09-Nov-2008All month
Age of Steam

Well, it's been a while since we last played this. Long enough that we needed a rules recap before we got cracking. There's a cottage industry producing expansion maps, and we've bought a few of them. We play so infrequently that we may aswell not have bothered though. As usual, we just stuck with the basic map.

Steve had played this just a few days ago with a different group, and his recent practice showed. That and the fact that the rest of us decided to build on top of each other and leave him alone for the first half of the game.

The rest of us were bumbling along without much of a plan, as evidenced by spectacular moves such as running out of cash to pay loan interest and having to move back on the income track. And upgrading the locomotive to two links without bothering to build any adjacent links. Oops. So don't expect to pick up any hot tips for professional play from this report. But eventually we managed to get our game together and even started to run at a profit.

It was clearly Steve's game for the taking if we continued to leave him to it so eventually we plonked some tracks down in "his" area and started messing with his plans. And stealing his cubes. This ended up being a successful invasion. We were surprised to find out how successful in the final reckoning, when we realised that he'd been kicked down to third place.

I say this about many games but we really should play this one more often. As it is we approach each game almost as beginners. I always forget how useful the urbanisation option is until I see somebody doing something clever with it. Usually, just after I've paid more than them in the auction phase to do something far less clever or useful. It's a shame there isn't a computerised version we could practice with. Well, perhaps not. We'd never be able to compete with Tel again if that ever happened.
Scores: Paul 62, Tel 57, Steve 52, Andy 36
Ratings: Paul 9, Tel 9, Steve 9, Andy 7
Winner(s): Paul


Scores: Tel 106, Steve 84
Ratings: Tel 8, Steve 8
Winner(s): Tel


With two people new to the game, we decided to use the set of cards initially suggested in the rules.

Myself and Andy were talking about the game on the way over, and were pretty sure that Tel would leap on the "play a card to play a card to play a card" combos. He has a bit of a reputation for this in Magic. To our utter lack of surprise, this is exactly what happened. I'd tried that in our first game and did alright but was a bit behind the pace. So this time I tried to minimise action cards and concentrate on building up high value cash cards instead. I'm not entirely sure what Andy and Steve were doing, but they did seem to be using mines to get cash and militia to mess with everybodys hands. Perhaps they will add a comment and enlighten us all.

Whatever we were all doing, it turned out to be a tight game with victory going to the person who grabbed the last six point province. This turned out to be Andy, and propelled him from last place to victory. That province had been sitting on the table taunting us for a couple of rounds as we all failed to come up with the necessary eight cash to claim it. It's good that the game was so tight, but it's a shame that it ultimately came down to whoever got lucky - or stopped being unlucky - with their cards.

After three games my opinion seems to be firming up as good game, but not as good as the hype would have you think. For me, four players is at least one too many. With the limited amount if interaction between players, and not much to think about between turns, I think the fewer players the better. I can see it being excellent with just two players, just like the original deck building which I mentioned earlier.

 Comment by Andy 
Actually I think that we were all going for money, but myself/Steve did use the military strategy to hold people up. I also realised late in the game that one of the cheaper cards was in fact very powerful in the end game and so was the first to pick that up. This suggests to me that there are some unexplored strategies out there and to date we have only played two of the suggested set-ups.

I doubt if the number of players it makes too much difference, but an interesting two player variant would be to allow the two players to select the starting position (each choosing alternately).

 Comment by Tel 
My initial impressions of this one is "what is all the hype about". I thought the game was ok, but nothing too special. I understand that there are lots of different cards to give variety, but towards the end of the game I thought the whole process was starting to get a tad tedious. The last 2 or 3 rounds were all about who would be "lucky" enough to draw 8 cash to buy a province card. I do understand that the early rounds of the game are all about building the right sort of deck to make this more likely, but at the end of the game my overriding thought was one of "was that it". Another case of the game not matching hopes/expectations caused by the hype. That said I'll be more then happy to give it more table time after all I did rate a solid 7, just not the 9 I was hoping for, and it is possible that I need a few more plays for the subtleties to break through my thick skull.
Scores: Andy 33, Tel 32, Paul 31, Steve 29
Ratings: Andy 8, Tel 7, Paul 7, Steve 7
Winner(s): Andy

Snow Tails

It's that time of the year when our shelves are stacked with shiny new games. So this seems like a good time to try to get some session reports up on the site.

This was our first Sunday games day so it should come as no surprise that we decided to try out a few new games. Snow Trails, the new game from Fragor, was our opener.

Unlike their previous games, this has no cute animal pieces. The animal theme continues though as this is all about husky racing. Like many racing games it comes with a modular track to allow different courses to be constructed. We opted for an easy one for our first crack at it.

Also like many racing games, this is card driven. Each player has a sled which is pulled by two dogs. Each sled is equipped with a brake. Cards are played against the dogs and / or the brake to determine movement. Give each dog the same strength card and the sled will move forward. Give them different strengths and it will veer in the direction of the stronger dog.

Obviously, going straight ahead would be a little dull. Thus the courses have corners to keep things interesting. To keep things even more interesting, each corner has a speed limit. Going over the speed limit is a bad thing as that gives you one or more penalty cards. Crashing into the side of the course is similarly bad for much the same reason. Penalty cards are bad because the more you collect, the smaller your hand size becomes. The smaller your hand size, the smaller your options are. Worse, collect enough penalty cards and you are eliminated. Yikes!

The overall feeling was that this is a nice game. The movement is clever; I've not seen anything quiet like it. You need to plan ahead a bit to make sure you can take corners without losing too much speed. you also need to be able to react to people moving their sled into your preferred path, though we didn't see this happening very often. Don't get the idea that this is a deep game though. It's probably best thought of as a longish filler. Whether you need a copy of this depends on how much you like racing games, and how many you already have. I'll certainly be happy to play it but it's not one I personally feel the need to own.

 Comment by Tel 
I'm absolutley delighted that this is one of the games I was fortunate enough to get brought back for me from Essen. I've been looking to pick up a Ave Caeser/Ausgebremst type game for a couple of years and this game fills the hole perfectly. I look forward to trying some of the harder track configurations, but being the only player to have dent cards for more then the last round I may need a bit more practice with the huskies first.

 Comment by Andy 
I think there this is a clever game, plus I beat Tel cos he panicked when I overtook him on the big bend :)
Scores: Steve 4, Paul 3, Tel 2, Andy 1
Ratings: Steve 7, Paul 7, Tel 8, Andy 8
Winner(s): Andy

Space Alert

We don't really have much of a history of playing cooperative games here at the Piddinghoe Gamers. We played Lord of the Rings a couple of times, but Oggie kept making things a little too interesting with his ability to shuffle tiles into an awkward sequence as possible.

So all bets were off regarding how we were going to find this game, which is probably well described as a real time, cooperative version of Roborally.

The idea behind the game is that the players form the crew of a ship exploring a remote part of the galaxy. It consists of two rounds - planning and resolution.

The planning round is where the real time Roborally comes in. The gimmick with this game is that it comes with a CD which has a number of missions. Each mission consists of a computerised voice announcing various events. The most significant of these are the appearance of various threats which the players need to react to. The crew then attempt to figure out how they will manouver around the ship, moving energy between reactors, shields and weapon systems. Each player lays down a sequence of cards to show what their actions will be.

The resolution round is where you see how well, or how badly, the planning stage was. Well enough and the crew survive to tell another tale. Badly enough and the ship goes bang. Nobody goes home. Nobody wins.

We played a couple of the tutorial games which introduce the basic rules. The first we survived more by luck than judgment. By the second we knew what we were doing and survived the threats handily. Having flicked through the rest of the rules, I know we got away easily this time. The real game introduces all sorts of nasties which we didn't have to worry about.

So, how did it play? More or less as I expected actually. There was a bit of confusion at the start as we tried to figure out how to make everything jel, but things soon started to fall into place. The time pressure imposed by the CD is important as it keeps everybody on their toes and prevents everybody working things out optimally. The pressure wasn't particularly significant in our tutorial games but I can see it ramping up on the real missions. Basically you find yourselves communally trying to solve a puzzle, working out how to get not only people to the right places at the right time, but also in moving energy round the ship. The more threats to contend with, the more difficult the puzzle. The game comes with a number of different missions, which introduce threats from a random card deck. Thus there should be quite a lot of replayability.

I probably liked this more than anything else, as I usually find something which plays differently to be interesting. This game certainly meets the "is a bit different" criteria. Nobody appear to be havign a bad time though. We'll see where the more advanced rules bring us.

It's a shame about the annoying robotic sound on the CD though - it's a tad annoying, and not as easy to hear as it could have been.

 Comment by Tel 
This is one of those games that I cant see becoming a regular to the gaming table (but then again how many are), but it will certainly be welcome as an occasional change of pace.

I'm not usually a huge fan of cooperative games, they often seem to suffer from one player dictating to rest how the game should be played out. In our short exposure to Space Alert this didn't happen, whether this was because no-one had any idea what we were doing or because the time pressure exerted by the CD prevented too detailed a co-ordinated plan only time will tell. I certainly hope to be aboard the next time SS sitting Duck blasts off.

 Comment by Andy 
I'd be the first to admit that these aren't my favorite types of game but this one was in the "vaguely fun, needs more meat" category. As we were only playing the intro scenario, I gave it the benefit of the doubt, and we won despite my feble attempts to add some spice by deliberately drawing power from the main engines - to make bacon sandwiches of course!!

I'd like the game more if I can manipulate events such that red gets killed :)

Scores: Tel 1, Paul 1, Andy 1, Steve 1
Ratings: Tel 7, Paul 8, Andy 7, Steve 7
Winner(s): Tel, Paul, Andy, Steve

Street Soccer

Scores: Tel 3, Steve 2
Ratings: Tel 7, Steve 7
Winner(s): Tel