July and August Catch Up

Things have still been sparse over the last couple of months, but it has not been a complete wash out.

I went up to Crawley for our quarterly games day and I had as good a time as ever:

* “Il Principe”:http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/19650 – This strongly reminded me of Louis XIV. Both are complicated and feel like pure victory point races. Chris Farrell gets it spot on in his “review”:http://homepage.mac.com/c_farrell/iblog/C2097221587/E20051101182756/index.html. At least it is short. 4/10.

* “Ave Caesar”:http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/494 – This is as simple and fun as ever. It is good news it is being reprinted. 7/10.

* “Mare Nostrum – Mythology Expansion”:http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/17099 – I enjoyed this way more than I expected. Last time I played Mare Nostrum the game dragged and I gave it a rating of 4/10. The expansion largely fixes the problem we ran into, by making trading easier, and it also adds a lot of colour. I played the new nation, Atlantis, who are weak, and sandwiched between two powerful nations, Carthage and Rome. Luckily, the Atlanteans are very mobile – it was an interesting strategic situation. I would definitely consider picking Mare Nostrum up, but only as a combination with the expansion. It is still longish at three hours, but it is well worth it. I rate the expansion as 7/10 for now, but that could easily improve with more play. I am torn between buying this and “Conquest of the Empire”:http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/17710. It depends on which plays better with fewer people, as I have only played Mare Nostrum with six.

* “Age of Steam Expansion – 1830’s Pennsylvania”:http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/23189 – I had a blast with this map. I had not played Age of Steam face to face for a long time, so I seized upon it and really concentrated. This map’s gimmick is that it is split into two halves with a vertical line of mountains. The Western end has black coal cubes, which give double income, but there are relatively few of them. The Eastern end has lots of other cubes and cities. Two of us went to the West; four to the East. I was lucky enough to get dominance of the West, scoring massively early on, but my income almost dried up in the last turn and income reduction hurt me badly. I thought I would get an easy victory, but it went down to the last two victory points. A very tight and very enjoyable victory – I am still gloating. 10/10.

* “Tutenchamun”:http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/300 – quick, abstract, minimalist, early Knizia. A line of tiles is laid out and players take turns removing them, trying to make sets – there is little else to it. It is fun enough, but there are better fillers around. At least it handles six players well. The “Icehouse adaptation”:http://www.wunderland.com/WTS/Kory/Games/Mandala/index.html looks worth a try. 5/10.

Our _irregular_ games nights have been infrequent and poorly attended, but we have managed to play:

* “Timbuktu”:http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/691 – I got this in a Math Trade. The components are good, especially the box, but this light deduction game felt bland. Maybe I was doing it wrong, but the deduction element felt too light for me, as you never have enough information to work the whole problem out. I prefer my deduction games to really blow my mind, like “Sleuth”:http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/594. Bruno Faidutti rates this as one of his “very best”:http://www.faidutti.com/index.php?Module=listes&id=27, but it did not work for me. He does say that it should only be played with five and we were three, so maybe it deserves another chance? 5/10.

* “Shadows Over Camelot”:http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/15062. This favourite of Bruno’s *does* work for us. We managed to complete Shadows Over Camelot on the second attempt, but without any traitor and with some luck. It works excellently in my group, so long as the two people who do not like cooperative games are away. Chris did a “session report”:http://td.typepad.com/treeweaselweekly/2006/08/the_shadow_lift.html. 8/10.

“Twilight Struggle”:http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/12333.
This was the highlight of the last quarter. One of the biggest current memes in internet gaming discussion is the growth of eurogame/wargame hybrids. Some are closer to eurogames and are published by eurogame companies, e.g. Wallenstein, and some are the opposite, e.g. Freidrich. Twilight Struggle is closer to wargames, in that GMT Games are the leading wargames publisher and the card-driven format is very typical of modern wargames, but the theme is of the Cold War, a not-quite war of indirect aggression, and the core mechanic is area majorities – the quintessential eurogame mechanic. I loved it. “Chris Farrell wondered”:http://homepage.mac.com/c_farrell/games/reviews/TwilightStruggle.html who the audience is and I can now tell him that it is me. There are some production problems. For me the wrong labelling of Saudi Arabia is the most annoying, rather than the spelling mistakes, but it is not fatal and the reprint should fix it. As “Alan Moon says”:http://www.gmtgames.com/nnts/main.html, “Gaming simply doesn’t get any better than this.” 9/10 for now, but I will be surprised if it is not up to 10/10 the next time I play.

I stayed at our family cottage on holiday a few weeks ago and invited myself along to a session with Tony (“fellonmyhead”:http://fellonmyhead.blogspot.com/) and Tom (“SouthernMan”:http://boardgamegeek.com/user/southernman) at Hatti’s house in Swindon. Unfortunately, Tom pulled out at the last minute with a migraine, but we still managed to have a lot of fun. Everyone made me feel very welcome and I would love to go back. Tony has written up a “session report”:http://fellonmyhead.blogspot.com/2006/08/sessions-in-july.html. It was great to see how he subtly took photos with his camera phone.

* “Canal Mania”:http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/19995
This was everyone’s first play of Canal Mania. I have to say I enjoyed it. The obvious comparison is of a cross between Ticket to Ride and Age of Steam, without the death spiral and auctions. It reminded me in feel to “Volldampf”:http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/1338, as it shares so many mechanics with Age of Steam, while being much more forgiving. I enjoyed it, but as an Age of Steam lover, it pushes too many of the same buttons for me to bother buying it. 7/10.

* “Turf Horse Racing”:http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/383
This ancestor of Royal Turf and Winner’s Circle is one of the best family or late night games around. A perfect closer to the evening. 7/10

I also have managed to fit in PBW games:

* “1825 Unit 1”:http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/937 plus “Extension Kit: K1”:http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/17466
I am most of the way through a game of this at “For Whom The Web Rocks”:http://www.fwtwr.com/fwtwr/18xx/1825/e626/index.asp. I do not understand what is going on, but so far it does not feel like I am being destroyed. Unfortunately, the rules are difficult to mesh, as there are no diagrams and they feel disordered. It is as if they were designed to be referred to rather than learnt from.

* “Roads and Boats”:http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/875
I have started a game of “Roads and Boats PBW”:http://amarriner.com/rb/game.php?games_id=306. The implementation is a little hard to use, but I have read the rules and understand what I need to do. It will be interesting to see how it pans out.

I have been on a couple of business trips and played a few of David Parlett’s excellent card games on the Eurostar with my colleagues:

* “Cross Purposes”:http://www.davidparlett.co.uk/oricards/crosspur.html – This worked well with two players. The mechanics make card-counting very hard, which makes for a lighter, luckier game.
* “Sneak”:http://www.davidparlett.co.uk/oricards/sneak.html – A nice, relaxing, light bluffing game.
* “Parity”:http://www.davidparlett.co.uk/oricards/parity.html – This is vicious. It is the highest skill trick-taking game I have played. My opponent slaughtered me.

I have not found a single dud among David Parlett’s card games. I recommend trying these before investigating older traditional card games.

Now that I look back, maybe things have not been so bad after all, but I do sorely miss our regular game nights. It is not about the games, it is about the people.


  1. The Roads and Boats PBW implementation is painful. One of my games got completely stuck in the temple phase. I’m not playing again until it’s a more complete version. The game is superb, though, and I’m very happy to get it, this week or the next.

    I’ve taught myself 18xx by the excellent Geek thread, after which I studied 18VA rules intensely. Those were fairly well written, and the game wasn’t hard to understand. I expect I could play 18xx games now and perhaps even have a clue. I’ve got 18VA coming and I’m one happy gamer.

    I’m quite annoyed I missed Twilight Struggle – I was going to buy it, but it sold out in the local store, and I didn’t bother order it. I’ll probably get it I come across it. And yeah, I’m very annoyed by the spelling mistakes… But then again, I have a feeling my idea of English is more literal than of those who actually speak English, so spelling mistakes bug me a lot (particularly stuff like one/won – those are two completely different words, how can anybody mix them?)

    Canal Mania seems neat, if a bit tame.

    I like Timbuktu, but it’s not a deduction game for me – the best of the crop is Black Vienna. Timbuktu is something else… the deduction element is fairly weak there. I’ve played with four and (I think) five, and those have been enjoyable games. I was more interested in this before, now I don’t think I need to own it. I’m more than happy to play it, particularly if it’s shortened by leaving one board segment off.

  2. Thanks for your comments Mikko.

    I am still positive about R&B PBW as my friend Michael has helped do the testing, so he is aware of most of the problems, but it is definitely still in an early beta phase.

    I’m thinking about 18MEX, but I think I should probably get 1825 first.

    You have *really* missed out with Twilight Struggle. It’s superb!

    Few things annoy me more than Americans misspelling loser with looser. Of course, some might argue that it makes me one.

    You are right about Canal Mania, but most games are tame compared to Age of Steam. I would like to try it a couple more times.

    You could be right that maybe Timbuktu should not even qualify as a deduction game at all. I still really want to try Black Vienna, but I want to successfully complete a game of Sleuth first.

  3. I’d be curious to hear an update on Twilight Struggle as you play more. Like War of the Ring, it had an odd trajectory for me; my enthusiasm started off high, took a few severe body blows during the first couple games, then improved again around game 5 or 6 to the point where I was pretty happy with it (about when I wrote my review), and then finally tailed off a bit again. I don’t usually waffle like that on a game 🙂

    I don’t know if you saw it, but there is an update to the rules on GMT’s site with a new “optional” that massively increases the power of the realignment action. I think it might actually help the game quite a bit; as it is currently, I feel the realignment rules just don’t quite work, and as a result the geopraphy of the game isn’t as important as it should be.

  4. First, I’ll have to find the time to play Twilight Struggle more. I’d really like to get at least six games under my belt, but it’s rare that I play anything that much.

    Thanks for the update. I didn’t know that. At first glance the realightment action does seem a bit underpowered, but it’s too early for me to make any judgements with just one game played.

    I’ve got my fingers crossed that I can get a game together on Thursday…

  5. Mare Nostrum – interesting that you thought the expansion fixed the trading issues because I don\’t think it does anything to address them at all. What I find with MN is that the game can blow hot or cold. Some sessions are excellent, others drag depending on the players shape up to it. The expansion adds a lot more flavour and options to the game but the trading is still way too tedious.

    Haven\’t played Conquest of Empires but Struggle of Empires scales much better than MN (although last time I looked there were some excellent deals for MN + expansion in the German on-line stores such as playme.de

  6. The expansion’s trading still takes a longish time each go, but it’s more decisive as Pottery, the 13th trade good, is included so it is harder to lock the game up if certain goods are monopolised and hoarded. Paul proved that in our game by winning so quickly. I thought it made a big enough difference, but you have played more than me, and keep winning, so I’ll defer to you. 🙂

    I have just put in orders for Freidrich and Conquest of the Empire. I might get Mare Nostrum if the gang enjoy them.

  7. Thank you for the kind words, Iain; I hope you invite yourself along next time you’re in the area. I know I can’t get the quality with a phone-camera but it is less intrusive during play (must turn off the “click” when it captures the image).

    I’m with you on Canal Mania, it does push a lot of the same buttons as Age of Steam. The one advantage it has is that the minority in our group who dislikes AoS gets on well with Canal Mania (he wasn’t there when you visited, but I can assure you that despite this uncharacteristic lack of taste he is still a good fellow).

    I had my first crack at Il Principe last week; it seemed alright to me and I can’t help wondering if you fell victim to the translatory errors and discrepancies the owner told us he had to sift through to get a decent set of rules? I imagine you didn’t, but it might be worth checking. My main concern there was the power of the roles with respect to earning points – it seemed too easy to boost one’s score and gain the benefit of the role in the bargain.

  8. Hi Tony. It was a *great* evening. I am not sure when I am next in town as we are trying to rent our place in Woolstone, but I’ll be up as soon as I can.

    That’s a great point about Canal Mania. One of the guys in our group cannot stand Age of Steam, so Canal Mania would be the obvious choice. I get the impressioin it was designed exactly with these people in mind.

    Il Principe just seemed very dry and mechanical to me. It is the sort of eurogame that wargamers love to hate. I might have to give it another go, but there are so many more exciting gaming experiences out there, that I can’t imagine it will happen.

  9. Hi Ian – can’t believe you thought Tony was subtle with his camera, he must have been on good behaviour !

    I’ll second your view on Il Principe, it left me waiting for the game to end. I too gave it a 4 on BGG and bagged it for being a mad lottery scramble for points gathered a myriad of ways in a time so short that strategy wasn’t really an option … guess I didn’t like it.

    We need to squeeze more AoS games in here too (about 1 every three mths doesn’t do it for me) so come back any time.

    I liked Canal Mania, felt it a bit of a cross between AoS and TtR (collecting cards for the route and then building it, but still prefer AoS by a big margin. Agree with your Volldampf comment as I liked that game but my copy sits gathering dust now AoS is King … but one day.

  10. Tom: It was such a pity we missed you. Fingers crossed for next time…

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