Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Bumped out of Bedford

This Tuesday was the first of the winter cold enough to require a hat, and as I walked Sam's under a starry sky, I wondered if there would be eight of us and would Joe bring Captain Sonar. There weren't eight of us and Joe did bring Captain Sonar. We suggested playing it with seven but Joe wouldn't be swayed. It was eight or nothing.

On my arrival (and Katy's arrival too), Sam and Martin were looking at Super Vampire, a physical game where the active player wears a slightly dubious black plastic prosthetic finger, using it to nudge a counter around a cardboard maze type thing held above the table by four towers. The fingered player is trying to get garlic and bring it back safely to their tower. But they have a time limit: the amount of time it takes the other players to roll six dice, one at a time, so they're all showing suns. It's all crazy knockabout fun , but we only had enough for a brief demonstration from Sam before Joe and Ben arrived.

The six of us split into two groups of three for some short gamage until Ian was due in half an hour or so. We chose two new games, the first was Jamaica (prompting banter like "My wife and I played a board game the other day." "Jamaica?"...) which is a game that involves pirates racing around an island for money and treasure. This was the option for Joe, Sam and Katy. Me and Ben were cajoled into playing another of Martin's recent acquisitions, Fresh Fish.

Put as simply as possible, Fresh Fish involves building businesses with as short a road as you can. Except you're not allowed to place the roads. These spring into existence according to a confusing rule set that insists that every area is accessible by road. Thus, when an area gets a bit crowded, they start popping up, often in plots of land already reserved by other players for future development.

Far from being about fresh fish, it's mostly about town planning. Martin seemed very happy with how different it was, and I grant it that much: I can't think of another game that ticks this box, trying to act as shepherds, pushing the road into areas that will inconvenience your opponents. It requires a lot of forward planning which was impossible given our lack of experience.

Halfway through the game, we realized we'd made a mistake in road placement, which had a domino effect across an area of the board. Very disheartening. Martin didn't seem to bothered, though, clocking up a negative score for a clear win.

Martin -5
Ben 19
Andrew 21

An interesting game, but I can't say I actually enjoyed it.

Jamaica began with Katy running away with it, while later on Sam started running away with it until, at game end, Katy asked me to note down that Sam had stolen all her money.

Sam 32
Joe 14
Katy 12

Since we were still Fresh Fishing, they played a game of Super Vampire. I was too wrapped up in my game to pay it much mind, but it did get a noise warning from non-gamers in the Sam household so it must've been quite exciting.

Sam 5
Joe 2
Katy 0

Reactions were mixed. Sam loved it, while Joe said he might like it if he'd designed it.
At this point, Ian arrived from work, with perfect timing. I'm not sure I greeted him properly when he arrived, so I'll do it now: Hello, Ian.

We split again into a three and a four. Martin, Joe and I played Isle of Skye (Martin's first go), while Sam, Ben, Ian and Katy played Lancaster. However, Katy made a last minute request to switch to join us in IoS, but Joe was unsure of the logistics, so she stayed in Feudal England.

It was around this time that talk somehow turned to "What is the average in a score of one to ten?" Katy said it was seven, since if people see 7/10, they assume it must be only alright. I follow the example set by Edge magazine, and say that five is an average score. Martin showed his statistical background by saying his average was six, and the scores are normally distributed.

Isle of Skye was fun, with slot of plans apparently ruined by other players buying their tiles. I ended up with a lot of money again, but it was more beneficial this time, pushing me into second. Nothing could stop Joe and his collection of scroll tiles.

Joe 70
Andrew 62
Martin 53

Joe's winning island

Martin was unconvinced by how much you needed to be aware of to play the game, and Joe insisted that he hardly took any notice of what the other players were doing, unless a particular time was priced highly and only then would he check.

Lancaster was still in full swing, with players threatening to bump each other out of Bedford and Sam telling Katy to stop moaning because she was in the lead, so we had a bit of a rematch with Ra.

I was quite happy at the end if the first epoch, as I had two pairs of monuments. I spent the rest of the game expectantly waiting for the rest of to come out, netting me lots of points. It was a futile wait.

My barely-scoring monuments

Martin was last in the epoch twice, and both times got hit by the last Ra tile before he could profit. Joe, meanwhile, serenely glided to the win. It was never in doubt.

Joe 58
Martin 29
Andrew 27

Lancaster ended around this time, with the scores at:

Ben 72
Katy 56
Sam 53
Ian 52

At this point, the majority of us set off for home. Ian and Sam weren't quite done yet, and they squeezed out a game of Biblios.

Sam 10
Ian 6

As for the division, little has changed. Joe has taken a healthy chunk out of Katy's lead, but she still looks pretty safe.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Pushing through a number two

This week our regular GNN shenanigans found a home at Sam’s place. In the end, there were eight of us. Seven at first (Sam, Ben, Ian, Katy, Matt, Martin and myself) with Joe arriving as soon as he’d found a parking space. We chatted for a while and discovered that Martin had played Lancaster and “hadn’t hated it,” which from Martin is a ringing endorsement of a worker placement game. With eight players present, we all sat around and wondered if Joe’d brought Captain Sonar which is perfect for eight.

He arrived, and we asked. There was a wail of dismay when he realised how many we were and that he hadn’t brought it. And throughout the evening, in the quiet moments between games, he was heard to ask himself “Why didn’t I bring it?”

So what games did we play? We began with an eight-player game of Fuji Flush. This quick if luck-based game was a lot of fun with players ruining other players’ chain of cards only because they have no choice.

Martin explained the rules, and brought our attention to the phrase used in the rules to describe when you successfully survive a round: “pushing through” a card. And when Martin used the 2 cards to demonstrate how the value increases as other players play the same value, Joe used the phrase that now adorns this blog entry.

As for the game, well, it was hard to tell if there was any strategising. But it ended

Katy 0
Andrew 1
Ben 1
Sam 1
Martin 2
Matt 2
Joe 2
Ian 3

After this we split into two groups of four. Matt, Joe, Katy and Ian chose Isle of Skye while Martin, Ben, Sam and Andrew tried Martin’s new game HMS Dolores. It’s a quick set collecting game where people play two at a time. There are given two cards each, face up, and have to bid over them in a sort of paper, stone, scissors style. Then, the next two players do the same, trying to add to their tableau of cards with the proviso that only the highest and lowest scoring sets actually count for anything.

Before each vote, there is a little discussion between the two players as to what they should do, but these discussions aren't binding, and there was a lot of betrayal. Mostly from Ben. But as we see below, crime never wins. It comes in second, though.

Martin 20
Ben 14
Sam 10
Andrew 9

Isle of Skye was still only about halfway, so we chose another game: Pueblo. It’s a game of placing coloured and non-coloured blocks in such a way as they are as hidden as possible.

Martin read the rules and caught a couple of rules we’d got wrong (oh, how we’ve missed his input) but nothing major. Ben got hit a lot from early on, while I looked to be in third but the final scoring round was kinder to me than to Sam.

Martin 36
Andrew 39
Sam 45
Ben 58

And Isle of Skye ended soon after. Matt was slightly upset that his island had broken roads but Katy was far more annoyed that her lack of scroll tiles meant she fell back from first into third.

Matt 69
Joe 62
Katy 58
Ian 53

After this, we rearranged into different groups of four. Sam, Ben, Matt and Katy chose Fool’s Gold while the rest of us chose Ra. Both games involve a canny understanding of when to push your luck and also quite a lot of laughing at other people’s misfortunes.

Sam explained the rules to Ben, while at our end of the table Joe reminded everyone that this was one of the games that he’s good at. A fair warning? Or sheer vanity? Let us see...

There was a lot of battling for Pharaohs, something that I dropped out of early. In fact I went for very little except monuments. I did just enough not to fall back, but only scored a one in each of the first two rounds.

Everyone else went for a mixed portfolio, with Martin’s Nile looking good for a last round boost of points. However, he was stymied by me and my luck (and his inattention).

In the final round, my first two acquisitions got me a 3 tile and a 1 tile along with my goods. It seems that Martin then assumed I was a certainty to get the lowest-tiles punishment. But he didn’t see (or didn’t take it in) that I got the 13 tile with my last purchase.

How we laughed when my 17 beat his 16 and he had to hand over five points to Ian. That swing was enough to get me the game, as my monuments scored 35 points in the final round.

Andrew 47
Martin 38
Ian 30
Joe 29

Yep, it was vanity on Joe’s part. And with Ian and Martin calling it a night, while we waited for Fool’s Gold to end, he once again reflected on his choice to not bring Captain Sonar.

Fool’s Gold ended with another terrible final round for Katy as all her guys came home empty handed (apart from some silt). The two gem collectors came in first.

Sam 45
Ben 38
Matt 28
Katy 27

Joe and Ben left at this point, so the remaining four had a silly game of Dancing Eggs. This is a game were actions are decreed by the roll of a dice. The idea is to be able to carry as many eggs as you can. The game insisted that Katy carry all her eggs under her chin. She was the first to drop, but she had enough in reserve to claim a win.

Katy 4
Sam 2
Matt 2
Andrew 1

“That’s leaderboard, right?” she asked once we’d finished. Of course. And talking of which...

Sunday, 20 November 2016

A Three-Game Weekend

Another weekend of cat-sitting for Sam meant another week of trying out some solo gaming. The main attraction for this week was Scythe, which Sam promised to leave behind this time.

I set it up on a wet and windy Friday evening on a day when the traffic had been so bad that I decided not to wait at a gloomy bus stop so I walked the four and a half miles home after work.

After this ordeal I was exhausted and it was a daunting challenge just to wrestle the Scythe board open and work out what was needed and what wasn’t.

The enemy AI works by means of instructions on cards. I was doubtful, having seen this method fail to work on Viticulture, but I was intrigued by how much there was on the card. Each on has a green half (which you use in the early part of the game) with orders and a more aggressive red half (which you use in the last two-thirds of the game) as well as a strip down the side which has orders in the event of any combat.

It’s a surprisingly flexible method, since it offers a number of options for the AI, and if the first isn’t possible, you move on to the next until you’ve executed its turn and got its reward for that round. This means it hardly ever gets stuck in a corner unable to move a la the dragons in Tsuro of the Seas, and it reacts with at least a semblance of intelligence.

In order to do this, it ignores most of the game outside territory and combat, producing no resources, completing no upgrades or recruits and placing stars only according to how long the game has lasted.

Since it was my first game, I chose the easiest setting: Autometta. This AI spends longest trapped behind water (until it’s allowed out after five rounds) and sometimes skips a turn completely. I also put our two bases on opposite sides of the board.

Once we got under way, I found it pretty intimidating. The AI, once allowed to cross water, makes a beeline for the factory hex. Meanwhile, I was still pottering around trying to build my first mech.

Combat is fun. Autometta’s choice of power and cards depends on the stats along the side of the next card from the top of the deck. It might instruct that if its power is 0-7, it uses 4 power, 8-14 uses 6 power and 15-16 uses 7, as well as how many combat cards to use (regardless of number of mechs it attacks with). However, there are some cards where it says to use 1 power, regardless of how much the AI actually has. This effectively fools you into using up a lot of power to win a battle when you didn’t need to.

Since Autometta plays a limited game, it misses out on a lot of scoring opportunities. This is balanced out by receiving an almost constant stream of money throughout the game.

At the end of the game, I launched two simultaneous attacks, one of which was on the central hex. I just got control of that which was enough for my sixth star and to end the game. It was

Me 56
Autometta 44

That was Friday evening, and then on Saturday morning I broke out the Caverna. It was my first time with the new bespoke wooden trays, and it made setting up a lot smoother.

Solo Caverna is more of a puzzle than a game, and did better this time. However, there were still moments when I regretfully made an inefficient move and I kept thinking I need to try again soon. Which is better: making everyone a warrior, or none of them? Lots of animals or lots of furnished caverns?

My score: 77

And on Saturday afternoon, while I listened to the football I thought about seeing if a one-player Eclipse variant existed but I found myself drawn to Scythe once more. The inclusion of four difficulty settings (along with the chance of placing the two factions nearer each other for a real challenge) made me wonder how I’d do against stronger foes. So I set up a game against Automa, the Normal setting on the difficulty scale.

I think I misread the rules last time, meaning that workers piled up on the central hex (meaning a big deficit in popularity if you want it) but it seems that instead, workers can’t share hexes. Rather, they should spread out across the board.

Before long I was cornered, and I was grateful for the yellow faction’s ability to hop to unused home bases. Out of three battles in the game, I won two and although I didn’t have the central hex I was confident and I ended the game by completing my hidden mission for my sixth star.

This turned out to be a mistake, since blue’s immense empire got it a huge bonus for territory (twice as much as mine) which gave it the slenderest of wins.

Automa 71
Me 70

Frustrating. But at least it shows that the AI is at just the right level for a challenge.

With that said, after I’d just lost to Automa I thought I’d try Scythe at its hardest difficulty, using two neighbouring bases. The hardest setting is called Ultimaszyna, which is a bit silly so in keeping with the GNN tradition of calling AI opponents “Dirk”, I’ll refer to the four levels of difficulty as Durk, Derk, Dirk and Dürch.

I chose blue, reasoning that the Swim special ability might be useful for a quick start. However, while my workers ran free and unfettered my mechs were stuck at first. This was important since by the time I got my ability to travel across lakes, Dürch had plonked one of his mechs in it.

I was trapped and, one by one, his forces hemmed me in. I had a flash of inspiration and built a mine so I could whisk myself over to the other side of the board.

Unfortunately, the next move, Dürch attacked and according to the list of criteria to decide which hex to chose, my mine was his target. I had one power, and Dürch had eight. I put it on the disk, and added my strongest card, hoping for a bluff on Dürch’s part.

It wasn’t a bluff. He crushed me. Then, just to add insult to injury, in his last move Dürch attacked a hex with three of my workers on it (the AI gets no punishment for attacking workers). I finished the game with seven pieces on my home base, doing nothing.

The final score sums it up neatly:

Dürch 100
Andrew 29

And so there was just enough time to sit down for some supper before I set out that evening to Joe’s for more games.

Games at Joe’s this Saturday evening initially looked like being a five-hander, maybe six. But people gave their apologies so when the hour arrived, we were down to three: Joe, Ben and me.

As it turned out, we only played one game. Or did we play a thousand and one games? See what I did there? We played Tales of The Arabian Nights, since Ben was keen to try and I (arriving last) was happy to oblige. It may have only been one game, but what a game. We laughed, we cried (with laughter), we cheated death, got repeatedly scorned and crippled, everything you’d expect from a tale from the Arabian Nights (even though the game itself, technically, never got past morning).

We set off, I as Ali Baba, Ben as Sindbad and Joe as Aladdin, I think. Hard to remember since those names weren’t mentioned again. During our adventures we had many experiences. I had a terrible run of luck at the start, being enslaved and ensconsilled (sp?) which meant I couldn’t control myself, nor could I keep my treasures and destiny points from whatever adventures I had.

Ben, on the other hand, had people throwing money at him. He may have been crippled but before long he was fabulously wealthy, with a mass of destiny and story points. It looked like he would surely win. But then he had to go on a pilgrimage and, being so rich, movement across land was painfully slow.

We had a series of anti-climactic adventures. I found The Crystal Palace, but couldn’t get in. I tried to woo a princess, but she turned me down flat. Wealthy Ben discovered the Cave of Wonders but then found out that he already owned one of the mythical wonders that it housed.

Joe went for odd choices, with great effect. He managed to drink a storm, which cured him of his ailments. He tried entering a glittering artefact, and ended up stepping through a mirror into an alternate reality. Although all he did there was look around the room for a bit.

He tried to impress a Learned Princess with his wisdom. She thought that books were all she needed in life and the pearl of wisdom Joe used to win this princess’s heart was “You can’t eat books.” It didn’t seem very wise to us, but it did the trick and got him twenty-four hours of rumpy-pumpy! For the rest of the game, whenever Joe thought a bit of wisdom would get his character out of a fix, he’d hopefully say “Er... did you know that you can’t eat books?” however the phrase didn’t come up again in the story. And, as a chat up line, I can’t imagine it working in real life either.

As Ben pottered across Asia, distracted by a pilgrimage, Joe and then even I managed to get enough points that, if we got to Baghdad before Ben, we’d win. Unluckily for me, I got married. This meant every time I had an encounter in a city, I had to go back home to check on ‘er indoors. Jealous type, you see. This involved a lot of unnecessary criss-crossing Europe.

It was Joe who got to Baghdad with the winning criteria fulfilled. All he had to do is stay in the city until the encounter was over, and hope neither of us got back, and he’d win!

It was surprisingly hair-raising. He uncovered a Strange Custom, which involved a widower being buried with their dead spouse. Joe’s wife then died, and although he tried to escape twice, he was buried alive along with her, with only a loaf of bread and some wine.

The game listed a number of talents that would be beneficial, but he didn’t have any so he had to wait til he passed out and a grave robber dug him up and stole his money. But he was alive and, crucially, still in Baghdad! He’d won the game! And in some style, too.

By now it was quarter past eleven! We’d been playing for over three hours (albeit with a half hour break while Joe gave his daughters a lift somewhere). And it was right at the end that Joe and Ben revealed they’d considered Brass as an option, but Ben preferred Arabian Nights, and they’d hidden Brass in case I came in and insisted on playing that! Makes you wonder what they think of me. I mean, I might have insisted, but not much.

Anyway, what a night of Arabian Tales.

All that was left for me this weekend was Sunday morning. Caverna and coffee. How civilized. First, just out of curiosity, I decided to see how big the board would be for a seven-player game. Pretty big...

As for the game itself, this time I noticed the Peaceful room which allows a player to remove weapons from a dwarf in return for food. I was able to use that to good effect, and get the bonus for weapon-less dwarves at the end of the game. And I got sheep breeding early and some nice fields yielding. I was confident of beating yesterday's 77, and I was right to be.

My score: 90.

Just ten off the “magical score” of 100! So close. Maybe next time.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Where there's a will

As Ben, Ian and I discussed events of the day suddenly lightening flashed, thunder boomed. Then the doorbell rang: it was Joe, soon followed by Chris, and finally a slightly damp-looking Andrew, who didn't escape the downpour. The rest of us wrapped up our game of Pairs as it stood (Chris won) and went into the front room to discuss options.

I kept mentioning Lancaster, but nobody seemed that interested. However, as the discussion slowly broke down into a kind of collective diffidence, I realized people were weakening: I pushed for Lancaster again, and managed to rope in Joe and Ian. Ben also returned to the kitchen, allowing Chris and Andrew to make the choice for the other game: they went with Castles of Burgundy.

I talked Joe and Ian through the rules of Lancaster, and we were off. Because the heart of the game is worker-placement/bumping, the finesse of it comes in the voting for laws: at the end of each round certain laws reward certain players, so how you spend your votes (you potentially have many) can be crucial. Ian and I didn't manage to prevent Joe from ushering in a 9point swing in his favour, as he was rewarded for battling the French in three different places. In the early rounds I decided against screwy moves, and in the later rounds I failed to stop myself making stupid ones: twice I voted the wrong way on something - after the first do-over, there was no excuses.

Joe sped off into the lead and stayed there. Ian and I battled for second, and during the final round I realized that the strength of my knights meant I was looking at third place - so it ended. I didn't jot down the scores, but Joe was miles ahead on the scoretrack and Ian a solid 8 points or so ahead of me. Joe didn't rate the game though, only being able to raise a shrug of indifference. Maybe it was too easy. Conversely Ian and I liked it; the hidden voting gives it a flavour that Waterdeep doesn't have.

Castles of Burgundy was still ongoing, so Joe dealt out the cards for Money. This was new to me, but the rules are simple enough, as long as you're no fool. I was a fool, however, and had misunderstood the scoring to the point where I was literally throwing away points during the game, allowing Joe to pick them up. He won with a thousand points; Ian had 870 and I - thinking I was about to pull off a debut win - had a measly 520. I wouldn't mind trying this again, but it did feel a little like a mechanic more than a game.

Castles of Burgundy was finally over, and Andrew had pulled off a solid win:

Andrew 186
Chris 166
Ben 129

And while Andrew headed off into the night, the rest of us played Not Alone, Joe's new game of alien predation/human survival. Joe took the role of the alien, trying to second-guess our human destinations as we roamed the planet, holding on until the rescue ship arrived.

It was a close thing at the end: we were staring up at the sky, waving excitedly at the rescue ship, when Joe stole in and sucked the will out of Ben in a gruesome end to the evening.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Lording it

This week's regular event saw just four in attendance. The host, Joe, and Ian, Katy, and me.

This was the sweet spot that Katy has been waiting for for so long: four players meant Isle of Skye followed by Lords of Vegas. It seemed like a good idea, and we couldn't disappoin Katy's enthusiasm, so Isle of Skye was first on the table.

Katy and I needed a rules explanation, which Joe did with his usual aplomb. The game is a clever balance between pricing your tiles at a price that makes them attractive, but not so much that it'll be too beneficial for them. If you're lucky, you'll be able to place three tiles in a round (the one you bought and the two you couldn't sell) but that would be an expensive round, and leave you in a tricky situation for the next round. See how it all balances out?

As it was my first go, I kept things nice and relaxed. Of the four different scoring criteria, I ignored one and didn't do too well at another. Everyone else picked up several scoring tiles while I got just one. Ian's island started out nice and orderly, but soon became more disjointed, with one its notable features being a road that lead to a cow.

Katy was all caught up in the agony between risk and reward, and she spent a lot of time fretting over her move. Perhaps she fretted too much, since she planned her last move based on the idea that no one would buy her two tiles for sale. As it happened, both were snapped up and she was left with a tile with three sheep on it when she really needed a lighthouse. A common dilemma for a clan leader from the Hebrides, I believe.

Joe 87
Ian 84
Katy 83
Andrew 60

After this, Katy was so frustrated at how badly she played her last more that she seriously considered playing it again. But the lure of Vegas was too great. Nevertheless, she plans on playing it again soon and Isle of Skye has been added to the itinerary for our “playing games at the location in which they’re set” holiday.

Lords of Vegas is, of course, already on that list. But could Las Vegas really hold a candle to Joe’s kitchen? I doubt it. We set up at about nine o’clock, which is early for us (ho ho). As we played, the cards came out in an interesting fashion, with our vacant lots dotted around the place, and no clear route to a huge mega-casino.

Ian started well, getting a casino in each colour quickly. But then when he needed more points, he began to find his wide portfolio difficult to handle. And by the end he was ruefully declaring that his winning-streak on Lords of Vegas was over.

I got a strong presence on the Strip, with three casinos and a useful empty lot that stopped Katy from making a six-tile casino. Unfortunately the Strip cards didn’t come out, no matter how long I waited.

I should thank Joe here for telling me how I could take over Katy and Ian’s two-tiler with my two adjacent casinos. That became a huge target for re-rolls but neither Katy nor Ian were able to displace me.

Joe, as usual, started slowly and then picked up steam towards the end. He was given a last-minute boost from an unexpected source. After a series of complicated sprawls and redecoration, Katy had finally made a four-tile casino on the Strip and she sat back satisfied.

At this point, Joe pointed out that the casino actually belonged to him. We all looked and, sure enough, none of Katy’s three dice had more than Joe’s single die which was a five. And she didn’t have enough money to reorganise. What a body blow. She took it in good grace and didn’t take the go back, and then the Strip paid out for the last time (twice in the whole game! Tsk.) to end the game.

Andrew 49
Katy 40
Ian 23 (wins on cash)
Joe 23

Finally, there was room for one more cash-based game, and it was For Sale. I was quite drunk by now, but I do remember a lot of early hands where the lowest card was a good pick up for free. This left everyone cash-rich in the later rounds, and Joe paid over the odds for the twenty.

During the second half of the game, Joe spent a 27 card but only got a $0 cheque in return, but then got $11,000 with his 1 card.

Ian 63
Andrew 62
Katy 56
Joe 50

As we walked home, Katy remarked on how much she’d enjoyed the evening despite having not won a single game. She then qualified her statement by adding that it helped that we shared our wins between us, instead of one person taking it all.

A look at the division shows that she has a point. Despite no victories this week, she has increased her lead at the top of the pile.

Friday, 11 November 2016


Last night Andrew, Matt and I assembled primed to journey back through history to the time of Henry V - intrigue in the courts, and blood on the battlefields of France: Lancaster. Because I had neglected to tell him, the first Matt knew of this was when he saw the game set up - but it's reasonably easy to explain, so having guided him through the high spots we were off.


In Lancaster there's worker placement (your knights, going to the aforementioned courts/battles) but there's also worker bumpment, as your knights have levels from 1-4 and a more experienced or highly regarded knight can kick a lower-level one back home. Lower-level knights can counter this by bringing squires as their wing-men, but squires are a flighty lot, and will bugger off after one use. 

The courts bring you little tasty morsels  (more squires, gold, votes) or a nobleman to eat at your table, reflecting your increasing political clout. Or, if you have a few coins to pay, you can take both. Heading off to battle the French gets you an insta-reward from the King, plus 'power points' (points) if and when the battle is won. Making sure you win the battle is also, like life, a better outcome than  losing it, points-wise.

my unavailable Knights

What gives Lancaster intrigue though is the laws. At the end of each round players vote on three new laws, a majority or tie meaning that law comes into effect - bumping an old law (the King only likes three laws at any time) and potentially rewarding everyone, or more likely, only one or two. Getting a law passed is a way of pushing your points up - the law that rewarded knights battling the French got me 15 points all told - a big swing. 

After the laws the courts and battles are resolved and you get rewards from your hopefully expanding castle. And after five rounds the jig is up: everyone scores points for the values of their knights, castles, and something else I've forgotten. We didn't write down the scores but the places were


Having foisted Lancaster on them, I stayed out of choosing the next game, pouring myself a large glass of celebratory wine. They returned from the cupboard with Ascending Empires, the space-subbuteo mash-up. I'm not sure what the choosing mechanic was, but Matt didn't know the rules so I talked him through them, and we were off!

Matt builds a city

As ever with Ascending Empires, the early hours are marked by cautious expansion and developing tech for the inevitable punch-up to come. To mix metaphors slightly, I was first out of the blocks when I blew up Andrew's ships, and following that both Matt and I came lurching into his territory: I was after the silver planet - I'm not sure what Matt was after. Matt's flicking was reminiscent of Joe Berger's: time and again he flicked too hard, or (more likely) rather gingerly, as though he was trying to bump-start a galactic Ford Anglia. 

Andrew got his purple tech up to maximum (stop sniggering) and began ramming our ships to pick up victory points. This collective suicide by his people did enough to give him a convincing win, despite having to cope with Matt and mine's shenanigans. 

Andrew 29
Matt 25
Sam 22

I poured a glass of consolatory wine. Then we played Cosmic Run! This seems to be the new Biblios - our go-to game for the last half-hour of the evening. And kudos to Matt for agreeing to learn yet more rules! 


Give Matt a space game though, and he consumes rules like a sponge. I forsook my usual tactic of playing reasonably safe and went for several optimistic moves, none of which I recall paying off. It was a battle between the others, and it was Matt that won it by the finest of margins:

Matt 65
Andrew 64
Sam 41

We night capped the evening with Push It. I have no idea what the scores were because my glass of optimistic wine had by this point been consumed, and although I think I won, I can't be sure. The boys headed off into the night as Sally returned, and I stumbled into bed with the age of Henry V now seeming a long time ago...

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Hooray for Hollywood

Despite having come back from a four-day gaming glut this weekend, I found myself itching for another game when Joe’s email popped into my inbox offering to host for this week.

It seems I was in a minority, as there were only five of us: Joe, me, Katy and Ian, with Martin expected at eight.

The four of us began with Not Alone, an exciting semi-co-op game with one player as the alien hunter, trying to assimilate the band of unfortunate Terrans who’ve crashed on the alien’s planet.

Joe was the alien, and Katy, Ian and I as the apparently easy-to-predict stranded space travellers. It looked close for a while, but Joe was able to predict our movements with enough accuracy that we couldn’t hang on until our rescue ship arrived.

Martin arrived punctually on our tragic demise, and we sat down to play Fuji Flush, an oddly named card game in which you have to get rid of your cards. It’s almost co-operative since the deck is built such that there are multiples of the lower cards and far fewer of the higher cards.

The trick to this non-trick-taking game is that as each player lays one card at a time, higher cards eliminate previously laid lower cards (these are discarded and replaced from a draw deck) but also when a player puts down a card of the same value as a previous card, they add up. In other words at 3 followed by a 3 would count as a 6, and if another player wanted to beat these two they’d have to play at least a 7.

It all seemed like a bit of a luck-fest with limited options and afterwards I likened it to me watching myself play a card game. Katy got, I think, only one card above 10 which meant she was relying on others to put down the same value cards as she had. This caused some frustration for her.

In the end, Martin won, and he decided it was an interesting idea for a game.

Martin 0 cards left
Joe 1 card left
Ian 1 card left
Andrew 1 card left
Katy 4 cards left

After this, Martin noticed Hollywood Blockbuster in among Joe's collection and suggested it. I'd pretty much forgotten about this game, played once over two years ago, but I quickly remembered its main mechanic: that people who win auctions evenly share out the money they paid to the other players.

No one finished a film in round one, so it was all hands to the deck in rounds two and three. I became a veritable dream factory, churning out film after film. My epic comedy Gopher Shack won best film, but Ian and I tied for Best Director which meant neither of us got the points.

My cheap and cheerful conveyor belt of films didn't beat Martin's thoughtfully put together canon of work.

Martin 75
Andrew 68
Ian 67
Katy 61
Joe 55

And so Martin left at this point, practically ushered out of the door so we could get cracking on the next game. It was only just past 9.30 but none of us had the strength for Lords Of Vegas. Instead we went for two short games, the first of which was For Sale.

I started badly, paying too much for a twenty, and I never recovered. I don't remember much about what happened (no notes, you see) apart from one particularly nasty range of cheques on offer in one round, but it finished:

Ian 65
Katy 61
Joe 55
Andrew 44

Next up was Land Unter. This game of saving drowning sheep has a clever twist in that the hands of cards are dealt out at the start and these hands are passed from player to player at the start of the round so everyone plays one round with each hand. Ian started with a terrible round and got eliminated. When I saw what he had, I could empathise. And I empathised even more when I was eliminated too.

When Joe saw the cards, his initial reaction was the same as ours but when he played, he avoided the pitfalls that we fell into. While Ian and I got -1 with those cards, he scored 5. This put him joint first with Katy after three rounds, and she hadn't had the shitty hand.

But they hadn't reckoned with her gaming nous. She also scored five while Joe looked on in annoyance that his gaming miracle had been replicated. He only scored one that round, leaving the points at:

Katy 13
Joe 9
Andrew 5
Ian -2

And so we were done. Technically there was time for more games, but we thought an early night would be sensible.

Nothing much changes on the Division, with Sam and Katy holding onto their respective titles.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Novocon Fun!

Only days after a large chunk of GNNers had spent a weekend away playing games, it was the turn of the four aging war horses of GNN to stagger out of their stables and stare, confused and short-sighted, across the green fields of this great nation.

Luckily, it was raining, which meant it was perfect gaming weather with no temptation to try “going for a walk” to distract us.

Sam and I arrived first, at about two thirty and I was impressed by how much like home it felt. Especially because the tablecloth was the same kind as the one in Sam’s kitchen. Sam got the fire going, made coffee and cheese on a bagel. I offered him a pickled egg for his efforts. He couldn’t finish it and would later insist that it gave him a headache. Then we spent about twenty minutes popping and sorting the various pieces for A Feast For Odin. It already looks like a beast of a game.

Then Paul and Chris arrived, and once they’d sorted themselves (and we noticed we had three copies of Love Letter and two of Istanbul) out we sat down for our first game at exactly 3.48pm! Then we had our first drink at exactly 3.58pm!

The game that accompanied our first tipple was Cosmic Run. It was Paul’s first, but it’s not the most complex game, so after a few rules clarifications, he was away.

With four players, there’s more time between turns for planets to be hit, and more emphasis on getting cards and crystals: two things I didn’t do very well. I didn’t land on any planets, either.

Paul 69
Sam 66
Chris 58
Andrew 52

After this, we were all hungry enough for Sam to start on an early supper while the other three of us tried Paul’s own creation: The Seven Bridges Of Königsburg. This is a game of demand and supply, where deliveries happen on the five islands of Königsburg according to the roll of the dice and the wishes of the player. On certain rolls (double six and double one) you have to move, and you can never cross the same bridge twice. There were a few rule tweaks to be made, and there’s something in it. It just needs a bit of pepping up.

We finished it while we ate Sam’s Chorizo and Prawn stew with rice, and it ended:

Chris 34
Andrew 26
Paul 23

Now it was the evening proper, we felt like something heavy. A challenge. We went for Nations. Not the simplified dice version, but the full epic game, taking in the entire sweep of human history. Not necessarily in the right order, though: I had built my first factory as Paul was finishing off Machu Picchu.

There are a lot of rules and icons to get your head around, and at first I didn’t enjoy it at all. But over time it started to click and by the end I was using my resources pretty efficiently. It was too late, and my mostly pacifist philosophy was proven to be the least successful social model to follow. Meanwhile, military-minded Sam did far better, starting several wars that cost Chris and I several victory points each.

Checking the rules

Sam 39
Chris 37
Paul 28
Andrew 26

It also gave us our first schoolboy-sniggering joke of the weekend when Paul placed a meeple on a card, innocently saying “I’m going to stick him in the aqueduct.”

After this epic, we went to the complete opposite of the scale, with a rousing game of Push-It. Chris sped into an early lead thanks to two two-pointers, and the rest of us couldn’t catch him, although it was close at times.

Chris 13
Paul 10
Andrew 9
Sam 8

There was still time on the clock, so we finished on an old familiar, El Grande. It took no time at all to set up and get started (if you don’t include the hiatus for cheese and crackers) and with only a couple of rules references (due to vague wording on the cards) we glided through the game effortlessly.

It was close after round one, but in round two Chris opened up a lead and, just like Push It, he couldn’t be caught. Sam and I tied for second.

Chris 104
Sam 89
Andrew 89
Paul 80

With that we were ready for bed. I shacked up in the games room, with only the dim glow of fading coal to keep me company. And the lights from the fridge, TV, clock etc.

On Saturday morning, I got up at 6.30 and pottered about a bit. Sam soon joined me at 7ish and we went for a walk in the crisp clear country air.

On returning, we sat down for a quick two-round game of Take It Easy. Sam’s subject for calling in round one was “Trees” and he even did it in alphabetical order. I chose “comics and magazines I read as a kid”. Sam had a nightmare second round (116) allowing me to steal the win.

Andrew 276
Sam 259

After this Paul and Chris emerged and while they busied themselves with coffee, showers and talking, I entertained myself with a swift solo game of Tiny Epic Galaxies. I won, defeating The Rogue Galaxy 13-12. Ha!

By now it was ten o’clock and time for the first four-player of the day: Heck Meck! Chris introduced it by reminding that his wife usually beats him thanks to some amazing good luck. However, I think Chris’s own bad luck might contribute too.

Sam 8
Paul 3
Andrew 1
Chris 0

It was quite a long game, with people preferring to steal off each other when they could rather than risk another roll and a better score. It was almost strategic.

This was followed by a journey to the nearest town for some supplies, and then back for the quick crossword (completed) and a brief sighting of a drowsy wasp in the kitchen. And I took a closer look at the strange carving in the garden, which was both phallic and vaginal at the same time.

The next game was Magnum Sal, suggested by Sam since it was a game that had sat unplayed in his cupboard for about two years. This game is set in the salt production industry of fourteenth century Poland, so I can’t imagine why it’s not grabbed our attention before.

It’s a worker placement game, as you seek to make chains in the mines to carry out salt mining. I found it quite combative, as new opened sections of mine would get quickly invaded by the next player, and if you had a bucket, it was possible to move water in your section to a neighbouring section. Chris’s early surge into a lead mid-game faded away as his orders for the king were taken by other players, and Sam surged from distant last into a close second with a profitable final round.

Paul 84
Sam 81
Andrew 69
Chris 33

We tried to work out the meaning of the icons on this card from Magnum Sal. We came up with "Touch the bottom of a cube. Touch the top of a cube. Stop touching the cube!"

This was followed by food: a wide range of cheeses and meats with bread. With a couple of tomatoes, as today’s vague gesture to healthy eating.

Then we went for a walk in the nearby nature reserve. In the fading country sun, it all looked so lovely that every few seconds seemed like an opportunity to take a photo. Chris and Sam saw a deer, but Paul was more transfixed by the trains that sped by occasionally.

Back home, there was a quick game of Perudo for money, and Sam won four whole pounds!

After this, I chose Eclipse as the next game. The epic game of space explosions is a favourite of mine, and perfect for a Saturday evening, before supper, about the same time that Dr Who is on. A bit longer than Dr Who, though.

Paul got a rules refresher, and played with great gusto, helped with a 11-power hypergrid source that he won in a battle. I went for my swarm of wasps strategy which I don’t think has ever won, but is lots of fun to play. Chris and Sam were both aliens, and Sam went heavily for research. He completed two tech tracks which we hadn’t quite understood the full implications of. One minute he was a plucky underdog, having a go at the Ancients in his sector, then Chris attacked him and within a couple of upgrades Sam’s ships had transformed into death machines of fear, bristling with guns and hulls.

In the final round, Sam also pushed into my area, since I was distracted by my attempt at attacking Paul’s ships in Chris’s central hex. Another impressive endgame from Sam handed him another win.

Sam 35
Chris 29
Andrew 22
Paul 20

Andrew and I (Sam) also did the Igloo Pop challenge

This was followed by a nice little parlour game that Sam introduced us to, in which someone chooses a book, reads the publicity bumf on the back to everyone, and then the other players secretly write what they think the opening sentence might be. Then these are all read out, along with the real sentence and people have to spot which one is the genuine article. Points are given for correct guesses or if someone guesses your sentence.

It was lots of fun, especially on one occasion when the real opening sentence was considerably worse than anything we came up with.

Sam 4
Chris 2
Andrew 2
Paul 2

After this little non-tabletop distraction, we got back into geek mode with Roll For The Galaxy. I haven’t played it before, but I remember being daunted by it when I shared a table with it a GNN evening.

It took a while to get around the rules which aren’t exactly intuitive, but I entertained myself by giving myself a difficult tile to develop right at the start, to see if I could do it before the game ended. I just about made it. And it game me lots of points, too, giving the impression that I was more involved than I actually was.

Chris 30 + dice tie-breaker
Sam 30
Paul 24 + dice tie-breaker
Andrew 24

Finally, Paul tempted us to stay up for one more game of Push-It. In the early stages it was pretty close at 4-3-3-3, and I remarked it showed that we were either evenly matched, or the whole thing was just random.

But then Chris pulled ahead and Paul sent the puck off the table while I proceeded to score no more points at all. It ended

Chris 11
Sam 8
Andrew 3
Paul 1

And so to bed…

Sunday morning, and I was up first again. Slightly cloudier outside, and colder but still nice outside. People slowly stirred and so our first game (sans Paul) was No Thanks! at about nine o’clock. We were all hoping for the final card to fit onto our runs of cards. It was the nineteen, which nobody wanted. So it just collected more and more coins until it was worth picking up.

Sam 43
Andrew 44
Chris 47

When we were all four together, we dug out Cosmic Run again. This time, only a little rule refresher was needed at the start. This time I went for planets, with a little side-dish of cards. It all ended with all of us rushing along the five-of-a-kind planet which was the only one left, finally getting to the end before it exploded. If that’s a good thing.

Andrew 61
Sam 54
Chris 52
Paul 44

After this, people did the shower thing and the rest of us played short games. Paul, Chris, and I played Love Letter, first to two. Chris’s one point came at the end of a remarkable round where I knew he was the Princess for three turns but couldn’t get him out.

Andrew 2
Paul 1
Chris 1

Then there were a couple of games of Cube Quest.

Paul 2
Andrew 0


Sam 2
Paul 1

Finally, with everyone clean(er) we set up the “long version” of Lords Of Waterdeep, ie the one with all the extensions. Paul stunned us all with an epic piece of AP on his penultimate move, as the rest of us were able to go to the toilet, get a drink, etc before he made his move.

In the end, his final moves were pretty good, but he said he thought he could’ve got another twenty points if only things were different.

Chris slightly over-prepares for a quest

I went skull-heavy, while Paul and Sam were the most noble of us. Or, at least, the best at getting rid of their skulls once they’d got them. But Chris showed why they almost call him “Mr Waterdeep”:

Chris 167
Paul 166
Andrew 147
Sam 141

Then we went for a walk in the rain, complete with rainbow.

Once we’d returned, Sam taught Paul how to play Scythe while Chris introduced me to Cartography. After a shaky start, my knowledge of Go held me in good stead and I won the second game handsomely.

Meanwhile, on the big table, Scythe was up and ready to go. Paul was yellow, Chris was white, I was black and Sam was red. While I got an early lead, Sam came charging up, getting to four stars and then ending the game with his next go by attacking Paul. Truly, it is the way of all things, that a student must one day defeat their teacher. But Paul didn’t win. Sam did, and then used Paul’s oil to upgrade for his sixth star.

Sam attacks his own protege

Although I had more territory and stars than Chris, his exemplary housekeeping meant he had plenty of money in the bank, which added to his paltry end of game bonuses ruined my hopes of a runner-up place.

Sam 77
Chris 42
Andrew 38
Paul 19

There was room for one more before Paul had to go and get his train. It was 7 Wonders, and I remarked it must make him nostalgic, playing this while keeping half an eye on the clock. Chris’s military might and high scores across the board meant the winner was never in doubt.

Chris 62
Paul 54
Sam 46
Andrew 38

And with that, Paul was off into the night, heading back to Clapham Junction.

After we ate Chris’s meal (made for four, but the three of us finished it off) we leapt back into gaming with Terraforming Mars. Chris said he liked it, but it was a bit long for what it was. I didn’t understand what he was talking about, it had always flied by for me, but tonight I understood. We began at eight and finished at half ten. Two and a half hours for three players is a lot.

The game itself was notable for people pushing up the temperature really fast while not putting down any city tiles. Chris had loads of titanium, but seemed unable to get titanium-feulled cards from the deck. Oh, how we laughed. By the end, it was a very populated Mars, with nine cities, an active volcano, lots of greenery and a commercial centre. You know, somewhere for the bank holiday shopping.

My sudden leap up the score chart with victory points on cards (24 pts) wasn’t enough to get out of last, but at least saved my blushes.

Sam 90
Chris 83
Andrew 71

We followed this up with a trio of small games. I won at Love Letter:

Andrew 3
Chris 2
Sam 2

And then Chris won his first ever game of For Sale:

Chris 72
Sam 65
Andrew 62

And finally my luck deserted me on Heck Meck as I went for three rounds without rolling a single worm. Sam was a clear leader midway through the game, but luck can go down as well as up, and Chris managed to overturn some of his recent poor form in the game.

Sam 6
Chris 6
Andrew 3

Finally, it was time for bed. Except for Chris, who sat down with a cup of coffee. Crazy.

Monday morning was a leisurely mostly Sam-less affair, as he had a lie in. Chris and I read rule books, with me taking on A Feast For Odin as my morning read.

After a while Chris and I decided to have a little game of Agricola: All Creatures Great and Small. It’d been a while for both of us, but Chris pig farming prowess made him look set for the win. In fact, that’s how we first counted it up. It wasn’t until afterwards when I was grumbling (good naturedly, I hope) about Smith’s way with a pig that he reconsidered that he might not have had fifteen after all.

We checked the photographic evidence, and he decided that he can’t have. This gave me a win, after a recount:

Andrew 45
Chris 44

Finally Sam woke up at 9.55, meaning his hopes of setting off at 10.00 were pretty much over. For our last game we chose Raj, the fun game of bluffing and accidental telepathy. It ended:

Sam 65
Chris 52
Andrew 27

All that was left was to tidy up and fail to find the recycling bins and we were away! Thanks all for a lovely long weekend.