Monthly Archives: March 2015

Monday Night Tabletop Round-up 23/03/15

Oops. I made a bit of a bungle this week as I thought Fury of Dracula had featured in a previous round-up when it hadn’t. That section is a bit sparse but there is plenty more information on BGG’s profile of the game. Seeing as I am already late I thought I would just leave it as it is. Apologies.

Medici

Players: 5 (Plays 3-6)

Duration: 60 minutes

Full first impressions here

In Medici players bid for coloured cards over 3 rounds. At the end of each round players move a token up each of 5 tracks (one for each of the 5 colours) and score depending on their position. Cards are also numbered and players with the highest totals also score too. Mechanics are easy to grasp and bidding on cards is fast and fun with only one round of bidding per lot. The veneer of 16 Century boat builders is entirely arbitrary but I do wonder if it was released as a themeless card game would it have done as well. As gamers we latch on to any element that could give the game a little bit more colour. The winner claimed that the successful Florentine artisans that led him to victory here were the forefathers of the Italians that rallied him to victory in Tammany Hall last week which I thought showed some nice imaginative flair. The smug git.

Another thing I like in this game is that you pay for cards in victory points making the board state one step easier to understand. It may be a minor thing but with 5 separate colour tracks and players cards there is quite a bit to keep an eye on. Medici is a straightforward game with lots of small decisions and plenty of opportunity to grief your opponents. Which is always good.

Fury of Dracula

Players: 5 (Plays 1-5)

Duration: 3 hours

It was the second play of Fury of Dracula for me on Monday and while the first was full of twists, turns and narrow escapes this second was a fairly drab affair. The four players who were playing the hunters hopelessly meandered across the map while the Dracula player moved relatively unchallenged for almost the entire game, slipping past the rest of us and away to victory before we could do much to track him down. It was a shame that this game fizzled out so much when the first had ended with a dramatic showdown in Castle Dracula.

The nature of this game is such that if the hunters don’t get at least a general idea of where Dracula is early on in the game then it can be quite boring for them. We also made an assumption about which direction he was headed (my fault) and so wasted a long time in closing the net on somewhere Dracula wasn’t which made it feel even more pointless. The encounters we did have were even more frustrating as all combat is based on rolling of a d6 which is very random. I think we lost every single dice roll.

This last experience has really challenged what I think of it. Previously it was one that I would have leapt to play again but now I am not so sure. I love the theme and the mechanics of trying to find Dracula are fun but 3 hours is a lot of time to invest just to lose on the roll of a dice. Playing as Dracula might be a bit more exciting but then there are still four other players that might want to do the same. I think I will give it one more shot and then take it from there.

Rattus

Players: 4 (Plays 2-4)

Duration: 30 minutes

The death of 100 million Europeans is a fairly dark theme for a game but that’s what Rattus is all about. Players are trying to increase populations in their colour (represented by cubes) on a map of Europe during the time of the Black Death but at the same time they manipulate rats to spread the fatal disease to other players. Nice.

At the start of the game one rat token is placed face-down on each of 12 regions in Europe and then a plague marker is added to a random region. Play then proceeds clockwise round the table. On their turn players take three steps. The first, which is optional, is to take one of six class cards which grant the player a special ability depending on the card. Cards can be taken from the central pool or other players and a player can have more than one if they wish. Secondly the player picks a region on the map and places population in that region equal to the number of rat tokens in it. Lastly they move the plague token to a region adjacent to it.

Once the plague token moves two things happen. First the plague spreads and the active player takes 1 or 2 rat tokens and places them in adjacent regions to the new plague region (up to a maximum of 3 per region). Then the plague attacks the new plague region and rat tokens are flipped over one by one until there are either no more cubes or no more tokens. On the bottom of each rat token is a number and a series of symbols either M (majority), A (All) or representing each of the six classes. Once flipped, if the number of cubes in that region is equal or greater than the number on the rat token then the plague activates and cubes are removed depending on the symbols on the token. Any rat tokens flipped are then removed from the game. The game ends when one player has all their cubes on the board (unlikely) or the supply of rat tokens runs out. At this point the plague attacks every region and the one with the most cubes remaining on the board is the winner.

Rattus is a game I own and I am glad every time it gets to the table. I love the risk-reward balance that comes with taking the class cards as each one gives you a useful power that can become very powerful in combination. However  they leave you open to losing population when the plague attacks which it will frequently when other players see you getting too far ahead. It plays fast, scoring is tight and there is a lot of back and forth between players. Just my sort of game.

Monday Night Tabletop Round-up 16/03/15

Now I have been boardgaming for a year I have learned when to run, not IN a game but FROM it. Last week it was Outpost which is an auction game that requires endless counting (I like Maths but not for 3 hours) and this week it was from about 7 successive games of Avalon which is a hidden traitor game that is fun in singles, OK in doubles and plain dull in sextuples. I am learning.

Dark Tales

Players: 4 (Plays 2-4)

Duration: 15 minutes

Full first impressions here

Dark Tales is a card game with a sinister fairy tale coating. Players draw a card into and then play one from their hand. Cards have various abilities and some stick around with lasting effects. I had played it the week before and was happy to do it again as the simple puzzle of trying to maximise the points potential of a hand of 4 cards makes for a nice filler and when the cards are junk it doesn’t matter too much when it’s only 15 minutes. One thing I did notice on this second playthrough was how much faster the game ended with four players instead of three. With a larger play count it really creeps up on you so be prepared.

For me the fairy tale theme is an interesting one. Apparently there is a Snow White expansion out with a Red Riding Hood one to follow which could be a great opportunity to add a narrative-building aspect to all the heroes, ogres and creepy castles that are featured on the original cards. Perhaps it is better suited to imaginative younger gamers who are better able to tell stories as they play instead of us mechanic-focussed older players who are just interested in optimising their hands. Boring bastards.

Tammany Hall

Players: 5 (Plays 3-5)

Duration: 3 hours

Full first impressions here

For a game of such simple mechanics Tammany Hall can be a real brain-bruiser. It’s an area control game where players take the role of mid 19th century politicians attempting to gain influence in southern Manhattan by placing ward bosses (meeples with squat top hats) or immigrants (coloured cubes) onto the map. After 4 rounds there is an election phase which gives players the opportunity to gain points by exerting their accumulated influence to win control of wards they are present in. After 4 elections the game ends and the player with the most points is the winner.

At first the map is nice and plain but after a cube here and a meeple there it quickly fills up, crowding the board and making any sort of strategy increasingly difficult. In addition special player powers (awarded after each election) and the ability to slander once between each election can mess with the board making it feel fairly chaotic. This is unusual for a game with no hidden information or randomness and play is all about how players interact either on or off the board with shady deals not just allowed but encouraged.

I love this game. Monday was only my second full game and it was just as enjoyable as the first (even without the imaginative backstories conjured up during the previous games’ enthusiastic slander-fest). On your turn you only place a couple of pieces but each meeple or cube put down feels like it could end your game right there. The weight of these decisions is mostly driven by player paranoia though, if a player has a successful election phase they become an immediate target to the other players and holding on to a lead is very difficult. In fact it’s probably better to hide in the pack during most of the game and try and boost to the finish. Players of Power Grid should be very familiar with this!

Unfortunately at the other end of the leaderboard it can be tough for a player to recover after a bad start. After election phases all meeples are removed from the board apart from one in each ward (the winner of that ward election) so if you have a disastrous first round and burn all your influence only to be left with nothing then you are essentially starting again. It has happened in both games so far and while it could just be a coincidence it seems all too possible. Then again I could just be bitter because once it was me!

King of Tokyo

Players: 5 (Plays 2-6)

Duration: 30 minutes

Full first impressions here

More bitterness. I have complained about how the best strategy in King of Tokyo, a game about giant, brawling monsters, is to just hide in a corner and accumulate points and that probably won’t change any time soon. Usually I go down swinging in Tokyo (the heroes death) but this time I had a really good chance to be the last kaiju standing with upgrades that let me deal extra damage from Tokyo (Urbavore) and another roll to do it with (Giant Brain) but before I could start windmilling like a drunken prize fighter the guy RIGHT BEFORE ME rolled 9 points in a single turn (almost half of what you need for an entire game) and left the rest of us choking on his victory dust. Next time turtlers, next time.

This Weeks Addiction: Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

When Daft Punk’s Discovery came out I was a frittering away my higher education in the sort of low pay, low responsibility job that fresh graduates shouldn’t be enjoying nearly so much. Discovery became the soundtrack to days behind a till in a videogame shop and the dash to get to happy hour in Yates’s before beers went from dirt cheap to just cheap (I swear that GAME uniform saw more nights in the pub than Peggy Mitchell). The album then travelled with me to Japan where I worked for notorious rip-off language school NOVA and while I was becoming a barely competent English teacher there was plenty of opportunity to wail One More Time in mercifully air-conditioned karaoke rooms. More recently The Wheels on the Bus and Raa Raa the Noisy Lion have become much more common in my home but I still put Discovery on occasionally and indulge nostalgia for my journey from Clerks-wannabe shop assistant to neon-lit karaoke master.

But Daft Punk have not left my life completely. Funky ubiquity Lucky was released around the time my son was born and desperately singing it to calm the wriggling life in my arms is a very precious memory (I am sure he will love hearing about the inappropriacy of a lullaby where smug fashionista Pharrell Williams sings about his love for skirt chasing)! Random Access Memories is the album that features Lucky and I can’t stop listening to it. I will leave a full review to experienced music journalists but it is an emotional and physically electric blend of synthesisers, funk, strings, vocoders and even a little spoken word, ranging from melancholy funk to classic dancefloor-bait with even a whiff of show tunes in one place. Thankfully the whiff is of careless speakeasies and not dockland pubs. Whether this album will come to spark rosy memories of life as a 35 year old family man as Discovery does of a green 21 year old only time will tell but right now I am loving it.

Monday Night Tabletop Round-up 09/03/15

Even my 2 year old son with his infant motor skills could have made a better start than me last game night. The opening filler was a game of Bausack which involves stacking irregular shaped blocks on top of each other. Players choose shapes for each other which they can either add to their tower or pay to pass on. I crashed out nice and early blaming hunger and sobriety. Half a meat pie and a pint of ale later and I could have removed cataracts with an ice-cream scoop, probably drive better too. There’s something to be said for unshakeable bravado.

Dark Tales

Players: 4 (Plays 2-4)

Duration: 15 minutes

Sadly not a satanic Duck Tales but a neat little card game with a dark fairy tale theme. On their turn players add a card from the deck to their hand and then play one from it. Cards have various effects such as awarding victory points, awarding tokens (armour, torches, swords or coins), card draw and so on and can vary depending on other cards that are already in play. Once used a card is placed in front of the player, in a communal central tableau or just discarded (this is determined by symbols on the cards). The deck is not refreshed so eventually one player will play the last card in their hand, at this point one last round is played and then the player with the most points is the winner.

Dark Tales is a neat little game. Aside from the way that the cards interact with each other and their traits (such as villain, location, monster, male or female) there are also day and night cards that can change the state of the game and give you more (or less) points. In addition there are two random cards drawn at the start of the game which award you bonus points at the end depending on tokens you have collected giving you something to work towards. It seems that short card fillers are my thing at the moment. Dark Tales had just enough strategy to fill its length with a nice ‘take that’ element to fluster other players. Lush fantasy artwork fills each card meaning text is quite small so players with poor eyesight might struggle to read them. I have eyesight like a hawk with a sniper rifle though so what do I care? There’s that bravado again, don’t worry, it fades after the next game.

XCOM: The Board Game

Players: 4 (Plays: 1-4)

Duration: 90 minutes

It seems that man’s hopeless last stand is a weekly occurrence at game night. For me it was my second chance to play this co-operative game. The full gameplay description is in a previous blog but to sum up – four players take unique roles and try to complete missions and ultimately defeat an alien menace that is slowly overtaking the world. Gameplay is in two phases, the timed phase is one where an obligatory companion app barks orders at you and then the resolution phase where you use a ‘push your luck’ dice-rolling mechanic to build on various resources you deployed in the previous phase.

In my first game I was the Squad Leader which is responsible for stationing troops and then resolving their deployments, a role which gives you the opportunity to either lose the game by failing to defend the base or win it by successfully completing missions. A failed dice roll carries a lot of weight. In this second go I was the Chief Scientist which by comparison was positively relaxing. If you are successful you get to hand out all kind of goodies to other players that they can use to bolster their defences but failure just exhausts scientists meaning they can’t get assigned next turn which isn’t really a big deal as you start with a healthy number anyway. The only real stress is deciding which excellent piece of alien-busting tech to research. In the late game it’s also a role that loses importance as the team concentrates on garrisoning soldiers or launching fighters but this is a team game so you can help other players like helping the commander to tot up the budget.

I am beginning to understand this game a bit better now and while I do think it is a bit scrappy (it lacks the simple elegant design of Pandemic for example) I definitely want to play it again especially using the two roles I haven’t been so far. In fact as soon as it became clear that we had lost I almost suggested setting up and starting again. There is no better praise than that.

Ticket to Ride: Europe

Players: 5 (Plays 2-5)

Duration: 2 hours

TTR is another game I have covered in a previous post but the basics of the game are that players play coloured cards to claim routes between cities across a map. Points are scored from claiming these routes but also for completing secret destination cards which give two cities that you must link in some way with your routes. The farther apart the cities on the destination tickets the bigger the points bonus but if you fail to finish one then you not only lose the bonus but it’s deducted from your score.

Previously I have only played the Europe map with my wife. With 2 players there is very little player interaction and it’s more of a race to get the cards you want so you can finish the game and quickly get your destination tickets before the other player but with 5 players it’s a war of attrition. It was a very different experience than the casual card gathering one I was used to and a lot more tense. Near the end of the game the board was almost full and destination tickets were constantly getting blocked. Poker faces turned to gurns and I heard more than one involuntary wail as route after route was claimed and shut down. It was great.

The Europe map does come with a nice variant where each player gets three stations that they can place in a city to piggyback another players route but this wasn’t enough when Southeast Europe started to look like a bad Jackson Pollock. None of my destination tickets were anywhere near it. I chuckled.

Monday Night Tabletop Round-up 02/03/15

It’s not often that I have a night where I think that I would like to play the exact same games the following week but Monday was one of those nights. It’s nice to make a little bit of progress on  understanding a game even when I know that I may be scratching the surface of something incredibly complex.

Coloretto

Players: 5 (Plays 3-5)

Duration: 10 minutes

Coloretto is a simple card game where players try to collect sets of cards of the same colour. The larger the set the larger the score but players only score positively for their largest 3 sets. Any sets outside of this score negatively. On their turn players can either draw a card from the deck and place it in a row in the centre of the table (the number of rows is equal to the number of players) or take all of the cards from one of the rows (closing the row for that round). Players who take cards are then out for that round. Each row can have a maximum of 3 cards and when every player has taken a row the round ends, the rows are opened and play starts again. The game ends on the round in which there are only 15 cards left in the draw deck.

I love this game. It can be a tough decision whether to draw or not on your turn and if so then where should you put that card. You want to leave it with other cards that you might want but also make it unattractive to other players. Perhaps you should just take a row but ducking out too early means you won’t get many cards but then again waiting too long could get you stuck with a row that is losing you points … or maybe not. Rounds go by nice and quickly and although you are only making decisions on your turn you are still invested on other players turns too. Coloretto is the sort of filler that I think I could play every week – rounds are short, it takes no time to learn and has just enough complexity to make you ponder but not pontificate.

Dominion

Players: 4 (Plays 2-4)

Duration: 30 minutes

With most games you can generally get a feel for how to do well, it’s just a matter of figuring out the best route to the goal but even when you haven’t balanced your resources, controlled key territories or collected the best cards you can usually see where you went wrong. Dominion is not like this. To me it’s a kind of magic. A primordial card soup of shuffling and deck-building where creative card combinations seem to scatter out skilled players hands like pixie dust. On the surface I know that this isn’t the case. Despite the empire building theme it’s a pure exercise in puzzle solving and statistics but seeing all those cards is like opening the back of a clock. An impossibly sophisticated sum of mechanical parts. However, Monday’s game let me tug the littlest corner of the curtain aside to see how the magician works and I think I saw Debbie McGee falling through a trap door.

Dominion is a deck-building game where players start with a common deck of ten cards and then buy cards to add to their deck, reshuffling and redrawing as they go. Generally cards are of three types: Treasure cards (currency in values of 1, 2 or 3 gold), Victory cards (worth 1, 3 or 6 victory points) and Kingdom cards (special actions). On their turn players take an action using one of the cards in their hand and then buy a card from the common pool of Treasure, Victory and Kingdom cards (adding it to their discard pile). Finally they discard the rest of their hand and redraw up to 5 cards. The game ends when either the 6 point Victory cards are all bought or any three others. Players add up all the victory points in their deck and the one with the most is the winner.

So where’s the magic? Each game uses only 10 types of Kingdom cards that are chosen from a pool of around 250+ (with all expansions) which is a huge amount of potential combinations. While it may seem like the best course of action is just to buy more Treasure cards until you are filthy rich and then buy all the Victory point cards, this will take a long time and investing in a neat combination of Kingdom cards will get you there a lot faster. Straightforward cards let you take more actions or draw more cards but others let you upgrade cards or mess with other players. A crucial ability lets you trash cards from your deck which thins it out meaning that killer combo can come up more consistently. The latter is the one that I only fully grasped the other night.

The last bit of sleight of hand is knowing when to start purchasing victory point cards. They don’t have any bonuses so clog up your deck meaning that you only want to buy them at the very last minute. There will always be a moment in each game where one player has their deck clockwork running and will start a points rush. After this tipping point players will then start their own rush hoping that their own decks are strong enough. If you haven’t managed to get yourself in a good place when this switch occurs you may be in trouble but games are fairly swift so you won’t have long before getting another shot at cardboard alchemy.

Alien Frontiers

Players: 4 (Plays 2-4)

Duration: 2 hours

I have featured Alien Frontiers in a previous Round-Up so I won’t do a full rules explanation but to sum up it’s a worker placement game where the workers are large dice that represent spaceships. They are rolled at the beginning of a players turn and then assigned to various orbital facilities to gain resources and ultimately land colonies on the planet that makes up the majority of the board.

Like my last game of Alien Frontiers I was slow getting off the mark and despite a healthy late game I just couldn’t catch up with a leader whose strong start meant he could coast into victory. Like the previous games winner he won with only a few spaceships (dice) and was not shy about using the Terraforming Station to sacrifice the ones he did have. I am going to have to rethink my strategy for this one a little. Next time I am going to have to try not to spend so much time building a fleet that will arrive late at the party. More Alien Tech too because it gives a lot more options like special powers to manipulate dice or move other players.

I really like this game but it does suffer from a lot of down time in between turns. Thanks to the last group though I have come up with the idea of buying a second set of dice meaning we will be able to roll and plan for our next turn as soon as the previous one has finished. I am looking forward to testing this in the next few weeks. Fingers crossed that the last two slow games haven’t put everyone off!

String Railway

Players: 4 (Plays 2-5)

Duration: 30 minutes

Why is it always the novelty games that are the highlight of the evening? String Railway takes place in a large loop of string stretched out on the table. Two extra pieces of string are added into the board to represent a mountain range and a river. Each player has a home station in one corner and is given 5 pieces of string in their colour. On their turn a player draws a card and places it within the boundaries of the game somewhere and then has to place string to join it to a station they are currently connected to. Points are awarded for any stations they pass through and lost for crossing other bits of string. After 5 rounds the game ends and the one with the most points wins.

Fairly straightforward but it was really interesting to see how the play area developed. Stations can go anywhere so each game is totally unique and seeing the whole game grow was amazing. It being a spatial game there was a fair bit of jostling around with players insisting they were touching more stations than seemed feasible but this was all part of the fun. String Railway was definitely a great closer and anything that has players engaging in friendly argument about such creative boundary disputes is always a lot of fun.