The Tyranny of Small Decisions

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Weekend Gaming...

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
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It’s a five-weekend month this month… which means there’s an unusually-long 3-week gap between Newcastle Gamers meetings. Fortunately we had family staying with us this weekend — and my niece and nephews are always keen to do a bit of late-night boardgaming, so I haven't been too starved of mid-month gaming action

First on the table: Ys

I bought Ys about a year ago, in the (now legendary) board game clear-out at UK branches of The Works. I played it a couple of times shortly after buying it — and really enjoyed it — but it’s sat on the shelf for a long time since then. My Nephews were keen to try something they haven’t played before, spotted Ys tucked away at the bottom of my “best games cupboard”, and we decided to give it a go.

Ys is a bidding and bluffing game. A fleet of gem-laden ships are sailing into the mythical city of Ys, and the game involves despatching a team of “brokers” to various parts of the city to make deals and collect the ship’s cargoes. Your brokers are represented by wooden cylinders, with a number painted on one end of the cylinder measuring that particular broker’s skill. This ranges from from 4 (the best) to zero (the worst). On each turn you deploy one broker face up (so its number is showing), and one broker face down (so only you know what “level” of broker you’ve placed) somewhere inside the city. This process repeats until each player has placed 4 sets of 2 brokers… the hidden numbers are revealed, and whoever has placed the highest values wins control of that area. It’s a very simple mechanism, but one which brings a significant level of bluffing and brinksmanship to the game. Fun!

Controlling the various sections of the city will grant you treasure (represented by neat little plastic gems), points, and/or various perks. There’s also a sub-game going on where you place your brokers into a marketplace area in order to manipulate the relative worth of the different types of treasure … so (for example) if a particular player is successfully collecting mountains of red gems, you can manipulate the market to make red gems worth fewer points than the other treasure types (while the red-collecting player does his or her level best to push the price in the opposite direction).

The game’s (awful!) iconography — used for the various “special power” cards that you can pick up as a reward for having the highest-numbered brokers in the palace section of the city — was a slight stumbling block and caused some slow-downs as various aspects needed re-explaining, and the (slightly unintuitive) final scoring threw a couple of people… but the session still went well, and it proved to be a popular game. I think it’s likely it’ll get another airing at future family gatherings

Next: Gloria Picktoria

I picked this one out partly because we needed something filler-ish to fit in before our evening meal, and partly to try to involve my younger nephew in a game (since he’d been sitting on the sidelines during Ys). Also — like Ys before it — this is another “The Works” bargain bin acquisition that probably hasn’t had the number of airings it deserves.

Beneath the cute cartoon chicken theming, Gloria Picktoria is a somewhat-devious set-collection game by Alan R. Moon (the Ticket to Ride guy). It’s also remarkable by having the worst rule book of any game in my collection. It’s badly-translated, doesn’t explain the scoring clearly, and fails to explain a couple of important player actions in context (which — unless you’ve actually played the game a couple of times — makes them seem like bamboozlingly-odd things to want to do). Fortunately Gloria Picktoria is a remake of an older game called “Reibach & Co” (and subsequently: “Get The Goods”) — a title which has been far better-documented — so a bit of research on BGG can set you off on the right track.

I think this is the third time I’ve played it. It’s not a bad game; it has some very neat push-your-luck and screw-your-opponents things going on by the end, but it does take a little while to pick up steam and get to that stage, and the opening rounds aren’t anywhere near as as engaging. It’s fine as an occasional/variation filler though (especially since my copy only cost me a couple of quid!)… and occupied our post-Ys, pre-dinner gap nicely.

After Dinner: Village

Having warmed up with Ys and Gloria Picktoria, it was time to break out an A-lister for the main game of the evening. We opted for Village… Matt and Robbie haven’t played it before, Mrs Shep has only tried it once but was eager to play again, and it seemed like a pretty safe bet for the night’s main entertainment.

I played a merchant/church/book-of-death tactic, and won by 8 points. Mrs Shep was placed second — she managed to visit all the stops on the world tour, and had some significant end-game presence in the church, but didn’t get involved in the merchant part of the game at all (apparently her single attempt to line up a trade had been sniped by Matt stealing her customer of choice). I’ve pretty much come to the conclusion that you *must* get involved in as many market days as possible in order to do well in Village — it’s safe to opt out / mix and match some of the other activities, but the winner *always* seems to be a player who made shrewd moves in the marketplace.

Finally: Strozzi

I hadn’t really intended this to be a day of (predominantly) bargain bin games… that’s just the way it turned out, with Strozzi being our third (and last) “The Works” title of the day.

I hadn’t played this one before… I purchased it fairly recently (I’d passed on it when it was first placed on the bargain shelf at £7.99 because it requires a minimum of 3 players … but when it hit £4.99 a few weeks ago, the temptation was way too much to bear!… I mean, it’s a Reiner Knizia title… how can you go wrong with a Knizia game for less than a fiver?)

The Premise: A number of merchant ships, laden with goods, are sailing towards Italy. The ships are depicted on a deck of cards, which are flipped one by one… and each ship has a different cruising speed and mixture of cargo objects.

Players represent powerful Italian merchant families, and each round you can “claim” up to three incoming ships, and steer them into the port of your choice. Each port plays money for a different type of cargo, and there are bonus points for the fastest 3 ships that dock in each port (because, thematically, those ships will arrive first..). For sake of brevity, I won’t go into the precise way that ships are claimed, but needless to say it’s a typical Reiner Knizia auction-style mechanism, which occasionally leaves you in moments of agony over whether you should be placing a bid or not … and ear-to-ear grins when stuff works out right.

It’s a neat game. Not something I’d choose to play as a “main” game of a session, but an extremely good (and easy-to-learn) “breather” title to follow something more complex or wind down with. I wouldn’t necessarily rush out to buy it at full price … but I’m happy with this acquisition; one game in and I already feel like I’ve got my fiver’s worth. Plus: Mrs Shep particularly enjoyed it — and wife approval is always a bonus!

Speaking of bonuses…

Pandemic / Pandemic: On the Brink

Technically, not quite part of the same gaming session… but I was up early the next morning to get the Sunday roast on the go (the problem with these big family get-togethers is the ungodly amount of time the dinner takes to cook!!) …and a couple of other early risers suggested a game of Pandemic. How could I refuse?

We played the basic variant at “standard” difficulty, with 3 players and roles and events from On the Brink. We started out with the Researcher, Scientist and Generalist in play, with the Generalist making a timely swap to a Medic mid game (via the re-assignment event) … which, I think, is about the strongest role combination you can possibly get in a 3-player game.

Unusually — and despite being 3 or 4 rounds in to the game — we managed to cure the red disease before a single cube of it hit the map … though we paid the price for this with a surfeit of yellow and black cubes landing at the game start, resulting in a chain of 3 or 4 outbreaks rippling through the central corridor when our first epidemic card was discovered about 2 moves into the game! Nevertheless, we rallied successfully, and managed to emerge victorious shortly after the 3rd epidemic. The world was safe again!

* * * * * * *

Best game of the session? Either Ys or Pandemic; it’s a hard one to call.

My nephew is now discussing the possibility of a Pandemic theme-party. Watch this space…
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