Newcastle Gamers, 26th November

This week, I have been mostly playing…

7 Wonders – only my third ever game, and this time with a full complement of 7 players. Frankly, I played *way* better on my previous games. (I think my mistake was actually reading the rule book somewhere between my previous game and this one!). Not sure I liked it as much with so many players; way too much to keep your eye on.

Alien Frontiers – First time I’ve played, but I really enjoyed this one. Basically, you’re competing to build the most colony domes on an alien planet. It’s a worker placement game (well.. a “spaceship placement” game, since your workers are actually supposed to be space craft), but – just like Troyes – each of your workers is a dice, and the precise actions you’re allowed to take with a given worker is dependent on what number is showing that round. So, when it’s your turn, you roll a hand full of dice (/ships), dock your ships at various orbital stations to collect resources, build more spaceships (more dice to throw next turn), build colony domes, launch domes onto the planet, collect alien artifacts (rule tweak cards), gain perks for having majority control of various parts of the planet, and stuff like that. Basically, it’s a nice, complex, worker-placement game with lots of choices to make every turn, and a strategy-rich area-control thing going on at the same time. Good combo.

If I had to pick a fault with Alien Frontiers… it would be that there’s a lot of downtime in the later parts of the game. With 4 players, the end-game pace was pretty slow – and I don’t *think* the people I was playing with are particularly analysis-paralysis prone; there’s just so many options available each turn that everything tends to slow down pretty badly when you have a bunch of ships in your fleet.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed this game a lot – and somehow managed to get all of my colonies onto the planet first and claim a victory. w00t!

Forbidden Island – Ran through a quick 2-player game while we waited for other players to be free for something meatier. I’ve never played before, but it’s essentially a trimmed-down, family-friendly version of Matt Leacock’s other co-operative game, “Pandemic“. Pandemic is a game I’ve played a lot of (actually, according to board game geek, it’s _my_ most played game – and while my BGG stats aren’t entirely accurate, I’ve certainly played an awful lot of it). Forbidden Island wasn’t a bad way to kill 20 minutes, but the game isn’t a patch on Pandemic. Pandemic is better. Get Pandemic.

Galaxy Trucker – an unusual (and somewhat unique) game of two halves: First you have to build a spaceship. Each player simultaneously grabs component tiles from a central pool (against a time limit) and tries to add them – carcassonne-style – to their existing craft. Each component grants your ship particular powers – lasers for shooting stuff… engines to make you go faster… shields protect you from bad things… etc etc.

When the construction time is up, the second part of the game takes place. This involves flying your ship from one side of the galaxy to the other, picking up cargo, and avoiding asteroids, space pirates etc. All the bad decisions you made during the first part of the game come back to bite you here. Forgot to install sheilds?… oops. Didn’t provide batteries to power that laser cannon?… oops. Attached the entire left-hand wing with a single flimsy connector that’ll be knocked out by the first stray laser bolt?… oops.

Galaxy trucker is a lot of fun — it’s really amusing to watch your opponents’ (and your own) spacecraft gradually disintegrate as the mission takes place… to the extent that you don’t really care who scores the points at the end – merely limping over the finishing line and surviving gives you a sense of achievement …yet the game still has the trappings of a decent, middleweight euro-game. Very little of what happens is 100% random (you can check many the hazards you’re going to face in the second part of the game during the spaceship building phase), and there’s a huge amount of skill involved in piecing together a robust spacecraft in the time allowed.

Yes, there’s a bit of dice throwing involved when it comes to which part of your ship takes damage… but dice are always thrown in pairs, with the peak of the probability bell-curve co-inciding nicely with the chunky middle parts of your ship, so you can mitigate accordingly during ship construction. Plus… never knowing *exactly* which part of your ship is about to fall off adds to the fun factor, so I can live with a little bit of dice-based randomness in this instance.

I’m impressed with this one. Think I’ll be adding it to my (ever-expanding) wish list.

CREDITS: Session pics gratuitously stolen from the Newcastle Gamers web site. Newcastle Gamers meets on the second and last Saturday of the month… usual cost is £3, but your first visit is free. More details here.

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