(photo: Steven Hesse / @Geek_Apocalypse)
Saturday was Newcastle Gamers day… and, to co-incide with International Tabletop Day, we’d decided to have an all-day gaming session at our usual haunt. To be honest it doesn’t take an awful lot of goading to prompt us into having an all-day gaming session… but we were already scheduled to meet on that day anyway, and there was a possibility that piggybacking on the tabletop event might bring in a few new members, so it seemed like a win-win situation! 🙂
I’d spent the previous day at The World Marbles Championship in Sussex (a story for another time!), and had a restless night in a particularly grim/seedy hotel as part of that process … so wasn’t really feeling at my sharpest when I got out of bed that morning. However, there was a day of gaming to be done, and needs must!
I arrived at 10am — the appointed starting time — and the room was already pretty busy …though seemingly with club regulars rather than gaming newbies. Surprisingly, there did seem to be a sense of expectation in the air; like we were part of something slightly bigger that usual this time, and people were talking about some of the postings they’d seen online about other tabletop day events which had already kicked off that morning. Also, it turned out that Steven — a relatively new club member (who I’ve not properly met / played anything with yet, but recognise from just seeing him around) — is a podcast producer, and he promptly set about converting the kitchen into a makeshift recording booth with the intention of covering the event.
There was a lot of hovering around, deciding what to play … I think we were a bit reluctant to all get locked into long, involved games just in case we were suddenly swamped by first-timers demanding entertainment. Nick announced that he’d just bought a copy of Love Letter … a light filler game that’s been getting a lot of good press on Board Game Geek, so that seemed like an excellent place to start.
Love letter is a very compact (and clever!) role selection game, which contains only 16 cards and a bunch of little wooden cubes. The theme of the game is that the players are trying to woo the Princess, and to do so, you need to deliver a letter to the most influential person in the palace. At the start of the game, you’re dealt a single card, showing one of the palace characters — each character has an influence score, from 1 to 8. Each turn, you draw a new card, and choose which of the two cards you’re holding you wish to retain and which you want to discard … each card also has an instruction on it, and when you discard a card, you MUST carry out that instruction (e.g. look at another person’s card… trade hands with a player of your choice… gain immunity from effects for the next round… stuff like that) — sometimes this works to your advantage, and sometimes it doesn’t… but there are some very clever card interactions, which nicely facilitate deductive gameplay, alongside the more obvious elements of bluffing and pure luck.
Once the whole deck has been exhausted, whoever is holding the card with the highest influence score wins the princess’s favour… (i.e. gains a little red cube). Collect enough favour, and you win the game.
Love Letter has a reputation for being a very fast-playing game (the stated game length is 20 minutes). I’m not sure if it was because we haven’t discovered the killer/obvious tactics yet, or because we happened to win rounds in a manner that meant the game was extended to the maximum possible length (I think we were ALL just one block from winning at the end of the game), but I’m pretty sure our game ran for the best part of an hour! It was fun, but did feel over-long at that duration… but I’d be happy to play again in the knowledge that it normally runs faster.
Three of the four people at the table were called John. So, inevitably, Nick won. I guess the princess just got confused with all the other courtiers having the same name 🙂
I think we were fairly confident that we wouldn’t be deluged with a torrent of newbies by this point, so I suggested a game of Keyflower. It’s pretty much my favourite game-of-the-moment (and very likely my favourite release of 2012), and although nobody else at the table had played it before, I figured it was probably their kind of game… so, for a while, we set aside thoughts of playing stuff that would be appealing/accessible to boardgaming newcomers, and got our mediumweight-eurogame-action on 🙂
Once again, the game presented a slightly different challenge to the previous times I’ve played it… this time, gold was very scarce, very few green meeples entered the game, and only a single boat tile appeared in the summer round. More notably, the boat that did appear wasn’t the notorious boat 4a/b (which lets you break the game’s all-important colour sequence rule), and the game seemed noticeably less-swingy as a consequence. I’m not a big fan of house-ruling games; in general, I think it’s very presumptuous of people to tweak game rules — given that designers and play testers usually have very good reasons for things being the way that they, are and have spent far longer evaluating the pros and cons than the end-user. But I do seem to prefer the game when boat 4a/b doesn’t figure, and I can see that tile being inexplicably mislaid at some future juncture.
I actually won this time (my FIRST Keyflower win — finally!!!) … mostly by snapping up a lot of transport tiles, and then using one of the aforementioned very-rare-green meeples to secure the end-game boat which gives you a bonus for transport capacity. Good game… and I think I won over John B. as a Keyflower convert; he mentioned how much he’d enjoyed it quite a few times during the course of the day.
The room was getting quite busy at this point … while we were playing Keyflower, a few tabletop-inspired-newbies had finally arrived (yay!), and were getting busy with a game of Pandemic. A few more regulars had turned up too, so half a dozen people were now looking for a game… we split into two tables, with Myself, John F and Michael playing…
Belfort is an odd combination of worker placement/resource collection and area control. Players take the roles of master builders, in the fantasy town of Belfort. Apparently the town is trying to complete its fortifications before the winter arrives (and hordes of Yetis and Trolls come down from the mountains to cause trouble). You send your elven workers to collect wood from the forest, your dwarves to mine stone, and you hire gnomes to staff the assorted buildings that you erect around the town — pubs, libraries, blacksmiths, and things like that — all of which bring new worker placement opportunities. At three points during the game there’s a pause for scoring; whoever has the most buildings in each of the city’s five segments scores points, and there’s a bonus for whoever has the most of each type of worker. The third scoring round signifies the onset of winter, and the game ends.
I’m not really sure why, but this particular game of Belfort fell a bit flat for me. I wasn’t doing particularly badly (I think I won this one too!), and I really enjoyed it the last time I played. Maybe it was the consequence of playing it immediately after Keyflower. Or maybe I was just on a sugar low (I completely lost track of time over the course of the day… I think I ended up eating my lunch at around 4pm!). Or maybe my lack of sleep was catching up with me. Michael really enjoyed it though, so the experience wasn’t entirely wasted.
I did a quick sweep of the room at this point to take photos. While doing so, I spotted Jackson Pope (who blogs at Creation and Play) testing his Project Vacuum prototype. I’ve never met him before, but I’ve followed his blog for a while, so I thought I’d say hello. He seemed pleased to discover that he’d unwittingly become an internet celebrity and that the game’s reputation had preceded it 😀
By the time I got back to the table, John F. was setting up…
Spectaculum is the game that suffers from an inordinate amount of mis-spellings, and attracts a lot of jokes about “oh, is that a game about Gynaecology”? It’s not about Gynaecology — it’s actually about buying shares in touring circuses. But, the theme is so paper-thin and obviously-applied-after-the-event that it might as well be all about Gynaecology. It’s exactly the type of game that provides grist to the mill of eurogame-haters, and does the genre no favours at all in that respect.
But… it’s actually quite a neat game. I enjoyed it. Far more than I thought I would.
The game involves buying shares in one of four colours, then playing an odd “Through The Desert” style trail-laying game to determine how the prices of those shares rise and fall. Like most Knizia games, it sounds excruciatingly dry when the rules are explained to you, but it’s pleasantly involving when you actually play it. I’m not sure that it’s a game that I’d want to go back to time and time again, but it’s well worth playing if you get the opportunity. I’m glad I tried it.
Merchants and Marauders
I was a bit iffy about playing this one. It’s a long game, it seemed to have an awful lot of dice in the box, and it has a reputation for being a bit ameritrashy. But, others were keen and there didn’t seem to be much else kicking off at that time which appealed to me, so I relented… after all, it’s a BGG top 100 title, pretty well-known, and — if nothing else — it would be another one to tick off the big list of games that I’ve played, and leave me that little bit more knowledgable about the runners and riders in the boardgaming world.
Verdict: Not really my type of game. Gameplay involved lots (and I *mean* lots) of dice-based character skill checks. Lots of stuff determined by the luck of a card draw. Lots of down-time between turns. Random events completely shifting the game parameters from round to round, and nowhere near enough sense of agency to satisfy my gaming tastes.
It does have nice game pieces though!
4 hours later, and Maintaining the nautical theme…
Survive: Escape from Atlantis
Fun, light, and relatively quick, as the volcano erupted exceptionally early this time… leaving me with only two survivors on dry land. Not a high-scoring game — though apparently this was my 9th play in 3 months (eek!)
The most uncharacteristically-forgiving game of Galaxy Trucker that I’ve ever played. You see those beautifully-constructed round III space-ships in the picture? They were still almost as beautifully-constructed as that at the end of the mission; I think Robert lost a few chunks to meteorites, but the last round predominantly consisted of open space and friendly cargo-rich planets. Very disappointing!
It almost felt like Robert and Lloyd didn’t have a proper Galaxy Trucker initiation; It just doesn’t seem like a true GT game unless one player is smashed into little tiny pieces, or loses nearly all their crew to some horrible space plague, and still — somehow — defies the odds and manages to limp over the finishing line. Hopefully they’ll play again one day, and have a much harsher experience. 🙂
And to finish…
King of Tokyo
It was the first time I’ve played this. I’ve never felt particularly drawn to King of Tokyo before because — well — it basically looks like Yahtzee, with big cardboard monsters. However, it was getting late, something weighty was pretty much out of the question by this point, King of Tokyo was up for offer, so I thought I’d see what all the fuss was about.
Sure enough… it *is* basically Yahtzee with big cardboard monsters. You get 3 re-rolls in which you attempt to collect various sets of symbols to deal damage to other monsters, or to heal your own hit points, or to get extra powers… or even just to score points. There’s a king-of-the-hill mechanism which mixes up the formula a little bit, and as Yahtzee variants go … well, it’s not too bad. Not a brilliant game — and pretty much entirely sold by its theme — but I’ve played worse. It did feel a bit like playing a kids game though. It’s not one that I’d actively seek out, but I’d maybe play again if it was mooted as a prospective filler.
As King of Tokyo finished, the clock struck 11pm… having clocked up thirteen hours of gaming, and intending to visit the World Egg Jarping Championship the next day (another story for another day…), I decided that it was time to head off home.
Highlights of the day? Keyflower and Spectaculum. I’m still very much enjoying Keyflower, and every game of it has been a treat so far … and while Spectaculum isn’t a game I’d felt massively drawn towards prior to playing, I’m really glad I got introduced to it. It was also good to finally get to play Love Letter.
It was also interesting to listen to the Geek Apocalypse Podcast after the event… after all, it’s always fun to listen to people you know talking about stuff that you’re interested in — or, for that matter, finding out a little bit more about the gaming backgrounds of some of the club regulars. I skillfully avoided being interviewed, though not deliberately… I think I was just too busy playing games for most of the day, and kind of lost focus on the fact that that stuff was even going on. (I was so engrossed in the gaming that I didn’t even notice Steven filming his YouTube video with us all in the background!)
It was good to see the TableTop Day connection bringing in some new faces (three of the new people are interviewed on the Podcast, and they seem keen to come back!). There was definitely a slightly different tone to the meeting; an emphasis on lighter games, and the room was a bit noisier/livelier than usual. I maybe played a slightly different / less strategy-focussed mix of games than I would normally choose (especially as the day wore on) … though I’m not sure if that was because of the overall trend in the room was towards lighter games, or because some of the more eurogame-focussed regulars were missing this meeting. Still, it was an enjoyable day, and I’m Looking forward to the next meeting…. 4:30pm, 13th April.
Link: Geek Apocalypse Podcast
CREDITS: I usually have to put something here about stealing my pictures off somebody, but — amazingly — this time I took them myself… mostly because Olly and Owain weren’t at the meeting. 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 — check our G+ group for more info.