Quite a long gap since the last Newcastle Gamers meeting, due to March 2012 having too many Saturdays in it (boo!)… and despite the 3-week break there seemed to be a smaller-than-normal turn-out, with quite a few regulars missing. Maybe the diminished numbers were due to the run of unseasonably good weather? …or the start of the school holidays? (…or the skip-week throwing people into confusion?).
No matter… still plenty of good gaming to be had for those who made it! 🙂
Here’s what I played this time…
First up: a co-operative Pandemic session, with 4 players, 5 epidemics, and event/role cards from the On The Brink expansion. Would our brave team of medics and troubleshooters save the world from disease, certain death, and the fall of civilisation as we know it?
Urm.. No, we wouldn’t. We failed dismally… I suspect we spent too long drifting around the board doing random disease-curing at the start of the game; I find that once you’ve got more than 4 epidemics in the pack, you *really* have to make every move count… and we, sort of… didn’t.
Fun game though, and a good icebreaker for the evening’s proceedings; one of the guys at the table had never played Pandemic before, and it’s always nice to introduce a newbie to one of the classics. Speaking of which…
I made good on my previous threat, and took my copy of Agricola along with me. I was surprised to discover that Agricola seems to be a bit of a divisive game amongst the Newcastle Gamers …I’ve never seen it played at the club before, and from the responses I got when I flashed the contents of my game bag at the start of the evening (“Ugh.. no… NOT Agricola!!… Nooooooo!”), I get the impression that some of the people there are pretty burned out on it.
I don’t think I’ve mentioned Agricola on this blog before… which is a bit odd, as it’s probably my very favourite board game. It’s themed around 17th century arable farming – which I know sounds pretty boring and doesn’t really get this paragraph off to an inspiring start, but trust me; it’s a great game! … Each player starts with a wooden hut, a farmer and his wife, and over the course of the game you build a little farm, breed animals, grow crops, make babies, desperately try to avoid starvation, and generally try to improve your little family’s lot in life. There are (literally) hundreds of different cards that go with the game, giving your people different career options, and things that they can build to improve their farm… every one of them has unique perks and advantages, and each player only gets a few of these to play with each game – meaning the game is always a little bit different every time you play it.
Fortunately my fellow Pandemic players (and Pete, who arrived just as Pandemic was winding down) didn’t happen to fall into the Agricola hater camp, so we got a 5-player game underway. We used the (recently released) NL Deck (featuring Netherlands-themed careers and buildings) to spice things up a bit – which proved to be a good decision, as nobody at the table had seen those particular cards before, and it threw out lots of really interesting cards/unexpected surprises during the game.
I really enjoyed the game; it was good to get a game against so many experienced players (I usually play it 2-player, against Mrs Shep… and on the rare occasions that we get a 5 player game going at home, everybody else at the table is usually a first-timer, so we’re going easy on them). Some of the cards coming out of the NL deck did seem outrageously advantageous compared to the standard EIK decks… but the share of “outrageously advantageous” cards kind of seemed to balance out as the game went on, so you got a sense that as long as everybody is playing with NL cards, everybody is similarly outrageously advantaged. You certainly wouldn’t want to mix them in willy-nilly with the base cards though; I think you’d get some terribly lop-sided games that way.
Pete took a (well deserved) victory, with an insanely large points lead – an achievement made all the more impressive after watching his seemingly-unstoppable “all-or-nothing” well-digging strategy get completely ruined by one of the aforementioned highly-unexpected NL cards half way through the game. I’m still not entirely sure how he pulled off a recovery… the guy is clearly an Agricola pro!
I’ve no idea how long we spent playing – the time flew past – but I’ve got a nasty suspicion it must’ve been a good 3+ hours. At this rate, I’m going to get a reputation for taking in 3-hour behemoths every week; think I’d better pack something lighter next time 🙂
I’ve mentioned this one before, so I won’t cover it too deeply… other than to say I’m still very impressed with the game. Unfortunately, it’s (thematically) not the kind of thing Mrs Shep goes for, and I’m not convinced the area control aspect would be as much fun for 2 players, which kind of stops it being a must-have purchase for my own collection… but it’s great to get the opportunity to play it at Newcastle gamers (Thanks Olly!).
Pete was clearly on a winning streak, as he won this one too… though the rest of us consoled ourselves with the fact that he had a *very* lucky set of dice rolls at the start of the game, giving him a huge fleet of spacecraft and a bit of a runaway lead. There wasn’t much of a prolonged area-control/area-denial endgame this time either, which is – apparently – pretty atypical for this game, so the end seemed to come very suddenly. Nevertheless, It’s still a very satisfying game to play; there’s a lot of fun in deciding where to “spend” your dice – enjoyed it a lot.
All in all, another excellent night’s gaming… three great games, and my first full-scale Agricola session in months. Good stuff 🙂
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.