Session Report – 18th February 2005

Power Grid

Players: Mark K, Phil, Nige, Mark G, Garry

This week, we finally played Friedemann Friese’s Power Grid, a game I had put off buying as I already had the first edition of Funkenschlag. We quite liked the earlier version but it suffered from being a bit long, a bit fiddly and the components (especially the board) were not up to the usual German standard. I’m happy to say Power Grid addresses all these criticisms and is an excellent game. Each player represents a power company who is aiming to buy power stations and resources to supply electricity to a network of cities. Each game round is split into 5 phases: Firstly, turn order is determined for the round (basically determined by who has connected their network to most cities, with ties broken by size of power plant). Then a series of power plant auctions take place where everyone has the opportunity to purchase one power plant. The third phase involves buying resources to be used in your plants, then each player can spend money to expand their network into new cities. Finally, players receive income for the cities they choose to supply power to and some housekeeping takes place ready for the next round. Once a player has a network connected to 15 cities (in the 5 player game), whoever is able to supply power to the most cities at the end of that round wins, with ties being broken by who is left with most cash. Our game was extremely close. We all stayed pretty tightly bunched early on. Then I struck out to a bit of a lead, trying to get a bit of an income advantage. However, the game does not favour the leading player as buying resources and network expansion are done in reverse turn order allowing those players who are trailing to complete these phases more cheaply. This meant that everyone stayed in touch. I thought I had my plan all worked out going into the penultimate turn but a momentary lapse, involving me purchasing two resources more than I needed, cost me the game. If I had not purchased these, I would have been able to afford to connect up to a seventeenth city, but I was 6 Elektros short. This meant I was tied with Phil on sixteen cities (all of which we could supply power to) and he had 27 Elektros cash left to my 15, allowing him to win on the tiebreak. He did play very well though. Nige and Mark G also were able to supply 15 cities on that turn, showing just how close it was. The game felt much improved over Funkenschlag. It took just over 2 hours to play (the original took us well over 2 hours to complete step 1) and the pre-printed routes between cities got around the fiddly route-drawing part of the original without me feeling it lost anything. This is a very worthwhile business game that I thoroughly recommend.

Result: Phil 16 (+27 Elektros), Garry 16 (+15), Nige 15 (+10), Mark G 15 (+5), Mark K 13

Ratings: Phil 7, Garry 8, Nige 7, Mark G 7, Mark K 7

Session Report – 11th February 2005

Ys

Players: Mark K, Chris, Nige, Garry

With four of us tonight, we decided to try this new game by Cyril Demaegd and self-published under the label Ystari Games. The game is all about placing your brokers into areas of a city, to exert the most influence in order to gain gems and victory points. The board shows a city which is divided into four quarters and each quarter into 3 areas: port, commercial and palace areas. Separately there is also a market where you can place brokers to manipulate the price of gems. There are four main types of gem, red, yellow,green and blue whose price can be manipulated, plus there are black gems which can be won only at the ports and white gems which can be traded for any of the main gems. Each player has 11 brokers with values between 0 and 4. There is also a deck of character cards which players can win in the 4 palace areas, and these give advantages to the owner in later rounds. A game round consists of setting up the gems and character cards available to be won in the current round; bidding for turn order using two of your brokers; playing your brokers into the city or market areas – two brokers at a time until everyone has played 8 brokers; paying out gems, VPs and character cards to those with the most influence in each area; and adjusting the price of gems in the market. The game lasts four rounds after which gems are converted to VPs based on their relative value and whoever has the most VPs is the winner. In our game, I got off to a pretty good start in the first two rounds, picking up some useful VPs cheaply in the commercial areas and some gems. However, my gems were the least valuable. Chris seemed to be keen to manipulate the prices at market and pick up the odd gem of the more valuable colours here and there. In the third round, Mark in particular picked on me, as he viewed me as the leader, and I had a disastrous round. Nige continued to concentrate on black gems, which paid a fixed price (in VPs) at the end of the game, based on how many you had collected. However, the final round was the critical one. In this round, the palce areas each pay out one white gem and Chris decided he wanted these, a feat he achieved relatively unopposed. He also picked up a white gem from the market   and by careful allocation of these to the most valuable colour he moved from having the third-most gems in that colour to having the most. As he also had the most gems in the second-most valuable colour, he cruised past us on the scoreboard for a great win. The white gems individually don’t make that much difference but allowing him to win five had a huge effect. We all quite liked Ys: It is fairly easy to understand your goals and there are multiple ways to achieve progress in the game. It took a little bit longer than we would have liked ideally but it is a good debut from M. Demaegd.

Result: Chris 87, Mark K 74, Garry 72, Nige 68

Ratings: Chris 7, Mark K 7, Garry 6, Nige 6

Coloretto Amazonas

Players: Mark K, Chris, Nige, Garry

We then decided to dip into this new card game by Michael Schacht. Don’t be fooled by the Coloretto link: It has very little to do with the original and is a much simpler game (even accepting that Coloretto itself is pretty simple). The game is played with 90 cards, each card showing one of 18 different species of animal in one of four colours. Each player is trying to collect sets of cards in the four different colours. A set consists of between 4 and 7 different animals in a colour. Once you have completed a set, these cards are set aside for scoring at the end. In addition the first player to complete a set of a particular colour receives a bonus card worth 4 to 7 points. The game ends once a player has completed three columns or the deck of cards runs out. Each player has a hand of three cards and on his turn he can either play a card for himself or offer it to an opponent. Playing a card for onesself merely involves adding it to one of the four colour sets you are collecting. However, duplicates of the same animal species cannot appear in your set. Playing a duplicate means both duplicated cards are discarded. A card offered to an opponent (often a duplicate of a card he has already played) can either be accepted or rejected. If accepted, he adds it to the relevant set or, if a duplicate exists, discards both the card offered and the duplicate. If rejected, the offered card is discarded together with a card of a set in an adjacent colour. (Card sets are laid in columns in a given colour order). If you do not have a card in the adjacent column, you have to accept the offered card. At the end of your turn you draw a new card to return your hand to three cards. At the end of the game, cards in your hand are discarded; uncompleted sets are scored based on the number of cards in the set ( 1 point for 1 card, 3 for 2, 6 for 3 etc.) Completed sets score using the same method, bonus cards are added and whoever has the highest total wins. Our game took about 15-20 minutes. Nige complained of only picking up cards of one colour, which doesn’t help if you need to protect that colour by having an adjacent colour to allow you to reject offered duplicates. The choices all seemed farly obvious: Better to play a card for yourself than offer it but it is sometimes worth attack someone getting close to completing a set. Make sure you’ve got adjacent coloured cards to protect your more valuable sets. Try and win a bonus card. The game is clearly aimed as being a light family game and it is pleasent enough but it doesn’t have the gut-wrenching dilemnas of original Coloretto. I managed to grab the win once the deck had run out.

Result: Garry 35, Nige 30, Mark K 29, Chris 26

Ratings: Garry 6, Nige 5, Mark K 5, Chris 6

Session Report – 4th February 2005

Australia

Players: Nige, Mark G, John, Garry

I had just received a new order from Adam Spielt and knew that Nige would be keen to play this new game from Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling. I’ve not seen news of an English edition yet, so spent Thursday evening translating the rules. They turned out to be pretty simple but deceptively so because the game is full of difficult choices. Australia is themed around groups of Rangers who are working on nature and industry projects throughout the country in the 1920s. It could, however, just as easily have had another Tikal/Java/Mexica tag because the gameplay is fairly abstract. The board is a map of the country, split into 24 regions in six different colours. In each region, there is a nature project and an industry project which pay out Victory Points once they have been completed. Bordering each region are a number of bases where rangers can be placed. Players control an aeroplane and a limited number of rangers and are trying to place the latter in order to optimise their scoring potential when the projects conclude. Each turn, every player will perform two out of three possible actions: Fly your plane to a region; play a card to collect money and place Rangers from your supply into the region where your plane is situated; or remove up to four rangers from the region where your plane is. The cards determine which coloured region you can place rangers in, how many rangers can be placed (between 1 and 4), and how many dollars you can collect (3 if you can place just 1 ranger / zilch if you can place 4). The dollars are then used to turn the colour of a card to a different one of your choice, move a ranger from any base to any other base, or for VPs at the end of the game. Scoring occurs when projects are completed: for nature projects, this is when every base in that region has at least one ranger on it; for industry projects, it is when a certain number of rangers are present in that region. Whoever triggers the scoring receives 3 VPs and then every player receives 1 VP for each ranger they have in that region (or 2 VPs for rangers on a base at sea). In the advanced game, rangers can also be involved in a windmill project, which scores every time a certain number of nature/industry projects has been completed. Every time, a card is played, a replacement is taken from one of the four draw piles, and once a player runs out of cards and cannot draw a replacement, the game ends. Dollars are then converted to VPs and whoever has accumulated the most VPs wins. This is an excellent game, which we all thoroughly enjoyed. Although your choice of actions is limited, there are lots of scoring opportunities and choosing which to concentrate on is tricky. Two actions is never enough and your supply of rangers (11 in a four player game) is so limited that you are constantly having to weigh up when to fly your plane into regions to remove rangers for use on your next turn. Also, very often you are trying to set yourself up for scoring on your next turn, but at the same time you risk setting an opponent up before you. We thought early on there might be a runaway leader problem, as John raced ahead and looked to be nicely placed for future scoring. However, he got pegged back while having to recover rangers for use elsewhere and by about three quarters of the way through, we all were within five points of each other (at around 90 points each). I then managed to capitalise on one turn being able to trigger three sets of scoring and this pushed me ahead enough so the others were unable to catch up. We played the advanced version, which isn’t much more advanced than the basic one, and John scored lots of easy points as he was the only one really to concentrate on the windmills. It will be very interesting to see how players approach the next game, as I am already thinking about different things I could have done to score better (despite the fact I won). This is a pretty good sign and I wouldn’t bet against this being there or thereabouts for the Spiel Des Jahres this time. It’s got plenty to think about but is very simple mechanically.

Result: Garry 137, John 133, Nige 119, Mark G 107

Ratings: Garry 8, John 8, Nige 9, Mark G 9

Cloud 9

Players: Nige, Mark G, John, Garry

We then tried Aaron Weissblum’s bluffing balloon game, which has recently been released by Out Of The Box in the UK. I played the original FX Schmid version several years ago and really enjoyed it. The OOTB version is a bit more streamlined and works ok for a light family game, but the game is a bit poorer for some of the elements they’ve left out. Greg Aleknevicus expands on this in his Games Journal review. Everybody starts with their playing piece in the balloon and players take turns controlling the balloon. The controller rolls a number of dice, which will show a combination of cards that the player has to discard from his hand for the balloon to successfully rise to the next level. The higher the balloon rises, the more points are available to be scored. Between rolling the dice and playing cards, each player other than the controller has the option of getting out of the balloon and banking the points accumulated so far on this flight. If they stay in, they could get more points if the controller has the right cards but, if he fails, the balloon crashes and anyone still in the balloon scores nothing. Players start with six cards each but only draw one additional card after each flight, no matter how many cards they’ve played meantime. Several flights are run until someone reaches 50 points at which stage the person with the most points wins. John again set off to an early lead, whereas I was lagging at the back. However, when I was in control of the balloon, I kept rolling blanks and so conserving my cards. I managed to push a solo flight to 15 points which pushed me into the lead and just 14 points from the finish line. Nige and I then embarked on an epic flight and although I bailed out at 15 points, I knew Nige couldn’t catch me, although he did successfully get to the maximum 25 points to finish just one point adrift of my score. Again we enjoyed this as a light filler but next time we play, I’m going to re-introduce the rules left out of the OOTB edition.

Result: Garry 51, Nige 50, Mark G 43, John 42

Ratings: Garry 6, Nige 5, Mark G 7, John 7

Session Report – 28th January 2005

This week, we congregated at my house and were able to welcome a newcomer, Phil Davies, to the group.

Bluff

Players: John, Chris, Mark K, Mark G, Phil, Garry

We started off with a quick game of Bluff. Chris and Phil had never played before but it is very easy to pick up. Unfortunately, Chris got burned very early on by an unlikely dice distribution. He was called on a bid of 6 stars only to find his was the only star under all the cups (out of about 28 dice). Well, if you’re going to go out early, best to make it spectacular. While we were finishing off, he started watching a film so decided to give the rest of the games a miss. Meanwhile, I quickly followed Chris out of the game after one particularly poor raise. Phil stuck around for a while but he was next to be expelled. Mark K, however, played fairly conservatively and walked away with an easy win, only losing a single die.

Result: Mark K, Mark G, John, Phil, Garry, Chris

Ratings: John 7, Phil 7, others already rated

Finstere Flure

Players: John, Mark K, Mark G, Phil, Garry

We then moved onto the Friedmann Friese game of trying to escape a dungeon while avoiding the monster. We’ve played this before and it was again an enjoyable affair, although I have to say this time it took a bit longer than previously. People were being very careful over their moves. The first turn saw the monster draw two stakes which brought him all the way into the thick of things straight away. A lot of carnage ensued on the next few turns with everybody having characters sent back to the start. We got through the monster deck the first time without a single character having escaped. Eventually, Mark K managed to sneak one past, while everyone else seemed to be ganging up on my characters, even Phil the newcomer. I put him straight saying that if he carried on like that, I wasn’t going to invite him again. It didn’t seem to do any good and I was first to lose a second character, guaranteeing I couldn’t win. Then Mark K lost his other two, leaving him hoping that the game would run out without anybody getting two characters to freedom. However, despite the monster eating characters left right and centre, John and Mark G both managed to keep two characters alive and, although he was last to get his first character out, John quickly managed to guide his second one through the exit to seal the win.

Result: John = winner

Ratings: John 8, Mark G 6, Phil 8, Mark K 6, Garry 7

Fanboy 3

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.

Session Report – 21st January 2005

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

Cartagena

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

Coloretto

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

Heroscape

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.