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.

Fairy Tale

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 £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.

Session Report – 14th January 2005

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