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Thing of the week: Bride of Pinbot

Farsight’s Pinball Arcade has quickly become my favourite video game release of the year, and this week they released the first monthly DLC pack: Bride of Pinbot and Medieval Madness.

Bride of Pinbot brings back happy memories… the real table used to be installed in Newcastle Poly student’s union, circa 1991/92. It always seemed like a slightly odd choice for a “right-on” venue like the SU, with it’s somewhat-misogynistic mecha-sexdoll stylings, orgasmic cries of “Yes! YESSS!!!” and flashing robot nipples whenever you made a vaguely-favourable shot… but the game was amazingly well-designed, and completely addictive.

It’s one of my all-time favourite pinball machines… It’s brilliant to be able to play this again! πŸ™‚

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Newcastle Gamers, 14th April

Attendance figures seemed back up to normal, with 6 or 7 games running simultaneously during the busiest stretch. Here’s the customary round-up of things I played this time:

Meridian

A fairly dry area-control/abstract game, with a paper-thin theme pasted onto it. It does score points for looking pretty though!

According to the game-blurb on BGG: “After years of negotiations, Queen Wu Wei has at last decided to let some of the powerful European commercial companies establish garrisoned trading posts in the rich cities of the Southern Archipelago, but only on condition that they submit to certain curious rules she has devised.” … though you wouldn’t guess any of this, just from playing the game.

Basically, you build towers on islands. Your towers get inexplicably shifted to other islands in the same meridian, depending on their relative height compared to subsequent towers built by other players (bigger towers get shunted north, smaller towers get shunted south), until everybody runs out of moves, and you get awarded points according to who has dominance on the various islands.

It was an OK-ish sort of game… I wouldn’t want to play it a lot, but was fairly short, and had enough depth to make it a worthy contender as an occasional filler. We actually played it twice… because half-way through the first game, we realised that we’d missed a rule about not being able to build more than one tower in the same meridian (oops). The second game seemed a lot more interesting, but at the end of that one we realised that we’d been playing a 4-player game on the 3-player board (double oops!)… but we’d had our fill of tower building by that point, and moved onto something else…

Ingenious

This was the second time I’ve played Ingenious against human opponents… though I’ve been practising a bit on the iOS version in the interim.

The first time that I ever played Ingenious (which I’m sure you’ll find if you dig through the blog archives), Olly explained the rules and announced that it’s very, very rare for anybody to win with a ‘perfect’ game and score maximum points. He them promptly went on play a perfect game, and score maximum points.

Would the game be any closer this time around?

No. Olly played a perfect game. Again. And won with maximum points. Again. Git! πŸ˜‰

Good game though… probably my favourite of the night… with a close second place going to:

7 wonders (with Leaders expansion)

I’m still a bit sat-on-the-fence with 7 wonders. I think one of my problems with it (other than the fact that you can — occasionally — simply face hand after hand of awful cards through sheer bad luck) is that it suffers the same problem as Puerto Rico – it’s a game that gets terribly asymmetrical when you have players of mixed experience in the same game. A player who isn’t experienced is prone to accidentally act as a kingmaker, and feed victory points to his direct neighbours.

If you’re the new guy at the table, you kind of get the sense this is the case, and feel a bit bad about making the game go wonky. If you’re *not* the new guy at the table (and somebody else is) you just plod on and live with the fact that the game is a bit wonky. But either way, the inescapable truth is: the game is a bit wonky. Ideally, you’d want to stick to games where everybody is on a similar kind of level… I’m sure 7 wonders will shine when played like that. But that’s not really practical with pick-up players in a game club setting.

Still, I think I’m getting the hang of it now. This was the first time I’ve played with the Leaders expansion, and I think it improved the game a lot – basically, you get a hand of “leader” cards (each with various special powers) at the start of the game, which gives you a direction to build a game-long strategy around. Reminded me a bit of the way you use Occupations/Minor Improvements as a scaffold for your strategy in Agricola. Good addition, IMHO.

Container

Container is a game that I didn’t know much about prior to playing… however, Steve (the game’s owner) was keen to play, and the bits and pieces all looked very promising… so why not? πŸ™‚

The game is about generating resources in factories, trading with other players, loading stuff onto ships, and then delivering your cargo to a distant island for points. It sounds – and looks – like a typical eurogame, and like the type of thing that’s right up my street. Except… it isn’t. It isn’t at all “typical eurogame-ish”, and – even after playing the game and mulling the mechanics over for a week – I’m still not entirely sure if I’m a fan or a hater(!)

I think my main problem with the game is that all the cause-and-effect seems very disjointed, making things difficult to plan for. You make stuff in your factories, but then you’re not allowed to use that stuff yourself; you MUST sell it to another player. Once the stuff has been sold to another player, they have to sell it to a DIFFERENT player (potentially even back to you) before it gets loaded onto a container ship. Then, when the goods have been shipped to distant shores, there’s yet ANOTHER change of ownership takes place (this time on an auction basis) to decide who the final owner is. Quite often you end up buying your own stuff, via a really circuitous route (and at a considerable mark-up) to score points. Every resource changes hands 4 times before its finally scored. It’s all just a bit… over-complex, thematically weird, and tricky to predict.

This means container is an economic/pick-up-and-deliver game that you have to play tactically, instead of strategically. At best, I felt like I was “nudging” the game economy and resources in a certain direction, rather than actually exerting any significant control… and yes, that might be a good simulation of how economies work in real life, but I’m not entirely convinced that it makes for an edifying gaming experience.

It wasn’t all bad; there were some very satisfying moments when plans paid off, and some auction-related brinksmanship that really lifted the end-game. I know I’ve laid the negative critique on pretty heavily here, but the game did have good moments, and was worth trying. I’m just not sure that it’s something I’d be too fussed about playing again.

I guess the real barometer is that at the end of most games, I’m usually thinking “Hmm… if I played that again, I think I’d do (whatever)…”, and I really like coming away from a game with that feeling. Unfortunately, with container, I just didn’t get that sense at all… at the end of the session I was no better clued-up on how to approach the game than I was when I started. And yet… I still have this nagging feeling that there might be a good game buried in there somewhere, and it might take a few plays to find it. I’m just not sure if it’s worth investing the time to find out. Odd one, that.

Anyway, that was this fortnight’s selection of games. It was an OK sort of week, games-wise (though I guess any session following the one where I played Pandemic -> Agricola -> Alien Frontiers in the same night was going to feel flat by comparison!).

CREDITS: Session pics gratuitously stolen from the Newcastle Gamers web site. Newcastle Gamers meets on the second and last Saturday of the month… usual cost is Β£3, but your first visit is free. More details here.

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April Travels

This month’s adventures have included:

A trip to the World Clog Cobbing (i.e. throwing) championship in Lancashire. It was pouring with rain, and they didn’t have many entrants… so, for a brief (and glorious) time, I held the number three spot in the world rankings…

We also managed to take in the traditional Pace Egg plays at Mossley and Middleton (good excuse for a pub crawl), observe the Easter Monday egg roll at Preston, watch the Northumbrian Gathering parade at Morpeth, and pay a trip to a place called Mytholmroyd (which sounds very exotic, but is actually in West Yorkshire) to see this:

Laying low for a couple of weeks now… then we’re into Wickerman season! πŸ˜‰

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Newcastle Gamers – 31st March

Quite a long gap since the last Newcastle Gamers meeting, due to March 2012 having too many Saturdays in it (boo!)… and despite the 3-week break there seemed to be a smaller-than-normal turn-out, with quite a few regulars missing. Maybe the diminished numbers were due to the run of unseasonably good weather? …or the start of the school holidays? (…or the skip-week throwing people into confusion?).

No matter… still plenty of good gaming to be had for those who made it! πŸ™‚

Here’s what I played this time…

Pandemic

First up: a co-operative Pandemic session, with 4 players, 5 epidemics, and event/role cards from the On The Brink expansion. Would our brave team of medics and troubleshooters save the world from disease, certain death, and the fall of civilisation as we know it?

Urm.. No, we wouldn’t. We failed dismally… I suspect we spent too long drifting around the board doing random disease-curing at the start of the game; I find that once you’ve got more than 4 epidemics in the pack, you *really* have to make every move count… and we, sort of… didn’t.

Fun game though, and a good icebreaker for the evening’s proceedings; one of the guys at the table had never played Pandemic before, and it’s always nice to introduce a newbie to one of the classics. Speaking of which…

Agricola

I made good on my previous threat, and took my copy of Agricola along with me. I was surprised to discover that Agricola seems to be a bit of a divisive game amongst the Newcastle Gamers …I’ve never seen it played at the club before, and from the responses I got when I flashed the contents of my game bag at the start of the evening (“Ugh.. no… NOT Agricola!!… Nooooooo!”), I get the impression that some of the people there are pretty burned out on it.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned Agricola on this blog before… which is a bit odd, as it’s probably my very favourite board game. It’s themed around 17th century arable farming – which I know sounds pretty boring and doesn’t really get this paragraph off to an inspiring start, but trust me; it’s a great game! … Each player starts with a wooden hut, a farmer and his wife, and over the course of the game you build a little farm, breed animals, grow crops, make babies, desperately try to avoid starvation, and generally try to improve your little family’s lot in life. There are (literally) hundreds of different cards that go with the game, giving your people different career options, and things that they can build to improve their farm… every one of them has unique perks and advantages, and each player only gets a few of these to play with each game – meaning the game is always a little bit different every time you play it.

Fortunately my fellow Pandemic players (and Pete, who arrived just as Pandemic was winding down) didn’t happen to fall into the Agricola hater camp, so we got a 5-player game underway. We used the (recently released) NL Deck (featuring Netherlands-themed careers and buildings) to spice things up a bit – which proved to be a good decision, as nobody at the table had seen those particular cards before, and it threw out lots of really interesting cards/unexpected surprises during the game.

I really enjoyed the game; it was good to get a game against so many experienced players (I usually play it 2-player, against Mrs Shep… and on the rare occasions that we get a 5 player game going at home, everybody else at the table is usually a first-timer, so we’re going easy on them). Some of the cards coming out of the NL deck did seem outrageously advantageous compared to the standard EIK decks… but the share of “outrageously advantageous” cards kind of seemed to balance out as the game went on, so you got a sense that as long as everybody is playing with NL cards, everybody is similarly outrageously advantaged. You certainly wouldn’t want to mix them in willy-nilly with the base cards though; I think you’d get some terribly lop-sided games that way.

Pete took a (well deserved) victory, with an insanely large points lead – an achievement made all the more impressive after watching his seemingly-unstoppable “all-or-nothing” well-digging strategy get completely ruined by one of the aforementioned highly-unexpected NL cards half way through the game. I’m still not entirely sure how he pulled off a recovery… the guy is clearly an Agricola pro!

I’ve no idea how long we spent playing – the time flew past – but I’ve got a nasty suspicion it must’ve been a good 3+ hours. At this rate, I’m going to get a reputation for taking in 3-hour behemoths every week; think I’d better pack something lighter next time πŸ™‚

Alien Frontiers

I’ve mentioned this one before, so I won’t cover it too deeply… other than to say I’m still very impressed with the game. Unfortunately, it’s (thematically) not the kind of thing Mrs Shep goes for, and I’m not convinced the area control aspect would be as much fun for 2 players, which kind of stops it being a must-have purchase for my own collection… but it’s great to get the opportunity to play it at Newcastle gamers (Thanks Olly!).

Pete was clearly on a winning streak, as he won this one too… though the rest of us consoled ourselves with the fact that he had a *very* lucky set of dice rolls at the start of the game, giving him a huge fleet of spacecraft and a bit of a runaway lead. There wasn’t much of a prolonged area-control/area-denial endgame this time either, which is – apparently – pretty atypical for this game, so the end seemed to come very suddenly. Nevertheless, It’s still a very satisfying game to play; there’s a lot of fun in deciding where to “spend” your dice – enjoyed it a lot.

All in all, another excellent night’s gaming… three great games, and my first full-scale Agricola session in months. Good stuff πŸ™‚

CREDITS: Session pics gratuitously stolen from the Newcastle Gamers web site. Newcastle Gamers meets on the second and last Saturday of the month… usual cost is Β£3, but your first visit is free. More details here.

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March Travels

In March we visited the Kiplingcotes Derby, reputedly the oldest horse race in England, which is run through a course of country lanes in East Yorkshire. It was a spectacularly foggy day — even by Yorkshire standards — which made it really difficult to film the horses coming in, as we’d been standing waiting in the cold fog for about 90 minutes before they suddenly appeared pretty much out of nowhere…

Nicki Campbell (of pop-band-managing/tv-presenting fame) was there, filming for an Episode of Escape to the Country. I “borrowed” one of their links for my video. Well, we were all on a public highway, and they never asked permission to film me, so I figure it’s a fair swap.

Other outings included a trip to Jedburgh, to see the traditional Ba’ game … though the footage from that one is still sitting on my Camera. I did, however, finally get around to downloading/editing our February foray to Atherstone Shrove Tuesday Football..

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