Newcastle Gamers, 30th June

Newcastle, a few days earlier

Due to the odd number of weekends in June, inconveniently-timed visits from relatives, acts of god etc, this was my first trip to Newcastle Gamers for FIVE weeks (eek!). Fortunately the biblical-scale storms and floods of a few days earlier had (mostly) disappeared, and Circus Central was once again reachable by car, rather than by boat.


This time, I played…


Village is one of my recent acquisitions. It was a bit of an impulse purchase – I got an amazon voucher that I wasn’t expecting, and decided to blow it on a new game (of course!) … Village has been on the periphery of my games-that-I’m-sort-of-interested-in radar for a while, and the choice came down to either this, or Castles of Burgundy. While I was making my mind up, somebody else grabbed the last reasonably-priced copy of Castles … so, Village it was!

Village is one of this year’s three Kennerspiel Des Jahres nominees, and is usually described as a worker placement game. I think that’s probably due to lazy categorisation … visually, it *looks* like a worker placement game, and I guess it’s worker-placement-ish… but (taking my cue from a posting on BGG a few days ago), I’d argue that “action selection” is a far better description of what’s going on in this one.

Basically, the object of the game is be the most prestigious family in the history of the village. (OK, it’s not exactly the most originally-themed Euro of recent years, but stick with it…). The score track depicts unbound pages of a history book… so, the more you score, the more pages of history have been written about your family, which I thought was a neat touch. Your family members can gain points (i.e. pages of history) in a variety of ways… by becoming important members of the town council, working their way up the ranks of the church, being a successful craftsman/merchant, a successful farmer, or travelling to distant towns and exploring the world.

Mechanically, the game is driven by a chit-pull (well.. cube pull) kind of system. A bunch of coloured wooden cubes are randomly drawn from a bag, and placed on various spots around the board. Each colour corresponds to a different personality attribute – Green = Persuasiveness, Brown = Faith, Pink = Intelligence, Orange = Skill. There’s also a number of black cubes, which bring the plague to your family… which you’d instinctively think would be a bad thing, but there are actually unusual circumstances where killing off a family member at a particular time to get him into the history books *before* an opponent gets there can be a good thing. But yes, it’s still sort-of-a-bad-thing.

On your turn, you take a cube from one of the heaps, add it to your family’s supply, and then (optionally) take the action depicted on the board next to the area that you took the cube from (e.g. advance in a particular career, harvest crops, extend your family, start a market day… that kind of thing)

Some of the actions require the payment of cubes… so, for example, to get into the church, you might pay faith cubes. To do well at politics, you need persuasiveness… so your turn is a mixture of choosing an action spot that will directly benefit you *this* turn, while accumulating cubes that’ll fuel your plans for subsequent turns. It’s a good mechanism – it keeps the game moving briskly, but does give the game a much bigger decision tree than you would get if you were simply picking one of the 7 basic actions every round.

Oh.. there’s also death to think about! Most of the actions that you can take cost “time”. Once you’ve used up 10 points of time (depicted with a little hourglass track around your farm board), one of your oldest family members is destined to meet their maker. Whether they’ll go down in the village records (= points), or be buried in an anonymous grave (= not points) is something else you need to think about.

OK, I’ve already gone into more detail than I usually do while describing this one, and I’ve only just scratched the surface … rules-wise, it’s a medium-to-heavy game. This was the second time I’d played … the first time was a 2-player game against Mrs Shep (just to make sure I’d got the rules straight before I attempted teaching it to Newcastle Gamers!), and it seemed like an OK sort of game… probably not one of my all-time favourites, but worth having… the kind of thing I usually label with a 7/10 on BoardGameGeek.

However, the game I played on Saturday – a 3-player, vs Les and James, was *excellent*. I don’t know if that’s because the game gains a lot with the extra player, or because it took another play for things to click, or if it was just because of the particular way that the game played out that particular time … but it was a *really* good experience. About half-way through the game — after a particularly devious move had just been executed — Les turned to James with a big grin, and said “Are you thinking what I’m thinking??… I’m thinking we’re going to have to go home and buy a copy of this, aren’t we?”. Pretty high complement.

It was a very closely-scored game, even though we went for very different strategies. I played a crafting/selling strategy, James maxed out the ‘travelling the world’ mini game, and Les focussed on politics and church.

I won, by a whisker. Favourite game of the night.

Archaeology The Card Game

We were pondering what to play next, and Amo turned up with a copy of Archaeology in hand. It seemed like a nice, light option to fill in the gap while waiting for other games to end, so we blasted through a quick round. (Though, somehow, I ended up teaching this one too! – no wonder I was losing my voice a bit by the end of the night)

Notre Dame

Emma joined our table, and was keen to play Notre Dame. Apparently this was her second Notre Dame of the day … Emma *really* likes Notre Dame! (actually, the picture above is the earlier game, hence the 4 player config instead of 5). It was an interesting game; I don’t think I’ve played it with 5 before… actually, it was somewhat instructional to discover that everybody who had played before (3 different parties) had a *slightly* different interpretation of the rules (not a great advert for the clarity of Alea’s rulebooks!!). One quirk of this particular session was the way that we ended up playing with concealed message tokens … I wasn’t a fan of that; it makes the carriage action an entirely random exercise … I think the ability to scoop up a rat kill or gold coin with the carriage *just* when you need one is a pretty important aspect the game.

I read an article a few weeks ago which suggested that topping out your plague meter fairly early in the game isn’t — necessarily — a bad thing. I decided to test the theory. Verdict: topping out your plague meter fairly early in the game IS, in fact, a bad thing. A very bad thing. Oops!

Admittedly, my lack of success in executing the “don’t-care-about-rats” strategy *might* have been influenced by the fact that I was sitting next to James (Notre Dame is a card drafting game, so your ease of play is dictated — to a large extent — by the 2 players to your right). James played a *very* sharp game… accumulating 8 cubes on the residence square at one point, and thereby winning by an embarrassingly large margin.

Good to get another play of this under my belt though; it’s been a while!

Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small

I didn’t actually play this, but I’d promised to take along a copy for John F (previously known to this parish as (Different) John) to try out and learn how to play, and I’m always happy to help spread the joy… so I gave John F & Emma (neither of whom have played any variety of Agricola before) a quick run through the basics. I don’t think I missed out anything important… and they seemed to enjoy the game a lot.

Must remember to take proper Agricola to the next meeting – I expect that if they were impressed by Agricola:ACBAS, then Agricola:The Full Monty will be right up their street… 🙂

Forbidden Island

While I was explaining ‘gric, Brad set up a game of Forbidden Island at the other end of the table… “Just in case anybody fancies a game” (hint?). I’ve only played once before, and wasn’t enormously impressed with it that time, but it’s not a very long game, so I decided to give it a second chance.

We beat the game this time – in fact, it didn’t seem anywhere near as perilous/difficult as the first time I played (maybe down to the luck of the initial island configuration). I’m still not massively struck by Forbidden Island… which is odd, since it shares a lot of design features with Pandemic, which I rate highly. I guess that fact that it’s spatially simpler, and that it doesn’t have the “organic” disease growth of Pandemic makes the decisions a lot more straightforward; there’s usually something ‘obvious’ to do, and I often feel like I’m just playing it by the numbers.


Final game of the night – Ingenious, played against Cammo, Lloyd and… (erm, sorry, don’t know. I suck at remembering names!). Pretty tense game (if you squint at the picture — and understand ingenious scoring — you can see that it was a pretty close thing between Cammo (top left) and myself (top right)). We tied on the first category, but I managed to scrape a single game-winning point on the tie-breaking second category. ‘Phew.

My brain was well-and-truely scrambled by the end of that one… time to beat a retreat home…

This time I stole all the pictures from the Newcastle Gamers Google+ Group. Yes, I know the joke: “A Google plus account is like a gym membership – everybody has one, but nobody uses it”, but it seems like as good a place as any to chat about what we get up to. Plus, if I’d realised Olly was uploading these pictures live via that new fangled “meetings” app, then I would’ve been able to have a sneaky peek at my opponent’s ingenious racks mid-game. Newcastle Gamers meets on the second and last Saturday of the month… usual cost is £3 (or £1 for concessions), but your first visit is free. More details here.

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6 Responses to Newcastle Gamers, 30th June

  1. If I remember rightly, the mystery Ingenious player will have been Lloyd. Unless it was someone else.

    Village sounds like it was fun. I was a bit disappointed that I had to go off and look after some noobs instead of joining in that game, but I hope to get to try it soon. As an aside, I’ve been very tempted to buy The Castles Of Burgundy too, but have so far resisted — I was certain that lots of people would have it by now, but I’ve yet to see anyone bring it along to Newcastle Gamers (nobody has it in their BGG collection either).

    And as for your joke about Google+ accounts, I prefer this little flowchart that tells you where you should be posting status updates. Question 1 is “Do you actually want anyone to see it?” and if the answer is “No” then you get sent straight to Google+.

  2. Shep says:

    Actually, I think I mistakenly named Lloyd “Lawrence” above. See!… I told you I was rubbish at names!… :S

    I’ll bring Village to the next meeting. I’m *really* keen to play it again, but probably won’t get a chance to do so until the next Newcastle Gamers sesh. Admittedly, I’ve already said that I’ll take Agricola — and both of those games involve families and farming — but they’re sufficiently different (mechanically, at least) for me to happily play both in one night. Besides which, Averil is away that weekend doing girly things, so I get to stay a bit later than normal anyway…

    (Pity it’s not going to be the previously-suggested all-dayer session that weekend. It would’ve been perfect timing!)

  3. (Different) John says:

    Interesting comment about the different interpretations of the Notre Dame rules. I prefer the bit-of-randomness thing of having the messages tokens turned face down. Otherwise, everyone just aims directly for what they want and where’s the fun and surprise in that? Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s all about how much control you want in a game, but I think there’s plenty of that elsewhere in the game (well, okay, in what cards you give away and which one you keep). Everything else will bring in a guaranteed result (e.g., “I know I’m going to get three gold coins by playing to the bank”) whereas the carriage option is always a good result but may not be exactly what you wanted… but it’s still good! Plus, there’s a small play-the-odds thing going on, too. If you know that there are only two colours you can collect from, and you’ve kept track of what other people have picked up, you can increase your odds of getting the thing you need by choosing the colour more likely to have that thing. I guess it just presses different mental buttons in a game that, to me, would otherwise be a very simple causal do-this-get-that-result-every-time process.

    That’s probably why we (as in, the group including Emma that I usually play Notre Dame with) have the re-shuffled player deck variant. Once again, it adds in a spot of uncertainty that you need to develop a quick on-the-spot response to, rather than knowing precisely what each A/B/C Round 3 hand will give you.

    As for Agricola:ACB&S… we both loved it immensely, and I can’t wait for my own copy to arrive (still waiting, grr!). On Tuesday night, Emma mentioned she’d love to play full-blown Agricola and that she’d been reading reviews and watching videos of it ever since Saturday evening, so if you’re bringing it next time, that’s a play pencilled in for sure! I can imagine, though, that if we play against veterans, we’re surely going to be demolished.
    Once ACB&S arrives and I get to play it with Emily, I’ll be able to judge if she’ll also be willing to join in.
    Thanks for bringing it and giving us the guided tour!

    • Shep says:

      I guess it’s a strategy vs tactics argument with Notre Dame. I think — played the “technically correct” way — it’s quite a dry euro, with a lot of brain-burning card-counting going on… (I’m not that great at card counting, but I don’t mind a dry euro from time to time!). I can see why you might want to introduce a bit more chaos if you prefer playing it in a lighter/more casual way.

      I’m really surprised you don’t have your ACB&S yet… who did you order it from?

      I’ll definitely bring Agricola to the next meeting. It’s probably a good idea to plan on playing that one first, since it can be a pretty long game (especially when you factor in rules explanations). I wouldn’t worry too much about playing against experienced players; I always tell people that their first game of Agricola is going to pretty much be a “learning” game, and not to be too disheartened if they feel a bit overwhelmed… it seems to take at least one game just to get a grip on all the different things you can do. Besides which, it’s not a particularly confrontational game, and — oddly — it’s a kind of game where you can still feel pretty satisfied with your personal achievements even when you don’t win.

      (It’s a shame you live in Mackem land… might’ve suggested some extra-curricular Agricola if we weren’t so far apart!)

      • (Different) John says:

        ACB&S was ordered from an independent seller through Amazon. I’ve never had any problems from any transaction from a non-shop-based seller before, just hoping this isn’t my first disaster. The window for delivery doesn’t end until the 10th so I’ll wait till then before getting genuinely annoyed.

        As for extra-curricular Agricola (there’s a tongue-twister in there, I just know there is!)… I think you’re only about an hour away. That’s not far at all, just up the A1 and across on the A69. Easy! I reckon Emily and I could make it into a day-trip out west. Give me some days/times when this is agreeable to you and I’ll see what I can do. (I notice some other games on your BGG list that I’d like to try, along with Agricola.)

        • Shep says:

          Cool… I’ll ping you via email, just to spare any casual readers the excitement of my appointments diary 😉

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