Recent games

This page has notes on games played recently at the club. Please add a few comments or a short session report on anything you found interesting. If you have not visited us before,  this page will give you an idea of the type of games we play.

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3rd Feb 2022 (Write up from Robin)

Games played tonight were:

Brian, James, Paul T, Nigel- Dune Imperium
Simon, Steve, Pedro, Elsa - Teotihuacan
Ian, Dan, Robin, Andrew H - Golem
John, Ed, Paul D, Dave H - Ark Nova

This week our group played Golem, which Ian had somehow contrived to get hold of before it was available in the UK. Good man to know.

I was attracted to this game primarily by the quirky theme. In case you missed it, the original Golem was a clay giant, built and brought to life by a 16th century rabbi to defend the Prague ghetto. It then rampaged out of control and went on a murderous rampage, before the rabbi managed to deactivate and bury it. That’s got to be fun, right?

The game is fairly faithful to its theme – albeit that between the 4 players (rabbis), we had at times as many as 10 different golems on the loose. We were building golems, which gave immediate and short-term benefits; but the longer they “lived”, the more trouble they became, and we had to bury them. Dan and I built loads of golems and had to deal with the consequences, while Ian and Andrew buried most of theirs, and consequently had fewer golem-related problems to distract their rabbis from the victory points.

In terms of mechanics, this game is what’s known in the club as an Ed game: that is, it’s about building an engine and sequences of accumulated actions. I understand the appeal of these games, but they’re not really my thing. The downtime in this one wasn’t too bad, all things considered, but there’s still this accounting phase in each player’s turn that no-one else cares about: “I’ll do this, which lets me do that, which gives me this, which I can use to do that,” and so on. Accountancy has never been my choice of spectator sport.

So it was good for the theme, and – if you’re Ed – good for mechanics as well. If you fancy a go, our learning was that lots of golems is good, as Dan won with me 2nd. The clue’s in the title.

Elsewhere, we had Dune: Imperium and Ark Nova. The other 3 in my group for the tournament were all playing Teotihuacan: City of Gods, so I guess I’ll be looking for a practice of that myself to keep up with them. Hopefully David will be back next week to distract them with Cuba :-)

April 21st (From Robin)

This week, I signed up for the first game that was posted on the board – and then saw several other good games follow.

Dan and Anthony were continuing their series of Vital Lacerda re-implementations with Kanban EV. This game looks to be at the more complex end of the Lacerda spectrum – though my attention was mainly drawn to the interesting selection of car game-pieces :-) . In the other room they were playing Tapestry, which is a much simpler game that I’ve always enjoyed, but never mastered. And Paul-B’s table were playing a selection of “lighter games” – I think I saw Quadropolis among them but I’m not sure.

Notwithstanding all these great options, I was still happy with my original choice of Brass Birmingham. This is one of my favourite games: every turn a tactical challenge, but with a better strategic element than the original Brass, in the clearly-distinct development tracks. And, like the original, the randomness in the cards ensures every game is completely different.

We also spent a long time worrying about the tie-break rules. It turns out the tie-break for this version is income – which ended up being important in our game. David-G, who started out by explaining that he didn’t know the game too well, having only played it once before, ended up with the joint-highest points, and – crucially – the highest income, to take the win. Well done, David!

And David-K was offering a good selection of games for sale – I’d encourage you to check it out on the Market page if you haven’t already. I picked up Agricola, which I’ve been after for a while. Hopefully I can get it back to the table at the club soon, after its lengthy post-tournament hiatus.

Finally, shortly after 9pm, there was what felt like a collective sigh of relief from the other room, as the latest tournament game of Shipyard concluded. When I looked in earlier, I’d seen a lot of confused faces – plus Ed, playing another game on his phone during the downtime. So, if I had to guess, I’d guess that Ed won. We don’t seem to publish the results on the website anymore, but hopefully by the end of the year we’ll be able to work out who’s won the tournament, based on who gets the trophy :-)

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9 Responses to Recent games

  1. Robin says:

    Firstly, thanks to Bill and James for helping to present a balanced verdict on Shipyard. In general I try to keep my reviews positive, but perhaps I should go for more controversy to provoke more of this kind of discussion…

    This week, my table was enjoying some post-Shipyard therapy with the altogether lighter game of Western Legends. It’s one of these games that is more about the thematic experience than the deep strategic thought. There is a tactical element, particularly with the deck of semi-standard playing cards that are used for actions and combat, and also for playing poker. But, regardless of how well you play, it’s most importantly a lighthearted game that’s just a lot of fun.

    Like all good Westerns, our game eventually came down to a conflict between The Good (Sam, David and Paul) and The Bad (me). I had managed to rob the bank 6 times, which felt like pretty good going in the face of so many do-gooders. They were all distracted by a last-round shootout against Brian the sharpshooter, who picked most of them off; and this allowed me to stay in the running. But in the end, Sam prevailed in the shootout and became top cop; so he won. And the game once again delivered on its promise of very enjoyable chaos.

    David and I were originally interested in Western Legends because of its similarity to Merchants & Marauders, which is another very thematic sandbox game. Western Legends is a much newer game, and better-balanced, which definitely makes the tactical element more engaging. Nonetheless, I personally still prefer Merchants & Marauders, though I’m not quite sure why. Perhaps it’s simply that the rich, tropical colour scheme of the Caribbean is nicer than the dusty beige of the Wild West. And then, in the eternal trade-off between thematic faithfulness and good strategic mechanics, Merchants & Marauders is purely about capturing the theme. So when I’m looking for a thematic-experience game, it’s still my first choice. Controversial? Comments welcome…

    Elsewhere we had Ark Nova and Azul: Queen’s Garden, both back by popular demand after the previous week. I saw nothing of Ark Nova, being prevented by my bank-robbing commitments from making the journey across the hall; but during my spells in jail I got a good look across the room at Azul Queen’s Garden. See also John’s notes here from last week: looks like a great little game.

    Lastly, Ian had brought Brass Birmingham in again. This is a great example of a good tactical/strategic game with a decent thematic side – I’m really looking forward to playing it myself sometime in the next couple of months. It is, of course, similar to the original Brass, but with the Shipyard removed: so naturally it’s an improvement :-)

  2. Robin says:

    We were back up to 6 tables this week, with half of them playing tournament games of Shipyard. This seems to be a Marmite game, with plenty of fans but also plenty glad to see the back of it. After all the hype since this game was first nominated in 2020, I ended up, sadly, in the latter group.

    The good points about this game, according to the fan club, are the intriguing (multiple) rondel mechanic, with the evolving spectrum of permutations that you get to choose from each turn. For me, it seemed as though these various turn-to-turn options would make only small differences to your final score, which was instead utterly dominated by your end-game bonus “contract” cards. The local mechanics were arguably too well-balanced, so that, having decided on your contract cards, it was largely a case of following a routine – choosing which of the 4 options each turn would help most with completing the contracts.

    What almost everyone agreed on was that the contract cards themselves were not well-balanced. In our game, we saw scores as high as 56 points, directly from the pair of contract cards; while many cards offered a maximum of 12 or 15 per card. Where the average winning score seems to be 80 or 90, this is huge. Good games use a blend of luck and judgement – but I think it works better when the big points are decided by judgement, and the little bits come down to luck.

    In the non-Shipyard half of the club, we had Ark Nova and Azul: Queen’s Garden. I would like to try this version of Azul with the hexagonal grid: for me, the Azul series is a nice exemplar of the right balance of luck and judgement.

    And finally we had Ian and Paul’s group playing Paris. I saw little of it, being distracted by the choice between green rondel and brown rondel and orange rondel, etc. But the artwork on Paris looks lovely. And they seemed strangely quiet by their usual standards – I guess they were saving Perudo till after we’d finished our Shipyard struggles.

    • Bill says:

      Another great write up from Robin on this weeks activities :-)

      As a fan of Shipyard I completely understand his issues with the contract cards and there is a variant detailed on the geek, to mitigate those specific concerns, where random “community” contract cards are drawn at the start of the game and you can choose which green and blue one you wish to fulfill at the end game scoring.

      However, having played it a few times now, I’m not sure that the contract cards are as big an issue as it may appear initially. In my tournament game I managed to score 94pts of which only 26 (15, 11) were from my contract cards ( 1 step below maximum on both cards). Anthony scored 90 and managed to score the maximum 32pts on one of his contracts and, I think, mid teens on the other(?).

      So, by focusing on maximising the contract scoring he had built and sailed six ships but some were only three tiles long and not well equipped. I sailed three 5 tile ships so missed the max score on the contract for four ships of that length. However, when they sailed they scored well on the base score and the shakedown bonuses.

      The previous week Ed managed to score 60 points just from sailing one (“filthy”) ship alone! (not sure how much he added on contracts).

      I like the “get lemons make lemonade” tactical aspect of this game. Play to what is available to you, if you get too hooked into a strategy based on the contracts you’re likely to get dragged into sub-optimal plays.

      I know that Robin won his game and managed to do so with high scoring contracts but I suspect he’s devaluing his all round play in wringing out the best value from those contracts ;-)

      Anyway, as per most tournament games, I don’t think we’ll be seeing much demand for this one anytime soon, anyone for Tikal?

      :-D

      • James says:

        I agree that there is no balance issues with the contract cards. Games tend on average to be quite tight in terms of final scores and that’s after probably > 50 games played. One of the contracts mentioned Ed by Robin is specifically designed to give you more points because trying to do it severely hampers your ability to get in game points. A decent score in Shipyard is 70-80 points of which 20-30 should be end game scoring.

        Selecting your actions is by no means on rails either, with limited turns and no guarantees that the actions you want will be available careful planning to ‘thread the needle’ to maximise efficiency is quite the brain exercise as is the balance of when to switch from build up to executing your plan. You can win by building ships right from turn one and you can win by only building ships after the game is half over. The variety is a strong benefit for repeated plays. In my opinion this is one of the best games ever made and will never leave the collection.

    • John says:

      The new Azul Queen’s Garden is much thinkier than previous iterations. I think this one takes the Azul series past being Gateway Games to more a Gamer’s Game. You really have to plan ahead and take care not to be caught with unplaced tiles at the end for negative points. Probably my favourite Azul so far.

  3. Robin says:

    This week, I signed up for the first game that was posted on the board – and then saw several other good games follow.

    Dan and Anthony were continuing their series of Vital Lacerda re-implementations with Kanban EV. This game looks to be at the more complex end of the Lacerda spectrum – though my attention was mainly drawn to the interesting selection of car game-pieces :-) . In the other room they were playing Tapestry, which is a much simpler game that I’ve always enjoyed, but never mastered. And Paul-B’s table were playing a selection of “lighter games” – I think I saw Quadropolis among them but I’m not sure.

    Notwithstanding all these great options, I was still happy with my original choice of Brass Birmingham. This is one of my favourite games: every turn a tactical challenge, but with a better strategic element than the original Brass, in the clearly-distinct development tracks. And, like the original, the randomness in the cards ensures every game is completely different.

    We also spent a long time worrying about the tie-break rules. It turns out the tie-break for this version is income – which ended up being important in our game. David-G, who started out by explaining that he didn’t know the game too well, having only played it once before, ended up with the joint-highest points, and – crucially – the highest income, to take the win. Well done, David!

    And David-K was offering a good selection of games for sale – I’d encourage you to check it out on the Market page if you haven’t already. I picked up Agricola, which I’ve been after for a while. Hopefully I can get it back to the table at the club soon, after its lengthy post-tournament hiatus.

    Finally, shortly after 9pm, there was what felt like a collective sigh of relief from the other room, as the latest tournament game of Shipyard concluded. When I looked in earlier, I’d seen a lot of confused faces – plus Ed, playing another game on his phone during the downtime. So, if I had to guess, I’d guess that Ed won. We don’t seem to publish the results on the website anymore, but hopefully by the end of the year we’ll be able to work out who’s won the tournament, based on who gets the trophy :-)

  4. Sam says:

    Good write up of Western Legends there, Robin, I enjoyed it and the game. I’m definitely in the camp you describe where the gameplay and the theme have to be storngly interlinked and this game delivers on that and was great fun. One example is the way your hand of cards have various special actions on them, but they are also a normal deck of cards, so when the players play poker they play it for real (in a simplified way). Of course, you then have the dilemma of using a card for its card strength or it’s special action.

    As the game progressed I sort of concluded that you had to take a path (not dither about like i did) and stick to it and that in addition to score best this meant becoming and sticking to being either a Lawman or an Outlaw. However, ‘GoldFinger’ Huggins disproved that. On the other hand, ‘Billy the Kid’ Brian definitely had the most fun along the way – by my count he robbed the bank three times, got thrown in jail twice, got shot, won a few poker games – now that’s what I call an eventful night out!

  5. Robin says:

    This week we had 6 tables, which is becoming the normal amount at the club now. Our group had a try-out of Shipyard and, on the other table in our room, John’s group were playing Explorers Of The North Sea. This inspired a wistful comparison from Steve about how complex all the tournament games are this year. Other games included SpaceCorp and another appearance for History of the World.

    I also looked in on Burano in the front room. This looks like a very interesting game, with much of it revolving around the movement of coloured cubes; starting in a pyramid for each player and ending up on the game board in what looked like a cross between a multi-storey car park and a Jenga game. Knocking the whole thing over looked like a definite possibility, but it’s not a dexterity game, and the rules overview left me quite fogged.

    Upstairs, Elsa & Pedro’s group were playing Hamburgum, which I think was another one nominated for the tournament this year – only to be outvoted by a more complex game :-) . They had chosen the Londinium map over the Hamburgum one – I guess the merchants of the 17th century still used the Latin names??

    Elsa – or, strictly speaking, Pedro – had recently bought a copy of Shipyard, which is of course the next tournament game. I, meanwhile, was already playing Shipyard this week, which marked me out as super-competitive. It’s not quite that simple: ever since this game was first nominated back in 2020 I have been hoping to give it a try, but been thwarted by various things (clashes with pre-arranged games, pandemics, etc). It’s now almost unique in having been successfully elected to the tournament twice. This heightened the anticipation, and this week I finally got the chance to play it.

    I guess we’ll hear a lot more about this one in the weeks to come. My first impression was that the rules aren’t too complex; but I don’t feel any the wiser in terms of strategy. It seems to depend a lot on your initial hand of “government contract” (aka. end-game bonus) cards, which is a good thing as it will vary from game to game.

    I did like the final afterthought-like line in the rules: “break ties in favour of the player with the most money.” The last turn often offers the chance to gain more points by paying extra money, so it was no great surprise that we all finished with zero money. So ties remained tied.

    And we very nearly got to experience Ian’s trademark of forgetting one of the rules. We got as far as concluding that Ian and Steve were tied for the win before anyone remembered that we had to add on bonus points for traders. This meant Ian won the game and, impressively, that we had played through following all the correct rules – as far as I know :-)

  6. Robin says:

    One of the great things about the tournament is the way it offers us a chance to discover new games that we might not otherwise have considered. And not just the ones that get voted in: over the last couple of years I’ve played Indonesia, Bus and now Western Legends, having only learnt about them as candidates for the tournament.

    Last week, the eagle-eyed will have spotted a post from David that briefly appeared on the Noticeboard here asking if anyone had a copy they’d like to bring in. Within a matter of hours that post had disappeared again, as David caved in a bought the game himself. Since then it has been painted beautifully, in time for its appearance at the club this week.

    This is a sandbox game set in the Wild West, where players can do anything from gold panning to robbing the bank. I know this kind of game isn’t for everyone – the focus is more on the theme than on the mechanics – but if it’s your kind of theme, it can be great. I certainly really enjoyed it, and I think everyone else did too.

    We were each given characters with a nominal Western vocation: David was the lawman, Huggy the gold-prospector, Sam the gunfighter, me the gambler and Brian the bank robber. Those who stuck to their area of expertise did well. Huggy dug up a lot of gold and brought it to town, where his profligate revelry earned him many legendary (aka. victory) points. Brian established a similar circular route: go to bank, rob bank, get arrested and brought to sheriff’s office, pay fine, go back to bank, rob again.

    Sam and I were less consistent in our strategies (if you could call them that). A losing run at poker convinced me that gambling wasn’t the way to go, so I was sworn in as a marshall and arrested Brian. But that didn’t seem to pay off either, so, next time Huggy was in town, I tried to rob him. My robbery was a complete failure, but somehow I got more VPs from it than Huggy did, so it felt like I was getting somewhere. Sam then also tried and failed to rob Huggy, so to make up for it we then robbed each other a few times, which in this game was not as zero-sum-gain as you might expect.

    Brian was out in the lead, and triggered the end-game; but one of the game’s frequent interventions from luck saw him getting arrested once again on the final turn, which allowed me to inherit the end-game “most wanted” bonus from him. I finally had a big win at poker and so somehow I ended the game tied in first place with Huggy. Fairly chaotic throughout, but lots of fun. Not sure who nominated this one for the tournament: but thank you for introducing it to me.

    Elsewhere in our room were other presumably tournament-inspired games, with both Shipyard and Brass Birmingham in play. In the other room was the last of the “live” tournament games of Teotihuacan, and also Quadropolis. Sadly I didn’t manage to get more than a fleeting look in there, my attention being well and truly distracted by all the shoot-outs and bank robberies and so forth.

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