No Newcastle Gamers for me this week, due to the aforementioned explosions. However — leveraging the evening’s fireworks theme — I did manage to get a few family members to join me for a couple of games of Hanabi on Saturday night, which went down amazingly well for an audience of predominantly non-gamers!
Furthermore, Owain popped round last night with his copy of Snowdonia … and I had the new expansion for Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small sitting on the shelf awaiting it’s first outing — so it the week hasn’t turned out to a dead loss for gaming after all 🙂
Snowdonia is set in the year 1894, and concerns the construction of the famous mountain railway up to the peak of Snowdon. It’s pretty standard worker-placement fayre; you use your workers to clear rubble out of the railway’s path, collect resources, lay track, and build bits of station for victory points. Owain mentioned that when this had an airing at Newcastle Gamers a few days ago, a few people likened it to a “light” version of Caylus … and I can kind of see why — worker actions are resolved in a queue, and you’re trying to set yourself up with batches of goods to contribute to the construction of the railway. When the construction is finished, the game ends.
It struck me as a bit of a difficult game to play on your first attempt … the pacing is hard to gauge; particularly because there’s a semi-random event mechanism which occasionally makes the game complete bits of the track (and stations) itself, leaving the game in a far more advanced state than you anticipated … plus, it’s not immediately obvious — from the wealth of scoring options open to you — where you should really be focussing your point-generating efforts as a new player. I felt like I only got into the swing of things at around the 2/3rds mark … only to then be foiled by the game ending suddenly and abruptly (just when I was setting myself up for a massive points-earning swoop) thanks to one of those aforementioned game-accelerating events. On this basis, Snowdonia certainly seems to be one of those games where you’ve pretty much got to write off your first attempt as a learning experience.
At times, the game seemed a bit thematically…”odd”. This was mostly due to the fact that there was a couple of points in the game that threw up strategic deadlocks; situations in which it would be stupid to excavate any more track because doing so would immediately put the other player into a massively-advantageous position. From a gaming point of view, that was an interesting situation to be in … but from a thematic point of view, it felt like although we were playing a game about constructing a railway, the big decision points concerned the most efficient ways to avoid constructing the railway … though maybe this was just a quirk of the way the cards fell on this particular occasion, and/or a syndrome that the 2 player version is more prone to.
Anyway, it may seem from the above that I’m being entirely critical about the game, and I really don’t mean to be… because it is, at it’s core, exactly the kind of game I like, and it has a few interesting tricks up its sleeve. It certainly played well with 2, and was — on balance — a good game; I enjoyed it.
Finally — for no particularly good reason other than I found it lurking on my hard drive this morning — here’s a snapshot of yours truly looking a bit awkward at the summit (or just in front of the summit) of the real Mount Snowdon a few years ago. (And yes, of course I took the lard-arse option of using the mountain railway to get there…)
Next on the table:
Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small / More Buildings Big and Small
This is the sort of expansion you might be driven to buy purely because it gives you an excuse to use the abbreviation “Agricola:ACBaS/MBBaS” in geeky boardgame blogs. Fortunately, it also happens to be a pretty nifty expansion.
The expansion has 3 parts: an additional farm extension (bringing the total of farm extension boards in the game to a nice, asymmetrical 5), an additional stall/stable tile (bringing the total number of stall/stable tiles in the game to a nice, asymmetrical 5), and — far more interestingly — a set of 27 new “special building” tiles.
At the start of the game, you pick 4 of these special building tiles at random, and add them to the 4 “basic” tiles that you play with in the standard game… giving you 8 different special buildings to choose from, 4 of which will (probably) be different every time you play. Unless my maths is a bit wonky, 4 from a set of 27 gives you 17,550 different permutations. That’s a fair bit of scope for variation.
There’s nothing earth-shattering about the new buildings; nothing that will dramatically push the game in a vastly new direction … but each one introduces subtle new strategic possibilities. I guess they work a little bit like the special buildings in Le Havre; consider them as a little bit of seasoning on an already-delicious euro-gaming sandwich 🙂
Here’s the foursome that we randomly drew last night:
They’re far from being the most exciting tiles in the set… but they give you a pretty good idea of how some of the new buildings are location sensitive, or can only hold certain types of animals, or open up new avenues for accumulating victory points.
I have to admit, this was probably my worst performance at ACBaS *ever*. Owain completely crushed me, despite this being his very first game. I was blocked out of building feeding troughs *precisely* when I really, desperately needed to build feeding troughs… and it’s entirely possible I was being just a tiny bit keen to build the new buildings (I ended up taking three of them – all but the large extension), and possibly not paying quite enough attention to minor things like making sure I had housing for all the animals I was accumulating. And… well… yeah… I guess it was basically a bit like… OH! LOOK! NEW BUILDINGS! SHINY!!
Anyway, Owain enjoyed his first taste of ACBaS, and despite my humiliating defeat, it was good to get an early opportunity to play with the new bits.
MBBaS seems like a really promising expansion — I can’t really imagine ever wanting to play ACBaS without it — though it’s perhaps a touch on the expensive side for what you get — four sheets of 5″x7″ chip-board and a rules leaflet in a small box. Still, boardgameguru has it for a tenner, and that’s hardly going to break the bank 🙂