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The Ross-on-Wye Boardgamers

Beer and Boardgames at the White Lion. "It's not F-ing Monopoly, alright?!"

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Friday March 6th - Staying Home and Knitting

Ben Bateson
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Seeing as Tony is dropping none-too-subtle hints for me to update the blog, I suppose I'd better oblige with a trademark quickfire double, bringing all the news from the last fortnight.

Stuffing my bags with games-for-four, I had unfortunately neglected the 'Norm factor' and Keith's accompanying presence meant we were actually five-players and somewhat restricted with our options. Still, we had some fine morsels still remaining: Lancaster and Snowdonia being very much top of our 'to-play' list. Norm briefly waved Last Will in my direction (yawn), followed shortly by Yardmaster. But I remembered the miseries of a few weeks back, and my dismissal of it as 'an inferior Scandaroon' brought a tear to old Tony's eye.

So, it was Lancaster to kick off. Everyone apart from me had played it 'maybe once', and in Becky's absence I had to re-hash the rules from scratch, pleased for once to make sure we got all the phases in the right order from round one. Lancaster's long-term strategy is peculiarly driven by groupthink: sometimes the laws or the French wars matter very little, depending on the choices that are made early on. The opening exchanges were heavily county-dependent this time around, and I resorted a couple of times to going back to my castle and playing with my tapestries (hence the blog title). The laws made a real impact in rounds 2 and 3, much to Keith's chagrin, as they put him significantly out of the running. But it was Norm who had learned best from Becky (the long-standing master of Lancaster) and pulled together a 'full house' of nobles for the whopping 36 bonus points and a win. Tony and I had been long-time leaders and only trailed Norm by a couple of points in the final reckoning; there was much discussion in the post-mortem of how we could have swung it.

The setup for Snowdonia included some acquiescent grunting from John (I don't really think Snod is one of his favourites) and the typical drawing of the player to my left (today, Norm) to start. After the preliminary 'last player problems' grumbling, I popped one of my labourers on the 'surveyor' space before we even started, and indeed there he remained throughout Round 1: I offered Tony the opportunity to share the space in an attempt to prove it wasn't underpowered, but he declined in favour of a Contract Card, oddly enough.

Norm was hot off the mark in picking up the first train, but I soon joined him with an excavating train. Other than JP picking up a token 'prototype engine' late on, that was all the dabbling required in the train market, as Tony was attempting an unfeasible Contract Card combo, and Keith and John were determined to build everything in sight between them. I plugged on with my excavation efforts, and soon had enough rubble to fill three contract cards. With a couple of other bits and pieces and a surveyor at the summit, it was enough for a hundred and twenty-something points and a rare victory over the game's designer.

It is something of a tainted victory, however, as Tony will now use it as evidence in perpetuity to deny any further complaints about the last-player-problem. I, however, point to the Puerto Rico-type effect of having John placed to my right. No? Worth a try...

Having learned my lesson from last week, I already had a fresh pint in hand when Becky rolled up for 'collection', and manage to convince her that my evening wouldn't be complete without a final game of Biblios with John, Keith and Norm. It completed John's evening, anyway, with a much-earned victory after his previous miserable showings.
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Sat Mar 14, 2015 3:01 pm
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Friday February 27th - Rules of the House

Ben Bateson
United Kingdom
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With only a sketchy idea of how many people were due to show up this week, I stuffed the games bag with all sorts of small bits and pieces. An initial turn-out of JP, Wendy and Keith promised to be adaptable to all sorts of variety, so I kicked things off by tossing my new copy of The City onto the table. Thankfully, everyone professed to a little smattering of German (that's what the board game habit will do for you), and I promptly taught them what was what (literally), before again teaching them what was what (metaphorically) thanks to the skilled tutoring I had picked up from Richard the week before.

John was on the verge of picking our next 4P game when Bill wandered in, and we ditched it in favour of I'm The Boss: The Card Game, the rules which I had been caught perusing at the start of the evening. Initial teaching and the first two rounds fell flatter than a Dutch pancake, and we were hastily in discussions about packing it in before John picked up the manual and pronounced that we'd been playing a key rule wrong (this was, indeed, the rule that we were contemplating 'fixing'). I blame the ambiguous phrase "The cards from this deal are discarded" - if only someone had said "The cards PLAYED DURING this deal are discarded" then I might have read that paragraph a little more carefully!

Now fully equipped with the full instructions in how to play, we re-booted the game for another go. Wendy took positive delight in being mean to people, slightly playing against the 'women gamer' stereotype, and emerged an easy winner, some £300,000 ahead of John in second place with Bill and I on a joint-last total of £120,000.

Do I think that ItB:tCG will solve all the game group's filler ills? No, not really. But as a swiftish session of one-upmanship and meta-gaming it was certainly more than tolerable. Even without my dumb interpretation of the rules, there is still far too much card-draw luck, though.

That had all taken rather longer than I had intended, so we moved forward with the quick-ish games and into a pet favourite of Johns: Kingdom Builder. Neither Keith nor Wendy had played before, and thankfully we dealt a fair beginner-ish set of tiles, including Gardens, Farms, Towers, Crossroads and Barracks (I'd have done without the Barracks if I'd been choosing a beginners' setup, but it was random draw). I was about to distribute some strategy wisdom, but the scoring cards were Families (score 2 points for each 3-in-a-row), Merchants (join up the hexes) and Citizens (build a big village). All of this tended to discourage the normal Kingdom Builder advice, so I abandoned the strategy tips and let the beginners get on with it. And bloody well they did too! Wendy created a huge, tentacled village in the middle of the board that connected up a whole bunch of stuff, leaving Bill in second a mile behind (Keith being a very creditable third). This could easily be the best Kingdom Builder debut I've ever seen, and - unusually for me - I took a photo. Note the appalling beer-induced photography, and Bill upholding the RoWBGers tradition of putting his gurning face behind the gameboard.



With Keith yawning his way into departure, it looked like we had time for a club favourite. Too Many Cooks is probably our favourite card game and - with Wendy winning most other stuff tonight - three of us fancied a bit of revenge. I ploughed into my seasoned re-tread of the rules, Wendy nodding away but marginally before the opening round I was dragged out of the pub by Becky, who had returned yawning from the theatre and not even partial to a J2O and a game of 'Soup'. I am only a man; I wouldn't dare disobey. In an act of (very) minor disobedience, I logged a play on BGG anyway, and I'm hoping Bill will now fill in the gaps on how the evening ended.
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Sun Mar 1, 2015 8:30 pm
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Friday February 20th - Cornish Muddler

Ben Bateson
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Occasional visitor, one Richard Clyne, dropped by tonight, having celebrated half-term by packing his daughter off to France and going on a Grand Tour Of Games in the meantime. As a warm-up exercise, he introduced us to The City and promptly took us to town (see what I did there?) by hoarding a whole bunch of very good cards. I found the game pleasing, even despite the puzzling lack of an English-language edition and some apparent shuffle-luck. It was certainly appealing enough for me to stumble onto the Internet when I got home and order my own copy!

Dan, our perennial latecomer, had by now arrived and with a shortage of games for 6, a split into two tables was preferred. This was effected by an impromptu dragging-around of the pub furniture and the creation of a 'monster table' with Tony, Richard and Dan playing Agricola at one end in an ill-advised experiment with the Pi Deck. Richard tried a bizarre clay combo (Why he would do this in a 3P game is beyond me) along with Spars, but when building corner shops didn't work out (this is a British joke), he built lots of clay rooms to finish dead last. Dan edged Tony for the win.

Meanwhile, JP and Bill joined me in Tinners Trail. This is a game we really enjoyed once previously and have mysteriously failed to put on the table again. This turned out to be a real error, as tonight's game was full of intrigue, excitement and jokes about 'having a man'. It looked like we'd let John in a little bit early (note to self: do not let other people have cheap mines in Round 1), but I carried out an exemplary bit of mining in Round 3 and bought up some high-priced shares as John was finding his operations all tapped out. Nearly all of our Prospect phases resulted in finding ponds and swamps without much mining potential, which worked really well for the player count, focussing us on the more productive regions. My only complaint with 3P is that there isn't enough competition for the VPs on the share-ownership table, but otherwise this scaled down from 4P very effectively. Ultimately, John reaped too much advantage from Round 1 for me to catch him up, but the 127-112 scoreline was a lot closer than I was predicting. Bill didn't really ever get up to speed (he struggles with auctions, poor chap), and finished well down on 59.

A brief re-shuffle resulted in Hurricane JP attacking a New copy of Orleans (see what I did there?) with Tony and Richard. Tony enthused about it as a 'bag-builder', to which my only response was "so...it's like Dominion with a bag, then?" Laid out on the table, it seemed to have more bits and chits than could conceivably be useful, and the game plodded on past the time when Becky arrived back from the theatre to pick me up, so I didn't even get a post-mortem on how well it played.

One game that is known to always play well is Puerto Rico, and that's what Bill, Dan and I attacked hungrily at the other end of the table. Dan, to my left, started off on an alarming crusade of Crafting, but Bill wasn't interested in Captaining for VPs and instead built a range of buildings (Bill builds buildings yet again...), finding unusual purpose for the University to populate them all. That left me with a bunch of Corn to ship, and although I did so efficiently (only rotting two goods all game) and later supplemented it with Coffee income, my 51 points was good enough for a flat last place. Dan, as he will when he gets into gear, cruised away with this one, finishing with a whopping 64 points. Proof, if proof were required, that frequent Crafting does work. Well, it does with 3P, at any rate.
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Sun Feb 22, 2015 12:32 pm
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Friday February 13th - Paint Your Dragon

Ben Bateson
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Friday 13th is never unlucky when there is a high standard of gaming available at the Lion, and this week was a particularly fine example.

Becky was planning an early finish tonight, and it only seemed right to indulge her request for Princes of Florence. This is a game that is so high in the group's estimation at the minute that it would have a reasonable claim to have toppled Agricola, Modern Art and Libertalia as 'club favourite'. Unlike last week, it seemed most people were favouring a 'middle of the road' strategy, although Tony's collection of six professions were looking good for victory for a long time. He had reckoned without Becky, though, who was hoarding fully 15 points' worth of Prestige cards, and overtook both JP and myself to finish on 50 points, the same as Boydell.

Tony has a peculiar personal rule when it comes to tie-breaks, in that he only gives them any credit when they allow him to win. Therefore, I feel quite justified in pronouncing this session a draw, despite the fact that Tony may just have had 200 florins left over.

With Becky yawning her way home, we already our second game scheduled - one I've been wanting to try out for a long time - in the shape of In The Year Of The Dragon. Like a lot of Felds, it turned out to be relatively simple, with a bunch of unconnected phases and a puzzle in how to get the most points. There is a sadistic element too, with most of your carefully constructed buildings and hired employees being gradually eradicated by the game (which, I suppose, is actually a lot less sadistic that having your opponents do it). I ploughed off into an uncomfortable early lead with cheap VP-earning dragon talismans, but was shortly overhauled by John who had unerring control of the Player Order track during the midgame. It became apparent rather too early that JP was going to romp to victory, although a last minute charge from Bill who (rather appropriately it seems) had been quietly building temples full of endgame-scoring monks.

Tony raved about ItYotD, falling short only of using the weasel word 'elegant'. While ultimately not unhappy with the game, I didn't think it lived up to my expectations, and it just felt like yet another Feld Point Salad, despite the fact that Tony was trying to claim it wasn't. The 'punishment' aspect felt no more advanced than Notre Dame, and that remains my go-to game of choice. One thing I DID like, although it's hard to say how intentional it is, was the integration of the mechanics with the theme: with a rudimentary caste system and a semi-Communist approach to recruiting and housing your workers, there is no denying that the game really does feel very Chinese.

My much-awaited Harbor Expansion had arrived for Machi Koro during the week, and everyone was happy to wind down gently from two very thinky games. Although The Harbor, and particularly the improved layout rules, have radically improved our 2P home games, it was somewhat slow with 4, and a lucky run of 10s for me led to an anti-climactic finish amid (ludicrous) calls of 'broken!'. I think I'd like to be tinkering with Machi Koro as it evolves (particularly as the next expansion comes out), and welcome suggestions for house-rulings.
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Sun Feb 22, 2015 11:48 am
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Friday February 6th - Anni-adversaries!

Ben Bateson
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Five years ago, to the day, marked the very first get-together of the Ross-on-Wye board-gamers. As best I can remember, we were taught Stone Age by Tony (with a number of rules omissions, but this is a trend that has continued) and followed it with a session of my Modern Art conversion of Masters Gallery. My memory chiefly differs from Tony's in that I don't believe either of his daughters was present, but I'm pretty sure Jules was.

Here's my personal rundown of the last 60 months:

The mainstays

The core of the club: those who stick with it week-in and week-out, through good games and bad.

Ben - Games club 'organiser' and central protagonist.

Becky - Lancaster addict and Fiji guru. Also holds the very important 'carrier of the car keys' responsibility.

Tony - Renowned designer of Snowdonia, Fzzzt and Totemo. Less well-renowned designer of Scandaroon. Has irrational hatred of Reiner Knizia.

John - aka 'Mr Primula'. Highly opinionated, AP-afflicted and cider-drinking Cosmic Encounter enthusiast. Loves anything with screwage potential. Irrational dislike of Agricola.

Bill - Enigmatic and easy-going long-term games player. Likes guinea pigs. Can't cope with valuation or auction games.

'Gentleman Dave' (of Ledbury) Daffin - All-round nice chap who rarely has a bad word to say about a game. Thinks Snowdonia is the best thing since sliced bread, much to Tony's delight.

Dan - Deep-thinker and generally smart chap who has dabbled in board-game design and 3D printing. A feared opponent at Furstenfeld

Norm - Twelve-year-old boy masquerading as a Middle Aged man. Drinks tea in the pub. Buys any worker placement game on the market, regardless of whether they're any good or not.

Keith - Accomplice of Norm and lover of bad role-playing in games (cf. Yedo, Libertalia and pretty much anything that requires him to put on a silly voice). Strongly won-over by unnecessary chrome.

Anne - Delightfully refined and genteel lady whose attendance tends to clash with bridge games and the four or so holidays she seems to take every year. Doesn't do conflict or direct interaction although has been known to win at Small World.

Peter & Benedict - Coke-fuelled teenagers who CAN play games pretty well when they're not dicking around.

The Irregulars

Those whom we see from time to time, and a couple of newcomers as well!

Paul - A miniatures gamer who we are trying to lapse into proper games, but he keeps getting drawn back to the Warhammer club who also play on Fridays.

Gordon - Heavy strategist and pig-farmer. Inevitably starts yawning and drinking espresso at 9:30

Wendy - Newcomer and surely future regular. Has experience with Dominion, which is a great thing.

Ken - Relative newcomer and probably likely to become a regular in the fullness of time. Plays a mean Notre Dame.

Gamers no longer with us:

We've not lost any to terminal illnesses or accidents, thankfully. Here are those who might have become regulars if real life and other commitments hadn't caught up with them.

Jules - Triathlete and demon card-player whose legacy lives on through son Peter.

Sam - Anne's locum-lodger student in his Cheltenham College days; now all grown up and (one assumes) playing games at University. Excellent tactician and Goa player. Ate pork scratchings like they were the ultimate guily pleasure (which of course they are).

'Big' Dave H - Keen Carcassonne player and responsible for an epic game of Catan. Not well-suited to Friday nights. Still threatens to turn up 'out of the blue' from time to time.

John N - Larper and vintage motorbike enthusiast whose high-flying project management position with a major electronics firm kept him from turning up more often.

Ian - Eclipse enthusiast and computer programmer. Sadly not mobile enough to be with us any more.

Intermittent visitors

Those whom we saw once or twice before they flitted into the night.

Darren and his girlfriend from Hereford, Phil from Newent (who ran away after one game of Agricola), Norman (not the club-regular, but an elderly gent who would have been happier playing Scrabble), Dan from Ross, Shaun 'World Cup Game' Derrick, another Phil who was passing through, Darren and Sian from Bridgend, Ruth and David of Gordon's clan, Daisy, Alice and Freddie Boydell, my mother(!), two noisy guys from the miniatures club, Richard Clyne and daughter Halina. I'm sure there's a few more - sorry if I've missed you!

Highlights

A club record turn-out of 13 in early 2014, and filling the back-room of the White Lion in the process.

Biannual Balderdash sessions and the inspired inventions contained therewithin (Pokkelokken, anyone?)

A tense game of Polarity with Bill that finished with the whole of the pub watching.

A terrific 3-player game of Goa (Tony, Ben, Becky) which went down to a single point.

Pretty much every time we've had Agricola, Princes Of Florence or Puerto Rico on the table.

The wonder of Dobble and the merriment at Tony's dislike of it.

The invention of Big Ding and his exploits.

KingBrick.

The day-long and weekend-long sessions: Good Friday, CiderCon, FarmCon and the rest.

Those magical late-October moments when Tony returns from Essen laden with goodies like a scruffy, sarcastic Santa.

All those people who are genuinely interested in what we're playing and ask intelligent questions.

Lowlights

John having a major strop after introducing Cosmic Encounter to completely the wrong group.

Two weeks during the first - lean - year, when I turned up and played 1P Agricola because no-one else was there.

The one and only game of Hanabi that nearly ended in fisticuffs.

A long, turgid and utterly meritless attempt to play Genoa.

That week the bar ran out of pork scratchings.

Being asked 'is it a bit like Monopoly' or gawked at like we're a zoo exhibit.

Random Reflection 1: Pork Scratchings

Consumption is compulsory. A brief back-of-a-fag-packet calculation reveals that I don't smoke. However, a brief back-of-an-envelope calculation implies that we have eaten somewhere in the region of 600 bags of scratchings, which is 60 kilos, or an impressive half-a-million calories. Cor....

Random Reflection 2: Rules Teaching

The most refined art of the lot. I am - apparently - good at it. Norm is very good at it, as is Ken. Becky is better than she makes out. John prefers the 'bury ones nose in the rulebook' approach, and Bill shouldn't be ever allowed to do it (frequently I end up teaching him his own game). Tony is sometimes very good at it; sometimes terrible, but he has given rise to one of my favourite anecdotes: the infamous 'don't worry about the green science cards for now - I'll explain them later' introduction to 7 Wonders.

The Blog

Right, enough reminiscing. Why am I here again? Ah, yes - our birthday celebrations.

Some sort of treat seemed called-for, and so we enjoined early at 7pm for puddings. Two sticky toffees, two bread-and-butters and a chocolate sponge later, along with much satisfied grunting along the lines of 'we need to do this more often', we polished off the game of High Society which we'd started earlier. It was a bit of a classic, with Dave crashing out due to too much spending, and Dan being forced to take two 'dud' cards late on. Becky, despite only winning the very last auction round, emerged the winner.

With five players, it is always difficult to resist the excellent Princes of Florence - it is a game which has absolutely never let us down and, indeed, I can't recall any of our voluminous list of members ever having a bad word to say about it.

John set out on a hell of a charge, throwing out all three starting Works before the halfway point of the game. But, as so often happened, it started to stall and he was overhauled. Dave notched up all three builders early, and went off on a cram-your-palazzo drive. Becky was forced to pass out two turns because her intended Recruitment target wasn't appearing and put herself out of the running. And I had a fistful of Prestige cards with which I was hoping to leap the field. But it was Dan who pulled out a narrow win, despite some fairly inept adding up and some Tetris-esque worrying moments as he built all the large buildings. Interestingly, his board probably turned out least imbalanced.

Thanks to Dave, I have photos of the scoretrack before and after the final seventh round, showing John (Brown)'s demise, and the taut finish between me (Red) and Dan (Grey). Dave (Blue) might have done better if he'd played more than one Work.



"What's Intrigue like?" said a curious (in every sense of the word) JP.

"It's like Diplomacy without the 4-hour playing time and the map" say I.

"Brilliant!"

Despite Becky's best efforts at consternation, Intrigue it was then. Not really having much clue at the strategy, we launched ourselves at it full-length with makeshift bribes and negotiation and thoroughly ignoring the rule about 'agreements must be honoured' in time-honoured tradition. John, of course, was right in his element and finished with well over a million currency units, narrowly beating out Dave, who had played his typical diplomat role and garnered plenty of cash by generally being inoffensive. Becky's attempts to never offer any bribes didn't really work out at all, unsurprisingly.

I don't think I'd want to play Intrigue and Chinatown in the same night, and there is the possibility that a bad session might just tear the club apart, but it definitely does appeal to the 'unpleasant gamer' in all of us. Dan and JP were particularly made up and suggested that Tony would probably be likewise: personally, I can't wait to let Norm and Keith have a tilt at it.

As has so often happened over four of the past five years, 7 Wonders provided our closing game for the night. An unusually slack effort from Dan - almost entirely Science focussed - let John and I through the gap. I managed to build all four Giza stages in Age II and got the prime pick of the Age III cards, which was enough. I finished with two profligate guilds for a mighty 61 points, with John trailing in way behind on 50.

Another five years begins next Friday.
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Sun Feb 8, 2015 6:57 pm
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Friday January 30th - The Four Musty Beards

Ben Bateson
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It was a volubly hirsute quartet that sat down this week, from Tony's homeless-man-stubble to Dan's lose-your-badger-here full man-bush, with my corporate-goatee and Bill's Stalinist 'tache somewhere in between. Initial consultation through the tea-strainers elected a meaty heavyweight to open the night's proceedings in the form of Caylus.

As usual, Tony tried to half-teach the game while unpacking it, which is a demonstrably bad idea. He then threw a small tantrum over his evident inability to understand the turn-order track, such that we played much of the midgame in a hushed, slightly fearful silence. This, however, proved to be good for the concentration, with Dan continuously assaying small batches of cubes for the castle, and a pending recognition on my part that no-one was actually going to build the Mason, thus depriving anyone of the high cost buildings. An abrupt strategy-switch seemed in order, so I abandoned any castle-building efforts, instead depriving the (very few) available food spaces with house-builds and stocking up gold at 3 points a pop. Bizarrely, Tony actually helped in this quest significantly by covering up the last of the food spaces, and my lowball 47 points (and only 2 Royal Favours, moreover) was enough for the win. Tony claimed this was the sort of game that he played once every few years and - judging by his miserable final tally and the length of time he spent planning his anticlimactic final turn - it might be another few years yet.

Apparently, building one castle wasn't enough, for next up was our current game-to-enthuse-about, Castle For All Seasons. It was Dan's first play and - again - my teaching was bombarded with unnecessary clarifications from the vagrant-bearded one. I was beginning to suspect it was some sort of diversionary tactic, and I might well have been proved correct in an opening which saw me resolutely fastened to 0 points while Tony and Bill leapt ahead. My optimistic trader's helper went unrewarded pretty much all the way through and - despite a robust 34 points worth of endgame scoring - I finished third to Tony and a narrowly-trailing Bill.

I'm really enjoying CfaS. It takes 60 minutes flat to play (often less) and the long-game strategy, while being undeniably present, is often hard to see well. The double-guessing element of when to play your all-important Master Builder (Bill reaped an easy 20 points off his in the final round) is a delight. Even Tony seems to be enchanted with it, so it's definitely one with legs.

With forty minutes or so left, there was definitely time for an end-of-evening card game. And I had the perfect choice for three refined gentlemen (although Dan did quake slightly when I told him about the tie-break rule) - Elevenses!

It's hard to find anyone who has an ill word to say about this fine little game, even if Tony did try during round 1 when he received a hand of three Servants, and it's proof that even the coarse, past-fresh, and stinky oyster of crowdfunded games occasionally gives birth to a little pearl. Dan proved to have sufficient talent on his first play (although a succession of tea-trollies helped) to win a closing game that pleasingly scored up as 7-6-5-4.

It seems every January that I end up saying 'we ought to play some games more often', and there were three prime candidates here tonight.
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Sun Feb 1, 2015 2:13 pm
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Friday January 23rd - Yards of Ale

Ben Bateson
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'Twas Gentleman Dave Daffin's birthday week this week, and therefore his prerogative to choose what games to play. His initial email response of 'do bring Agricola, there's a good chap' (or possibly words to that effect) brought joy to my heart, followed by joy to Tony's and - no doubt - deep despair to JP's. However, John concealed it manfully, and we started dealing out a beefy 5P session. However, just three placements in, we had cause to revisit our plans: Wendy, our second newcomer in as many weeks, dropped by the table, and caused an impromptu re-think.

John was in an indecent haste to play ANYTHING but Agricola, and he suggested that Becky teach Glen More as an accesible gateway to the club for Wendy. I had a peer over my shoulder about halfway through, and she seemed to have picked up the basics admirably, running an animal-and-loch heavy arrangement which eventually resulted in a maiden win. About this time, she also revealed a passing acquaintance with the mighty Dominion, which should keep her, me and Becky in fodder for a long time to come!

It would be wrong to deny Dave his birthday choice, and besides we had all the bits out and Tony and I really, REALLY wanted to play it anyway. So we re-booted the farms for 3P. Dave plonked down a Fisherman on round 1, and it was a bit harsh of Tony to then jump in with the Fishing Rod AND the Raft, but it was of very little concern to me. As occasionally happens in 3P, I was struggling, partly due to my negligence to take Clay early on, but partly also due to several opportune food grabs from Dave, which could be construed either as novitiate nervousness or cold-hearted denial. I was also playing a destined-to-fail Reed deprivation strategy, which was completely undermined when Tony produced the Wooden Hut Extension (and he will be the first to admit he was dealt a superlative hand of cards). Around harvest 3 I quietly picked up 2 Begging Cards and went on to finish with a record low 6 points. Dave improved significantly to the 30 point region, but was still another 20 points behind a rampant Tony (the thought disgusts me). This was to become a theme in the night's gaming...

With finishes to Glen More and Agricola more or less coincidental, we shuffled the tables a little. Becky was keen to join Dave on his second birthday-choice of Snowdonia, and Tony decided in the nobler best interests that another newcomer should learn the intricacies rather than play himself. By all accounts, Wendy acquitted herself well again - 65 points might have been enough to win against lesser opposition. But Dave has clearly been studying hard, and squeaked a win over Becky.

Tony and I share a common agreement on at least one game designer: Feld should have stopped after Notre Dame. We also, it would seem, share a common strategy: both picking on the Park early on for extra VPs. Somewhat distracted by Tony correcting me on two rules of the game that I thought I knew very well (short version: I don't), I let him creep out from under two very heavy plague rounds straddling Phase 1 and Phase 2. He left JP and I straggling back in the 30s with a whopping final score of 59.

Snowdonia was due to run long, with a helluva load of fog and rain clogging the rail-building to a crawl. So Tony broke open a duo of recent Kickstater (ptui!) acquisitions in the shape of Yardmaster and Yardmaster Express. Oddly, we played the latter first, unanimously denouncing it as chaotic and random. In passing, it was the only game that I won all night, but that's chaos and randomness at work for you.

So Tony moved onto an explanation of 'big' Yardmaster and it drove me to such boredom that my next pint came back from the bar with a whisky chaser. It didn't really seem to offer anything over a dozen other 'make these cards into a line' card games and the special actions were distinctly unbalanced. JP and I agreed that the 'reserve' train didn't really add up in terms of action efficiency (to whit, it is always better to build for your own benefit rather than deprive others and the game turns over too quickly to reasonably assume what cards will be available). But the fact that he squeaked a win over Tony kept John fairly mellow. If only I could have said the same about my Scotch...
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Sun Jan 25, 2015 6:48 pm
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Friday January 16th - Flowering Interests

Ben Bateson
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Our usual 'awkward' number of about 6-7ish was expected tonight; we handed Tony's copy of Castles Of Mad King Ludwig to Ken, Bill and Anne and - well - that was pretty much it. We didn't see them for the rest of the evening, thanks to a combination of teaching duties, learning duties and apparent rules misinterpretations. Suffice to say that their stumbling about didn't exactly endear the game to me, although I have enjoyed Suburbia. Becky can't stand Suburbia, so I'm guessing the chances of getting her acquainted with Ludwig are minimal too. Cross another one off the 'to play' list.

Tony, Becky and I lurched into Keyflower apace, and were three seasons down before the first tentative tile-drawing on the other table. It was one of those terrifically thinky games with a shortage of one key resource (Wood, this time) and also a fair lack of transport tiles. Buying the only 'advanced' transport tile served me well, despite Tony's attempts to shut it down in Winter with his sole green meeple ('greeple'?) and I hoovered up the Keythedral for a comfortable winning score in the 50s.

We were just mulling over our second game, when we were approached by Phil, a fine gent and experienced gamer who decided to look us up impromptu. After the normal welcomes and introductions, I took a bit of initiative and chucked A Castle For All Seasons on the table, keen to see how it played with 4P after our indifferent 3P introduction last week.

Tony pulled his best 'I'm not sure I want to play this' face all the way through the rules introduction, but I can't complain, as I have a well-known INSIWTPTF as well. What was interesting, as we got going, was how differently the game played just through a few different choices. There was much less resource-hoarding, much more bouncing-off on the Trader spaces, and many fewer buildings were actually completed. Becky and Tony played out a thrilling finale, with Becky winning the final tot-up by only a handful of points. Phil played an 'experimental' game (his words) for dead last. To my surprise, Tony expressed his pleasure at this fine game and, do you know what, I think he might be right. ACfaS plays quickly, is brilliantly balanced (certainly with 4P), and has a lot of genuinely difficult decisions. I can see us playing a lot of this.

Phil was making 'umming and aahing' noises about bedtime, but we attempted to talk him into one more with a play through of club-favourite Libertalia. Well, it was INTENDED to be a play through: it turned into a play-one-third-of-the-way through after the first week. I had latched onto a ridiculous number of end-week bonus cards and scored a possibly unprecedented 41 points (I have seen some players score less than this in the entire game, and one person - Mr Would - score less than half this in the entire game). While I was setting up for Week 2, Tony and Phil came to a diplomatic decision to concede and Phil wandered off - hopefully not too disenchanted with his introduction to the club.

Ludwig still showed no signs of abating, and Tony was unwilling to go home without his copy, so we finished with Airships, an under-rated dice filler which - I suspect - is going to fire several other little dice fillers from my collection. I finished a fine evening by forcing a quick finish and a win with just 14 points.

There was still time to lean back and discuss the fineries of 'light' gaming versus 'heavy' gaming and a couple of Tony's prototype designs before the other table finished, making a mockery of a 90-minute game by taking approximately 3 hours to get through it.
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Sun Jan 25, 2015 5:46 pm
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Friday January 9th - Playing Games about Plays and Games

Ben Bateson
United Kingdom
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Settling ourselves by a log fire that would have made Dante say: "Oh come on, guys, this is getting a bit ridiculous", a quick head-count made us six this week. And - curses - we hadn't brought Libertalia! Never mind, I'm sure it will retain its role as club-favourite another week.

So we split into two tables of three. Tony, John and Norm threw some dice around at Waggle Dance. It's a game I've only seen from afar unto now, so I can't really tell you a lot about it, other than the fact that Norm won.

I had espied Show Manager at the top of Bill's bulging rucksack, and we were joined by Keith for preliminary investigations on this one. The game is really simplicity itself - hire actors at optimum prices to fill the roles in one of four shows and then score enough points with those shows (by hiring talent and avoiding mis-casting your actors in unsuitable parts) to keep yourself high in the ladders. There are five available ladders at various levels of risk, and the whole thing reeks of very, VERY thorough playtesting: a fact for which I am always grateful.

It's more than a little reminiscent of the designer's Alhambra (good), there is an opportunity to write all over the game components (good), and there is a tawdry role-playing element if you choose to partake (possibly good, depending on how much fun you are). There was some excellent and painful decision-making to be made late on in the game and I couldn't find much to complain about, other than the fact it is really only filler material packaged in a big box. Keith won this relatively comfortably, with Bill foundering about quite a long way behind.

This all brought us to one of those happy confluences where each table finished more-or-less simultaneously, and we had a quick shuffle around, swapping Keith for John. The Jungfrau was the destination for Keith and Norm (inevitably beaten by Tony, but not without something of a fight on Norm's part), while we took a first look at A Castle for All Seasons - a game which had only crossed my front doorstep two days previously. Thankfully, I had had time to thoroughly digest and interpret the rulebook (which isn't one of the best).

It's easy to be cynical about yet ANOTHER role-selection-and-build-the-castle game, and I was concerned about its similarities to Citadels, Havana and others that we have worn out over the course of time. But, it has to be said, CfAS felt relatively fresh - even if JP does claim to enjoy pretty much everything he plays for the first time. I particularly like the selection of game-end scoring opportunities and the subtle ways to manipulate the rest of the game towards that goal. However, and it's a VERY big however, the game didn't feel anywhere near as well-balanced with 3P as it would be with a full contingent. The Master Builder role, in particular, seemed too easy to abuse in the 3P game and tilt all the bias towards a lucky player. The lucky player in this case was me, and I found it very simple to pull down massive end-of-game money bonuses from the Market as a result. Bill paid nearly the same for placement in the Servant's House (bonus points for buildings that we didn't build) and got a meagre return. This felt a bit worrying and I need to check up the Rules and Strategy fora to make sure we did get everything right.

With Tony bidding his customary early farewell, the remaining five re-merged for Bill's pimped copy of Las Vegas, which was further accessorised by Keith's pair of dice trays. Lending the trays was clearly provident in good karma, for Keith clocked up a resounding win (and his second of the night, moreover), beating Norm into another second place.
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Sun Jan 11, 2015 12:13 pm
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Friday January 2nd - Salt in the Wounds

Ben Bateson
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Eyeing up the calendar before Christmas, January 2nd leapt out as a prime gaming opportunity. Most people had the day off and I wasn't hesitant to book us the prime real-estate of the table by the fire for the entirety of the day from 2pm onwards.

Come the end of the lunch-shift, and it was a hesitant turn-out at first, with just myself and Norm lugging in a selection of bags. Anticipating - at the very least - Bill for the afternoon, we plumped for a 2-player starter in the shape of Le Havre: Inland Port. It's not a terribly rewarding game for the novice, and it was interesting how much Becky and I had learned from previous home-games together as Norm cheerfully struggled. Despite the perfect information, it's still frustrating that the long-term strategy remains tantalisingly out of grasp. Will someone teach me how to play this game!?

By the time we'd done, not only was Bill overseeing the final totting-up, but also Tony too (clearly Karen had been very generous with her day-release requirements). We'd all been anticipating trying out Panamax for the first time, so this seemed like the ideal delivery.

Panamax manages to wrap so much share-holding, dice-placement, and economical juggling around its simple pick-up-and-deliver premise that it has turned into a different sort of game - precisely WHAT sort of game is hard to pin down. I thought it seemed mechanically sound, but it didn't half drag as we reached the end of the second round (thankfully, there are only three). It might have also been inexperience, but the share-holding aspect didn't really work at all: the most-invested company (Bill) finishing dead last, and the least-invested (me) winning. Plus, I rather ludicrously won the Managing Director Of The Month token (enough to beat Norm into second place) in Round 2 by being the only company to pay a dividend (a measly $2 to myself, when the others were trying to pay $10-20). Ultimately, I guess I'm unconvinced.

JP had turned up by now, and after a brief - unsuccessful - attempt to entertain himself via the pub's Wifi, he opted for Shephy, although his preference for leering at the sheep photos was a) worrying and b) detracted strongly from his attempts to win. It was getting close to 6pm already and thoughts of dinner beckoned, so we filled the time with a brief Coloretto, at which Tony attempted to shamelessly trash-talk his way into winning and Norm actually won on his first attempt.

Becky's arrival meant six for dinner, and a brief pause to rearrange the tables at landlady Jacqui's behest. We even got to order from the table, so our stock must be rising at the White Lion. Norm was keen to squeeze in another filler before the food actually arrived, and the only 6P games we could muster were Mascarade and Dobble. Knowing full well the scorn that Boydell would pour on either of these games, Norm and I offered him the choice, purely for a cheap laugh at his withering reaction.

Eventually, he plumped for Mascarade as the lesser of two evils, and we played about two-thirds of the game before the food arrived (the final one-third, after dinner, provided a stern test of memory indeed!). I had a smashing peri-peri chicken breast, and the lasagne, pie and ham'n'egg all brought glowing reviews from the rest of the table.

Tidying up Mascarade only took ten minutes (Tony won after double-hitting the Judge), and the table split into the want-puddings and the do-not-want puddings. Matters were only slightly complicated by Keith arriving and, despite not wanting a pudding, joining the in the incipient game of Machi Koro that was being set up alongside the sticky cake and ice-creams. I believe they even had enough time to play twice: I think Becky and Norm won one each.

Up on the non-sweet (and I use the adjective advisedly) end of the table, Tony John and I took to Cubist. Tony and I had played an exploratory 2-player game shortly after Christmas, and we found the light but combo-friendly mechanics to be inoffensive. With 3P there was real competition over the installation cards: there are only three available, and if one of them is more difficult than the others then you have to make a difficult decision early on. With 4P it looks like that might be even tougher! Tony won our first game in curiously uncompetitive fashion, but I think it was just a freak of the cards, because the second was much more interactive and satisfying. John sneaked it by only a point or two after some titanic battles over 4- and 5-point installations. Given the time it takes, Cubist isn't really more than a filler, but it's an oddly satisfying one, and I can see this getting more table-time over the course of 2015.

Machi Koro and puddings drew to a halt at around the same time as we did, and a rearrangement seemed in order. John and I were keen to play Hunting Party, a game which is firmly 3P only, and so Tony broke out Snowdonia for the other end of the table. We picked up Bill for Hunting Party.

For those that haven't encountered this batty game before, it is essentially a cross between Cluedo and a share-holding game with a dungeon-crawl pasted on top. You have a strict ration of 8 shares which you pay out to various Heroes to join your motley band, and when you have enough you can name three 'skills' in an attempt to find out what the Shade (the Big Boss) is holding. If anyone holds one of those skills in their hand, then they can thwart your mission to kill the Shade and make you fight a lesser luminary instead. If you kill it, you are paid off with gold corresponding to how many shares you (personally) still hold.

The concept is quite clever, but some of the special abilities seem really quite unbalanced, with Bill playing a potion which allowed him a free peek at all three of my hidden cards. Luckily, it was near the end of the game, because that sort of thing early on would be a game-wrecker. Immediately afterwards, John managed to wreck the game in a completely different way by claiming he had the correct answer (when he didn't). Luckily, I managed to convince the others that I held enough information to have the ACTUAL correct answer so claimed an iffy victory.

It's a shame it finished as it did because there is a seed of something good in Hunting Party. Unfortunately, it's a seed that needed a little more germination.

Vanilla Snowdonia had finished in favour of - surprise, surprise - the game's designer, who promptly took his leave and the rest of that table had already moved onto Rococo by the time we had finished. In what sounded like a surprisingly swift game, Norm won in - well - pretty much the same fashion as before, by converting craploads of money in craploads of points. Dominant strategy, anyone?

Meanwhile, we took to Magnum Sal. Again, this was a first-play for us all, and my prior reading of the rules served me well: I don't think in retrospect we got ANY of the rules wrong, which is an achievement of sorts.

The game itself felt OK: a swift action-selection mechanic with leapfrog-type worker placement in the mines (having just picked up Freya's Folly, I'd like to see how that contrasts) and helping-hand 'tools'. However, there were room for a couple of criticisms, the queue-jumping 'Privilege' tool being one, and the fact that we found ourselves rapidly running out of viable actions in the endgame another. But it felt well-balanced for three, and there was an interesting 'beat-up-the-leader' twist in the open money (=VPs). Tony claims to like this one too, so we'll certainly play it again.

If my memory serves me correctly, the game of Rococo was over so quickly that there was time for ANOTHER game of Machi Koro at the other end of the table. I'd like to say that Keith won, if only because he hadn't won anything else. And then we all joined together for a quick and noisy session Dobble to finish the evening. Phew!
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Sun Jan 11, 2015 11:45 am
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