Monthly Archives: November 2014

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.

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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.