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Musings from the half-termly board games evening of a North-West London School.

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The Inaugural MTS staff board games night

Alex Miller
United Kingdom
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On Monday 9th October we held the very first whole staff board games evening at work open to everyone. To celebrate the event we had cake! This was not intentional, our games event had coincided with the day of the Great Biology Bake off. So whilst I munched on a tasty retina followed by an iced Vena Cava I wondered who would turn up and what we would play.

Regular fellow players Simon and Steve were among the first to turn up along with Felicity and her husband Jan. So whilst we waited for others I suggested a quick game of Coloretto. I explained the rules which those who hadn't played before picked up quickly. Well they certainly picked up the rules in terms of helping me. The deck seemed to favour me on nearly every turn. Twice I gambled with the last pile and twice got a third card that improved my score and there always seemed to be a pile that was good for me that was unhelpful to everyone else. At the end of the game I had rocked up a pleasing score of 35 with Steve second with 31 and the others quite a bit behind.
With Guy and Mark turning up as our game ended this seemed the perfect moment to play 7 Wonders and it would be the first time I had ever played the game with the full player count. Sadly this wasn't to be as just as we were finishing the rules explanations for new players Guy and Jan, Haydn, Dave and Jack turned and Mark quickly opted to join these three to play Boss Monster.
I received the Temple of Artemis and had Guy with the Hanging Gardens of Babylon to the left of me and Jan with statue of Zeus to the right of me.

The whole game proved to be a struggle for money for me. I had sensibly decided to invest in a number of resources in the first age, but so had Guy and Jan, and even worse they had built cards that meant they could purchases the resources they needed for cheaper from the person on the other side of them. They had both shown interest in a high military strategy and even when I thought I'd got the upper hand on Jan he built up his Zeus statue to gain a sneaky two extra military. Fortunately, most of the others had neglected Science so I decided to go on a mainly green strategy supplemented with some blues. However, without the funds for resources I couldn't build some of the higher scoring blue cards or my wonder and ended up finishing 4th and that was a small miracle considering I scored -6 for military and zero for both my wonder and remaining cash. Jan won with 56, with Simon on 53 and Guy third with 49 with all three notably going hard on military.

The Boss Monster group were just finishing with Jack declared the winner as we counting up the scores from our game and with Eliot and Jason arriving we split into 3 groups. Simon and Mark taught Pandemic to Jason, Guy and Haydn which they apparently won in hard mode but perhaps with perhaps a couple of small bendings of the rules. Jan and Felicity had brought along Splendor and played this with Jack and Eliot who ran out as the eventual winner. Steve and I taught Lords of Waterdeep to Dave.
It was a bit of a strange game with the buildings on the market rarely giving additional adventurers. The lack of warriors in particular inhibited my attempts to complete warfare quests. Therefore I had to focus on commerce quests - the other quest type desired by my lord. I had hoped to get a few buildings built during the game but regularly missed out on first player and Steve frequently got to the builder's hall before me. With two turns to go and unable to work out which two quest types Steve was after, it dawned on me that he probably had the lord who got bonuses for buildings built. Dave seemed to be hoarding intrigue cards rather than completing quests and when late in the game we traded mandatory quests rather than staunching Steve's rapid progress at the end of the game the result looked in little doubt. Steve won with 150 with myself and Dave a distant way behind on 134 and 128 respectively.

The Pandemic quintet had finished long before us and Guy, Haydn and Jason departed leaving Simon and Mark to take up a competitive duel in the form of Deep Sea adventure. Fortune appeared to favour the brave with Mark being prepared to go deeper and winning twice.

The Splendor game culminated with a victory for Eliot and with Jack then leaving Simon suggested a final game of Captain Sonar for the remaining 8 to end the night. I kindly offered the married couple the opportunity to be on different teams but Jan and Felicity were adamant to be on the same side, so the three of us and Mark teamed up against Steve, Simon, Dave and Eliot.

Dave, the international elite sailor, skippered his crew whilst Felicity took charge for our team. As the game progressed we began to stall as we traveled in metaphorical circles. Our opponents pinned us down quickly and whitewashed us 4-0. We played a second game and did marginally better but were still beaten convincingly.
After this, the night came to an end and the group departed. Mark, Simon and I discussed how the evening went and suggested that Flamme Rouge would work well with the group when we next meet. Just to check though we decided to play it then and there! This was the second time we played and continues to be a very enjoyable short and tactical challenge. I particularly like the concept of trying to second guess what the other players are going to do, similar to Glass Road. This time I made sure I made the most of the flats, attempting to speed ahead where ever possible. Mark kept up but Simon fell behind before the penultimate climb.


Despite the nightmare he was having, Simon made a valiant attempt to rejoin the peloton but by this time Mark and I were sprinting for the line. Being at the front proved to be my advantage and I was able to get both my riders just over the line in front of everyone else and claim the final win of the evening.

All in all, a very successful first expanded games night with work colleagues. A second meeting is already booked in for the start of December.
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Sat Nov 11, 2017 1:42 am
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Some kind of Fantasy 26/09/17

Alex Miller
United Kingdom
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A late evening commitment for us all saw a window of opportunity of about 3 hours to get in some game time. Whilst we waited for Mark to arrive Simon suggested a quick game of Ethnos. Whilst I do enjoy this game I have no clue what a wining strategy is. The variable card set up is half the problem because the card powers mean the way to play most effectively changes each time. For this game we played with Dwarfs, Elves, Giants, Orcs and Centaurs. In the first term I decided to go with a strategy of taking a card blind from the top of the deck rather than one face up from the table. The reasoning behind this was to not reveal what cards I wanted to my opponents. This turned out to be a dreadful idea as the card I picked up was the polar opposite of the one I already had! My poor start didn't get any better for the first era. Steve and Simon were cashing multiple small bands with centaurs and then Simon would fill up his Orc board for his second band whilst Steve opted for Elves so he could hang on to cards. I decided in the end to go for large bands placing tiles in only a few high value regions. At the end of the first era I was surprised to find myself only a couple of points behind the others however, they had a much greater presence on the board. I had a much better second era helped by generally getting the cards I wanted. Whilst Steve and Simon began to need large bands to place tiles, I was able to still put smaller bands down where needed. I also took advantage of the neglected Giants to score an additional 7 points. Simon was busily hunting orcs to complete his bonus board and it paid off as he won by a good distance when the three dragon cards came up early. He finished on 65 points with Steve and I fighting it out for second place which Steve achieved with 58 points and myself on 57.

Mark still hadn't arrived so Steve suggested a game of his new filler Deep Sea Adventure. This cute little game on the subject of risking drowning for the sake of some treasure has just as much depth as its title suggests. I decided I was going to push my luck pretty hard and this was helped by some high rolling at the beginning of each dive. The first dive was scuppered by Steve bailing early and picking up three lower tier tiles. I again high rolled whilst still descending resulting in a long journey back. With Steve greedily gulping up oxygen supplies there was enough to go round for Simon and I and we both succumbed to the depths. For his cowardly actions, Steve was rewarded with the lowest possible points total he could have achieved on the first dive.
In the second dive Steve again retreated quickly. However this time I did not gamble quite as much and picked up a couple of mid level tiles. Both Simon and I resurfaced this time and our scores took us ahead of Steve. In the third dive I initially rolled high again and decided to risk it all for the treasure that Simon and I had left on the sea bed. Getting down proved to be easy but when Steve wimped out for the third time it was touch and go whether I would make it back. In the end, some excellent rolls on the ascent made the journey very comfortable and
even allowed for the chance to pause and pick up another tile just to ensure the victory. When the scores were toted up I had won comfortably with a score of 50, with Simon and Steve on 28 and 27 respectively. I really enjoyed the game, particularly when making the decision on whether to return to the sub. The tension on whether the oxygen would run out was also a highlight of the game and I would be happy to play this filler again.
Mark turned up as we were finishing and although there was no longer enough time to play Great Western Trail, we did decide this was an ample opportunity to play Roll Player again. This time I was a Savage narcissistic Dwarf sorcerer, so just like real life then! Mark was a resilient, Orc barbarian guardian, Simon a rogue maniac Dragonkin craftsman and Steve was an exonerated Elf monk champion.
I wasn't particularly happy with the sorcerer skill but neither was I that keen with being a wizard either. My initial dice roll was also pretty poor with only 1 blue dice (my class colour) and no yellow dice. early on in the game I went for a few traits in order to set up my game plan but also to use my skill which proved to be useless as a rolled the same dice three times and each time I rolled a 3. Purchasing reckless, dedicated and foolish traits gave a clear game plan and allowed me to abandon high scores in some characteristics but still gain a good amount of stars through the traits. Mark went heavy on chain mail armour and weapons with some really useful bonuses. Simon went for a skill strategy and picked up skill that counteracted each other on the alignment chart. Steve collected aromour, all armour types, as much as he could. It was unfortunate that in a later round, 5 armour cards all came up in the market together. The game went pretty much as planned for me with the right dice coming up at the right time. And when they didn't Simon reversed the scores with one of his skills only unwittingly giving me the dice I really needed. Although I got all the dice I wanted in the right places, I missed out on purchasing a couple of cards that would have been ideal for my tableaux at the end of the game, and the lack of cash would be my undoing. Simon was able to use my skill more than I did, (using one of his own skills) and rifled through the discard pile to get a card that would net him an additional 3 points. Despite getting my alignment bonus, and the colours in the right spaces from my back story, a good smattering of class colour dice and also getting most of the characteristic stars as well, it wasn't enough to overhaul Simon who had scored highly on his trait cards. He won with 33 points, with me second on 31 and Mark a close third with 29. Steve ended on 26 and was already vowing to sell the game. I would happily buy it off him if I thought I would have other people to play it with but the theme is likely to put off the majority of my game playing friends which is a shame. Well, at least Steve should make a profit selling this out-of-print game.

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Sat Sep 30, 2017 11:53 pm
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A Marked advantage 18/09/17

Alex Miller
United Kingdom
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At the start of September I put together a Doodle poll to arrange a games evening. The only two dates that all four of us could were Monday 18th September and Monday 9th October.

With Steve and Simon keen to play Great Western Trail again sooner rather than later we agreed on the September date with the October evening reserved for a "whole-staff" board games night.

A heavy work load meant that I turned up half an hour late as Simon, Mark and Steve were finishing a round of No Thanks and they looked thankful that they could unpack Great Western Trail and begin herding cattle. I had made the effort to reread the rules the night before but still found explaining the game a complex task. Sure, the basics are fairly straight forward but attempting to explain what each and every action symbol means is an extensive chore. Perhaps my lack of a clear explanation was why after two turns Steve requested if we could start again after making what he felt was fatal mistake that he suggested he never recovered from. Simon also, was struggling to develop any kind of engine and whose all round approach was not netting him many points. A lack of worker purchases seemed to hamper the progress of both of them.
I decided to go for a cowboy heavy approach this game and with the first turn bought the only cowboy in the market. That set the tone for the majority of my game; a couple of buildings here, a train advancement there and the odd certificate, but mainly big cattle purchases and big hand deliveries to Kansas. This looked like a clear winning strategy, especially with a final-turn delivery to San-Francisco which included the laying down of a "deliver to San-Francisco" project card. However, I hadn't accounted for Mark's highly productive mixed strategy. Early on, Mark moved his train quickly along the track and picked up a good few station tokens. These worked in tandem nicely with the project cards he had gaining him multiple victory points when he started picking up hazard tiles, tee-pees and high value cattle cards. Whilst the rest of us were struggling for money he always seemed to be rolling in it and spending it for big point gains. At the end of the game Mark found himself ahead with a score of 95, with me not too far behind with 87. Steve and Simon were battling for 3rd which Simon achieved with a final score of 69 to Steve's 48.



Steve then introduced us to Flamme Rouge. After setting up the track and explaining, what seemed like, fairly straight forward rules we quickly got down to forming a peloton, jostling for first position as we approached the first climb. I played the first few rounds quite well, keeping just behind the leaders and not picking up exhaustion cards. On the first descent I tried to break away and gained a bit of a lead. It was then that I made the horrendous mistake of deciding to let the pack catch up in order to save my high value cards. Unfortunately, this proved to be overly successful as my opponents burst past me to reach the second ascent before me. I was then unable to gain places on the uphill as I was repeatedly blocked off and having to use high value cards that I'd wanted to save until the end. Simon and Mark were first to get to the crest of the incline and quickly sped away downhill opening up a healthy lead that would prove to be unassailable, certainly for me as I plodded on. However, there was to be drama at the end when Simon appeared as though he was going to win by a large margin, faltered on the line when he drew all low value cards for his leading cyclist. This enabled Mark to overtake Simon on the line to claim his second win of the evening. They were followed in by Steve in third place with my two racers not evening finishing!

Despite my disastrous performance in this game, I really enjoyed the tense decisions and the mind games played with my opponents. It played very smoothly and quickly and I would definitely be keen to play again and avenge my last place finish in the first game.

With our pizzas arriving very late we only had enough time to play one more short game whilst devouring out take-away dinners. We agreed on Bang: The Dice game, which proved to be an entertaining 15 minute dice chucking, push-your-luck shoot out. Simon was the Sheriff whilst I was an outlaw who could use beer to heal two lives when currently on 4 or less lives. I made my intentions obvious by going straight after Simon, shooting him twice. Steve then chose to fire at Mark over Simon, clearly suggesting to me that he was the Renegade and Mark was the other outlaw. Mark then inexplicably chose to shoot me over Steve just because he would have to take arrows if he shot Steve. In the next round I had to heal and where possible continued to shoot Simon. Mark was then quickly eliminated leaving me alone to target both Simon and Steve myself. The situation looked grave! However, a life line came in the form of both Simon and Steve rolling triple dynamite off their initial roll stalling their go's. Frustratingly in my next turn I could not finish Simon off, leaving him with one life. It was then that the controversy of the night occurred. Simon once again rolled 3 dynamites which in my mind should of ended in victory for me. However, he had also rolled a beer which Steve said he could use before the dynamite took affect, much to my arguments otherwise that surely the dynamite needed to be resolved first. So the Sheriff survived. For one more turn that is as Steve then finished us both off with 3 hits to take my remaining lives and a final one to eliminate Simon. A win for the renegade!

A day or two later Steve did confess that actually the dynamite should of acted first and therefore I should of won. Scant consolation though, when the medal ceremony had already been and gone.

Another great evening, and both Steve and Simon were keen to play Great Western train again before too long. Simon and I found the opportunity for a two player game the following Saturday and this proved to be the first time I really began to understand the complexities of this demanding game and really enjoyed the quicker pace of a small player count. We managed to complete the game in less than an hour and this time I went for a heavy building strategy and completed the builder row. My train began to roll along the tracks as well, however, my hands of cattle were repeatedly low grade as I arrived and Kansas and only certificate boosts were stopping me from repeated poor deliveries. In my final delivery I managed to scrape enough to deliver to Albuquerque and it was clear that I wasn't going to get a further delivery in with Simon's next delivery ending the game. But he dawdled in his attempt to deliver to San Francisco and whilst he did eventually make it to net himself 10+ points I was building an 8 point building be purchasing my final builder which also helped me to complete another objective such that when it came down to the final scores I had beaten him by 5 points. Whether he will play at cattle herding again is yet to be seen!
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Wed Sep 27, 2017 11:50 pm
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Home Advantage

Alex Miller
United Kingdom
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With the holidays now upon us, a typical day of gaming was organised and so Simon and Steve rocked up to my house at 10:00am for seven hours of glorious gaming.

Steve had brought with him his copy of Terraforming Mars, a game I had been interested in playing for a while after hearing rave reviews from numerous sources. I wasn't to be disappointed with the 3 hour experience! We played the beginner version with all of us having 10 cards for free at the start of the game and 42 money as well as a production of one for all the resources (I do not see how a game of this could be completed in 24 hours starting on a production score of zero!)
The rules are incredibly streamline and easy to pick up whilst also demanding difficult decisions from players on the cards they are going to purchase each round. Being the first time of playing I had no idea what a good strategy would be. In my initial draft of 10 I had some cards that comboed together well. Having Noctis City, Cupola city and Energy saving put me down a route of city and income building. Some low cost cards also helped improve my resource production early on coupled with the production of low nitrate bacteria. Simon played a card early that gave him plant resources anytime an ocean was developed by anyone that clearly took him down a path of greenery cultivation and tile laying - frequently around my cities! With Simon the only player seeming to be placing greenery and oceans he sped away up the terraforming rating track leaving Steve and I to our more selfish approaches. Steve appeared to be playing the long game. He built a plethora of developments that heavily increased his income and heat production and his board became a wash of silver and gold cubes.
The mid-game became very slow for me, with each generation consisting of building only one or two big developments due to a lack of energy despite having a sizable income. Simon continued his greenery onslaught building grass, bushes, heather and anything else green, fortunately he seemed to be building around my many cities. Steve had a suspicious number of blue cards that seemed to give him a bonus every round that could not be stopped.
In the later stages of the game my engine began to kick in as I built underground city, energy saving (which boosted my energy production by a massive 7!), solar panels and then Capital next to three ocean tiles to guarantee three end of game points. I then benefited from a mistake from Simon who could have cashed in on the terraforming rating milestone several generations ago, and I pinched the builder milestone from under his nose to bag another five points.
I then shifted my attention to funding awards but to my bemusement both Steve and Simon got there before me and funded the awards that I had intended to pursue anyway, namely the landowner and miner awards. This prompted a rush towards the end of the game. With Steve's predators slowly eating away at my animals and therefore victory points it was time for the game to heat up, literally as was the case because with the oxygen and sea levels completed, heating up the planet was the only criteria left to be fulfilled.
In what turned out to be the last turn I mused with blowing up the moon for the amusement of stalling Simon's plant supply however I went for a more constructive strategy of building a haven on Mars' other moon and a research laboratory which critically got me two more cities on the board.
With the planet heated up sufficiently we totaled up end of game scoring with both Steve and I overhauling Simon's early lead. Simon's second mistake came with miscounting the number of tiles he controlled on the board which meant I took the landowner award. Coming second in both the other two saw me to a one point victory over Steve, with 85 points to 84 and Simon finishing on 74.




Around lunch, we played another of Steve's recent purchases, the recently crowned Spiel des Jahres, KingDomino. As it was our first game it was decided we would not go with the extra bonus points for using all tiles and having a centred castle. Despite this, I still decided on a strategy of keeping my castle in the middle! In the game I frequently opted for scoring tiles of common terrain types. No one else seemed to be going for the common and low scoring foerests, so even when I got last choice I was picking these up to connect a 10 piece contiguous line that contained 3 stars netting a sizable 30 points. With all my other areas scoring this proved to be insurmountable with me winning with 46 and Steve and Simon tying for second with 30 despite Simon's extensive watery area not scoring at all! It was indeed a shame that we didn't play using the extra bonus points as this would have taken my score to 61!


Whilst I enjoyed the game and felt it played at a slick pace, I am unsure whether I would want to play it more than a couple of times. That it won the Spiel des Jahres is somewhat of a surprise to me. Wettlauf nach El Dorado probably appeals to me more and I would argue that all the nominated games from last year are stronger.

Our next game was one of mine that I had only played once previously with Steve. The novel card crafting system in Mystic Vale gives a twist on the classic deck builder whilst adding in some "push your luck" for good measure.
I made a very slow start in this game with some poor draws and "spoiling" frequently. When I did get a good hand the upgrades on offer to purchase didn't really complement my cards so I had to buy lots of fertile lands. Simon and Steve had got upgrades that were enabling them to gain victory points and Vale cards and both were well ahead of me. I continued with my game plan to reduce spoil and increase purchase power and with the game not coming to premature end, this began to swing the game in my favour. I was regularly drawing purchasing power of 9 to buy the level 3 upgrades. By the end of the game I was repeatedly beginning to draw my entire deck and gaining 14 victory points each turn. The end of the game saw me with a third victory with 41 points to Steve's 37 and trailing with 26.

I enjoyed the game much more than the first time I played it but more surprisingly Simon really liked it and immediately looked up how much copies were currently being sold for. I have lent him the game as he will surely get more plays out of it then I will. It's an absolute faff to pack away though and for me this tends to leave a negative memory and an otherwise good gaming experience.
Simon then suggested one of his games; Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the cursed Island. Steve didn't seem so keen having not played it before and in losing the first three games would have preferred to have had the opportunity to beat Simon and I. Simon persuaded him otherwise by explaining that if we lost then at least I would lose this one too. Unfortunately, as is usual with this incredibly brutal game a loss was on the cards for all of us. We played the "Saving Jenny" scenario and the first turn progressed fairly positively with enough food gained and some successful exploration but things went downhill pretty rapidly and our in-game moral plummeted similar to our own. The beasts we encountered all appeared to be high level without giving much food and pelts in return. We were all heavily gaining wounds from lack of food and having to sleep without shelter. Any dice roll likely ended up in failure and when by some miracle we did manage to rescue Jenny from her rock we were unable to keep her or ourselves alive with no food, shelter, palisade or weapons!
Not wanting to end the day on such a failure we attempted to cram in a game of Oh My Goods! to finish off. The start was delayed somewhat by my confusion over my memory of the rules and the need to explain them quickly to Simon who had never played before. It didn't help that I was also trying to remember the updated and definitely improved version of the rules that my copy of the game didn't contain.
Once underway, Steve made a strong start, building cheap building after cheap building. My Charburner stalled right from the start leaving me with little income after my first build and unable to build again for a number of turns. Simon was only doing a little better than me and it wasn't long before Steve had two assistants and eight buildings and ended the game with 19 points way ahead of me on 10 and Simon on 8. At least Steve was able to leave on a high with one victory to his name.
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Wed Jul 26, 2017 12:38 am
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Ethnos week

Alex Miller
United Kingdom
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This week turned up a surprising number of opportunities to get some game time in. We found time during lunch to get a good number of games completed which started on Monday with a game of Cacao.

Previously I had been put off Cacao by it's theme, but the old adage of "never judge a board game by its's cover" was perfect here as this little tile placer provided a good 30 mins of entertainment. With my tile game experience being generally limited to Carcassonne, I wasn't sure about Cacao, but once Steve had explained the rules to Simon and I, I got a sense of a strategy I wanted to employ. Early on I tried to maximise my tile-layage with gaining cocoa beans and trading them for points. However, with Steve and Simon seemingly fighting over the same temples, I was able to pick up the others with for relatively little investment. Later in the game I went for lakes pushing it all the way round to score 16 points.
Steve and Simon were desperately trying to gain and sell cocoa beans for big profit but were generally thwarted by a lack of high pay market places. With the stock of tiles running out the last couple of turns allowed me to place on top of previous tiles using my bonus coins up to consolidate leads on temples and moving along the water track. At the end of the game I was ahead with 68 points, with Simon and Steve closely battling for second with 59 and 58 points respectively.

We had enough time for a filler so I brought out a recent UK Math-trade purchase in the form of Coloretto. After quickly explaining the rules cards were placed and stacks taken at speed. Things started well for me as began to collect a healthy number of grey cards, however I serious neglected my second and third choices and ended up with two cards of 4 different colours at the end of the game with the last two turns being particularly disastrous taking 3 cards of unwanted colours each time. Simon won this one with 41, with Steve second on 37 and myself languishing behind on 33.

Ethnos, a new purchase of Steve's, took over most of the rest of the week! Steve had been keen to acquire the game for a while but had struggled to find a U.K. outlet with it in stock. A brief window of a couple of hours on 365games.com opened and Steve made the purchase. The game has gone down well with all who Steve has played it with and we were no exception, although I seem to be fairly useless at this one.

Our first game consisted of the dwarves, giants, trolls, wingfolk and skeletons. Simon and I spent a large part of the game trolling each other and then using the wingfolk to build up area control. However, we spent too much time fighting each other on a few areas that Steve was picking up easy points through large bands by mining for dwarves - a tactic that Simon and I should have spotted as an obvious one by the Welshman. The final boot was put in when Simon stole the 5 points for the largest Giant band from me in the final round making me last with 56 points, Simon on 59 and Steve way out in front with 73.

Our second game started off a lot better, this time retaining the dwarves, trolls and giants and gaining the wizards and orcs. This game I decided to go heavy on dwarves in the first age, and at the half way point was well ahead with no one cashing in their "Orc board". In the second age I had planned to go with a strong dwarves strategy again with a secondary plan of completing the orc board. Unfortunately, the initial "flop" did not lend itself well for either strategy and I switch to getting the points for biggest giant band, only for this to be stolen away from me again by Simon. The rest of the round was both disappointing and miserable, and with no foundation in the territories from the first round my lead was quickly eroded and over hauled with Simon winning with 89 and Steve, despite some devastating end game moves with the wizards, coming second with 84 and me a distant 3rd with 69.

In the third and final game the skeletons made a return at the expense of the giants, wizards and dwarves. The trolls refused to go away and were joined by the centaurs, minotaurs and orcs. My strategy for this game was to combo a centaur band into an orc band to build good foundations for area control whilst trying to complete the orc board. This worked well in the first age and I cashed in the orc board for 15 points which put me in the lead. I had planned to do the same thing in the second round but a lack of orcs in the initial set up caused me to change strategy to build a large troll band. Sadly, the other two were doing the same thing and were able to acquire the big tokens before me putting me at a big disadvantage for area control. I attempted to get back in the game by building a mix of skeleton and minotaur bands but wasn't able to put enough discs on the board, getting unlucky with the draw of the cards. Simon, however,was having a nightmare of a game and had gone from winning the last game to being firmly rooted in last with 38 points. I improved on my previous performances losing out to Steve 61 to 69.

Mark joined us for game of 7 wonders. I always find this game more fun and higher player counts with five players being about optimal for enjoyment. The other three started off with paper, glass and cloth as their initial resources whilst I started off with wood. In the first age I went heavy on resources backed up with a few blue cards and a decent foundation of military. Both Steve and Simon had bought trading posts meaning they were both buying resources from me for one coin. However they were doing this repeatedly and so I was never short of cash. Simon went heavily into Science whilst Mark, opposite me, invested in military. Steve had a more mixed approach of science and military.
In the second age I continued to build resources supported by military and blue cards whilst using, much wanted by Simon and Steve, science cards to advance my wonder. By this point, Mark was also constructing large amount of blue and red cards, Simon was still heavily green but often lacking resources and money to pay for them and Steve was struggling to maintain his military prowess against the large armies of Mark and I. The final age played into my hands almost immediately, with the philosophers guild giving me a point of each science card Steve and Simon had, i.e. lots! This all but confirmed victory and I finished with 59 points with Simon and Mark close behind on 56 and 55, and Steve somewhat in the distance on 35.

Later in the week, Steve, Simon and I were able to fit in a game of Peloponnes. This used to be a game we regularly played but more recently has not often been brought to the table. Maybe because it's just so brutal. It treads a very thin line between satisfying enjoyment and total frustration and I'm still not sure which side it finishes up on more. With the constant threat of the disasters, the tightness of money and the regular bumping off of tiles you have been outbid on it is very hard to maintained a planned strategy. The scoring is also amazing, your final score being the smallest of your two totals (population or money and buildings). For once I managed to keep my population high and recouping a good amount of cash each turn. However, I lacked the resource generation of stone and lumber which meant I was constantly on edge with the loans I had to pay on my buildings. I was well ahead until the last age where the earthquake disaster immediately followed by a feeding round after being just outbid on the only tile that could have saved me lost me a building. This meant my final score was a measly 18 (although I had a score of 24 for population) and Simon managed to sneak ahead with 21(28) whilst Steve also had 18(22).

The final game of the week came in the form of Scythe. I had previously enjoyed playing this game enormously. However, I had not been keen to play again as I have not wanted to lose my 100% winning record! This was no doubt going to happen at some point and it occurred in this game in spectacular fashion. In fact the game was pretty much over before it had even started with Simon getting all his stars on the board before Mark had got any and I had only one. More annoyingly, in the proceeding turn I chose not to attack him with the intention of doing it the following round. I did not record the score for this one, but Simon made a point of taking a photo or two of the final positions which I include only for completeness sake:

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Sun Jun 25, 2017 1:25 pm
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Glass Road to Nowhere (23/05/17)

Alex Miller
United Kingdom
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Glass Road is my favourite Uwe Rosenberg game. It has all the excellent production and beautiful art work you would expect from a Rosenberg as well as the incredibly difficult decisions that never allow you to do everything you want, always keeping things incredibly tight. However, that the game length is quite a bit shorter than the likes of Agricola, Caverna and Feast of Odin amongst others, the novel resource dials which take careful planning to be sure you have the correct resources, and that in most cases you generally won't be able to play all five cards you've picked makes this game a short brain-frying experience that is hard to match.

Something about the necessary strategy for this game just clicks with me. Maybe's it's my naturally cautious nature and tendencies for perfectionism that ensure I make the required actions each turn. Having played Glass road a few times now I accept that I won't be able to play all my cards in a round and therefore decide on three that are necessary for my game plan to play to ensure the most important actions that turn and then pick two others whose actions are desirable or are contingency in case I can only play one action of my first three cards. The strategy for each game usually depends on the buildings in the first round - trying to find a suitable points scorer to base the rest of the game around. Usually I will generally go for a contiguous line of groves/pits/ponds strategy points heavy game plan but this isn't always possible if the necessary buildings don't come out.

Steve, Simon and I managed to find time to get a game of Glass Road in this week. The initial draw of the buildings didn't really highlight an obvious strategy so I to had take a different approach than normal and centred my game around the half-timbered house which gave one point for every immediate building built. I then focused on buying cheap or large point bearing immediate buildings to maximise this. In the last few games I've played I've tended not to go for the production buildings and maybe this is something I should look at in the future.

Both Simon and I seemed to be on the same wave length and were able to read Steve's mind at will, frequently being able to play more than 3 cards. In 2 rounds I was able to play all five cards and the remaining rounds was able to play 4. Steve often struggled to play more than 3 and found his tactics frequently scuppered by Simon and I having the card he wanted to play.

After combo-ing my immediate buildings by placing the Tavern (use the effect of an adjacent immediate building again) next to the winery (remove groves for 3 Food & 1 Wood) after building the grove court (Place 1 Grove tile on each empty space that is adjacent to this building) I was in a strong position mid-game.

However, I stalled in the last round and was one turn away from doing everything that was needed to produce 3 glass for end of game scoring with the help of the glassworks building. In the end I played the supplier in the last turn to try and produce more sand to get more points. Unfortunately this inadvertently gave Simon additional points and the final scores were Steve behind on 17.5 and Simon and I tying on 21 a piece.

Frustratingly, there seems to be no rules for breaking ties in Glass Road and this could so easily be done, e.g. most buildings built, most forests removed or something equivalent. Seeing as I met the suggested alternative criteria more than Simon I was a little grumpy I had to share the victory!

Not as grumpy as Steve mind, who is now threatening to sell the game which is out of print. But who can blame him when the resale price is twice as much as the cost he bought it for.

I will miss it if he does choose to sell. Unfortunately, I cannot justify the £80 price tag for a game that I won't play enough.
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Fri Jun 9, 2017 10:17 pm
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Rolling the Dice

Alex Miller
United Kingdom
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Nothing screams "board games!" more than a rainy Wednesday afternoon and with a torrential downpour meaning cricket was called off we found ourselves with a little extra time to fit in a cheeky games session.

I arrived as Simon and Steve were finishing Five Tribes. One wonders whether they are extremely efficient with their work or that they need to be given more to do. However,as the scores were being toted up Simon realised that he had not returned four white elders for activating djinn powers in previous turns. This was doubly damaging as he also had the djinn that gave four points for each white elder. This made all the difference with Steve winning 253 points to 244. Simon wasn't the only person who couldn't count as a visitor to the room left humming Frankie Goes to Hollywood.....
I really thought I would hate Five Tribes when it was first introduced to me. It appeared so chronically AP inducing with long waits between turns, but if you can play instinctively with careful djinn and market strategy then I have found it to be an enjoyable game.

The three of us then opened up Roll for the Galaxy. Two years ago this was a staple of our games session but has been put been back on the shelf for awhile.
I started the game with consumer markets/Space mall that combo-ed well with my other starter tile, Earth's Lost colony, giving me a clear strategy of "Go hard on blue worlds". This worked well to begin with as every time I explored I drew another blue world out of the bag and producing on these worlds frequently gave me big money. Simon started with Genetics lab/The Last Of The Gnarssh and was clearly looking to build green worlds and big developments. Steve had Improved Reconnaissance/ wormhole station and went with a strategy of....well, it was never really clear. The starting power of "You may place new tiles on top of your stacks when Scouting" just didn't seem to work with Steve repeatedly exploring and not getting the tiles he wanted. I continued to produce and ship hard to pick up VPs and finally got a 6+ development that had the potential to give me big points. At this point Simon's engine was beginning to motor with some high value planets and developments and a 6+ development on the horizon. With my low scoring blue planets I rushed the game end with a big shipping phase with the hope that my shipping points would overcome Simon's big planet/developments score. Sadly, in the last turn he put all his dice on getting the 6+ development out and I hadn't noticed he had some bonus shippers that got him an extra 10 VPs and he ran out an easy winner with a score of 52 ahead of me on 43 and Steve trailing with 28.
This was a reminder of why, although I really enjoy the game, especially the chucking of a large number of dice, we haven't played it for a while. Steve lamented that the opening tiles are not balanced as is the case with a number of tiles in the bag. If there isn't a way to generate money early on it usually spells out an unsuccessful game. I guess the early imbalance could be resolved by drafting the starting tile from an initial hand of 2 or 3 but it feels that the love we had for this game is beginning to fade.

There was enough time to fit in another dice-chucker in the form of Biblios: the dice game. My first experience of this had been a miserable five-player disappointment with my usual bad luck with dice leaving me last by a considerable margin. This second game didn't start off much better as I was last in the initial turn order and the first roll of the dice disadvantaged me straight away. However my luck began to turn and when I rolled four pink bishops (not a euphemism!) it looked like my fortunes had really changed. On each of the four auction rounds that occurred I came away with some of the dice every time, bluffing Simon out of the larger share of the dice twice. I ended the game, a turn earlier than Steve wanted, getting to the top of the bishop track which had already given me three nice bonuses and was well positioned on all but the green track. I won with a score of 42 with Steve second on 36 and Simon on 32.
And so the rain-effected Wednesday games session came to an end with a win a-piece.

On Thursday Steve suggested playing Castles of Burgundy. Never one to pass up the opportunity to play my favourite game the two of us both used the basic game board. The game started well for me, completing 3 of the smaller areas in the first two rounds and taking an early lead. I also picked up the science tokens that gave a silverling and 2 extra workers every time a dice was given up for workers. Whilst I was picking up the castles Steve was obtaining the mines and was quickly racking up the silverlings each round. Steve seemed to be picking up buildings left and right that combo-ed into other tiles well. He also had pigs coming out of his ears and completed the big field area entirely with bacon material. Midway through, my game began to fall apart with a lack of money and workers and a fatal mistake buying a duplicate building that resulted in not being able to complete the big building area. Despite completing three big areas in the last round I was unable to make up the deficit and Steve romped to victory with a score line of 237 - 184. Anyway you look at it, this was a bit of a thrashing thanks to Steve having five science tiles that gave him big end of game scoring. I still have a lot of love for this game. It flows incredibly well with two players, especially with the way that Steve has bagged up the different coloured tiles in his version of the game. The game mechanics are simple but the decision making is seriously challenging and there are multiple ways to victory. However, after this result perhaps my feelings have begun to dwindle a little!

On Friday we managed to sneak in a game of Clank! Since I have a 100% success record in this game (albeit two plays, two victories) I haven't been so keen to play again knowing my record will probably be broken and sure enough this was the day it happened. I went for a draw more cards, clank reducing all round strategy however this resulted in my deck becoming too diluted and I found myself frequently not being able to move. When I was able to move I didn't have the swords required to get through passageways with monsters and ended up going round in circles. Steve went for a strong fighting strategy but was hampered by a lack of monsters being drawn. Simon was trying to move as quickly as possible and early on had got two teleporting items into his deck. He had picked up the 20 point artifact before I even reached the 5 pointer. To rub salt in the wound, whilst on his way out he then returned to the deeper level to pick up a card only available to purchase in the deep and would score him 10 points if he reached the exit. And it didn't take him very much longer to do so just as I had started to get a gem collector/ gem buying and wizard/ secret tome engine working. The ensuing dragon attacks were deadly and it was only a matter of time before the game ended. Steve perished quickly but fortunately back in the upper levels. I had hoped to get one more turn in to obtain some mystery tokens but the paralysis that had affected me all game returned with a vengeance giving me no chance to up my score. It was no surprise to find that Simon had won with a score of 96 with Steve and myself trailing way behind with 72 and 67 respectively.
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Mon May 22, 2017 10:32 pm
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Hello Polo

Alex Miller
United Kingdom
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Last week Steve stated that The Voyages of Marco Polo had become his favourite game. From someone who has probably played nearly all of the top 500 games on Boardgamegeek this is a strong claim but one I find it difficult to disagree with. Pandemic is an amazing game that draws in non-gamers, Codenames for its sheer simplicity but immense depth rates very highly for me, and at high player counts, it is hard to look past 7 Wonders for a game that has decent depth, plays smoothly and doesn't keep you waiting too long between turns. However, a good point salad is always likely to pique my interest and although I currently rate Castles of Burgundy higher, this may change after the game of Voyages played on Friday.

With only about an hour to squeeze in a game it was felt that Steve, Simon and I could just about fit in a game Voyages of Marco Polo. With the least to lose if we overran I was keen to play and contemplated employing the dirty tactic of consistently having chronic AP each turn with the potential that the other two might then perhaps rush their go's and make a mistake. Despite deciding not to go down this route some of the decisions that had to be made mid-game were agonising and AP did ensue anyway.

From the draft of characters the choices were Johannes Caprini (move between oases), Kubilai Khan (start in Beijing and gain 10 points), Raschid ad-Din Sinam (choose the values of your dice) and Gunj Kokochin (2 additional action spaces, one for movement, one for resources)from the New Characters expansion. This was the first time I had played with the expansion and Steve having first choice went for this character having never played as this option before. I liked the idea of flexibility of movement and 3 coins each turn and went for Caprini, Simon chose Kubilai Khan and the powerful Raschid went back in the box.

It therefore looked like all three of us might go for a strong travel strategy and when the city action of "trade two non-matching resources to move 1 space" turned up in Alexandria and "3 camels every turn" appearing Adana that cemented the decision for me. With both the other two ignoring Alexandria I used this action (as well as the basic travel action) every turn after the first to ensure I was moving significant distances twice a round. However the downside of this plan was I regularly had very few resources so other than completing my initial contract, the remainder of the contracts had to be ignored and I was quickly behind the other two in points early on.

Steve and Simon seemed to be in battle over who could get to Karachi first. The city contained the attractive action of trading 1 resource for two camels and vice versa plus the instant action of 1 free move for the first person to get there. Simon, having the advantage of starting in Beijing got there first much to the disgust of Steve who promptly switched his strategy to fulfilling contracts heavy one. With his character power and no-one else taking contracts it looked like a good change and Steve quickly gained a substantial lead.

The pair of them also appeared to be fighting over first player most rounds whereas I was happy to move early on in a round, knowing they would be unable to use the city actions of places they had not yet visited. With the appetising actions of "buy camels for 1 coin/sell camels for 3 coins", "1 gold and camel for 4 points" and "1 spice and
3 camels for 4 points" in Sumatra I headed there next in the hope of gaining points and potentially mounting a comeback. I then concentrated on moving and getting trading posts on the board whilst Steve continued to complete contract after contract and Simon became obsessed with gambling for the best "gifts" and also exchanging 1 spice into two camels then back into a gold. Simon and I both made the mistake of getting greedy with the black dice, taking one and leaving us short of camels for a future move.

Going into the final turn Steve's lead over me was still huge. That was closed when I exchanged 3 gold and 3 camels for 12 points. I had wanted to take the action later, after gaining more gold first but it proved to be the correct decision to go early as Steve and Simon both expressed their dissatisfaction as both had been planning to go there next. Steve got his own back later in the round when I decided to pass up the opportunity to exchange spice and camels for points until later that round and he took advantage to gain only 4 points but it did mean an 8 point swing. With a left over dice at the end of the turn I gambled on completing a low value contract that received a gift as reward, sadly the gift had no effect on my points total.

At the end of the game I had placed all 9 of my trading houses (including on Beijing for 7 points) and visited the 4 destinations on my objective cards racking up another 45 points, however it was not quite enough to overhaul Steve's total who won by less than the 8 points I had given up in the last turn, and Simon coming third a few more points behind me.

This was probably the most enjoyable game of Voyages I have played with all players following completely different strategies (although following Simon's "always being one coin short" tactic I wouldn't personally choose) and the outcome of the winner being uncertain until the final scores totaled. It's certainly an excellent game that I would like to play again and ranks very highly in my list of favourite games too.
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Sun May 14, 2017 4:22 pm
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Friday 28/4/17 A "Pfister" full of games

Alex Miller
United Kingdom
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At the start of the academic year we arranged to meet half-termly on a Monday evening to have a regular games night. I had fully intended to write about these sessions in detail but after humiliating defeat in Snowdonia in our inaugural meet up that left me too grumpy to review the session, and being too tired/lazy to report on the follow up, this blog looked doomed, particularly when both Mark and I were unable to commit any longer to Mondays – the only day everyone seemed to be free.

However, an unconventional Friday allowed for some opportunistic games to be played, 6 in total, with players dropping in and out with their varying workloads. After a busy morning for myself, I joined Simon and Steve as they played out the last round of a 2 player game of Glass road. This is one of my favourite games and Simon is a big fan of it too. Steve, whose game it is, very much has a love/hate relationship with it and by the look on his face when I arrived it was definitely a hate day. I therefore wasn’t surprised to hear that Steve had also lost to Simon in the first game of the day – Voyages of Marco Polo.

I may have been disappointed to miss out playing two of my current favourites but this was soon forgotten with the anticipation of playing Great Western trail for the first time, one of my most recent purchases that I hadn’t found the time nor company to play until today. The beginning was slow as we repeatedly had to look up what each icon meant. I had decided to go with a strategy that moved the train along the track as quickly as possible and initially this seemed to work with the first couple of times I got to Kansas with a strong hand. But as Steve and Simon began to build more buildings my game began to stall as I found myself frequently without any money and unable to buy workers, new cattle and buildings. Both Steve and Simon had the building that gave them coins for buildings in wooded areas which was giving them 8 coins a apiece each time they landed there, Simon in particular taking advantage of this by purchasing 2 high value Texas Longhorns and completing 3 objectives. He ended up winning with a score of 65, with me next on 49 and Steve continuing his winless streak with 38.

At this point Simon then had to leave, meaning at least someone else might have the opportunity to win a game. Whilst we waited for Mark to arrive Steve and I filled the time with a game of Oh My Goods! It’s been awhile since I last played this and although my recall of the rules was a little rusty we quickly got up to speed. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed this push-your-luck filler card game that has a bit more depth than first meets the eye. We both started well, but a slip-up by myself where I was supposed to have my worker completing production “sloppily” rather than “orderly” meant I missed out on production altogether where I should have been able to chain twice and therefore couldn’t build. Steve took advantage and purchased two assistants before I could even get one. However, building a glassworks appeared to be a master stroke as I suddenly had a wealth of resources when the market had 12+ cards twice in a row. I was quickly able to build 8 buildings and gain my second assistant in the last turn. In the final scoring we ended up on the same score with me breaking the tie by having one more left over production than Steve!

Mark arrived as we were clearing up and we soon settled into Mark’s and my first play of Clank! Being experienced players of Dominion we quickly got the hang of the game. Playing in my typical cautious way, I bought cards that reduced clank, healed and gave victory points. Despite this, early on I seemed to be putting more cubes in the bag than the other two. However, every time the dragon struck early on only black cubes came out of the bag. I made early purchases of the gem collector and the silver spear. This meant I reduced clank! greatly, got cheap gems and killed any poor monster that got in the way. Steve and Mark both collected high value treasures and continuously enraged the dragon and took damaged. Steve finally succumbed to the dragon leaving the remaining survivors to quickly head for freedom. Neither of us could make it out in time though and in my final turn I gambled one certain VP for the turn of a secret tile which turned out to give me enough points to buy a secret tome. However, it didn’t matter as I had amassed a score of 84 with the next highest being 69.

Steve then had to go, leaving Mark and I time to play one more game and discuss the design of his new game which was loosely based on the old Labyrinth game, tile-laying and worker placement. As such this led to our final game of the day, Isle of Skye. Having played it a couple of times before, my experience helped. Mark had an unfortunate start as he built two horizontal lines of 3 when the victory condition was two vertical lines. I guess he could have rotated his kingdom through 90 degrees…. I then picked up two farms, one with a sheep on it and placed them together to score highly on the cattle and sheep near farms objective. There was little chance to catch me after that.

Mark feels that Isle of Skye is a poor man’s Carcassonne, but I think it’s got greater longevity with variable objectives and because it is shorter than Carcassonne it keeps me interested. I have brought it home in the hope I can get Katie interested in playing it as she has enjoyed playing Carcassonne in the past. Midweek we managed to find time to play La granja: No siesta. It was the first time we had played a game together in several weeks and it was surprising to find she really enjoyed it; this may have had something to do with her beating me fairly convincingly. Also picking up my new copies of Imhotep and galaxy trucker I am hopeful that the two of us might find time to play a couple of games over the long weekend.
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Sat Apr 29, 2017 1:22 am
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