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When I am not putting notes on paper I like to play. Here are my scribblings.

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20th June 2016 - my week in gaming

Nick
United Kingdom
Somerset/London
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Well, what a week. Anyway, gaming...

Thursday:


Hanabi - 1 play

A single game of this between KT and me in the pub on Thursday evening as we passed a little time there. Sometimes this game just purrs along, but at other times you get stuck quite early on and it is difficult to find a way out. We managed to get all five different "1" cards onto the table fairly early on, but I've learned over our plays that having the "5" cards in hand early on can be a hindrance, and thus it was this time around. With only higher value cards it was tricky to get the various fireworks going, and several times we ended up in positions where either a risky play or a risky discard was in order, and I finally ended up jettisoning the only card that would have kept us in the game. To be fair to me, there were several cards still in the draw deck and I had three possible cards to choose from in hand, so to have it in hand and choose to discard it was a mite unlucky, but there you go. We scored 17, which the rulebook seems to think is half decent, but having managed 24 a couple of times in the past I really, really want to get a perfect score now..!

Friday:

Quadropolis - 1 play

For a decent proportion of this country Friday was on the baffling side, so we cracked open some cardboard to take our mind off the chaos. We began with a game of classic Quadropolis, light, breezy, colourful and fun too. It is only the third time we have played this properly, but I enjoy it as I find it offers just about enough thinkspace to be involving but not overwhelming - any lighter for its length and I could probably blow it away with one light puff, any heavier and it would be competing with other games in our collection. I went for Factories and Shops while Katie diversified and managed to build up a Harbourfront all along one and a bit sides of her board, gaining 15 points. It felt like a close run thing, and the scoring was pretty much even until we got to the Harbours and the bonus points on the tiles, at which point KT stretched her legs, winning in the end 61-49.


We then played our 182nd game of Race for the Galaxy with the Race for the Galaxy: Alien Artifacts cards, and with this play it officially outstripped Dominion as our most played game - for something that takes longer to play that is quite an achievement, but it remains KT's favourite game, and I consider myself a lucky man. KT had some strong Alien cards in hand from the start and managed to hold onto them as she built up her miilitary strength in order to play them to her tableau, while I went for a mixed Uplift/Genes approach. It felt quite close throughout and the final result was an appropriately Referendumesque 39-38 to KT. It was worth it, though, to take our mind off things. I keep thinking about securing some of the other expansion arcs, but the one time we played The Orb we quite enjoyed it, so we might, just might, go exploring in that direction next. 200 plays, here we come!

Saturday:

I am trying to make sure that all our games get at least a fair share of their time off the shelf, and to that end I have a spreadsheet (yummy!) up and running that keeps me informed of what is overdue a visit to the table. Because of this I picked this out for a play on Saturday, and was astonished to find that we had not played it since February. At least the spreadsheet seems to be doing its job. A quick scan through the rules and the various victory conditions and we were off, and it did not take me long to recall how much I enjoy this game. I just love having to keep an eye on everything KT does, all the while trying to secure my own civilisation's safety and prosperity. The military track seemed pretty stable early on, and I was confident of heading on to a decent points victory, but by Age III KT was becoming more aggressive and I could not prevent her getting the Military card she needed for victory...but she could not afford the resources to build it! I was safe, I thought, but she instead sold it and used the next card she took to build (with the coins she had gained) the Wonder that enabled her to move the Military marker all the way across to my side for the victory, her third military win in a row. Given that the marker had started Age III in the middle of the board, this was swift and ruinous...how apt!

Happy gaming!
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Mon Jun 27, 2016 8:20 am
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Duelling Wonders

Nick
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KT was feeling a little tired and tense yesterday, so I drew a couple of quickish playing games off the shelf for her to choose from, and she eventually went with 7 Wonders: Duel. I was slightly surprised to see that we had not played this since February, given that I recalled enjoying it very much indeed, so we needed a little refresher on the smaller details, but then we were off and running.

Through Ages I & II I managed to stretch my legs, gathering Scientific symbols along the way and enough resources to build two Wonders to KT's one, a decent pile of coinage and a healthy spread of different coloured cards. By the start of Age III the Military marker was sitting in the middle of the board, so I assumed that I was safe and in for a fairly straightforward ride to the end of the game. However, it was at exactly this point that KT clearly decided that her only chance of victory was to invade and destroy my civilisation, so, while I beefed up my prosperity by inviting various Guilds into my domain, KT slowly and surely started building up her military, sniping at my outposts and diminishing my resources. Before I knew it, she was only a couple of steps away from my capital, and I was in a position where a revealed red card could have spelled doom. Lo and behold, the next card was red but, thankfully, KT could not afford to build it and instead discarded it for coins. I thought I was safe, but my opponent was too slippery for this - she took the next card and, with the coins she had earned from the previous round, built a Wonder that allowed her to move the Military marker to its final position. My bold, brave (and, I should add, highly cultured) civilisation was no more.

I enjoyed this game very much indeed, more even than I had remembered, and need to make sure that we do not go another four months before KT destroys me again. After all, she's on three Military victories in a row...

Happy gaming!
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Sun Jun 26, 2016 2:08 pm
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Fun and games...

Nick
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I woke up this morning and, no, it hasn't all been a dream. We really are going ahead with this, apparently, but everything is tickety-boo so far - petrol prices up, credit rating down, interest rates looking at going up, bold referendum claims now being described by their claimants as "unwise". Well, at least we have strong leadership and opposition to steer us through all this..oh, wait, hang on...

So where to go for sanity? Why, games of course! Seeing as we're probably looking at the break up of the Union as well (no, not the European one), we played a couple of build-em-ups yesterday, just to take our minds off things (neighbours sniping at each other on Facebook, that sort of stuff), and it actually worked.

We began with a game of classic Quadropolis, light, breezy, colourful and fun too. It's only the third time we have played this properly, but I enjoy it as I find it offers just about enough thinkspace to be involving but not overwhelming. I went for Factories and Shops while Katie diversified and managed to build up a Harbourfront all along one and a bit sides of her board, gaining 15 points. In the end she won by 61-49.

We then played our 182nd game of Race for the Galaxy with the Race for the Galaxy: Alien Artifacts cards, and with this play it officially outstripped Dominion (181) as our most played game. KT had some strong Alien cards in hand from the start and managed to hold onto them as she built up her miilitary strength in order to play them, while I went for a mixed Uplift/Genes tableau. It felt close throughout and the final result was a Referendumesque 39-38 to KT. It was worth it, though, to take our mind off things, and let's see what today might bring...hopefully more fun and games, but only of the cardboard sort.

Happy gaming!
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Sat Jun 25, 2016 9:58 am
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What are EU going to play today?

Nick
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My apologies for adding yet more to the post-Brexit stuff, but we have woken up in these parts to a momentous change, for good or ill, a change whose repercussions are only beginning to be played out. A Prime Minister who is to resign, a Leader Of The Opposition who may well shortly be forced to do the same, and Scotland, who recently voted to stay within the Union, clearly also wanting to stay within the EU. It's all too much and I feel the need for some gamery, the need to play things out.

All things considered, I'm going for coops and games with a low confrontation factor today, as we probably all need it, but how are you going to play things out? Maybe a game of Catan with no trading? Or Tigris & EU-phrates? Or are we now simply a Forbidden Island?

Play nicely, everyone.

Happy gaming!
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Fri Jun 24, 2016 12:10 pm
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Is this just fantasy? Early thoughts on the new Guildhalls...

Nick
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My magic "What should I be playing?" spreadsheet has alighted on Guildhall, which is serendipitous timing. I am intrigued by the run of "new" Guildhall games being released over the next few months. I bought the base game with its endearing piggy cover as a barely-researched purchase when I saw it available at a reduced price, and have enjoyed it very much indeed, eventually aquiring Guildhall: Job Faire along the way. To my mind the expansion is a version for slightly more experienced players, the interactions needing a little more forward planning in terms of how they might pan out, but still a useful addition to the base game. For quite a while there were no plans for a reprint, and yet here we are a few years later and, like London buses, you wait ages for a reprint and then three come along at once.

It seems clear that AEG have plans to push this to a wider market, as they have ditched the medieval pig-farmery in favour of general fantasy dwarf and druidery, that kind of stuff. I can take it or leave it, although I hope I don't have to sit through two plus months of campaigning while various people tell me the supposed benefits of taking or leaving...but I digress.

Each of the three new boxes will apparently contain two reskinned professions from the original game, two from Job Faire and two new ones. While this means that you'll need to buy all three if you would like to replace your entire original collection, it does also mean that you'll get something fresh in each box.

If I understand it correctly, they have also divided the eighteen forthcoming characters into six archetypes, so that you can mix and match from within each archetype to make sure that, whatever you play, you can end up with a balanced experience. One of the problems with adding Job Faire to the base set was that if you selected six professions at random you could end up with some very lopsided and quirky experiences. These unbalanced setups could make for some decidedly odd experiences.

AEG have also mentioned an eighteen-profession mega-game, which would probably go on for a decade or so. Given that the twelve-profession game from the original sets (which I played half a time) used to be called Mega-Guildhall, maybe this new one should be called Giga-Guildhall, or something similar. Honestly, though, I'm more intrigued by the smaller variants they have discussed, such as one with four professions of fifteen cards each that simply plays out to three completed chapters, not using the VP cards. While this looks very much like a pared down version of Guildhall proper, it balances that out by being hugely portable in that all you need are sixty cards, and I think it could be a great introductory game. I have no idea whether it is included in the rules as an official variant, but it's certainly there on the website for the curious.

It does look very much as if a fair bit of thought has gone into these rereleases and how they will play, even to the extent of attempting to turn Guildhall from a game into a game system. My copy of the first new box is already on its way, so I'm looking forward to cracking it open and trying it out. Despite the new theme, which leaves me decidedly cool, I can already see that there's going to have to be some decision making about whether to go wholeheartedly into the new boxes or to cut my losses and remain with old. Either way, I'm looking forward to playing this again, and I'll be interested to see if Guildhall makes the transition from "sleeper hit" to "hit".

Happy gaming!
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Thu Jun 23, 2016 2:16 pm
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All about the base

Nick
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When I first leapt gleefully into the rabbit hole of board games I had a little bit of expansion and promo fever. Some years later I have come close enough to playing with all of them to feel that I have finally had my money's worth...and I have noticed a strange quirk in my tastes. With a few notable exceptions I seem to have gone back to playing with the base game only, removing the additions and wrinkles and going back to the purer experience.

Our recent plays of Star Realms, for example, have been with the base deck alone, taking out all those mini-expansions that have come out recently, and not adding the lovely little promo card that came with my equally lovely storage box. Puzzle Strike (Third Edition) too has been played sans Puzzle Strike Shadows and Hive without the expansion tiles.

And yet there are other games that never get played without the extra bits - Blue Moon City only ever gets to the table with Blue Moon City: Expansion Tile Sets 1 & 2, Race for the Galaxy always brings Race for the Galaxy: Alien Artifacts along for the ride, and we never touch Dominion without the possibility of cards from Dominion: Intrigue and Dominion: Prosperity showing up in the pool.

Maybe it's to do with how far we think we have explored the base game, but I am starting to realise that my appetite for additional bells and whistles seems to be in direct proportion to how much I feel I have explored the core design. The number of plays for this can vary significantly, but it's interesting to see how my attitude towards these purchases has changed. An expansion (or two) for Seasons or Imperial Settlers are on the cards (..!), but not quite yet, and I feel that Puzzle Strike Shadows, which we did play when we initially bought the base game, is waiting to be enjoyed when we are fully conversant with the main characters, even though that may be another fifty plays or so down the line, yet another manifestation, I suppose, of my "depth, not breadth" approach.

Happy gaming!
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Wed Jun 22, 2016 8:31 am
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13th June - my week in gaming

Nick
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Tuesday:

Star Realms - 3 plays

Having come back to this right at the end of last week we were keen to explore it some more, and got three games in on Tuesday evening after I'd returned from work. By the end of it it was pretty late, but it was a good round of games, still with the base set as we play our way back in, and still (as it later transpired) getting a couple of the smaller rules wrong. I remain to be convinced that the sudden progression of the game from paper cuts to massive smackdowns is entirely to my taste, but our play is becoming more reactive as we get further used to things, and those smackdowns are becoming gradually less, well, smacky. I won the first game and then KT closed out the next two.

Wednesday:

Targi - 1 play

Circumstances promised a decent evening of gaming on Wednesday, and so it proved, although we began slightly earlier in the afternoon with a round of Targi, another of those games that has been away from the table for a while. It is a strong and engrossing game, perhaps a touch too long for what it offers, and certainly one of those designs that denies rather than enables, meaning that you know what you would like to do, but often end up simply doing what you can get by with. KT found it all rather stressful and drawn out, so it was less of a success than it had been in 2015, but that could simply be down to our rustiness with the rules - certainly KT needed the tableau scoring explained a few times before it clicked, and maybe that helped my 31-28 victory (although I thought I played fairly well). Hopefully next time we play it we will find it less draggy.


Star Realms - 4 plays

Four further games of Star Realms in the evening as we dived deeper into our own strategic preferences. KT managed to thin her deck out with brutal efficiency a couple of times, while I threw out Outpost after Outpost for protection while trying to assemble my coup de grace. The overall score was three games to KT, while I managed to grab the final one of the night with an obstructive deck that got ahead at the start and just about stayed there until the end. We are enjoying playing this multiple times, and it will probably stay near the table for a while.


Codenames - 4 plays

As we hadn't played this for a couple of months (and as I'd recommended it to some friends) we dug it out and played some two-player coop, partially to dissipate all that tension from our previous gaming, and it was a pretty successful run. We scored 4 three times, which was a pleasant surprise, but the highlight of the evening was our first ever 5, with KT as the Spymaster. She gave (and I guessed) two three-word clues, which, allied to some clever blocking of enemy words, really helped us along, but we were particularly proud of the following: Crocodile, 3. Answer? Pirate, Hook, Tick.

Friday:

Another one away from the table for far too long (it was a good week for blowing the dust off things!) and, again, one that took a few moments to get back into. We used the randomiser app to set things up and played three games but KT didn't quite have her mojo up and running, so I was able to run out to three victories in a row - I don't think either of us was active enough in getting the purple chips into our bags, but things just hooked together a bit better for me. We have over 30 games of this under our belts now, and it is beginning to feel as if we are starting to understand how the different characters work, and that is something I am keen to do. I intend to keep this in the rotation for a bit and then to bring it around more often in future, as it shouldn't ever be carrying a year's worth of dust again!

Happy gaming!
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Sun Jun 19, 2016 11:40 pm
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6th June - my week in gaming

Nick
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Not the greatest week for gaming, but we got some stuff in...

Wednesday:

We managed to sneak in two plays of this as KT was present at her work, but officially off the clock. Although she became more and more on the clock as the evening progressed, it was still quiet enough for us to enjoy these plays, me more than her as I won them both. First game ran out 35-31 as I managed to get my production engine up and running, and the second was a scrappy 29-27.

Amusingly, one of the younger staff had come in to pass the time and ended up sitting next to me asking all sorts of questions - What are those tokens for? Why is that circle red? Why is that a diamond? Why are those cards face down? - so I think he was interested, if a little baffled by the whole thing!

Sunday:

Star Realms - 1 play

A single play of this to round off the week, as it hadn't been to the table for a while and had been sitting on my shelf in its lovely custom box. It took us a little time to get back into the flow of things, so it took longer to play than I had suspected, but KT soon got into her flow while I flailed around, and eventually her Stealth Needle was used to devastating effect to destroy my fledgling civilisation. KT remarked "I'd forgotten how much I love this game", so I think we'll be seeing it more over the next couple of weeks.

There's another "off the clock" evening coming up this week, so hopefully that will provide us with some opportunities for play, even though we are both quite busy.

Happy gaming!
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Mon Jun 13, 2016 10:05 am
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30th May - my week in gaming

Nick
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A decent week of gaming that began solo but then ended up with us getting back into the groove.

Wednesday:

I managed to defeat Forbidden Island on the Coral Reef layout and Normal difficulty at my third attempt. My first attempt (about which I wrote last week) was the shortest game I've ever played, while in the first Wednesday game my adventurers went down after a risky play on my part which, of course, came back to bite me. It all ran much more smoothly in the second game, and I managed to gain all four treasures to offer to KT as she swept past in the middle of her errands. She knows I try to gain these treasures for her, probably thinks it silly, but humours me anyway.

Thursday:

This was one of those games where we were both struggling to get any kind of engine up and running. I initially went for Rare Elements before switching to Novelty Goods, at which point I began drawing nothing but Rares again, of course. At that point it was too late to get some kind of decent production engine up and running, and I lost 32-22.


Thunder & Lightning - 3 plays - New to us!

KT then said she would be ok with something new, as long as it was not too complex, so we decided to try out Thunder & Lightning. I had rather talked this one up (note to self: underpromise and overdeliver) so our first game, which had the traditional amount of consultation of the rule book and clarification of the rules, was over in pretty short order as I swiftly ran out of actions and had my army destroyed on the battlefield. Still, the perusal of the rules at least told me what those tokens in the box are for (I had been confused about their purpose!) - they go on Thor or Loki when they are on the battlefield.

Game two was more drawn out as we started to settle down to the decks and the different abilities. I had thought that having to turn cards over all the time to check what they were would be a real pain, but it was less of an intrusion than I had imagined, and, again with a couple of bumps, we played through a longer game until, once more, my army was destroyed.

The third game was much more like it, a tussle as we built up our sides on the field. I knew that KT would set up a Shield Wall at the front, if possible, so I got my Archers onto the field as quickly as I could and foiled her cunning plan. This game was much longer and more finely balanced than the previous two, until I eventually ended up with the Crown in my hand along with the Nightmare card, not a great combination. I thought I could probably hide the Crown on the battlefield at the back of a column, so put it down (whistling nonchalantly in my head as I did so), but KT played whatever card it is that reveals a whole column, and from that point I was doomed.

We're not quite convinced yet that this is going to be as regularly on our table as something like Race, but for two decks of cards it is a pretty impressive game, and at least it is very portable. Some of the text on the cards is a little confusing, so it takes a couple of plays to get around this, but it is an intriguing game which we will definitely be playing again, and probably soon. It also turned out that we'd misunderstood a couple of the rules, so it will be worth playing this properly to see how it improves the experience.


Hive - 1 play

We finished off with a quick game of Hive, and I blundered twice in quick succession to be killed off very quickly indeed. My brain just was not working at all, but I didn't really mind.

Sunday:


Back to the table for the first time since September (really?!), as Race For The Galaxy had been threatening to usurp its position at the top of our most-played games, so it only seemed fair to give this a chance to redeem itself. We played twice with randomised central cards, Colonies and Platinum, making the games slightly longer, which we like. I stretched my legs in the first game to win 73-52, while KT struck back with her aggressive Militia in the second game to win 67-41.

Happy gaming!
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Tue Jun 7, 2016 11:04 am
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The learning process, or first and a halfth impressions of Thunder and Lightning

Nick
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I wrote yesterday that KT and I jumped into Thunder & Lightning on Friday night for three plays. I had read the rule book before, but this was a little bit of a learn-as-you-play encounter, and it is clear to me now, having read a few more forum posts about the game, that we were playing at least a couple of things wrong. The knock-on effect of that, of course, is that it seems a little unfair to judge the game solely on the three plays we had, although our opinion of it was certainly good, and that we will need to play it again, properly.

Normally I follow a certain process when getting to grips with a game, although, as with T&L, sometimes the enthusiasm to dive in means we'll just go for it. I seem to have a great ability to make KT glaze over when explaining a game, though, so I try to ease it all as follows:

I read, reread and rereread the rule book, front to back, top to bottom (and side to side). There are so many things that can still be missed even several times through, but it helps me to imagine how the main layout of the game goes and, important when explaining, what the players' objectives are.

Whenever possible I write out a precis of the rules, a crib sheet. Not only is this really useful when coming back to a game after a long period, but it means that I can put some of the more, erm, fragmented rule books into an order which at least looks like gameplay.

I then set up a dummy solo playthrough, at least for a turn or two. It's normally at this stage that I find out that I haven't understood an icon, an instruction, or that something is ambiguous enough (for me) to require clarification, and it's also an opportunity to test drive the crib sheet, but either way it tends to send me back to the forums.

The first play, swiftly followed (if all goes well) by plays two and three whenever possible.

Go back to the rule book and back to the forums and check what we've been doing wrong.

It's as a result of the final one of these that an issue I had with T&L has been clarified. I had thought the Archers massively overpowered, but it turns out that they can only attack cards directly opposite and not just anywhere on the battlefield. To be fair to the game, that is how cards normally attack, but, to be fair to the gamers, it's not entirely clear on the card (well, that's my excuse!). We made the same mistake with one of the other powerful cards as well, which makes our exploratory plays just that - exploratory.

Happy gaming!
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Sat Jun 4, 2016 10:58 am
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