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Monday Night Tabletop Round-up 15/12/14

The room that we game in is above a pub and next to the kitchens so that when I get home and undress for bed all I can smell are chips. It makes me hungry.

Black Fleet

Players: 4 (Plays 3-4)

Duration: 1 hour

Break out the rum, dust off the parrot and Ronseal up that wooden leg because it’s pirate time. In Black Fleet you get to raid merchants as pirates, avoid pirates as merchants, and sink pirates as the Navy. Throw in a some random player abilities and a few special boosts and you have some real chaos on the high seas. It looks lovely too.

The game takes place on a large board which is an inland sea covered with islands. The players get a merchant ship which starts at one of 5 ports around the board and a pirate ship which enters from 3 waterways at the edge of the board. There are also 2 navy ships which start in the centre. Players are dealt 2 movement cards, 4 development cards (with values of 5, 8, 11, 14) and a victory card (with value of 10). Players are trying to be the first to buy all their development cards and then their victory card using doubloons earned from trading goods, burying goods and sinking pirates.

On their turn players play a movement card which features a movement allowance for their merchant ship, their pirate ship and one of the two navy ships. When the merchant ship enters a port they take three goods in that ports colour and then try and take them to a different port. The further they go, the greater the value of the trade. Pirate ships are trying to move next to an opposing players merchant to steal one of their goods (one at any time) and then take it to an island to bury it for doubloons. Islands in the centre earn more but this is where the navy ships start and if you move one next to a pirate ship you sink it (they then re-enter on their next turn) and get two doubloons for your efforts. The slower movement cards get you fortune cards which you can use on a subsequent turn for a variety of effects. You then get to buy a development/victory card and draw a replacement movement card.

This game is crazy. With 4 players the seas are filled with chaos and that’s before players start buying development cards to give them increasibly greater boosts and powers. The development cards are randomly dealt and I was told that some combinations are game-breakingly good. My own combination of allowing the navy to attack merchants and giving 2 extra movement to the ship of my choice let me tap into another source of income and gave me the means to get it. I thought this was unfairly excellent until another player managed to get a huge amount of points in one go from an inspired combination of development and fortune cards. This was mostly random but I think there is an art to picking which of the developments to get first and then combo them together with your fortune cards. However by the end ships are flying all over the place and all plans sink without trace! On a piratey side note why do people love Pirates of the Caribbean so much. Squint and Johnny Depp looks like Russell Brand with extra guy-liner and Legolas doesn’t even down a single oliphaunt! Rubbish.

Container

Players: 5 (Plays 3-5)

Duration: 3 hours

It was back onto the deep blue sea for the second game because Container is all about shipping. However, seeing as it’s a ‘proper’ game there are no pirates no special powers and definitely no dodgy pirate accents. For shame. In Container, players are trying to get points by making money and buying containers from ships. At the start of the game players are given a player board (including a factory in one of the five container colours and a warehouse), a unique scoring card and a rather excellent container ship piece. An island board is placed in the centre of the board.

On their turn players are given 2 actions. They can produce containers from their factories, buy a factory (up to a maximum of 4), buy containers from other players and put them in their dock (players can only have 2 per warehouse), buy a warehouse or move their container ship. Container ships can move into other players docks and buy/load containers (5 maximum), move out to sea, or go to the central island where there is a blind auction for their cargo. When the highest bid is revealed the ship owner can either take the money and the same amount from the bank or match the price offered and buy their own cargo. The game ends when two container types from the central supply are exhausted.

This all seems very simple but the complexity comes from 2 sources. Firstly this is a free market game so the prices of containers sold from factories and those loaded from the docks are set by players (within boundaries) and secondly from the unique scoring that containers have for each player. Containers that a player has bought from ships at auctions are either worth 10, 6, 5, 4 or 2 points but if a player has one of each type then the 5 value container is worth twice as much. However, before scoring occurs the container you have the most of is discarded meaning you also want to buy your lowest value container just so you can trash it at the end. It’s a balance that involves paying the right amount and specialising in one particular part of the process (producing, selling at the docks or shipping).

I couldn’t have done much worse at this game. I overpayed massively for a couple of shiploads as I clean forgot that money was also worth points at the end and I was desperate for containers in my scoring area. Big mistake. There was a bigger points gap between me and fourth than there was between fourth and first and my stupidity punished me hard. It still smarts! So what does it say about me that I want to play this game again? Probably that I am a masochist as well as an idiot but next time I will remember that where in most games you spend every last pound, in Container you CAN take it with you. Also, that container ship piece is one of the best gaming tokens ever! ALL ABOOOOAAAARDDDD!!!

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Monday Night Tabletop Round-up 08/12/14

This round-up is so late that it’s closer to next game night than the one just gone. I need to write faster or work lazier. It was another good night and apart from another luck-eluding game of Machi Koro I played all new games once more. I hope there isn’t a maximum amount of games that you can remember rules for because if there is then my head might burst!

Click Clack Lumberjack

Players: 6 (Plays 2-9)

Duration: 10 minutes

Some games draw a crowd. People see it and want to play it straight away. Usually either because it looks good or the people playing it are yelling as loud as the game. Click Clack Lumberjack is both. The game is made up of 9 thick discs which stack onto a tree trunk base with 4 pieces of ‘bark’ fitting around each disc. Your goal is to bash the stack (using a very cute little axe) to slide out one of the discs enough so that pieces of bark drop off but not so hard that the stack comes down. You get one point for each piece of bark but lose five for every disc that hits the ground. And that’s it.

This game is just plain silly fun. You get two taps on your go and each tap is fraught with the kind of ridiculous tension that only comes with such foolish dexterity games. It’s so much fun that scoring becomes irrelevant and the spectacle of seeing grown men gently tapping a column of plastic with a miniature axe becomes as ridiculous as it is hilarious. The great thing about having an 18 month old son is that I will be able to buy this claiming it’s for him but really knowing that I will be the one getting it out of the cupboard at every opportunity. I am not ashamed to admit it though. I’m a lumberjack and that’s OK.

Machi Koro

Players: 4 (Plays 2-4)

Duration: 30 minutes

Machi Koro is a city-building game where players roll dice to activate various buildings which generate income for more buildings and so on. The game ends when one player has built four special buildings in their city. In a previous blog I talked about how I hadn’t appreciated how luck-based the card-driven city-builder Machi Koro was and if I played it again I would be a lot more appreciative of it’s random nature but seeing a five rolled time and time again doesn’t feel very random at all! I told myself that the dice must be a funny shape and that all these fives would stop when rolling two dice. They didn’t. The guy that won had bought all the ranches (ie. 5 cards) and proceeded to hoover up income like a tramp on chips. The best part was that I don’t think he was even that bothered to play the game. He dispatched the rest of us in record time thanks to those traitourous little cubes.

So, as a second playthrough I should really try and concentrate on imparting some kind of advanced strategy but apart from building ranches in case of a deluge of fives it’s hard to say. My own strategy was to get a spread of properties to try and get a little bit of income here and there but lean a little bit more heavily on the ones that steal from other players. This fits in with my usual gaming approach where if I can’t think of anything useful to do then I will just try and annoy people. Of course it didn’t work but one day it might.

Pandemic: The Cure

Players: 4 (Plays 2.5)

Duration: 1 hour

With hindsight it seems strange that a dice version of Pandemic hasn’t been created earlier. Smaller dice versions of games can provide a more focussed and portable experience than their bigger brothers and Pandemic is so popular that even an Inuit ice version would sell. Maybe they were waiting for the lucrative stocking filler market but there is finally a dice version of the Dice Tower people’s choice winner and it’s pretty fun. Just as in the original, players are hoping to cure four diseases that are threatening to sweep the earth but instead of a map of the world to move around there are just 6 locations (each representing a continent) each of which has a certain number attached to it. At the start of the game 12 dice are drawn from the dice bag (each in one of the four disease colours with 48 in total), rolled and placed on the corresponding location.

On their turn players roll their 5 custom dice which show what actions they can take. These are move, cure a disease (move a dice from their region to the treatment centre or move one from the treatment centre back to the bag) or collect a sample (take a disease from the treatment centre and put it on their player card along with the dice they used, locking it for now). If players don’t get the rolls they want they can reroll the dice as many times as they like but one of the sides is a biohazard symbol which locks the dice for that turn and moves the infection rate along one space on the infection track. Every 4 spaces on the infection track is an epidemic which means all the dice are taken from the infection centre and a number of dice equal to the infection rate (which starts at 3 and goes up to 5) are rolled and placed back on their matching locations. If more than three dice are placed in a location then there is an outbreak and dice are placed in the next clockwise location potentially causing another outbreak. After 8 outbreaks, too many biohazard rolls or if the dice bag is empty the players lose. In addition, after their turn, players must take dice equal to the infection rate, roll them and put them out potentially causing more outbreaks.

But how to get those cures? Well, those dice you collected for samples are rolled at the end of your turn and if they reach a total of 13 or more then that disease is cured and all dice of that colour on player cards or in the treatment centre are placed back in the bag. Players can also give samples to other players in their location after they take their action to try and bolster dice of one colour with a single player. There’s helpful stuff too. Each infection dice has a plus symbol that when rolled is placed on a CDC tile and can be used to purchase Event cards that benefit the players in a whole variety of ways. On top of this there are various player roles which change their custom dice somewhat to give them extra powers or strengths.

Pandemic: The Cure is a great dice rolling alternative to Pandemic. Using dice sacrifices planning for randomness (which should be obvious in a dice game) but there is a far stronger push-your-luck element in this version. Being able to reroll dice as many times as you like feels great but you may just roll a biohazard symbol when doing it and I had to stop myself from rolling that last dice just because I could. Also, having plenty of crosses in the CDC bank or samples on your card seems like a great result until you realise that you are keeping them out of the dice pool and getting closer to an empty dice bag. Overall I thought this was an excellent game and I can’t think of a better combination of dice rolling and co-operation.

Abyss

Players 4: (Plays 2-4)

Duration: 2 hours

Abyss is a tight blend of auction, engine-building and hand management where players are trying to buy the favours of underwater lords. I have seen some criticism of the theme of this game as it really boils down to a points race but I really liked it. So much work has gone into giving this game a real mysterious deep sea feel from the foreboding artwork to the pearls you use as currency that it would be a mistake to dismiss it.

At the start of the game players are given one pearl and 6 lord cards are placed onto the board from the deck of lord cards. On their turn, players can do one of three things. The first (and most complex) is to plumb the depths. For this, players draw a card from an ally deck (allies come in 5 colours and are numbered 1 – 5 with one being the most common and 5 the least) and place it face-up on the board. Going clock-wise from that player, other players can buy that card for one pearl (the payment goes to the active player) or pass. If all players pass then the active player can take it for nothing if they wish, if they do then their turn ends. If not then another ally card is placed on the board and the process starts again. The difference being that if a card was purchased in the previous round then this card costs one pearl more than the last one. If the fifth card is not bought then the active player must take it but receives a pearl as well. All unclaimed cards are then placed face-down in the centre of the board but separated by colour.

The other two actions are claiming one of the piles of unclaimed cards in the centre of the board (potentially getting a free windfall) or purchasing one of the face-up lord cards using ally cards as currency (making up any difference with pearls). Purchasing lord cards has restrictions in that they require certain colours or combinations of colours of allies. Once the fourth lord is bought the purchasing player receives two pearls and the available lord cards are refilled. All lords are worth victory points but some can give you special effects that can boost your score or mess with the game in some way to benefit you. Some lords have a key symbol and once you have 3 lords with a key you have to claim one of a number of land tiles that can boost your score even higher. The drawback is that you lose any special powers of those three lords. Once a player has seven lords the game ends and points are tallied.

I have probably made it sound more complex than it is because Abyss is actually a very straightforward game. The complexity comes from the flow of pearls between players and the special effects of the lords which you can use to either boost your score or mess with other players. The winning player when we played was getting a free pearl on each of his turn and increased the cost of other lords to the rest of us. This strong early play really had us scratching around for pearls and I had to change my tactics to claiming allies in the discard piles instead of buying them. This ‘bottom-feeder’ strategy felt like a good viable alternative though and added a nice memory element to the game as I had to remember what allies had been rejected.

I liked Abyss a lot. While it did smart to get absolutely smashed by a strong player it was a good game and there was always another strategy to try and get that second place. The only downside to the game was an element that I didn’t explain that involved deep sea monsters in the ally deck but it was so weak that it wasn’t worth going into. Perhaps it will get built upon in expansions but we virtually ignored it. Overall Abyss is a good game and if you get the chance to play it then definitely take it.

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Monday Night Tabletop Round-up 01/12/14

Getting your own game to the table can be tricky sometimes. Players at my game group are so generous that they often bring a wealth of games to choose from and your own can pushed to the back unless you are really vocal in getting it played. Somehow I managed to get two of my games out on Monday which was a nice little compensation for seeing my alien colonies outpaced and monsters outscored.

Ra

Players: 5 (Plays 3-5)

Duration: 45 minutes

I have always told myself that I don’t like auction games but having recently enjoyed Medici, Palazzo and now Ra I am going to have to change my point of view. I am still not attracted to games with longer drawn-out auctions but the short, punchy titles are tense and force you to take tough, critical decisions that won’t have you futilely playing catch-up for 2 hours. Ra is definitely that game.

Players are trying to bid for different types of tiles that score in a unique manner at the end of each of the games three phases (or epochs). On their turn players can either put a random tile onto the board or invoke Ra and start an auction for all the tiles on the board. Bidding only goes round the table once and players bid using one of three uniquely numbered sun tokens. The winning bidder claims all the tiles in the centre (some of which can be harmful) and swaps his sun token with one on the centre of the board (which always starts with a 1 value) placing it face down and unusable for the remainder of that epoch. In this way players change the values of their bids and can only bid three times per phase. Some tiles are Ra tiles which don’t go into the centre but trigger an auction instead. Once 10 Ra tiles have been drawn (in a 5 player game) the epoch automatically finishes. After the third epoch, final scoring occurs and the game ends.

Ra is a very devious game. It’s so tempting to draw a tile and add it to the auction pile but if it’s part of a tile set that an opponent wants and they have a better set of sun tokens they will be able to steal it from under you. The way the tiles score is cunning too. Some are straightforward set collection but others require you to get just one or lose points instead of gaining them and others wipe out other tiles if you win them. Like a lot of auction games it seems that knowing when not to bid is as important as winning and a cool head is required to avoid disaster. Ra is definitely a smooth little game and one I will be keen to play again in the future.

Alien Frontiers

Players: 4 (Plays 2-4)

Duration: 2 hours

In Alien Frontiers players are colonists who are competing to get their colonies on an alien planet before their opponents. Players are given dice that represent their fleet and they roll them at the beginning of their turn and, depending on the result, use them in various orbital facilities around the planet. Some facilities give you resources (including extra dice or alien technology cards that give you extra powers), some let you build colonies and one lets you steal resources from other players.

When players build colonies they place them on the planet in one of 8 regions, each of which is related to an orbital facility. If they have the majority of colonies in a region then they get an additional point plus a bonus which corresponds to that regions corresponding facility. In this way players can try and use this light area control mechanic to try and claim regions that will help their own individual strategy.

I like this game a lot. Not only does it have the simple pleasure of rolling dice but it lets each player attempt their own path to victory by matching the regions they want with the facilities they want to use the most and the alien tech cards they have bought. Of course the dice can always scupper your turn if they don’t go your way but there is always something useful that you can do even if it’s to collect basic resources. The only criticism I would have is that the Raiders Outpost that lets players steal from each other can spoil another players plan (it happened to me) but there are ways to protect yourself. Overall a very fun game and one that plays nice and swiftly once players find their feet.

King of Tokyo

Players: 6 (Plays 2-6)

Duration: 30 minutes

More dice fun! King of Tokyo is a simple game where players play giant monsters fighting in and around Tokyo. On their turn they roll 6 dice (which they can reroll twice if they wish) to try and get victory points, attack other monsters, heal their own monsters or gain energy to buy special powers. The first player to 20 victory points or the last monster standing is the winner. The twist is that one monster (or two when there are 5 or 6 players) is the King of Tokyo and will slowly accumulate points on their go. Also, when they attack they hit all other monsters outside of Tokyo at the same time. The downside is that they can’t heal and monsters outside of Tokyo only attack them. When hit, a monster can leave Tokyo and the monster that hit him has to go into Tokyo and become the new King whether they want to or not.

King of Tokyo is a lot of fun and is all about praying those dice give you what you want and then crying when they don’t … which is all the time! The one issue I have with King of Tokyo (and it is a big one) is that it rewards cowards! For a game about giant monsters fighting across a city it’s a shame that a player that plays conservatively is usually the winner and for most of the time players will be re-rolling attack dice in favour of energy to buy boosts for their monster, only attacking by accident. I don’t play like this. For me it’s more fun to get into Tokyo as soon as possible, start throwing punches and hold on for as long as I can before bailing out to heal up and start attacking again. Of course I never win but I have a lot more fun losing in this way.

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Monday Night Tabletop Round-up – 17/11/14

Lost Legacy

Players: 4 (Plays 2-4)

Duration 20 minutes

When I started these round-ups my original vision was that when a game was first played I would mostly explain the mechanics but on subsequent plays I would concentrate on any deeper insights that I had gained into the game itself. This is tough with Lost Legacy due to the simple draw a card, play a card gameplay and small card pool but there was one card that made me rethink about how I played this game and is worth looking at.

After playing more rounds of Love Letter than I care to count my first instinct in this game was to find the Lost Legacy card, get hold of it and keep it as long as possible. This was a mistake. The Guardian will wreck that plan as once it appears it randomises players hands meaning you are probably going to lose the Princess, er I mean Lost Legacy. The Guardian encourages you to play a bigger game by dumping the Lost Legacy into the ruins to keep track of it as much as possible. After all, the game is not about having it but knowing where it is. This is a tricky balance. Do it too early and another player might find it but wait too long and that Guardian might show up and you will end up losing it into a random players hand.

The Guardian also tells you that the player who played it almost certainly doesn’t have the Lost Legacy card so if you saw it in their hand earlier then you can guess that they have put it in the ruins and may know where it is. Have you been watching them? I hope so as if you get an earlier guess then you might be able to get the card before them. Putting this plan-busting random effect card in the game encourages two important things, using the ruins (making you play the full game) and watching other players like a hawk. With binoculars.

Bohnanza

Players 6 (plays 2-7)

Duration: 45 minutes

Bohnanza is a fast trading game about growing, harvesting and selling beans. At the start of the game, players are dealt five cards which each feature a variety of bean (red, black-eyed, soy, stink etc). They also have two bean fields in front of them where they will plant beans but each field can only contain one type of bean. Players get points by harvesting a field which means taking all the beans out of it, keeping some cards to represent points (different bean types have different distributions of payouts) and putting the rest in the discard pile. The game ends when the deck has been exhausted three times.

On their turn, players must first plant the top card from their hand (potentially forcing them to harvest if there is no spare field) and then they reveal the top two cards from the draw deck. They must then plant these unless they can trade them with another player. All trades must be immediately planted. Then the player draws three cards and puts them to the back of their hand. Additionally a player can buy a third bean field but it costs them 3 points.

I really enjoyed Bohnanza and the fast trading and intense player interaction make this the perfect noisy filler. The fact that you have to keep your hand in order and plant the top card on your go makes for some wild deals including giving cards to other players for nothing. However its greatest quality is the fact that it generated the unintentionally rude ‘I’ll give you two black-eyes for a stink’ which puts it alongside Agricola (‘can we convert children into food’), Pandemic (‘we need to address the black problem’) and, of course, the classic Settlers of Catan (‘I got wood for your sheep’). Illustrious company indeed.

Betrayal at House on the Hill

Players: 6 (Plays 3-6)

Duration: 90 minutes

You know those horror films where a group of dunces get stuck in the wilderness and decide to take refuge in a menacing haunted house built on an Indian burial ground? Well, Betrayal at House on the Hill is that. Up to 6 players get the chance to blunder deeper and deeper into an obviously hostile mansion before ‘The Haunting’ triggers and one of them turns bad. Real bad.

Players select from one of 6 characters (each having a speed, might, sanity and knowledge trait) and on their turn they can move as many spaces as their speed trait allows. The game starts in a 3×1 hallway and when a player moves through a doorway they draw a random room tile and resolve its effects if any. Some rooms are just hallways which mean the player can continue moving but on reveal most trigger a card draw meaning the player must finish moving and resolve that card.

Item cards provide you with various weapons or buffs but event/omen cards can be anything. You might get bitten by a shadowy creature, get a raving madman companion or fall down a mystic slide. The main difference between event and omen cards is that omen cards force you to make an omen roll. If the dice total is greater than the number of omen cards drawn so far then nothing happens but if not then the haunting starts, the game changes completely and players must consult the two scenario books (one for the player that just went bad and one for the rest) to see what their objective has become. Scenarios are incredibly diverse and can be a player turning into Dracula, raising an undead horde or racing to get magical items.

This game is all theme. The gameplay feels very rudimentary especially before the haunting when players are just stumbling about the mansion gaining items and encountering spooky events. Basic dice rolls are used against the four traits each player has and the characters all seem pretty much the same but when The Haunting occurs and the story kicks in then the game turns from a tame exploring game into a fun and exciting race. Betrayal at House on the Hill is one of those games that is more about the players than the game. Mechanically it’s very simple but it creates a great structure for 6 people to sit around a table, use their imagination and just have fun. Tabletop did a good playthrough that’s worth checking out.

Hansa Teutonica

Players: 4 (Plays 2-5)

Duration: 2 hours

The problem with playing so many different games is that sometimes I forget which ones I have and haven’t played. I thought that recording my plays on Board Game Geek (BGG) would clear up some of the confusion but even though I am sure that I have played Hansa Teutonica, BGG says otherwise. This means that either my brain is wrong or BGG is wrong but considering my appalling score on Monday it’s probably the former. Sobs.

Hansa Teutonica is set on a map of Northern Europe (predominantly Germany) and features around 25 named cities and various routes between them with each route containing 2, 3 or 4 smaller spaces (mostly 3). On their turn players can do two of 5 actions: take cubes from the general stock into their supply, put cubes from their supply on a space, displace another players cube from a space and take it from them (they then get to move it to an adjacent route along with another from the stock as compensation), move a number of their cubes to a different route, or claim a route.

The first four actions are just about getting cubes on the board but it’s the last one that is the most important. To claim a route players must have a cube on all its spaces. Once they do they then put those cubes back in the supply and choose one of a number of bonuses. Depending on the city on each end of the route they can either claim it (controlling a city gives you points when somebody claims a route attached to it and bonus points at the end) or improve their abilities (more actions, a greater number of cubes from the supply, open up more city spaces for control etc.). Additionally some routes have additional tokens you can collect that give you a one-off instant bonus or points at the end of the game. Once a player hits 20 points they trigger the end game where points are awarded for routes, developing skills, cities occupied and any other bonuses. There are a few additional elements but that is roughly it.

This game is a tough balance. There are a lot of ways to get points and it’s easy to get dazzled by choice. I paid the price for not focussing on a clear goal and being distracted by opportunities that lead to very little reward. Of course you need to be flexible as other players will often be chasing the same thing (especially the city that grants you additional actions) but before you can do the thing you really want there is often a number of prerequisites (each with their own prerequisite) so each action must be played as efficiently as possible. A very good game and one I would like to explore more strategy for in the future. Or just cut my losses and play 250 rounds of Lost Legacy.

Monday Night Tabletop Round-up 03/11/14

It can be hard to concentrate on game night but when the games are good and the players friendly it doesn’t matter when your brain lets you down. The dice is a different matter though, is there even a 3 on this thing!?

Lost Legacy

Players: 6 (Plays 2-4)

Duration: 15 minutes

Is Lost Legacy the next Love Letter? It certainly plays very similarly to the 16 card microgame and is even co-designed by the same guy but while the two games have a lot in common it’s unfair to say that this is a straight reskinning (unlike the Batman rethemed ‘Love Letter: Capture the Inmates of Arkham Asylum’, yes that’s really a thing) and it adds extra depth to the straightforward card-play of its predecessor.

At the start of the game players are dealt a hand of one card and then one additional card is placed face down in the centre of the table (known as the ruins). On their turn players draw a card from the deck, play one of their two cards and apply its effects. Cards also have a number in the corner and at the end of the round, players try and guess where they think the lost legacy card is (either in another players hand or in the ruins) starting with the lowest number that a player holds. However, if multiple players have that number then they are denied a guess.

I came in a bit late so only managed to squeeze in a quick round but what I saw liked. Card powers are nice and varied, for example they can let you mess about with other players hands, alter the ruins by adding cards or inspecting them, give you extra guesses at the end of the round and there is even one that forces you to deal yourself a wound – take two wounds and you are out but if you are stuck with a wound card at the end then you are denied a guess. Lost Legacy has a short play time with a nice amount of depth which makes it the perfect filler so again, is it the next Love Letter? Yes, and that’s no bad thing.

Machi Koro

Players: 4 (Plays 2-4)

Duration: 30 minutes

This is a game that I have been hoping to try for a while. Partially because of the constant barrage of retweets by Pandasaurus games of any mention of it on Twitter but mostly because the combination of cute artwork, simple city-building and short playtime is very appealing.

At its heart Machi Koro is a simple engine builder which basically means that you are spending money to make money as efficiently as possible. In this case each player is the mayor of a small town that is competing to be the first to build 4 special buildings. There are a whole selection of regular buildings available to buy too and these are represented by cards that have a number on them. On their turn players roll a dice and check their town, if the number they rolled matched any of their buildings then they can claim money from the bank for that building. Some buildings let you collect money on an opponent’s turn and even steal it from the player that rolled the dice. Players can also build multiple copies of a building or get supporting buildings to bolster their income to get those four target buildings (all of which have their own bonus abilities once built).

My opinions on this game may be skewed as frustratingly, I was not even halfway to affording the special buildings when the game wrapped up but I will try not to be a sore loser. At times this game felt completely down to chance. A few bad dice rolls could see a lucky opponent pulling into an uncatchable lead unless you push your luck harder to lengthen the odds (with more frustration when it doesn’t pay off). I think this game may have been a case of expectations not matching experience as (rather naively) I didn’t factor in the random dice element as much as I should have. Next time (and I do want a next time) I will try and spread my buildings a bit more or do something really stupid and lose with a grin instead of a pout!

Five Tribes

Players: 4 (Plays 2-4)

Duration: 2 hours

I must have been eating stupid pills on Monday because initially I could not get my head round Five Tribes. The explanation was clear but the iconography and scoring were a little tough to break down so it took me a good 30 minutes of playing to appreciate the mechanics of this game but once I did I found Five Tribes to be excellent.

The game takes place on 30 tiles which are placed randomly in a 6×5 rectangle. 90 meeples in five colours are then randomly distributed across these tiles (3 to a tile). Players bid for turn order and on their turn they pick up all the meeples on any tile they choose. They then move their fistful of meeples around the board dropping one off in each tile they pass through. The last meeple they drop off must have others of that colour in it. They then remove all meeples of that colour from that last tile and take that meeples colours special action as well as the special action of the tile they are from. In addition if this tile is now empty then that player can claim it by placing a camel meeple (cameeple?) on it.

Meeple actions and tile actions are quite diverse so I won’t go through them all but examples include buying goods cards, assassinating other meeples (and potentially claiming their tile), buying genies (which give you powers and victory points), upgrading tiles (to increase their value), getting straight victory points and more. The game ends when there are no possible moves left or one player runs out of cameeples. Points from goods, tiles, genies and so on are totalled up and the one with the most is the winner.

Get points win game. OK so I may have copped out a bit there at the end but there are too many actions and scoring options to list individually. This game is a lot of fun. At the start of the game the colourful modular board and crowds of meeples give you an almost overwhelming amount of choice but as the game goes on and the board starts getting more and more sparse you really have to balance your best possible turn without benefitting other players. I really liked the fact that you were invested on other players turns to see if they would ruin that move you wanted or even to help them out a bit (we are a friendly group). Overall this game was a hit for me. It looks great and despite a stuttering start (for me) it played smoothly with just the right amount of brain-burning puzzle-solving and player interaction.

Pandemic: Contagion

Players: 5 (Plays 2-5)

Duration: 1 hour

Pandemic: Contagion is the black sheep (or should I say black plague) of the Pandemic family. While all the other games have players grouping together to save the world, Contagion has you competing to infect it. This is supposed to be a quick filler but we took a while to get through it probably due to my malaise holding the game up. I can only think that my pie and chips were putting me into digestive shutdown!

At the start of the game players receive a player board to track their three characteristics (incubation, infection and resistance) and disease cubes in their colour (in a nice touch these are the same as the original Pandemic). 10 City cards are placed in the centre of the table (in a 4 player game) and a special event deck is created with 9 random event cards (which help players) regularly interspersed with 3 WHO cards (which do not). At the beginning of the turn a card from the event card is revealed and each player then gets the chance to take two of three possible actions; draw cards (equal to their incubation level), play cards to infect a city (with the number of cubes equal to their infection rate) or mutate their virus (which costs cards in increasing quantities as the level goes up).

Contagion is an area control game with the added twist that once an area (city card in this case) reaches a set number of cubes it is scored and then removed. At the time this game didn’t really click for me and I felt there was some ambiguity on the cards. For example when an event card is revealed it can give players an extra ability but it is not explicit whether this is one of their actions of not. Similarly, winning certain cities gives me a bonus I can play at a later point but can I play it at any time or only on my go? If it’s the latter does it count as an action? I am still not sure. A few short extra statements on the cards would easily clear this up. However, like Machi Koro, even though I personally struggled to get to grips with it I would like to play it again.

Rainbow 6: Vegas Retrospective

It’s 3am. How did it get that late? You realise you are shivering cold, it’s January and the heating went off hours ago. The buzz from those beers you had is long gone and has been replaced by a sudden urge to pee. Did you fell asleep in front of the TV? Quite the opposite. You have been in a state of advanced concentration for hours, absorbed by the online world of Rainbow Six: Vegas.

Vegas was the first game I ever played online. It was a tough initiation. That guy in the balaclava and MP5 could be just down that corridor, or right behind you, or next to you on the sofa! It was important to entertain a certain level of paranoia, every corner was a threat after all, but get too spooked and you would panic fire a ragged outline around the guy taking steady aim around the corner as he coolly slots you in the head. It had a very unique pace which mostly came from its excellent cover system.

Leaving cover was a risk but then so was staying there

Primarily, Vegas was a first person game but if you ran up to a corner and held the left trigger the camera would pan back into third person giving you a view of your soldier pressed against a wall as well as the space in front of them. You were constantly moving between these two viewpoints, one which gave you a wider field of view and the other which let you react faster to threats directly in front of you. Cover gave you the chance to get the drop on opponents but if they were concentrating on your location then they could shoot you before you got your weapon to bear. It was tense, sometimes excruciatingly so.

Game modes had the usual deathmatch and team deathmatch as well as a survival version (where you only got one life before being dumped out) but by far the most popular was Attack & Defend where the attacking team had to take a package from one point in the map to an extraction point at the other and the defending team had to stop them. When searching for lobbies you could be sure to see Attack & Defend in Calypso Casino in the first 5 spots at least and at one point I knew that map better than my own house. Let’s just say if I got a job there I wouldn’t need to ask where the toilets and fire exits were and I wouldn’t be surprised by the big hole at the bottom of the escalator.

The background music in this pre-game screen still makes me feel tense

My personal favourite mode was survival. As the match started all mics were turned off and all the chatter gave way to silence, then BOOM and the first guy was out. Once killed you could hear and be heard by all players which meant the game would grow more and more tense as downed players starting giving hints (and false hints) to the remaining players. What would start out as a silent stalk would descend into chaotic direction and misdirection. It was exhilarating.

An interesting take on team survival was the ludicrous Mike Myers variant where one player would take on the rest armed with a shotgun. The other team only had pistols and could only use them in the last minute of the match. Mike would usually win but sometimes the heroes would live to see the sequel.

I have plenty of good memories of this game. Talking to strangers online went from awkward to normal and even pleasant. Game hosts would generally require all players to have their mics plugged in even if it was to test them with a friendly hello in the game lobby and any annoying behaviour was given a swift boot. Maybe I was lucky but I don’t remember coming across any discrimination, bullying or vitriol. However I do recall the laughter at my lucky from-the-hip pistol headshot in Casino Vault and the guy with the lazy Southern drawl telling me he should have waited to get married and was there really any rush for me to?

The casino maps made for an intense backdrop

Nowadays I don’t have the opportunity or desire to play shooters online. A lack of skill and patience and a reluctance to buy the latest games means I am well behind in terms of ability and friends so I will never get the same experience again but that’s OK. Rainbow Six: Vegas was a game that came early in the 360 life cycle and was part of the online boom for console players. It felt like a special time and it was a great game. I loved it.

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.