Newcastle Gamers – 29th September

A short-ish report this time, as I only managed to play two games (excellent though they were) at this meeting, and I’m pretty sure I’ve written about both of them previously. However, since I’ve managed to keep my Newcastle Gamers session reports going for almost a year now (a pretty major achievement when it comes to me and any form of regular blogging), it would be remiss of me not to write something about the night’s proceedings, so…

First up: Dungeon Lords

Dungeon Lords is one of my favourite games… it’s a (thinly-veiled) board-game re-imagining of the Dungeon Keeper computer game series, involving an oddball mix of dual-level worker placement, simultaneous action selection and logic puzzle. It’s also a surprisingly heavy-weight euro game, with far less randomness involved that you might expect given the ameritrashy look and feel. It’s quite a while since I last managed to play it (6 months, according to this blog!), so I was keen to give it a spin this week.

I got chatting to John F during the customary “everybody standing around deciding what to play at the start of the evening” phase, and did a pretty good job of selling Dungeon Lords to him and Emma (I was pretty confident it would be their kind of game, even though John seemed to have initial reservations)… and I had a pretty good idea that Olly would happily make up the 4th player when he arrived, so we were all sorted for Dungeon Lord session… yay!

Except… very shortly after the box hit the table, we were assailed by other people keen to play too! That’s good in a way; there’s been times (especially when the club was smaller) when I’ve been really keen to play a particular game, been unable to drum up any kind of interest, and the game in question has ended up going back into the bag for weeks on end. I guess a bigger membership means a broader set of gaming tastes (and more people looking to grab a seat at something at the start of the night!)… so nowadays it’s more the case that if you put a game — any game — onto a table at the start of a meeting, you WILL get players. (Or maybe I just have excellent taste in games… I’ll leave that for the reader to decide!). But… in another way, this also makes things a bit difficult, because it means you have to turn interested parties away 🙁

Emily got to the table just before the rest of the wave of prospective Dungeon Lords (/Dungeon Ladies?) hit. I wasn’t entirely sure when Olly would be arriving, or even how keen he was to play (I was mainly basing his interest on a casual comment on a Google+ thread) and in the face of so much interest, it seemed a bit “off” to turn people away, so the forth seat went to Emily.

(Sorry Olly!)

As for the game itself… unfortunately I didn’t play very well at all! Dungeon Lords is a pretty complex game, with quite a few obscure rules that only get used in odd cases, and I was in the teaching seat (as nobody else had played before) … this means I spent a great deal of time concentrating on keeping everybody else’s game on the rails and flipping through the rule book to sanity-check some of the things I was saying, and maybe not enough time thinking about what I was actually doing in my own game. Consequentially, I made a couple of blindingly-silly mistakes during the course of the game, and came a pretty convincing last(!). (But at least I still scored enough points to qualify for a Dungeon Lord license!)

The last time I taught Dungeon Lords, there was somebody else at the table with prior experience, who was able to catch the things I was missing, and help keep an eye what the first-timers were doing… it worked much better that way. I think I’ll bear that in mind next time I bring Dungeon Lords along for a session.

Nevertheless, the game went pretty smoothly. There was a slightly un-typical start to the second half of the game, in which all 6 of the high-power monsters had migrated to the top of the deck and the “pay day” event came out first too… this made the monsters spectacularly unattractive purchases (since most of them would carry an instant 4-point evil penalty), and I think only two of them ended up being recruited. (I took a dragon, and temporarily attracted the paladin as a consequence, but fortunately got out-eviled (and un-paladined) by Emma a round later … and Emily managed to scrape together enough traps to afford the Golem).

Emily had a spectacularly good final round (largely thanks to the Golem), and had amassed a vast collection of imps, giving her a pretty convincing win. Emma managed to defeat the Paladin and kill off the rest of her invading party (no mean feat …especially for a first timer!) and came second. John F came third – mainly penalised for failing to pay his taxes to the ministry of dungeons – and I came a very sorry last, with only a single un-purified room remaining in my dungeon. Oops.

Still, the game was enjoyed by everybody (including myself, despite my terrible performance) and I think I won it a few new fans… and I was rather surprised to discover that we’d been playing for around 3 and a half hours — it felt like only half that long at the time!

It was also good to discover a lot of love for Dungeon Lords in the room; aside from the interested bodies at the beginning of the session, a couple of “veterans” came and peered over our shoulders during the course of the evening and talked about how much they enjoyed the game. There’s an expansion for the game due out shortly — “Festival Season” — which I’d kind of been in two minds about buying, since I haven’t been convinced I’d get a lot of use out of it (and it’ll no doubt make the game even longer!)… but I’m a bit more tempted by it now 😉

Next: Ora & Labora

I hadn’t really intended to play this in the same evening as Dungeon Lords (one 3+ hour game in a night is usually enough for me!) … but, somehow, that’s what happened.

I guess I was partly swayed by the fact that circumstances dictated it would be a 3-player game against John F and Emma (Emily was facing a long drive, and had to disappear after our Dungeon Lords game). I’ve never played a 3-player version of Ora before, and I figured it would probably be a slightly more comfortable length than the 4 player version …but — more than that — any particular gaming session is (unsurprisingly) very much set by the tastes and expectations of the people playing it. You can play a great game with a mix of people that’s slightly wrong for that game, and it won’t be as quite as good an experience as it could be. You play the right game with the right people… and it’s brilliant. Gaming chemistry, I guess.

John and Emma are *big* fans of Uwe Rosenberg games. It was far too good an opportunity to pass up on 🙂

We played the French Variant, with the Loamy Landscape promo card added in. I think I’ve only used the Loamy Landscape once before, in a 2 player game, and it must’ve been largely ignored, as I can’t remember much about it … but this time it seemed like a spectacularly useful/powerful card — I must’ve visited it 4 or 5 times during the game, which is a pretty high utilisation rate for anything in O&L.

I started out with my usual strategy of playing for wonders … but kind of abandoned the rush for wonder-building resources at around the two-thirds point, and focussed on a settlement-based strategy instead. I’d managed to build a quarry (I don’t usually do this – I normally let somebody else take the hit for the quarry, then just pay for work contracts on it), and worker returns occurred in just the right way to give me a good stranglehold on stone supplies. With 2 moves left in the game I managed to construct the castle – though, disappointingly, I found myself 1 food short of using a friar move to utilise the castle action and build a hilltop village next door (which would be a dazzlingly brilliant play and pull a gazillion victory points out of nowhere). Instead, I built a shanty town on a convenient space further down the board, scraped together a pittance of food in my final game action, and dropped the hilltop village into position during the final settlement phase. Not quite as impressive a flourish as a castle + hilltop village combo would’ve been, but it still scored the same amount of points in the final reckoning.

Final scores were Me:193, Emma:172, John F:154. The game took around 3 hours… so it probably wasn’t really that different — length-wise — to a 4 player game. I did, however, think the set of buildings used in the 3 player variant was perhaps a bit of an improvement on the 4 player game; the options were a bit tighter — less extraneous fluff, and narrower supply chains on offer — and the downtime was just about right with 3 players. I really enjoyed it; this was easily one of my favourite games of Ora & Labora that I’ve played 🙂

(Hmm… typing this paragraph has just prompted me to go and look up the “recommended number of players” poll on Board Game Geek, and it looks like 3 players is an overwhelming majority!)

* * * * * * *

Alas, with a mere 2 games under my belt, it was already 11:30pm and time to go home. Great night though, despite the fact that the room’s heating seemed to be on the blink (I’m usually not too bothered by the cold — much to Mrs Shep’s annoyance — but quite a few people at the meeting seemed to be finding it unpleasant… Emma was on the verge of playing O&L in coat and gloves!). Hopefully that’ll be rectified for next time.

For a view from the OTHER side of the table, you can find John F’s write-up of the night’s events here.

The pictures were taken by Olly, and 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. Our next meeting is on the 29th September .. check the G+ group for more info.

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