The first games club session of 2014 took place yesterday, starting with the draw for this year’s tournament. It’s therefore time to reminisce on the games and events of 2013, its highlights and let-downs, and to list some new year's resolutions.
The 'new' events of 2013 were
- my first attendance of a games convention, the UK Games Expo, on which I reported before;
- the playtesting of 4 prototypes at the London meetup in July of Playtest UK;
- a night at a boardgames group in Stuttgart, Germany.
All the above were very enjoyable and provided opportunity to learn new games. Play testing is of course a bit of a hit-and-miss affair: some prototypes are brilliant, others need quite some work. It feels good to help designers in improving their games, but taking the train and tube and buying food and drinks during a whole day in a London pub made the event a bit too costly for frequent repetition.
There were also the usual events: a night with the Lisbon Boardgamers Group during my Summer holidays in Portugal and the games club tournament and Christmas session.
In 2013 I missed quite a few game nights at the club, due to work, flu, studying for MOOCs, or whatever. Fortunately the tournament forced me to attend more times than I would have.
There were 12 participants, who played 5 games in varying groups of 4 players, with 11/7/4/2 points awarded to the 1st/2nd/3rd/4th placed in each play. Tied players would share the sum of their points. The 5 games were El Grande, Le Havre, Brass, Kingsburg and Lancaster, in this order. At the end of the 5 round league, the scores were: Keith 43, Dan 42, Andre 37, David 36, Steve 35, Peter 27, John 26, Chris 25, me 22, Nigel 20, Nick 15.5, Matt 9.5. Peter and Matt missed some games and 10/6/2 points were awarded in 3-player games. Keith, as the league winner, chose El Grande for the final among the 4 top players. Andre returned to his home country before the final, which was won by Dan.
The tournament started quite well for me, with a surprising 2nd place in El Grande and Le Havre (which are not my kind of games), losing to Keith in the former and Dan in the latter. After that, it went downhill. I won or was 2nd in the practice games, but played badly in the games that mattered, coming last in Brass (I was gutted) and Lancaster, and 3rd in Kingsburg. Playing three times in the same group as Dan, and twice with Keith, didn't help, of course 😉
The annual Christmas session was again a well-attended merry evening of gaming, quizzing, drinking, and eating (of mince pies, fewer this year due to the absence of Huggy). As in past years, I brought along Pitchcar Mini, and the 8 participants didn't fail to provide amazing take overs, spectacular car crashes, and dismal flicks. Hugely entertaining, as usual. I also brought Skull & Roses. It got played twice, introducing new players to this brilliant bluffing game. There was plenty of schadenfreude seeing others turning up a skull.
Pete brought one of his own games, the fabulously detailed Waarghy Races. My photo (click to enlarge it) doesn't do the game justice. Play is simple and fun. On your turn you place or move one of your creatures on the race track, or use a token to try to to make trolls on each side of the track hurl all kind of debris (in the photo's left background) at the other racers – a die roll determines success or failure. Each token allows to throw from a particular location, with limited reach, so one has to decide when best to use each token and how best to move to avoid the dangerous spots. Each creature is worth some VP, which you get when you capture it or when you end the race, with multipliers for being among the first 4. David, Sam, Nigel and I played twice, with Pete joining us in the second game. In the first game, a combination of lucky rolls, good tactics, and sub-optimal choices by the others, allowed me to capture quite a few worthy creatures and to be the only one finishing the race, with two of my creatures. The second game, with fewer tokens per player, fewer lucky rolls, and better play by everyone, was a more balanced affair, as seen on the photo. Pete kindly provided a prize for the player with the highest score, which turned out to be mine in the first game. The 'Trollerone' chocolate bar was much appreciated by my family and vanished in a jiffy.
Like in 2012, David concocted a picture quiz, featuring games played during the year at the club. Like in 2012, John won the quiz, recognising 11 of the 16 games. Being one of the club's keenest players and collectors, it's hardly surprising. David kindly included Vintage in the quiz, which nobody but me recognised, but that wasn't enough to boost my paltry score.
For Christmas I got a book on game design and two of the games on my
wish list: Goa, for my collection of games related to Portugal, and
Kiproko, a clever party game in the style of Pictionary. I
played it during the holidays and it was great fun. Such a pity only a
French version is available.
In addition, I bought the Portuguese version of Wits & Wagers, which was another success, and a book about Alex Randolph.
Taking into account all the games I played at the club, in Stuttgart and
during the holiday with the family, December was an intensive way to
finish a year.
According to my own records, which are definitely incomplete, I played 68 times, 52 different games. Besides re-playing favourites (Ave Caesar, Brass, Goa, Hoity Toity, Modern Art, Vintage, etc.), I tried out quite a few new games.
Amerigo, Kingdom Builder, Keyflower, Le Havre and Village failed to interest me: they were either too abstract, had too much of a mechanics salad, or felt too much of the same old. Alien Frontiers, Coup, Forbidden Desert, Snowdonia, and Vinci were OK: they have appropriate, streamlined mechanics and enough theme, but didn't enthuse me, either because I'm not much into sci-fi and civilisation games, or because there are much better alternatives, like Pandemic, Resistance, and Steam. Love Letter, Ghost Blitz and Parade were fun, but a bit too repetitive/long and not enough fun to become favourites of mine.
Fortunately there were also some good surprises. Lifeboats was a blast of bantering and backstabbing. Stak Bots was pure chaotic fun. Lancaster turned out to be a nicely balanced, thematic and cohesive mix of various mechanics. Takenoko was a refreshingly different game with a cute theme (pandas and gardening) but with opportunity for messing up other players' opportunities. Rummis (aka Blokus 3D) is a great tactile abstract game. Dixit is a gentle, creative game, a welcome change. I was concerned it would rely on common cultural references that would put me at a disadvantage, as the only non-Brit in the club, but it actually worked quite well and is now on my wish list.
I do realise that judging a game on just one play is unfair, and some of my impressions above may change with further playing. Two examples in 2013 illustrated this. My first K2 game, in 2011 with 5 players, had been a never-ending slog that put me off, but with 3 players, the second game flowed nicely without much down-time, and kept its tension without being too brutal and frustrating. Similarly, my first Kontor game, in 2009 with two teams of 2 players, had been interesting but rather too long due to the deliberations between team members. The second game, with just two opposing players, was a much better experience. Playing K2 and Kontor for a second time, with fewer players, made me appreciate those games.
This reminds me of an essay on the Geek arguing for playing Carcassone always as a two-player game with the Inns & Cathedrals and Traders & Builders expansions. One of my last games of 2013 was a two-player game of Carcassonne, on the tablet against the strongest AI. Although I lost, it was a very satisfying experience and I can see the essay's point of view. Unsurprisingly, I've added the recommended expansions to my wish list.
The 2014 tournament will follow the same format and scoring, and I'm taking part once more. After all, someone has to be the cannon fodder :-). There are 16 participants, only half having participated last year. Each participant nominated a game, different from this year's games. I chose Year of the Dragon; also nominated were Galaxy Trucker, Village, Terra Mystica, Seasons (2 nominations), Power Grid, Caylus, Steam (2), Caverna, Age of Empires (2), Puerto Rico, Vasco da Gama, and Libertalia. Each participant then voted for five games, the fifth vote being automatically for the game they nominated. I voted for Libertalia, Power Grid, Puerto Rico and, of course, Vasco da Gama. The top voted games were Village (8 votes), Terra Mystica (8), Steam (8), Power Grid (7), Caverna (6), Libertalia (6), Age of Empires (6), Year of the Dragon (6). Only one of the 6-vote games can be played: Caverna was randomly drawn. I find Village and Terra Mystica dry and boring, let's hope Caverna, which I never played, turns out to be a pleasant surprise like Lancaster was. Last but not least, the groups' constitution is much better this year due to the increased number of participants. In 2013 some of us played against each other several times, while some never played together. This year, from a cursory look, it seems each participant plays with 14 of the other 15.
As for other events, I intend to attend again the UK Games Expo and a Playtest UK event. I may also attend the International Board Game Studies Association Colloquium in Ipswich, an academic conference on board games.
I also hope to attend the club more often, blog more often (at least about the above events and the two books I got, once I read them), and do some research on race games. I also intend to finally try some games that have been gathering dust at home, like Age of Discoveries, Aljubarrota, and The Big Idea.
Hell is full of good intentions, so let me stop at a manageable number to have a chance of fulfilling them.