Monthly Archives: January 2015

Monday Night Tabletop Round-Up 26/01/15

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.

Yardmaster Express

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.

Bausack

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.

Small World

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.

Abyss

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.

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This Weeks Addiction: Crossy Road

Ace Combat Infinity has still been occupying way too much brain space this week but another little game has managed to get under its radar and score a direct hit on my free time. Crossy Road is a simple cross between the gameplay of Frogger and the endless style of Temple Run. It’s a straightforward score attack game where one mistake sets you back to the beginning. Thankfully the levels are randomly generated so you never feel like you are having to repeat the same thing over and over. In fact sometimes you lose track of your progress altogether until you realise that you are getting close to your high score, panic, and dive under a car.

The game has over 60 characters to unlock which you can either pay for with real money or wait to earn with in game coins which is a little addictive tug that will have you coming back to it very few hours. This trickle of rewards and score attack gameplay pretty much sums up what a lot of free mobile games offer at the moment but Crossy Road’s simplicity and just-one-more-try pull make it a lot of fun.

This Weeks Addiction: Ace Combat Infinity

Let’s get the bad stuff out the way first. Ace Combat Infinity’s payment model is as miserly, exploitative and cynical as you can get. If you want to play a lot then you are going to have to continuously pay to increase the amount of ‘stocked fuel’ you have on your account. This includes the fairly average single player campaign. You are going to have to dip into your pocket time and time again unless you are happy to wait for the three units of ‘supplied fuel’ to regenerate at the rate of 1 every 4 hours. There is no option to just buy the game. You can earn bonuses with additional contracts and challenges but these are time limited meaning they won’t really make much of an impact unless you are willing to put in a consecutive chunk of time and the money to go along with it. Credits you earn at the end of each mission are fairly paltry if you want to unlock the better planes further down the tech tree but naturally, these unlock at the same glacial pace as your credits accrue. In addition, if you splurge your money early on and open up the tech tree too wide then the randomly assigned research needed to unlock further branches is spread so thinly that you are going to have to play even more to lock it back down. Ouch.

So why do I like this so much? Because it fills an online gaming niche that I have never seen before. A kind of sportsmanlike competition. There is only one game mode which is a competitive co-op where two teams race to try and destroy more targets than the other. You can’t attack other players or even really hinder them aside from the odd opportunity to steal a kill, but seeing as the cumulative score of both teams goes towards a better grade and extra credits you probably won’t want to anyway. I have played a few rounds where I was bottom of the scoreboard but the pair of T-50s on the other team tearing around the map secured us all an S grade in no time. I lost but still kind of won. It’s liberating. The antagonism and frustration that lead to me abandoning competitive online shooters is just not present here. I don’t even mind the fuel issue. Snatching 15 minutes of gaming time used to be a problem as I couldn’t really get into a game but with Infinity the game doesn’t want me hanging around anyway. The missions may be a little repetitive but a relaxing 15 minutes in the skies is actually kind of nice. It’s like reading a couple of chapters from your favourite book before bedtime.

The irony is that if I could buy this game outright then I probably would. I bought the campaign only unlock and at £11.99 for 8 missions I don’t think it’s too bad but double that and let me play online as much as I want and I would gladly play. I am always surprised that the pay-to-play model works as a lot of gamers won’t pay on principle but I think that a very small user percentage must pay huge sums to compensate which seems a little unfair. Still, I am happily grinding my way towards that F15 that I will probably never reach and I still get a little thrill at the start of each mission when my team soars away, destroying enemy fighters and tanks in their wake. I get a great view from the cockpit of my Mirage 2000 dawdling towards its first target. But I get a nice cruise out of it. Sometimes I even do a little roll.

Monday Night Tabletop Round-up 12/01/15

Monday was all about one game. Sure there were a couple of fillers (Love Letter and Age of War) but the main event was an intense battle between a quintet of greedy powermongers intent on influencing naïve immigrants to further their own ambitions. Glorious. Somehow Tammany Hall took over an hour longer than the suggested 90 minutes but it went by in a flash of coloured cubes and dashed hopes.

Tammany Hall

Players: 5 (3-5)

Duration: 2.5 hours

Ever since I have been into the whole tabletop thing I have wanted to play Tammany Hall. Playing scrupulous politicians manipulating immigrants in the wards of 1860s Manhattan appealed to my love of big boards and skulduggery. It was a real ‘grail game’ for me for quite a while as even though it had been re-released a couple of times, print runs were small and second hand copies were fetching ludicrous prices. Well, thankfully it was re-released a couple of months ago just in time for Santa’s elves to put it on his sleigh and get it to me in time for Christmas. Was it worth the wait?

In Tammany Hall players are trying to get points by winning elections across 15 wards in south Manhattan. The game takes place over 4 terms each consisting of 4 turns/years (there was some confusion over the use of term and turn) with an election at the end. Each year, players place either two of their ward bosses on the board or one ward boss and an immigrant cube (they don’t have to be in the same ward). If they do the latter they also receive an influence chip matching the immigrant cube which are in 4 different colours (green for Irish, white for English, orange for German and blue for Italian).

After 4 years there is an election phase which consists of 4 parts. First there are individual ward elections where players count up their ward bosses and spend influence chips in a blind bid to up their score. After each ward election all ward bosses are taken out the ward except for one in the winning candidates colour. Judging how many chips to spend is a tense affair and you can only spend chips in a colour that match immigrant cubes in that ward. You can make deals with other players if you want but they are not binding so there is a chance for some gleeful backstabbing at this stage! After the ward elections, players count how many of each immigrant colour they now control and the one with the most gets 3 matching bonus chips. Then come the points. Players get one point for each ward they have just won and the one with the most becomes the mayor who receives 3 bonus points. Finally the mayor assigns special roles (e.g. Chief of police, Deputy Mayor etc.) to each of the other players.

After the first term the game changes slightly, players still place ward bosses or immigrant cubes on the board but they can also use the special ability that their new role brings which might be removing/moving cubes, gaining influence or locking wards. In addition, players get the opportunity to slander another player once per term which gives them the chance to remove opponent’s ward bosses from the board. However it costs influence to do so and each unused slander is worth a point at the end. After the fourth and final election phase, players receive bonus points if they have the most chips in a colour and the player with the most points overall is the winner.

This game was a lot of fun. Despite my lengthy description, gameplay is simple but with plenty of opportunity for strategic thinking. Having a good group really helped too and everyone got into the spirit of merrily slandering each other and breaking agreements (well, mostly me although it didn’t get me anywhere, I was dead last) and although I can imagine some might get offended with such nastiness we all seemed to have a good time. There was a definite noise bell curve as increasingly louder jokes about the mayor and his unnaturally close relationship with his dog gave way to a quietly tense concentration towards the end. Just the right side of stressful and totally absorbing. The Tammany Hall experience was best summed up by the player that said he enjoyed it and would definitely play it again … but perhaps not next week!

This Weeks Addiction: The Lord of the RIngs Card Game

Middle Earth is calling. I have always had a soft spot for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The ropey animated film caught my imagination as a child but what truly invested me in Tolkien’s world was reading the book just before being wowed by Peter Jackson’s amazing trilogy. At its heart it’s a simple tale of good versus evil with heroes struggling to free themselves from an unstoppable corruption. Tales of powerful wizards, mysterious elves and tough dwarves battling cruel orcs are the stuff of epic fantasy but for me it is the humans that I always found the most fascinating. Characters like brave Boromir whose honourable motives are twisted against him are far more interesting than the superhuman elves and the demise of the monstrous Gollum is heart breaking. There is an obvious message about how we must remain steadfast in the face of corruption but to me there is a certain subtext that says we are all vulnerable to it no matter how pure we may think we are.

So how does all that relate to the tabletop? Can all this heroic survival in the face of doom be condensed into a deck of cards? It turns out that the answer is yes. Not The Fellowship of the Ring Top Trumps but the Lord of the Rings Living Card Game from Fantasy Flight which seems to be filling my head constantly when I should be working. The game lets you pick a team of heroes (including favourites like Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli), assemble a bunch of allies, equipment and assists (represented by the player deck) and go up against all kinds of monsters and treacheries. As you progress you have to commit characters to questing or fighting and manage a limited pool of resources to combat random draws from the dreaded encounter deck. It’s tense.

BoromirNazgul of Dol GuldurNecromancer's Pass

A key part of this game is deck-building and this is where a lot of my day-dreaming time has been taken up with. Like other deckbuilders (eg. Magic or Hearthstone) trying to work out powerful card combinations is key to getting through encounters. However also like those other games there are a never-ending amount of cards to purchase but thanks to the Living Card Game model they are in specified sets and not random packs which means you can get the ones you want. My inner collector needs satisfaction and currently there are 30 expansions to get and deciding which is taxing my brain as well as my wallet. Payday can’t come round soon enough. I want you Boromir!

What seems like a simple card-driven game is actually a rabbit hole of complexity. I have the same feelings for Android: Netrunner but this is dependent on having another player and I have stopped asking my wife to go through a 45 minute cyberpunk face-off. The beauty of the Lord of the Rings is that it’s you versus the game so you can play it solo or take the place of other players, building even more decks in the process. Plus you can stop to admire the artwork as waves of orcs drive your threat skyhigh. So far I have rinsed the Core Set and the spiders of Mirkwood, the endless Anduin River and the horrors of Dol Guldur are well and truly conquered. I cant wait to add to my collection and try a whole new set of horrors. Onward heroes!