Newcastle Gamers, 14th April

Attendance figures seemed back up to normal, with 6 or 7 games running simultaneously during the busiest stretch. Here’s the customary round-up of things I played this time:


A fairly dry area-control/abstract game, with a paper-thin theme pasted onto it. It does score points for looking pretty though!

According to the game-blurb on BGG: “After years of negotiations, Queen Wu Wei has at last decided to let some of the powerful European commercial companies establish garrisoned trading posts in the rich cities of the Southern Archipelago, but only on condition that they submit to certain curious rules she has devised.” … though you wouldn’t guess any of this, just from playing the game.

Basically, you build towers on islands. Your towers get inexplicably shifted to other islands in the same meridian, depending on their relative height compared to subsequent towers built by other players (bigger towers get shunted north, smaller towers get shunted south), until everybody runs out of moves, and you get awarded points according to who has dominance on the various islands.

It was an OK-ish sort of game… I wouldn’t want to play it a lot, but was fairly short, and had enough depth to make it a worthy contender as an occasional filler. We actually played it twice… because half-way through the first game, we realised that we’d missed a rule about not being able to build more than one tower in the same meridian (oops). The second game seemed a lot more interesting, but at the end of that one we realised that we’d been playing a 4-player game on the 3-player board (double oops!)… but we’d had our fill of tower building by that point, and moved onto something else…


This was the second time I’ve played Ingenious against human opponents… though I’ve been practising a bit on the iOS version in the interim.

The first time that I ever played Ingenious (which I’m sure you’ll find if you dig through the blog archives), Olly explained the rules and announced that it’s very, very rare for anybody to win with a ‘perfect’ game and score maximum points. He them promptly went on play a perfect game, and score maximum points.

Would the game be any closer this time around?

No. Olly played a perfect game. Again. And won with maximum points. Again. Git! πŸ˜‰

Good game though… probably my favourite of the night… with a close second place going to:

7 wonders (with Leaders expansion)

I’m still a bit sat-on-the-fence with 7 wonders. I think one of my problems with it (other than the fact that you can — occasionally — simply face hand after hand of awful cards through sheer bad luck) is that it suffers the same problem as Puerto Rico – it’s a game that gets terribly asymmetrical when you have players of mixed experience in the same game. A player who isn’t experienced is prone to accidentally act as a kingmaker, and feed victory points to his direct neighbours.

If you’re the new guy at the table, you kind of get the sense this is the case, and feel a bit bad about making the game go wonky. If you’re *not* the new guy at the table (and somebody else is) you just plod on and live with the fact that the game is a bit wonky. But either way, the inescapable truth is: the game is a bit wonky. Ideally, you’d want to stick to games where everybody is on a similar kind of level… I’m sure 7 wonders will shine when played like that. But that’s not really practical with pick-up players in a game club setting.

Still, I think I’m getting the hang of it now. This was the first time I’ve played with the Leaders expansion, and I think it improved the game a lot – basically, you get a hand of “leader” cards (each with various special powers) at the start of the game, which gives you a direction to build a game-long strategy around. Reminded me a bit of the way you use Occupations/Minor Improvements as a scaffold for your strategy in Agricola. Good addition, IMHO.


Container is a game that I didn’t know much about prior to playing… however, Steve (the game’s owner) was keen to play, and the bits and pieces all looked very promising… so why not? πŸ™‚

The game is about generating resources in factories, trading with other players, loading stuff onto ships, and then delivering your cargo to a distant island for points. It sounds – and looks – like a typical eurogame, and like the type of thing that’s right up my street. Except… it isn’t. It isn’t at all “typical eurogame-ish”, and – even after playing the game and mulling the mechanics over for a week – I’m still not entirely sure if I’m a fan or a hater(!)

I think my main problem with the game is that all the cause-and-effect seems very disjointed, making things difficult to plan for. You make stuff in your factories, but then you’re not allowed to use that stuff yourself; you MUST sell it to another player. Once the stuff has been sold to another player, they have to sell it to a DIFFERENT player (potentially even back to you) before it gets loaded onto a container ship. Then, when the goods have been shipped to distant shores, there’s yet ANOTHER change of ownership takes place (this time on an auction basis) to decide who the final owner is. Quite often you end up buying your own stuff, via a really circuitous route (and at a considerable mark-up) to score points. Every resource changes hands 4 times before its finally scored. It’s all just a bit… over-complex, thematically weird, and tricky to predict.

This means container is an economic/pick-up-and-deliver game that you have to play tactically, instead of strategically. At best, I felt like I was “nudging” the game economy and resources in a certain direction, rather than actually exerting any significant control… and yes, that might be a good simulation of how economies work in real life, but I’m not entirely convinced that it makes for an edifying gaming experience.

It wasn’t all bad; there were some very satisfying moments when plans paid off, and some auction-related brinksmanship that really lifted the end-game. I know I’ve laid the negative critique on pretty heavily here, but the game did have good moments, and was worth trying. I’m just not sure that it’s something I’d be too fussed about playing again.

I guess the real barometer is that at the end of most games, I’m usually thinking “Hmm… if I played that again, I think I’d do (whatever)…”, and I really like coming away from a game with that feeling. Unfortunately, with container, I just didn’t get that sense at all… at the end of the session I was no better clued-up on how to approach the game than I was when I started. And yet… I still have this nagging feeling that there might be a good game buried in there somewhere, and it might take a few plays to find it. I’m just not sure if it’s worth investing the time to find out. Odd one, that.

Anyway, that was this fortnight’s selection of games. It was an OK sort of week, games-wise (though I guess any session following the one where I played Pandemic -> Agricola -> Alien Frontiers in the same night was going to feel flat by comparison!).

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 Β£3, but your first visit is free. More details here.

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3 Responses to Newcastle Gamers, 14th April

  1. I agree with you on Container – there is probably an interesting game in there somewhere, but the mechanics are too convoluted to grasp, at least after just one play.

    For instance, if I want to get more white cubes, then I could produce some myself, but I’d then have to wait for someone to buy them off me and put them in their warehouses, then wait for a different player to buy them from the warehouses and ship them to the island, and then finally I could buy them back at the auction. This could all take a very long time to happen, if at all, and even if it does then I might only end up gaining a single white cube.

    After a few days mulling this over, came up with a few tweaks that I feel might improve them game. Firstly I’d get rid of the restriction that you can only build one factory of each colour – if I want to corner the market in black cubes then let me build lots of black factories and produce those cubes in bulk. Secondly, I’d like there be some way to move cubes from your factories to your own warehouses, maybe by paying the purchase to the bank. Finally I’d get rid of the restriction on only being able to produce once per turn – this one might not be needed, but I can’t see any reason why you shouldn’t be able to do this.

    And I’m sorry I trounced you at Ingenious a couple of weeks ago. I hope I made up for it by letting you win yesterday!

  2. Shep says:

    Apparently the expansion contains a variant which allows players to own multiple same-coloured factories… so you may be onto something there πŸ˜‰

    It did strike me that a lot of the (more arbitrary-seeming) rules were based around preventing a player from flooding the market with a glut of one particular resource… e.g. players are only allowed one factory of each colour / you can’t selectively produce from a single factory in a production action – you must run all of them / only one production action is allowed per turn. (Plus – more obviously – the scoring rules about discarding the most prevalent colour / rewarding diversity). This leads me to suspect that allowing a single player to churn out several containers of the same colour might have game-breaking consequences.

    Poking around the BGG forums indicates that fans of the game are satisfied that it’s well balanced, and there isn’t any kind of dominating strategy – so I assume these rules are all valid additions and haven’t just been added randomly. Personally, I’m left with the feeling that the balance has come at the price of making the game seem a bit restrictive and/or over-cooked.

    Or maybe it’s just not quite my kind of thing.

    It would be interesting to see what the “official” rules for owning multiple same-coloured factories are… but the expansion rules aren’t available online (apparently the expansion mostly contains new rules rather than new components, so the publishers are reluctant to post them online!)

    Anyway, thanks for the comment… and I look forward to an Ingenious rematch at some future juncture… (urm, If I remember what the game is actually called, that is…) πŸ˜‰

  3. I think that part of my difficulty with Container comes from the fact that it has a strong theme for a game which is just about moving little wooden cubes around β€” it has model ships which you can move around whilst making chug-chug-chug noises! The economic theme naturally makes me want to manipulate the supply and demand levels of the different types of products, and it’s becuase of this that the restrictions seem unnatural: why can’t I load products from my warehouses onto my ships?

    Despite this, I’d be interested to play the game at least one more time, to see if it makes more sense after thinking about it for a while.

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