were considering and then pushing them back when we decided against them. Viticulture won the debate, and so it was brought to the table.

Sam’s record on this game is not great. Apart from a second place, he’s suffered a couple of heavy last places. It seemed like this time he was determined not to let the same thing happen again.

The first time he’d played Viticulture, he’d tried selling a field for money, but found it held him back. He tried the same tactic again (even having two field sold at one point), but with far better results using the money to train more workers and build more buildings. In fact, so invested was he in the world of wine-making that he finished off a bottle of the stuff almost single handed.

Sam's early lead

The rest of us trailed Sam for most of the game. I simply never got going, with few workers and an empty field that I should have sold. A recurring theme was, whenever someone played a card, the other three would jokingly complain how unbalanced the cards were. This may be true, but I think all four of us relied on the cards a lot.

As the game reached its closing stages, Chris suddenly broke away from the trailing pack, completing a number of orders to put last minute pressure on Sam. He couldn’t quite manage it, though.

Sam 23
Chris 22
Ian 17
Andrew 13

By now it was 9.40, and we were in the mood for some lighter games. Poison was chosen first, as a welcome blast from the past. Chris explained how he was trying to perfect a new riffle shuffle technique. This “delicate riffle,” as he called it, didn’t put so much strain on the cards by bending them. Such commitment to gaming left Ian and I speechless.

During the game, Sam’s King Creosote playlist took a turn for the ambient. At first, I fell into a Celtic reverie, babbling about old fishermen with beards and calloused hands appearing through the mist. Then, as the ambiance became more electro, it felt like an episode of Wallander where the angst-ridden detective had taken a day off to play his favourite Reiner Knizia game.

The classic opening gambit

I can’t remember if Poison is supposed to be a raucous knock-about game or not, but we played one round in almost complete silence.

Sam 12
Andrew 24
Chris 31
Ian 36

Next up was Love Letter. “Ian always wins Love Letter,” Sam declared, trying to curse Ian into losing. It didn’t seem to work initially, as Ian won the first round with a shitty Baron.

The music was changed to prog rock bands. Sam, Sally (in the background, doing domestic things) and myself contributed some lovely three part harmonies on the first chorus of “More Than A Feeling.” I briefly regretted not wearing a jacket so I could roll the sleeves up, especially when the playlist (via Phil Collins) morphed into the soundtrack from Miami Vice.

As for the game, despite Ian being dubbed “the Tony Pulis of Love Letter,” he couldn’t replicate his usual form. It was another win for Sam.

Sam 3
Ian 2
Andrew 1
Chris 0

Finally, we knocked off a couple of games of Push It. First to seven, Chris lead from the start:

Chris 7
Sam 5
Ian 3
Andrew 3

And then first to five. I got to four points quickly and then suffered some yips as everyone closed the gap. I had just enough gaming gas left in the tank, though. It helped that the puck was knocked over in my direction on the last round.

Andrew 5
Sam 4
Chris 2
Ian 1

Games were played, drinks were drunk. Now all that was left was for the way home to be wended.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Ships, towers, and submarines

This week's GNN nearly didn't happen, which I believe (I cannot fully recall) would have been a first since the inception of the blog. With the Eastonites busy with nappies and sleep deprivation, Joe unable to host and Andrew poorly, it took a plaintive email from Katy to stir the collective consciousness to life.

I was supposed to be off out on a beer-laden jolly at work, but I decided I was too tired to face two hours of drinking before tea even started, so stepped in to host at the last minute.

Come 7.30 Katy, Ian and Andy appeared at the door, and I forced them to play Riff Raff. This game (see previous post for description) is a lot of fun, unless you're Andy, who announced near the end he didn't like balancing games at all. This began a trio of disdainful verdicts that ran through the evening, with Ian next to bring judgement.

 Riff Raff

But before that happened, Katy won her inaugural seagoing adventure with Riff Raff drawing to a close tight at the top, but with Andy rolling around in the hold, being sick on himself:

Katy 0
Sam 1
Ian 2
Andy 18

We stepped into the front room to admire my shelving pick the next game. I got a bit excited when I realised Andy knew the rules to Firenze, and made an executive decision that he teach us. "It's not a long game!" I trilled, like a town planner in front of the media expecting a bus to sail around the corner on time. Oh, Sammy.

So in Firenze we're all trying to build the towers in the town and get points for doing so. That much was straightforward and easy to pick up. The vagaries of strategy and tactics come in the cards, of which you select one at the start of every turn. The problem was my set of Firenze is German, so there was an awful lot of checking the photocopied English rules, making sure we had the right card, and then attempting to remember what the card did. Andy had been playing online and felt comfortable, so much so that he did at one point get labelled "tower c**t".

Germ of an idea

Katy didn't seem to be that perplexed after some first round confusion. I remained slightly bamboozled throughout, only relaxing slightly when I focused on an obvious plan and ignored everything else (probably to my cost). Ian however had a gaming meltdown, going from semi-fluent in German and semi-lucid on the game to suddenly unable to compute anything - and fatalistically allowing Andy and Katy to take his last two turns for him while he sat and shook his head, like a broken man.

a building site in Florence

Andy, as we thought he might, walked away with it. Ian announced he didn't like the game, with a reasonable degree of conviction. I was disappointed but I don't really feel I've played it yet - I never truly got past asking for translations and wondering what the hell was going on.

Andy 61
Katy 41
Sam 38
Ian 27

It had taken what we in gaming circles call "fucking ages" to play, and we desperately needed some light relief. I was canvassing for Push It when Katy announced she had Deep Sea Adventure so we played that instead. We also played Pretense (non-leaderboard) which I won by getting Katy to change seats with me and dismissing her suspicions that I was about to win Pretense by saying how far-fetched the idea was.

That was mid-adventure, which Katy played with abandon, announcing she never wins whilst going to hair-raising depths of the ocean while the rest of us legged it back to the sub. Andy, despite trying to play safer, never got anywhere. I hedged my bets, mixing some safety play with one bit of luck-pushing.  Unlike my similar Incan Gold tactics, it proved a decent manoeuvre:

Sam 30
Ian 23
Katy 20
Andy 0

With 11 o'clock showing on the clock, we drew the curtain on an unusually quiet Tuesday that had a little bit of everything  - old favourites, new brain-burners, dexterity challenges and push-your-luck dice-rollers. Plus Katy dissing her own game at the end, making up the trio of unimpressed gamers.* But despite that, we had fun.

*she didn't diss the game, actually, just her record in it.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Port out!

With Tuesdays ruled out for me for the next few weeks, I managed to entice Andrew and Ian over for a bit of Monday night action.

We began with Riff Raff. This is like the offspring of Hamsterrolle and King Neptune. The game is constructed from the box itself plus several pieces, making up a wooden boat that sails upon a stormy ocean. The central 'mast' is weighted at the bottom, so whenever a piece is added to the yardarms the boat lists over to that side.

Like Hamsterrolle, first player to get rid of their (eight) pieces wins. Unlike Hamsterrolle, there's an extra element of card play that decides where on the ship you place your piece, and potentially has the (risky) option of placing two pieces.

My first play was disastrous, as pretty much everything fell off the ship twice while Andrew picked up the win. In the second I was more circumspect and nabbed a win just ahead of Ian.

It was fun. A shame it only plays four as I can imagine it being a popular filler at GNN.

After the jolly fare of Riff Raff it was time for something more somber, so we bashed through - if one can 'bash through' a game as dry as this - Viticulture, the game of competitive vineyarding. We wanted to play it while it was "still fresh" although you wouldn't have guessed as much as we spent several minutes simply blinking at the board and checking the rules.

Basically though it's a worker-placement game that's broken into seasons, spring being fighting over turn order for summer and winter (which provide thematically appropriate actions on the board) and autumn is merely a bit of spice. As you plant vines, harvest grapes, crush them into wine, and deliver orders (for points) you can also shenaniganise with the visitor cards, that can be played in summer or winter...

I got off to a good start, but Andrew invoked the witches curse of saying I was winning: over and over, so successfully that my game simply dragged to a halt as the others surged past me.

Viticulture, for all its arid mechanics, does hold some surprises - and I had one up my sleeve that was going to get me four points in one fell swoop! Ha ha! If I could just get some orders that matched my wine... I picked up four orders and none did: they all demanded very expensive red or rose, or champagne, none of which I had in my admittedly limited cellar. Meanwhile Ian ended the game by completing three orders in the last round (I managed two the whole game!) and Andrew made a valiant effort to catch him, but it wasn't quite enough:

Ian 24 (I think)
Andrew 23 (I think)
Sam 16 or something

For a game about wine it does feel rather sober, but it was good to play again. I need to study Ian and Andrew's tactics, as that's not the first time I've ended miles behind. But for me the hit of the night was Riff Raff!

Friday, 18 March 2016

Strange Currencies

Tonight Chris, Ian, Andrew and myself (Sam) converged at my house to delve deep into the mysterious game of Tesla vs Edison: War of Currents. This game re-imagines - or more accurately retells - the early days of electricity, with various dignitaries of the inventing and finance world competing to establish themselves, turn a quick buck, or more ideally, turn several slow ones.

You'll begin the game with one luminary and get a second before the real action begins. You can play a luminary on a turn for an action or, at a push, play both of them together for a more powerful action.

The board shows a bunch of stuff. On the top side is the USA circa 1880, with it's many cities of varying sizes just itching to be supplied with power. On the bottom side is a bunch of tracks showing the progress of the technology levels of the two currents (AC and DC) and the bulbs they power, plus a fame track for the currents themselves and a fame track for the player's companies (essentially functioning as turn order). Finally there's the stock value of the companies too: you can buy shares not only in your own company, but anyone elses. Doing so increases its value; selling stock decreases it.

So you've a bunch of choices too: start a project on the map, which will push your stock value up. Increase your technology level (doing so allows you to build in bigger, more rewarding cities) buy and sell shares, muck about with the various fame tracks or partake in some good old propaganda, which steers public perception away from one current and toward another.

Additionally, the luminary you choose to use also effects how your turn works; not only do certain luminaries give you advantages on certain actions, your starting luminary has a special power that is advanced to all of your luminaries (you buy more as the game progresses). At the end of the game the value of all your shares in the current market price decides the winner, with cash in hand the tie-breaker.

The basic concept is quite straightforward really and the game is rich in theme. It also looks lovely. Where it fell down - and this may be entirely due to our first-play status - was the finer points of how rewards were calculated on various actions: we realised near the end we'd conflated two different rules and were overly rewarding companies when buying their shares. A simple player aid could fix that though, and although Chris was not hugely enamoured of it, the rest of us were hopeful of playing again soon:

Sam 480
Ian 336
Chris 324
Andrew 240

After that fairly hefty beast we needed something light, so we broke out another new game (to us) in About Time, which has fairly complicated rules and board we completely ignored in favour of just reading the cards out. Everyone guesses which year the events on the cards occurred in, and the closest guess wins. Chris surged into a lead and Andrew somehow pegged him back, while I managed a joint second place despite being by far the most historically inaccurate:

Chris/Andrew 7
Ian/Sam 5

About Time only took about 25 minutes but after the epic debut of Tesla midnight was fast approaching, and we called it a night.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

One for diamonds, two for gold

This week was a special date in the GNN calendar. it was a Katy's birthday. However, due to a nasty cold, it was not the happiest of birthdays. Perhaps, we hoped, some good company and better games would improve matters.

There were seven of us at Adam's: Adam, Ben, Andy, Ian, Katy, and myself with Joe expected along shortly. We tried to think of a nice group game we could all enjoy together, but without Martin or Sam or Joe, we were short of options. No Pairs, no Celestia, no Push It, barely anything. Only 6nimmt was available, and so we played that.

Since we were expecting Joe to arrive soon, we dealt in Dirk as a dummy hand that Joe could take over once he arrived. As you might expect from a random series of cards, Dirk veered from uncanny escapes to hopeless doom. But then again, so did the rest of us.

Midway through the second round, Martin arrived, all aglow with the joys of new fatherhood. He was only supposed to say hello, but with an unclaimed stack of cards on the table, he couldn't resist the invitation and took over Dirk's role for the rest of the game.

Andrew 21
Katy 36
Andy 36
Adam 42
Ian 47
Dirk 53
Ben 80

After this, Martin set off home and Joe arrived. He'd brought Birds of a Feather with him (the game, not a DVD box set of the sitcom) and since it played seven, he explained the rules and we all had a couple of games.

The game is very simple. From your hand of cards (with birds on), everyone plays one card into to centre. You, as a birdspotter, can see any birds that are in the same environment as the card you played. This means, you can tick off those birds on your scorepad. Then all these cards move into the centre, but stay face up, giving you the opportunity to spot birds that you missed with your next card (assuming you have the right environment in your hand).

It was fun and surprisingly thinky.

Andy 26
Joe 23
Katy 22
Andrew 22
Adam 22
Ben 20
Ian 15

In the next game we played an extra rule: the raptor rule. This means that when a raptor (a bird of prey) is played, all the birds from the previous round from the same environment are scared off (turned face down) and can't be spotted.

Andrew 29
Joe 25
Andy 24
Katy 23
Ian 19
Adam 16
Ben 12

A nice, relaxing game. Joe said that he wished he had some recordings of birdsong as a background. I have a feeling it's also meant to be educational, but I didn't look at the cards enough.

Then we split into two groups. Andy, Adam and Ian went the hard route, battling each other with tactics and pasties in that old favourite: Tinners' Trail.

We remaining four struck out into lighter territory with another new game from Joe: Karuba. He described it as a cross between Incan Gold and Take It Easy, and that's exactly what it was. Four meeples are placed along two sides of each players' playing area and four temple (of matching colours) are placed along the opposing two sides. Everyone starts with an identical set-up.

Then one player picks their tiles randomly, while the other players choose the same one from their supply and then play it on their area. The tiles have paths, and the idea is to get your meeples to their matching temples, picking up any gold (two points) and diamonds (one point) on the way.

We played twice and in game one, I did well. I put down to crossroad tiles in the middle of the board and they were very useful in ferrying my meeples to where they needed to be.

Andrew 23
Joe 20
Katy 19
Ben 14

So, in the second game, I tried the same tactic again, except the crossroad tiles didn't come out. In fact, hardly any junctions at all came out, and before long I was stuck, not wanting to put down tiles nor was I able to move my men.

Halfway through the second game, Katy's cold started a coughing fit and she had to retire for a few minutes. When she came back, we insisted that she rest her throat, so it was an uncommonly mute Katy who chose the tiles and held them up for us to see. This inconvenience didn't stop her from winning, just one point ahead of Ben.

Katy 22
Ben 21
Joe 17
Andrew 8

In the other room, Cornwall was still being plundered for its natural resources, so we played Castle Crush. It was new to Ben and I, but the rules are pretty straightforward: built a castle to protect your king and general from the cudgel of doom that topples from a circular platform onto your opponent's structure.

That's the theory, anyway. The two newbies began with contrasting fortunes. My first castle proved unexpectedly strong (I'm still not sure why). But on Ben's turn he tried to attack Katy's castle, only for the cudgel to bounce off harmlessly and it ended up hitting the side of his own castle and the king and general both popped out the other side.

But after that, Ben had better luck (or was it skill) and he quickly made up lost ground. Joe seemed think he was being picked on. Perhaps he was. Either way, his strong final round castle (withstanding two hits with barely a tremor) was not strong enough and Ben dealt the decisive blow.

Ben 75
Andrew 59
Katy 59
Joe 33

Tinners' Trail had ended by now, too. Adam had done enough to overturn Ian's high scoring first and third rounds.

Adam 137
Ian 125
Andy 108

Saturday, 12 March 2016

The Moth at the Window

Saturday! With Sally away on an extended trip to London, I sent out the word to gamers that the table would be free. Flying the flag for GNN were the trusty extra-curricular stalwarts Andrew, Ian and Chris.

With Chris yet to arrive, and both boys theoretically involved, we began with Stanley's choice of Sheriff of Nottingham. This game is all about bluffing, double-bluffing and triple-bluffing. Everyone takes a turn being the Sheriff and everyone else hands him a bag of goods they want to bring within the city walls: they can tell the truth or fib, and it's the Sheriff's job to work out what they're up to. Stanley proved to be rather adept at the casual smuggle of contraband, Andrew found himself serialising paying punishment payments, but Ian sailed rather serenely to a commanding win:

Ian 177
Stanley 129
Sam 123
Andrew 64

Joe hadn't been very interested in the comings and goings of Nottingham trade, and had tried a variety of distraction techniques before finally retiring, post Sheriff, to bed. With Chris now here he, Ian and Andrew bashed out a game of Love Letter whilst I read stories upstairs. I'm not sure what happened, but having completed the game we tried Chris' new purchase of Nations: The Dice Game.

This is a dice-management game with custom dice where you can go a variety of ways in terms of strategy. I couldn't remember what it reminded me of until just now, when I recalled Tiny Epic Galaxies. Except although I think TEG is an ok game I preferred Nations. Not a classic maybe, but a solid game we can bash out in under an hour that balances tactics and luck quite nicely.

Sam 29
Ian 23
Chris 21
Andrew 20

Next up was Istanbul. This game needs no introduction, especially to us as we've played it before. It looked like Ian was leading the charge but, in contrast to my experiences with Tales of the Arabian Nights, my repeat visits to the Great Mosque brought reward:

Sam 5 gems
Ian 4 most cash
Andrew 4 next most cash
Chris 4 least cash

At this point I also managed to win Pretense, the game with the largest gap between sounds-shit and is-actually-fun. I doubt the game has a huge amount of replayability, but the concept is that whilst playing other games, everyone is also trying to fulfil their games-related moments on their hidden cards - if you do so, flip the card over. First to flip all their cards wins.*

*The official rules are slightly more convoluted but I like the simplicity of our house version

At some point during Istanbul the blog title surfaced with Andrew excusing a fart with the comment "It's just a moth at the window". This sent me into hysterics, that kept returning throughout the remainder of the evening whenever I remembered it.

With everyone now willing we began playing one of the old classics: Tsuro. This path-making game is so simple it's almost not a game. Except it is a game, and I won it:


At this point I was wondering why I can't bring this type of form to Tuesdays, but hubris was waiting just around the corner in the form of Bandu: I managed to accrue five coins and had plenty of passes in the bank, but like Joe (Berger) and myself before me, I couldn't resist the urge to build, and my construction didn't have the foundations to withstand my ambition and optimism. While Ian built a kind of dainty Barbican, Chris held on for the win with what Andrew dismissed as a low-rise block of flats:

Sam and Chris AE

My impossible structure and Ian in the distance AE

I managed to put an egg cup above an egg! What larks! AE


With the evening closing out we just had time to play Push It. Andrew and I established a big lead but Ian came back into it, the Chris threatened to, before fate smiled on me with some deflections and I grabbed a fortuitous win:

Sam's winning move

Sam 7
Ian 6
Andrew 5
Chris 3

With 11 o'clock looming we called it a night. Lots of fun, thanks chaps.