The Games We Play

The Games We Play

A repository of reports on the Wednesday night sessions of the club and anything else related to the club or boardgaming in general, which may be of interest to anyone who may be passing by.

Friday 23 November 2012

The Burbs 31/11/12

On Wednesday evening Mike, Andy S and I played Suburbia a recent Essen release from Ted Alspach, a designer perhaps best known for designing and publishing a vast multitude of Age of Steam expansions.

Like Age of Steam, Suburbia involves cardboard hexagons, a track for income, wooden pieces and is a game that is good.
Anyway…. In Suburbia everyone is in control of a borough of one City, and the aim of the game is to make your borough the bestest (sic) in the City, with bestest defined as being the most populous. To make your borough the most populous you need to place building tiles which improve the reputation of your borough, so people will flock to it. However in order to afford tiles which will improve your reputation, you’ll need some industry or commercial tiles which will generate income but sometimes come at the expense of reputation e.g. no one wants a landfill site next door.
The gameplay itself is relatively simple, take a tile, and place it adjacent to your existing tiles. This may generate a one-off windfall in income or population, and may then affect your income or reputation. What’s quite nice about the game is that the tiles you place can not only affect the tiles you have in your borough but may affect everyone else’s borough. For example If I build a Freeway next to a residential tile, and next to a Commercial tile, it will damage my reputation for being next to houses, but increase my income for being next to Commercial buildings. And if I build a farm, every time someone (including me) builds a restaurant – my income rises. Or if I build a Hotel, every time someone except me builds a residential area it improves my income.
So improving your income generates cash, which you can then spend on tiles which will add population either through one-offs or by improving your reputation. Layed on top of this are goals. If you achieve a goal, and no-one else does you’ll gain a population bonus. Each person has a secret goal, plus there is one known goal per player in the game. In our game, I went for the win by building an affluent city with a high reputation – plenty of Commercial buildings, nice place to live and an International Airport – basically Solihull if you want a West Midlands analogy. My population by the end was soaring each turn. Andy S built Bilston, some cheap housing and lots of heavy industry, some growth and income but ultimately let down by poor town planning. I’m not sure what Mike built. A hodgepodge of lakes, and civic buildings with negative reputation throughout much of the game. Unfortunately for me, Mikesville generated a lot of cash, and was also consistent with most of the goals, earning him a massive boost in points by the end of the game for the win.
I really didn’t help myself with by accidently building a residential area, gifting a 20pt goal to Mike (which was coincidentally the winning margin), but hey ho, live and learn.

Wednesday 14 November 2012

Conquest of Nerath 07/11/2012

Steve P brought along Conquest of Nerath and we were joined by another Steve and Andy. The game does what it says on the tin, i.e. it’s a conquest game set in the Kingdom of Nerath, which is Wizards of the Coast D&D IP. Each player takes one of the four factions/races and proceeds to try and conquer other players’ regions, which earns them victory points and income, from which you can create more units. Players can either play as two teams, or all against each other as we did. Perhaps the best way to sum up this game would be to describe it as ‘pleasantly old school’.

Most of us have games we played in our youth (90s, 80s, or 70s – delete as appropriate) that we retain a great deal of nostalgia for, yet when we revisit those games we are more often than not reminded why we don’t play them anymore – their rough edges forgotten in the passage in the time quickly chafe our gaming palettes which have been refined by successive generations of innovative game design. What Conquest of Nerath achieves is a design that allows you to keep your rose tinted spectacles on; it feels like a great game you played many years ago yet a number of subtle modern game design choices prevent it from bursting your bubble. Yes there is a fair bit of downtime between turns, but the well-balanced and varied asymmetric factions present players with some interesting options and strategies that keep you interested between turns.

Unfortunately we didn’t manage to finish in time, but it’s definitely a game I’d like to play gain.

Sunday 11 November 2012

Power Grid comes to Britain

After years of waiting Power Grid has finally reached Britain (barring unofficial versions) and this was our first go with the new board (Thanks to Paul from Gameslore, who brought it back from Essen for me). To celebrate this momentous occasion, I thought I’d jot down a few notes regarding both the UK map and the played game (note that the other side of the board is Northern Europe, but this report will not cover that side as we haven’t played it yet).

The Map
The board covers both of the main British Isles and has a total of 40 cities, 12 in Ireland divided into 2 regions (Northern and Southern) and 28 in Great Britain in 4 regions (Wales, Scotland, Northern and Southern England) Southern Ireland is the single nuclear free region, so if you only have cities there you can’t bid on nuclear plants. It's interesting to see the selection of cities on the map, when you know a bit more about the place than I do for the other maps, noting things like the absence of Coventry, a large city, presumably because of its proximity to Birmingham which is present and the presence of small towns such as Haverfordwest, in this case I would guess due to the need for a location at that position in Wales. I suppose, if I were a native of some of the areas covered by other maps, similar things would be apparent there too.

Game wise there are 2 unusual features of this map when compared to any other so far released. There is no connection between Great Britain and Ireland, meaning that each player must establish 2 networks, one on each side of the Irish Sea, if he wants to build on both sides (assuming regions on both sides are in play). A second network can be started at any time by building in any available city in the island not yet built on and paying a one off 20 electro charge. The other unusual feature is  that the numbers of cities in the regions is not uniform. Here they vary in size with Northern Ireland only having 5 compared with 8 for Southern England, Wales has 6 cities and the other regions (Northern England, Scotland, Republic of Ireland) have the normal 7 each. This means that the total available cities will vary depending on the regions chosen which could increase or decrease competition on the map. If regions with low numbers are chosen, then it is possible that a situation could arise, with no one able to reach the step 2 threshold, so step 2 can now begin when all available cities have been taken in step 1.

Other Features
This board has an earlier Step 3 due to the fact that when setting up, the card is placed 2 cards up from the bottom of the deck, rather than on the bottom, the two cards that start below it will then be shuffled in to the deck for step 3 and this could of course mean that very low plants could then turn up in this step as they will not all be those high plants that have been placed underneath the deck in phase 5. Combined with this and the potentially longer step 3, there is the fact that 3 of the 4 resources suffer a reduction in supply in step 3 (the exception being trash, which remains the same).

The played game
Some brief notes from memory. We played a 4 player game with 2 regions on either side being Northern and Southern Ireland for 12 cities and Northern and Southern England for 15 cities, a total of 27.
Mike & I started in Northern Ireland with him essentially staying there while I expanded into the South, my single Northern city (Newry) ensuring my ability to participate in nuclear auctions, although I never actually did throughout the game. Dave F & Donald started in England, Donald taking the double city London and expanding in the south, while Dave F went with the Northern region. Just prior to step 2 we were each just about confined to single regions, although I had grabbed Liverpool on the other side of the sea.

It turned out that the plant deck seemed to have got into an order more appropriate to the Chinese board and the low value plants all came up early leading to an early stall, plant 25 did make it, briefly, into the current market at the end of an auction round, but by the next turn it had been pushed back and did not reappear for a couple of rounds. When it did I think this may have been where I lost the game by not bidding it up further, letting it go at 70. I was left with a market where the highest capacity was 2 cities.

Toward the end of the game, Coal, Oil and Trash were all in danger of running out, in fact coal did on a couple of rounds and I was never able to catch up in the capacity stakes having fallen behind, the high plants in the market both being coal burners which I couldn’t buy (along with others) due to the guarantee that I’d never get the fuel for them, the best that could be done was to build up to 16 capacity as the game ended with Mike and Donald on 16 (Mike winning by a couple of electros) and Dave F with me on 16, he beat me by 79 to 78.

Looking at the removed plants afterwards, revealed the 2 high nuclear plants were out together with a couple of oil plants.

Thursday 1 November 2012

Curiusly Dry! - 31/10/12


Five of us tonight, we decided to try a new game Mercurius, from a newish Polish designer.  Dave D was a little reluctant to play, as he had found previous games which solely relied on a stock market mechanism to be rather dry or just plain bad, but we gave it a go as it wasn't supposed to take more than an hour or so.  Basically on your turn you (a) buy and sell shares and commodities (b) play a card which affects the price of one type of share and one type of commodity (c) draw another card.  Sounds a bit like the old game Speculate I seem to recall, but the new twist here is that you play the card onto the left of your personal playboard, which has space for three cards, all other cards move one space to the right and if there isn't room for all of them  then the card on the right drops out, and all the cards on your board have an effect each turn, so price movements can be quite significant (or ups and downs can cancel each other out).  There are some one-off cards too which you can play once per game, of which the most useful is probably the Dividend card, which pays out cash per share for the company/city of your choice.

Well we had some fun from the game, mostly from misnaming some of the shares and commodities to something more akin to the graphics on their ownership tokens, so we had 'Newcastle United' as one share, there was a 'Twix Bar' commodity, etc., but I'm not convinced the fun is long-lived.  As Dave D suspected, the game at heart is very dry, very much an exercise in analysis of a single mechanic, and fortunately we didn't AP it like we can do with some games otherwise the downtime particularly with five could be bad.  After I'd won comfortably Steve H said it was my type of game, and certainly as I analysis mechanisms and processes for a living perhaps he's right, but it's not one I'd want to play often.  For dryness it's up there with Executive Decision, an old 3M (precursors to Avalon Hill) commodities bidding game I've had since the 70's, but at least with that it's simultaneous actions with no downtime, and it does make a damn fine postal game which I ran a few times in my zine publishing days.

After that, Andy had remembered to bring Bohnanza (see last blog) and we all are happy to play that, it was an excellent game and ended up a pretty close contest, Steve H beat me on the tie-break, then finishing off with a quick filler 6 Nimmt!, I've had some pretty horrible pasting at this in the past but somehow this time always felt reasonably in control, beating Dave F by a single point and gaining a bit of revenge on Steve H for Bohnanza because he got really hosed and came in last.