Monthly Archives: December 2014

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!!!

Advertisements

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.

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.