Pevans's Perspective

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?

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Games with old friends

Paul Evans
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25th-27th February should have been SoRCon (Son of Ramsdencon), a small open-gaming convention in the wilds of Essex. Well, Basildon. While I was a regular at Ramsdencon, back in the 1990s, I've not made it to SoRCon. (When I lived in east London, nipping out to Essex was easy, but travelling from the western edge of London is a different matter.)

Anyway, the hotel venue suddenly discovered it was refurbishing and couldn't host the event as scheduled. Too late to re-schedule or move, so the organisers took the con virtual - chat on Discord and play on Board Game Arena. It's an ill wind etc, so this was my chance to join in, particularly as I knew several old friends would be there. And I'm familiar with the Discord/BGA combo.

Arriving on Saturday afternoon, I joined the general chat as the assembled half a dozen debated what to play. I'd heard good things about Lost Ruins of Arnak, so I jumped at Mark's offer to teach the game.

The first thing that surprised me was that players only have two worker pawns, archaeologists, with no way to get more. It eventually dawned on me that this means you have to use your archaeologists carefully. Luckily, there are plenty of actions that don't need an archaeologist - and free actions on top of this, that players can carry out in addition to their one main action each turn.

You play your archaeologists to dig at sites, possibly exploring the wilds to find a new site, and gain resources of various kinds. So far, so thematic. The main alternative is to research, which means spending resources to move up a track. This gains you resources, bonuses, assistants and, ultimately, victory points. Thematically, I guess this is where your archaeologist is "Prof Jones" rather than "Indy". The screenshot below shows the main 'board' at a lates stage of a game: sites to the left and research track on the right (the big points are at the top with gold, silver and bronze temple tiles to buy).
From gallery of Pevans

The thrust of the game seems pretty clear: explore to get the resources to power your research to get the resources to let you explore further. However, there's also a deck management aspect. You start with a few dual-use cards: discard to provide one of the game's two currencies or to use as transport to a site. (This is how you bootstrap your exploring.)

However, you can also buy cards to add to your deck. These are better versions of the starting cards or bonuses or special actions. Equip yourself with the hat, the whip and the pistol (just in case some be-turbanned bad guy starts showing off his sword-twirling skills) and off you go!

The game was immediately fun to play and made me think - but not too hard. I can see why there's been a buzz about it and was first to suggest another game on the Sunday afternoon.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. With other people available, a game of 6 nimmt! was proposed, seconded and played with gusto - and a fair amount of banter. It remains great fun.

Reduced to a group of five, we were able to play something a bit more serious - and my second new (to me) game of the afternoon: Welcome To.... A game I'd heard of, but never played. It's essentially a roll-and-write, except that, instead of rolling dice to decide what players can do, it's pairs of cards that dictate your options for the turn.

Each player has a board of three streets on which to build houses, filling in the numbers as they go. This is the tricky bit as the numbers must ascend from left to right (without necessarily being consecutive). You have to be careful about leaving gaps to fill in later and trying to avoid being stuck with numbers you can't play. Grouping your houses into estates lets you meet goals ("City Plans") and, of course, score points.

You're also using the effects of the available cards to do other things: add parks and swimming pools, adjust this turn's house number, use a number again (thus 7a, next to number 7). All of these either aid your play or provide another way of scoring points.

Not quite sure of what I was doing or how best to do it, I muddled through to come a creditable second. Welcome To... was another game I enjoyed. It's pretty light, but not without its challenges. And, taking only 25 minutes to play with five, it certainly doesn't out-stay its welcome. That's another one to add to the repertoire. And the screenshot below is my final position and score.
From gallery of Pevans

Reduced to a foursome now, there was still time for another game. And that was 7 Wonders: Architects. "You know 7 Wonders, you'll pick it up easily," I was assured. And, yes, it is rather like 7 Wonders. Except where it's different.

Players choose one of three cards each turn and get its effect - it's in what the different types of cards do that the game reflects 7 Wonders. Resources build up until you have the set needed to complete the next part of your Wonder - gradually filling in an outline. (I had the Colossus and was disappointed that I had to start with its feet.)

Sets of green cards provide bonuses, blue cards are just points (and move the cat pawn and its advantage), red cards trigger conflict and points for those with most shields. So, very much like 7 Wonders. Except where it isn't.

I tried one of my 7 Wonders strategies: collect blue cards. It didn't work that well here, either. Still, it's an interesting twist on a game I like. This wrapped up Saturday for me as it was dinner time.

As already mentioned, I suggested another game of Lost Ruins of Arnak when I joined the gang again on Sunday afternoon. We quickly had four players (it would have been five if the game supported that many). I thought I'd try concentrating on the research track this time and see what happened. I found out pretty quickly that progress stalls without exploration to fuel it. And a deck of only five cards isn't a good move either. It was still an enjoyable game, though, and I'm continuing to play online (it's been implemented on Yucata as well as BGA).

Adding an extra player, a quick game of Sushi Go! ensued, before all those still around wrapped up with an entertaining 8-player 6 nimmt!. I'm sure SoRCon is even more fun in person and I really must try to get along next year.
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Mon Mar 28, 2022 11:20 pm
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That Was The 2021 That Was

Paul Evans
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As year two of The Great Pandemic wends to its weary conclusion (are we halfway through yet?), I thought I'd round up the year from my point of view.

For me, though, Covid-19 takes second place to my own medical journey. That is, diagnosed with bowel cancer at the start of March, operated on to remove tumour (and install ileostomy) by the end of March, three months to recover from op, 12 weeks of chemotherapy, three months to recover from that and second op early in December to reverse ileostomy. With a following wind, it looks like I'll be pretty much recovered by the time I reach the anniversary of my initial diagnosis. I am stunned: diagnosis to recovery in 12 months. Against the backdrop of the pandemic. I feel very fortunate.

But what does that mean for my games playing in 2021? Well, rather like 2020, it's almost all been solitaire or online. I did get one period, in September, when nephew Tom and I were able to explore Commands & Colors: Samurai Battles - as reported in Samurai battles - even more of them and linked posts.

With several regular sparring partners, the Commands & Colors family dominates the games I've logged on BGG through the year. Memoir '44 is at the top of the pile with 55 plays - that's over one a week! Most of these have been on the Days of Wonder app (also available via Steam), which means you can blast through a scenario in 30-40 minutes and thus play both sides of it in a short evening.

However, the app only supports "standard" scenarios - I much prefer the larger Breakthrough board - and has not implemented the more recent expansions, such as New Flight Plan. Hence, several of my M44 plays have been on Vassal where these are supported, though games take longer.

Vassal is also the venue for the other C&C games I've played: 37 Napoleonics battles, a couple of The Great War and just one Ancients. I thought I'd played more Ancients games, but clearly not. Something to do a bit more of in 2022. A highlight of the Napoleonics was re-fighting Austerlitz in La Grande Battles format with a full team of four players a side (ably organised by Mark Benson). It may be slow, but I really enjoy the team play. Here's the end of the game: there's still fighting around the vineyards of Stare Vinohrady in the centre, but Bernadotte has broken right through the Allies' positions. Vive l'Empereur!
From gallery of Pevans

With C&C out of the way, the next game I've played most is Scythe: 9 times in the latter half of the year. This time the platform is Steam - three-player games (plus the odd bot) with a couple of regular opponents. I do enjoy Scythe, but if you want to win you really have to focus on optimising your plays rather than just enjoying the game.

I have played Viticulture five times since BoardGameArena implemented the Essential edition - I just wish they'd add Tuscany. This does leave out the turn-based games - I only log real-time plays (whether face-to-face or online) on BGG. A quick check on BGA and the total plays jumps up to eight in 2021. Viticulture is another game I really enjoy playing - and it's one I can win (three from the eight) while enjoying it.

The other game I've played five times, according to my BGG log, is the first new (to me) entry in the list: Lucky Numbers. This is a simple but strangely addictive little game (available on BGA again) that has made an excellent filler for Swiggers' Wednesday evening sessions and gets a solid 7/10 from me.

Sticking to the new games now, I've also played Carnegie five times (on BGA). Kudos to Quined Games for making this meaty new title available online - it's certainly whetted my appetite to try the physical game when I get the chance. In the meantime, I'm struggling to find a winning strategy but enjoying myself thoroughly - it's a provisional 8/10 on my highly subjective scale. There's a fuller account in Business and philanthropy.

Returning to physical games and thus solitaire play, I fitted in several games of Rocketmen - see I'm not the man they think I am at all - and Coffee Roaster (reported in Man versus Bean). Rocketmen is another game I'm waiting to play against real opponents, but somehow I have no urge to play the solitaire-only Coffee Roaster again.
From gallery of Pevans

Another physical game I've had on the table is Hallertau - above is the final position of my third solitaire game with plenty of sheep. I have to say I'm just finding it tedious now. As a solitaire game, anyway. As far as I can see, there's only one way to play this game: amass the goods you need to upgrade your five 'Craft Buildings' so that your 'Community Centre' can move across your board (as shown above) to give you more actions and, later, more points. (The 'Boulder' obstacles that make moving more than once more costly magically move further away at the end of every round.) Since you always need the same stuff, you're always doing the same things. Yawn. Perhaps playing against real people would show me something I'm missing, but I'm not holding my breath. Sorry, Herr Rosenberg, but that's a provisional 5/10 from me.

I'm struggling, too, with Ted Alspach's Maglev Metro. Again, it's a physical copy, so it's solitaire play only. The first time I set it up, I was immediately stymied as I couldn't see how I was going to progress at all. It was on my second try that I realised there are certain things you can do without paying - they're not on the "things you need to pay for" table (I may not have the correct terminology here). Having resolved this, I still found the game impenetrable, though I did at least make some progress. Further research required, I think.

Thanks to Yucata, I've been able to try Vladimír Suchý's Praga Caput Regni. Another hefty, complicated game - right up my street! After three plays, I think I've got my head around the mechanics of the game. Now I just need to double (!) my score to be competitive. That's a provisional 8/10 on my highly subjective scale.

I'll finish with a couple of older but new to me games, played online. I was introduced to Grand Austria Hotel back in January and have now been thrashed seven times on Yucata - twice during Swiggers sessions. I'm really sorry to have missed this one when it was published as I'm very taken with its tight gameplay (seven rounds, two actions in each and an awful lot of things to do!). This is another game I'd like to try face-to face, but it's a solid 7/10 from me in the meantime.

The second game is Villagers, which I'd been intrigued to try since I saw how popular it was at the UK Games Expo in 2019. Its implementation on Yucata gave me the chance to play it. However, half a dozen plays in quick succession was enough for me. It's a pleasant enough game, but I just don't find it challenging (yes, I was winning too often and without effort). It's a 6/10 on my highly subjective scale.

It's been a minimalist year in games for me and I'm disappointed not to have made more inroads on the unplayed (and largely unopened) games piled up in my home office. Something to look forward to in 2022, eh?
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Fri Dec 31, 2021 1:15 pm
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Commands & Colors goes to Japan

Paul Evans
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Board Game: Commands & Colors: Samurai Battles
Nephew Tom and I have comprehensively christened my nice new copy of Commands & Colors: Samurai Battles, so it's about time I gave my first impressions. I was intrigued that it's billed on BGG as a re-implementation of Samurai Battles. I tried this at Spiel when it launched and it did not use the Commands & Colors system. Turns out it has two sets of rules, one of which is C&C. D'oh! Peter and I clearly played the other set. So bear in mind when reading this article that I don't know what is new to this game and what has been brought forward from the previous one.

[For anyone who isn't familiar with the Commands & Colors family, it's a series of simple wargames with the same core mechanisms. (Strictly speaking, only the games published by GMT Games, like this one, are titled "Commands & Colors", but the phrase is used to encompass the whole family.) In particular, players' actions are limited/powered by the card they play each turn. Military units are groups of models or wooden blocks, which are removed as a unit takes hits - the result of rolling dice. Players get victory markers for eliminating units, seizing geographical objectives and so on. Designer Richard Borg has done an excellent job of building on the core system to produce games - from several different publishers - that cover warfare from the ancient world to the future. As the name suggests, this game covers mediaeval Japan.]

Anyway, the new game: it certainly looks the part and the wooden blocks mean a hefty box as usual. Plus several hours work applying stickers. The two sides are generic red and blue rather than specific Japanese clans. Who they represent depends on the scenario and these span nearly a century: from Mori versus Takeda in 1517 to Osaka versus Tokugawa in 1615.

I was pleased by the good solid dice (a bugbear of mine is the poor quality dice in many of the C&C family) and that there are 12 of them: 6 for each player means no reaching across the table. The cards are good quality, too. The first quirk I noticed is that the board is 12 hexes wide by 11 deep - almost square. Most C&C games are 13x9 (widescreen!) and this board even has space where the 13th column would go. I don't know whether there's a reason for this, though I do like the extra depth. (As far as I'm aware, the only other C&C board that's 12x11 is The Great War, though several have boards 11 hexes deep.)

Blocks have the red square/blue triangle/green circle designations familiar from other C&C games, but they are not explicitly heavy/medium/light units. Red squares are samurai (infantry and cavalry), blue triangles 'Ashigaru' (foot soldier) spearmen and green circles Ashigaru archers and arquebusiers plus the peasant levies. Effectively, heavy, medium and light units. Especially as red squares are slow with lots of attack dice, green circles are fast with few attack dice and blue triangles are in the middle. Here's a scan from the rules showing a sample of the units.
From gallery of Pevans

Turning to the rules, the most obvious new feature is the 'Honor and Fortune' system. Like Lore (magic) in BattleLore and HQ tokens in The Great War, players (mostly) acquire chips when they roll the Honor and Fortune symbol on the dice - this side of the dice has no other effect. Chips can be spent to power 'Dragon' cards, which provide bonuses and special actions (just like Memoir '44's Combat cards or Commands & Colors: Napoleonics's Tactician cards). So far, so standard.

However, players also lose Honor and Fortune chips when a unit retreats - more if it's a samurai unit. And, if you run out of chips, there's the possibility of additional losses for the retreating unit and others. Effectively, the army's morale is damaged and soldiers flee. What a brilliant way of enhancing the game's setting and giving players something else to worry about.

As well as military units, Leaders (single blocks) feature in this game and, unusually, come in three types. Foot leaders attach to infantry only, while mounted leaders can command infantry or cavalry. As well as allowing their unit to ignore a retreat, they can use Honor and Fortune to add a die in close combat. The third type is the Army commander (and his bodyguard), whose presence on the battlefield boosts some effects, but takes no active part in the fighting (unless attacked). I have yet to play a scenario with an army commander, but their main purpose seems to be to provide a target for your opponent.

The usefulness of your Leaders is somewhat balanced by your opponent gaining a victory banner for killing one. And, as mediaeval Japanese commanders led from the front, Leaders are easier to kill than in other C&C games. In keeping with the setting, a lone Leader who is forced to retreat (and lose Honour) can commit seppuku (and gain Honour) instead. However, this also means the player reduces the number of Command cards they hold, so it's not an automatic decision.

There's also a difference in the way terrain can protect units (which I first saw in Commands & Colors: Medieval). Take forests for example. In most C&C games, attacking a unit in a forest means subtracting one or two dice from what you roll in attack. Thus, ashigaru archers, who normally roll two dice, might roll just one when attacking into a forest while samurai spearmen, normally four dice in close combat, would roll three. However, the rule in this game sets a maximum number of dice the attacker rolls. This is two for a forest, so those ashigaru archers would attack with their full two dice, while the samurai spearmen would only get two, too. This is a subtle change and I'm still seeing how this effects tactics.

From gallery of Pevans
Playing a few games has let me draw some conclusions. First is that archers are powerful. They have a range of three and roll two (if ashigaru) or three (samurai) dice. Infantry generally move one hex at a time (and cavalry two), giving the archers plenty of time to inflict damage before attackers can close. The mounted samurai archers are particularly dangerous and there seem to be a lot of them. In the photo (right), red's three archer units have eliminated one of blue's, despite taking damage, and blue's spearmen have retreated out of range.

As a cautious player, I keep a few Honor and Fortune chips in hand to cover units forced to retreat. However, there doesn't seem to be any need to hoard lots of them - Tom and I were generating plenty of them in every game. So spend them to add an extra die to attacks involving leaders. This does make a difference. Bear in mind, though, that your leaders are more likely to be killed if they're in the front line. (Tom is particularly miffed that he'd not managed to kill a single leader of mine in our first seven games, while I'd polished off several of his.)

Scenarios are generally quick to play (so far) as they don't require many banners to win. In fact, one only needs three banners for a win and killing the enemy leader gains you two. So be aware of this when you start a scenario or it could all be over before you realise.

Coming next: reports from Tom's and my battles.
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Fri Oct 1, 2021 5:32 pm
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I'm not the man they think I am at all

Paul Evans
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Yes, I've had another go at Martin Wallace's Rocketmen - you can find my first attempt in It's gonna be a long, long time.... I got in two solitaire games this weekend, in fact, including my first win. I felt surprisingly triumphant after that, given my only opponent was a simple 'AI'.

First off, I upgraded the 'AI' to 'Normal' difficulty since I now know the basics. My goals (you have to achieve all of them to win, as well as beating the AI) were relatively easy: get a rocket to all three destinations (Earth orbit, the Moon and Mars). I played it too safe last time, so I took a riskier approach to my missions. This resulted in several failed launches. The main problem with this is losing the time (turns) taken to set up the mission.

Here's the final sad, sad situation. I (yellow) have just completed my sixth mission (and third goal) to end the game with only three turns remaining (signified by the 'Asset' cards still on the track bottom left). But the AI has beaten me by a point. Grr. And is only two steps/turns away from adding a hotel on the Moon.
From gallery of Pevans

Along the way, I've seen off two of the 'Threats' to humanity (three of them in the solitaire game), but the AI got the third - and two valuable points. Despite losing, I was proud of my achievements (I've got a Moonbase, and a hotel in Earth orbit!), suggesting the game isn't as dry as I first thought.

On Saturday, I made my third attempt, still against the Normal AI. I drew a goal card that included establishing a base on Mars - the most challenging (and highest points scoring) mission in the game. I was a bit miffed at getting this again until I checked and found that it's on four of the 11 (in a solitaire game) goal cards.

So I went for a different strategy: first, establish a base on Mars. NASA would have a fit. The advantages I saw were getting the hardest goal out of the way first and building up a deck that should then allow me to complete other missions quickly (and also removing from my deck the 'Base' mission card that has no other use). The disadvantages were that I might run out of time and I was missing out on the useful 'Achievements' (bonuses like increasing hand size, extra rocket engines) gained by completing missions. Here's the final board.
From gallery of Pevans

So off I went, first adding money cards to my deck, then buying powerful engines and other cards to boost my mission. Playing cards to my 'Launch Pad' also reduces my deck size, re-cycling those money cards more quickly. In the meantime, the Asset deck was running down and the AI was scoring points. I definitely felt I was running out of time.

Finally, it was time to launch. Given the importance of the mission, I threw everything at it, including the one-use 'High-Efficiency Booster' that gave me two steps on the mission track. The 'Radiation Shielding' converted a zero 'Mission Success' card to a 2, the 'Spacesuit' let me re-draw a card and I reached Mars. Just. Phew! And suddenly I'm competitive with the AI's score.

My deck was pretty hefty once all the cards from the mission were back in it. But this allowed me to launch new missions every 2-3 turns. And I successfully raced the AI to put hotels in Earth orbit and on the Moon to get the extra point for being first each time.
From gallery of Pevans

I completed my sixth mission (photo above shows my player board and cards at this point, including the long line of successes and removed cards) to end the game with a couple of turns left. All my goals were done and getting all three Mars missions gave me a satisfying 36 points against the AI's 19 - I saw off all three Threats this time. And a real feeling of triumph. Next time, it's the 'Hard' AI...
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Sun Aug 22, 2021 3:41 pm
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Business and philanthropy

Paul Evans
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Oops! Thought I'd published this a week ago. Sigh.

Another complex game (see What if I Can't Swim? for the first one) I'm really enjoying online is Carnegie. The implementation on Board Game Arena was released alongside the Kickstarter for the physical game. Full marks to publisher Quined Games for giving us the chance to try before we buy.

I’ve enjoyed recent heavy games from Quined, not to mention some of designer Xavier Georges’s earlier games, so this was definitely worth trying. And when I say complex… this game has it in spades. Each turn triggers a department in your company and, usually, a region on the map (of the USA). So you want to get workers into departments and regions before they’re triggered. But this is what you use departments to do...

To start a turn, the current player chooses one of the four types of business department and everybody gets to use the worker pawns on the relevant departments (tiles) on their personal board (it’s illustrated as an office block). However, first they have the opportunity to generate income by returning their workers from a region on the main board. (Returned workers go into the ‘lobby’ of your offices, whence they can be deployed to departments by HR.)

From gallery of Pevans
Here's the Timeline board mid-game. The departments are down the left and the next space on a row shows which region (or a chance to exercise your philanthropy) will be triggered if it's chosen. The bright orange thing shows we're currently using Construction departments.

Apart from the four regions, the other possibility in a turn is that players will get the chance to invest in philanthropic works. In effect, turning money into victory points. And, once you’ve invested in something, there’s an incentive to maximise your score in this area. This gives players some strategic direction over the tactical possibilities each turn. (And reflects both sides of Andrew Carnegie’s career as business mogul and philanthropist.)

Players have the same starting set of department tiles and half a dozen workers. It’s up to them which departments they move their workers to (this is what Human Resources departments are for). However, the more useful the department, the more cash it will cost to ‘activate’ the workers (inactive workers don’t do anything). Luckily, players also start with a bit of cash.

Management departments let players gain money and goods (generic cubes) and add new departments. Construction departments are about building ‘projects’ (which cost goods) in the cities on the main board. Projects provide income when a region is triggered and there is a substantial bonus for connecting the major cities at the end of the game. Research and Development departments let players make more – and more valuable – projects available and increase income.

Crucially, a lot of department actions mean sending your workers to regions. While this takes them out of the office, they are now in position to provide income. It’s worth checking how soon a region is likely to be triggered before placing workers, mind - it can be a while before you get them back. Though your choice of region also dictates where you’re able to build projects if you’re using Construction.

Here's the main board mid-game. You'll see workers congregating in the regions (except South, which has just been triggered and workers returned for income). I (yellow) have one project on the board, in Pittsburgh - conveniently linking NY (so good they named it twice) and Chicago (my kind of town). Black's in Washington and Blue is gone for Kansas City and everybody's been improving their transport capabilities in the regions (changing the income they get there).
From gallery of Pevans

Let me see: you need to manage your workers, develop and deploy projects, organise an income stream of both money and goods, improve your business departments and transport and, not least, practise philanthropy. Oh boy. There’s an awful lot to consider, all carefully inter-connected, and plenty of decisions to be made. Once you get into the swing of things, you begin to see how the game works and how you can develop your position.

I have now completed three games and have a decent idea of what to do – I even won my first game, though with a score that would have left me last in my second game. As with Underwater Cities, I do wonder how players keep track of everything in the physical game. I’m itching to try, though.

I've given Carnegie a provisional 8/10 on my highly subjective scale and look forward to the chance to play the physical game.
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Thu Jul 29, 2021 2:21 pm
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What if I can’t swim?

Paul Evans
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In general, games I’ve taken up online have already been familiar to me. No, I don't know why either. However, I’ve now overcome my strange aversion to playing games online that I’ve never played on a table. One of these is Underwater Cities, a game I missed at Spiel ’18 when it was launched and somehow haven’t managed to play face-to-face. Then yucata.de provided an online implementation and I’ve played it half a dozen times.

It is a wonderfully complicated game. The idea is that you’re building a network of domed cities under the sea, connecting them with tunnels and adding useful buildings (kelp farms, desalination plants, laboratories). You need resources to build with, of course, and most things you build produce resources (kelp farms produce kelp, natch, one thing you need for a new city – and to feed your cities).

However, you don’t produce things very often: only after rounds 4, 7 and 10 (when you have to feed your cities, too) of the ten-round game. Instead, you will need to take actions and play cards to get the resources you need and to use them. This is the first clever thing: there are 15 actions on the board, grouped into three different colours (plus a sixteenth neutral one). The cards come in the same colours and you must play one in order to take an action. If the card is the same colour as the action, you get the benefit of the card as well. Hence hand management is important – especially as you can only have three cards in hand.

There is further complexity in the cards, too. Some of them have an instant effect, such as giving you a resource. Others have a permanent effect, granting a bonus every time you do something or adding to production. And the third type only has an effect when activated (once a round) by using the appropriate action. With these cards you need to take an action to play one so that you can take another action later to use it.

Below is a screen capture from a game on Yucata showing my final player board. That’s my hand – now just unused cards – at the bottom. Turn track and action grid on the left, player summaries right and special cards at the top. The other options, like Claimed cards, replace that central rectangular picture.
From gallery of Pevans

Players get three turns each round, taking them one at a time. As each action can only be taken once each round, your choices get more limited as the round goes on. Hence, you won’t be surprised that some actions and cards let you move up the turn order. For the next round.

Finally, each game starts with a set of Special cards that provide end-game points. Only one action lets you pick up one of these, so competition for this gets fierce as the game approaches its end. Which is when turn order gets really important. What’s more, there’s a cost to playing these cards (they’re no use until they’ve been played) and they count towards that very small hand limit.

After the tenth round, players score for the cities and buildings in their network, any end-game cards and remaining resources. They will also have been scoring points during the game from buildings and cards. My experience is that the final scoring can be half of a player’s total score. I generally manage a decent score. Just not enough to actually win a game.

I said this is a wonderfully complicated game and I do enjoy wrestling with my options each turn. This usually means much switching between three screens: my player board, played cards and the costs/production player aid. Lord knows how people manage to keep track of everything in a face-to-face game. And there’s clearly scope for analysis paralysis – something that’s not an issue when you play turn-based online.

I've given Underwater Cities a provisional 8/10 on my highly subjective scale and I look forward to the opportunity to play the physical game.
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Thu Jul 22, 2021 11:00 am
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An evening of card drafting

Paul Evans
United Kingdom
UXBRIDGE
London
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Last Wednesday's online Swiggers session introduced me to two games I'd not played before. Villagers was definitely game du jour, with all seven of us wanting to give it a go. So, two tables then. I was in the four-player group with one person who'd played before - always good to have someone to explain.

My sole awareness of Villagers was the long queues of people waiting to buy the game when it launched at the 2019 UK Games Expo. I didn't manage to play it there and haven't seen it since. So many thanks to Yucata and publishers Sinister Fish Games for the nice new online implementation.

I'm tempted to describe it as a simple game with brightly-coloured cards. First, players draft a card: one at a time until everybody's taken as many as they can (2 to start with). Then players add cards to their tableau, as many cards as they can (initially 2) in one go. The complexity is all in the cards, of course.

The picture below is a screen capture from Yucata of my position at the end of that first game. At the bottom are the remaining cards in my hand. My tableau is above that. Towards the top is the row of cards available to be drafted plus (above on the right) the last draw pile. The three sideways cards on the left are the starting cards.
From gallery of Pevans

Most cards have to be played onto a starting card - these can be picked up in addition to your drafting limit but you must discard a card in exchange (it goes onto one of the draw piles, so you may even be able to pick it up again next round). Many cards have to be 'unlocked' by another card. You gain money (points) if you have already played that card. Otherwise you have to pay another player who has it - or the bank if nobody does.

Possibly the most important thing on cards is the amount of gold they're worth when scored (either directly or for icons on other cards). Then there are red food and black building icons that increase the number of cards you can draw and play, respectively, once they're in your tableau. There's no limit on these, and they're clearly important to get early on. However, the more cards players draw, the faster the game will be over.

It may be a simple game on the surface, but there are some clever tactical options that require thinking about - and decisions making. Designer Haakon Gaarder has done a good job - as evidenced by the fact that I'm immediately playing it some more. That first game was won by the person who'd played before (well done, Diana), while I was dead last. I blame it on not getting any food or building icons into my tableau until the game was nearly over. Lesson learned.

After this, we moved on to Machi Koro, another game I'd not played before even though it's been around since 2012. I have played the more recent Space Base several times, though, and keep being told this uses the same central mechanism (though from a different designer).

Again, you're drafting cards and adding them to your tableau. However, this time you must buy the cards after rolling your 1 or 2 dice to, hopefully, generate some income. The good news is that some of your cards (blue ones) also produce income when other players roll that number.

Mind you, some of the more expensive cards take money from others. And you are allowed to have as many of a card as you can lay your hands on. They are all triggered by the single die roll. As the game goes on, players build up their income, so that they can afford the more expensive cards that build income further.

Players will also shift from rolling one die, generating income from the cheap 1-6 cards, to rolling two dice to trigger cards 2-12. Of course the cards in the middle of this range are more likely to be triggered and are more expensive and/or special (you can only have one of each 6 card, for example).

The picture below is a screen capture from Yucata at an early stage. The 15 different buildings are the grid on the left and players' purchases are shown in columns on the right. The crucial thing is the number at the top, which is the die roll that triggers the card. You'll see I decided to buy a Landmark early on, but quickly found it wasn't much use initially.
From gallery of Pevans

In play, it's dead simple: roll your dice, see how much cash you have and choose something to buy. The only decision there is what to buy - if you have a choice. Understanding the cards is key to this and I learnt a lot from what my opponents did. However, the game over-stayed its welcome as far as I was concerned (though this may have been because a bunch of first-timers took too long building up their positions to win the game by buying all four - expensive - Landmarks).

Machi Koro is not a game I'll be rushing to play again. Indeed, the general consensus was that we'd prefer Space Base. Oh, and Sebastian won this one by a narrow margin and I was dead last. Again. Still a good evening's gaming and chat.
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Tue Jul 6, 2021 6:14 pm
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New experiences online

Paul Evans
United Kingdom
UXBRIDGE
London
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I seem to have finally overcome my strange aversion to playing games online that I've never played on a table. There have been a few over the years but, in general, games I've taken up online have already been familiar to me. No, I don't know why either.

Board Game: Carnegie
Of course with Carnegie I haven't had that opportunity. The implementation on Board Game Arena was released alongside the Kickstarter for the physical game. Full marks to publisher Quined Games for giving us the chance to try before we buy.

I've enjoyed recent complex games from Quined, not to mention some of designer Xavier Georges's earlier games, so this was definitely worth trying. And when I say complex... this game has it in spades. Each turn triggers a department in your company and a geographical area. So you want to get workers into departments and areas before they're triggered. But you use departments and areas to do this...

So you need to move workers around your company to where they'll be useful and then deploy them to areas where they'll also be useful, but now there's nobody in that department... Once you get into the swing of things, you begin to see how the game works and how you can develop your position.

I thoroughly enjoyed my first game. Now I have some idea how to play, it's time to re-read the rules and then play again. However, on first acquaintance, this seems like a keeper.

Board Game: Cacao
Somehow I have avoided Cacao for several years. Then my old gaming friends Jennie and Richard persuaded me to play. It's a nice little tile-laying game (no, it's nothing like Carcassonne), set in the jungles of Central America, with several ways of scoring points - according to the tiles. Hence you're always looking for the best way to out-score your opponents, but what this is will be different each game. Not least because the selections of tiles available (both yours and the general ones) are drawn at random

This should be exactly my sort of game. It has simple rules; is challenging, but not too challenging; repays careful play; and plays fast enough to be a substantial filler. However, it doesn't really grab me, so it's on the "if I'm in the mood" list. Maybe I should try some of the (many) expansions...

Board Game: Luxor
After winning a game of Cacao with the Swiggers gang last Wednesday, I was introduced to Luxor - another game that I've avoided (it's been around for a couple of years). Essentially your meeples are a gang of tomb raiders, going deeper and deeper into an ancient Egyptian pyramid. Along the way, you pick up stuff from the tiles/spaces your meeples land on.

The clever bit (apart from the very clever hand management mechanism) is that you need multiple meeples on the same space to get things, with new meeples becoming available as you go deeper, but starting at the entrance. There are, of course, several ways of scoring points and opportunities to improve your capabilities as well.

While the experienced players raced for the centre of the board/pyramid to loot the lucrative central burial chamber, I concentrated on collecting sets for the bonuses they give. And, to my surprise, ended up with the winning score. Beginner's luck, clearly. Again, it's a nice game but doesn't grab me, so it's another "if I'm in the mood" game.

Board Game: The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine
We finished off Wednesday evening's session with The Crew (known as "Die, Crew" at Swiggers since it was first played with a German edition). I picked up a copy of this just in time for lockdown, expecting to be able to play it solitaire. "It's a co-operative game," I thought, "I'll just play several positions." Oh no I won't! Since its central mechanism is taking tricks, knowing all the players' hands removes the point of the game.

Anyway, it was great to have the chance to play it properly - led by the experienced Diana. Each 'mission' gives players a goal to achieve. To start with, you just need the nominated person to win the trick containing a particular card. Easy! But it quickly gets more difficult with cards having to be won in a particular order and other complications appearing.

One of the neat things is that each mission is cunningly preparing you for subsequent ones. You not only learn how to achieve the goals, but also how the others play and what they mean with the limited information they are allowed to share. You really have to concentrate, though, staying on top of who's played what and marrying this with what you already know. We completed nine missions - with a couple of re-takes - before my brain gave up. Definitely one to play again - though I suspect you have to start from the beginning each time.

Now, it's definitely time I put some solitaire games on the table again...
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Sat Feb 6, 2021 6:55 pm
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What's happening?

Paul Evans
United Kingdom
UXBRIDGE
London
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This was meant to be a final blog entry for 2020... Two weeks later, it's the first for 2021. Sigh. Oh, and Happy New Year! to one and all.

It's about time I put something on my blog... The problem is that I don't think of playing games online as being blog-worthy. Partly because I'm largely playing old familiar games, but also because, somehow, playing online doesn't feel 'real'.

I am playing quite a bit, though. Wednesday evenings sees the Swiggers group online, usually at Yucata or Board Game Arena (or both), playing in real time. I have even tried a couple of new (to me) games this way: Yokohama and Underwater Cities. Both intriguing games that I'd really like to try face-to-face.

I've also re-discovered some older games that I enjoyed at the time, but haven't played for years: Egizia, Elfenland, Glen More, Puerto Rico, Yspahan... Great fun.
From gallery of Pevans

On top of this, I've been playing Commands & Colors games on Vassal - which I only got to grips with in 2020. It's amusing that I have a 100% record against some opponents and a 0% record against others. The picture above is Evert (playing French) thrashing me on his introduction to Napoleonics. The British position still looks good, until you realise the whole right wing of the army has disappeared... Conversely, the picture below shows my Romans chasing Hamilcar (played by Deon) off the field of Bagradas (Ancients), despite Deon having got his heavy infantry into the fight. Mind you, he used to have some elephants...
From gallery of Pevans

However, the big success for me was being introduced to Forgotten Waters. This game of "Piratey Misadventure in a World o' Magic" has proved terrific entertainment. It uses an app instead of a paragraph book to flesh out the bones of the game's mechanisms and tell the story of your game. Even better, the "remote assistant" app lets a group play together while in different places - you just need one person with a copy of the game.

I had so much fun playing this with the group that I invested in my own copy and have been playing solitaire as well. Officially it's for 3-7 players, but the Variants on the app include one- and two-player rules. Essentially, the solitaire game gives you a gang of four pirates to take actions, but you only count as one for rewards and so on. And there's a tweak to the all-important way your character progresses to their personal goals. If only I'd taken some photos, I'd put them in here.

The initial scenario has proved frustratingly hard to complete succesfully (falling off the edge of the world, sinking ignominiously to Davy Jones's locker, being blown to smithereens by Royal Navy Cap'n Razor - yep, managed all of those). I have only achieved this once and this was a solitaire game with, ahem, a little cheating at the climactic showdown (I knew I needed a bigger boat).

Maybe because we'd been honed to a fine edge by that first scenario, the team found the second one we tried a bit of an anti-climax: we succeeded at the first attempt with all but one of the crew also getting a personal victory (something none of us had managed before). This has not put us off, though: next scenario is scheduled for early January...
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Sun Jan 3, 2021 6:48 pm
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Adventures in the Ming Empire

Paul Evans
United Kingdom
UXBRIDGE
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Yes, for the next of my solitaire games, I'm having a first go at The Ming Voyages, where I get to be the Ming Emperor. (Note: not the Emperor Ming, that's a whole different ball game.)

In the two-player game, one player is the Emperor, trying to complete the seven voyages of Zheng He, while the other commands the hordes, trying to conquer the borderlands between the barbarian homelands and the Ming heartland. Each plays a card, using either its special action or its Command Points to do things. However, most of the cards also have an action for the other side, which they may be able to use.

For the solitaire game, you are the Emperor and what the Barbarians do depends on the Event card they draw. There are three decks of these, in increasing levels of nastiness, and you set a difficulty level that governs which deck/s are triggered when. Being a newbie, and as recommended in the rules, I played on the easy setting.

Here's the initial set-up: the barbarians (white) in their homelands; the borderlands garrisoned with Ming (green) troops. The Emperor also has one gold and a ship (needed for trying to complete voyages) and starts with one voyage already done (this is important as it allows the Emperor to use some special actions).
From gallery of Pevans

The effect of the Barbarian's cards was to build up their forces until they made their first invasion. By this time I'd completed another voyage. (Slight error: I should have spent that gold!)
From gallery of Pevans

I got lucky, rolling a double to send that first assault packing. I wasn't able to repeat this on subsequent invasions, though, so the barbarians took ground. (That red cube is the neat mechanism for making a decision when the barbarians have a choice.)
From gallery of Pevans

A few more turns, a few more invasions and just one more voyage completed. The barbarians now have three of the five areas they need and the Ming troops are still at home. Wall, meet writing. (At least I've sorted out the gold situation.)
From gallery of Pevans

This is when a curious effect kicked in. The event cards for a barbarian attack require a Ming-controlled borderland as target. There aren't any, so a replacement card is drawn. However, there are very few that move the barbarians into an empty area. So I went all-out for completing the voyages, taking the odd turn to empty a borderland (using card effects rather than attacking).
From gallery of Pevans

And that's a win! My last ship plus 4 gold means I need to roll under 5 to complete the final voyage. Using a three-point card means I roll three dice and only need one of them to be successful. But then I was playing the easy setting!

Hmm, time now to re-read both rulebooks and see if I got anything wrong. Ah: I forgot the Emperor's reaction - potentially using the Imperial action on the card played for the barbarians. Time to play again... let's try the Moderate setting.
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Sun Sep 13, 2020 3:37 pm
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