For the second year in a row, Mark B brought his Commands & Colors: Napoleonics collection to MidCon and set up an EPIC game on Saturday afternoon. (For the rest of my report from MidCon, see November Derby (part 1) and November Derby (part 2).) The best thing about playing with Mark's set is the terrific terrain tiles that a friend made for him. They really add to the look of the game, while being cunningly designed so that the wooden blocks of our units fit on easily.
This year we had five players, which is an awkward number. So we mixed the 4- and 6-player rules: Mark and I were the two commanders-in-chief, but I had two subordinates (each commanding a section of the battlefield - I took the third as well as being CinC) while Mark just had one, with a floating brief.
Our battle was Vimeiro, early on in the Peninsular War and Mark drew the French, leaving my team in charge of the plucky Brits and their gallant Portuguese allies. Hence my photos are taken from the British side of the battlefield. Below are the starting positions. The river running across the battlefield can be forded but there are impassable hills (left of centre in the photo) and an impassable, but bridged, river in the bottom right corner. The town of Vimeiro is worth victory banners - more for the French than the British - as are Ventosa (on the British left) and the river bridge.
The first attack was in the centre by a couple of French cavalry units trying to get to Vimeiro town. Initially beaten back by British light infantry, the cavalry was reinforced and continued attacking on the French left wing. This persistence put a dent in the British right wing, including the light infantry and an artillery unit, with one French unit eventually making it into the town (just right of centre in the photo).
A general advance on the British/Portuguese left flank chased off some French units and culminated in the light infantry pushing forward.
However, determined French resistance meant the allies' advance stalled, despite French losses. However, the British did occupy Ventosa.
Meanwhile the British infantry on the right finally saw off the French cavalry, but only after significant losses. Then the French infantry columns advanced (thanks to a useful 'Forced March' card) on their outnumbered foe, some of whom were still in square.
And the final French attacks on the British right sealed the victory with the fall of Vimeiro...
...and no progress on the left with the French needing just one more banner for the win.
You'll have noticed that there was no action in the centre at all! But it was a convincing win for Mark's French forces 13:8.
Historically, this was a fine victory for General Wellesley (not yet Wellington) as the French commander, Junot, made a series of unco-ordinated attacks. However, two elderly Generals took over command at the end of the battle and allowed the French troops to return home with all their equipment and weapons.
This was the title of my board games column in Flagship magazine, so I thought I'd resurrect it, 8 years after Flagship's demise. The idea is to get down my musings in a more contemporaneous way - expect things to appear later in To Win Just Once (www.pevans.co.uk/TWJO) in a more considered form. Now, can I manage a less formal style?
Archive for Con reports
- [+] Dice rolls
See part 1 for my introduction to MidCon and the games I played on the Friday.
The hotel coped well with the pile of gamers wanting their breakfast at the same time on Saturday morning. After which I joined a succession of old friends to play games. Bliss!
First up was Fantasy Realms, which I'd not come across before. This turned out to be a clever little card game. It has a fantasy theme, of course, but the key is that your cards are worth points or penalties, depending on the other cards in your hand. Hence your score is constantly fluctuating as you endeavour to make the best combination out of what's available.
Play is simple: draw a card, discard a card. However, you can draw from the discards - spread out on the table - and the game ends when the discards reach a certain number. Thus, drawing from the deck shortens the game. Instead, players could spend a lot of time cycling through the available cards, trying to find the optimum set. The other corollary is that you only use a fraction of the cards any time you play. Which also means you're heavily dependent on the initial deal.
I thought I was doing reasonably well, for a first game, but Angela and David both easily doubled my score. Despite this I enjoyed the game and would definitely play again.
It was clearly a morning for three-player games, as my next was Piepmatz with more old friends: Roo and Tina. This is another game that had passed me by. This time the cards are a collection of garden birds. And collecting them is exactly what you're doing - the biggest collection of each species scores points (the eggs shown on the cards) at the end.
The really clever bit is the way you get cards. This involves the numbers on the cards and some calculation. Get it right and you add a bird from the table to your collection (and pick up seeds, for bonus points, possibly getting a thieving crow or squirrel into the bargain). Alternatively, you may be able to play a card from hand, though this is quite tricky.
It's a clever game, but I found it very abstract - despite the attractive bird pictures on the cards. One I'd play again if someone put it on the table.
We were then joined by a couple of Roo and Tina's friends, David and Rachel, who had Wingspan with them. It takes five, so why not? While David and Rachel, at least, were experienced players, this was only the second time I'd played it.
A quick refresher on the rules - 4 different actions, adding effects as you add birds to each row, goals to score at the end of each round and points for stuff at the end - and off we went. Last time I played, I concentrated on birds that produced food. The idea being that this would let me play lots of cards. The result was that I had more food than I knew what to do with.
This time I decided not to bother with food-producing birds. Of course, this meant food was tight right the way through! Even after I'd added a couple to that row. I also kept an eye on what we were scoring each round, only to find David piling in to it as his last action every time and relegating me to third - though I did manage a second place in one round.
At the end it was clear who the experienced players were, but the rest of us had had fun. It's still a 6/10 for me - a perfectly good game that I'm happy to play.
This ended at just the right time for me to join Mark B for this year's EPIC Commands & Colors: Napoleonics, which I'll cover in a separate post. That was a fun afternoon at the battle of Vimiero.
After dinner at the Italian restaurant across the road from the hotel, it was back for MidCon's Saturday evening quiz. This is run by the irrepressible David Norman and my recipe for success is to be on the same team as Chris Dearlove and Mark Jones. It almost worked this year, as we romped home in second place - so near and yet... Still, it was a hugely entertaining evening, with plenty of banter between teams and with David, who did his usual excellent job. And so to bed.
There was the same crush for breakfast on Sunday as Saturday but this time it was chaos. Different staff on Sunday?
Anyway, Sunday morning was my opportunity to try Tapestry and find out what all the fuss is about. So, it's a kind of civilisation-development game, which is right up my street, designed by Jamey Stegmaier, whose games I enjoy (those I've played). Sounds good so far.
Key to the game is progressing along the 'advancement' tracks. This costs resources, but lets you do things - such as increasing your income, exploring territory or developing new technologies. This is the first oddity in the game: the technology cards are completely random, so you may be discovering nuclear fusion before writing.
Players can carry on taking actions until they run out of resources, so different players will have different numbers of turns. Eventually, however, you have to take an 'income' turn, to get more stuff. Your fifth of these ends your game - though other players may well be carrying on. Especially, it seems to me, if they've played before.
And then there are the buildings (a couple of which are on my board in the photo above). These are gorgeous, very detailed and painted models. You get them when you build/achieve specific things and they occupy spaces on your 'capital city' board, which may get you bonuses. But that's all they're for; they don't do anything (unlike the not-quite-so-over-the-top mechs in Scythe). Like a lot of people, I'd be happy with a decent cardboard tile.
I rather liked Tapestry, though it seemed quite a light game on first acquaintance, and I'd certainly like to play it some more - particularly as there are plenty of different powers to try.
Discussions of what fo play next ended when I put Dawn of Mankind on the table. My turn to do the teaching and we used the standard set-up I'd played before. I clearly did a good job of emphasising the importance of the 'Study' action as everybody piled through the route with both of these. Thus everybody quickly had a full set of improvements and bonuses and then it was a question of generating the resources to score points with.
The photo shows just one more card available to buy, so now everyone's avoiding the 'Study' actions. I found the game less fun than the first time I played, but it was definitely a hit with everybody else.
We finished off with a few rounds of Perudo (better known in some circles as the variants, Bluff or Liar's Dice). I demonstrated once again that I'm rubbish at this (apparently even my tells have tells).
And then it was time to head for home: an uneventful train journey.
- [+] Dice rolls
A couple of weeks after Spiel is MidCon - an open gaming (mostly) convention in the Midlands city of Derby. It's a prime opportunity to play some of the new games people have brought back from Spiel.
I arrived on Thursday evening, in good time for the con's official start on Friday morning. Needing a beer, I hit the bar and found gamers Malcolm and Adam in the lounge looking for a third for Tulip Bubble, which they'd not played before. How could I resist? It turned out to be an odd game as the different colours of tulip appeared in groups and prices were high almost all the way through. Hence it was relatively easy to predict which tulip would be most plentiful each round (and thus drop in price), but expensive to invest in anything. Final scores were low, but I'd managed to stay ahead of the newbies. More importantly, they seemed to enjoy the game.
Having breakfast in the hotel on Friday morning meant saying hello to a lot of people before the con even started. And then it did. I inveigled James Faulkner and Steve Massey to try Vejen with me. This had been burning a hole in my shelf since I picked it up (before Spiel) - it looked like my sort of game.
James described it as a sort of pick-up-and-deliver, but it's actually a proper trading game: buy low, transport goods and sell high. The gimmick is that the board covers both sides of the Danish/German border and uses two currencies: Danish krone and German thalers. You use the appropriate currency in each country but, at the end, both krone and thalers are worth a point each. Thus, if you can buy fish, for example, for 1 krone, run them across the border and sell for 3 thalers, you're definitely making a profit. The photo shows positions in round 4 with prices still at 1 in both countries - note the blue pieces are blocking places where you can only build in a four-player game.
However, the price for selling goods also depends on how far you've moved them. Clever. And then you can use goods to upgrade your storage and transport and add new facilities - such as the shipping that will let you transport goods from one end of the board to the other in one move. On top of this, there are events to take into account each round and goals to score at the end of the game. It is my kind of game. It's no surprise, then, that I was last, James edging out Steve on the third (!) tiebreaker.
Vejen had clearly taken quite a while to play as it was now time to set up the afternoon event I was running with Mark Jones. This was in memory of our old friend and MidCon regular, the late Keith Rapley, and took the form of a Silly Drive - playing quick, fairly trivial games and moving table according to the results. We had a dozen participants playing vintage games such as Der Ausreisser, Die Heisse Schlacht..., Le Paresseux and Pit plus the odd new game - notably Wormlord. Great fun was had by all and Mark B and Laure were celebrated as the people who moved the most tables during the afternoon. The photo shows a fast-paced (?) Sloth game: Ben's putting his sloth to sleep before Mark B can think about moving it.
Having packed away, Mark invited me in to a game of Everdell and I leapt at the chance as I'd not played it before. It looks impressive with stuff arrayed on the different levels of the 'tree'. Of course this has no effect on the game, but it does add to the whole effect. Enhanced even further, I feel, by the addition of a couple of pints of beer, as this photo shows.
The game is fairly straightforward: get stuff to build cards to get more stuff to build more cards to score points. And it's nicely done, but it's the woodland theme that makes it stand out. It's also clear that you need to pay the game a few times to get the best out of it - knowing the potential synergy between the cards. I was impressed with my introduction to Everdell so I'm keen to play it some more.
One of the impressive things about MidCon is how many good places to eat there are within walking distance. Friday evening saw a group of us hit the Viceroy for a fine Indian meal. Replete, we staggered back to the hotel where Mark insisted we should all play Letter Jam - despite being one or two more than the game's listed maximum players.
Apparently the idea is for everybody to guess all the hidden letters in front of them. They do this by standing the first one up so that everybody else can see it. Players then propose a word using the letters visible to them. Hopefully, the chosen word tells people what their letter is and they can move on to the next one. However, you only have a certain number of word proposals. Once they're used up, the game ends and everybody loses.
At least, I think that's what we were playing. I didn't take any photos that might remind me. Drink having been taken, the rules were never completely clear to me, nor, I suspect, to several others. Still, we muddled through until we'd lost (only just!) and then decided it was bedtime.
- [+] Dice rolls
Checking out of the hotel meant a leisurely start to the last day of Spiel '19.
Peter and I started at the Devir stand as I wanted to give Paris: La Cité de la Lumière a go. Yes, another two-player game! It's also a game of two halves. First you place square tiles of cobblestones into the box - I do like a game that's played in the box. These are divided into squares of one or both players' colours and many also show a neutral square with a streetlight. As an alternative action, you can reserve one of the polyomino building tiles.
Once all the cobbles have been laid, the second half is placing your building tiles onto cobbled areas of your/both colours, marking ownership with a 'chimney' in your colour and avoiding the streetlights - as shown above. Having set up a block of cobbles to fit one of your large buildings, it's so annoying when your opponent plonks one of his buildings into it! The crucial thing is that buildings need to be illuminated by (next to) streetlights to score. There's also a bonus for the biggest contiguous group - which made a big difference in our game. This was an appealing little game and it gets a provisional 7/10 on my highly subjective scale.
While we were with Devir, we thought we'd give La Viña a go. This has a central track, along which players advance their grape-picking pawns. In time-honoured fashion, your pawns can move forward as far as you like, but can't come back. Wherever your pawn lands, you pick up an adjacent grape card and add it to one of your baskets. Here we are working our way along and with several grapes already in our baskets.
The aim is to pick the right grape varieties in the right values to meet the minimum requirements of the objective cards at the end of the track (bottom of the photo). These score points, of course, and are then covered by a barrel tile. There are limitations on what you can do at each point that make this trickier than I've described. Plus tools you can pick up that let you break these limitations. On first acquaintance, it's a nice enough lightweight game. That's a provisional 6/10 on my highly subjective scale.
After this we strolled over to hall 5 to see a game that had been recommended to me, Yin Yang from Taiwanese publisher BGNations. This involves each player tossing half a dozen Chinese coins each turn (possibly using the turtle shell provided). These give black/white (or heads/tails) combinations that you use in different ways, starting with an immediate action. Here's my player board at a late stage, programmed with my actions for the turn (three from coins and the rest from tiles I've picked up earlierĺ).
This is the key use of the coins: in pairs as your actions for the turn ('programmed' in advance). As the game progresses, you'll pick up action tiles that provide a specific action, so you get more and more actions as the game goes on. And much of what you're doing is travelling around the provinces on the board, collecting goods and building temples - one element of the scoring is area majority at the end. The photo shows little contention between the different colours of temples - it won't last.
This is a cracker. There are plenty of options, lots of decisions and clearly different strategies. And the programming element is a nice challenge in getting the best out of the actions available to you each turn. Plus the clever use of a unique (?) component. That's a provisional 9/10 on my highly subjective scale. Now, where can I lay my hands on a copy?
A happy few hours playing Yin Yang brought my Spiel experience to an end this year. Time to retrace my journey and head home: U-bahn to the station, train to the airport and flight home. All nicely efficient and uneventful.
- [+] Dice rolls
Yes, Saturday at Spiel usually means shuffling painfully slowly along the aisles, bumping into the person in front when they suddenly stop to look at something. Plus being buffeted by those wearing huge backpacks. Despite the risks, Peter and I hit the popular hall 3.
Or first stop was Lautapelit.fi, where were got to try Amul with an entertaining Dutch gamer. This is a card-drafting, set-collecting game set around an Arabian market that will apparently take up to eight players. Each additional player not only adds extra cards to the deck, it adds different types of cards, opening up new tactical possibilities.
The game's mechanics are very simple - essentially you'll play one card each round (possibly adding other, different cards from the Palace or Bazaar), with a limited opportunity to change what you're holding. The complexity is all in the cards and their interactions. What you're looking for, of course, are combinations that will score lots of points. However, some cards score if they're on the table, while others must be in your hand.
There's a definite learning curve in getting to grips with what all the cards do. Luckily, it's an entertaining and appealing game to play and I can see it being really popular. This is another one that I'm looking forward to playing some more - especially with different numbers of players. 8/10
Our next stop was to have a go at Potemkin Empire with designer Jonathan Woodard (II) on demo duty. The game is based on a historical incident when prosperous facades were erected to persuade Catherine the Great that all was well as she progressed along the Dniepr river. Thus players add cardboard buildings to their village (no cost), placing a face-down card behind that identifies it as real or fake.
The different types of building provide actions for players - producing income, say - whether they're real or fake (since nobody knows). However, the most important action is challenging another player's building. Identify a fake and you get a reward, but if the building's real there's a penalty. Of course, it's the fake buildings that definitely score points at the end. It was good fun, but not special. 7/10
Strolling past the Sit Down! stand, we were enticed to try Wormlord by co-designer Jonathan Bittner, who was refereeing each game. This is a good move as the game is a frantic, real-time scramble to take control of the towers depicted on the board tiles with your worm army!
The 'worms' are short, fat shoelaces. To deploy one, you tie a loose knot and drop it on a square next to another of yours. If an enemy worm is there, you untie it and
chuckgive it back. At first you think the game will take for ever as players swap ownership of the towers. And then somebody sneaks a win! This is utterly hilarious and really does take about 10 minutes to play. 9/10
De Stijl, whose Mondrian-style artwork attracted our attention. Players take it in turns to add another card (showing solid blocks of colour in a square grid) to the table. This must overlap some squares already on the table, but not too many.
Once the cards run out, players score for the number of areas in their colour with a (substantial) bonus for the largest area. The way the game plays, you can't help but add areas for your opponents as well as yourself. You just hope to come out on top - there didn't seem to be too much control. And a lot of thinking. It's definitely not my thing. 4/10
As we had discovered the day before, Game Brewer had a bar on their stand serving some excellent Belgian beer. After a refreshing Tripel, we grabbed the opportunity to play Dawn of Mankind. This is a clever little game of developing your tribe of 'cavemen'. It's a kind of worker placement game, where workers can get stuck, leaving you with no alternative but to take a turn to get them back in play. I thoroughly enjoyed this, despite being comprehensively beaten by the German couple playing with Peter and me. Mind you, they had played the game once already. 9/10
Returning to hall 3 we were able to get on a table at Quined Games to try one of the games high on my list: City of the Big Shoulders. Though Quined preface the title with "Chicago 1875". I suppose that year is a hint as it turns out to be 18xx share-dealing on top of running a company that produces stuff via worker placement. And a lot more, as you can see from the board.
The demo game was two rounds and set up to be non-confrontational (none of us was producing the same stuff, so there was no competition when selling). I think we'd just about got the hang of what is a complex process after two rounds and this really whetted my appetite to try the game for real. That's a very provisional 9/10 on my highly subjective scale.
Peter and I made an early exit to avoid the rush for the U-bahn at 7 and found a tiny Italian restaurant - essentially the front room of a house with room for, oh, maybe 24 diners - close to the hotel. Or expectations were raised when were spotted that the group on the other side of the room were Italian. And a very good meal it was too - though I didn't rate their Tiramisu...
Then it was back to the hotel to crack open the copy of Bushido that the nice people at Grey Fox Games had given me. For someone that's not that keen on two-player games, I seem to be picking up a lot of them this year. Even worse, this is a game of one-on-one swordplay. Oh dear.
We tried the introductory game first - the aim is to learn the mechanics of the duel so that you know what you're looking for in the preparatory (card drafting) stage. This was awful. When we tried the full game, we realised why: the section skipped for the introductory game contained several vital rules! Anyway, here's my board, tooled up with a giant hammer.
The full game was much better (and not just because I won). It's a card and dice combination, with the cards deciding how many dice you roll to inflict damage on your opponent. Or avoid damage you've just received. That's the clever bit: you have your turn to try to mitigate things before taking the hits your opponent dished out on their turn. Bushido was rather better than expected: a provisional 6/10 on my highly subjective scale.
We played a couple more games of Blitzkrieg!: World War Two in 20 Minutes before turning in for the night.
- [+] Dice rolls
Peter and I decided to start in hall 2 on Friday and gravitated to R&R Games to say hi to Frank DiLorenzo and the rest of the gang. Two games caught our attention and we sat down to try them.
Coralia is definitely a game with brightly coloured pieces. Starting with the dice: you roll four and choose one to place on the board, according to its colour and symbol. The next player gets your remaining dice, adds a fourth and rolls them. Thus only the colour of the dice is passed on. Since there's generally only one position on the board for each colour+symbol combination, things get tricky towards the end of the game - though there is compensation if you can't place a die.
Most symbols let you pick up cards of that type and these score, at the end of the game, in different ways. Others let you do things on the board - like taking a treasure chest. It's a fairly light game, though with some clever tactical options. However, your options can be limited and there's noticeable downtime between turns. 6/10
The second game was Humboldt's Great Voyage. This has a central Mancala mechanism for players' movement along the connections between ports. The better this works, the more goods you are able to pick up and load into your ships. The other players get to pick up some chips, which they can use for bonuses when a full ship is scored. In the photo you can see the Mancala spaces/ports taking up most of the board. The available goods are on the right and the ships I'm loading are bottom left.
Each turn takes a bit of thought with the long range goal of maximising the return on your ships. Some ships require specific goods, rather than a generic colour, which is both trickier and more rewarding. The German couple we played with seemed to enjoy it as much as we did. I found this intriguing and challenging and look forward to paying it again. 8/10
Back at the hotel on Friday evening, Peter and I gave Blitzkrieg!: World War Two in 20 Minutes a go. The board abstracts WW2 to five major theatres, each with a track showing which side (Axis or Allies) is winning. Players add one of their available chips to the current campaign in a theatre, shifting the balance and often triggering a bonus (adding a chip to their bag, removing an opponent's chip and so on). Then they draw a replacement chip.
Concluding a campaign scores points for whichever side is ahead in that theatre - thus the losing side has no incentive to close a campaign. The end of the war is triggered when someone reaches 25 points and most points wins. Here's the game with Allies ahead in three theatres, though the Axis player has completely closed one and is a couple of points ahead.
The game lives up to its promise of completing the whole war in 20 minutes, though at a very abstract level. It provides a clever challenge as you try to out-guess your opponent - within the limits of the chips you have available. 8/10
Sebastian joined us at this point, so we broke out the latest from Bernd Eisenstein and Irongames, Pact. This is a card-drafting game of collecting goblins of different types so that you can complete 'task' cards with the right set of goblins. Hence you are either taking cards or playing cards in your turn.
The thing is, you're unlikely to be able to play enough goblins in one turn to complete a task, so you have to leave them on the table for later. Unless one of your neighbours has the other goblins you need. In this case, you can use those goblins along with yours, but will share the points. Of course it makes good sense to use as many of your neighbour's goblins and as few of yours as possible...
The photo shows that I've completed three tasks jointly with Sebastian (on my left) as well as a couple of early ones on my own. Bonus cards (blue in the photo above) held by a player can be used to improve their action (pick up more cards, say), but are then passed to the next player. On first acquaintance, it seems quite a slight game, though there can be some neat tactical options. 7/10
- [+] Dice rolls
Now, what did happen on Thursday? I have notes on a few games I looked at, but I played even fewer during the day. Of course, there were things to collect and people to say hello to...
Linking up with my roommate, Peter Card, we headed for PSC Games to see what was new. The new game was Blitzkrieg!: World War Two in 20 Minutes, which particularly interested because it's designed by Paolo Mori. There'll be more about this one later on. The prototype on show was Rome & Roll, which looks like an interesting game built on top of a roll and write mechanism.
Also on its way from PSC is a new multi-player wargame from Martin Wallace, whose stand (as Martin Wallace Designs) was just across the aisle. Now titled Bloodstones, the game equips its players with sets of domino-style blocks. These are tailored to give each faction its own strengths and weaknesses. Peter (Giants) and I (Humans) sat down to try it with a German couple (Necromancer and something else) .
Not only are the blocks players' units, but they're also how you pay for doing things. However, it's villages (discs) you score points for, so I built lots of villages with a big enough military force to hold off the others (I'm green in the photo of an early stage of the game and have just beaten off an attack by the giants to score the first points). It's an interesting game with some intriguing tactical options, but it is very much a wargame and there's a substantial luck element. 8/10 for the time being.
Osprey Games: Undaunted: Normandy. This is a skirmish scale, two-player wargame, powered by card play. We played the basic scenario, which just involves riflemen and scouts. It produced a really tough fight over the vital victory points, as we churned through the cards.
This is one of the game's clever features: you take a card out of the game when a soldier gets hit, only removing the piece from the board when you run out of cards. Since you need the cards to use that unit and cycle the cards Dominion-style, each card lost reduces the unit's effectiveness. This is a game I'm tempted to explore it more. 8/10
Thursday evening was the Pegasus game night, which has been good fun in previous years. Not as good this year, though. Peter and I were joined by our long-term gaming buddy John Mitchell, but found that all the heavier games - and Pegasus demoers - had been grabbed before we got into the room.
There wasn't much of interest left on the 'library' shelves either, so we ended up with Meeple Circus, which was at least something we hadn't played. To begin with, it was entertaining as you have to balance different meeples (animeeples too!) in odd positions to score points. The tactical bit is that you have to get both the scoring card and the meeples, but only one at a time. This gives plenty of scope to mess with the other players. Here's Pete's second act triumph.
The game degenerated in the third 'act' when the requirement for forfeit-style actions appeared. Plus you need the app to get random (I presume) timing for each round. I'm sure it's great fun in the right company, but I'll be steering clear of it. 4/10
John then found a copy of Tricky Druids for us to try. This is a dice-drafting game where you're collecting symbols on the dice to complete your (hidden) portion recipe. The twist is that you offer the dice to another player. You hope they will either refuse them, so that you can have them, or take them and have to put some/all in their bin. If your bin overflows, you lose everything you've collected so far.
The photo shows I just need one more ingredient to complete my second potion and have only one in the bin, so I'm fairly safe. This is a neat enough family-orientated game, but less interesting when three hardened gamers are playing. I suspect another player would improve things, providing more options for who to give things to. Peter was first to put too much into his bin, which set him back, and John romped to victory. 6/10
Next up was Adventure Island, a card-based co-operative game of surviving after being shipwrecked on a Pacific (?) island. First, you need to find food and shelter... "Hang on," I said, "this is just like Robinson Crusoe". And so it was. A simplified Robinson Crusoe, to be sure, but very much the same game - one of my favourite co-operative games.
So we pootled through the first scenario, feeling confident of achieving its goals. Then the deck ran out. "Shuffle discards and continue?" I queried. No: we'd lost. Oops! The time pressure is vicious. Reviewing what we'd done, we reckon it is possible to compete the scenario, but you have to focus on the goals right from the start. A few wasted actions and you're done for. If I've got the rules right, the game is actually easier with four players: you have the same number of rounds, but the extra person means two more actions each time. Bizarre.
As a Robinson Crusoe fan I quite enjoyed this and would like to give it another go - probably with four players. 7/10
That was the end of our evening. Time to find a taxi back to our hotels (the U-bahn stopped at 11 pm).
- [+] Dice rolls
- 1529927. Pevans
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- Wed Nov 6, 2019 4:11 pm
There was no way I was going to be able to blog about Spiel while I was there - time not spent playing (or looking at) games is needed for eating and sleeping! Now it's over, I can start on my highlights. Given the size of the show, these are bound to be different from anyone else's. For a start, I know I didn't go down every aisle in every hall and there were major publishers I didn't get to look at. So this is my selection.
And I start with the preview night on Wednesday evening. This was the first such event run by the organisers (Friedhelm Merz Verlag), with the aim of letting people get an early look at some of the new games.
I had the company of David Chapman for the evening, playing games together for the first time in several years. The event was spread over three rooms with a games library in one and some publishers demonstrating their games on specific tables.
We gravitated to MEBO Games (publishers of Viral a couple of years ago and many others before and since). They had a couple of colourful games to try and we started with Carrossel. This features a merry-go-round, of course: a cardboard disc in the centre of the board which you rotate.
It's clearly intended as a family game, but it is actually very tactical. Not least because the board turns between rounds. Essentially you're playing a card and a tile to position the tile on the board, aiming to complete your target formation. However, this awards cards to all the players whose tiles are involved, so you're helping other players - often as much as you're helping yourself.
The photo shows our (three-player) game in progress. Note the row of my played cards (yellow) - you don't get these back, unless you use the appropriate card. Cards can be played for advantages like this during the game or kept for bonus points at the end. The strategic element is looking for the card combos and tile positions that score points at the end of the game. It's a nice enough game, but it didn't really grab me: 6/10.
Mebo's second game, Porto, was even more colourful and looked more complex. Play is simple, though: take cards or play cards. Playing cards adds storeys (rectangular tiles) to a building and scores points, with extra points for adjacent tiles, bonus cards and for starting and finishing a building.
The photo shows the board during our game, with cards to draft along the bottom, available bonus cards at the top and buildings under construction across the middle. Players also have (secret) end-game goals for more points and the game end is triggered when enough roofs (orange triangles in the photo) have been played to complete buildings. It's quick-playing tactical fun and nicely ilustrated. 6/10
Next up, David introduced me to Tiny Towns, which looked simple enough. One player chooses a resource (coloured cube), and everybody places one of these on the square grid of their board. If the colours and the shape they make match one of the building cards, place that building (nice wooden models) on your grid. It only occupies one square, but it's still limiting your options for what you place where.
Each building scores in a different way once one player has filled their board and the game varies according to which buildings are in play. My 'monument' building (red) meant I scored points for my villages (blue) without feeding them, so I just built lots of them, interspersed with the odd 'well' (white discs) and won by a point! Despite my simple strategy, it's tricky tactical stuff, but feels pretty abstract. I'd like to try it with more players, so 7/10 for the time being.
Returning the favour, I introduced David to the new edition of On the Underground. We set up the London board, despite the two German guys who joined us later ("I live in Berlin," asserted one of them) claiming that gave us an advantage. It's been a while since I played this, but I didn't spot any major differences from the original. Expand your lines to give the Passenger plenty of scope to use them, pick up bonus points for connecting things and look for the opportunity to enclose other stations in a loop.
I won by the tried and tested strategy of building the Circle line (in red on the photo above) to enclose lots of central stations (this usually only works against beginners, by the way). The Berlin map has the same basics, but different bonuses, and the whole package is nicely produced. It remains a 9/10 for me.
We wrapped up at this point, catching the last U-bahn of the evening into the city centre, rather than sticking it out to 1 am and the promised shuttle buses. Well, it's the first night, so you've got to pace yourself... or maybe I'm getting old
- [+] Dice rolls
Saturday is the busiest day of the Expo and Peter had taken himself off to play in the wargame tournament, so I did the rounds chatting to people and having games explained to me. I did get to play a couple of games, though.
Home on Lagrange is an intriguing card game of building space stations in the 1970s. And the artwork is suitably retro. It looks good ... well, appropriate anyway. At the heart of the game are the large cards representing space station modules of several types. The aim is to complete your station with four modules - and score more points than anyone else.
The small cards are what you use in your turn. These can be played to enhance your station, attack another player or for their monetary value. The most important action is buying a module card, of course. Modules get more expensive with each one you buy, but are only worth their lowest value at the end of the game. Regardless of how many cards you play, you draw just one more to complete your turn.
The game continues until everybody's built their four modules, which feels a bit odd. Certainly players can continue to enhance their station, but the game could go on for quite a while after the first station's been completed - especially if players attack those who haven't finished. Players then score for the value of the modules and other cases in their station.
I really enjoyed this, though it felt quite a light game. The complexity is in the cards, though, so it may well be meatier than my demo game suggested. My favourite touch, though, is the little stories of what happens to your station. There is a different story for each combination of modules, which is terrific.
I do like Gil Hova's The Networks, so I was keen to have a go at his new game, High Rise. The aim is to collect the raw materials needed to build skyscrapers matching the available blueprints. All you do each turn is move along the track on the outside of the board. You can move as far as you want, but you won't get another move until everybody's gone past you - an old mechanism, but a goodie.
Naturally, many spaces let you pick up raw materials, though you have limited storage (you can expand this), and you can also build a skyscraper if you have the right set of materials. You then get the special action on the space tied in with the skyscraper space - this space also gives you a bonus when someone else lands on it. In the photo we've just started the demo game, each of us already having a skyscraper on the board.
The other important mechanism is corruption. Players can build faster or get better rewards if they also take corruption markers. At the end of the game, corruption is negative points with extra penalties for the players with most. Playing the demo game, I made a point of having the lowest corruption. I didn't score a huge number of points for my skyscrapers, but the other players' corruption brought their scores back to me.
I had great fun playing this, even for just half a game. High Rise is a clever, interesting game that I'm definitely going to be following up on.
Sunday is the shortest day of the Expo, which I made shorter with a lie-in. However, I was able to fit in playing two of the three games I wanted to try. First of these was Tony Boydell's Attention All Shipping prototype. The title gives away that this is a game inspired by the shipping forecast. (An institution on British radio: broadcast at specific times to give weather information to fishing boats around the UK. The roll call of sea areas - Forties, Dogger, Tyne... - is a familiar, soothing litany.)
It's essentially a pick-up-and-deliver game, with players moving their ships to fish in a sea area (what they catch depends on the dice) and then to sell their catch in a town - there may be some travel in between these two. You have a set number of action points each round, which are used for movement and the number of dice you fish with. Selling fish earns money and most money wins, but you can also spend money to improve your boat (larger hold, bigger engine etc).
Crucial to movement is the weather, represented in each area by an arrow to show wind direction and a die to show strength. Moving with the wind costs fewer action points; against costs more. The fishing boats don't have modern technology as the game is deliberately set in the 1950s - reflected in the artwork, something I hope makes it through to the production version. The photo shows us reaching the end game - I (blue) have a small lead, but it won't last.
On top of this, there are other ways of earning money, hazards to avoid and, best of all, stories to complete. The stories give a focus to what you're doing and give players tales to tell. One of my stories was "The Footsteps of Robert [Louis?] Stevenson", which had me delivering lightbulbs to lighthouses (useful features that negate hazards - once a bulb has been installed).
The game was just as much fun as I expected and I'm looking forward to this even more than Tony's Alubari, which is due later this year.
My second game on Sunday was Museum from Holy Grail Games, which I'd been eyeing up all weekend as it looked great. The idea is that players are each the curator of a museum, looking to fill it with suitable exhibits. The exhibits are gorgeously illustrated cards which players pick up from four geographical groups.
Each card has a value, which you score when you place it onto your museum board. However, to do so, you must also put at least the same value of exhibits into storage. You can get exhibits back out of storage, but so can other players - provided they swap in item/s of at least the same value.
The reason to do this is that you're trying to make sets. Each card comes from a particular civilisation (such as the Celts or the Romans in Europe) and belongs to a particular 'domain' (warfare, trade, religion and so on). At the end of the game players get points for the size of their civilisation and domain sets - provided all the exhibits in a set are a contiguous group on their museum board. I've got an Indian collection (pink bar at the to of the cards) in my museum in three photo,.
Players start with a bonus card that will give them extra points if they achieve a certain goal, providing some initial structure to what they collect. Then there are 'expert' cards that can be bought for advantages during play or bonuses at the end. Oh, and I haven't mentioned the very useful prestige points that can be gathered and either spent during the game or kept to score at the end.
This was great fun to play - helped by my companions at the table - though I can't help wondering how I managed to get Stonehenge and Machu Picchu into my museum! In fact, this was my favourite of the games I played at the Expo, and I even walked away with a copy.
The game I missed out on (I just ran out of time) was the latest from Hub Games, MegaCity: Oceania, which looked wonderful. Essentially, players are stacking up odd-shaped translucent plastic pieces (shades of the venerable Bausack - though that's wooden pieces). These are buildings to add to the growing 'megacity'. The really tricky bit is that you stack your pieces onto a hexagonal tile in front of you and then have to slide it across the table to the city. I look forward to catching up with it at the next opportunity.
- [+] Dice rolls
Moving on to Friday and the Expo is now officially open. Yay! Cue hordes of gamers keen to purchase the very latest game/expansion. And I can settle down to playing some of them. Peter Card, my usual wingman, was with me on Friday - he had a date with a wargaming tournament for Saturday and Sunday.
The first place we got to sit down was BadCat Games to try Gladiatores: Blood for Roses. The title comes from the rose petal tokens that are players' rewards - taken from the roses spectators in ancient Rome threw at their favourite gladiators. The game is played across a series of gladiatoral contests, each of which has a certain number of rose petals available.
Depending on which gladiator they've hired, players have a starting hand of cards and add more from the separate Attack/Defence/Event decks. Then we're off: the first player chooses an opponent and plays an attack card. If their target plays one of the defences shown on the attack card, the attacker can respond with a follow-up (as shown on the defence card) if they have a suitable card. And so on until one player can't or won't play - using your gladiator's special ability also ends the fight. The last card takes effect and then the next player attacks someone. In the photo I've attacked with a Cleave, been parried and have followed up with a stab: can my opponent respond?
Last gladiator standing wins the fight, with players getting extra points according to how many rose petals they have. What makes the game, however, is the initial auction for gladiators before the fight takes place. Plus the ability to bet on the outcome. It looks a cut above most gladiator games, but I do wonder how long it takes to play, given that players have quite a few contests to work through.
I do like trying games that are clearly not aimed at my demographic. The cover of Smile features a furry creature wearing a wide, self-satisfied smile. Some of the cuteness goes away when you spot this is a Michael Schacht game. At first glance the game looks like No Merci, but there's actually more going on here.
In their turn, players either add a bead (fireflies, apparently) to the lowest card available (cards can have positive or negative values) or take that card, with the beads on it. The remaining players continue with the next lowest card until all cards have been taken. Most cards have a coloured corner and taking a second card of the same colour means you discard both of them. It's a great way of getting rid of a negative card and even better if you can force an opponent to discard a high value card. As in the photo: the -2 red card isn't useful on its own, but it would remove itself and the -5 if I got it, while Peter doesn't want it cancelling his 6-point card.
The game plays until the cards have gone, which I thought would take a while but, once we knew what we were doing, the game zipped by pretty quickly. I had a nice, big, negative score, Peter less so and our demonstrator thrashed us! This is a cracking little filler, despite the family-friendly artwork.
Given the designers, I expected La Stanza to be complex. And I was right. It's about the Renaissance, with players progressing through the six 'rooms' on the board, representing different aspects: art, politics, exploration etc. The main mechanism is moving around the rooms, recruiting a 'character' tile each move and then taking one of the actions in that room. The strength of the action depends on how many characters you have of the corresponding type. Characters are distributed randomly, so an important tactic is collecting the characters needed for the action you want to take. Here's the board towards the end of a round when most of the characters have been taken.
Most of the actions involve collecting stuff, gaining money and scoring points. There are also 'masterpieces' in each room, which need extra strength to achieve, requiring rather more planning. The right bonus tile is useful here and also with the final scoring. It's my kind of game, while not being as complicated as some of the designers' other games - Nippon, for example.
One of the many new games Asmodee was showing, in this case from Days of Wonder, was Flight Plan, the latest expansion for Memoir '44. This replaces the old, and long out of print, Air Pack. It was billed as providing a simpler implementation of aircraft in the game, so Peter and I had to give it a go.
I immediately saw one significant change from the Air Pack: players don't have to order their aircraft every turn. Once you've got a plane on the board, you order it like any other unit. To keep them from being too powerful, planes have limited ammunition and you can only have one in play at a time. The other new feature is the pack of Air Combat cards. Like other Combat cards, these are played to provide special actions or bonuses - and are also used to deploy aircraft onto the board.
The other simplification is that aircraft are generic fighters, bombers or fighter-bombers, rather than providing specific characteristics for each individual aircraft. The board was laid out for the Mont Mouchet scenario, so this is what we played. This pits French Resistance fighters (me) against German infantry who have a couple of armoured units in support (Peter). It was an odd scenario to add aircraft to, but it all worked nicely.
As we started with some Air Combat cards, I immediately deployed a fighter-bomber (using he Typhoon model) and strafed the enemy reserves (see photo). In response, Peter played a bomber (Dornier) that unloaded on some of my troops. What he wasn't expecting was the anti-aircraft ambush card I played to shoot it down! A few turns later, Peter deployed a fighter-bomber of his own (time the for the Stuka model), which took out two damaged units. I promptly brought a fighter onto the board (Spitfire) and shot down the Stuka - there are simple rules for aircraft dogfights. That was a win for me 4:2.
On first acquaintance, the Flight Plan expansion does a much better job of introducing aircraft to the Memoir '44 battlefield than the Air Pack. Effectively, it gives both players the option of adding an extra unit - one that can be powerful in the right circumstances. The excellent models add flavour. And there are also rules on combining the Air Combat cards with other Combat decks.
Following this we bumped into Peter Burley, who had a new prototype for us to try. Rolling Bears is a dice drafting game. There are five colours of dice, with increasing points values and an animal head in place of the '1' side - bears are the most valuable dice.
There are, of course, specific rules for what dice players can re-roll when. The key is how the dice score and Peter has provided two different scoring options in the game. We played Wuppertal rules: players take sets of the same colour and number or runs of all different colours. All players score the value of the dice they've collected and whoever has the best set of animals scores these as well. As the photo shows, players' boards provide a quick way of totting up the score.
The Hollandica scoring option reverses the same/different requirement on set collecting. Animals can be used as wild dice or collected as sets of different animals. This is a neat little game, though it's clearly aimed more at family play. I look forward to the finished article.
This had taken us to closing time, so it was time for beer and pizza and then into hall 2 to find gamers. Our evening game was Space Base, which seems to be a favourite of Peter's. It's a neat little game and I applied the lessons I learned from my last game (see Gathering 2019 - and finally) to win comfortably.
- [+] Dice rolls