SR: 25th November 2005 – Caylus

Just added the latest session report to my Trickylight site:

“We’ve all been keen to try this since I brought it back from Essen, but this was the first chance we’d had to get it to the table. The hype it’s been getting certainly heightened our anticipation and, as a result, we ended up being a little underwhelmed.”

You can read the full report here

Trickylight Homepage

I’ve just given the Trickylight homepage a bit of a springclean to try and ensure it changes a bit more regularly. So you’ll see the latest session reports on the front page together with a pic of our most recently played game. I’ve also added this year’s HOF summary for ease of reference for those interested (Nige). Finally, a random bit will appear each time the page loads to test the old grey cells. More bitz to be added soon.

The One Hundred

Over the last couple of weeks, Mark Jackson and Stephen Glenn have been counting down The Official & Completely Authoritative 100 Best Games of All Time Ever Without Question. This has been compiled from the top 15 games of some 65 dedicated gamers. The results are very interesting and are a pretty good approximation of the best games around. I might argue with the order and some of the games aren’t really to my taste but it’s been fun trying to work out what the highest placed games might be. I’m not surprised by most of the top ten although Tichu is higher than I would have expected. There are obviously more people who love this game than I expected (and 4 people voted it as their Number 1 pick). In the latest post, Mark questions How Big A Geek R U? I guess I have to admit to being pretty geeky as my score turns out to be 162 (made up of 87 of the 100 played and 75 owned). Nige rang this evening to ask about Tichu so we’ll have to play it sometime soon. Maybe we ought to have a night solely on card games as there are quite a number we’ve not played at the Shrewsbury Games Club before, Schnappchen Jagd, Wizard and Dr Jeckyll & Mr Hyde to name but a few.

Essen 2005 – Friday 14th October

David, Angela and I had agreed to meet up and play some games together this morning so I arrived at the Jung Hotel at around 9.45. While waiting, I bumped into the Piddinghoe Gamers and chatted with them for a short while. I say, chatted, but really I think they were either busy recovering from the previous evening or they definitely are not morning people. Once we got to the fair, we headed first to have a look at the new Eggert Spiele game, Antike. Unfortunately, the demo tables were full so we had to rely on a brief synopsis from one of the demonstrators. This was just one of several civilisation in the Mediterranean games I’d seen and it appeared to tread very familiar ground. The choice of action mechanic appeared quite novel but, in the end, we moved on without buying.

I then suggested we head to the Hans im Gluck area and, by chance, we found an empty table and grabbed it so that we could try Hazienda. We were joined by two Dutch gamers, whom Angela and David had met the day before (apologies that I can’t remember their names).This was a new Wolfgang Kramer game and looked like something that would appeal to the Shrewsbury game crowd. In many ways, this is a typical Kramer game with players having 3 action points a turn and there being lots of different ways to score points. It seemed nicely balanced as different routes to victory seemed to end up with a very close finish. Also, I was surprised that the person I had thought was comfortably leading ended up only in third place as her massive chain of farms was counter-balanced by few points being accumulated in the other scoring areas. Very good game and this was a definite purchase. We didn’t manage to play the Euphrat & Tigris cardgame but this was a definite purchase for me anyway. I was sad that the English edition wasn’t available but decided to go for the German version anyway as the components were completely language independent.

Next we headed for the Queen stand as we were interested in looking at the several new games they had on show. No luck with getting a table, but I spotted a group of Brits trying out Aqua Romanum. They thought it was ok but, from the description, it sounded very similar to Metro and Linie 1, so I knew Nige would hate it. Watching the guys playing it, it also looked to be a deep thinker with the potential for lots of downtime. The other big box game from Queen was Timbuktu by Dirk Henn, which I felt sure I’d played many years ago in its previous incarnation, so I passed on this too. Of the small box games, I’d been told RaubRitter was dreadful so I didn’t bother looking at that but Revolte in Rom looked as though it would be quite good. Unfortunately, there is a fair bit of text on the cards so I decided to wait until the Rio Grande version of this comes out. While in the vicinity, I next looked at the Cwali stand. Neither of their two games really tempted me: Ahoy looked to be a kid’s game while Aloha sounded too reminiscent of Maka Bana to persuade me to part with my cash. As you can tell, I was really sticking to my guns of being very selective this year. A quick glance at the Fairplay scouting report showed Caylus and a game called Big Kini as being the hits of the show so far. We headed, therefore, to Hall 9 and promptly got a short explanation of how the game played. It seemed interesting so I decided to pick that as my impulse buy of the day. While in Hall 9, we had a very sketchy outline of Il Principe given to us. The publisher, Mind The Move, scored a hit with last year’s Oltremare (which was back this year in a big box version from Amigo) but due to the poor explanation I decided to wait on this one and see what the general reaction was.

I wanted to go and visit the Sunriver Games stand, as I enjoy reading Chris Brooks’ blog and was interested to see what their new game was like. Havoc: The Hundred Years War sounded a bit war-gamey to me, so I didn’t have great expectations. Unfortunately Chris wasn’t around but the game’s designer, KC Humphrey was and sat down with us to explain the mechanics. It was nothing like what my pre-conceived idea had been and it turned out to be a fairly straightforward set-collection and poker type game. The wars only represent the rounds of play, the spoils of which are VPs awarded to whoever displays the best 6-card poker hand (with lower VPs for 2nd and 3rd). So you have to balance adding cards to your hand with when you feel you’ll do well in a war. Mid-way through the game, Julie Brooks took over from KC, and I asked how the family were enjoying the trip. Turns out they’d been in Germany a while and had made the most of flying such a long way by seeing some of the sights. Anyway, Havoc turned out to be a nice surprise and we ended up buying two copies from Julie. Unfortunately, some of the games had shipped with an incorrect card and my copy was one of those. This wasn’t a problem as it didn’t affect gameplay, but they took my details anyway and agreed to send me a replacement card.

On the way through Hall 5, I stopped by the New Century Games stand to see how they were getting on with Cash Trap. Whereas yesterday they were not too busy, today things had picked up. I would have sat down with Angela and David to try it but their demo tables were in full swing. As I only live up the road from them, I knew I’d be able to pop in and see them after the fair so I wasn’t too disappointed. Angela was interested in seeing some of the raft of Sudoku games that were available. I suggested the Kosmos one might be the pick of the bunch, purely because it had Reiner Knizia’s name on it. We managed to collar a Kosmos demonstrator, found a small space on the floor and he explained how it worked. It turned out not to be that interesting, with it being a very simple tile placement game on a Sudoku grid and using Sudoku placement rules. We also had a demo of Ubongo while in our Kosmos floorspace. This turned out to be a speed visual puzzle game of fitting various pentominoes into differently shaped grids. Those finishing the puzzle within the time limit are rewarded with little gems of varying colours, with the first to finish having more flexibility about which gems to take. The person with the most gems in one colour at the end of the game wins. We played a few rounds just to get the idea but none of us are too enamoured with speed games, so we finished early and didn’t buy.

After that, I parted company with David and Angela in order that I could do the rest of my buying. As I was wandering round, I bumped again into Greg and Rick who were just finishing a game of Big Kini. They both had enjoyed it and were in the process of buying it, together with the 5/6 player expansion. This was lucky as I’d not realised that you needed an expansion to play with more than 4 people. This was soon corrected, thankfully. My final stop was Warfrog to pick up Byzantium, remind Geoff of my continuing support of Martin’s games, and then it was off to the airport for the flight back to Birmingham.

So, what was my total haul? Definitely lighter than last year but I’m sure I may have missed one or two good ones. However, the full list turns out to be: Frankenstein, Wordwild, Flix Mix, Rotundo, Wizard, Fettnapf, Carcassonne: The River II, Havoc, Zatre, Sushi Express, Shear Panic, Ark, Hazienda, Key Largo, Dragonriders, Elasund: The First City, Euphrat & Tigris: Das Kartenspiel, Carcassonne: The Discovery, Caylus, Big Kini, Mesopotamia, Bang: A Fistful of Cards, The Pilgrim’s Chronicle, Byzantium and finally Old Town (for John)

Essen 2005 – Thursday 13th October

This was my seventh trip to Essen and, as always, it was a very enjoyable affair. Lots of bright shiny new games to look at; meeting and playing games with friends I’ve not seen for 12 months; and spending too much money but not giving a damn. Two days at the fair is just right for me. It’s enough time to see most of what you want to see, chat and find out about what’s hot and what’s not, while avoiding the unbearable crush of Saturday and Sunday.

Flying out on Thursday morning meant that I got into the halls at about 10.30. After stashing the empty suitcase, I headed first towards the Alea booth to check out their latest prototype: Um Ru(h)m und Ehre. I wasn’t surprised to find Greg Schloesser and Rick Thornquist among the first group trying out the game. Their verdict was that it plays pretty well but is much lighter than some of the classic Alea big box games, with lots of dice rolling. It looks like a set-collecting game with a pirate theme (yes, yet another pirate game!)

After that, I headed for the Rio Grande booth. I had e-mailed Jay Tummelson a few weeks ago and he’d said they had hoped to have most of their new releases available at the show. Now, last year, the English editions were in short supply so I’d decided to pick up what I was interested in very early on. Although some of my most eagerly awaited picks hadn’t made it (Hazienda and E+T cardgame), I did pick up Caylus, Dragon Riders, Carcassonne: The Discovery and Ark, while Jay also threw in copies of Carcassonne: The River 2 expansion and the Puerto Rico expansion. He also had copies of Techno Witches and the new Power Grid maps but I passed on these. Mayfair was my next port of call to see what English editions they had. Quite a few was the answer with many of the DaVinci line being there. I held onto my money as far as these were concerned until I’d had the chance to try them but did pick up English copies of Mesopotamia and Elasund (the latest in the Catan adventures series), which Keith Thomasson had said was receiving some reasonable buzz.

By that time, my bag was already getting very heavy so I went and transferred the early purchases to my suitcase and headed for hall 9, where a lot of the smaller companies are. Fragor Games were in here with their new sheep game, Shear Panic. I had a quick chat with Gordon Lamont, who is a really nice guy and who thanked me for advertising the game on my site. Luckily, I had pre-ordered my copy, because they had sold out of all 500 copies by Wednesday afternoon (before the fair had officially started). Good news for them but I guess lots of people will have been disappointed to miss out. Fragor had also done a great job with their booth with lots of sheep skins and faces decorating the place. Gordon also suggested they might be doing a two player version next year, so they’ll be able to re-use the stuff for their booth next year. Wandering around, I bumped into Mike Siggins and Martin Leathwood who were trying out Castle Merchants by Z-Man Games. They weren’t overly impressed but I was later able to try the game myself.

Next up was the Warfrog stand, with Geoff Brown giving me grief about not immediately buying their new game Byzantium. Now, he knows I do always buy Martin’s releases but tend to wait until later on so I’m not carting the game around all day. But he claimed that every year I drive him mad by not parting with my cash straight away, unlike their other customers who complete the transaction in less than a minute. This is the jovial banter I’ve come to expect so, true to form, I left him hanging and noted down that I should leave my purchase of Byzantium until the very last minute. All this time, I had not actually sat down to play a game. This changed when I bumped into Greg again and Ward Batty, who were on their way to the Fragor booth to try out Shear Panic. They asked if I wanted to join them and it took about a nanosecond for me to agree. On the way, however, Greg bumped into someone he wanted to chat to and, although Ward and I were happy to talk to each other about his Atlanta games days and other things, by the time we got to Hall 9, we were late for the time he’d booked to play and Gordon had to let someone else try it in our place. Undaunted though, we went over to the Abacus area and persuaded them to teach us Sushi Express. Our teacher, Miriam, was extremely good and spoke perfect English much to our embarrassment. We felt better though when she admitted she was studying English at university and had spent time in both the USA and Scotland learning the language.

Sushi Express is a light push your luck dice game by Michael Schacht, which takes about 30 minutes to play. The idea is that you’re driving delivery vans around a city trying to keep your customers supplied with sushi. There are 8 different coloured customer cards and some tip cards. Players get 3 points for the first card they gain in a colour and 1 point for each extra card in that colour. Also, the player with the fewest tips at the end of the game loses points. Players bid for the right to roll first by placing a token on the highest number they think they can roll with two standard dice. The player bidding closest to 12 rolls first. They have two attempts to roll at least the number bid. If successful, they move the number of spaces bid and if they pass the Sushi Express space, choose a customer card from those on display. All other players get to move what they bid without needing to roll. If the first player was unsuccessful, he doesn’t move and the next placed bidder gets to roll the dice to try and reach their bid. Once the customer card supply is exhausted, the game ends and whoever has the most points wins. In our game, Greg and I tied for first place. We all quite enjoyed this as a fun game and I picked up a copy to bring home.

We then went and tried Castle Merchants at the Z-Man Games booth. We were taught by Z-Man head honcho, Zev Shlasinger. The players are merchants who are trying to sell their wares at five different castles. They are rewarded with gold, with most gold going to the player who first supplies a castle and less gold for each subsequent supplier. Cards are used to determine the terrain to be travelled over and also to allow a player to travel over that terrain. Rock falls can be placed in front of your opponents to slow them down but, basically, it’s a race to try and visit as many different castles as you can before everyone else gets to the rich pickings first. Ward had a big problem early on, which prevented him from keeping up with the other players. So, after about a third of the game, he knew he had no chance of winning. We also thought there might be a bit of a runaway leader problem but this may have been because we   weren’t nasty enough with our rockfalls. The game overall was ok but it wasn’t one I was tempted to pick up. I decided to call it an afternoon after that and so headed to my hotel for a quick change. I had arranged to meet up with friends, Angela Caunce and David Blowers, that evening so headed over to the Jung Hotel, where they were staying. While waiting for them to appear, I chatted for a while with Valerie Putman from Ohio (I think), who was making her first trip to Essen. She had the same reaction as everyone who makes their first trip to Essen, remarking how huge it is.

After Angela, David and I had eaten at a local Chinese restaurant, we returned to the Jung to play another couple of games. First off was Lucca Citta by Da Vinci games. This was a pretty quick card game about building palaces and opening them to the public. Each player is trying to complete up to five different palaces. To do this, you need to have played five cards of that palace. The cards will show a number of windows and shields, as well as a number above the door. The shields are used to determine player order while the windows increase the value of the palace when complete. Each round a number of triplets of cards are laid out and the player with the most shields has first pick. These cards are added to the palaces under construction and any that have five cards are moved to the completed area and points equal to the number of windows are noted down on paper. On any subsequent turn, a completed palace can be opened to the public, which results in bonus points according to the size and completeness of any unopened palaces of the same type held by the other players. Once the deck is exhausted, players get to open any remaining completed palaces and whoever has amassed the most points wins. It took us a while to work out what we were doing but, once we got the hang of it, I quite enjoyed it. However, it seemed to be over a bit too quickly so I’m not sure how much opportunity there is for strategic planning.

The other game we played was Railroad Dice 2 from Wassertal Spieleverlag, the follow-up to a game that was very well received when it was released two years ago. The game is about developing a track network to connect up various stations on the board and moving passengers between those stations to accumulate more money. It is very similar in concept to many other railway games but the type of track that can be laid is shown on the faces of the dice so you can’t always lay what you want when the dice are being unkind. This second version adds complex dice, which allow you to upgrade simple straights and curves, allowing the routes to weave among each other. I am not overly keen on this type of game but it played ok and Angela did the best job of developing her network and deserved the easy win she achieved, despite me trying my best to mess up her plans. And that was it, for the first day. I’ll try and add my report on Friday’s gaming tomorrow or maybe later in the week.