One of the many ways that I eke out a living these days is by doing digital work for my friend’s record label. This week we put out a new single.
You’ll find the video above. I think it’s a bit special. 🙂
One of the many ways that I eke out a living these days is by doing digital work for my friend’s record label. This week we put out a new single.
You’ll find the video above. I think it’s a bit special. 🙂
(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.
Next Saturday (the 30th March) has been declared International Tabletop Day… a day to turn off your TV, put aside your videogames, and to go and play some real-world, face-to-face tabletop games with friends, family, or anybody else who you can cajole into playing with you. OK… they maybe didn’t pick the best possible day to hold the event (in the middle of the long Easter weekend AND the day that the new run of Doctor Who premiers) … but, lets face it; Easter is already 99% certain to be a complete wash out weather-wise. And anything that promotes playing tabletop games is a good thing in my book 🙂
I’ll be at Christ Church Hall, Shieldfield, Newcastle, from 10am until … well, pretty late at night … with a big bag of modern, grown-up board games and a bunch of like-minded game fans. If you fancy having a go, do join us. You can RSVP to our event listing via Google+, or just turn up on the day. It’s all good. And if you’re nowhere near Newcastle, there’ll be similar events all over the world. Albeit not quite as awesome as ours. Obviously.
Half-convinced? Here’s some hard-sell from Felicia Day…
Mental experiment time: Imagine you took the tile laying of Carcassonne, the worker placement of Le Havre, The pick-up-and-deliver / routebuilding of Steam, an auctioning system so odd-yet-devilishly-clever that it seems like it should’ve come straight out of a Reiner Knizia classic, a tiny bit of set collecting… player-specific hidden information… and packaged the whole bundle with over 150 wooden meeples and half a dozen cute papercraft buildings…
By rights, you should probably end up with an unplayable frankenstein mess of a game.
What you actually get is a game called Keyflower.
And it’s pretty good stuff.
MEEPLE ALL THE THINGS!
Keyflower plays up to 6 people … though on this occasion, there was only four of us: myself, Olly, Owain and Camo. At it’s core, it’s a “city builder” type game, where you’re trying to build the best settlement and score the most victory points.
Despite the vast amount of things going on in the game, the core rules are actually surprisingly simple (I hesitate to call them “elegant”, because there’s a bunch of odd edge cases and exceptions that crop up from round to round, but they’re way more straightforward than they might seem to a casual observer) …
On each turn, you can either send out some workers to make a bid on a new (building tile) addition to your village… OR, you can send out some workers to a building to do some work, and get some resources. Simple! 🙂
The clever bit is, every player has a mixture of differently-coloured workers; red, blue, yellow and green… and once a worker has been sent to a particular tile (whether it was to bid on that tile, or to do some work), that tile is then “locked” to that specific colour for the rest of the round. Any further bidding has to be done in that colour. Any further working has to be done in that colour. …so each round is full of massively-tactical decisions to made in how you deploy your meeples; how to play to your strengths (colours that you own more of), and how to minimise your weaknesses. It’s a simple mechanism, but one that brings a *delicious* amount of depth (and some agonising descisons) to the game.
Oh, and did I mention that workers you send to another person’s village become their workers in the next round? Or that workers you send to a building that’s currently being bid upon become the property of the winning bidder? Very simple mechanisms, but — with the colour-specific bidding/working rules — they carry brain-churning implications. Brilliant stuff!
Anyway, you make bids, add tiles to your village, send your workers to work (in your own — or other players’ villages), shunt resources around the road network that you’re building to allow building upgrades / scoring opportunities, and grab new settlers, trade skills, and special bonuses off the various ships that arrive in port at the end of each season. Build a big village, improve your buildings, score points. Sorted.
For sake of variability, the game contains more tiles than you use in one single game. With a four player game, you only use around two thirds of the available tile set. In the game that we played on this occasion, we had an odd set of tiles which made transporting goods around our road networks far more difficult than it would normally be … leading to reduced scoring opportunities on buildings that depended on a certain fluidity in goods transit.
Despite this unpredicted increase in the game’s difficulty, and the fact that most people at the table were playing it for the first time (and it was only my second game), the game had a pretty good reception, and I think most people enjoyed it. Camo was even — quite seriously — mooting the idea of playing the game again immediately after we finished … despite the fact that the first game had run for 2+ hours and been a bit of a brain-burner throughout.
I did terribly badly… mostly due to my initial strategy being transport-dependent, and failing to switch to an alternative (population-boom oriented) strategy until far too late in the final round. Olly and Camo tied for victory. I really enjoyed the game; I’ll definitely take it back to the next club meeting. It’s a keeper 🙂
Ali joined our table at this point, and Camo suggested a game of…
RoboRally is a game in which a bored supercomputer decides to race robots around a factory floor… your objective is to be the first robot to complete the course, touching 4 checkpoints, and avoiding various hazards, deadly pits, and laser fire from your opponents.
Gameplay involved taking a hand of cards containing a list of simple orders (move forward, u-turn, turn left… etc etc…), and “programming in” a list of movements for the coming turn. Everybody then reveals their cards one-by-one, and chaos ensues. Yep, it’s basically a board-game version of robot-wars, where all the robots are powered by logo. And have big shooty lasers. (Explanatory note for anybody under the age of forty: logo is a thing we used to do with computers and turtles, back in the old days. And yes, we had to get our geeky kicks in some pretty strange ways before the internet was invented).
RoboRally is a bit of a classic game… most people with an interest in boardgaming know what it is, even if they haven’t actually played it before. Until last night, I was one such person; this was my first ever game…. but… unfortunately… I don’t think I’ll be in a huge rush to play it again.
It wasn’t a bad game, and I enjoyed it for what it was. BUT… it was just dreadfully long. I can appreciate that there’s probably a huge amount of variability, depending on how the course happens to work out, and depending on what unique brand of chaos-effect results from everybody’s starting commands conflicting with each others… and I expect I’d really enjoy this game if you could guarantee that it would be over in about an hour. But… this particular game was well past the two hour mark… actually, I suspect it might have been crawling toward the three hour point; I lost track. It certainly felt very over-long. There was also a bit of a runaway leader thing going on for the last hour or so, which was a bit demotivating — but, again, something that I imagine evolves randomly from the starting conditions.
I’m glad to have finally experienced it… but — for that degree of time investment — I would’ve sooner gone with Camo’s crazy idea to play Keyflower again 😉
A few other games were on the verge of completion round about this point, so we opted for a quick filler to synch things up:
Tsuro is a very simple, very fast game. You have a coloured stone, which starts at the edge of the board. Each turn, you lay a tile next to your stone. The tile has a bunch of squiggly lines on it. You move your stone along the squiggly line until you reach it’s end. If you fall off the edge of the board, or crash into another stone: game over. The last man (or, rather, last stone) standing is the winner.
It’s basically Tron’s Light Cycles. But without the twitch skills involved. Actually, possibly without many other skills involved either, because it always strikes me as being a bit random — play the tile that allows you to strike out towards the biggest vacuum and cross your fingers. However, it’s over quickly, and fills ten minutes…
At this point, lots of other games ended, and a large group was forming to play Panic on Wall Street… I couldn’t decide whether to play or not; it seemed like it might be an interesting experience (it seats up to 11 people!), but — on the other hand — I tend not to like bartering type games, or party games, and even if it *did* end up running for the advertised “30 minutes or so” (which seemed unlikely), that probably wouldn’t leave me with long enough to play anything else of substance before it was time for me to go home. Fortunately, Owain and Ali had similar reservations, so the three of us sneaked away to play…
Myrmes is my other recent acquisition (along with Keyflower), and another game that got a lot of positive buzz at Essen 2012. In the game, each player controls a rival ant nest, and the object of the game is to dominate a small grassy knoll in the corner of a quiet garden.
To achieve this aim, you have an individual player board on which you run the internals of your ants nest… assigning “nurse ant” workers to hatch lavae, worker ants, and soldier ants … and you then send your ants out into the garden (depicted on the main board) to spread pheromones (claim territory), harvest resources to improve your nest, kill prey (for extra food), and achieve assorted special missions to win the favour of “The Council of Queen Ants”.
Myrmes is an unashamed eurogame. Resources are very tight, there’s an Agricola-style “feeding phase” at the end of each round which can be extremely punishing if you’re not adequately prepared, and you need to make every move count. It’s pretty unforgiving; an aspect that I had a pretty harsh schooling in on this particular outing. I made a risky move near the start of the game, sacrificing one of my nurse ants (and a heap of food) to take an early set of victory points on a (seemingly simple) mission… figuring I’d probably be able to make up for the lost food before anything too dreadful happened…. and if not, well, the short-term hit on VP couldn’t be too bad, could it?
Did my plan work? No. It didn’t. The strategy hit me *really* hard; my nest felt the consequences of this early sacrifice for many rounds afterwards, and I came in well behind in the final scoring. Moral: do not, under any circumstances, leave yourself with only two nurse ants unless you have the resources to summon up a new one very, very quickly!
But despite the fact that I was having a really, really hard time of the game, and finished way behind the other guys… I thoroughly enjoyed it. I dunno… I guess I sometimes just enjoy (semi-) succeeding in the face of overwhelming odds.
(Just as well, considering my general gaming record on this particular night!!!)
Ali and Owain really enjoyed the game too — another hit! 🙂
By this point, Saturday night had turned into Sunday morning… time to head off home! A pretty good evening’s gaming, all told. Keyflower and Myrmes were excellent (though I did appallingly badly in both of them… I’ll just chalk this up as a bad game night), and even RoboRally — while lasting twice as long as it really should have — had its high points. One of the strangest moments of the evening wasn’t actually anything to do with the game; it was the discovery/realization that one of the guys at the club (Ali) is somebody who I used to vaguely know, back in my student days… or, rather, know through mutual friends. Of course, in those days, he was Alastair. And he looked 25 years younger. And I haven’t seen him since… But it’s scary how I gradually went from not really remembering him at all, to suddenly having flashbacks of things like him teaching me how to swordfight. In a wood. In Chopwell. With a real sword.
I was pleased that Keyflower and Myrmes got a good reception — especially since I was the guy who brought them in / had the task of teaching them. It’s always a bit of a relief when stuff that you recommend (and/or enjoy playing yourself) goes down well with others, and neither of those games are particularly simple ones to explain from a cold start, but I think I did a pretty good job. ‘Phew 😉
Anyway, it’ll be an annoying 3-week gap until the next Newcastle Gamers… which happens to co-incide with international tabletop day. So maybe we’ll be doing something special. Who knows? I’m pretty sure I’ll have Keyflower and/or Myrmes in the bag again though 🙂
CREDITS: Session pics taken by Olly. 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.
We stayed a bit closer to home for Shrove Tuesday this year. In previous years we’ve travelled the country in search of mass-participation football games and world-class pancake races. This year we just popped down to Scarborough for the day, where they have an odd Pancake bell-ringing ceremony followed by mass participation… skipping.
Yep, skipping. Apparently skipping used to be a traditional thing to do on pancake day, and in Scarborough they still give the kids the day off school, close the (usually busy) seafront road, and everybody goes skipping. I was a bit surprised by how popular the event was… I mean, if *I* was given the afternoon off school at that age, I expect I’d just sit at home reading comics and playing spectrum games. So it’s good to see the custom perpetuated… and mostly, it would seem, without the need for adults to goad the kids into doing it.
Chinese New Year.
OK… not a major excursion, since all it involved was a quick drive into Newcastle city centre, but I made a video so it still counts! I’m slightly annoyed with myself here… the main dragon dance has got so busy in recent years that it’s virtually impossible to see clearly from the crowd, so I took my monopod to use as an overhead camera boom. I lugged the thing all the way to Stowell Street, started setting up, then realised I’d left the all-important connector plate at home and couldn’t fix the camera on top… doh! … so this footage was mostly taken at arms length… with lots of post-production de-wobblification involved.
We’ve been to a few of these; there’s a really good carnival atmosphere, and lots of street-food on offer. My top tip: when you get hungry, ignore the restaurants and go to the Chinese Association building, half way down Stowell street — they do a *delicious* noodle stir-fry on the day; big portions for just a couple of quid; we’ve gone there for a couple of years now, and been impressed both times. Plus, it’s likely that a lion dancing team or two will turn up while you’re eating… as shown at 1:55-ish in the video.
While watching the lion dancers this year, it occurred to me that the whole idea of monsters dancing on your doorstep to let in the new year has an awful lot of similarities to the Mari Lwyd ceremony that they do in south Wales. I wonder if there’s some obscure historic connection. Or just some deep-rooted idea in the human psyche about spectral beasties on your dooorstep heralding a new era.
Finally… the end of the month saw us visiting Slaithwate, West Yorkshire, for their biennial Moonraking festival … in which the villagers “capture” the moon, parade it around the village for a couple of hours, and then put it back in the sky. As you do.
It was a fun event, and a lot more elaborate/artsy than I was expecting, with some cool mutli-media thingies going on. Check out the “moth globe” at 1:50 — the faces on this (and other animations) were collected from spectators, via a webcam. Neat idea. Surprisingly effective firework show at the end of the event too — lovely use of silver mortars! I *do* like a fireworks show where a bit of thought has gone into things, rather than just seeing how much pyro you can get into the sky in the minimum time possible 🙂