Games played at Epsom Games Club 03.11.11 (1st anniversary)
Andrew Bond
United Kingdom
Banstead
Surrey
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Big turnout for all the shiny new Essen releases...

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1. Board Game: Assyria [Average Rating:6.89 Overall Rank:1481]
Andrew Bond
United Kingdom
Banstead
Surrey
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1. Andrew 118 pts (rating 7) first play
2. James F 89 pts (rating 7) first play


James picked this game up for £8 from the Works, but had not played it before (nor had I).

In this game, you choose 1 set of two food cards from an offering of 3 sets. Yous opponent then does the same. Then, whoever chose the lower values set plays first, by placing huts on the map, next to your starting ziguurat. You place huts in areas which you are able to feed with the cards you just picked up (or had left over from previous turn) and/or your plough (effectively a joker food card). At the junction of three areas in which you have huts in each, you get a well (worth VPs).

Once you have placed huts, you hand in cards to feed them and your previously placed huts. You lose any not fed. Then you score 1 or 2 VPs depending on whether they are between two rivers or outside.

Additionally, you obtain camels for each hut on a river. These camels give you the ability to purchase an extra food card, build a new ziggurat or extend an existing one, bribe an official to get further points, or reclaim your plough.

In this game, I used all my food cards on every turn and tried to get as many huts down as I could. The turning point occurred when I built a ziggurat between the rivers, thereby limiting where James could place his huts. By choosing my set of food cards carefully, I managed to limit his ability to get pieces down and hence to collect camels. Soon I was miles ahead on the VP track and it was straightforward for me to keep and extend my lead thereafter.

This was an interesting game that I would definitely play again. May be better with more then two players.
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2. Board Game: Notre Dame [Average Rating:7.36 Overall Rank:245]
Andrew Bond
United Kingdom
Banstead
Surrey
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1. James F 86 pts (rating 7.5)
2. Andrew 39 pts (rating 8)


One of the games you can pick uo cheaply from the Works. And at £8, this is excellent value for money. I have now played it 2-player, 3-player, and 4-player and it works equally well with all numbers.

In the 2-player game, you get back one of the to cards you pass to your opponent ... which means there is a certain about of bluff and counter- bluff involved.

In this game, I decided to ignore my rat problem and try to streak ahead by gathering VPs at all opportunities. To maximize this strategy, I placed two cubs in the Park, thus scoring an additional +1VP whenever I scored any number of VPs.

I therefore took a commanding early lead, only to see James slowly claw that back and eventually romp away with an easy victory. Although I could afford the 2VP penalty for having > 9 rats, I couldn't afford the loss of a cube included in that penalty. I thereby stalled my engine and struggled to get it going again.

Meanwhile, James slowly built up his cubes, taking messages and getting 4 cubes in the Park, to add +2VP to any score he made.

A lesson for me how not to play the game. Nevertheless, still enjyable and very quick.
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3. Board Game: Urban Sprawl [Average Rating:6.77 Overall Rank:1436]
Russell D
United Kingdom
Ewell
Surrey
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Urban Sprawl is a new game by Chad Jensen, creator of Dominant Species. The latter is one of my favourite games, so I simply had to get my hands on Urban Sprawl. The theme of the game is the development of a city: players collect permits and contracts in order build buildings, hoping for payouts of money and prestige (i.e. Victory points).

The board takes the form of a city grid, and basically there are various forms of area control and competition for majorities going on. Each horizontal and vertical row can give payouts to those who have the most cubes in that row (indicating building ownership). Buildings can belong to residential, commercial, civic, or industrial sectors. The most valuable buildings in each sector (based on where they are built) give their owner victory in various elections for roles like Union Boss and District Attorney, and these politicians in turns provide bonuses and end-game scoring.

All of this is driven by two card queues, one for the permits that give money or the ability to build, and another queue that contains the contracts, showing the different buildings that can be built. Both queues can also turn up event cards, which have various effects as described on the card.

We played with the full four, standard length. I had played once before, and the game was new to Gary, Paul, and Gordon. Paul took an early lead. One event card early on gave Gary the chance to place a very powerful "12" wealth marker. This began his route to riches, as he continued to accumulate wealth through this marker's row and then in various other ways. By about halfway through the game, Gary was still behind on VPs, but had won the majority of the elections. Soon afterwards, following several event cards turned up in a row, Gary shot ahead into the lead on VPs. I found myself extremely short of money, and on many turns I had no choice at all about what buildings I could build give the available cards. Gordon didn't win any elections until the very end, but winning one election on the final turn gave him enough end-of-game VPs to pull ahead into second place.

Unfortunately, though I seem to remember picking up the score sheet, I haven't been able to find it. Perhaps someone else has, but the results were something like this (please do correct me!):

Final Scores (Ratings)
Gary ~175 (6)
Gordon ~127 (4)
Paul ~125 (6)
Russell ~122 (7)

There are lots of good things about this game. The multi-layered area control going on in the x and y axes of the board, the different buildings categories with their differing values, neighbourhood bonuses, and so on, all work very nicely. The Action Point and card-queuing system is very clean and slick.

The major gripe about the game was the randomness. Whereas games like Dominant Species contain a lot of chaos generated by the other players' moves (and there's plenty of that here too), this game has a lot of very swingy randomness based solely on the cards that turn up. There are lots of cards, and only about half are seen in any one game. The selection and timing of the events has a very large effect on the game, in fact, it seems like they have a greater effect than what the players do! Also, in a four-player game, it's impossible to plan ahead to your next turn, as all the cards in the queue will probably have changed by your next turn. Perhaps you are supposed to accumulate a very large stash of permits early on, I'm not sure, but even with two or three permits in my hand there was often very little real choice about what I could build, so I couldn't really advance my strategic plans very quickly at all.

I really wanted to like this game, and there are some things I love about it. But I think it really is too random for its length and complexity. In both games I've played people have said they felt they had no control. Perhaps after a fair few more plays one could start to predict the ebb and flow of the cards better, and with a 90 minute game I'd be keen to get to that level, but this game runs to almost twice that length so I don't think, practically, I am going to get in that many plays.

I might try again with 2 players (if I can convince anyone to play) and see if that minimizes some of the problems. But otherwise, I'd rather play Dominant Species.
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4. Board Game: Mage Knight Board Game [Average Rating:8.10 Overall Rank:24]
Adam Rees
United Kingdom
Rowlands Castle
Hampshire
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In Mage Knights each player has a character, a Mage Knight suprisingly, with an accompanying minature to move around on the board. The board itself is made up of tiles that are placed down as the game progresses and the characters explore more of the land they find themselves in. Within this new land can be found rampaging orcs, wizard towers, dungeons, monster lairs, castles, mystic circles, dungeons, monestaries and other places of natural beauty. Nearly all of these locations have guardians/monsters that must be defeated by the characters to gain the benefits that can be found in that location..

The game is split into rounds, with each round being either day or night (one follows the other, natually). Each round is then split into turns. On each turn a player plays cards from his hand (normally 5 or 6 cards are in a players hand at the beginning of his turn), as many as he wishes. Each card gives two possible actions, the second of which is more powerful than the first, but requires resources to be spent to use it(resources are mana and crystals of varying colours, as well as communal dice) which can be gathered from places on the board, and certain cards can allow you do get some as well). Each player has his own deck of cards, which mirror the other players' decks, bar one card which is unique to the character that the player controls. Generally, once the first player has exhausted his deck the round ends, though it could end slightly earlier than that.

The types of actions on the cards include movement actions, attacking actions (to defeat a monster you need to amass attacking points in your turn equal to the monster's defense value), blocking actions (need to amass blocking points equal to the monster's attack or take wounds), healing actions (heal wounds, naturally), influence actions (to attract followers, who have their own cards and provide benefits, and can be found in a variety of locations depending on the nature of the follower) etc.

The playing of cards from your deck is a key skill in the game. In each round you will generally be able, if the opportunity arrises, to play all your cards, but you only have 'x' amount of move cards, 'x' amount of attack cards etc, so this acts as a big limiter on what you can actually achieve during a round. There is definitely skill in making the most out of what you can do in a round, so having some kind of plan of what you want to achieve that day or that night will defintely pay dividends in the long run. Getting to know what cards are available to you during a round is key to doing this well, but there are not that many of them, so it doesn't take too long to get a handle on what is possible and not possible in a round. This is one of the strengths of the game for me.

As well as the cards in your deck you start the game with, you can also collect more cards to add to this deck - additional spells, artifacts of power etc. These can be gained from defeating monsters in dungeons, winning control of wizrad towers etc. Gaining these cards obviously make you more formidable, so hunting them down is one part of the strategy you will need to maximise your chances of winning.

Like in various RPG games, each character starts off at level 1 but can gain experience (victory points) through defeating monsters and so go up levels. A rise in level will give you access to other powers as well as making you harder to kill etc.

The game has various different scenarios to play, supplying different types of victory conditions and how much of a team the players are. We played the training scenario where we were each on our own trying to gain more victory points than the others to win the game, but not allowed to attack each other (cry). Some scenarios are cooperative, so you have to beat the game as a group or all lose, whilst others allow players to attack each other etc.

As to victiory points, they are gained from defeating monsters, as well as exploring (revealing new tiles), though at the end of the game there are other victory points on offer as well e.g. you get 2 victory points for every castle you own, and the one with the most castles gets a further 3 points; every wound card you have at the end of the game costs you 2 victory points, with the player with the most losing an addtional 3; you get victory points for the quality of your followers, with the player with the best total getting a bonus etc. This makes the game more interesting and more involved than just a monster bash.

There are quite a few more rules than that described above, but no point in trying to go through them all on this review. So what did I think of the game?

I enjoyed it. There is defintely skill involved in using your cards which encourges planning ahead, there are different paths you can follow to win the game, though defeating monsters is always required, and the game does feel very RPG like, with characters levelling up and getting more powerful as they achieve things. There are, however, a lot of unique powers, tiles, locations etc, each with their own effects and this can be a little daunting. In addition, there are many different reference cards which explain what the various locations and special abilites do, what certain symbols do etc, and it would have been much better if these were included on one reference sheet and every player had one of their own. However, once you have played the game a few times I reckon that you would get a handle on them, and so is not a big thing. I also felt that in our game not being able to attack each other was a bit of a downer, but like I said above, there are scenarios you can play where this is possible, so if I was to play again I would want to play one of those. I may well have given it a higher rating than a 7 if I had been allowed to attack Derek, for example .

Surprisingly for a game of this type there is not that much luck involved, which is a big plus point. While the cards you actually hold in your hand on your turn is a matter of luck, you will most likely, get to play every card in your deck by the end of the round, so with a bit of care with the cards you play in your turn you can massage things into your favour by the end of the day. Combat itself does not involve rolling dice, but on the cards you have amassed to fight the monster, so really there is no luck there, which I think is one of the strong points of the game. There is luck in what monster you find guarding any particular location and how strong they are, but during day rounds you can see what they are if you are adjacent to them, so you can know what you have to face before having to actually commit to fighting them, making it possible to avoid them if necessary (night time is more difficult, as you don't reveal a monster until you move onto it and commit yourself - however, at night sorcery becomes more powerful, which can help you out a fair bit if you have collected a good set of spells). Also, defeating a strong guardian gives you more victory points, so it is not all bad if you draw a truly monsterous guardian, so long as you don't get beat up too badly - in the game I played, I was continually gaining wound cards, as I was pretty gung-ho! Still, faint heart never won fair lady and all that.

The game was quite long to play, though this would come down if you were more up to speed with how everything works. There is a bit of downtime in the game, but most of this is filled up with planning what you are going to do on your next turn, so i didn't find it a problem.

All in all, I thought this was a good game, rich in theme and requiring a bit of skill to do well in. I would play it again, though as I have said, I would want to be able to attack my fellow players devil

Jeff - 34 points (rating 8)
Adam - 26 points (7)
Derek - 26 points (7)
Andy - 20 points (7)
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