Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Ex of Österreich

The moon hung in the night sky, it's grey light turning the gossamer thin clouds into translucent pools of silver.

None of this was important, though, because it was Tuesday and therefore games night. Sam was hosting, arranging this week's shenanigans from an internet-less stay in the Netherlands via Joe. There were seven of us: Sam, Joe, Ben, Ian, Katy, Martin and me.

Our first game was one that Martin picked up during his recent trip to the US. He described it as a Take It Easy kind of game where everyone has the same numbers to complete the fiendishly difficult task. The idea is to fill in a map of America using numbers (supplied by the roll of two dice, coloured to match different areas on the map) but the trick is that adjacent areas on the map can't have numbers with a difference greater than one. For example, 4s need to be next to 3s, 4s and 5s. If you can't place legally, you have to fill in an area with an X and at the end of the game , the player with least Xs wins.

There's more to it than that, with opportunities to break the rules a limited number of times, but at its heart it's a very simple game.

And, just like Take It Easy, there were constant sighs of frustration at how cruel fate can be, occasionally punctuated by cries of delight. But only occasionally.

Martin 9
Sam 11
Katy 15
Andrew 15
Joe 16
Ben 16
Ian 17

Katy wanted to play again immediately, but the consensus was not in favour. Instead, we split into two groups. These two groups could broadly be characterized as a the Happy Giddy Fun Group and the Thinky Ponderous Assassinate Hitler Group. Martin, Katy and Ben went for chuckles with Eggs of Ostrich while me, Sam, Joe and Ian were more historically minded in Black Orchestra.

Both of these games were new to people, and there was a period of simultaneous rules explanations. The ever-competitive Martin wanted to teach and finish a game of Eggs of Ostrich before Sam had finished explaining the rules to Black Orchestra. He didn't manage it, but they were able to finish two games very quickly.

Martin 4
Ben 4
Katy 3

And then...

Martin 12
Ben 9
Katy 5

As for Black Orchestra, it's a game that squeezes every bit out of its theme. The artwork and text really add to the game as the four of us adopted personae from the real life attempt to assassinate Hitler and we shuffled around a map of west Europe to pick up things we need. It is a co-op game, and it had shades of Pandemic in that it requires a fair amount of choreography among the players, all the time dealing with the historically accurate Event cards that are uncovered after each player's turn.

Early on I had a chance to do the dirty deed, but my dice rolling let me down. At least, oddly, no one noticed my assassination attempt. Ian, too, later had a pop at the fuhrer, but he failed too.

On the other half of the table, they played Biblios which, I believe, was Ben's introduction to the game. He did pretty well.

Martin 9
Ben 3
Katy 2

And the crown of Mr (or Dr, in this case) Biblios passed to Martin.

Then they played Las Vegas, roping Dirk into their game, awarding him money whenever the dummy dice happened to win any.

Katy reminded Ben of his duty as a GNNer to pick on Martin when necessary, but alliances never last long when they rely on the roll of a die.

Martin 440
Katy 380
Ben 340
Dirk 110

And this victory gave Martin his very own Perfect Five. And all in one evening, too.

Meanwhile, back in the grip of the Third Reich, Hitler seemed more powerful than ever. But in case anyone runs away with the idea that Black Orchestra was a dour experience, let me put that to right. There's a grim humour, and you can't help but laugh at the things that fate flings at you. For example, Joe was wandering around southern Germany, minding his own business, when the entirety of the Nazi upper echelons turned up on his doorstep. "The wrong time to visit Nuremberg," he muttered, regretfully.

The game, too ended in fine comedic fashion. With Sam, Joe and Ian all in jail Ian managed to escape only to be instantly arrested again as he ran straight into Bormann. Then I went to get them out, but this time my plan was detected and, just like Seinfeld, the four main characters ended up behind bars.

A pity, but I'd thoroughly enjoyed our attempt. It avoids the usual pitfall of co-op games where the most experienced keeps giving advice to the others, because the text on the card and board allows even the complete newbie to understand what's going on and what needs to be done.

While the Gestapo had been busy rounding us up, one more game of Eggs Of Ostrich had been played.

Katy 10
Martin 5
Ben 0

Now we were all together, we had one last game together to round off the evening. We chose Fuji Flush, described at the time as the new 6nimmt or Pairs, only not as good as 6nimmt... or Pairs.

Ben made early gains by chaining his cards to other players', allowing him to push through on a regular basis (which is always desirable) but he was slowly pegged back and when Sam placed the twenty as his final card ("I was wondering where that was," remarked Martin) and no one else could chain together a decent response, his victory was assured.

Sam 0 cards left
Ben 1
Martin 1
Andrew 2
Ian 3
Katy 4
Joe 4

And with that, the evening was over. We set off into the crisp January night, the moon still shining down on us benignly, as if approving of our weekly battles.

Finally, we come to the Division for the first time this season.

You might be surprised at how many points Katy has. Well, I've been finding the Division a bit boring recently and have been thinking about changing things around a bit. Whether these rules stay or are just a passing fad, I don't know. Any opinions are welcome.

One of the ideas (implemented here) is something I call the Loser's Boost. In this, if you agree to a game you're bad at, you get a little multiplier to add to your score, i.e, x2 on your second game, x3 on your third, etc. So, this week, Katy kept playing Eggs of Ostrich even though she wasn't good at it, and her score was increased as a result. I hope that this will be of consolation to anyone who ends up playing a game they never win.


  1. Loser's Boost might be a hard one to police. Everyone will be protesting they're no good at everything! But I like it apart from that.

    I enjoyed Black Orchestra too. Joe mentioned that it doesn't ramp up in the clever way Pandemic does, and he's right: the only comparison here is Hitler's military strength, which is usually increasing and if you want to have any chance of success, you need to keep it down. It also has a mostly-luck driven chance of success: dice rolling. You can increase the amount of dice you have in some ways, but never enough to ensure victory. And at one point Ian was rolling four dice in need of four stars (equalling success)! But despite that I enjoyed it too and would certainly play again.

    Rolling America was great as well, really liked that a lot.

    1. The Loser's Boost is decided by the spreadsheet. Anyone below a certain ratio on that particular game gets it.

      I'm not sure it'll make a huge amount of difference. I worked out how it would've effected last season's division, and no one changed places. It's more of a gesture, really.

  2. I like Fuji Flush a bit more every time I play. Eggs of Ostrich is pure genius.

    1. Me too. But - it's just luck, isn't it? I can't see how anything else comes into it!

    2. About as much as Pairs I reckon!