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Going over board

I will be using this blog to record plays of games with my 3 very different gaming 'groups': My kids (and occasionally parents) playing family games; My partner (playing light-mid weight two player games; My regular local gamers - only three of us (playing 'serious' games)

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Playing Snowdonia in Snowdonia

Andrew Eynon
Wales
Llandudno
Conwy
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Well not quite in Snowdonia but Conwy is on the edge of the Snowdonia National Park. This was the inaugural get together of the Conwy gamers in what will hopefully be our new permanent home (Conwy Golf Club). Anyone in North Wales interested in joining the group please geek mail me for details.

There are so few games set in Wales that we were all concerned it might be a bit of a let down, but we needn't have worried.

The components are up to Lookout's usual high standards (and fortunately we didn't get the very low component quality of Suprised Stare's Paperclip Railways Game). The box is of a similar standard and size to Agricola. There is loads of space in the box and arguably the depth could have been much shallower. The components are of good quality and number particularly given the UK retail price of around £30. We were all impressed with the artwork on the cards and board. The only down side was that my copy came with a German set of rules (an English replacement set is on its way from Suprised Stare games).

The rules are very straightforward. Unfortunately I was summarising them reading from my downloaded copy on my phone which probably explains why I missed the fact you have to pay for steel bars when laying track! That aside the only rule which gave us a problem was that regarding buying stone blind from the bag when it is so easy to count the stone in play (this rule has now apparently been officially scrapped).

The game is far more challenging than the simple rules lead you to believe. Even with an extra labourer it is virtually impossible to do everything you want in a given turn. This is particularly tricky given that other players can benefit from your actions (such as clearing rubble) and you also need to pay careful attention to the events and weather tracks.

Victory points can be gained in a variety of ways. The contract cards seem to be the most profitable way of gaining points and make the game not solely dependant on worker/action placement to gain points. On the first play it wasn't immediately clear who was in the lead so you do need to be doing the mental arithmetic to workout what your opponents are likely to score as points are only recorded at the end of the game (there is no victory track).

The game took just over 2 hours (3 player). This was in large part because we were all new to the game and only I had read the rules. We were all impressed with the game play and depth of strategy. There certainly appears to be enough variety to ensure repeated play.
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Sat Nov 10, 2012 9:17 pm
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Looking into the abyss: initial impressions of Andean Abyss

Andrew Eynon
Wales
Llandudno
Conwy
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This brief review is based on three plays, the tutorial game, a solo standard rules game and a solo game using the non-player rules.

Firstly the components. The comparable game here would be Dominant Species. Andean Abyss also has the extra deep (and new sturdy type) box. All in all there are some 170 wooden pieces. What is particularly impressive is the embossing on many of the pieces(I'd assumed the insignia would be stickers). This is not just aesthetic but denotes (in)active pieces. Yet the retail price in the UK is considerably lower than Dominant Species so excellent value.

The board is also very impressive, in sturdiness, detail and visual impact. The board is however not without fault and I will return to that issue later. The player aid cards are amongst the most informative and visually appealing of any game I've seen. Also unlike many other games you get plenty (one for each player and two non player cards).

The game uses CDG mechanism but unlike most CDGs players don't have a hand of cards but rather each player has the option to use the current card(depending on player order, which varies from card to card, and whether they used a card last turn). The next card is also visible enabling players to avoid using the current card in favour of playing the upcoming one. This makes the game ideal for solo play, even without the solo rules, because there is no hidden dimension to card play.

The game is also unusual for a CDG in that it is multiplayer (playing up to 4) whilst also working solo or two player. The non-player factions can be played using automated rules or players can play two factions (having to meet both victory conditions).

On initial viewing it appears that the Government (which is always the player faction in the solo rules) and FARC factions have much easier to achieve victory given they both start not too far short of their victory conditions. The other two factions seem to have very difficult victory conditions, particularly given they have fewer pieces. But after my limited plays the game is actually far more balanced than first appearances suggest.

Both tactically and in terms of player actions each faction plays differently. This is most marked for the government player who has far more pieces and resources but is hampered by costly actions and can often only eliminate opponent pieces over two turns. The three guerilla factions have common pieces (guerillas and bases) and similar but varying actions. The right wing guerillas (AUC) play similarly to FARC and win by having more bases. This is quite a challenge given they only have six bases (compared to nine) and far fewer guerillas to protect them. The cartel guerillas win by amassing over 10 bases (and a not inconsiderable resource target).

The game centres around four rounds punctuated by four scoring cards (propaganda cards). Each round will consist of 15 cards (12 cards are removed each game to ensure variety of future plays). None of the cards appear in chronological order so cards can appear in any of the four rounds.

The tutorial game is excellent, and uses a preset sequence of event cards. There is also a tutorial for the solo game. The play book also includes details of all the event cards but it would have been good to see examples of play for some cards.

The rule book is however very clear and few of the event cards require a second reading. The standard rules only occupy 10 pages, shorter than the simplest standard CDG game. There are also 4 pages devoted to non player actions but these are also summarised on the player aid card.

Playing solo without the non player rules was a rewarding gaming experience and turns moved quite quickly. FARC won an automatic victory on the second propaganda card. Solo play in this manner is an excellent way to learn the rules and strategy.

Next I played the solo rules. This was actually less satisfactory and is a very different game. Many of the normal rules are altered and play develops differently. The Player faction (government) is at a big disadvantage given the other factions effectively support each other and nearly always get an operation and special activity when not playing events. The government too benefits from this but only every other turn at best. Fortunately the non players don't follow through their advantage because of the flow chart rules that govern them. I was in a position where even AUC had achieved automatic victory conditions at one point but the flow chart intervened and their advantage was lost. In the end the government were beaten by a Cartel victory on the last propaganda card.

The non player rules cause two problems. Firstly the flow charts whilst very good are much slower than just choosing an action. Generating random locations can be slow too. But the biggest problem is with interpreting fairly certain event cards, although there is some guidance on the non- player cards but not detailed in the rules (this is where more guidance in the play book would
help).

Playing time was about an hour per round playing the normal rules but for the solo rules turns took another 15 mins at least. That said in an actual multi player game playing time would increase too.

The only other issue I had with the game is that the board gets very over crowded. There are only two holding boxes to alleviate this. Cities are too small and the roads/pipelines have no clear holding boxes which means during play it is easy for the placement of pieces to become confused. There are however few information counters and of those the control counters serve little purpose. yet the board has a lot if space devoted to holding pieces not in play. It might have been better to lose that space in favour of a larger playing area.

The theme of the game is not one that I would usually be interested in but the cards and play reflect the theme well and game play is very varied. The game certainly feels a lot more euro than war game. It is however one of the most enjoyable games I've played recently and in my opinion is the best new game of 2012. I would score it a 9 thus far. Despite its length it is one of those games you want to start again on completion. I'm eagerly looking forward to playing it multiplayer soon and looking forward to the next game in the series which is to me a more interesting topic the Cuban revolution Cuba Libre.
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Sun Oct 7, 2012 5:00 pm
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Wars are won in winter: a brief review of Red Winter

Andrew Eynon
Wales
Llandudno
Conwy
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A brief review of Red Winter: The Soviet Attack at Tolvajärvi, Finland – 8-12 December 1939 based on playing a solo scenario and a couple of Scenarios with my regular war game opponent.

Firstly the components. These are up to GMT's current high standard. The counters are oversized (very good for ageing eyes!) and very well produced. The rule book is very clearly laid out and there is a very informative play book including around 15 scenarios. There are some other very nice touches such as The quick play card with mini scenario, the list of easy to overlook rules, MP value for road movement marked on the map from entry hexes.

The map is well done, the colours are muted but terrain is clear and the colours add to the wintry feel. The victory hexes are also clearly marked.

The only minor criticism of the components would be the box, firstly it is full size and not the new extra strong type - a thinner more sturdy box like that used for the new edition of Ardennes '44 would have been better.

The game plays very quickly, many scenarios play in around an hour and there were few rules queries even on the first play. The game is also very light on information markers so the map remains uncluttered and units are clearly visible. The game only has a single map sheet so requires relatively little table space.

The game does have some elements new to me in WWII games. Firstly there is the lack of AFVs. There are some available to the Russians but only in later scenarios and at the cost of VPs to he opponent. You therefore have an almost exclusively infantry game, yet the game retains variety of strategy (with both sides on the offensive in different phases of the war). Also the shear number of scenarios ensures replayability.

The night rules are also different to other games, with the Russians having to balance staying warm to being easy targets for Finnish raiders adding more variety to play.

I'm looking forward to playing the full campaign game and would recommend the game to anyone interested in this uncommon theatre of WWII.
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Wed Aug 15, 2012 6:00 am
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Shiver me timbers! A brief review of Sewer Pirates

Andrew Eynon
Wales
Llandudno
Conwy
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Just a short review of the full version of Sewer Pirats played with my daughters, following on from us playing the simple version detailed in my earlier blog post.

The advanced version adds the selection by auction of the crew members who now have unique powers. This does add to the playing time, although the game still plays in under an hour. After finishing the game the powers seemed fairly well balanced, whereas in the auction we were all going for the rats. The cockroach (whose action cost one less card) proved particularly useful. Although even the snail had its uses in game play.

With only three players the range of crew was quite small, we only had one raccoon for example. The racoon's trait appeared very powerful, receiving payment when another player's crew member overtakes you in the boat, but only earned one card all game.

We found the player aid card describing the crew traits unclear in some cases but the powers are clear in play (except for the frog which needed a couple of reads of our translated copy of the rules).

One rule we found that had been overlooked from the simple game was that crew members can go straight to captain from the play area if all other spaces are occupied.

All in all the kids preferred the complex version and it does add a lot more variety and strategy to the game but is still simple enough for younger children.
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Tue Aug 14, 2012 10:37 pm
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It takes a village to raise a child

Andrew Eynon
Wales
Llandudno
Conwy
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Our third game of the school holidays was Village.

I had a read a not too positive review of the game in spielbox so had discounted the game until the recent publicity around the Spiel des jahres.

My kids have been playing Agricola for some time so I thought the theme would appeal but wasn't sure about the complexity.

I played our first game with my eldest daughter (12). It took about an hour. The game mechanism was fairly clear after the first round although I did forget about the bonus points at he end of mass.

The game was very close but low scoring 40 points to 39 (even allowing for missing the scores above). We both lost family members early on in the crafts which seemed a poor sacrifice points wise. Other than the theme it has little in common with Agricola. In fact the Agricola scoring based on a little of everything contrasts with the emphasis on concentrating on certain areas for high scoring in Village.

For the second game my youngest daughter also played. She quickly picked up the strategy and invested her actions primarily in the market. In the end the 40 points she picked up there proved the winning strategy. We all scored over 70 and didn't waste family members in the crafts. This created a much longer game of around 2 hours. Usually the kids won't play games much over an hour but both wanted to play to a finish (in the end it got late and we finished the next day).

Whilst looking for a video tutorial I came across the promotional music video! This makes the most of the impressive Breugelesque board images. My daughters thought the music was annoyingly catchy.

All in all a hit, so we'll see if Village has the staying power of Agricola which we are still playing some 3 years on.
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Tue Jul 24, 2012 5:14 pm
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First day of the school holidays!

Andrew Eynon
Wales
Llandudno
Conwy
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Start of the kids summer holidays so good opportunity for gaming.

First of all we played Sewer Pirats. We played the German version, but the game is language independent so not a problem.

We were all impressed with the quality of the miniatures, although some strange choices of scale eg small toad but large snail. Youngest daughter felt they needed painting, this will no doubt be a summer activity.

Rules very simple, boxed as age 10+ (12 in the rule book) but simple enough to be played by much younger children. We played the simple rules, game took around 30 mins. Only rules query was whether or not some bonus tiles (eg can opener) had their own points value. Looked like from the counter but not in the rules so assumed not.

Components and cards all very good. Counters particularly sturdy. We all enjoyed the game and the strategy was easy for all to pick up quickly. My youngest daughter won so definitely good game for the under 10s. Will try the full rules next time. Game currently a bargain from www.boardgameguru.co.uk at £21.99.


Second game was Marrakech. Had already played a few games of this with My youngest daughter and she was impressed with the components and the simple game play. First game I have seen her read the rules, to get the set up. My eldest daughter joined in this time. Quite a close game, with everyone avoiding landing on other rugs until the very end.
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Mon Jul 23, 2012 11:43 pm
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