Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Welcome to Waspopolis

Birthdays. A special day for everyone, but mostly for the person celebrating their birth and for Katy who seems to take great delight in these things.

Since it was Adam’s birthday, he and Hannah had offered to host with the offer of a game of Railways of the World. This evening we were eight in number, which meant Katy did not have to play.

The eight of us split into two groups. Adam, Steve, Ian and I adjourned to the cooler room (cooler being relative – it was still pretty warm in this, the hottest GNN meet of the year) while Joe, Hannah, Katy and Martin (minus baby Effie) played outside on the patio.

While Adam et al set up RotW, the al fresco group began with slightly lighter fair: Imhotep. This Egyptian-themed game has a neat twist on the usual worker placement mechanic and the beating sun probably added to the realism. I expect.

Hannah wasn't able to play due to parental duties, but at the end Katy's 100% record had finally ended. She reported that it was a stupid mistake from her that gave Martin the win, but that she'd kept her whining down to a minimum.

Martin 45
Katy 36
Joe 33

After this, there was a brief pause as Adam was presented with his birthday cake. How nice.

Meanwhile, in RotW I had sped off into my usual mid-game lead, having nabbed the three-link bonus, and started shipping cubes up and down my network while the others were still shipping for one or two points. But I had a lot of bonds, and I felt I needed a bigger lead before I started to end the game.

Steve felt like he was lagging behind, a distant fourth. His position not helped by his reliance on “New Industry” cards to boost Boston, only to find he was an expert in pulling black and yellow cubes from the bag which is how Boston got the nickname “Waspopolis”.

In the other room, Imhotep had been replaced by the more sociable game of Team Play, with Martin and Katy putting aside their usual rivalry to join together against Joe and Hannah.

Katy & Martin 1
Joe & Hannah 1

Now it was time for Martin to go home, so Joe and Katy introduced Hannah to the joys of Karuba. This path-finding game has shades of Take It Easy since everyone takes the same tiles to place of their board. It was also like Take It Easy for provoking whoops of joy when a tile you need is chosen. Surprisingly, it was Hannah, not Katy, making the most noise.

Katy 19
Joe 18
Hannah 16

In the quieter half of the house, I was scrabbling around trying to end the game. My level five engine, once the envy of the Eastern US, was now obsolete with everyone else having trains of six of higher.

I managed to annoy Ian and Steve by triggering the end of the game on the last move of a turn, meaning their carefully laid plans wouldn't fully pay out. Adam, however, couldn't be stopped, and was able to build New York – Kansas City for a whopping twenty points. Steve was able to complete his baron (the only one of us who could) for a last-minute boost that got him into third ahead of Ian who had, until recently, been threatening me for second.

Adam 75
Andrew 57
Steve 55 (plus $42,000)
Ian 55 (plus $33, 000)

Surely this result made it the best birthday Adam's ever had. And, since it's his special day, here's a look at the division for Railways of the World (sorted by Points Ratio).

Meanwhile on the Division for this season, despite today's slip up, Katy maintains her form and with a lead like that she will probably still be top when she comes back from her trip away next week.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Ultra Mare

Monday, and I (Sam) spent the day in Newport Asda whilst waiting for my passport to be renewed. Four hours in an Asda cafe was pushing it, but there was a heatwave outside and it was Newport. I was thinking I'd gen up on Copper Country, but the wifi at the Asda Newport cafe doesn't let you watch videos, it seems, so I was forced to focus on the depressing reality of... reality.

Come the evening, I didn't have time to gen up on Copper Country, because of a combination of lengthy rules and rapscallion children prevented it. Instead when Ian and Andrew arrived, we played another game that's sat in a cupboard for a few months unplayed: Oltre Mare. This game is Euro-y in many ways: it's a map of the Mediterranean; you're stocking up ships, and delivering goods.  The best trader wins.

to be honest, it's a card game really

But in other ways it's quite atypical of a Euro: the only cube to be pushed is along the score track, and you couldn't truly describe it as dry: trading with each other is pivotal, and the game has a delicate balance of managing your hand: the goods you want to deliver versus how many cards you're allowed in your hand, versus how many cards you can play on the next turn. Often you find yourself with a well-stocked hand but a hand limit of 4, and you're literally giving cards away to avoid punishment - for if you have too much stuff on your ship, the pirates come and get you.


We all liked it. The first half of the game was quite slow, as we got up to speed, but after the interim scoring the second half of the game took about twenty minutes: a combination of familiarity and the big guns coming out. I didn't note the scores down, but Ian pipped me to a win by a single point (something like 64 to 63) with Andrew back around 59. A close thing.

A close thing, but a long first play, coming in around 1hr 40mins, so Andrew suggested lighter fare in the form of Pickonimo. The first round gave a portent of what was to come when all three of us went bust. Then I surged into a healthy lead, only to be pegged back by Andrew. Andrew surged into a healthier lead... but this time, he was not to be caught. Poor Ian was never in the running, going serially bust:

Andrew 9
Sam 6
Ian 1

Then we played Outfoxed. This is a kids game that is intriguing enough to merit a look by grown-ups; it's a co-operative where the players are working out which fox stole the pie. It's gonna be one of sixteen foxes, and on each turn you either look for clues or suspects, slowly revealing the sixteen foxes and eliminating them from your enquiries via the clues. The chance element is dice: if you don't roll what you set out to roll, the fox moves back towards his or her den, and it they make it home before you figure out the culprit, the players lose!

one we played earlier

It's rather fun. The fox was only halfway home, though, when we figured out who stole the pie: it was Maggie!

Then we ended with Push It, which I managed to clinch at the last from Ian:

Sam 11
Ian 10
Andrew 7

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Too Cool For Spool

And apologies to any GNNers present tonight who were expecting the blog title “Collectively Martin” which is how Katy described us when we all turned on her midway through Lords Of Waterdeep in an attempt to stop her victory. And the funny thing was, she was miles behind the leader at the time.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. This weeks games were held at Sam’s and with just five in attendance (Katy and the collective martins: Sam, Ian, Matt and myself). Before Matt had even arrived, the rest of us were leaning towards Lords Of Waterdeep as the evening’s entertainment.

We began with some hesitancy over whether or not to include an expansion, but when we discovered the expansion quests were mixed in with the regular quests, the problem was solved for us. We added Skullport to the south of Waterdeep and explained how the skulls changed the game.

Matt sped into an early lead, completing a 40-point quest and then, just as we were catching up, another 40-pointer. Before long, he was way off around the score track, with the rest of us forming a tight little cluster in his wake.

If you look, you can see Matt's green counter in the distance

The game was notable for Katy feeling picked upon, Ian’s battle for starting player, Sam feeling disconsolate, me feeling like I never got going and Matt’s meteoric rise. Despite this, everyone except Katy had a big handful of skulls (minus points at the end) and everyone except Katy suspected she had the Building-bonus lord, so with an entire half of the board full of her shops, she was in line for a 30-point bonus at the end.

As such, we tried to block her as best we could, but it was to no avail. She was able to remove more skulls from Skullport from the game, meaning our already large deficits would grow even larger. Meanwhile, Sam’s last go must have broken some kind of record for most retakes, as he tried to squeeze out one final quest from the available options. He couldn’t, and just satisfied himself with getting a load of money for points.

Katy 114
Matt 108
Ian 92
Andrew 92
Sam 70

At this time it was around ten o’clock, so we chose Knitwit as a quick game before, perhaps, we ended with Push It.

Knitwit, though, is longer than you think. Especially if you have to explain the rules. Katy spent most of the time during her tutorial frowning in bemusement. But after one practice round, she seemed up to speed.

The point about Knitwit is its subjectivity which might be a nice change after the strict rules of a Eurogame, but also allow perfectly good definitions to be disallowed. I’m referring to Katy and Matt who were so STUPID to think that the Elephant’s Graveyard (clues: mythical and sad) was A REAL PLACE! When of course, it isn’t. Ian abstained, so their objection was carried, despite its clear injustice.

This is important because the scores after the three rounds that we agreed on was a four-way tie with Sam, Katy, Ian and me on 29. If “Elephant’s Graveyard” had been accepted...

We played one more round as a tie-breaker and Katy stole a win.

Katy 44
Sam 42
Ian 41
Andrew 40
Matt 34

But, despite the Elephant’s Graveyard travesty I won’t give myself a post-hoc victory on the leaderboard, even though I deserve it. Instead I will spend most of next week mocking Ian, Katy and Matt for their ignorance about mythical places, and implying that they must therefore also think astrology is real and that unicorns can cure cancer.

Apart from that digression from common knowledge, though, the game was an palpable hit. Smart, quick and wise. We quickly decided to give bonus points for funny answers, and it was a lot of fun. There were a few answers that were refused: Katy’s reply to “Famous” and “Abundant” was Rolling Stones. Because they’re famous, and there’s a lot of them during avalanches. There was also some in depth discussion about the difference between “mushy” and “soft”.

But after four rounds of Knitwit, we were approaching eleven and so we called it a night and Push It would have to wait another week.

On the leaderboard, Katy maintains top spot.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Dice in Spaaaaaaaaaaace

With Chris unable to make it until later in the evening, Ian and Andrew obligingly indulged me in trying out my (Sam's) latest game design last night. Its mechanics are openly purloined from games I enjoy - there's the regular combat and sense of a race from Quantum (and three actions each turn) , the planet tech of Ascending Empires, and the chance-based jostling for position in Lords of Vegas. But in Orbital, the planets keep moving.

The game takes place in a five-planet solar system and the players represent newly-arrived competing cultures, fighting over the planets. You begin with two ships in the form of dice, and during each turn you can move, settle on planets, build more ships, combat other players - either in space, or attack a planet - or cause an uprising on a planet where you have a settled ship. The last one is the heart of the game, because if a player has the highest value die on a planet, they have dominance there. Not only does that give you a boost during play, it's also key to winning: the game ends when one player gets dominance on all five planets concurrently. It's kind of Lords of Vegas in space in that regard - I nearly called it Spagas, only that sounds like a fungal infection.

 WIP board

There's a couple of other actions too, but mainly you're flying around, blowing each other up and landing on planets - there's only space for four ships on each planet.

Ian looks longingly on as Andrew and I share the blue planet

At the end of each round, all the planets move along their orbital paths, so you have to take your moment if you can, or you'll be left behind. And at the start of each new round, players pick up resources for each planet they occupy (being dominant gives you an additional resource cube) and these can either be spent during your turn (cheaper building, free moves, dice-rolling bonuses and hyperspace!) or saved for points at the end of the game.

WIP player mats

The idea was to make a feisty game where players are encouraged to go all out attack (trying to get dominance in all planets) or consolidate by stockpiling resources. But of course, you can only stockpile cubes if you're picking them up in the first place...

Ian is dominant

We played nine rounds in a little over an hour. I'd fallen away dramatically and had taken on some debt in order to build more ships. Having done so, I sprang back into what I thought was contention - gaining dominance in two planets. But the very next turn Andrew got himself back on top in four of them. He then went for the fifth, knowing if he managed to roll a six, he'd grab the planet and mostly likely the game. He rolled a six!

late game: orange (me) is struggling whilst the other two battle it out

Andrew 31
Ian 23
Sam 12

Hard for me to be objective, especially when throughout I was worrying if it was too fiddly/too luck-based/too X. But I think I enjoyed it.

With that trial by fire out the way, Chris was yet to arrive, sending us a mysterious text about poop.

So we decided to give Madame Ching another go; the board game that's actually a card game. The game played very fast - only 30 minutes - and whilst no-one made it to Hong Kong or claimed the China Pearl, we did at least give the impression we knew what we were doing this time.

Andrew 25
Sam 22
Ian 21

those lovely clouds

As we were debating what to play next Chris arrived. Having cleared up the mystery of the poo text, and cleared up the source of the poo text as well, we went and stared at the games cupboard in huddled discussion. Five Tribes nearly got played, but in the end we went for one of Chris' favourites: Concordia. It's not been seen for a while at GNN and playing it I think that's because it is a rather staccato experience: often turns whizz by, but everyone had their moments of pausing, staring at their cards and the board, and then saying "shit". Games are so fun!

I went with my tried and not-totally-trusted method of spreading around the board and trying to nab Saturnus cards which reward you for settlements in different regions. I can't remember what Ian and Chris did, but I do remember looking over at Andrew's cards in final scoring and thinking "shit" - games, fun!

Andrew (black) doesn't look that threatening mid-game

Andrew 120
Sam 101
Chris 96
Ian 86

We then played Waggle Dance, the game of dice-rolling worker placement. Fool's Gold pulls this combo off really well, but Waggle Dance ...doesn't. It looks nice, it's easy to teach, there's a fair bit of screwage, but unless I imagined it, we were all largely underwhelmed. At least it's quick, though.


Sam 4 honey (wins on tie-breaker)
Andrew 4 honey
Ian 3 honey (third on tie-breaker)
Chris 3 honey

There was just time for a blast of Push It before we wrapped up. This time it was Andrew who lagged behind the rest of us, only to make a belated push for glory. But someone - Chris I think - sent my disc ricocheting into the puck to give me a rather jammy two-disc win:

Sam 12
Ian 9
Chris 8
Andrew 5

Lots of fun. And thanks for indulging me on Orbital.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Take the Fifth

I’m sure I’ve used this before as a title, but never mind.

Today we congregated at Martin’s house for our GNN weekly. There were just five of us: the host Martin along with Ian, Katy, Joe and myself. Joe and I arrived last, after Joe took a diversion for Piri Piri chicken. When we got to Martin’s house, we found Katy cradling Effie in her arms, glad to have properly met the tiny baby outside the confines of Martin’s papoose. Ian, meanwhile, was cradling a huge glass of lager. Who was the happier? Perhaps we’ll never know.

We considered what was best with five players. Winner’s Circle was mentioned, which I was keen on but Katy wasn’t. Then Beowulf was suggested. We all seemed happy with this suggestion, and Katy was open to learning new rules.

Martin taught her while trying to rock Effie to sleep. This was surprisingly successful. The rule-teaching, I mean. Not trying to get a baby to sleep.

Beowulf started out with some big battles very early on. Bids up to seven symbols were seen as early as round two, as Ian and Katy raised the stakes and got away with it thanks to some luck with their risk taking. Joe and Martin, however, had the worst luck imaginable. I trod a middle path: safe but unprofitable.

It got to such a point that Katy started apologising for her luck. Meanwhile, Joe happily accepted risks, saying “My luck’s gonna change, right?” before he learnt that it would do no such thing. He kept getting kicked out of bidding and was forced to take the fifth choice token (hence the blog title). My tactic (successful in previous games) of saving up until the final round was undone with an unlucky risk, meaning I ended the game with a whole bunch of unused helmet/wild cards in my hand. What a waste.

Katy strode to a clear victory, but perhaps most impressive was Martin who, despite his poor luck, managed to gain second. Ian, after looking so good for much of the game and entering the final stages with a huge hand of cards, might have been disappointed with third. Joe actually scored 18 points, but was hit with a last minute third wound, giving him a –15 punishment.

Katy 35
Martin 21
Ian 14
Andrew 12
Joe 3

After this, with one hour left on the clock we chose Blockers as our next five player battle. Again, this was new to Katy, but it’s so simple that it didn’t take long to explain.

By now, though, Effie was in full grizzle-mode and would not keep quiet for long. She’d seemed quite occupied by watching Beowulf from her father’s arms, but Blockers – despite the brighter colours – didn’t seem to captivate her.

With this distraction, Martin wasn’t at his best. And with Katy perhaps on full-on win mode after being robbed of her favourite colour (I was purple, she had to make do with sky blue) (or cyan, if you like) maybe the result was a foregone conclusion.

The game progressed with plenty of captures and cursing other players for not being in the right places so we could steal from them without damaging our score. Again, right at the end, Joe saw his plan foiled as Ian stole from a group that meant that Joe couldn’t steal from it (since it would split a group) and this apparently took the win from him. It’s a game of fine margins with five players, and with some lengthy pauses for thinking in between goes, even with Effie’s wailing, it took up the final hour.

Katy 5 (and 5 tiles captured)
Joe 5 (and 7)
Ian 5 (and 8)
Andrew 6 (and 9)
Martin 6 (and 13)

With that, we were done. And it was still light outside! “What kind of a games night was that?” asked Joe, amazed at the early hour. It was an evening full of epic tales and abstract reasoning, that’s what kind it was.

Normally, there’d be no point in putting together a leaderboard for week one, but I though Katy would like to see that she’s already scored more than twice as many points as her closest rival.

Piracy is a Crime

Madame Ching was some lady. Not only did she command thousands of pirates hundreds of years ago, she also was directly responsible for Andrew and Ian sitting down with me (Sam) last night, to try out Madame Ching - the game of piracy via numeric cards.

The game is very colorful and the rules are not numerous. If anything, they fall a little short in specifying one or two things, as we discovered. Basically though, we are competing to impress the eponymous Madame by sailing our junks over the sea and completing expeditions.

aarrgh shipmates. etc

Everyone plays a card and cards are simultaneously revealed. The highest number plays first, and - as long as the card played has a higher value than the last one on your journey - moves their ship forward: in a straight line if the colour of the card matches any previous card played on their voyage, or diagonally forward if it doesn't. If you can't or don't want to play a higher card, you play a low one: your expedition ends, and you grab some loot. The further you travel, the better the loot gets. Don't worry about getting home, because that happens instantaneously!

That's the essence of the game, but inevitably there's a few other smells in the wind. If you visit the islands, you get an encounter card, and these can give you a little fillip. If you manage to play cards with a set of matching symbols, you pick up a skill - these are handy in-game advantages. And if you get all skills, Madame Ching rewards you with captaincy of the China Pearl: master of pirate junks centuries ago, these days, worth 5 points at the end of the game.

little gems

Nobody made it to Hong Kong, which would have been worth ten points. For a while we couldn't see how it was even possible (thanks, rulebook!)

The first half of the game felt like an exercise in repetition. Play a card, move a ship. Pick up a card, and repeat. But we began to see the strategy of trying to build a hand that got your ship further - potentially sacrificing an expedition now in order to make good ground later. And the final throes of the game had a definite race feeling as Andrew and I sailed after Ian, hoping he'd fail to claim the last available expedition. He didn't:

Ian 34
Sam 33
Andrew 26

(I think; I don't have the scores here)

We packed it away feeling a mixture of deflated, bamboozled and mildly intrigued. It was definitely not an instant hit, but I'm curious to try it again.

Then we bashed out a whole bunch of short games. Dice Heist, Love Letter, Push It all saw some quick-fire action. Best of all was the return of Bandu, which Andrew won after Ian and I toppled our fledgling buildings. I managed to dislodge the biggest piece in the game with possibly the smallest - with the tiniest of touches. Must play that again soon!

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Gold, Blood, Art

Saturday night! Seeing as I (Sam) keep missing Tuesdays, and Sally keeps going out, I was grateful to have Andrew and Chris descend upon the house at 7pm. Whilst the boys caused havoc upstairs (my boys, not Andrew and Chris) we set up Fool's Gold on the kitchen table.

What more is there to say about Fool's Gold? It's the worlds-colliding combo of worker placement and push-your-luck, where the luck-pushing gets progressively more optimistic as the game continues. There's something delightfully funny about miners thinking sod it, I'll pan for gold in the snow, and turning up four bags of silt in a storm.

winter is coming

Chris and Andrew were both new to it, but it's not a hard game to learn. In fact the most confusing thing about it was Chris' money disappearing and Andrew accusing him of being thick, before it transpired that Andrew had been taking Chris' money, thinking it was from the bank. And at this point, we were all pretty sober. Oh, how we lolled etc.

Andrew 45
Sam  44
Chris 36

At this point Andrew and I indulged Chris in a game of Blood Bowl: Team Manager. Neither of us was really yearning to try it; it's a very Ameri-trashy, chit-heavy cross of fantasy and American Football. For a couple of Feld-positive Europeans, that's not exactly a siren, more a rock.

But we are nothing if not recalcitrantly begrudging, so we gave it a shot. It's about a series of football matches played out in a fantasy realm, rather violently. In each round players are contesting the matches via card play: cards have a value and the combined value of all your cards in a game decide who wins/loses. But individual cards can do stuff as well; like grab the ball (if you have the ball, you've more chance of winning the game) tackle (resulting in making opponent cards less effective) sprint (change up a card in your hand for a hopefully-better one) and, er, skull: which get your card a skull token. These are revealed when all cards have been played - they may help, but they may get the player sent off.


The skulls make the game very swingy - which is fun, but also slightly undermines the idea of strategic play. I can imagine the longer the game is (we played three rounds) the feeling of arbitrariness growing from a sense of chaotic fun to mild annoyance. But overall the game was fine - Andrew said it was "not anywhere near as terrible as I thought it'd be" which, from his mouth, is praise indeed.

Andrew 22
Sam 22
Chris 18

What next? I brought out several options and Chris' phone chose Pueblo. This was the first play for me that wasn't a two-player, and I decided early on to get all my buildings of my own colour down as soon as possible. This meant I took a lot of early hits whilst Chris - and Andrew in particular - shimmied about, avoiding the eye of the chieftain and taking minimal point penalties. But when our building was completed and he took his final inspection, I was all but hidden, and I moved into a respectable first place. I didn't note the scores, but Andrew was second, and Chris third.

stroppy chieftain looms

We finished off with a couple of short games; Dice Heist is the game of the moment in the Morrison household - Stanley loves it and it goes down well at GNN too. Andrew and Chris fought it out over paintings, whilst I hovered around the edges, trying to pick up cheap heists in St Petersburg. But there was too much hovering, not enough heisting:

Andrew 28
Chris 27
Sam 17

Finally we bashed out Push It, which has not been seen for a few weeks now! At this stage, I was rather merry, and merriness and dexterity don't always go hand in hand. I flicked pathetically as the others jostled for position. Andrew surged off into the lead with Chris hanging on to his coat-tails. But as the pressure mounted around the ten-point mark, anxiety took hold and as the others bashed into each other, I came back into it. With the scores poised at 10-9-9 in Andrew's favour, anyone could win it!

Andrew 11
Chris 9
Sam  9

Lots of fun, thanks gentlemen. Enjoy Tuesday!

Friday, 1 July 2016

China in your hands

Last night Andrew and I played Sun Tzu - a two-player cheapy from The Works.

It's a battle mildly reminiscent of Condottiere. There's a small map showing ancient China, and the players are contesting ownership through card-play.  Over nine rounds players play different strength cards to each area, which are revealed simultaneously. The difference in strength between the cards is the effect on the area - if blue plays a 6 and red plays a 4, red will lose two armies in the area (if they have any) or blue would add to armies (if they already have armies present, or the area is empty. If red had one army present, that would go, and blue would add one army.

Like Condottiere though, there are other elements at play. You have a base set of cards valued 1-6 that you always take back into your hand at the end of a round. But there are stronger cards to be added to your hand, and these are only available once. There are values 7-10, cards that take away strength from your opponent, add strength to yours, and even a Plague card that stops any opposing army having an effect. It's the timing of these cards that can decide the game.

There are also event cards to incorporate, but we didn't bother. Looking at the rules it felt like extra guff. Maybe we'll try them next time.

After the third, sixth and ninth round scores are calculated: what a region is worth varies from round to round (and game to game). It's possible to win on the third or sixth round, but we lasted the duration. My strong showing on round nine claimed the win:

Sam wins
Andrew doesn't.

We liked it. Not a classic, but a faster play than Condottiere and a decent blend of luck and tactics. Plenty of scope for the odd bluff too.

Then we blasted through some short games - I was a disaster spy master and agent in Codenames; Andrew out-honeyed me in worker placement/bidding game Waggle Dance, and took me to the cleaners in Dice Heist.