Small World and Abyss feature again this week so I won’t explain how to play them for a second time but just relay my experience of this particular play. I am worried this might be a bit confusing for some so I will try and include a brief description.
Players: 4 (Plays 2-5)
Duration: 10 minutes
Some games play themselves and Yardmaster Express is definitely one of them. Players draft ‘cargo’ cards and each turn add one to the rear of their train over a set number of rounds. Cards have two sides which feature both a number and a colour and when placing a card, the right side of the previous card must match either the number or colour on the left side of the new card . If a player is unable to make a match then they pick any card and use that one flipped over onto its back. All the backs are the same low number and act as wild cards meaning they will match any colour. Once the game finishes then you add up the points values for each of your cards and get a bonus for the longest run in one colour. That’s pretty much it.
It would probably take more time to explain than to play Yardmaster Express. Reactions from the table were generally muted and it was described as ‘like Dominoes’ and as ‘a children’s game’ which is probably a fairly accurate summation. However as a quick filler to chat over as people arrive it works perfectly and is a nice, light introduction to drafting mechanics.
Players: 10 (Plays 2-8)
Duration: 30 minutes
Bausack is all about building towers out of blocks which sounds fun. At first. However you will need a surgeon’s nerves of steel to do well at this dexterity game. At the start a huge assortment of wooden blocks in all kind of shapes and sizes is poured into the centre of the table and each player is given a number of beans (14 each for a 10 player game). The first player picks a block and passes it to the next player who can either add it to the top of his tower or pass it to the next player. The first player to pass has to pay one bean, the second player two beans, the third three beans and so on. If the shape gets all the way around to the player that initially nominated it then it must be used. After the block is used the next player along from the one that nominated previously picks a new shape and the process starts again. When a tower falls over that player is out and the last man/tower standing is the winner.
This game is tough in two ways. First is the decision whether to play or pass. Passing on a difficult shape can leave you short on beans meaning you may be stuck with an even harder shape next time. Secondly when you do have to start placing shapes you need steady hands to actually get it on the tower. Like a lot of these sorts of games it’s definitely a crowd pleaser. Staring at someone trying to balance a wooden egg on a wooden toblerone doesn’t sound very gripping but it certainly is. Even better is watching other players gingerly putting their drinks on the table or eating their meat pies with the daintiest of touches lest their wooden towers topple onto the table. I rarely play this game as I seem to be unable to even balance two cards flat on each other but I gave it a good go and wasn’t first out which was a good result. I even managed to get the hula hoop on the Christmas tree. You don’t see that every day.
Players: 5 (Plays 2-5)
Duration: 90 minutes
It was back to the competing world of dwarves, elves, ghouls and giants for another game of Small World, a simple game where players pick a race, run it into extinction and then start all over again. After an initial dip a while ago I am very much enjoying repeated games of this dog-eat-dog territory control game. The mix of races and attributes really does give you a fresh experience every time and I am discovering new ways to play it each time. The latest lesson I have learned is that if you think someone is the leader then pick an aggressive race and go for them. The last couple of games have been won by the same guy who, with good consistent scores across each round, managed to slip under our attention and occupy what seemed like half the map by the end. Picking the right race may seem like an obvious choice but if you can keep your in-decline race safe for a while then they can sit and earn you a nice few points each turn that may not seem like a lot but over the course of the game can net you a crushing victory. Next time I play I am going to try and stake a claim on a patch of the board and then protect it with two races. A swift decline race surrounded by a fierce active race may be my path to victory. Fingers crossed.
The other lesson I learned is not to underestimate those elves. Their ability is that if one of their active regions is conquered they don’t lose any units and redistribute them all. This may seem like a very dull power where others give you point boosts or special abilities but effectively it means that they can stretch themselves as thin as they like and not worry about overextending themselves. This turns the game on its head a little as once you get thinned out then you start to think about going into decline but those elves can come back every round. They may look like flower-sniffing dandies but those elves come back fast. Beware.
Players: 3 (Plays 2-4)
Duration: 90 minutes
It was my second run at Abyss and now the rules were clear in my head I was hoping to put up a good fight. In Abyss you use cards (callied allies) in 5 different colours to purchase sea lords which net you victory points and special powers. You can also obtain lands which net you score multipliers depending on your lords and allies. On this second time I had a clear strategy which was a cowardly lord rush – a straightforward plan to get any high value ally and then be the first to seven lords which would close the game. I didn’t really care which lords I got but if I could buy one then I would do so as fast as possible before other players could net any multipliers. A crude and boorish strategy … and it worked! Just.
My plan was almost foiled by another player who pulled off a nice combo that netted him two lords in one turn and a land too. Due to my scattershot approach I wasn’t really focussed on clever combos and if the game had gone on another round or two I would have been sunk as I had nothing left over. To be honest it was a bit of a panic strategy (if I can call it a strategy) but by just a few points I managed to stay ahead of the other players surging up behind me.
I probably won’t try this approach again and I only pulled it off due to a lucky start that netted me a host of high value allies at a very low cost. However it is a testament to the game that there is a lot of ways to play even if they are the sledgehammer/nut variety.