Monday Night Tabletop Round-up 08/12/14

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

Click Clack Lumberjack

Players: 6 (Plays 2-9)

Duration: 10 minutes

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

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

Machi Koro

Players: 4 (Plays 2-4)

Duration: 30 minutes

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

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

Pandemic: The Cure

Players: 4 (Plays 2.5)

Duration: 1 hour

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

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

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

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

Abyss

Players 4: (Plays 2-4)

Duration: 2 hours

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

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

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

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

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

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