Monday Night Tabletop Round-up 27/10/14

So many traitors this week. All of which were bookended by some tough push-pull economic games.

Medici

Players: 4 (Plays 3-6)

Duration: 45 minutes

Usually the theme of a game really helps to understand it. Build train routes, mine gold, manage a power network, once you start hearing the finer rules you can track them back to this ultimate goal and pin everything together in your mind. Medici is not like this. The idea of renaissance traders competing for contracts to ship goods could be translated to intergalactic hitmen, goat herders or competitive monkey picnicking and actually seemed to make it more confusing. So when asked what the goal in Medici is, just say ‘get points’.

Medici is an auction game played over three rounds where players bid for cards. Cards come in 5 different colours numbered 0 to 5 with two 5 cards, there is also a 10 card which has no matching colour giving a total of 36 cards. At the start of each round 12 cards are randomly discarded and then on a players turn they will turn over 1, 2 or 3 cards and then put them up for auction. Bidding then goes round the table but only once giving that turn’s player the last choice of bid. Then the next player puts cards up for auction and so on until every card is bought. Players can buy a maximum of 5 cards. When the round ends players then move up one of 5 coloured tracks, one for each card they have bought in that colour and score points for being first, second or third in those tracks. They also add up the numbers on their cards (which is supposed to be a boat or something) and those with the most get bonus points.

It’s a bit of a number cruncher but I really liked Medici. Auctions are short and fiercely tactical and you are constantly having to weigh up which cards you or your opponents want. Do I go for high cards and try and get the big bonus? Do I spread myself across all colours or should I concentrate on one. There is a real tug of war between players and a strong lead can be easily lost if you don’t concentrate (as I found to my dismay). The toughest part is that there is no separate score or currency meaning you have to spend your victory points to buy cards (players start with 40) and my foolish overspending in the last round sent me tumbling down the rankings. Partially this was down to being a new player who doesn’t know a cards value but mostly it was down to greed! Medici was a fine game and one I would definitely play again.

Saboteur

Players: 6 (Plays 3-10)

Duration: 30 minutes

Then we were back in the mines for a couple of rounds of Saboteur which I really enjoyed. I have described this before so I won’t go into to much detail but I have a slight balance concern with it. You really need the right number of saboteurs or the game is far too easy for one side to win. In the first round there was only 1 saboteur in 6 and he had no chance as we just steamed directly to the gold. The second round was a bit more balanced with 3 saboteurs but the 50/50 split made it hard going for the miners who failed to reach their goal after I managed to head them in the wrong direction. Then my wicked conspirators nobbled them entirely. At one point every player had a block card in front of them. It was a lot of fun.

Werewolf

Players: 6 (Plays 5-loads and loads)

Duration: 30 minutes

Werewolf is a very popular party game where players take the role of lynch happy villagers who are trying to find the werewolf traitors in their midst through alternate night and day phases. At the beginning of the game players are all given secret role cards which either state they are a werewolf or a villager (some of whom have additional powers). During the night phase, the werewolves (who know who each other are) get to select another player for elimination and the villagers get to use their special powers if they have them (the seer can enquire whether one player is a werewolf, the doctor can protect a player from elimination and so on). At the start of the day phase the dead player is out and then the villagers (including secret werewolves) have to decide whether or not to lynch someone to put them out of the game. These phases continue until all werewolves are lynched (villagers win) or all villagers are dead/lynched in error (werewolves win).

Initially I wasn’t too bothered about playing this as the hidden traitor game isn’t usually my favourite but the group I was in made it worth playing and we made plenty of noise which is what a party game should do. Werewolf is a game that I would love to play with a group of friends who aren’t gamers as there are plenty of laughs from randomly lynching your buddies and more importantly there are a lot of resources for this game online that are free.

Also, statistic loving lycanthropes will really enjoy this analysis on the game from episode 351 of the Dice Tower podcast. It starts at 43.46.

The Resistance: Avalon

Players: 6 (Plays 5-10)

Duration: 45 minutes

Next, yet another traitor game! By this point of the evening I was desperately trying to steer our subgroup into playing something else but my subtle hints were ignored and we ploughed into The Resistance: Avalon. My inward groan became an outward one when I was dealt the most boring role in the game but was saved after a new player misunderstood what was happening and we redealt the roles. I was now a wicked Minion of Mordred and felt a bit better.

The game takes place over 5 rounds with good players trying to successfully pass missions in the service of noble King Arthur and evil ones trying to secretly fail them. One player starts as the king and selects a group of players to go on a mission (he can select himself) then players vote on whether they think it’s a good team or not. If the vote fails the king token passes to the next player but if it passes the mission starts. Players on the mission have a success card and a fail card and secretly submit one in secret to the king. Good players will always pass a success but evil ones can choose whether to fail it if they wish. The king then turns over the cards and if there is just one fail card then the mission fails otherwise it succeeds. The king then passes to the next player and a new round begins. Good or evil players need 3 successful or failed missions out of 5 to win the game.

In a six player game there are four good players, two are normal but one is Merlin who knows who the evil players are and one is Percival who knows who Merlin is. This extra information sounds good but even if the good players successfully complete their 3 missions the evil players are allowed one attempt to assassinate Merlin. If they get it right then evil can still triumph. Enjoying Avalon is very dependent on a few things. You need to like the mechanic, be willing to play a character and have a relaxed group who feel the same. Thankfully I did have those and even more thankfully I didn’t end up as the vanilla good guy which is incredibly dull. I did have a good time but will be avoiding any full on traitor games for as long as I can!

London

Players: 3 (Plays 2-4)

Duration 2 hours

After all those accusations I was crying out for a change of pace and a couple of new members arriving was the perfect smokescreen to change tables. I chivalrously gave them my spot and bounced into a game of London which was a far cry from the riotous lynching and double-crossing I had been doing up to that point.

London is all about rebuilding the capital following the Great Fire in 1666. Cards in the game represent a miscellany of London and can be dockyards, Christopher Wren, street lights, paupers, fire brigades or a whole host of London themed features. On their turn players draw a card and do one of 4 actions. They can build (by placing cards in front of them), run the city (which activates the cards in front of them), purchase a district (represented by a map in the centre of the table and provides cards and victory points) or draw 3 cards. The game ends when the draw pile is exhausted. Players then add up all the victory points on the cards they have built and districts they have purchased. After deducting any penalties the one with the highest points is the winner.

This game is all about juggling different economies. The first is money which you need to buy districts and to build or activate certain cards. It can be very hard to come by and although players can (and will) take loans they have a steep repayment cost and, if unpaid, have a victory point penalty at the end of the game. The next is hand size, you need cards so you can play them for resources but having too many can hurt the third economy, poverty. Whenever you run the city you gain poverty equal to the cards built and cards in your hand. You can mitigate this by having districts in the city or building over spent cards but this can cost money. At the end of the game high poverty can net you a large victory point penalty.

It’s a tough game and one that puts you under a lot of pressure. You know what you need to do and you know how to get it but there is often a high price attached. I only just managed to pay off my debts at the end of the game and had the lowest poverty but I had not managed to build many high victory point cards and suffered for it. It hurt my poor brain but was a masochistic antidote to all that traitor malarkey.

Next week I am going to try and play nice games about pandas. Fingers crossed.

Monday Night Tabletop Round-up 20/10/14

Another Monday and another pie, chips, beer and games night. Game night makes Mondays almost palatable … almost.

Age of War

Players: 6 (Plays 2-6)

Duration: 30 minutes

For me there is a real thrill in picking up a handful of dice, dropping them on a table, watching them bounce, roll and spin to a stop and hoping they will land on your side. It’s a simple act full of tension. What I like a lot less is waiting for this joy and that’s a problem that Age of War has.

Gameplay is simple. On their turn players pick up the 7 custom dice and roll them. They then choose one of the castle cards in the centre of the table and commit dice to it that match one of the rows on the card. They then roll the remaining dice to try and match further rows on that card. If they successfully complete all rows then they claim the card but each time they fail a roll they set a dice aside and try again. If they run out of dice they fail their turn. Cards have points values and a colour and if a player gets all cards of the same colour then they get bonus points. It’s also possible to try and claim an opponent’s card if they have not completed it as part of a set but it gets an additional row and is more difficult. Play finishes when all castles are captured.

As a simple filler, Age of War is fine but it does suffer from a ‘wake me when it’s my turn’ problem that I am finding with a lot of dice rollers. Elder Sign and King of Tokyo are in that category too but they have some interaction whereas in Age of War you are just waiting for your turn and playing the percentages when you roll. On top of this the end game can really drag as losing players will try to keep the game going by capturing other players castles instead of those in the centre. It’s not a bad game and for a lower play count it plays briskly enough (I like it with 2) but it needs an expansion to flesh it out.

The Bucket King

Players: 7 (Plays 2-6 with just one set)

Duration: 30 minutes

This is a bit of a club favourite and for such a simple take-that card game it has some real love from the veteran gamers in the group which surprises me. Apparently we play with a fair few house rules (and 2 copies combined) so this description may be far from definitive.

In ‘Buckets’ (as it’s affectionately known) players are trying to protect their pyramid of 15 buckets (in 5 colours) from falling down. At the start, players are dealt 12 cards from a deck that consists of cards numbered 1 – 8 in five different colours. A random player starts and plays a card in front of them. The player to their left must then play a card (or cards) of the same colour which equals or exceeds the previous one, then draw one card (even if they played more than one) before play moves on to the next player. If they can’t (or don’t want to) play cards then they lose a bucket in that colour (and any buckets above it in their pyramid) and all played cards are discarded. Play ends when 3 players are eliminated (with 7 players anyway) and the winner is the one with the most buckets left. There are a few twists to this. If you match the total from the preceding player then play reverses direction. Also, any cards played stay in front of you for the current round so if play comes round to you again then you can include these cards in your total score.

That’s pretty much it. It can be a cruel game and you are at the mercy of the cards but there is always a lot of noise when this hits the table and that’s a good thing. There is a lot of talk of ‘advanced bucket play’ from the more senior members of the group which always amuses me but at it’s heart it’s a simple, friendly game of trying to screw your fellow player over. What’s not to like about that? Also, the distracting artwork on the cards of various farm animals hoofing buckets is as pointless as it is hilarious.

Ghost Stories

Players: 4 (Plays 1-4)

Duration: 90 minutes

After last week’s epic Pandemic success we were feeling confident about taking on another brutal co-op game so we tried Ghost Stories which is about protecting a village from murderous ghosts. Well, after a close game we only went and did it! I was feeling pretty damn good until I was told it was set to easy. A win is a win though, right?

In Ghost Stories the village consists of 9 distinct randomly tiles laid out in a 3×3 grid with 4 larger player tiles placed on each side. These larger tiles have 3 spaces on them that line up to the 3 village tiles they are next to. On their turn players draw a ghost card and place it in one of 3 spaces in the player tile that matches it’s colour. They then get to move one space in the village and either take the action on that village tile or attempt to destroy ghosts on an adjacent player tile by rolling that ghost’s colour on one of three combat dice. Village tiles have effects such as restoring health, reviving players, collecting tokens (which help in destroying ghosts) and collecting defensive Buddha statues. Near the bottom of the ghost deck is an extra tough ghost (more on higher difficulties) that players must destroy to win the game.

That’s how you win but like any good co-op, losing is a lot easier. If a player has 3 ghosts on their player board then they lose health at the start of their turn and if they drop to zero they die (although one of the village tiles can be used to resurrect them). Also, various ghosts will haunt village tiles which renders them useless and once three village tiles are haunted it’s game over.

This is just the basic layout of the game as extra complexity lies in the various status effects that ghosts have as well as special powers that each player has. Like a lot of co-op games it’s tense and you have to use each turn as effectively as possible. Naturally there is a bit of luck (the boss ghost materialised right next to the player that could kill him next turn) but without this random factor then the game would just be a puzzle that only needs solving once. This is definitely one I would like to try on higher difficulties in the future.

Small World Underground

Players: 3 (Plays 2-5)

Duration: 90 minutes

The last game of the night was Small World Underground which is a standalone spin-off to Small World. The game is played out on a map with distinct regions (bog, caverns, mines etc.) and at the start, players take it in turn to pick a fantasy race (possibly paying a few victory points to do so) and conquer as many regions as they can. On their turn players can then either continue to expand across the map or put their race into decline which means leaving the old one to die and then picking a new one to start all over again. Points are scored by number of regions occupied as well as any race bonuses.

The basic mechanics of this game are ridiculously simple and follow the same pattern of expand, score, decline and expand again. Conquering a region just consists of placing two race tokens on it plus extra if it is occupied by an opponent. Complexity comes from special powers that the races have and attributes that are then randomly assigned to each one. These combinations mean that your tactics change with each game and no two games will play out in the same way. Even more diversity comes from special regions that confer extra bonuses to players once conquered.

For me the best bit about Small World is making that decision about when to go in decline. It takes your whole turn, your in-decline race loses all of their special powers and you can only leave one token in each region they occupy meaning they are very susceptible to destruction. However, if you leave it too late you are losing an opportunity to get a second race on the board to get more points. It’s a tough balancing act and a feature in the game that I really like. Also, I love the cutesy fantasy artwork in this game as I love a fantasy theme that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Overall it’s great fun.

Defining Gamergate

A few months ago a disgruntled ex-lover of game developer Zoe Quinn (Depression Quest) wrote a snarky blog which included 5 names of men that she had allegedly slept with. At least one of those names was a video games reviewer. Some came to the conclusion that Zoe had bought positive reviews for her game with sexual favours. The gamergate hashtag was created.

Claims of backhanders and nepotism are not new amongst the video games community but the above was taken as proof of collusion. There will always be a number of comments under every review for a big name release that will either claim that the developer/publisher either paid or should have paid more depending on which side of 8.9/10 the game gets. Events such as when Jeff Gerstmann left Gamespot or the recent revelation that many high-profile Youtubers were receiving sponsorship for featuring certain games on their videos seem to support this bribe culture. From the outside it does seem that reviewers cosy up to developers but the gaming press say that, yes, it is a small community but a journalist is only as good as the contacts they have made.

On the surface, gamergate seems to be about the ethics of journalism and the need for a clear code of conduct between the creators and distributors of video games and those that make their living reporting from them. In this regards I could say that I am pro-gamergate. As a consumer I feel reassured knowing articles are written without any conflict of interests.

However, if you have never been involved in internet forums on major games websites (and others I am sure) it’s hard to describe the petty point-taking and plain nastiness that they can descend to. Users will insult each other in ways that they never would if they were face to face. Any original point is lost and that’s if there was even a point in the first place. In this environment, gamergate spiralled out of control and now we have reached the point where game writers are having to move out of their homes due to the death and rape threats that seem to have become depressingly predictable

Outspoken female voices are receiving the nastiest of online harassment and the writers that are fleeing their homes in police care are women. Would this have blown up if Zoe Quinn was Zack Quinn? Probably not. However it’s worth noting that this isn’t a reflection solely on the gaming community and I think that many have taken offense at this misunderstanding.

So it appears that pro-gamergate = hates women. To be sure about this you would have to check with the gamergate movement to see what they say but you can’t because there is no such thing. There is no gamergate HQ with a gamergate president who is consulting the gamegate manifesto. It’s a macguffin that you can use to push your own agenda whether that’s the ethics of journalism or threatening women. The latest hashtag I have seen is #stopgamergate2014 but once that gains traction then it becomes the new #gamergate as we all try and push our point out through the fog.

To me gamer gate isn’t a movement as a movement has common ideals and goals. Instead gamergate represents online behaviour and our responses to it. Gamergate is howling trolls and the personalities that can’t keep quiet for fear of being seen to condone them. It’s anonymous bullies that make death threats and those that think it’s bad to do so but accept it as part of life online. Worse of all it’s feeling that ignoring it will let it die but still writing 7 paragraphs about it. We are all gamergate.

Monday Night Tabletop Round-up 13/10/14

Every Monday I wake up thinking that I will get a light and healthy dinner on the way to game group and drink lemonade when I am there but when I arrive and the barman asks me what I want my mouth always asks for a steak pie and chips with a pint of Trooper. Help!

Saboteur

Players: 7 (Plays 3-10)

Duration: 20 minutes

There is one person in my group that loves Saboteur and brings it every week. Due to her enthusiasm it generally gets a fair bit of table time at the early filler portion of the night which is a good thing because it sure beats that 20 minutes where everyone stares at a stack of games unwilling to commit to anything!

Players are gnome miners who are trying to tunnel their way to gold over multiple rounds. Effectively the game takes place in a 5×9 grid with the entrance to the mine at one end and three cards at the other of which only one is the precious gold. Players take it in turn to play tunnel cards of different layouts to get from the entrance to the gold. The twist is that some of the gnomes are secret saboteurs who will try and fail the game by playing unhelpful tunnel cards to create dead ends or diversions. As well as tunnel cards there are equipment cards that can break or repair equipment (which helps or hinders tunnel building), dynamite cards that can remove a tunnel card in play and map cards that allow a player to look at one of the three target cards. The round ends when there is a clear tunnel from the entrance to the gold or the cards run out and the mine is doomed.

Saboteur is easy to play and understand and there is potential for lots of strategic deception. There are a few traitor games that I have got bored of (BSG, Avalon, The Resistance) but for some reason Saboteur still holds my attention. Probably because rounds are short, roles are reassigned after each one and I am a terrible liar. Good random fun.

Pandemic (including In the Lab expansion)

Players: 4 (Plays 2-4)

Duration: 1 hour

Pandemic is a hugely popular co-operative game where players have to cure 4 diseases that are making their way across the globe. The game has two decks of cards, an infection deck (used to randomly infect cities) and a player deck (used for fast travel and researching cures). At the start, players are given a role and hand of cards before a number of cities are infected (represented by cubes). On their turn, players have 4 actions including moving, removing disease cubes, exchanging cards, building research stations and finding cures. At the end of their turn players draw two more cards (up to a maximum of 7) and then randomly place disease cubes by drawing from the infection deck.

That’s the nice part. The real clever (and mean) part of the game are epidemics and outbreaks. Distributed through the player deck are epidemic cards which, when revealed, mean players have to shuffle the infection discard deck back on top of the infection deck meaning those cities you just cleared are going to come up again and again. It also increases the number of cards drawn at the infection stage. On it’s own this doesn’t sound so bad but it causes outbreaks. Which are very bad. Cities can only have a maximum of 3 disease cubes so instead of a fourth being added to that city there is an outbreak and one is added to every adjoining city. If they have 3 cubes then they outbreak too and you have a chain which can fill the board up with disease very quickly. After 8 outbreaks you lose. If you run out of cubes in the supply you lose. If the players deck runs out you lose. It’s hell…

…but it’s brilliant. And hard. So very hard. But yesterday, and for the first time ever, I was in a winning game and an incredibly dramatic one too. The 4th disease was cured on the last action of the last players turn before the player deck ran out. It was exhilarating. In fact I am still astounded by it now and am grateful for cleverer (and soberer) minds on the team. Now we can try it on hard and never win ever again.

It’s worth noting that we played with the In the Lab expansion which adds a whole minigame to the way cures are found. In the original, cures are found by cashing in 5 cards of their colour at a research station but in the expansion players have to spend actions to research and test cures instead of just handing in the cards. It sounds more difficult but getting five cards of the same colour is actually very tricky and requires a lot of movement around the map to meet other players and exchange cards so it seems to balance out in terms of difficulty. I am still determined to beat the vanilla version one day though. One day.

Ticket to Ride (including Alvin and Dexter expansion)

Players: 5 (Plays 2-5)

Duration: 90 minutes

Do you like trains? It seems that a lot of board gamers do as the train theme is one of the most popular I have seen but Ticket to Ride is by far one of the most successful and accessible I have seen. Luck can play a big part in Ticket to Ride and some fortunate card draws can see a player boosted to victory (as I was yesterday getting twice as many points as the player in second) but the simple and satisfying gameplay means that claiming routes is always a lot of fun and due to some hidden scoring (some down to the game itself and some to inept scoring by us at the table) you can never really be sure where you are.

Ticket to Ride plays across a map of the US which has various cities on it with routes between them with players scoring points by claiming these routes. On their turn a player can either draw train cards, claim a route (by playing train cards of the matching colour and quantity for that route) or draw secret route cards. Without the route cards the game would boil down to simple set collection but they give the player the opportunity to claim additional points (only revealed at the end) by connecting two cities across the map with their trains. The longer the route the more points are awarded but the risk is also greater as you could get blocked or not get the right train cards before your train supply runs out which means that the points for that card are deducted. The key is to try and get as many overlapping route cards as possible to minimise the amount of routes you need to claim. Thankfully luck was on my side yesterday and I got a lot of overlaps.

We also played with the Alvin and Dexter expansion which adds 2 giant monsters to the board! If you play a multi-coloured train card (which act as wildcards and so are quite valuable) on your turn you can move these monsters to different cities which block players from building there and means any routes through them count for half at the end of the game. This expansion makes no sense whatsoever and was totally out of place with the theme of a train game but so what? If you don’t love giant monsters in a game for no reason then check for signs of life.

Monday Night Tabletop Round-up 29/09/14

I am a little behind schedule here but never mind. Also, I am on holiday next week so no round-up although I may put a few pictures on Twitter(@dixxie_flatline) of my wife breaking my heart as she thrashes me at Battle Line, again.

Unexpected Treasures

Players: 5 (Plays 3-6)

Duration: 30 minutes

Junk. Not the game but the theme where you have to collect as much junk as possible and turn it into treasure somehow. OK so the theme has got me a bit confused but the game is simple, quick and fun. At the start of each round players simultaneously reveal a numbered card from 0 to 5. If they are the only person to reveal that number then they get to take that many rubbish chips from a pile in the centre of the table and if possible trade them in for victory point cards (tiles and cards are replenished at the end of every round). The 0 is the robber and instead of retrieving tiles from the centre they take them from players equal to the number of unique cards played that round. At the beginning of the game each player is given a numbered chip and when the same card is played only the player with the lowest numbered chip gets to go, then players swap chips to even things out.

It sounds a little confusing but it really is quite straightforward and comes down to trying to predict what other players are going to do. If I have the 1 chip then I know that if I play a 5 card I will break all ties and get to pick up 5 tiles. But everyone knows that so they will play a 4. So should I risk playing a 4 to block them or will they call me out and play a 5. For me the game is all about the reveal, turning over your card then looking around hoping that you have read your opponents correctly. In our group one player really struggled to get going and she ended up getting frozen out a lot at the start but the game plays so quickly that it didn’t matter too much. Good fun.

Palazzo

Players: 4 (Plays 2-4)

Duration: 1 hour

Palazzo is a strange mix of bidding, buying and building where players obtain tiles to build towers which are awarded points at the end of the game based on height, number of windows and uniformity of colour. In the centre of the table is a market surrounded by four quarries with a master builder token on one of them. On their turn, players either take money, rearrange their buildings or buy/auction tiles. 5 king tiles are randomly distributed in the lower third of the tile draw pile and the game ends when the fifth one is drawn.

Each time a player takes the buy/auction action a new tile is added to the central market and one of the four quarries. Then they can either choose to buy 1 or 2 tiles from the centre (the more there are, the cheaper they get) or auction every tile on the next quarry on from the master builder (who then moves along). This is a really interesting decision. Do you take a safe purchase of a couple of tiles or a risky auction for a lot more. You might even want to buy a stack of tiles just to deny your opponents those top tiles that they really need. The last option is very satisfying.

Sometimes you play a game and everything falls into place and that is exactly what happened when I played this as I managed to get a crushing win. I seemed to pick up the right money and managed to outbid opponents on tiles they wanted as well as ones I did too. I was very lucky and will hold onto the win in the inevitable victory drought coming my way!

Puerto Rico

Players: 5 (Plays 2-5)

Duration: 2 hours

It’s hard to describe the feeling of playing Puerto Rico. On the surface it’s about creating an island economy in order to ship goods and buy buildings, both of which yield victory points, but underneath it is an incredibly tight max-min game which forces you to pay attention to what other players are doing and try to limit the benefits they can get from your turn. Let me explain.

Each player has a board with one space for plantations and one for buildings. The first player (the governor) picks up an action tile and uses it, then every other player in turn also gets to use that action too. Then the second player gets to pick an action which other players use and so on until every player has chosen an action. There will always then be three unchosen actions which get a coin added to them for the next person that chooses it. Then the governor card moves round one space and play continues. Example actions are the builder (buy a building), the settler (take a plantation), the trader (sell a good), the captain (ship goods for victory points) and the mayor (obtain workers).

The player that chooses an action does get a slight bonus but they have to be very careful not to help the other players too much and that is where the key to this game lies. Often it’s worth taking an action that may only benefit you a little but will help nobody else. That action you really want will get picked by another player so let them have choose it for you and reap the benefits. Turn order can be brutal, has that guy to your right only got coffee? Pick the trader before him and sell yours ahead of him. Mean as hell.

I can certainly see why this game has such a high rating. It has a solid worker placement system and a nice level of player interaction (by which I mean screwing over). Personally I found it to be a little bit muddy at times, some of the actions didn’t really match what they actually did which added to a layer of abstraction that could get in the way of understanding the game. However, this is just window dressing and I really liked it. Puerto Rico is a great mental workout and nothing beats hearing the 3 players to your left groaning as you pick the captain and watch them toss half their hard-earned goods in the river.

Just Good Friends?

I love this picture by artist Bob Dob. Just the idea of these two as actors on set getting ready for the next person to put 20p in the Donkey Kong machine is amazing. Mario looks absolutely drained from having to run up all those girders knowing that even if he does rescue his love, he will instantly have to start all over again. Worse is that the original arcade Donkey Kong had a glitch that meant that on level 22 Mario would hit a kill screen and that would be it. He couldn’t win. Ever. No wonder DK looks so pleased with himself.

Monday Night Tabletop Round-Up 22/09/14

Every Monday night my gaming group meets up at the Cross Keys pub in Liverpool. It’s a real diverse mix of games and gamers and I thought I would start writing a weekly round-up of the games I played and what I thought of them. I can see this getting a little shorter with each one as games get repeated (this one got a bit long) but let’s give it a go.

Love Letter

Players: 4 (Plays 2-4)

Duration: 10 minutes

Love Letter is the perfect filler. It’s easy to explain, easy to play and only takes ten minutes which explains why in pure numbers it must be the most frequently played game at my gaming group. Sometimes there are even three or more copies of it in the library. I will probably only mention it once in these round-ups as it’s so basic so here goes.

In Love Letter you are all potential suitors for the Princess and are trying to get your letter to her before the others. Players start with a single card and take turns drawing and then playing one of their cards. Cards represent various roles within the court and each has a special power when played. For example, the Priest lets you look at another players hand, the Baron lets you compare cards with another player and eliminate the one with lower rank and with the Guard, if you can guess another players hand then you can eliminate them. Play continues until the last man standing or if the deck runs out (which happens quite quickly as there are only 16 cards) the player with the highest ranking card is the winner of that round. Play continues for as many rounds as you like.

That’s about it. This game is so simple it almost plays itself but there is a little room for strategy and bluffing and it always goes down well. I am not sure that it deserves it’s high ranking on Board Game Geek but what it does, it does perfectly. There is a similar game called Lost Legacy recently released that I would like to try as it seems to add a little bit more without taking away the accessibility. On a side note, I have always got the feeling that the player themselves is the actual love letter and we are being passed among the characters in our own hands. When I think about this too much I feel weird, we play the game but the game plays us, sort of.

Splendor

Players: 3 (Plays 2-4)

Duration: 30 minutes

After Love Letter we were still in filler time so we had a quick game of Splendor, another simple game but one I enjoy. On their turn players either take gems (represented by nice chunky poker chips in 5 colours) or purchase one of 12 cards on the table (which is immediately resupplied) with the gems they have collected. Cards then give players a free resource and the more expensive ones also give you victory points. Players can also reserve a card in their hand on their go if they are worried that other players are about to pinch it. The first to 15 victory points is the winner. There are also 4 patron cards that players can claim once they have built a certain amount of cards which also score victory points.

What players are trying to do is build a little economy where their cards can pay for more cards without using a go to collect gems. As gems are limited and cards change all the time you have to be quite adaptable as that card you wanted might get picked up or the stock of gems of a certain colour might run out. For me this game has a great mix of economy building and player interaction. Once a player starts claiming the high points cards it starts a race that really starts you trying to be as efficient as possible – then that card you wanted gets nabbed and you have to think again. I was one turn away from victory on this game so you can see how close it gets… one turn.

Concordia

Players: 5 (Plays 2-5)

Duration: 2 hours

Then it was time to start the meatier games and I found myself in a game with some of the more serious players in the group. This can add a bit of stress to the evening as I am new to the hobby and sometimes you get the feeling that making noob errors is a little bit looked down on. The finer points of strategy are often lost to me but I thought to hell with it, switched from beer to Coke, hunkered down and had a good go of it.

The game was Concordia which is set in and around the Mediterranean and involves creating colonies, resource management and a little bit of hand management. On their turn players play a card and this lets them colonise, trade, purchase more cards or claim resources. Cards then stay out their hand until you play one that lets you draw them back in. Initially described as a deck builder (I find Dominion unfathomable) I was relieved that your hand is the whole deck so you are not constantly shuffling and drawing. As you play cards it limits your options but there is always something you can do so it never feels unfairly limiting and you can always draw all you discards back early if it gets too tough.

Points are awarded at the end of the game based on your cards and how they relate to your Mediterranean empire. For example, if you have specialised in colonising cities that produce brick then you should be buying cards that give you points for that resource. Apparently it’s best to concentrate on 2 things that complement each other but this had escaped me. I struggled a little with this game and came in 4th but to be honest I was quite pleased with how it went and would tackle it again given the chance. This was at the heavier end of the scale for me but worth the effort.

Elder Sign

Players: 5 (Plays 1-8)

Duration: 90 minutes

Despite the slick Cthulhu themed veneer with it’s nice artwork, wealth of tokens and creepy flavour text, Elder Sign is about one thing – chucking dice. For those that get an inexplicable satisfaction from rolling a fist full of dice (as I do) then this will gleefully satisfy that urge. Sometimes it’s as much as 7 dice at a time – oh baby!

Elder sign is a co-operative game where players are investigators who are trying to prevent a world devouring monstrosity from entering our world and turning it all browny-green. 10 cards that represent locations in a spooky museum are face-up in front of the players, 4 are always the same and let you buy equipment or heal but the other 6 represent strange goings on. On their turn players roll dice to try and match rows on a card of their choosing. If they successfully match a row they assign those dice to the card and attempt another row, if not then they discard a dice and try again. If successful they collect the rewards on the card and a new one is drawn but if not they must suffer the penalties. Rewards can be helpful items, allies or elder signs of which a certain number must be collected to win. Penalties can be a loss of sanity, health or another token on the doom track which, once filled, means the investigators have lost and the world becomes a living hell (with the Old One that we faced).

Amazingly we seemed to sail through this game. I don’t know if it was lucky dice rolls or the optimum number of players but evil was vanquished without too much bother. Co-op games are usually about losing as best you can instead of winning as easily as possible. I think we picked our cards well and avoided the ones that seemed virtually impossible but maybe we are just really good at throwing dice? Yeah, let’s go with that.