Monday, 28 October 2013

Terra Prime - Homeward Bound

Eighteen was the number for the latest installment of NoBoG, with Terra Mystica, Terra Prime, Powergrid and Seasons up for play.

Pete was happy to get Terra Mystica out again and get funky with this Fantasy Euro that sees you building settlements and digging up land to turn it into different land ready for your particular Weird Race. New to the game Ed really enjoyed this modern and quite elegant Euro and was chuffed at placing second on his first try - good stuff.

Powergrid soaked up the numbers on table two - this classic Euro is doing the rounds with some of those that are not hugely familiar with it and is getting fairly regular plays at the moment.

Peering over Rich's shoulder, spying on his cards in Guildhall
Seasons had a repeat play again this week, which was then followed by guildhall which looked quite groovy.

There has been a slew of interesting shorter games down the pub of late - despite repeated popularity of The Resistance always squeezing into the filler spot - and it's nice to be able to dip your toe in the water and try out all sorts of wacky things.

The shorter games tend to be much pointier and more daring than your solid longer games - something about the speed of play allowing you take more edgy design decisions perhaps.

Lastly, taking to the upstairs of  The Ribs, five of us settled down to pilot our spaceships into the unknown void to bring back much needed resources to Terra Prime.

Terra Prime has a fairly simple premise - go forth and explore, exploit and win. Build colonies, blast aliens out of the sky, explore the dangerous outer territories and possibly shift some cargo back to base to earn those VP rewarding supply contracts.

Easy. Right ?

Except, this game tends to mess with peoples heads. It taunts analytical Euro Cube Crunching players. It sticks out its tongue at fine optimal plans for your turn, and it rudely gives you the two finger salute at your attempts to be clever.

Hard to say why. It could be because the possibilities of what you can do - and what you can't do, shift around like a slippery eel as each person explores, builds or possibly blocks space lanes. It might be because the oh so simple tile exploration actually has a lot of tricky permutations that are all too easily overlooked. Or it might be because we all suck.
Terra Prime in action.
Dean's hand is caught materialising in for his turn.

Whenever I looked at Bondy playing this, he was grimacing. I haven't seen him grimace so much over a game since he played Ora and Labora and was overwhelmed with information.

Bondy wasn't the only one feeling the pain - Matt was also wrestling with what to do, and in the end it was all too much for his sense of analytical pride to take. In hindsight, it was probably a mistake putting the ships mascot - Bubbles the Space Monkey - in charge of navigation and letting the astral simian fly around in meaningless directions. After a few turns of what can only be described as very sub optimal turns, Matt's ship, The Banana Express, ended up exploring the outer rim, hitting a bunch of asteroids, and losing all his VPs in the process. After mad Simian piloting, and Alina having stitched him up good and proper in previous turns, enough was enough and Captain Matt declared that there was no point in him playing any further and that he should probably go home.


Eyebrows were raised, and people paused to grok the homebound declaration.

Really ?

Bondy declared that in the entire history of NoBoG, no one had ever Gone Home after a bad start.


The empty Pilots seat of the Banana Express.
Captain Matt cut his losses and headed for home.

Captain Matt mulled over his options for a round, whilst everyone else made not quite so sub optimal turns. But alas, Bubbles the Space Monkey had already ruined Matt's chances of winning... and the mess the simian had left on the navigational dashboard was best left unmentioned. Cutting his losses Matt bailed out and went home, leaving the rest of us to continue on.

A brutal game ensued where everyone made horrendous choices. Bondy actually managed to fly his ship around in circles for a while doing *absolutely nothing* as he dithered from turn to turn about what the hell to do. Dean had the least crappy game and by the end was actually doing a decent job - so much so that he romped to a win some 20 points ahead of everyone else.

The evening finished as it so often does of late with a blast of The Resistance. I got to be Merlin this time. And things were going pretty well, until good guy Pete got carried away with vetoing quests, we ran out of time - and quest options, and the bad guys made sure that the end quest was stacked with evil lackeys. A pity, Pete had been doing so well... and Clive had well and truly been outed as a nefarious spy.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Many a Season

Autumn has most definitely arrived in Norwich, the ground has begun to swell with fallen leaves, the air has started to turn crisp, and there is rain and moisture almost permanently in the air. Where might one go to obtain respite from the clammy doldrums of Autumn you ask yourself ? Well for 21.5 of us sanctuary was to be found within the Ribs where warmth was to be had and games needed to be played.

Those who are paying attention will note that 21.5 attendees marks yet another record turnout for NoBoG, and play had to be accommodated over 5 tables of gaming goodness.

After some initial management problems akin to herding cats, two classic games were quickly put down to play - Power Grid and Chaos in the Old World. Robin lead his bunch of merry gamers on their quest to throw on the lights in as many cities as possible in Powergrid, whilst Chaos in the Old World was a shark pit of well experienced hands... plus Ed.

Rich rode to a plague ridden finish in Chaos by pushing the unlikely Nurgle to a convincingly strong VP win - with Pete in an almost as strong position just a single point behind. Tom had a diabolical ( see what I did there ) game as Khorne, and limped home after a few hours play, having barely managed to put a score on the board - a dismal 14 points for the record. Surely a new low. He lamented having switched from points to outright mayhem halfway through the game, his strategy netting him little of use as the others contained or matched his machinations.

Trains !
Meanwhile, Bondy marched a group off upstairs for another week of Trains - it seems that Trains is a game that is required to be played upstairs in the pub. Two games of this were cranked out, the latter of which Bondy managed to monopolise on a terrible wave of synergising cards and VP scoring to romp to a clear win.

The final two tables elected to play the same game - Seasons. Because why not. Well, why, because 5 people wanted to play it, and Seasons only takes 4. Seasons is new to me, and if I had to explain it in a single sentence I'd say, Magic with victory points instead of health + Zombie Dice.

Seasons puts you in the role of a wizard vying for the top job of Archmage by besting all other magic doers in a tournament of sorcery that lasts for three years. That's some tournament - but then if the competition only lasted for two weeks, the game probably wouldn't be called Seasons. It'd be called ... "ZaptasticMagicWimbledon IV - The Return of Zaptastic". Yes, I am available for hire for corporate branding / Game name brainstorming.
Seasons... upstairs

The game takes the guise of a card drafting affair played across a series of rounds that are thematically split into the four seasons. Hence the Seasons. Unlike many other card drafters / deck builders / Magic wannabes which have economy cards ( mana, gold, military strength ) to make everything else work, the impetus to your turn in Seasons is provided instead by dice. Each season has a set of dice associated with it that are rolled once per round, with each player in turn order getting to pick one of the dice to utilise in their turn. Dice provide mana to power card play as well as some actions - being able to burn raw mana for VP, drawing a card or increasing the cap size of your tableau. Mana is stored round to round in a players finite sized storage area, so you can save power up to use in future turns.

As should be apparent - due to the dice you're never quite sure what mana you might have to utilise, and, because the dice are drafted one at a time to each player, you may get to miss out on something you really need if your place in the turn order sucks.
Seasons... downstairs

The game length is predictable in a fuzzy way - each round may advance the turn marker between 1 and 3 months, so you can roughly see how long things will take, but not be able to predict it exactly.

Gameplay itself beyond all that is a fairly typical deck building, card drafting type exercise, with card synergies providing boosts to your points and actions and your VPs growing in size with every deft management of your hand.

The game prioritises solitaire building over interaction - only a minority of cards allow you to interfere with others, but we didn't play with the more advanced "in your face" cards available in the game ( although on hearing what they did, I am still not sure there is a whole heap of messing that you can do to your fellow players ).

I thought the game was cool and an interesting spin on the usual card placement, tap malarkey, but as to be expected, the random number generator is on at least medium level here - random card draws and random dice rolls can leave you with your ass in the wind as the player next to you repeat performs some card tapping horrific victory point score ability.

It's slated to run at 60 minutes - but our game lasted a marathon 3 hours, which was ok, but not great. At 3 hours the game shows its knickers a bit too much and the random number machine goes into overdrive ( probably not entirely helped by me resetting the year clock a couple of times to get at least another years worth of play out of the game ).

Nice game, needs to be kept short and sweet, probably not something I'd break my neck to play again, but definitely one to experience at least once, if not a few times to see the wacky dice + cards mechanics going on.

Simon blasted to a win in this, and seemed to enjoy muttering to himself immensely as at least a few of his turns resembled the depths of Magic depravity where a player just keeps on pulling cards, tapping things, sacrificing others things, and shoving bits around their play area. I actually managed to hold an entire conversation with Ed on the next table, watch a bit of another game, and still made it back in time to see Simon not yet quite finished with his book keeping. Epic.

The upstairs game of Seasons finished in a much more reasonable time frame - so they busted out Ghost Stories ( and failed in their co-operative bid to beat the spooks off ) as their second game of the evening.

After the shark pit of Chaos was concluded, Pete decided to bring out yet another shark pit experience with Race for the Galaxy. It will come as a surprise to no one whatsoever to learn that Pete placed a comfortable first in this, with only a mild ruffling of feathers coming in the form of Rich placing third - Ewan pipping him to second. Good job Ewan.

During some of Simon's epic turns with Seasons, and due to my favourable seating placement, I was able to watch over Pete's shoulder as he went through his Race strategies and narrated his decisions to me. I can recommend it, it's like a painting masterclass - except it's Race for the Galaxy.

The evening finished with a game of Resistance - Avalon, where the bad guys having succeeded in fouling up the first two quests singularly failed to take advantage of their dominant position and collapsed to a loss. Pete - bad guy and in charge of the assassination knife, then debated with his fellow evil doers as to who Merlin might be - shoved the knife in, only to discover they had blundered and missed the magic wielder. Good had won. Pitiful.

Whilst the bad guys were failing at Resistance I got to play Mascarade, a bluffing role game in which you are not entirely sure who everyone else is, or even who you might be. As Dean put it, this game in many ways is a distillation of the role cards in something like Citadels or Mission Red Planet - all other aspects of the game other than the roles having been removed. Memory is a big feature of this game - if you can memorise where all the cards are - and if you are good at reading people - then this game is going to be a lot easier. I would think good poker players would do well at Mascarade.

A series of role cards have a range of money grabbing powers - take money from the pot, take money from the courthouse, steal money from those next to you, steal money from the richest and so on. Each person has one role card - and a number of others are left in the middle of the table. The trick to this game is that other than the initial game reveal of roles, the role cards are mostly left face down and you must remember who is who. In a players turn they may switch cards with any other card on the table - or may bluff a switch -, look at their own role card, or state they are a given role and attempt to take the action for that role ( which may be a bluff ).

The game is a groovy filler game, and I want another play of this. I found it easy enough to remember who everyone was, and what the likely switch of a character would be when they took it - good enough that I could predict who everyone was over the course of two rounds and skip to a win. I am sure if I played it again over a longer game with more people it wouldn't be half so simple.

Roll Call - Barnaby, Bondy, Caroline, Clive, Dean, Ed, Ed, Ewan, Fletch, Jarryd, John, Matt, Nicky, Paul, Pete, Rich, Robin, Sam, Simon, Stu, Tim, Tom.

21.5 players - Caroline was the 22nd player, spectated Power Grid, but played end of evening Resistance. 21 players or 22 depending how you are counting.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

A drubbing for Team Good

Nineteen this week, and yes, more newcomers to share in the fun and games - Alina's exasperated cry of "Oh no, not more !" on seeing more people turn up for gaming should be taken as wild and unruly thought. Rest assured that she has been taken to the very deepest depths of NoBoG HQ to receive special thought re-education on the matter and is now well on her way back to normality as a card shuffling and cube counting drone welcoming member of NoBoG.

In all seriousness newcomers are always very welcome whenever you turn up, and as numbers grow we simply expand to fill tables upstairs in the pub, so not a problem. There are even plans for what to do when we fill up the pub / Norwich in general, although I am doubtful the "Norwich is full of Gamers Apocalypse Plan" will ever get put into place. There are shotguns, cans of gasoline, general anti zombie equipment and details of how to fortify the shopping mall in those plans. Hmm. Maybe that's the Day-Z NoBoG plan. *Quiet Year Flashback* *zombies* *heads on spikes* *Agnes the OAP* *Quiet Year Flashback*. Arrg. Ah well. No matter the plan, fear not, NoBoG is prepared whatever the eventuality !

This week Trains made it to table, which as the running joke goes, is a game about Trains. Once you open the box and start looking around however you might actually think it's Dominion... with a map. Trains is a light deck building game where you improve your personal deck of cards over time to either buy victory points for end game glory, or actually provide you with actions to do something useful on the map... which provides you with victory points for end game glory. Points are scored for pure VP cards in your hand and for having a track running into a station or off board distant location.

Building track and raising stations on the map can be achieved by playing an appropriate action card, but crucially, each time this is done waste is placed into your hand ( useless cards to interfere with your sublime deck build ), and, if you are building on top of someone else you get even more waste.

This means Trains has a certain benefit for people that build early or first on the map but in the process are perhaps sacrificing building and optimising their deck early. Which is a nice additional problem to juggle.

The various trains in the game provide you with money - and in an exact replica of Dominion the 3 standard trains are valued at exactly the same values as copper, silver and gold, and for each game a random set of optional cards are added in that provide additional actions and money.

Game ends when either a certain number of card piles are exhausted, someone runs out of track to place or all the stations have been placed. We managed to get two games in for a run time of somewhat over 2 hours - including a rules session.

The game plays nicely and for me is an interesting and welcome variant / extension of the Dominion mechanics, and I can see that this game could go the way of Dominions with perhaps a bazillion card expansions ( and also board layout expansions ), or even a complete re-theme and created as some other game.

Martin took both wins in our time with the game, thus proving that he is the Trainiest of Train Masters.

Elsewhere in the Ribs, Tales of the Arabian Nights flourished its way across Europe and Asia in its inimitable You Are Now Lost / Insane / A Frog type way and entertained five for the whole evening. Sam was apparently doing well this time out, but I have no specifics to offer. You can insert your own 100 wardrobes, Menacing Djinn, rubbish fish reward tales here.
Cosmic Encounter. No sign of space Goats.. yet...

The classic Cosmic Encounter bounced out for some of the more experienced hands, where I believe that Ed#1 possibly won. It can be very hard to tell with Cosmic Encounter however and it's possible that the bar maid - who wasn't even present - could have won instead. Or maybe the game ended with a Goat. Cosmic Encounter eh ?

Stu talked up playing Ra on the last table - not sure if he actually managed to get this out (*crackly NoBoG radio communications tell me that Ra was indeed played* ), when I walked past mid evening it was Kingdom Builder that was being contested over.

As the evening drew to a halt - those not playing with Insane Fishy Wardrobes - split into two groups to play The Resistance - Avalon and Cash and Guns. Excellent ! If you've never played either games, and more to the point, if you've never played either games with the NoBoGers then you should - it's possibly one of the greatest most fun ways to end a gaming evening. So long as you like lying and attempting to foil your compatriots plans. Or pointing foam guns at people. And let's be honest, who *doesn't* like pointing foam guns at people ?

In earlier weeks there has been a spate of the Good Guys winning at The Resistance - a shocking and immoral turn of events - but thankfully this week, the Bad Guys were back in form and gave Arthur's Round Table a thorough drubbing with three consecutive failed quests. The poor lady of the lake hardly had time to wake up and smell the coffee before the game was over.
The Resistance - left to right, Bondy bag of Cheese & Onion,
Hand of Matt, Silver Tongue Pete, Ed#2, Rich, Ed#1,
Clive Shoulder, American Pete bag of Ready Salted

To confuse matters we elected to play Resistance with two Eds and two Petes. Because it's not confusing enough when you start throwing accusations around about who is trustworthy when everyone has a different name. Next week we may decide to play with *all* of us adopting the name Ed, thus making the statement "I think Ed is a spy" guaranteed to be correct.

Evil Ed#1 managed to foul up some good guy questing early on but bought endless amounts of heat for his actions. Fingers pointed and his desperate verbal defences became shaky, beaten into the submissive statement of "Well, just bear in mind there's a remote chance I might *not* be a spy". Oh dear.

On the other hand Evil Ed#1 did absorb much heat from the other Evil Doers - myself and Matt - and any Good Guy that unwittingly copied Eds actions was then subject to tarring with the same Ed shaped brush. Excellent.

Wily American Pete slammed the accusation hammer down on Ed#1, and started pointing fingers at innocent old me too - I never really clocked that Pete was actually Merlin with inside information, instead, vocal Silver Tongue Pete seemed like the favourite for the bearded one. So good job there !

Alas, despite Merlin's best efforts, the bad guys won, myself and Matt managed to keep a fairly low profile, and even at the end after the final failed quest, I was being named amongst the most trustworthy of good guys ( and got to burn the last quest ).

Muah ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.


I love it.

Roll Call -
Adam, Alina, Barnaby, Bondy, Clive, Ed, Ed, John, Martin, Matt, Paul, Pete, Peter, Rich, Robin, Sam, Stu, Tim, Tom.

( That roll call seems like a failed Dwarf name list for the first draft of the Hobbit... scratched line and a hastily scrawled comment... needs more '_ifurs', '_ofurs' and '_alins'..)

Sunday, 6 October 2013

They're Heeerrreee...

Fourteen for Tuesday this week, and eschewing any initial six player game madness we split into four smaller groups.

Dean brought along new game to review, The Witches - another one to add to the slowly expanding range of Discworld board games - and with three others set about fixing the ills of the Discworld.

The Witches
It seemed to get a fairly cool reception after play, although Barnaby was more enthused as it appealed to his Pratchett fu. The game is very light and doesn't offer a whole heap of choices - and to be fair to the game it's been marketed as a light family game, so it's not pretending to be something it isn't.

With its capability to play solo, co-operative or competitive as you like, there are good options there for a young family to get out an interesting game with strong female protagonists - if that's your thing and have a family with a bucketful of young impressionable daughters. Dean will be writing up a review of this game soon, so when he gets done we can include a link and you can see what he thought.

Continuing the perhaps early Halloween theme, the next table over had Ghost Stories, a co-op game that sees players fighting off waves of ghosts with Taoist powers all to protect their village.

Ghost Stories
The game has a Chinese theme to it, and if you've ever seen the film Mr Vampire or its like, you know the score. If you've never watched Mr Vampire.... then do so immediately !

 The game is known for being tough to beat, however the team of four aced the game the first time round, played with more difficult settings in the second round only to beat that too.

Cue Ghostbusters music. Who you gonna call ? Nicky, Ed, Rich and Ewan apparently.

After the supernatural fare on these tables, play was switched up to Colossal Arena for The Witches players - a hidden betting kind of game, and the bonkers Unexploded Cow for the former Taoists.

All of this left Pete, Ed and Simon to play Tzol'kin - where you probably have to fear for the lives of Ed and Simon - and an almost game of Race for the Galaxy - which was rudely interrupted before it could quite start and replaced with The Resistance instead.

Six headed into the melting pot of Arthurian Resistance, where after four much argued missions, the forces of good held the day. But what of Merlin - the good guys may have congratulated themselves on a job well done, but all would be ashes if the evil do-ers assassinated Merlin at the end of it all. But it seems Resistance experience is beginning to sink in - Rich, a good guy but not Merlin, had ably run a good smoke screen presenting himself as the obvious target, covering the ass of Ed#2 ( a mean feat given no one knew who Merlin was ). The bad guys duly took the bait and attempted to assassinate Rich. Wrong ! Ed#2 had thrown a few mistakes out there to put off the bad guys, Ed#1 admitting it had crossed his mind that he might have been Merlin, but no, Rich was the obvious - wrong - target. Very well done to the Knights. Boo ya sux to the Mordred antagonists.

Upstairs I played Yedo with Richard and Paul. A closely fought game, the lead changed hands several times, with the final score so close that it was only a marginal bonus card point score at the end that nailed victory for me. I had a much better game this time round - was placed into the unfavourable first turn position after the first third of the game - but as I have suspected in previous games, I think this did me a favour as the game progressed. Preparing for a difficult black mission from the start, and getting some early VP buying under my belt made all the difference here. Richard also early prepared for a difficult mission which paid off, but crucially at the end of the game both Richard and Paul had stacks of unused money, which if it had been able to been converted into VPs would have been a game winner.

Early prep of at least one difficult mission seems to be a real help in Yedo. I suspect those that start slow, plan well at the start and then burn at the end stand the best chance of victory - certainly Ewan who followed this strategy to the letter several weeks ago trounced both me and Tom.

Lastly, for those not engaged in Resisting, Cash and Guns made it to table, six armed criminals arguing about the split of loot from their nefarious deeds. Bullets were fired, accusations made, Dean was shot up early but didn't quite die, and somehow by the almost end I had amassed a nice lead of 80k versus 50k. With two rounds left, it became apparent that surely, I would be facing a lot of guns. I decided to make a pre-emptive speech about how it wouldn't help anyone if all guns were on me, and you had to think about who was going to rake it in and win assuming I wasn't there. Blah.

It seemed to work as no one pointed their gun at me. Result.

Questions were asked as to why no one was pointing their gun at me, the cash leader. I offered the suggestion that I was a nice guy and it was perfectly fine not to be aiming guns at me.

My nice guy theory didn't seem to go down well with some. Final round Sam and Dean filled me with lead for daring to come up with the suggestion and killed me outright. A triumphant Sam rushed to take my - now empty - gun, and as the cash was totalled the game ended in a three way tie. Sam wanted a default win for being in a tying spot with *more guns than everyone else*. Probably a fair point. The real cash leader was dead on the floor in a pool of blood. Bah. Next time I'll duck.