Newcastle Gamers – 10th March

I’ve been a bit slow with the write-up of this one (it’s been a busy month!), but I thought I’d better jot something down while I can still remember what I played, as the next club meeting is tomorrow and it’ll probably all blur into one after that ๐Ÿ˜‰

It was another good turn-out this week – looked like pretty much every table was in use again; the club seems to be getting very popular.

Anyway.. down to the details… What did I play this time?

The Boss

This particular copy of The Boss was so new that the owner hadn’t even taken it out of its shrinkwrap. (Seriously… how did he manage that? One of the greatest joys in life is unboxing a new game… even if you’re not going to get to play it for a few days!). Fortunately the rules were pretty straightforward, and we managed to pick them up pretty quickly.

The Boss is a game about organised crime, in which players (supposedly) compete to control the crime scene of various American cities. To be honest, the theme seemed a little bit tacked-on to me, but — once you put that aside — there’s a surprisingly neat hidden information/area control/gambling game going on here.

Basically, you have a bunch of cities, each of which holds a different (hidden) prize card… The prize for a city might be good (i.e. a cash reward), or a penalty (e.g. getting one of your mobsters imprisoned, or killed, or whatever). Once a prize is assigned to each city, the rest of the deck is dealt out to each player… thereby giving everybody a limited insight into what the content of each city might be.

A sequence of rounds then take place in which you can move your mobsters to take control of a city (essentially, you’re placing a bet that you think *that* city is going to be beneficial), and then you reveal one of the cards that you’re holding to all the other players.

Therefore, as the game progresses, gradually more and more information about each city is made public… but if you wait too long to place your mobsters, somebody else will have dominated the best locations and you’ll be unable to move in. This leads to lots of bluffing, strategically-sequenced card revelations, and gratifying moments of victory when you put down a card that suddenly makes your opponent realise that he’s irrevocably committed all of his guys to a really bad spot…

I really enjoyed this one; it incorporates a good mix of logical deduction, risk management, and bluffing – I can imagine games getting really, really devious with an experienced set of players. Definitely worth a re-play.

Flash Point: Fire Rescue

A co-operative game, in which players attempt to rescue a bunch of people (and cats… and dogs… …WHAT??) from a burning building, before the building collapses and kills everybody.

I remember a lot of people claiming this was a Pandemic-beater when it was released last year. Personally – I don’t think it even comes close. I love the finesse of Pandemic’s disease spreading mechanism; it works in a brilliantly organic, semi-predictable way, almost reminiscent of simplified Conway’s life algorithm. That kind of threat progression (a) makes everything seem ever-so-slightly more convincing, and (b) allows you to make sensible risk-aversion decisions, based on the emerging disease pattern.

Flash Point, on the other hand, just uses dice to decide where fire is going to spontaneously break out each round. I didn’t find that anywhere near as clever, or engaging.

The game was OK… but nothing to get too excited about; I didn’t feel particularly drawn in by it. A bit too random for my tastes.

Dungeon Lords

This was my contribution to the night’s entertainment… Dungeon Lords is a game loosely (or perhaps not-so-loosely) based on the Dungeon Keeper PC game. Each player has to build (and manage!) a dungeon, load it with monsters, imps and traps, and then see how well it stands up when a bunch of pesky adventurers turn up at your door. It’s also (despite it’s cute, ameritrashy outward appearances) one of the most hard-core and unforgiving eurogames in my collection – an opinion that only seems to get re-inforced every time it gets an outing. I love it! ๐Ÿ™‚

I thought I played a remarkably good game – I only lost two tiles of dungeon to invading adventurers… but, alas, my high investment in monsters meant I lost out on valuable points for building rooms and tunnels. Must remember to build a bigger dungeon next time.

Of the 4 players at the table, two were first-timers. You could sense their brains had kind of melted by the end of the session. But hopefully in a good way. Bit of a marmite game, this one ๐Ÿ˜‰

Through the Desert

Everybody wanted something a touch lighter after the Dungeon Lords experience, and Through the Desert (with it’s pastel camel trains, and simplistic ruleset) seemed to fit the bill. It’s an area-control game, where you score points by carving up the desert with your little plastic camel trains.

I found this interesting to play, as I’ve put in a lot of time with the iOS version, but I’ve never played with a physical copy. Alas — at risk of being branded a heretic to the cause of boardgaming — I think I may prefer the virtual version. The scoring and rules enforcement seemed just a little bit too much work with the physical version. Actually, I think that might be a bit of a trend with Reiner Knizia’s designs – I tend to find them a bit over-fiddly to play in physical form, and often perhaps not-quite-worth the effort… the only notable prior exception being Ingenious, which I’ve blogged about previously, and is which is wonderfully tactile and beautiful to play in physical form.

Though, to be fair, the next game we played (Keltis) is another Knizia title, and that’s not too bad either…


Keltis – despite the strikingly-celtic graphic design – is an extremely abstract game, and about as un-thematic as you can get… you collect sequences of cards (not pictured here) to progress along the various score tracks, pick up assorted bonus tokens, and – basically – maximise your points.

Despite the lack of theme, it’s a surprisingly involving game… and good fun, as abstracts go… a good title to wrap up the evening with. It’s not something that I’d necessarily rush to play again if there was other stuff on offer, but an enjoyable game nevertheless.

* * * * * * *

Sooo… in summary, not a bad week at all. One surprise discovery (The Boss), one marathon session of a game I really like (Dungeon Lords), Keltis was a pleasant diversion, and even the games that I didn’t find massively exciting (Through the Desert / Flash point) were titles that I’ve been keen to try out. A decent night’s gaming, all said and done.

And, due to the fact that I’m writing this so late, the next meeting is barely more than 24 hours away. Think I might chuck Agricola in my bag for this one… it’s been *ages* since I had a game of Agricola…

CREDITS: Session pics gratuitously stolen from the Newcastle Gamers web site. Newcastle Gamers meets on the second and last Saturday of the monthโ€ฆ usual cost is ยฃ3, but your first visit is free. More details here.

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