The Tyranny of Small Decisions

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Glory to Boats

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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Last week’s trip to Kent* to help generate a new world-destroying covid variant** take part in the Charles Dickens festival at Rochester held the prospect of a few evenings holed up in a Hotel, and therefore… a potential opportunity to play a game or two. But as it turned out, we didn’t have very much time (or brain power) for gaming at all, with only a brief play of one of our go-to traveling games — Keltis Das Kartenspiel — on the Saturday night. Not that I didn’t have ambitions for something grander, mind you… as I’d (optimistically) slipped a copy of Import/Export into the bottom of my bag; a game which has been sitting on my shelf of shame for way too long now, and it comes in a box which is just about compact enough to make it luggage-friendly.

Still… if you take the effort to learn a game, only to lug it all the way to the other end of the country and back without playing it … it kind of leaves you disposed to make an extra effort to get it to the table in the days after you get back, doesn’t it?

So on Friday afternoon, that’s what we did.

From gallery of MrShep


We’re playing the “put the little metal crates onto the boats” variant — as offered by the definitive edition — here … because if you’ve got neat little metal boat pieces, and neat little metal shipping containers … why wouldn’t you do that, instead of tucking multi-use cards here there and everywhere? Hmm… well… maybe because the variant is a little bit awkward when it comes to certain card effects which turn crates back into playable cards again … because that situation now involves scanning through the discard pile for the first available card of a matching colour — which (unless you have rainman-level recall of what’s been discarded in the game) makes the consequences of such an action a bit more obfuscated. It felt a bit clunky. And I suspect that playing the “traditional” way … with much card tucking, and the crates merely representing the game’s currency, might be the more satisfying way to go.

Anyway… the game itself. It’s mostly like Glory to Rome. Well… very like Glory to Rome. Instead of hiring clients, you hire crew. Instead of laying foundations, you establish a contract. Instead of building, you load shipping containers onto ships … there are differences in what happens when a building/contract is complete: the ship sails out to the middle of the table, where players can then play an import action, which causes auctions to happen which take stuff off the ships and tuck them into the points-scoring vault goods section of their player boards … and the legionary action of GTR has been replaced with a much-more-thematic and differently-interactive “piracy” action. Plus there’s some other card movement shenanigans involving a “supply island” in the middle of the game. But it's essentially Glory to Rome, with a weird auction thing kicking off now and again.

My first impressions are mixed. We probably didn’t play it at its best; with two players, the auction part is bound to feel a bit odd … and that thing I mentioned earlier, with us playing the use-the-crates-instead-of-cards variant, probably had a detrimental influence too. On the plus side: The theming is absolutely solid …the relationship between actions and card movements makes way more intuitive sense to me than the equivalents in GTR ever did. And yet … there’s an awkwardness to the gameplay; it doesn’t seem like quite as fluid a game as GTR does. Perhaps because you’ve only got two boats to play with (which certainly ups the crunchiness of the game) … and the auction element doesn’t sit as smoothly in the GTR framework as I would’ve liked it to. I guess for any other title you’d probably say “Well… if it wasn’t significantly different to the game that it’s cloning, then there’s be no point for it to exist?”. But Glory to Rome is perhaps one of the few titles in the modern gaming pantheon where I’d grant some wriggle room on that. Personally … I’d very happily buy a very-thinly-veiled english-language clone/tribute of GTR, since the original designer/developers don’t seem to want to sell me one***. Or licence anybody else to sell me one either

So… mixed impressions. But I definitely feel like I need to give it an outing with more than 2 players to give this on a proper run for its money.

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* Definitely not Essex. (Thanks Charlie!)
** Link: “Christmas Festival may have been super-spreader event”. Oops.
***I do own a pasted-up Lookout Spiele edition. But I’ll be straight into the queue if a new English Language version ever happens.
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Sun Dec 12, 2021 12:40 pm
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Beer Cave (the second*)

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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I’ve had a strange yearning to play Caverna lately. It’s probably Tim’s fault.

Tim is a very nice chap who is currently writing a book about boardgames and the folks who play them, and who came along to The Gathering of Chums for research purposes. And when asked about his own favourite game, the answer that Tim gave was… Caverna.

Needless to say, our gracious host was very quick to point out the error of Tim’s ways, and to draw his attention the fact that Agricola is a better game than Caverna is. Which is a fair point. And a point that you could legitimately apply to every game which isn’t Agricola, ever made. Because Agricola is the best. But all this talk reminded me that Caverna is still a pretty good game. And one that I hadn’t personally played for a very long time. (September 2016, according to The Geek. Blimey!)

PLUS… I’ve been sitting on a copy of Caverna: The Forgotten Folk since around about the time that Covid started causing problems. Making it a shelf of shame occupant that has been taunting me for FAR too long now.

So last Sunday Mrs Shep and I finally gave it a spin. Mrs Shep decided to stick with basic dwarves (because it’s even longer since she last played Caverna than since I last played Caverna, and she couldn’t remember very much about the game at all)… while I went with the “official” non-dwarf-player rule of randomly drawing two races, and then picking one of those to play. Leaving me with…

From gallery of MrShep


Humans.

Yep, plain old humans.

At first glance, they didn’t seem massively exciting. The rules push humans away from cave usage (which causes some significant trouble with really basic stuff, such as family growth) …but grants big advantages around agriculture, adding a few tiles to the furnishing display to play into this.

And to be honest, I wasn’t expecting this to be an earth-shattering tweak. But just look how my final game state turned out…

From gallery of MrShep
(ignore the stupid placement of my first landscape tile. I think I was still half asleep when I placed that one)

I mean… it’s a simple strategy that I played there … farm ACRES of grain (boosted by the scarecrow tile), and completely forego the questing options for a life of making beer in my tiny cave-based brewery instead. Beer to feed the family. Beer for gold. Gold for points. And when I realised what a bunch of beer-loving weaponless peaceniks I’d raised … I managed to scrape out a prayer chamber in a dark corner of the cliff for a few more bonus points too

Actually… maybe I’ve accidentally created a cave-dwelling trappist monk settlement here?

Anyway, you have NO IDEA just how satisfying this little machine was to build and run. I loved this. And isn’t that end-game state a brilliant illustration of just how completely different this game can be to Agricola?

So, yeah. A very enjoyable play. And I’m rather keen to give some of the other nine Forgotten Folks an outing now…

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*Not the first time I've blogged about a Caverna Beer Cave!
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Fri Nov 26, 2021 7:10 am
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The Mines of Killandor

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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On Friday, we paid a visit to Killhope*… a 19th Century Lead Mine (and now a 21st Century Lead-mining museum) in the North Pennines. The site has been closed since late 2019 … but this week it opened its doors to visitors for the very first time since the coronavirus reared its multi-pronged head.

From gallery of MrShep


I do like a good bit of industrial archaeology … and Killhope is only 45 minutes or so from home, so its kind of surprising that we haven’t visited before.

A significant chunk of the site — the huge waterwheel shown above — will remain closed for the rest of this year due to ongoing renovation work … but some smaller surface buildings and workings, an exhibition, a café and the underground mine tour are now accepting guests. And the entrance fee to the site has been completely waived for 2021!

At least… theoretically those attractions are accepting guests. When we arrived we discovered that an electrical fault in the air circulation system had closed the mine tour for the day. In truth… I wasn’t massively disappointed — it still seems a little bit too soon to be wandering around in enclosed spaces in the company of complete strangers if you ask me. So I was perfectly happy to just absorb the gloriously-barren pennine scenery, and check out the various remains on ground level.

It was a fascinating visit, and some details of the way that the business operated were really interesting/unexpected. Apparently the mineral seams would be worked by independent miners (typically: farmers doing a second job) from the local area. Each family would lease a particular seam from the mine owner (who, in turn, had leased the mining rights for the district from the Bishop of Durham). Fathers and sons would work the seam that they’d leased, pay for the mine’s “washer boys” to cart the ore that they dug back to the surface / clean away the waste material, and then sell the resulting ore back to the mining company. The ore from seams with higher yields would generally be bought for a poorer price (presumably to encourage use of the more-difficult-to-work seams) ... and, of course, the mining company would also be selling vital supplies (candles + gunpowder) and on-site lodging to the workers too … resulting in a supply / demand / work-vs-yield micro-economy which sounds worthy of the heaviest kind of brain-burning, super-dry euro cube-pusher

From gallery of MrShep

Over 60,000 tonnes of lead — a significant proportion of all the lead excavated in the UK — is thought to have passed through this inauspicious-looking entrance tunnel over the course of a century or so of mining.



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Struck by the urge to play a mining-related game on our return home, I came up with something of a left-field suggestion. A game which has been sitting on my shelf of shame — completely unplayed — since I purchased it in a sale in 2013.(In fact… it might even be one of the very longest-term occupants of said shelf!** : The Mines of Zavandor.

From gallery of MrShep


The Mines of Zavandor is a Lookout Spiele / Alexander Pfister (yes, THAT Alexander Pfister) game from 2007. The game concerns a group of dwarven miners, competing to be heir to the soon-to-retire dwarf-king’s throne. An objective which they will achieve by…

…collecting the most victory points. Obviously

At the start of each round, you get an “income” made up of various mine cart cards. There are 4 different kinds of cart in the game, with each "cart deck" containing a different distribution of gem stones — rubies, diamonds, emeralds and sapphires. This relative distribution is illustrated by handy reminder icons on the back of each card … so if you want to prioritise obtaining a particular type of gem, you can easily see which deck you’re most likely to find it in.

From gallery of MrShep


Then there’s a trading phase — in which you can tweak your gem collection by swapping cards with your opponent(s), or trade with the bank on a 2:1 basis … followed by an Auction phase, in which you use some of your acquired gem cards to participate in 4 (simultaneous!) blind auctions. Auction winners will gain some combination of victory point tokens and cards to add to their personal tableau (more on this in a moment), depending on how many gems were contained in the winning bid.

From gallery of MrShep

(Somebody needs to have a word with those dwarves about the sensible way to orientate a mine cart!)


The winner of the “Sapphire” auction also gets to guide the king one step further towards his throne room. The exact path that he takes — and the caverns that he stops in during this journey — will effect upgrade prices in the next phase of the game… (with his eventual arrival in the throne room triggering the end of the game).

From gallery of MrShep


The final phase of the game involves you building a card tableau, and investing whatever gems you didn’t send to the auction to add “upgrade” cubes to various tracks to unlock better powers, better income, scoring opportunities, gameplay perks … typical tableau-builder type stuff. Fully-upgraded cards will score you points at the end of the game … along with the VP tokens that you collected along the way, and a third of a point for whatever gem cards you still had in your hand when the game finished.

From gallery of MrShep


Aaaand… yeah. It was a perfectly entertaining game, and I was quite happy to have (finally!) played it. The bidding system works well … there’s a nice mechanical touch in the way that the losers in each of the 4 bidding categories retain their losing cards but have to set them aside until the start of the next round — meaning that they won’t be available to spend them in the upgrades phase. This leads to some nice dilemmas over what to commit to the auction vs what to hold back … and also ensures that anybody who faces a losing streak at the auction will eventually bounce back with a big hand full of cards. Which is nice. Having control over the king’s movement is a very powerful, potentially-screwy position to be in too. So yeah, there are definitely some nicely-executed elements-of-note in this one.

But… it’s not a game that I’d rush to play again. Or a game which — here in 2021 — I’d rush to put in front of other people. It’s not a bad game, and was probably well worth a play back in the day … but I think there are other games that reach for to fill a gaming opportunity of this size and shape now.

Unless I happened to be looking for a game which specifically contained hand-pushed mining carts, due to a tenuously-linked historic site visit, that is.

Well, it’s always good to be prepared for any gaming eventuality, isn’t it?

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*The suffix “-hope” in English place names generally refers to an old-english word for valley. Though I guess the notion of a “Kill Valley” is perhaps just as bleak as a place name which reads like “Kill Hope”. If it makes you feel any better, the locals pronounce it “Killup”.

**By which I really mean: one of the longest-term shelf-of-shame occupants that I still intend to play one day.
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Sun May 23, 2021 7:10 am
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Revolting weekends

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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The start of April brought two modern Easter traditions to the Shepherd household. Firstly: The annual playing of “Oh My Goods - Royal Eggs edition”. And secondly… the subsequent promise and declaration that THIS will be the year that we finally take “Longsdale in Revolt” off the shelf of shame and give it a proper play through.

Well… y’know what?

This time… we ACTUALLY DID IT!… managing to play all 5 chapters over the course of the last couple of weekends!

From gallery of MrShep


In brief: Longsdale in Revolt is a 5-chapter “campaign” expansion for Oh My Goods (the original version, not the Easter remix). You play the game 5 times, and each time you play you get an “event deck” to guide the course of that particular play through. The event deck — from which you flip a card before every round of the game — reveals an unfolding background narrative, gives you game-specific objectives, and introduces new building types and character cards as the campaign progresses.

From gallery of MrShep

(not a spoiler! …this is the first card you’ll see in chapter 1)


At first, this all seems to be very ambitious and clever. But a couple of games in, you kind of realise that the chapters all follow a VERY similar formula; you’ll be set things-to-collect-to-avoid-a-game-losing-penalty at the start of each game (e.g. the food target, shown above), and then — within a couple of rounds — you’ll flip another card which introduces a new kind of building which will help you gather exactly what’s just been asked for.

Which is fine… but it kind of feels a bit like playing a video game tutorial. You know those video games where you unlock some new feature at the start of each level, and then you play a mission that’s tailored to the exact tool that you’ve just been given? And as you progress, you realise that this "tutorial" phase is actually maybe 80% of the full game?

This is essentially that. In card game form.

The accompanying narrative does have a tiny bit of branching in it … but only in a very inconsequential manner (unless I missed something obvious, you make 2 plot-affecting decisions in the entire campaign — both of which introduce very minor mechanical alterations and then bounce you back onto the same core storyline). It does feel like there was a bit of a lost opportunity there.

Nevertheless, the package is cheap and cheerful, it did keep us amused, and the campaign was compelling enough for us to want to play through to the end. It didn’t inspire me to rush out and immediately buy Escape to Canyon Brook (the sequel) to see what happens next … and it kind of feels like we’ve now played a sufficient amount of Oh My Goods for the time being. But, credit where it’s due, simply keeping us hooked for the duration of a campaign is a bit of an achievement for any game. It definitely did something right.

And I kind of expect that I’ll pick up a copy of Canyon Brook sooner or later. If only to have a new thing on the Shelf of Shame to nag me next Easter

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Wed Apr 21, 2021 7:10 am
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The smell of April

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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Does a thing that you really bought with the intention of playing with multiple players still, spiritually, sit on your shelf of shame if you’ve only ever managed to play the solo version?

Maybe. I got a copy of Petrichor back in a sale, in mid-2019 … and although it then went into my game bag for a couple of trips to Newcastle Gamers, I could never raise enough enthusiasm amongst the crowd there to get it played. So -- apart from a short dalliance with the solo version -- it’s stayed on the shelf.

From gallery of MrShep


...Until yesterday, that is. When Mrs Shep spotted it on said shelf, and expressed an interest. (“Nature” boardgames definitely seem to be a thing that appeals to Mrs Shep at the moment). And… well… it doesn’t take much to goad me into playing a game when somebody expresses a random interest in something in my collection. Especially if it’s been sitting on the shelf-of-almost-shame for so many months

From gallery of MrShep


For those of you who haven’t encountered Petrichor before… it’s a bit of an odd one. You play cards from your hand which depict an assortment of weather conditions (which I didn’t really manage to get into the photos here, oops!) … which allow you to load raindrops into little cardboard “clouds”, nudge them around a modular board depicting various types of crop, and then rain your drops down on the aforementioned crops to score points. There are some clever thematic things about two clouds merging into one whenever they collide — often increasing the payload of the “merged” cloud to a point where they’re likely to burst and instantly disgorge their entire contents onto the land below … and all the different crops have their own quirky rules on how scoring works and how and when it would be advantageous to have your particular raindrops sitting on them. Plus, there’s a sort of meta-game that you play each round where every card played allows to you to vote for bigger, significantly-game-state-influencing weather effect at the end of the round, and some clever risk/reward pacing stuff which allows you to play 2 moves a turn, but only by burning through your hand at a faster rate … which cranks up the thinkiness by an order of magnitude.

From gallery of MrShep


It was good fun. It is, fundamentally, area-control-with-all-that-that-entails (a core mechanism which can be a bit hit or miss for me!) … but done in a very unique way … and a bit less mean than I was expecting from the rules read-through and the solo game. I hadn't anticipated the way that many of the opportunities that you get to mess with your opponent tend to play out in a tit-for-tat sort of way -- if I do something super-mean to you, then you can often instantly revert that super-mean-ness on your next move -- unless I've put in some solid groundwork to cover myself. Which is, really, just as it should be in a game like this.

It’s a shame that I never got to play this with the Newcastle crowd; it doesn’t run for too long, and I think they would’ve liked it. But sadly… I’ve got some real corkers sitting on my shelf-of-opportunity for when we do get back to face-to-face gaming … and, although Petrichor ‘aint a bad game at all … there’s the cream of a year-and-a-half of other acquisitions that I’m way more eager to put in front of those folks first. And their appetite for learning new stuff only stretches so far …so it’s likely going back onto a shelf-of-something-or-other for at least a little bit longer.

But… one day…

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Sun Apr 4, 2021 1:33 pm
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Ludum in armarium

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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Back in November 2018, I bought a copy of Concordia. I didn’t have a compellingly-desperate need to buy Concordia …because Owain owns a copy (along with all the maps, add-ons, bells and whistles) and it gets relatively frequent plays amongst our regular group. But a bunch of cheap copies of the game washed up on Amazon around the time of Concordia Venus’s release (hopefully because PD Verlag were repositioning Venus as the intended jumping-on point for folks, and NOT because it was an early example of amazon-distributed forgeries!), so I thought I might as well seize the opportunity, and get myself one of those. Because Concordia is — I think — an extremely solid design, and likely to be one of the enduring euro game releases of the last decade … definitely worth a spot in any “collector’s” collection.

So I bought it. And it arrived. And it went in a cupboard… as games often do. And although I’ve played Concordia umpteen times since November 2018, it would appear that none of those plays have involved my own copy. ...As proven when I spotted the box sitting on the shelf, popped it open (out of curiosity) …and discovered that I hadn’t even punched it out yet! laugh

Naturally, a piece-sorting, punching-out and bagging session quickly ensued … drawing the attention of Mrs Shep.

“Is that new?”

“….urm… not really. It came out nearly a decade ago. And this copy has been sitting in my cupboard for a couple of years, ‘cos we usually play Owain’s copy. It’s an excellent game though. Bit of a classic. You should definitely try it at some point”


Well… one thing led to another, and…

From gallery of MrShep


…Concordia got a played on Saturday

You can see from the board that it very much wasn’t a high-interaction game; Mrs Shep went off in one direction, and — since it was a learning game for her — I thought I’d head off in the other direction and not interfere too much. But she very much enjoyed the experience, and is extremely keen to play again. Happy days!

The Italy map feels way too loose for 2 players though (albeit good for teaching the game on) — and since it looks like further domestic plays of Concordia are now very much on the cards, perhaps this would be a good opportunity (/excuse) to go shopping for one of the more constrained expansions…

Britannia perhaps? Or Aegyptus/Creta? … decisions decisions!

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Postscript: I just found this post in the archives. Check out that first comment. blush
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Mon Mar 29, 2021 6:10 am
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Block-a-hula baby.

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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As mooted, my almost-a-year-old copy of Age of Steam: Hawaiian Islands got an inaugural play yesterday! And while it might’ve taken me slightly over a year to get it played … I’m pretty sure that I at least put the board onto the table before the 1-year period was over (i.e. the day before I played it). So that’s a slightly lesser degree of shelf-of-shame shame that might’ve otherwise been appropriate. Urm. Isn’t it?

From gallery of MrShep
The set-up.


This one is definitely a bit of an oddity. Firstly: it’s a train game without railway tracks. And, for that matter, a train game without any actual trains either. So instead of the track-building phase of your typical AoS game, you claim one (or — if you take the more expensive, limited-availability engineering action: “two”) of the pre-defined transport routes between the various islands, which then becomes yours to use.

Secondly: winning the game isn’t specifically about getting blocks delivered to destinations and earning pots of cash through doing so. (Well… it kind of is… but only as a means to an end). Instead, it’s all about using specific routes to convey specific colours.

How? Well... at the start of the game — as depicted above — each route has a number of random blocks attached to it. So, for example, that route heading westward out of the Big Island, and then curving north has 3 cubes on it … blue, red and red. Each time you use this route to shift a block that matches one of these colours, you move the corresponding block from the route. So if I shipped the red block from the Big Island up to the north-west end of the board, taking this route, I would also clear the first red block from that route. But then I've got to find a way to steer a different red (and a blue) consignment through that same route to clear the remaining blocks away.

Your objective is to remove every block from every route. Within 10 rounds. Using only-slightly-changed-from-normal Age of Steam rules. And with the colours that each island accepts denoted by the (initially-randomly-seeded) coloured discs.

If you thought that this sounds a bit like a mind-bendingly-difficult logic puzzle … you’d not be wrong. It might even be an unsolvable mind-bendingly-difficult logic puzzle with certain configurations -- I’m convinced that the cubes which came out for my configuration were particularly awkward. To an extent where I had 4 or 5 false starts before I made an opening move that I was even vaguely happy with ...and then had SEVERAL rewinds during the course of the game to avoid a death-spiral into bankruptcy.

It’s hard. Very hard.

From gallery of MrShep
The aftermath.


For all the fudging and rewinds, I still didn’t win — there were several cubes left on routes by the time I finished my 10th turn. (And, truth be told, with all the rewinding and replays, I’m more than a little bit suspicious that I totally failed to advance the round counter at one point… which would make this an even bigger loss than it looks here!)

I can’t honestly say that I’m raring to go back and try this one again; I’ve enjoyed the Cuba and Barbados solo maps an awful lot more than this one. Hawaii maybe veers a little bit too far towards the hardcore-logic-puzzle / not-really-the-same-game end of the scale for me. But still … there’s one fewer item taunting me from the shelf of shame this morning. So I’m feeling like I at least accomplished something here.

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Sun Mar 14, 2021 8:10 am
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Little Fluffy Clouds

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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From gallery of MrShep


Sunday brought the promised follow-up game of Russian Railroads with Mrs Shep. A slightly experimental play for me, as I decided to hammer the industrialisation track for points rather than invest particularly heavily in any of the aforementioned Russian railroads… a tactic which didn’t quite pay off … although it kept me in the lead for much of the game, Mrs Shep leapt ahead in the final round, securing the victory by a convincing 38 points.

From gallery of MrShep


In truth… I’m kind of glad that this tactic was thwarted, as it wasn’t, perhaps, the most exciting way to play. Though Mrs Shep’s victory has helped to cement this game is one of her current euro-favourites, so I’m sure it’ll be getting another outing before too long.

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And then something completely different: a new escapee from the shelf of shame! — Button Shy’s Ahead in the Clouds.

I’ve had a copy of this for quite some time now (since my very first consignment of purchases from Button Shy, to be precise!) … but having read the rules and looked over the pieces when I first got it, it kind of fell to the back of the things-to-be-played queue, as it seemed to lack a certain… something. But anyway… the title had popped up in the Button Shy “Reprint” Kickstarter last month — apparently by popular demand — which reminded me that we’d never actually got around to playing my copy. So yesterday… we did!

From gallery of MrShep


“The Citizens of the Empacta Skies long for the days where everyone, not just the wealthy, can ditch their masks and breathe the precious air that they call their home. As an industrialist, you will collect dust particles from the air and water vapor from the clouds to convert to hydrogen and oxygen. By collecting, converting and selling these precious resources, you can provide your family with the breathing room that you need to keep your business afloat and go home at night knowing you made a difference to the world with fresh air”

It’s an odd one this… it follows the usual 18 card Button Shy template, but the majority of those 18 cards are used for book-keeping tasks (tracking player resources, round number, and contracts/score). The remaining 7 cards are where the game actually happens, and depict an odd assortment of cloud-borne flying industrial buildings. Your turn involves manoeuvring clusters of these “floating” buildings and disconnecting/re-connecting the pathways between them in ways which facilitate resource production to your best advantage …primarily by parking the buildings that you want to use closer to your home. A kind of “resource-generation-through-map-manipulation” game, if you will.

And… well…. it certainly feels unique to play. And it … sort of works. But the execution feels VERY dry, and the production chains in the game aren’t in the slightest bit relatable. OK, I can remember that the Hydrogen Splitter will convert 1 water into 1 hydrogen and 2 oxygen (cute!). But a “bank” that converts 1 stone + 1 oxygen into 1 water + 1 hydrogen, and then flips over so that the NEXT time its used it’ll convert 2 water + 1 stone into 3 oxygen just seems … completely opaque and obtusely-mathsy to me. Ugh.

We weren’t massively impressed. I mean… I’ve got no doubt that somebody will find joy in calculating the optimal way to stringing all those seemingly-abstract equations together in a more efficient manner than their opponent does. But not us. I doubt we’ll be playing that one again

Nevertheless… another victory has been recorded in the ongoing battle against the shelf of shame!

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Mon Feb 8, 2021 10:52 am
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Friendly Local Game Bonfire

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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Like many other BGG users, I habitually catalogue all of my purchases and acquisitions into my BGG Collection listing page. And while doing so with my new copy of Euphoria: Ignorance Is Bliss, I noticed the following curiosity in the database…

From gallery of MrShep


The title of this promo rang dim and distant bells. Bells about a mysterious shrink-wrapped bundle of cards that came in the Viticulture Tuscany box, way back when I acquired the original release of that game. Which I’d looked at, scratched my head over, and then put back in the box for later investigation. Could it be that I owned this particular promo already, and that my BGG collection listing has been woefully inaccurate* for all of these years?

An investigation was in order!

Popping the box open -- and guiltily digging through the MANY viticulture modules and components in this box that I’ve never got around to playing with — my eyes fell upon the object of my quest:

From gallery of MrShep


Behold! A still-in-shrinkwrap copy of the Tuscany/Euphoria crossover deck!

I have to admit… I had a sudden thought along the lines of: hey, this might actually be valuable! Or valuable, at least, to some kind of viticulture compulsive collector completist type person. Which I'm sure must exist. Somewhere.

There aren’t any copies listed for sale on the BGG page (or any sale history). And information on the contents of the deck seem a little bit scant. So should I break the seal and damage its unsullied, pristine, new-in-shrink status?

Well… yeah. Of course I should. I’m far too lazy to go through the hassle of selling and shipping this to anybody who happens to have more money than sense. And as long as I own a copy of Tuscany …then the rightful place for this is inside that copy of Tuscany!

So, for anybody who’s curious (there seems to be scant information or photos about this item, even on the BGG listing … which seems a bit unusual for a Stonemaier thing) … here’s what I found inside:

From gallery of MrShep


18 building cards -- depicting various Euphoria-related dystopian locations (such as the Center for Reduced Literacy, the Friendly Local Game Bonfire and The Cafeteria of Nameless Meat). Each of which you can potentially add to your idyllic Tuscan vinyard to make it …urm…slightly less idyllic?

Rules-wise, building these locations gives you a residual VP point, but carries the penalty of a permanent thematic handicap of some sort. It’s actually quite a clever way of bringing a Euphoria mechanism into Viticulture (Well… a vaguley Euphoria-ish mechanism, at the very least). But is also… thematically… absolutely stark raving bonkers!

I guess it’s a bit of an Agricola X-Deck/Legen*dairy Forest deck sort of thing.

(Except I still harbour vague hopes of actually playing my copies of those. One day…)

I wonder if anybody has ever, actually, seriously, used this promo…?

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*To be honest... I'm forever finding things that I forgot to list. So the answer to this question is usually "Yes" anyway
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Sat Jan 23, 2021 7:10 am
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A Feast for One

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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From gallery of MrShep



There aren’t many games in my collection for which I can remember the exact time and place that I was standing when the were dropped off at my local parcel collection depot. But A Feast for OdinThe Norwegians, is one of them. By odd co-incidence, I was standing in the ruins of a genuine Viking longhouse, on the Shetland Islands, at the very second that the delivery notification pinged up on my phone. (If you’re curious, you can read about that adventure here).

It happened just under a year ago, in the first week of February. I remember, at the time, coronavirus was just starting to become a thing that people were getting a little bit nervous about …but we really had no idea what was about to come. I likely expected I’d have a good chance to get this played over the course of the next few weeks… perhaps at one of the dozens of Newcastle Gamers sessions that I’d be attending over the course of 2020….

So, urm, yeah. That turned out well, didn’t it? And — possibly to the wailing and gnashing of teeth of Feast for Odin fans who have been trying to get their own copy of this very-out-of-print expansion for a good chunk of last year — the box has stayed on my shelf of shame, completely unplayed, ever since.

Unplayed, at least, until this week… when I was driven to it …by the drink!

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First thing’s first… it’s quite some time since I last played Odin … and I’ve nearly always played it with a full complement of 4 players, and NEVER in solo mode …so if you’re looking for a sharp, analytical comparison of Norwegians vs base game or a deep-dive into how it affects the solo game …then this maybe isn’t going to be it. But hey… I rarely promise you anything more than first impressions here anyway, do I?

From gallery of MrShep


So… what’s different in The Norwegians?

Well… the big change is the central board. The original action-laden board is out, and a new one comes in. It’s modular — with flippable-segments for different player counts, and evidence of a lot of fine-tuning of actions going on. A glance at the relevant BGG forum suggests that a broad rebalancing to make farming strategies more viable has taken place … which seems like a good thing … and to trim away some of the action spots which were (essentially) just there as a “get out of jail free” option for newbie players who had backed themselves into a poor position, but which experienced players wouldn’t EVER go near. So: training wheels off, sharp edges exposed. Again, that’s something that I’m perfectly fine with. Plus… there’s in interesting new “5th column” on the board … worker placement spots (powered by one or two workers) that you can only take with your final action of the round. These tend to give you a bit more bang for the buck (or bang for the worker) than you’d usually get from a placement … but, obviously, taking one of those ends your turn. Playing solo, I didn’t get the contention pressure on those spaces that you’d get from a multi-player game … but I can imagine those being very interesting in the multi-player set-up; especially when (for example) you have the inevitable last-round make-or-break push for emigration actions.

Setting aside the 5th column — which definitely feels like expansion content … I guess there’s two ways you can look at this new board. A more cynical kind of person might say … well, this is what the game would’ve been if it had spent a bit longer in development; there’s a lot of patching going on here, and the new board is essentially a stealth mode fix pack.

And the other viewpoint might be: well, this is a board with a bit more expert-level tuning applied; base “feast” is for the newbies + casuals, and this is an expansion to tighten the worker-placement aspect up a bit for players who want a bit more out of it.

I suspect the truth might lie somewhere between the two.

What else do you get? Well… there’s a bunch of “special” shed boards — one dealt randomly to each player at the start of the game — which gives you some new, asymmetric, early-game goals to work to (I really like these; they give you a thematic bootstrap in the same way that your starting occupation is clearly intended — but often fails — to do). There’s some new islands to invade (which I guess we can expect to be the bread-and-butter of most AFFO expansions). And there’s a small set of new goods + loot tiles to fill your various boards with. Including new animals, like pigs... which feed into THIS somewhat-thematically-odd action space:

From gallery of MrShep


What exactly is going on here? Your pig magically sheds a bacon joint when you take this action (much like his sheepy friend provides wool)…and then runs back to his stye unharmed, and will be capable of magically emitting further processed meat products in a future round?

Hmmmm. Meat definitely worked differently in the old days.

Anyway… I had a good time with AFFO + The Norwegions. Though perhaps not as compelling a time as I’ve had with a few other solo games lately. Even with the tightening up of the actions board, AFFO still seems a bit sandboxy and wide-open to me … or, at least in solo mode it does; nobody (else) is going to block your actions, and you’ve essentially just got this big, delicious menu-of-opportunity to choose from every turn. Yeah… there’s a certain pleasure to wanting to wallow in the systems of this particular sandbox, and chase after a target score … but — despite the tiny bit of risk connected with the dice rolling and card drawing of the hunting actions — there’s just not quite enough jeopardy or pressure in the solo game to make it massively compelling for me and — especially with the hassle of set-up and tear-down — there are several other solo games that I’d put in my gaming queue before this one.

…I’m really looking forward to playing it in multi-player mode though; I suspect that The Norwegians has improved the “regular” game quite a bit.

One day…

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Sat Jan 9, 2021 3:10 pm
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