A new season of games dawned this Tuesday evening. A season free from the shackles of the Division and it's constant judging. A season that really puts the emphasis on fun.
There were eight of us: Sam, the host, Joe, Martin, Katy, Ian, Chris, Laura and me. We began as an eightsome, playing Fuji Flush. It began in convivial style with all of us pushing through our twos. All except Joe, who found it difficult to get rid of any cards in the early part of the game. He muttered "I am so going to win this," as he looked through the five cards in his hand.
He didn't win, but he did manage a bit of a comeback, thanks to giving me the win by joining with my and Ian's (I think) sevens. I pushed through and, post-game, Ian revealed he had the twenty, but never saw the right opportunity to play it.
At this point the group split in two. Katy, Martin, Joe and Sam indulged in new pleasures and unknown games.
Martin was good enough to email me his report from that half of the table, otherwise all of their efforts would’ve been lost forever.
Joe and I were both brandishing new games and a group of four quickly formed with Katy and Sam hopping in. First up was Joe's Kingdomino, hot favourite for this year's Spiel des Jahres. I'd played once before with 2 players and quite enjoyed it.
It's a very simple tile-drafting affair in which each player tries to complete their own 5x5 grid from 2x1 'domino' tiles marked with different terrains. To score well, you need big areas of the same terrain-type that also contain crown symbols, since an area scores its size multiplied by its crowns. Each player gets one tile per round, and if you choose a 'better' one (more crowns), you'll be pushed down the turn order for the next round. It all flows very smoothly.
Joe and Katy couldn't quite complete their grids (a domino always has to match at least one adjacent terrain on your board) which left Sam and I with an advantage in the bonus scoring. Sam's healthy 10-tile/4-crown forest was enough for him to edge it.
I lobbied for Polterfass next, a game of bluffing and reading your opponents in which you take turns to be innkeeper and try to drink as much beer as possible without running the bar dry! It took us a little while to get used to the possible scoring scenarios but once we had that down it became a very enjoyable exercise in double-think. The beer-barrel 'dice' and beer mats are really cute too.
It seems that Katy's psychological powers are the strongest as she ran into an early lead and never looked back, while the rest of us repeatedly took one step forward and two steps back.
That theme continued into the next game, Santo Domingo. Here, each player has a set of the same 8 role cards, simultaneously selecting one each round. Some take money or goods from the centre, some let you trade goods for money at varying exchange rates and some let you profit from predicting what the other players will do. There's also a card which lets you recycle your used cards back into your hand again for fresh use, a la Concordia.
We had a false start when we realised we'd missed a vital rule, to Katy's chagrin as she had a big lead. However she picked up just where she left off and read our minds to victory in short order.
More from Martin later. Meanwhile, we at the conservative (small 'c', I hasten to add) end of the table chose a game because we all knew it - Quantum. Chris and I had a brief discussion as to whether the game was strategic or tactical, but if I'm being honest, I'm still unsure of the difference between the two.
We chose the Nexus map since it was the biggest we could get on half a kitchen table, but found we didn't have enough 9 tiles. We decided to use 10s instead and carry on. As an aside, the next day, Chris checked on Board Game Geek about the Nexus map and it turns out that it was a misprint and we did the right thing. Nice to have a house rule officially acknowledged.
As for the game, I quickly got a card Curious, which allows an extra free movement. As such, most of my game was spent hiding in corners, hoping to avoid fights. Laura fell behind at first but then fought her way back into contention. Conversely, Chris started well and then stopped making progress at some point.
Me, hiding, top left
It was me versus Ian near the end, with one cube each. It was at this moment that I made a brilliant move. Astute and well observed and, most importantly, I did it while Ian was on the toilet.
This meant when he came back to take his go, he hadn't noticed I'd taken the Aggression card (+2 on dominance) and his declaration of "I can win the game" quickly unraveled. He couldn't, and Chris couldn't reach me, so I was able to place a cube for a rare win for me at Quantum.
After this epic (the other guys had completed three games and were into a third) we were in need of lighter fare, so we chose Raj for our light relief.
We played a three-round game and I placed first in every one, leading to a comfortable win. Ian was second after round two, but had a nightmare the final stages.
Still aiming to synchronize game endings between the two groups, we chose NMBR9.
We played twice. It was Laura's first game and her inexperience showed. But she should be commended as being the player least vocal about their terrible choice of tile placement.
We played again, since one game of NMBR9 is never enough. Once again, we wailed at our grim fate.
Laura flew into a convincing win, while Chris only managed to get one number on the third (ie, x2) level.
The other four had ended their game of Barenpark. Over to you Martin...
The new acquisitions all having had their outing, we went back to one of Sam's new ones that all of us but Katy had played last week: Barenpark. This time we added the advanced 'achievement tiles' - a selection of 3 goals from a set of 10 that provide one extra factor to consider in this multidimensional race.
I focused on these from the start and ended up completing them 1st, 2nd and 2nd, while Sam deliberately ignored them, focusing on other aspects for his score. Despite that, we ended up with closely-matched scores, while Katy had been hampered by only realising half-way through the game that you can rotate and flip your tiles to make them fit better.
Towards the end of the game, I bemoaned my park's lack of toilet facilities, but we figured the tourists could just 'do as the bears do...'.
Now we were all back together for a quick round of Insider, accompanied by Katy’s sticky toffee flavour popcorn. The sugar rush was big enough to be heard as we all tutted and shook our heads at how overly sweet it was, while taking extra handfuls of the stuff and pushing it into our mouths.
As for Insider, Joe was the Master and the word was “tennis court” which I correctly guessed. But only because Sam had guessed “squash court” so I suspected Sam as the insider. Also, Martin weirdly blurted out “Did you just say ‘swimming pool’?” which raised some eyebrows. Katy was first to mention sports, I think, so she was looking shifty, too. And I'd mentioned a football stadium, too.
We tried to piece where the first seeds of “tennis court” had been planted, but to no avail. I think Chris was voted to be the Insider, but it wasn't him. It was Laura! She had asked the question “Is it a regular shape?” which set us on our long and tortuous journey to success. With one innocuous question, she caused mistrust and doubt amongst friends. She should be a politician.
No one else does.
Finally, we played Pairs. My only points came when I was away from the table on a toilet dash and everyone else played for me for one round. I should’ve stayed away longer. I came joint first that round.
It was Laura who came first, capping her evening with a hat-trick of wins, with Sam and Joe in close contention. Everyone else: must try harder.
And so we left happily, trooping back to our homes, content in the glow of an evening well spent. See you next week!