Last time I visited Newcastle Gamers, I taught John F. and Emma how to play Agricola:All Creatures Big and Small. They were so impressed that I promised (/threatened?) to take the full version of the game to the next meeting, and show them how to play that too. So, no prizes for guessing what landed on the table first THIS week… 🙂
A newbie-friendly game of Agricola… well, I wasn’t an Agricola-newbie – but the other 4 players at the table were, and teaching ‘gric can be a bit of a draining experience at the best of times, so it was probably a fair match 😉 … we played the standard/”full” game (there’ll be none of that “family variant” nonsense on MY watch!), and limited the cards to the beginner-friendly E-deck. Fortunately, I got the baker in my set of occupations, so could play the classic baker/grain strategy without having to concentrate *too* hard on what I was doing each round — which was useful, because I always get pretty focussed on making sure everybody else is playing correctly during a “teaching” game, and invariably end up playing a significantly less-than-coherent game myself(!)
It was maybe a *touch* ambitious having a 5 player game where most people haven’t played before, and — as you’d imagine — things moved pretty slowly … but Emma/John/James’s prior experience with All Creatures Big and Small at least meant they were familiar with the basic grammar of the game, so the rules explanation wasn’t too arduous. Jerome – the other player – hadn’t played any flavour of Agricola before, but picked things up very quickly… actually, I think he played the best game of Agricola that I’ve *ever* seen a first-timer play, managing to utilise every space on the board, get 5 family members, a stone house, and a good spread of animals.
Pretty good game though, despite the slowness. Plenty of occs/minor improvements got played, including a few that were quirky enough to show how every game of Agricola can turn out a little bit different; Notably, Emma had the Animal Keeper occupation (which lets you keep different types of animals in the same pasture – leading her to build a single massive enclosure on her farm), and Jerome had the bread seller (earns you food any time another player bakes bread – a great counter-play to my baker strategy!).
Jerome won the game with 41 points – a very respectable score indeed, even for a seasoned Agricola player, and pretty astonishing for a first-time play. My big fails were missing the stone renovation, and not getting any cattle – placing me second with 36.
Though, of course, I was just going easy on everybody because this was their first game. Honest 😉
Next up was Village. OK, thematically it’s maybe a little bit close to Agricola… families, farming, worker-placement-ish, etc etc… but I was keen to play this one again, since (a) it’s my most recent purchase, (b) the last time I brought it to Newcastle Gamers was a particularly good experience, and (c) on Monday it won the prestigious Kennerspiel des Jahres award for 2012. It is therefore — officially — something of the hot new thing in the boardgaming world.
This is only the third time I’ve played Village… and so far, every game has had a significantly different feel to the previous one. This was quite a gentle game compared to last time — nobody was playing a ‘death rush’ tactic, and there wasn’t really a lot of aggressive blocking (save for some good-natured tussling over control of the Church). This means it turned into quite a long game – we ran out of merchant counters for the marketplace queue, and I got all my meeples out of the farm and onto the board (which hasn’t happened before). This time, I think most of my mid-game scoring came from politics (I haven’t really leveraged the buy-your-way-into-history perk that you get at the top level of the town hall before, but it’s a really strong points engine), and also from early dominance of the Church. John F managed to complete the round-the-world trip, Emily (who had joined our table for this game) seemed to be doing fairly well in trading and politics, and Emma kicked my butt out of the Church towards the end-game and scored nicely there.
I probably enjoyed playing this one a little bit more than Agricola … largely because it’s an awful lot easier to teach, so I could sit back and enjoy playing it once everybody had grasped the basics. I think everybody else enjoyed it too – Emma and Emily especially so.
I _do_ think it’s a slightly odd choice for the Spiele prize though. Admittedly, it has a few neat tricks up it’s sleeve, and the “death” mechanism is interesting… but it’s not a revolutionary game by any means. That said, I’ve very much enjoyed every game of Village that I’ve played so far… so even if it doesn’t do a lot of “new” things, it does succeed in doing a lot of “old” things in a very agreeable way 🙂
This was the only real low-point of the night, and no — it’s not the name of an obscure foreign euro game. It turned out that the bait I’d packed for the night had an unexpected payload – bread mold. I must admit, they were particularly stinky sandwiches too (Chicken Tikka… mmmm… apologies to anybody who caught a whiff every time I opened my game bag), and I didn’t really get the hit of fungus taste until pretty much the last bite of sandwich number one. At which point, I examined sandwich number two, and noticed the blue spots. Ewww.
Fortunately, Emma had a supply of Haribo on hand. I can now vouch for the fact that a fizzy sour cola dummy is an excellent remedy for the lingering taste of blue sporangifores.
This is where my memory starts to fail me… I can’t remember who played this one (and even if I could remember faces, I probably don’t know the names of one or two of the players anyway). The previous game — Village — was a textbook example of the potential benefits of having every male in the club being called “John”, and every female in the club having a name that could be conveniently abbreviated to “Em”. There’s far less scope for embarrassing name mix-ups that way.
Anyway, me, Em, possibly a John or two, and a bunch of other people ended the night with a game of Nanuk. I went into this one blind, not knowing much about the game. I have to admit, my heart sank a little bit when Camo announced he wasn’t sure how to play, and started reading out the rule book aloud. (OK, I lied earlier, maybe I do know some of the un-Johns). Usually, when somebody starts a session by reading the rules, it’s a really bad omen; I’ve had an awful lot of bad experiences at Newcastle Gamers when games began like this. It didn’t really help that the rules kept referring to things like “Nanuk” and “Inuksuk” (instead of just saying “polar bear” or “big pile of rocks”), and I felt myself kind of glazing over by the time we reached page 5 or 6… it wasn’t looking good…
BUT… Nanuk turned out to be a fairly decent game. Basically, you’re a bunch of Inuit hunters, heading off to catch food. In turn, each player makes a brag about what the party will catch if that person is elected the leader of the hunt. The next player then either makes a bigger brag, or declares that the hunting expedition proposed by the previous player is doomed! (possibly the best part of the game is the act of throwing in your DOOM token, and declaring “doooooom!”). Then everybody gets to decide if they’re going on the hunting trip or not, the outcome of the hunt is resolved through various card-flipping shenanigans, and whichever party was proven correct (The hunters, or the doom merchants) pick up some rewards.
The scoring seems a bit disjointed from the main part of the game (there’s an odd set-collection thing going on with the various animals that you collect during the hunt), but the game is a pleasant-enough diversion, and a not-too-distant relative of Liars Dice. We probably missed a trick by not really having any kind of discussion after “dooooom!” was declared – I can see the game being a bit more interesting if the hunt leader and the doom leader maybe plead their case for other players to take their side (i.e. bluff about what kind of cards they’re currently holding) …as it was, this part of proceedings all seemed a little bit *too* random to be entirely satisfying.
But, yeah, it was enjoyable enough… if there was a flaw in the game, it would probably be that it runs a little long; it feels like a nice 20 minute filler, but it takes a lot longer (box time says 45 minutes) …and there are things I’d much sooner play in a Nanuk-shaped hole. Definitely worth a go though!
In summary – 2 excellent games played, 1 not-at-all-bad game played, and 1 entirely-awful dining experience endured. I’m still alive 24 hours later, so — on balance — not a bad night at all 🙂
EDIT: There’s another perspective on the evening’s proceedings posted at “Not Another Blog About Geeks” – click through for some reciprocal linkage love! 😉
The pictures were taken by Olly, and have been gratuitously stolen from the Newcastle Gamers Google+ Group. 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.