|I was in Manchester on Friday and decided to check out a new game shop that I heard had opened. It is very central about five minutes walk from Picadilly station and it is quite light and spacious (contrary to Rick Thornquist’s observations in his latest blog entry at the Gamewire). There is quite an emphasis on CCGs and roleplaying stuff but there is also a good sprinkling of recent boardgames. The proprietor came up to me and suggested a couple of games I might like. He was right but sadly I already had both of his suggestions. The address of Fanboy3 is 17 Newton Street, Manchester M1 1FZ and is worth a look if you are in Manchester city centre. They also have a website with details of upcoming events.|
|This week’s session was hosted by John and we had the possibility of one of Mark G’s friends joining us. He didn’t as it turned out but I had chosen some lighter games to accommodate him and we went ahead with these anyway.
Carcassonne: Hunters & Gatherers
Players: John, Mark K, Mark G, Garry
None of the others had played this before so I was interested to see how they thought it compared with the original Carcassonne. This one is set in the Stone Age and the castles and roads are replaced by forests and rivers. There are no monasteries but instead you get a new type of piece: a fishing hut that scores points at the end of the game depending on the size of the river system it is placed upon. The basics of the game are the same: place a tile, add one of your pieces to that tile if you wish, and draw a replacement tile. The scoring is slightly altered and works better in my opinion – especially the meadows where you get two points for each animal in that meadow. Also, if when you score a forest, it contains a gold nugget, you receive a bonus tile which is usually a more lucrative piece than the standard tiles. There is more of an incentive, therefore, for completing forests quickly even if you don’t necessarily score the points yourself. In our game, Mark G and I raced away early on completing some rivers for quick points. John got stuck with some pieces tied up in a couple of large forests. He did pick up the ruins special action tile, however, but had to place it in such a way that he would need to connect it up to a large meadow later in the game. Unfortunately, he forgot about this and allowed me to score some extra points for a meadow that rightfully should have been his. Mark K steadily built up his position and had control of a couple of largish meadows. He also had a useful fishing hut, as did Mark G, while I missed out. Each time I resolved to play a hut, somebody just beat me to it. At the end, Mark K pushed me all the way but that gifted meadow from John was enough for me to just pull ahead for the win. We all enjoyed this game and Mark K and I agreed that it played more cleanly than the original – the scoring was a bit more straightforward and it is something a newcomer would pick up more easily. Now Mark K isn’t overly keen on the original so it was good to see him rate it as a 7, a figure we unanimously agreed with.
Result: Garry 118, Mark K 108, Mark G 92, John 65
Ratings: Garry 7, Mark K 7, Mark G 7, John 7
Players: John, Mark K, Mark G, Garry
Next up was this simple but clever race game from Leo Colivini. I very much liken it to Hare & Tortoise and have enjoyed it every time I’ve played. None of the others had tried it so I took them through the very simple rules. The board displays a tunnel leading from a prison cell to a waiting boat and freedom. Each player controls six prisoners and aims to get all six of his prisoners to the boat first to win the game. Each space has a symbol printed on it and the symbols correspond to those on your hand of cards. Each player starts off with six cards and on his turn he has three ‘moves’. Each move can either be to play a card and move one prisoner forward to the next unoccupied space showing that symbol; or to move a prisoner backwards to the next space occupied by one or two prisoners and pick up one or two cards respectively. Note the Hare & Tortoise parallel. So the game is about judging when to spend cards to move prisoners as far forward as they can go and when to fall back slightly to replenish your hand with cards. Mark G moved a man into the boat first but still had a couple of prisoners still in the cells. The rest of us tried to make some progress with all of our prisoners. There was plenty of jockeying for position as spaces allowing large moves forward were quickly vacated to slow the stragglers down. Mark K took full advantage of collecting cards and had a fistful as we approached the end. Both he and I had a chance to win on the same turn but, even though I was first to play, I didn’t have the right symbols to get my last prisoner out. Mr “Card Bank” however had no such difficulties and took the victory. I really like Cartagena. It is simple but there is plenty to think about. There is an advanced version where you play with cards in view but I think this slows the game down too much, with people spending too much time analysing the game position, and I greatly prefer the speed of the hidden cards. Mark K resolved to open one of the shop copies and play it again soon. Good stuff.
Result: Mark K = winner
Ratings: Mark K 8, Garry 7, John 8, Mark G 7
Players: John, Mark K, Mark G, Garry
We just had time for one more game and, continuing our theme for the night of Games Beginning With The Letter C, we picked Coloretto. Last time we played, it didn’t get terribly good ratings but I’ve played since and quite like it for a quick 15-20 minute game. Mark G had not played before. This game played into Mark G’s hands from very early on and even though we tried to peg him back, nothing seemed to work. Mark K and I both had collections with all seven colours whereas John played very conservatively, often picking up just one card per round. It almost worked for him but Mark G did enough to hold on despite having some negative cards. I asked for ratings and we all rated it higher than last time. We reasoned that the lack of enjoyment last time was probably because ‘No fun’ Nige was playing.
Result: Mark G 27, John 23, Garry 19, Mark K 17
Ratings: Mark G 8, John 8, Garry 7, Mark K 6
|Brian Bankler has launched a new gaming blog called The Tao of Gaming. There are some interesting entries on gaming theory, particularly one related to decision making in LOTR: The Confrontation, and computer opponents for Go, Backgammon, Chess etc. Looks pretty good.|
|I just discovered and downloaded a computer implementation of Modern Art, with you facing 3 computer opponents. It seems to work pretty well and, with my first attempt, I came in a very distant third. My only excuse is I’ve not played the game for a long while. There is a bit of discussion on Boardgamegeek here.|
|Heroscape has been available in the U.S. for a while now but only landed in the UK just before Christmas. As Chris had a birthday in early January, I took advantage of the New Year Sale at The Place For Games to order a copy. When he opened the wrapping paper on his birthday, he didn’t seem overly thrilled but once we dug into the box and saw the marvellous components, his eyes widened and he was pretty keen to play.
I really like the way you build up the landscape prior to the game, allowing you to use your imagination to come up with interesting battlefields. There are a number of scenarios in the rulebook to try out first but that won’t stop you designing your own once you get used to the game. The playing pieces are first class and represent a very diverse range of characters (you can have standard army elite forces facing robots or meninblack type characters or even a huge dragon). Oh and it’s worth mentioning the large box and the amount of fresh air inside it: there is none! The components only just squeeze inside and this makes a refreshing change. As to the game itself, we’ve only tried the basic version so far and this is pretty straightforward. The scenario will dictate a goal (such as eliminating all your opponent’s pieces or capturing a particular object). Player turns involve selecting a character or group of characters, moving them and attacking an opponent’s character if it’s within range of yours. Each character has an attack and defence strength, which determines the number of dice rolled during combat, and a character on higher terrain gets an extra die. If the attacker rolls more ‘hits’ than the defender, the loser’s character is removed from play. All very simple and doesn’t make for too much in the way of strategy. The advanced rules add extra aspects but I can’t report on these until I’ve tried them out. However, the basic game plays ok as long as you’re only expecting a dice-fest. The fun comes from the experience rather than the game mechanics themselves.
Chris and I tried one of the standard scenarios. My commander, Sergeant Drake, proved to be totally inept in attacking Chris’s pieces. Chris sent his dragon to attack me on one side while his robots came at me from the other. Finally, Drake moved out of hiding, let rip on the robots with a savage burst of gunfire – totally missed – allowing them to sneak past and capture my glyph for an easy victory.
|Patrick Korner is one among others who has been raving about this card game from Japanese company, Yuhodo. Well, I hate to admit I missed this one at Essen but spurred on by the comments, I took a look at the Yuhodo website and decided that it was worth the Â£13 to order a copy direct. And, lo and behold, 10 days later the game has arrived. First time I’ve ordered from Japan but everything seems to have worked very smoothly – well done Yuhodo. The cards are very nicely illustrated and the rules don’t seem too tricky. Iain has coincidentally mentioned the game on his site today here and suggests the icons take some getting used to. I’ll reserve judgment and let you know once I’ve tried the game.|
|Struggle of Empires
Players: Mark K, Mark G, Nige, John, Garry
We’ve all been looking forward to getting the new Warfrog game to the table ever since I got back from Essen but we’ve not had a decent opportunity when we’ve all been at the Club until tonight. Struggle of Empires is definitely a gamer’s game. It is complex in its rules and the multitude of options available to players on each turn. And it is pretty long. Knowing this, we agreed to play through just two wars rather than three as we knew this was going to be very much a learning game. The game is set in the 18th century and is about the battle for dominance by the European powers both within Europe and the colonies. Players represent one of the European powers and command a number of forces (armies, navies and forts) with the aim of establishing control tokens in the eleven areas being fought over. Victory points are awarded according to the balance of control tokens between the players in each area. The game is played over three wars (rounds) and each war consists of a number of phases. First, counters are placed on the board, mainly representing neutral country forces (although some allow colonisation or enslavement to take place later in the round). Next comes one of the most interesting aspects of the game: alliances. Each player has to join one of two alliances and allied countries are obliged not to attack one another during the current war. However, players must bid gold to influence which countries join which alliance and this can be extremely important in keeping threatening countries at bay. Once the alliances have been formed, players have five rounds of actions, in which to develop their position on the map. This can be through introducing new armies navies or forts to the map; moving forces around; taking one of the multitude of action tiles (giving various advantages to the holder); colonising or enslaving in a country where permitted; or attacking opposing forces / neutral forces. Once these action rounds have taken place, players receive income and pay maintenance costs, following which VPs are awarded and marked on the scoring track. The game then moves onto the next war and after three wars the game is over. However, at the end, a deduction to the VP totals is made to those players whose countries have generated the most unrest at home (this having been collected by losing battles or taking certain action tiles). Most VPs after this adjustment wins.
After going through the rules and having taken medication for the headaches we had all acquired, we set off through the first war. For some reason, nobody wanted to be allied with me (Britain) but eventually John drew the short straw. The German States saw a heavy infiltration of forces from Nige and Mark K while Mark G consolidated an impenetrable position in the Baltic. John looked abroad to the Caribbean for his rewards, while I flitted around the globe trying to get a presence in lots of places. At the end of the first round, Nige had a slight VP lead with me in second. The second war saw lots of German native forces appear (not surprising with both Nige and Mark K on their doorstep. I paid to be allied with Nige and to have Nige and Mark K in opposing alliances. This made it more difficult for them to battle the German natives and Nige picked up some critical unrest through a couple of badly fought battles. Towards the end of the round, four of us chose to take tiles to reduce unrest, leaving Nige with the most unstable economy at home and losing him 7VPs. This proved critical in pushing him back into second place behind me. We all enjoyed this and were only really starting to delve into the options by the end. I think a third war would have added more to the game by allowing for more longer-term planning and we didn’t concentrate overly on the action tiles. The game took just over two hours after the lengthy rules summary so it should just fit into a normal evening session now we’ve played it once. One thing we felt was a little strange (I hope we didn’t miss a rule) was that, once you had a control token in an area, if you then moved your forces out, the CT would stay there without fear of attack and continue to generate VPs at the end of each war. This was particularly obvious in the Ottoman Empire where I drew a CT in my initial set up (the only player to do so) and the native force was very strong. This meant nobody moved any forces in there and I was the only one to score in that area each round. Others would have liked to attack me in that area but as I had no units there, they couldn’t. Anyway, overall a very involving and interesting game with lots to try. I liked it a lot and hope we will play again soon.
Result: Garry 53, Nige 48, Mark G 42, Mark K 39, John 29
Ratings: Garry 8, Nige 7, Mark G 7, Mark K 7, John 8
|Jan is a big Scrabble fan, whereas I am not. However, this Sid Sackson game recently published by Face To Face Games is a game about making money from forming words, so I thought it might work out well for both of us. We got to try it out this weekend.
The basic idea is that you buy letter tiles and try to form words from those letters to sell for a profit. A die is rolled and everybody draws a number of tiles indicated by the die. If you decide to keep the tiles, you pay for them by sqaring the number of dots showing on all the tiles you drew. You then add these to any other letters you already have and can choose to sell any word you can form from the letters. These are discarded and you receive payment equal to the square of the dots contained in the word you make. Longer words with more dots will, therefore, generate more profit but you can only retain 8 tiles at the end of your turn. Now it’s worth pointing out that there are a number of variants to the game but we went for the main game described by the rules, which involves drawing tiles at random. This works ok but you are at the mercy of lady luck as to whether you draw helpful or unhelpful tiles. The decisions are obvious: gather the maximum letters you can and then form the longest word you can. Much better in my view is the variant where you draft tiles one at a time from a display of face up letters. This gives some control and adds a little bit of interaction that is most definitely lacking in the basic game.
Buyword is ok but didn’t strike me as a game I’d choose to play very often. I won’t play the basic game again but it might be worth trying multi-player with the drafting rules.
Garry’s rating: 5 (basic version)
|The first session of 2005 saw my son, Chris, join us for the first time. To ease him in gently, I chose a couple of reasonably straightforward games, the first of which he has already played before.Knights
Players: Chris, Mark G, Mark K, Nige, Garry
Knights is a little card and dice game by Michael Schacht that came out quite a few years ago. The cards represent prizes that you obtain through rolling certain combinations of dice: the prizes can be castles, tournament wins or special abilities. You have six dice which can be rolled up to three times, banking any that you want to keep between rolls. However, you lose any die showing a 6. On your turn you can either try for one of two neutral cards that are available or a card that an opponent holds (except tournament cards). If you choose the latter and succeed in getting the right combination, the card owner has a chance to defend by rolling a higher combination than yours. The game ends once somebody claims their fourth castle or has two castles and three tournament wins or has three castles and gains the favour of the King by rolling at least four 5s. In our game, Mark K and Nige quickly built up their holdings of special ability cards. Chris and I spent a couple of turns trading castles, while Mark G kept failing to roll the combinations he was trying for. Eventually, I claimed a third castle which meant I immmediately became a target. One by one, the others came and tried to wrest a castle from me and each time they were valliantly repelled. My turn came around again and, urged on by my faithful followers, I succeeded in grabbing a fourth castle for the win. This is a very light fun game, with some tactics but the outcome mainly being subject to the roll of the dice. Mark K had a pretty strong position and should have been able to stop me at the end but the dice weren’t as kind to him as they were to me. However, it was very fitting that the first win of the year went to last year’s champion.
Ratings: Garry 6, Nige 5, Chris 6, Mark K 5, Mark G 6
Players: Chris, Mark G, Mark K, Nige, Garry
Our second game of the evening was this 1999 release by Zoch. As I’ve mentioned before, I am a big fan of Zoch’s production quality and this game has a fantastic gadget included, totally in keeping with the theme. Schrille Stille is all about the music charts and players act as promoters for the record labels, trying to push their acts to the top of the charts. On a turn, each player has a number of influence markers to use to affect the fortunes of the acts currently in the charts. The markers are placed within a cardboard holder, which has a ring of spaces (like a telephone dial) corresponding with the chart positions. All the cardboard holders are placed onto the gadget and the influence markers fall into holes in the gadget for each chart position. Each position is then dialled in turn and the influence markers for that position fall from the gadget onto the table and the act moves up or down depending on the markers revealed. Once all the acts have been resolved, VPs are awarded to those record labels whose acts are in positions 1 to 6, tip markers laid by the players are paid out as appropriate and those acts falling off the bottom of the chart are replaced by new entries. The whole process is very clever and players are involved all the while. Once someone passes 70 points, whoever has the most points at that point is the winner. This game was good fun but, for me, just went on a little too long. Part of this was because the result was extremely close with four players ending the penultimate turn on between 67 and 69 points. I was lagging well behind and the others were all hopeful that I would be overtaken by the dummy record label. Thankfully, that didn’t happen but the final round left Chris and Mark G tied and both claimed a joint win.
Result: Chris=Mark G 79, Nige 76, Mark K 75, Garry 51
Ratings: Chris 6, Mark G 7, Nige 7, Mark K 7, Garry 6
|The latest issue of The Games Journal is out and there is a fascinating review of Gang of Four included. Dave Shapiro is extremely enthusiastic in his praise for the game. I have to admit that I have been intrigued when reading about the game previously and the publisher, Days of Wonder, is one of my favourite companies at the moment, but the price has up to now put me off. Maybe now is the time to take the plunge and give it a go.. The direct link to the article is here.|