John Shepherd(MrShep)United Kingdom
It's Button Shy’s BGOTM Club package for March!
Which arrived last week.
But at least the first two letters of the month were right this time!
Annnnnd….. It’s a bit of a return to form, this one, after that slightly fallow BGOTMC period that I was
whinging aboutcommentating upon not so long ago.
Seasons, a mini expansion for Agropolis. Seasons adds four additional cards to the game, one of which you play wordy-side-up at the start to give you an additional scoring condition to work with, along with a “weather” rule that you need to follow as the game progresses. And at this point, it’s probably easier to simply show, rather than tell …so here’s a front and back of a couple of weather cards:
The remaining three weather cards get shuffled into your deck … and then you begin play as usual … but as soon as you draw a weather card, it MUST be the card that you play next — and then all of your subsequent cards are going to be impacted by that initially-revealed weather rule. It’s a nice tweak, with some potential for very interesting risk-reward decisions around exactly where place those clouds. And new Sprawlopolis/Agropolis content is always a bit of a crowd pleaser
Flipuzzle 1 — Frog. A puzzle, on a single card. Essentially a slightly-obfuscated colour maze, where you have to flip the card over after each move (either horizontally, or vertically, depending on the direction of your last step) and then continue your journey from the corresponding point on the opposite side of the card. It’s amusing for a few minutes … but then you’ll likely put it away and never pick it up again. Still… it’s a novelty, right?
And last — but by no means least: The Evergreen Pass ... my first (and long-awaited) instalment of Hush cards. Which means I finally own all of the necessary components to try the game out!
I did fluff a few rules on this first play-through (which, judging from the number of post-publication faqs both here on BGG and on the Button Shy discord, is not an uncommon experience)… so I maybe shouldn’t pass any first-impressions judgement quite yet. But it’s definitely interesting. In a good way. Euro-leaning tower defence … with a couple of clever/elegant spacial things going on which are maybe a bit deeper than they first seem. I’ll certainly be keen to see how this one stands up to repeat plays and evolves with future BGOTM packages
It's a blog on a board-gaming site. Pretty safe bet it'll be about board games then...
Archive for First Impressions
- [+] Dice rolls
“Try-before-you-back” Tabletop Simulator / Tabletopia game implementations seem to be a pretty common feature of crowdfunding campaigns these days. But they’ve never really been a thing that I’ve considered using before. Not in any practical sense, at least.
The way I see it is this: putting a completely unknown quantity in front of your gaming friends — e.g. a Tabletopia version of a game that you’ve never even played yourself — is a pretty big ask. People’s gaming time is precious … and a group’s willingness to learn new games can be low. It’s best not to squander such opportunities on anything less than a pretty safe bet.
But self-tabletopia-demoing a solo game? Or a game which — at the very least — has a pretty convincing-looking solo variant that you cand work through all by yourself? Well… yep… that seems eminently do-able
And that’s how I found myself sitting in front of a virtual copy of the latest Uwe Rosenberg hotness, Oranienburger Kanal, last night.
…and it was a pretty good experience. Not an ideal experience — it’s a heavy game, with lots of card effects and interactions that you need to keep track of … which meant a lot of zooming in and out on components, and dipping in and out of a PDF card effect glossary — a process that I think would’ve been so much smoother with a physical copy of the game in front of me. Plus… the tabletopia implementation of the game’s resource wheel is annoyingly twitchy/fiddly/over-sensitive (on my machine, at least!) … but these are flaws in the tabletopia medium, NOT in the game itself. The game itself seems like a very fine one indeed!
As is usual with Rosenberg games, many of Oranienburger Kanal’s mechanisms are iterations of things that Uwe used in earlier titles, and fans will have a pretty good idea of the paths that brought the designer to this particular destination. It’s certainly got a little bit of a Nova Luna thing going on with it; it’s about putting tiles down (let’s not get too hung up on the fact that the “tiles” are actually cards — Oranienburger Kanal is definitely a tile-laying game in spirit!), and then surrounding those tiles with other tiles — of very specific types — in order to activate building functions to optimum effect. In this particular evolution of the formula, there are two very different types of tile involved, and two different “dimensions” of adjacency: sure, buildings can be placed next to each other, and choices on what sits where will greatly effect how efficiently buildings work together — but sandwiched between the buildings is a separate grid of slimmer tiles representing transport routes (roads… railways… canals and “paths”). Completely encircling a building with these “routes” is what initially triggers the building’s effect … but the exact types of route used, the kind of position you selected when placing the building on your board, and various other aspects of the current game-state will affect it’s function and pay-out… with every building in the game (there are multiple alternative decks shipping with the game at launch) boasting some kind of unique feature/interaction.
Plus… there’s worker placement. Tight, super-lean worker placement at that! And resource conversion (this is no draft-for-free game; everything to want to build in this game will require appropriate resources to be spent). And the resource wheels of glass road make a long-overdue re-appearance (i.e. nudge the wheel one segment to consume 1 instance of all your “basic” materials and automatically generate 1 each of all of your “enhanced” materials). And I haven’t even mentioned the “bridge” pieces that you can add to your tableau to activate buildings a second time … which adds an additional spatial optimisation puzzle around placing high-value production buildings next to each other, so that they both benefit from the proximity of the same bridge.
Is this starting to sound a bit like there’s a awful lot of crunchy, puzzly, heavy things to like in Oranienburger Kanal? Yes? …. well… that’s because there is a lot of crunchy, puzzly, heavy things to like in Oranienburger Kanal. (And… I’ve only tried the solo game so far … I’m scared to even think about how the competition for key worker placement spaces / the inevitable race for popular buildings will dial things way up past 11 in the two-player version!!)
So, yeah… I’m looking forward to this being released. I’m not sure that I’ll rush back to the tabletopia version — because, as mentioned previously, it’s a bit of a pain in the backside to play that way, and I kind of want to save myself for the real thing — but there’s clearly a good game on the way here. I’m very happy to have backed it.
- [+] Dice rolls
Yesterday was St Georges Day … and (unsurprisingly!) we were on our travels again. I definitely have a tale to tell about St Georges Day. A tale which -- while NOT immediately board game related -- is well worth telling, and I’m sure I can turn into a tenuous-theme-of-the-day post if I really put my mind to it. However, for technical reasons, it may be a day or two before I can lay my hands on an appropriate photograph to accompany said story. And this is definitely the kind of post which needs an appropriate accompanying photograph … if only to convince myself that it wasn’t all just some kind of weird, semi-hallucinogenic fever dream. So… look forward to that one landing.
And In the mean time… a mid-journey stop-off at the ruined roman town of Letocetum (in the present-day village of Wall, in Staffordshire) reminded me that I haven’t told you anything about that copy of Rome & Roll that I picked up in the AireCon maths trade last month, have I?
The remains of Letocetum comprise a bath house, and a mansio; a pair of buildings which seem to have functioned like something of a 1st century motorway service station, situated — as they were — just off the junction of two major roman roads (Watling Street and Ryknild Street … now the A38); a prime situation to offer essential services to passing travellers. And looking at the interlocking geometric outlines of the various foundations on the site, and how they’d been cunningly arranged around the slope of the land, I couldn’t help but think of the central board from Rome & Roll … and that game’s core puzzle of strategically slotting tetris-like building shapes into the city perimeter, while taking account of restrictions imposed by the slopes of the 7 hills of rome.
We’ve only had a single game of Rome and Roll to date, and a single play isn’t anything like enough to get a sense of the game’s pacing and strategic priorities (it’s definitely a game which demands a learning play or two!)… but there certainly seems to be some interesting things going on in it. Most notably … that puzzle element that I mentioned above, which is played out on a central write-erase board. Players draw the various buildings that they construct onto this board — using a pen corresponding to their player colour — and then you have an “overseer” meeple which steps around the resulting city, determining where you can and can’t draw next.
There’s something very appealing to me about having a central board that players sketch out, communally, as the game progresses (scribbling roads onto the central map in Roads and Boats also pushes my buttons in exactly the same way). So I enjoyed this element of the game a lot. OK… some people have criticised this approach as being a bit messy, are worried about their dry-erase components looking less-than-pristine after a few games, and have asserted that a neater, easier-to-interpret effect would’ve been achieved by having building-shaped tiles for players to lay onto the central board. All of which is …perhaps… true. But I do kind of admire the fact that the designers went for this this lo-fi approach. I think it makes the game feel a little bit different to the norm. And a little bit more “indie”.
As for the rest of the game? Well… like I said earlier… I think I need a few more plays to get a proper feel for it. In some ways, Rome and Roll is a lot like a conventional roll-and-write game; you roll dice, draft dice, and then use those dice to progress up various tracks to score points (all of which is dressed up in appropriate roman theming). But that shared central board isn’t typical of the genre at all; it brings something new to the party … and the puzzle that goes on there is a particularly crunchy and heavy one to deal with. Also, notably, there’s lots of euro-style resource collection-and-spending going on too. Which is a good thing to have in the game … but which does stretch the game’s roll-and-write interface to near breaking point (e.g. write down a “W” on your resource grid whenever you collect wood. Or a “J” for Jewellery. Or a “F” for fish… “B” for brick, “S” for stone … and when you spend that resource, put a cross through it. Ugh!). My love for the lo-fi implementation kind of wears a little bit thin here; this mechanism would’ve been far better served by the inclusion of resource pieces (a la Hadrians Wall). But it’s not a deal breaker. Not quite. There’s still plenty of things in the game to love.
So …all in all… first impressions are promising. Rome and Roll seems suitably thinky, introduces some genre-unique elements, and has a fair bit going on in it. It’s definitely a game that I fancy digging into a little bit deeper.
The only down-side … Mrs Shep wasn’t as keen on the game as I was. She found the spacial puzzle a little too brain-burny to be enjoyable, and perhaps the player interaction in that part of the game was just a little bit too mean for her preferences too.
Hmmm. I wonder how well the solo version plays…
- [+] Dice rolls
Another recent Kickstarter delivery — Fjords.
I backed the Fjords campaign pretty much blind. Fjords has been out of print for quite some time, and I’ve never played it … but I’d heard good things about it. (Many of those good things coming from Caroline’s blog, I think?). Plus, Phil Walker-Harding had some involvement in this new edition … and while I’m not familiar with the other works of the original designer, Franz-Benno Delonge, Phil Walker-Harding has a very solid track record. So it seemed worth a punt.
Fjords is certainly an attractive game. Those are surprisingly chunky, wonderfully tactile pieces of wood. The tile art is by Beth Sobel — and while there’s some nice, detailed embellishments on several of the tiles, none of that detail gets in the way of functionality. In short, it handles nicely, and looks like a game for grown-ups. Good marks on that front.
And the gameplay?
It’s fine. Or maybe “fine-swaying-towards-reasonably-good”.
It works like this: There are two phases to the game; in the first part you draft tiles and then lay them to build a shared landscape … and during this phase you have three huts which you can individually place upon any tile immediately after you’ve laid it, to establish your starting positions. Once the tiles have all been played, you move into the second part of the game. In this phase, you take turns placing one of your viking settler meeples onto the resulting landscape, adjacent to any piece of wood that you’ve already placed (with the rule that those snowy “mountain” spaces break adjacency). Keep on going until no player can legally play any more pieces, and the person who placed the most settlers wins.
In other words it's another variation on a “surround” game… one where you communally build the playing space before you start doing the surrounding. Did you ever play that game as a kid where you place a bunch of dots on a piece of paper, and then take turns connecting them up with lines and annexing off bits of territory? It’s basically that. But with nice bits.
This new edition comes with a selection of “rune stone” mini expansions (courtesy of the aforementioned Mr Walker Harding) which tend to tweak scoring and placement rules slightly from play to play, and there's a suggested campaign format where you gradually add these rules in over a sequence of games. These do seem a little bit interesting (we haven’t played with them yet) … but possibly not interesting enough for me to regret passing on the super-deluxe version that came with plastic runestones included. I’ve just got plain ol’ punched-out-cardboard runestones … and, given the amount of use I think they’ll get … those’ll do me just fine.
It turned out to be a bit of a surround-game-themed weekend. Aside from an inaugural play of Fjords with Mrs Shep, the weekend also saw me complete a bit of a craft project that I’ve been working on over recent weeks…
Back when I restored an old, generic arcade cabinet to playable working order (some time in the early 2000s?), I devised a cunning plan to build a series of interchangeable control panels to fit onto it. Control panels (and accompanying artwork) for all of my favourite “classic” arcade games. I mean… obviously, you can get a long way with just a standard ball-top joystick and a set of buttons. But there are certain games that need very different types of controls to get an arcade-authentic experience. Things like steering wheels (for pretty much any driving game ever). Or track balls (for the likes of centipede, missile command, Marble Madness and several extremely-well-thought-of golfing games). Or sometimes things even more exotic.
Of course… I hatched this brilliant plan, wired my cabinet with all manner of plugs and sockets to support this design … and then totally failed to build even a single add-on control panel for the next couple of decades.
Back in the summer of 1983, TRON was one of my very favourite arcade games. I sunk many a 10p piece into that particular coin-gobbling beast during my mis-spent youth. And although I’ve played various emulations and ports of TRON over the intervening years … the game has got a really unusual control combination that doesn’t translate very well at all to modern game pads... so none of those versions has really felt "right". To play properly, TRON requires a flight-stick style “trigger” joystick for your right hand, and a weighted, analogue spinner knob for the left hand.
But finally… with a little bit of specialist part acquisition ... cutting, drilling and soldering … plus a few hours of photoshopping arcade-authentic artwork and getting an online print shop to make me some vinyl decals … I think I have a more-than-respectable simulation of the original arcade experience sitting in my games room now.
Finally, I can TRON until my heart’s content. Just like it’s 1983 again!
My inner 13 year old is beyond pleased with this
(Next on the list: Defender. Just give me another 20 years or so to work up to it…)
- [+] Dice rolls
I think some catch-up posts are in order. A lot of new things have arrived over the last month or so which — for one reason or another — I never got around to blogging about at the time.
Quite a few of those things were kickstarters; it seems like March was a particularly good time for long lost / much-delayed / almost-completely-forgotten about Kickstarters to finally fulfill. (Though obviously not Amsterdamacao. Because hell hasn’t quite frozen over yet. And Queen Games still seem to be reaching down the back of the kickstarter sofa cushions in a desperate attempt to find the money to actually send it to print… which ‘aint a good sign.)
Anyway, I digress. Look what turned up at the very end of February:
TaZmania and Revenge of the Old Ones … two new expansions for Martin Wallace’s AuZtralia. Plus a nice big box to keep everything inside.
In truth, Tazmania and the Big Box were the things that attracted me to this particular Kickstarter package. Revenge of The Old Ones is a “one player controls the forces of evil and plays asymmetrically against everybody else” kind of expansion … a game structure which rarely appeals to me, or to the people that I play games with — so I expect that that particular expansion will likely never see the light of day around here (Pandemic Bio Terrorist challenge, anyone?) … but it was a non-optional part of the bundle, so I have it now. And at least there won’t be any unaccounted-for gaps in that big box, right?
TaZmania, on the other hand, is a new AuZtralia map specifically designed for 2-player and solo games.
Back when this kickstarter launched, we were all still up to our necks in the bad kind of Covid-19. It was a time when it still seemed like a good idea to be considering exactly how many games in your collection were suitable for very low player counts … and this solo/2-player-focussed proposition definitely seemed like a case of the right expansion at the right time to me. Plus… I have very fond memories of playing AuZtralia. Fond memories that may have been heavily influenced by several pints of plum porter on a pleasant November afternoon in Newent. But nevertheless… fond enough memories to encourage me to invest in further add-ons to the core game. So it was backed.
And now it’s here. Only 3 months late. Which seems pretty good going, for kickstarters nowadays.
I gave the solo version game a test run a couple of days after it arrived — just the basic TaZmania map (there’s an alternative version of the game on the reverse side of the board which involves an initially-blank map, and flipping over hex tiles as you explore it to see what you find … but I haven’t messed with that yet), and with none of the ongoing solo campaign gubbins … because I simply wanted to remind myself how the basic game works before wading in any deeper.
And how was it?
You know that thing where I said that the Kickstarter campaign was perfectly timed, given world events? I do wonder if the fulfillment — and my first play — were subject to the exact opposite of that effect.
I played that initial game in the last week of February … just a few days after Russia had launched its invasion of Ukraine. And … well … maybe it sounds a bit daft, writing about it now … but it was definitely a bit of a high-anxiety time, that week. And playing a game in which I took the part of a military force rapidly sweeping across a map and crushing everything in its path, felt a bit …. off? …despite the fact that I was shelling zombie squadrons and leading armoured cars against advancing Shoggoths, I couldn’t help being very pointedly reminded of terrible things simultaneously happening in the real world.
I won the game pretty easily (to be fair: I was playing on the easiest level, and a couple of critical enemy-token-flips turned out to be kangaroos and desolate outback rather than great old ones and Cthulhu!). Everything seemed mechanically sound. And it's more of the same AuZtralia that I fondly remember. But I definitely came away with a feeling that maybe I should just pop this one back onto the shelf for a little while, before going back and exploring it any further.
I’m not sure about you folks … but I’m definitely not in the mood for military-invasion-themed games right now
- [+] Dice rolls
Barely a week after AireCon closed its doors, I was back on the road again … not, this time, for a board gaming event … but instead, for a Mrs-Shep-pursues-strange-customs-and-traditions-throughout-the-land event. This time to see the annual commemoration of Thomas Cranmer — Henry VIII’s Archbishop of Canterbury — being burned at the stake on Oxford High Street. This always happens on the 21st March … no matter what day of the week it falls upon. Which happened to be a monday, this year (requiring a day off work for yours truly) ... so we’d decided to make a bit of a long weekend out of the trip.
On the way down the country, we stopped off at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire... a 150 acre arboretum, containing almost 400 different monuments of remembrance. It’s an unusual kind of visitor attraction; in many ways, it kind of feels like some kind of cemetery —except without the bodies(!) — but it’s definitely an interesting place to potter around and contemplate the things that you'll discover...
A huge central monument dominates the site … (from a distance, it looks like some kind of futuristic sci-fi city … until you realise that all of those dark columns are, in fact, very tall topiary!) — inside of which are inscribed the names of every British service man and woman killed since the end of the second world war.
This is the point where the inscriptions end. There’s still a lot of empty wall; let’s hope it doesn’t fill up too quickly.
But there are lots of other memorials around the park. Some of them far smaller than — but just as powerful as — the colossal centrepiece.
…and I’m not usually the sort of person who gets greatly moved, or upset, by pieces of art … but it is very, VERY difficult to visit the “shot at dawn” memorial without getting a bit of a lump in the throat:
A monument to the Christmas Truce of 1914; "Football Remembers"
And this is the memorial to GCHQ personnel. It is deliberately located slightly off the main walkways, in a slightly hidden grove. And are those markings around its circumference some kind of hidden message?
It would appear that even in a place like this, there are games to be found. Of a sort
In our hotel room that night, we played Skulls of Sedlec. Not as an intentional link to the monuments that we’d seen earlier that day (though the Sedlec Ossuary is, of course, a monument of sorts!) …but chiefly because the (kickstarted!) expansion set had arrived in my grubby hands a few days earlier, and this was the first opportunity that we’d had to give all those new cards a try-out
The merchant cards are probably the most interesting (and thematically satisfying) of the bunch; these skulls award you points for being placed next to peasants (potential customers), but incur penalties if placed next to a thief (because of course they should!). A perfect SoS expansion; integrates smoothly with the other skull types, adds a pleasing extra part to the puzzle, and makes perfect thematic sense.
Elsewhere in the set you’ll find Zealots, which either score you points for every priest positioned above them, or points for every priest placed below them — you choose which rule to apply to each individual zealot. Which is a nice mechanism, and fun to play with … but felt a little bit like it might totally dominate your tactical thinking in any game in which these cards appear. And completing the expansion collection are “Champions” … which play an awful lot like the executioner cards from the previous mini-expansion — except executioners always scored for connected criminals, but each of the champion cards has one specific type of skull that it’ll score for being connected to. So unless you manage to draft a champion very early in the game, they’re less easy to plan/more situational than the executioners are … and maybe a little bit more swingy in the grand scheme of things.
Merchants definitely seems like the showpiece of the set to us… but all three mini-expansions are worth having… because it’s always nice to have new things to pop into the ossuary
- [+] Dice rolls
Right then… the last day of AireCon coverage? Probably. I guess you’re getting pretty bored of this all by now...
There’s a feeling that I sometimes get when something that I’ve really been enjoying comes to an end. A proper, visceral, feel-it-in-the-pit-of-your-stomach sort of a feeling. A true physical sensation, with an accompanying emotion that’s hard to explain; mostly a sadness because it’s all over, and a longing that it’ll all come back soon … but mixed with the warm, fuzzy satisfaction of time well spent. Well… I definitely felt that feeling sweeping over me, as I stepped out of the convention centre for the last time on Sunday afternoon, and back onto the streets of Harrogate.
But I’m jumping ahead of myself again, aren’t I?... What happened on Sunday?
Well… the last day of AireCon wasn’t too demanding. I’d had a bit of a late start that morning (the consequence of staying up way too late playing — or mis-playing — that game of Endangered the night before; I’m definitely not as good at burning the gaming candle at both ends as I used to be!!). When I arrived at the venue, Lindsey & Mr N were in the exhibitor area, demoing Top Hats And Treachery. I watched them play for a while, and decided that I’d maybe had a lucky escape by dodging that one; it didn’t seem much like my kind of game — a bit of a take-that laden, gloom-esque sort of a card game. I guess the narrative that the game produced was amusing enough, and they’ve done the same thing that Obsession did in using period portrait photos to illustrate the cards … but the actual gameplay just seemed like swingy luck-of-the-draw type shenanigans from where I was standing. Nevertheless, the Linsonix clan took a copy home with them on the strength of that play… so don’t trust my grumpy/deranged ramblings; your own milage may vary
We then caught up with some friends of the Linsonixes … (who I shall refer to merely as “P” and “C”, since Lindsey seems to have kept them both conspicuously anonymous on her own account of the day, and I neglected to ask if they minded being name-checked in random blogs on the internet!), ...and we commenced our play of what turned out to be my only game of the day:
Lewis & Clark: The Expedition.
I seem to recall Lewis & Clark: The Expedition being quite the hot new thing, back in wild and crazy days of 2013 … but for some reason, I never got around to playing it. So I was quite happy to (retrospectively) find out what all the fuss was about, and see what I’d missed. It turned out to be quite a nicely-constructed game … Fundamentally a deckbuilder which rewards super-lean efficiency of actions. Playing cards will generate resources to allow you to progress your expedition across the North American continent … but having cards left in your hand — or too many resources to afford efficient carriage on your boats — when the time comes to reclaim your discard pile causes you to slip backwards a proportionate number of spaces on the progress track. So it’s all about pushing forward, but continually making sure that your inefficiencies don’t drag you backwards.
Despite a bit of a worrying last-minute surge from P (the pace of which I think surprised P just as much as it surprised the rest of us), I managed to set up camp on the west coast first, and won the game… possibly because I’d kept my deck pretty lean, and had been extremely frugal with resources. I suspect that such a tactic wouldn’t work quite so well against folks who know the game a little bit better and have a good idea of how to ride this particular efficiency engine by the seat of their pants. So maybe I should just resign here, with a 100% lifetime win record?
Anyway… Lewis and Clarke took us ages to play, and we had a bit of a slow-and-rough start with it (due to nobody knowing and/or remembering the rules, even those who had played before) … but it was still very enjoyable. I’m glad I played it.
I maybe don’t feel the urge to run out and get a copy … but I’m still glad that I played it.
By the time we finished our trans-american expeditions, the sun was well over the yardarm and AireCon 7 was into its final hour-or-so of existence. It seemed like an appropriate time to bid farewell to Lindsey, Mr N, P & C, and do one last lap of the vendor area …just in case there was anything exciting that I’d missed.
And there was something exciting that I'd missed!
Well… exciting to me and my obsessive Oink Games collecting ways, at least; The Firestorm Cards stall had English language copies of THIS bizarre and unusual gaming delight…
I didn’t even know that English language copies of Hey Yo were a thing yet, so this was definitely a bit of a happy discovery. So needless to say, I handed Jimmy the requisite 15 quid and snapped a copy up. So expect further coverage shortly!
And with my small burst of shopping activity complete… this just about takes me up to that strange-sensation-in-my-gut moment that I was telling you about in the opening paragraphs.
All in all, AireCon 7 was an excellent convention … made all the more excellent by the fact that it was a very normal seeming convention and board-gaming experience, after two very long years of covid madness. Back when I first mentioned this trip, I wondered if it would feel like a bookend to the two years of lockdowns and social distancing — AireCon 6 was, after all, the very last big event that I went to before the first national lockdown … and Airecon 7 was the first big (indoor) event that I’ve been to ever since. So yeah… it’s very much seemed like that. A couple of weeks after coming home from AireCon life is … sort of … back to normal now. Or as normal as it seems like it could be, all things considered.
A life bookmarked by big board-gaming events? Well … I guess you could do worse
In summary… AireCon was a wonderful weekend, spent doing my favourite things, in the company of new friends. Couldn’t ask for much more, really, could you?
…and there’s only 10 weeks until I get to do it all again at the UK Games Expo…
P.S. the view from Lindsey’s side of the table can be found here.
- [+] Dice rolls
23 Mar 2022
Over the years, AireCon has been gradually increasing its seminar & entertainment content. Aside from its legendary Friday night board game pub quiz, the traditional Saturday night performance by Pirate-Pop band Jollyboat, the big charity raffle, and the starship simulator, there’s been a steadily-growing programme of seminars by podcasters and youtubers.
…. absolutely NONE of which I went to this year.
Because I was having way too much fun gaming
I guess I’ve just really missed face-to-face gaming over the last couple of years. Between the various lockdowns and variant spikes, the opportunities for genuine sat-at-a-table gaming have simply been way too sparse. I can pretty much count the number of times that I’ve spent an ENTIRE DAY playing board games with other people over the course of the last two years on one hand.
And I wouldn’t even need to use my thumb.
(Or all of the fingers, for that matter).
So … no time for any of that non-gaming nonsense for ME at AireCon this year. Open gaming was where I intended to spend my AireCon 2022 evenings!
…And another thing that I haven’t done nearly enough of over the last couple of years — another bit of our hobby, which I really love — is sharing recent gaming discoveries with friends. That thing where you play a new game, and think “oh… such-and-such would LOVE this game. This is so their type of game”. And then you take it along to your next game night, with great expectations, curious to see if you were right…
Linsonix and Mr N are, of course, relatively new acquaintances. And as such, my only clues as to what games they might — or might not — enjoy were based almost entirely on my readings of Superfluous Somethings (plus a few short messages going backwards-and-forwards in the days before AireCon along the lines of “is there anything in my collection you fancy playing?”). Nevertheless, I think we went into the Saturday night session pretty well prepared…
I’ve written about a few of these games before. And … just for a change … I’m in the slightly unusual (and interesting!) position of not having to write about what I think the other folks at the table really thought of the stuff that I laid before them, as I’m sure Lindsey will be furnishing us with a whole heap of opinions over on her own blog any time now. So I’ll maybe just touch on some of these titles really briefly, and then wait with bated breath to see what Lindsey writes over on the other side.
Could be interesting!
(Edit: find out here)
So, following on from the last instalment ... the rest of the things that we played on Saturday ran something like this:
My first play of SCOUT with more than 2 players … and it turns out that the full-fat version has a very different feel to the 2-player variant. I might slightly prefer the 2 player version … it’s a pretty sharp game at that count …but this “proper” version seemed pretty decent too. I can definitely see this game going into rotation as a regular end-of-session quickie, with a bit more familiarisation.
Capital Lux 2: Generations
I was interested in playing this one after reading about it on Lindsey’s blog. Capital Lux is a relatively simple majority-collecting card game, with special interest injected by the fact that each of the four suits has one of four unique-to-that-suit special powers assigned to it before the game begins … resulting in 256 different ways to play the game. This random configuration gives something of a Dominion/Kingdom builder vibe (in fact, I might even go so far as to suggest that this might be the best Donald X Vaccarino Game that Donald X Vaccarino didn’t actually have anything to do with! …I can definitely see how the various suit interactions would favour players who can “read” the game configuration at the outset, and strategise accordingly … just like all the best Donald X titles). I enjoyed playing Capital Lux — no big surprise; I had a feeling that I’d enjoy it just from reading this blog post — but I don’t think it’s one that I’ll add to my own collection. There’s a mathy-ness to it that I don’t think will appeal to Mrs Shep (who tends to be my main opponent for titles like this); lots of counting and re-counting of cards, and weighing up the +/- adjustments that might (or might not…) be brought into play by your opponents.
Very happy to have played it though. Good one.
Masters of Renaissance
I’ve been banging on about this one on the blog a fair bit over recent months — but AireCon was my first chance to evangelise it to an audience that isn’t Mrs Shep. Pretty successfully, I might add. Though I’m still describing it as Splendor++
Regular visitors to the comments section might have noticed references to me “owing Linsonix a game of Bus” popping up for some time now.
Well: It’s official. I no longer owe Linsonix a game of bus.
(And I think this might even have been her + Mr N’s first Splotter? )
For a while — and given the course of my previous game of Bus at the Gathering of Chums — I was feeling a little bit guilty at just how big a lead I was getting in the game. Was I at risk of gaining a reputation for totally sharking bus-newbies at gaming conventions? Matt Green was a witness to that previous game, back at Newent … and, by odd co-incidence, he was sitting only a couple of tables away from us at AireCon too! Hmmmm.
well… probably best if Lindsey tells the rest of this story.
And finally, something new to all of us…
I’m pretty sure that Endangered is NOT supposed to be a three hour game…. though I guess our experience might be down to the fact that it was a library copy, which we were learning as we played. (Not particularly well, as it happens, as we only spotted one particularly egregious rules error about 75% of the way through our play … oops!)
Anway… Endangered is a co-op game. A dice-placement affair, where you’re attempting to herd various animals (tigers, in the scenario that we played) around a rapidly-declining habitat, and hoping to keep them alive long enough for you to successfully petition various world governments to vote on resolutions to secure their survival. And it was actually a pretty decent game … (once we’d figured out what exactly we were supposed to be doing!). Not an “I’d rush out and buy a copy” sort of game. But certainly a “I’d probably play it again if somebody invited me” sort of a game. Though hopefully we’d get through it a bit faster in this hypothetical next time. And not (accidentally) cheat anything like as much as we did here
1:30am! I can’t remember the last time I finished a gaming session at 1:30am. (Though, to be fair, with the way the last couple of years have gone… I can barely remember staying out at ANY event past midnight!) … but — combined with the earlier play of Paladins of the West Kingdom — that was an extremely satisfying day’s gaming. And there was still one last day of AireCon to go…
[to be continued…]
- [+] Dice rolls
19 Mar 2022
Yeah. I know that I really shouldn’t be putting money into the coffers of evil Tim Wetherspoon, no matter how reasonably-priced his breakfasts are. But I *do* like breakfasting in the Harrogate winter gardens. It’s a vast, lovely, airy, victorian-era building; very steampunk-looking … usually extremely quiet early in the day, and a very civilised environment in which to sip coffee and load up on a full english breakfast before facing a busy day ...with no distractions other than a quiet background murmur of fellow diners discussing the matters of the day, a rattling of spoons in teacups, and the occasional gentle clatter of knives and forks echoing around the vaulted victorian steelwork.
Well… usually, it’s like that. But this particular Saturday morning, without really thinking about where I was seating myself, I managed to land near a fairly rowdy bunch of people. I’m guessing it was some board gaming you-tuber or other at the epicentre of the group, doing a meet-and-great …it kind of had that vibe to it, and the voices were loud, and American-accented. Fair enough; they all seemed to be having good fun, and it certainly wasn’t the lairiest group of folks that you’d find in a Wetherspoons bar by a long shot. But it did send my mind thinking — as I sipped my coffee — how odd it was that such a grassroots gaming convention — in a small, northern British town — was shipping in so many of its “headline” delegates from the USA. I mean… we do have some pretty good home-grown YouTubers and Podcasters on these very shores. …don’t we?
Or maybe these musings were just the result of residual little-britain sensibilities — latent and deeply engrained in every branch of Wetherspoons — seeping into my consciousness
Anyway, I didn’t have too long to muse over these matters; I got a text message from Linsonix, saying that she and Mr N were already in the conference centre, had managed to grab a copy of Paladins of The West Kingdom from the game library, and were wondering if they should they save me a seat? Well… in terms of random offers that can arrive while eating your breakfast, that one has to rank reasonably highly, doesn't it? I was only half a sausage, a few baked beans, and a small piece of black pudding away from completing my morning repast, so I replied that I should be with them in 15 minutes or so...
As it turned out … we spent a little bit of time in the demo area before heading upstairs to play Paladins, because a particular game in there had caught the eyes of Lindsey & Mr N while waiting for me to potter down the road from the pub…
Snapshot: Wildlife Photographer
In short: You’re a wildlife photographer. There’s a push your luck card-flipping thing going on at the start of your turn (thematically: setting yourself up to photograph the animals, without “spooking” them), then you allocate dice to the cards that you’re interested in adding to your score pile, roll dice to beat the target scores (/successfully photograph the animals) on those cards, collect sets, and achieve secret card-accumulating objectives.
There’s a significant luck factor (I had some awful rolls + flips!), with some mitigation mechanisms — tokens that you can spend for re-rolls, or to shore up dice results in advance, and a rule by which you can avoid going bust from an adverse card flip by taking it into a personal reserve — to an extent where I wasn’t massively sold on this one, with some some elements seeming incongruously inelegant/under-developed for such a simple game. But then… I’m probably not the target audience for this one. Lindsey + Mr N, on the other hand, clearly saw something in it, as they bought a copy to take home for the kids
After a quick stop-off at the Bright Eye Games booth to look at Termite Towers (we played a couple of rounds, but not enough to really understand the game properly), another demo zone caught our collective eyes …
The Detective Society.
The Detective Society is an escape-room-in-a-box company, and their demo booth featured a self-contained “15 minute mini-case” to solve, involving players being handed details of a murder victim, three suspect profiles, and a few small items of evidence to look at… then being left to themselves to solve the case.
I’ll not give too much away, because if you see this demo elsewhere (some of the written material made reference to the UK games expo) it’s well worth having a go at it yourself. There are some interestingly-immersive “real-world” elements which require a smartphone (no, those people in the photo looking at their phones AREN’T doing that because they’re bored of the game!) — you visit web sites that have been set up to depict in-game organisations and send emails to various characters to help move the case along, and there’s some very nice physical props to poke and prod at along the way. All very satisfying. And if you do manage to encounter this very same demo at some point — our time to beat was roughly ten minutes and 50 seconds
Anyway… with a morning of impromptu game demos out of the way, it was time for the main event. The previously-promised game of…
Paladins of the West Kingdom.
Oddly, I’ve never played a Shem Philips game before. I know that Shem and Garphill games have developed quite a following over the last few years … but for some reason, all of those titles have kind of stayed a little bit outside of my orbit. Not because I’ve been deliberately avoiding them, or have heard bad things about them … quite the opposite in fact. They just don’t seem to have ever landed on a table that I happen to have been playing at, is all.
And I really enjoyed this game. At the start of each round, you’re given a bunch of differently-coloured workers — the exact mix of which depends upon some card management on your part, and a central card draft — and then you pop your workers onto your personal board in various colour combinations to activate particular actions … boosting your levels of faith, military strength and influence … building your little empire, fortifying your defences, recruiting helpers, and vanquishing the infidels. All of which will drip-feed a steady stream of points.
There was much fun to be had here. But at the same time …it all seemed oddly familiar. At first, I chalked this up to parallels with Hadrians Wall — the only other Garphill Game that I own, and which I can now see took an awful lot of design (or development?) cues from Paladins, despite being the work of a different designer. But it was only a few days later — when I was retrospectively mulling over what I liked, or disliked about Paladins — that it finally clicked.
It’s Orléans. But without the bag-building.
In Orléans you place groups of workers of specific colours onto your personal board to activate actions (check!) … you can take a development action to fill up the first space in those groups with a permanently-blocking “thing”, which makes them easier to fill later in the game (check!) … one colour of meeple is a wildcard that can stand in for any other meeple, but comes with its own special rules and concerns (check!) … and these are just the aspects that are initially popping into my head despite not managing to crack open my copy of Orléans for 6 years or so.
There’s a lot of parallels there.
So I’ve kind of had a bit of a pivot from “maybe I should put
ArchitectsPaladins onto my things to buy list?” to: “I really need to play Orléans again to see if it scratches the same itch”… because I did like Orléans, back when it was the hot new thing. And I’ve got a feeling that the bag-building and variability of building tiles in Orléans perhaps nudges it a little way ahead of Paladins for me. Hmmm.
Great to finally play Paladins of the West Kingdom though, and to see what the fuss is about; it is a very good game in its own right!
(to be continued…)
- [+] Dice rolls
I’ve never had a particularly good memory for faces. And for that matter, I’ve never had a particularly good memory for names either. Not a great combination of traits, those two, all things considered. Plus, THIS year’s AireCon had a masks-are-mandatory-when-walking-around policy … which made recognising people that I vaguely know from previous gaming events even more difficult than it would normally be. So… apologies to anybody who I managed to walk straight past over the course of AireCon without saying hello. I’m sorry for being so useless.
…but if it makes you feel any better, I think I must’ve done 4 or 5 laps of the bring-and-buy area before I spotted Linsonix and Mr N. And it’s not really been that long since we first met. Oops.
Anyway, greetings exchanged, and one short (and completely uninspiring) session of poking-around-the-bring-and-buy later ...the three of us were ready to play some games!
The trader zone is something that I’ve seen grow quite considerably over the years that I’ve been attending AireCon. The first time that I went, there was only a handful of stalls -- just a couple of local-ish games shops, and perhaps a few indie board game designers. (And the the area was completely roped off until Saturday morning!) ...But these days… it seems to be a key attraction, and there are a lot more booths than there used to be. A couple of which are starting to expand out to "big convention" proportions:
One such area was the Hachette board games UK stand … an area containing lots of demo tables, a wide selection of recently-released games, and some of the very best & friendliest game demonstrators that I’ve met in a very long time. Which is perhaps why we ended up spending a considerable chunk of Friday afternoon lurking in this little section of the ‘con, playing…
Trek 12: Himalaya
A roll + write from Bruno Cathala and Corentin Labat. It’s a fairly abstract dice game with a pasted-on mountain-climbing theme … essentially, there’s a regular D6, and a D6-minus-1 (i.e. numbered from 0 to 5) rolled in combination each turn, and the each player gets to choose one of five functions to apply to the dice (take the highest, take the lowest, add them, multiply them, subract them), and then write the result into a space adjacent to a number that they’ve already written. You can only use each function a maximum of four times (scribbling out boxes to show what you’ve used), and when your board is complete you score for the “ropes” (i.e. runs of consecutive numbers), and “plateaus” (i.e. contiguous areas containing the same values) that you've made.
There are apparently some other tricks in the box … envelopes of new content that you unlock in a semi-legacy style, and mini campaigns where you collect “equipment” to help you out on subsequent rounds. But, at its core, it’s a putting-numbers-into-boxes-to-form-patterns sort of a game, with a slightly mathy/statistical bent. And a perfectly fine one at that. I’d happily play it again. Maybe even buy a copy, if I was in the market for a new roll + write. (Which I’m not, really. But you never know. One day…)
Into the Blue
A Reiner Knizia push-your-luck, yahtzee-but-not-yahtzee dice game.
Roll and re-roll dice to determine when you can place your shell pieces, with the intention of scoring area majority in the final reckoning. It’s a step up from your average dice game, has nice pieces, and certainly feels Knizia-ish … but it's very light. A fun diversion, but not one that I’d make a particular effort to seek out.
Now THIS was more like it; a solid medium-weight euro, set in the Nihonbashi market district of Edo, Feudal Japan. You Hire Artisans, trade goods, earn prestige, and try to avoid having all of your nice things burn to the ground whenever the marketplace periodically catches fire. Lovely.
There’s nothing mechanically revolutionary about Iki. You have a single game piece that moves around a rondel. As it travels, this piece interacts with shops that have been built either by yourself, or by other players. Shopping gets you stuff, or converts stuff into other stuff... but also grants a little perk to the opponent who owns the shop. There’s some set collection objectives, a spacial aspect (which grants you a bonus for placing your traders in a “harmonious” layout), end-game bonus cards to be bought, and a feldian speicherstadt-esque need to invest in fire-fighting points before a regularly-scheduled fire event turns up to trash the property of players who weren’t adequately prepared. Because fire outbreaks are SO well behaved in euro games, aren’t they?
But despite this all feeling like stuff that I’ve seen and done before, umpteen times, in different games … Iki turned out to be a real joy to play. All of those semi-familiar mechanisms just fitted together really nicely, into a thing far greater than the sum total of all its parts. In fact, I think Iki was probably my favourite new-to-me game of the whole convention (and I’ve still got a lot of new-to-me games to tell you about before this series of posts is over) ...and I suspect it’s only a matter of time before a copy is added to my collection.
Good one, this
(And if you’re interested in the view from the other side of the table, you’ll find that here.)
- [+] Dice rolls