Monday, 20 June 2016

May Playtest Meetup

I didn't manage to get to the last Playtest meetup but my friend Aaron tookover the hosting for me and sent some notes about the session. Only just gotten around to looking those over so here is a wee report, edited from Aaron's notes.

We had 3 games on show and 5 participants, 2 of whom were just there to play.

First up was a tile based game  tentatively called Robot Factory. Reminded me of ticket to ride but where you also have to build the board from tiles as well. You play tiles in one of 5 different types that need to link together to form a path that matches the patterns on the cards you play. The path can snake orthogonally and tiles can be used in multiple paths. Then you have to claim those tiles by playing a piece on them. Trick is, you'll probably have to use some of your opponents' tiles too to make your pattern but each tiles can only take a certain number of pieces (between 1 and 4). There's a trick in the play then of arranging your pattern but also trying to claim the tiles in an order of priority so you don't lose out. It was pretty much a complete game. We commented on possibly needing to run the numbers on each of the 4 scoring methods to make sure they were balanced but it could be played as is, only tweaking possible the length of the patterns or score values on the tiles. 

Robot Factory

The designer is a computer programmer and had run the game through his own computer analyses already. He's now looking for the human commentary on play and to try it with more than two players. He's to lay a theme over it too, and is considering it being about trying to build robots to given patterns. everyone enjoyed it. It's definitely got the potential to be a great app too - in fact it says app all over it - which the guy could code himself. 

Aaron brought back Queen's Court, now with that working title replaced with the real name given to me by a play tester at a different session: The Last Dance. He wanted to test more that 4 players and got a 5 player game. Pleasingly it still works, though he still wants to account for an increased play time from 60 minutes to 75. He's also now started putting in the background of the country falling apart whilst the nobles dance into the mission cards.  The friendly frustration of being knocked out of place is now there in the game and to a level where it's just a frustration for one move and people enjoy the back and forth with it. 

Last Dance
Steven brought Scandal back, mostly as before in terms of rules but now wanting to test out some sample artwork and also how best to have the scoring boards and pieces. Still plays well in under an hour. Everyone loves how it creates a story for the career you build with cards. 

Thanks very much to Aaron for hosting and I am looking forward to getting some of my own designs to the table this coming Sunday. If you would like to learn more about any of these games please check out previous articles where there are longer form descriptions of the games.


Sunday, 12 June 2016

Games Expo - Day 3

The last day of expo saw an earlier rise than I would have liked due to check out being at 12. Packing up everything was a slightly sad affair as I knew I would be saying goodbye to an excellent weekend soon but there was still time to get some more gaming in. 

With one of our number fallen by the wayside temporarily and the other heading off to an RPG session I headed back to the NEC to wander round on my own. Hitting the Trade Hall early had the benefit of it being a lot quieter so I could make my way round at a more leisurely pace. I didn't stop to get demos of as many things as I would have liked and will definitely try and put in more time on that next year. I mostly spent my time pawing at shiny things and wondering what to take back in my limited suitcase. 

I wandered the trade hall as methodically as I could trying to see absolutely everything. I paid particular attention to the smaller publishers, having been in that situation myself, and tried out Game of Shame and Legends of Dungeon the later being from a Scottish group of developers I hadn't heard of before. I also had a look at Surviving: One month in which was one of many games that I saw at the con with a pixel art style. Seems to be very much the 'in thing' at the moment. 

Legends of Dungeon

Surviving: One month in

Close up of the tiles. Very nice.

Once our fallen comrade joined me in the trade hall we continued to wander trying out Odin's Ravens from Osprey Games and eventually buying 'Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space' which finally adds a hidden movement game to my collection. Full review of that once I get it to the table, beautifully presented though and I love the art style. We poked our head into the Bring & Buy when it was a little quieter, but nothing really grabbed my attention. 

2-3 more hours saw us mostly done as fatigue kicked in and we decided to head back to the Hilton for some food and games to round off the weekend. My friend had bought Star Trek: Five Year Mission for a bargain prcie and we got through a few rounds of that before it was time to go our seperate ways.

I had an absolutely ace time at Expo and I can only see it continuing to go from strength to strength every year. Maybe I'll go back some year as an exhibitor but for now I'm content to go as a punter and sample the very best of what the gaming scene at home and abroad has to offer whilst surrounded by good friends, good food and a great con. 

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Games Expo - Day 2

This was my first day entering the Trade Hall of the Expo and I knew it was going to be big. However, I wasn't quite prepared for the change in pace from last year. Occupying the cavernous interior of Hall 1 in the NEC, which was literally big enough to drive a double decker bus into courtesy of Wotan Games, the place had a really nice noise and buzz to it. Hundreds of Traders were there from smaller outfits like the Battle of the Bands guys to huge behemoths like Mayfair.

Nice stand guys!
I loved the buzz of the trade hall and how diverse the attendees were in every way. There is something for everyone in that trade hall and I can only imagine that will be the case even more so next year. I talked to several of the traders in there and it was interesting hearing a lot of them now thinking of the con as a much bigger deal then they previously had. I think Expo has now arrived at that point were it can join the International Big Cons, like Origins and Essen, and I have no doubt it will continue to grow over the years.

You can just see the bus!
I don't tend to buy a lot at big cons like this, partly due to me flying back and having limited space, but also as I like to keep my collection small. Wandering round I had demos of a few games, First Impressions of which will be up soon, but I especially made a bee line to the Backspindle Games stall to get a shot of Codinca. You can read my first impression of the game here but know that I bought it on the spot. A lovely puzzle game with a beautiful presentation. I really love how nice the artifact of the boxes for games are becoming and Codinca has a dinky little box with a lovely magnetic closure to keep it's nice chunky tiles in.

Codinca, sorry for the fuzz, camera issues.

Further wandering showed us minis that I will never buy but marvel at anyway in the level of detail, previews of the Labyrinth board game, demos of Guild Ball, the knowledge that Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space was now out in deluxe format, and that Chaos Cards was now doing Broken Token stuff. The last of these is an outfit that does MDF storage boxes and they have always looked great. However they are states based making their reasonable prices unreasonable after shipping and taxes. I picked up one of the mini card holders and it works a treat for Eldritch, definitely planning to pick up some more.


Broken Token's mini card holder

At 2:30 I headed to the Playtest Zone to get Conspiracy to the table and had a blast getting feedback from people. It went down fairly well but I need to work a lot on the clarity of the cards, which I sort of knew anyway.

5 Player Game

3 Player game

After I finished up we headed back to the Hilton and took up residence on top of the Beer Bus. Proceeding to eat ourselves stationary and, along with everyone else I might add, drinking the Beer Bus literally dry we had an amazing night talking rubbish, playing Skull and generally having a laugh.

Kings of the Beer Bus!
Much as I love gaming, the thing for me with expo is the people. It's a chance to catch up with good friends I don't get to see nearly often enough. Sitting on top of the Beer Bus was a highlight for me, and it was because I was surrounded by good friends, great atmosphere and delicious things to eat and drink. What more could you ask for!

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Epic - First Impressions

First game of my con was playing Epic with a mate in the bar. The bar will be a recurring feature in the con, for no reason whatsoever. 

Epic is basically Magic the Gathering (MTG) turned up to 11, emphasising the powerful combos you see in that game with a simpler resource system. On your turn and your opponents you get 1 gold to spend. Cards will cost either 0 or 1 and may do something when they arrive in play or trigger when other cards are played. As you get this gold on your opponents and you turn you can do all sorts of clever things, Ambushing opponents, playing counters etc. 

We only played with the mono colour decks that the game comes with but there was a lot to dig into even in those simple decks, with combos becoming more apparent as we played and learnt what different abilities did. There are other ways to play the game as you can construct your own deck or draft with multiple boxes. At only ten pounds per game you can certainly see the appeal of this over the rare-chasing nature of MTG.

The designers are both Magic pros as I understand it and that definitely shows through in the design. The game is certainly not as immediately accessible as Star Realms was but there is a lot more to get stuck into and I look forward to trying out the other mono colour decks and maybe even giving draft a go soon.

Games Expo - Day 1

I was going to post 2 seperate articles about the day and Netrunner Regional but since the later ate most of my day it seems sensible to just squash them into one post.

It was a reasonably early start to the day in order to get to the right room and get registered before 9:30. I had brought along a Pitchfork Hayley deck and a rush style Palana and was in a much better place mentally than I had been in the year before, that saw me giving the Nationals a wide berth.

Here are my decks for those interested:

Due to the number of players the tournament was 7 rounds swiss with a cut to top 8. 8 out of 124! More on that nonsense in a seperate post.

Calm before the Storm!

Round 1 - Rufus Lunn

vs. Geist: I corped first against Rufus' Off Campus Apartment Geist deck that was producing staggering amounts of money by the end of the game. I forgot about a Polop that led to an early score and I think I should have hit up with Nisei tokens earlier than I did. Game went too long and he built too much momentum until I just couldn't keep him out anymore.

vs. NEH: I quickly established that this was a deck that was trying to kill me so I played as cautious as I could. I managed to get the Clot lock in fairly early on but I got hit with a midseason and from then on it was a race against time. I knew he had most of the parts ready for the kill but a couple of late glory runs saw me snatching victory from the jaws of a meteor being dropped on my house.

Result: Wins 1 Loss 1

Round 2 - Will Haywood

vs. NEH: Yellow is still amazingly popular because FFG can't give good cards to anyone else it seems. Will was playing a fairly typical NEH deck with some kill in there if I recall correctly. I was doing ok when Will made a misplay that required a Judge call, clicking a 4th time on his turn and saw a card. Unfortunately for Will this resulted in a game loss which I wasn't expecting, sorry about that Will!

vs. Leela: Our first game had gone quite long and although we had a little extra time due to the ruling we came very close to timing out. Against leela you have to be careful and I built up my centrals whilst establishing a scoring remote. When time was called I was in a position to score out and get my first full win of the day.

Result Win 3 Loss 1

Round 3- Sam Pay

vs. NEH: Argh more yellow. I couldn't quite get the clot lock in early enough on this one and Sam was playing straight up Fast Advance. It didn't take him long to just score out.

vs. Whizz: I knew whizzard was strong in the meta at the moment but I really hadn't played a lot against the Dumblefork archetype. Sam absolutely hammered me and I thought he had it in the bag. A late game R&D medium dig saw him ditch a bunch of cards with faust and me on 5 credits, just enough to Snare! him. A close fought game.

Result Wins 4 Loss 2

We had a break after round 3 and I was delighted so far with my performance. Much better than I have done in a tournament for a while and I feel that is mostly down to a more positive mental attitude. A rush out to the food stalls saw a quick burger and crepe consumed, nom nom nom, and then back in for round 4. I was feeling fresh still and really enjoying myself.

I almost lost my next round game before it began as I found myself down an Artist Colony! The fantastic judges got everyone's attention and 124 players scrambled around under their seats helping me out. It was found in seconds and I rushed to my table to get started. Thanks so much everyone!

Netrunners! Hundreds of 'em!
Round 4 - Matthew Addison

I don't know you come all this way to Birmingham and end up playing a local. Matthew and I have locked decks many times before and last time we did he trounced me, this was going to be tough.

vs. Sol: I played Sol for a while and really enjoy the current ability, more of that kind of thing please FFG. Anyway again I failed to get the clot lock in but I managed to hit 4 points before Matthew rushed his way to the win. I did have clot in hand but didn't want to play it to just see it wiped. In retrospect I probably should have played it to buy myself a little more time.

vs. Gabe: Matthew runs a really aggressive Gabe deck and two single accesses early on off R&D saw him on 4 points by end of turn 1. Gulp! I built slowly pushing him out of centrals and established my scoring remote getting out a Nisei and a corp sales team. A run involving a forgotten Nisei token on Matthew's part saw me open a scoring window and I hit the final points I needed. Tough game but very good fun.

Result: Wins 5, Loss 3

Round 5 - Joel

Sorry I didn't catch your last name Joel

vs. Haarp: I knew that this deck was probably out to kill me but that didn't stop me going for a stupid early play. Two cards down naked and I ran one hitting an agenda, Exploda, and giving him the credits necessary to Midseason. It was a race against time then and although I sneaked out some more points I couldn't hold off the kill long enough.

vs. Hayley: This was a stealth Hayley build I seem to recall, might have that wrong. Anyway I built up centrals pretty quickly and my scoring remote allowing for a pretty solid score out in not too much time.

Result: Wins 6, Loss 4

Round 6 vs. Jesper Duffy

vs. Noise: The only noise deck I saw all day and the first one I had seen in a while. That ability is so brutal and when Jackson cycles out who knows how we are going to deal with it. Some judicious use of Psi Games kept Noise busy whilst I established my scoring remote and hit go. Gave up only 2 points before I won, which wasn't too bad but he got unlucky with the milling.

vs. Gagarin: I had been devastated by a Gagarin deck at my last tournament so was cautious and kept checking remotes for Corporate town and similar horror. One was eventually rezzed but I quickly dealt with it and got on with the task of digging R&D and hitting up remotes. I hit 6 pretty quick but it took a while to find the last, a late glory run into a deep remote snagging me an NAPD for the win. Close games but a full win for me!

Result: Wins 8, Loss 4

Round 7 vs. Andrew Hynes

My final round saw me at the heights of table 11 and I was starting to feel light headed from the lack of oxygen! I knew Andrew by reputation alone and also knew he was playing that @#$!@#!!!! IG deck that is going around. I was untested against it so was not fancying my chance at winning anything in this round.

Crampons and Oxygen needed at this height!
vs. IG: ARRRGGGHH! I had to run first and go up against the monster. I trashed some museums early on but in retrospect should have got rid of the Mumbads as well. He started to establish the combo for plinking me to death but an early score from hand with a Future Perfect gave me hope! Having talked about the deck with the locals I remember the words of Seamus, a fantastic player in his own right, who had advised us to not play their game. Following that advice I hurtled into R&D and HQ picking up the points to win before IG ground me to death. I was elated with that win and against such a good opponent!

vs. Whizzard: This was pure Dumblefork and Andrew played it very well. He was absolutely relentless and a lack of ICE early one saw me spewing out Agendas. I tried a couple of baits here and there but he wasn't having any of it and quickly found the Agendas necessary to win.

Result: Wins 9, Loss 5

I had a fantastic day and came a very respectable 25th out of 124 players with Matthew just above me on strength of schedule and my room mate Gaz just below. Another local player Even making the cut and eventually taking the whole thing! Well done that man!

The Tournament was really smoothly run and I would like to send out my thanks to the Judges and TOs that made it happen. Every opponent on the day was excellent, friendly and I had some tough close games. I was really happy not to have a complete loss to my name all day and I'm looking forward to improving even more over the next year!

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Statecraft - Pre-Kickstarter review

The nice folks at ITB Games recently got in touch about their upcoming game Statecraft and the pitch was interesting enough for me to cut out a couple of hundred cards and give it a play! A game of politics and politicians it didn't sound like anything else I had played recently and so I ventured to Tabletop Cafe to recruit a few volunteers to help me out.

I'll say straight off the bat that we did get some rules wrong, but that I have now clarified those with the designer and that the points we tripped up on will be much clearer in the final release. I also took some photos of play but they have gone the way of the ether! I've nab some setup photos from ITB's site to give you an idea as we go.

It looks something like this midgame.
Statecraft revolves around it's Scenarios, the introductory one being about a good old Democratic Election. Each scenario gives you a certain number of supporters you can try and rally to your cause, a number of politicians you get to look at when recruiting and the win condition as well, which is usually about the number of supporters you can recruit.

You start off with a tracker and a party leader. The trackers keep track, surprisingly enough, of your budget, the turn number and most importantly, what policies your party is currently favouring. You have 4 types of politics Socialism, Capitalism, Anarchism and Authoritarianism. Initially you will start out with 0 points in all of these, but soon you will start declaring policies and this is where the fun begins.

At the start of the game you draw 3 cards from the Policies and actions deck. Actions are your fairly typical muck around with the rules of the game stuff but the policies are where the meat of the game lies. On your turn you can announce or denounce a policy from your hand. To do this you simply slide it under the top (announce) or bottom (denounce) of the politician you choose to deal with that policy, the only caveat being that they have to have at least one symbol that matches the policy in question.

When a policy is announced you slide your trackers up the points indicated on the card for the 4 types and adjust your budget up or down depending on what the card says. When you denounce a policy you do the opposite. Each supporter has a bunch of demands on it saying they like at least x in Capitalism or will tolerate no more than y Anarchism. If at any point during your turn you match these demands you can add the supporter to your pool, stepping closer to victory.

Now you only start out with a leader so at some point you are also going to want to recruit some other politicians. In order to do this you discard a card from hand, your hand is fairly limited so this puts a nice control on what you can do in a turn, and draw 3 politicians. These can be anything from junior flunkies to President Obama. Yep you heard me right. Junior politicians can be added straight away to your cabinet but senior politicians can only be recruited by the empty seats of a junior politician. Out of the way junior, Obama is coming through!

Like this!

So these new politicians can announce and denounce their own policies allowing you to really ramp up your campaign. The tableau building you do here is really fun and I loved the little stories that emerged from, for instance, Obama announcing privatised healthcare whilst denouncing the NHS. The supporters in the pool really push you towards certain policies meaning you might end up with a hilariously horrible government that wins all the same. Really neat. Oh policy cards are also double ended so they have 2 opposing policies on each card allowing for even more variation.

Now one of the rules we got wrong was that we refreshed the supporter pool when one was taken, which we shouldn't have. I can see how that would change the game into more of a battle which I really like as the way we played it I kind of steamrollered everyone in the opening scenario.

Our second game introduced the Events and Emergencies deck. Oh boy that deck. You split this deck into 3 then shuffle 1,2 or 3 piles into the policies and actions deck depending on how chaotic you want things to go. If someone is forced to draw one of these cards that means that it resolves causing each player to make a choice from it, hitting the Incumbent, the player with the most supporters at the time, for something or maybe just plunging the world into a global pandemic. You know, small stuff. This can greatly shake up the game and provide a really interesting element you have to work around as you fulfil the goal on your scenario.

The other thing we got to play with in our second game was the Advanced rules set. This is the game as it is meant to be played and it certainly shakes things up. In the intro scenario we found that once a player had a supporter there was nothing you could really do to snatch them away. Now however as your policies shifted about if your supporters were no longer satisfied they could be snatched away to someone with a more appealing manifesto. We could also fire politicians who no longer served our purposes giving us their policy cards back to hand that could be used to power other actions. This opens up a whole new level of play and a really interesting one as you now have a lot more things to consider as you manipulate the electorate!

I really enjoyed Statecraft and it appeals to the part of me that loves games where stories emerge as you play. This has always been a love of mine and the interesting tableau building here definitely scratches that itch for me. The artwork is really neat and the overall graphic design suits the nature of the game down to a tee. True we ran into a few rules problems, but the designer has been very receptive to my questions and they were already working on an updated rulebook that answered a lot of my concerns.

If you are looking for a really engaging puzzle, where fun stories emerge as you play with a theme that is quite different to a lot of games out there, I urge you to back their Kickstarter later in the year, I know I will.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Netrunner Scottish Regional Tournament Report

This last Sunday saw me venturing through to the always excellent Settlers in Hamilton to take part in the Scottish Netrunner Regional. I have barely seen the competitive season this year but I've been enjoying the game a whole lot more so was looking forward to getting in some much needed practice.

I took a modified version of Pitchfork Hayley and the Pendragon Palana deck played in a recent tournament by my good friend Gary Bowerbank.

Round 1 vs. Graeme Plunkett

I hadn't played Graeme before and it turned out he was one of the small group of runners up in Dundee. He was corping first with a Sync deck and I was wary of getting tagged. An early Astroscript got him going but I built well until I left myself too poor for a clot like an idiot. A quick score later and that was game.

The return match saw me facing off against a Kit Stealth deck which I held my own against for a little while. He got ahead of me but I got a scoring server up with Caprice and started making inroads. A snare saw me knock out some of his econ and I started to feel in a stronger position, then disaster struck. I had him down to 1 credit and he ran on my scoring remote with an agenda and Caprice. For some unfathomable reason my brain temporarily forgot how Psi games worked and I didn't bid two to keep him out. Total idiot. 

Both games lost to misplays but enjoyable none the less

Score 0-2

Round 2 vs. Alice Rees

Alice was fresh off her Birmingham Regional victory and it was great to catch up with her since I hadn't seen her since last year's Scottish Regional. Alice was running first with Leela and I knew straight away it would be a tough game. I played it cautious, building servers up that weren't so easy to bounce but still not quite managing to keep her out of two single accesses on R&D for 4 points. The rest was easy for her as I couldn't quite build up to shooting some of her rig down. 

On the return R&D betrayed me again as I built up for a deep dig run on R&D and got Snare'd and Stimhacked in the brain. Drugs are bad!

Discussing it afterwards with Alice we agreed I had really made much in the way of misplays, just guess I'll have to Stimhack with 4 cards in hand from now on.

Score 0-4

Round 3 vs. Stefan

I'd played Stefan before in a couple of Store champs and I knew he would be bringing something interesting to the table. This was my first run against Palana in the tournament, though there did seem to be plenty about on the day. My early runs quickly established that he was up to some asset shenanigans with Team Sponsorship, Museum of History and Mumbad Temples. I managed to get Film Critic out early and stole 2 Future Perfects then hit up R&D for the last point.

Against my Palana Stefan was running Geist with the B&E suite of breakers. I built large taxing servers and managed to hit him with a Marcus Batty early to really slow him down. The appearance of Endless Hunger made things a little interesting but the porous but taxing nature of my ICE made it hard for him to get through and I scored out reasonably easily. 

Score 2-4

Round 4 vs. Jaydee

Another new opponent to me and this time I was up against Blue Sun. I was cautious against the kill and perhaps overly so as an early rezzed corporate town cost me a lot of pace. A follow up Underway Grid killed my Same Old Thing and Levy and it was a basic grind until I resigned, unable to penetrate through the barriers. I should have tried to get though to the corp town earlier and not worry so much about what 'might' be. 

I was up against a big rig Chaos Theory deck on the return matchup and I did ok taxing and hitting with the Grail Ice where I could. I think a missed Nisei token on my third last turn might have allowed me to sneak out a win and deny him an Agenda but it's hard to tell what might have happened. Our game went to a timed win in my favour. 

Score 3-5 (1 Timed win)

Round 5 vs. Alex Deas

I've known Alex for quite sometime but for some reason these days we only ever really see each other at Netrunner tournaments. 

Alex was running first with Jasminder and I knew he would probably be packing a siphon or two. Batty helped me secure the win, knocking bits of his stealth rig out as he tried to siphon me and hit R&D. A scoring server was established reasonably easily and I scored out safely with a Nisei token unfired, but not forgotten this time. 

Against his Spark deck I didn't have too much trouble but the game did drag on a little way. I had all my Fan Sites on the table before the first score which helped massively but I just couldn't quite squeeze out the final point I needed before we went to time. Another timed win for me saw me going precisely even for wins and losses 

Score 5-5 (2 Timed Wins)

I had a really fun day and didn't experience any of the tilt I had in the previous regionals. That should put me in a good place mentally for Birmingham and I'll be looking to just practice more with these two decks. 

Hayley: I'll proabably tweak this a bit and might look to run something like this at Birmingham

I am really enjoying the deck so will stick with it and I think I can do better with it than I did.

Palana: really liking the ID and playing a totally different faction. I think I will experiment with a more traditional ICE suite and maybe go a little more rushy with the type of deck but I'll have to play around and see. 

Thanks very much to everyone I played on the day and to all the folks at Settlers for looking after us all day.