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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.

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.