Friday, March 18, 2022

Nimrods away

Last weekend I got together with a group of old boardgaming friends that I made (mostly) back in the 90s when I lived in Salisbury. We hired a couple of cottages in rural Somerset, bought bags of unhealthy food and drink, shut the doors and windows to keep the fresh air and sunshine out, and spent a long weekend playing boardgames.

Kicking off with Wingspan
First off was Wingspan, which was new to me. This kind of read-the-detail-on-every-card game is inevitably a bit bewildering first time through, and I was duly bewildered. But I like other read-the-card games in particular Oath, so it might grow on me if I ever play it again, who knows?

First railway game of the weekend
Next up was Irish Gauge. This was my copy so it was the first of several teaches I did over the weekend. I'm not sure if my teach was any good, despite hours spent preparing for such eventualities, but the game went down really well. This is such a clever yet compact business game, I'm really impressed. 

Five hours of 18Chesapeake!
Next morning, after a visit to the local ParkRun with Simon and Dave (where I made my best time in years, mainly thanks to Dave shouting encouragement in my ear) and a fried breakfast, three of us consented to play an 18xx game with me. Thankfully they were all familiar (if a few decades ago) with 1830 and so teaching 18Chesapeake was very easy. 18Ches is supposed to be a short game in the genre, but we went to nearly 5 hours. On reflection, I didn't push the loot and train rush as hard as I should have, and in general we're a fairly slow group. But you know, it was a holiday weekend after all, so no need to rush.

Cosmic Encounter – surprise hit of the weekend?
Sunday morning six of us sat down to play Cosmic Encounter. It must be about 25 years since I last played this one. In spite of preparing for this in the week before, my teaching of this classic was embarassingly hamfisted. However, playing it was a lot of fun! Wish I had more opportunities to play this in everyday life.

More Irish Gauge!

After a carvery lunch at the local pub, the weekend finished with another Irish Gauge session, introducing Nick to the game. I love it when a new player twigs to how the bag works. It's so clever and yet simple. Oh yes, and there was a quick game of Jump Drive with Dave after everyone else had left for home.

Thanks to Simon, Fiona, Dave, John, Les, and Nick for a really enjoyable weekend. I've been so starved of FTF gaming these last two years, this was like water in the desert. Results-wise, I didn't win a single game, and came last in most of them. The teacher's curse, that's my excuse.

Wednesday, March 09, 2022

This is the way (is it?)

My squadron of X-Wings about to (unsuccessfully)
take on the Mandalorian and his dodgy friends

Last week I finally returned to our local Star Wars: X-Wing club after a break of 2 years! That's a long time to be away from the game and I was more than a little rusty. Moreover, the game is currently going through a period of turmoil since Asmodee transferred it from from Fantasy Flight Games to little known Atomic Mass Games, who have seriously rattled many of the fans with some pretty extensive changes coupled with some clumsy PR. One of the biggest changes is to list-building, which now strongly favours named pilots kitted out with lots of upgrades. So my swarm of 5 generic X-Wings that I proudly took along was swimming clean against the tide, and was punished accordingly.

Back in 2017 I wrote a post wishing that FFG would introduce scenarios into X-Wing to relieve the monotony of endless death-matches. Well AMG have listened to my advice (haha!) and made scenarios central to their vision of the game's future, not as an option for casual play, but as the core structure of tournament play. Well my experience of the new scenarios amounts to a grand total of one play, but I have to say I'm not impressed so far. The idea of the scenario was to collect crates of "supplies" which had been carelessly left floating around in space. As someone quipped, it's not so much Star Wars as Star Garbage Collection. I admit I played badly – got so carried away with the idea of shooting up the other side's ships that I forgot to use my X-Wings as zero-G pickup trucks, but... isn't the pew pew shooting the whole point of the game? I'm no longer anywhere near being a hardcore fan of this game, so my opinion does not carry much weight, but the scenarios we have seen so far just seem a bit lame. I hope AMG will quickly develop some  scenarios with a bit more bite.

Monday, February 14, 2022

Time of Crisis

Actually not that much of a crisis.
I've been playing Time of Crisis solo against the bot from the Iron and Rust expansion. The bot is clever in the way that it abstracts the deckbuilding, so you are not fiddling with a deck and hand of cards for each AI player, which would be a pain in the neck. However, in the way that many of these bots work, it has a priority list of actions that you have to work your way down every turn, and the wording of this list is both expansive and sometimes unclear. However, I got the hang of it after a few repetitions, and had a fun game. My AI opponent was Gordian III whom I beat by a wide margin. I hope I was playing it right! I got Emperor fairly early in the game, and Gordian took a long time getting organised to challenge me. I wonder if one of the others would play more aggressively.

Shades of a classic

Marc Reichardt's recent article over on There Will Be Games, The Question of Consumption, hit a nerve for me, especially this sentence: "If it brings someone more joy to have Root and all its expansions sitting on a shelf in pristine condition, rather than actually on a table being used by them and their friends, hey, knock yourself out." This is me in fact – I do indeed have Root and all its expansions sitting on my shelf unused, with more to come via Kickstarter. However, this is not a situation that brings me joy, so I have made a start on actually learning and playing the expansions. Over the last few days I have played a couple of 3-way solo games with the aim of learning the Riverfolk company. In both games they came in a distant third against the Cats (who won both times) and the Alliance. The Riverfolk are very different, and playing them solo it is difficult to get a realistic sense of the trading that is central to their distinctive character. This week I plan to try them again against the Cat and Alliance bots, this time using the updates from the Better Bot Project which allow the bots to buy Riverfolk services.

This is what money looks like.
Anyway, when I was playing the Riverfolk Company I got into the habit of placing warrior pieces on their board face down, to indicate that they are functioning as currency. And this reminded me of a similar situation in Civilization where the playing pieces have two faces – one represents potential population, and the other face represents currency which can be used to help buy civilization cards. But you have to be careful – if either face starts to dominate you can run into trouble. If you can't pay your taxes (2 population tokens per city converted into currency) you suffer a Revolt, or if you run out of population pieces then you can't expand on the map. This is reminiscent of the way the Riverfolk's economy works – too many of your own pieces in Funds restricts your presence on the map. But not enough Funds and you won't be able to take the actions you want to. I wonder if Cole Wehrle was thinking about Civilization when he designed the Riverfolk Company?

On the shoulders of giants?

Tuesday, February 08, 2022

The past is another country

Blogger informs me that nimrods boasts 1,482 posts! Reading back over my past writings is a bit cringe-making, actually. Many of my attempts at jokiness come across as a bit silly. My comments on politics and current affairs seem naive or derivative, and don't really belong in a blog which is supposedly about board games (I feel especially ashamed when I look back at my comments on the so-called war on terror.) Likewise my occasional attempts at proselytising. Then even worse, there are occasional phrases which strike me now as unacceptably sexist. (Thankfully I haven't encountered anything racist or homophobic – yet!) As I come across such stuff I am feeling free to revise or excise as appropriate; I don't feel any obligation to preserve my words as originally written.

On the other hand, the short session reports scattered through the blog's early years are a really enjoyable trip down memory lane for me, recalling many long-forgotten happy times around the game table. May there be many more such times to come!

Monday, February 07, 2022

Blogging about board games since 2001

My very first entry on nimrods was posted on Thursday, April 19, 2001. Two posts actually – the first was a session report on a weekend-long play of Krieg! with my wargaming buddies Dave and Nick. We actually played it twice; I guess I had more stamina back then! The second post expressed worry that my games collection was overflowing the available shelf space, and shared a list of candidates for disposal. Some things never change – I recently posted a very similar entry on Instagram!

Nimrods was actually a very early entry into the board game blogging field. In fact I don't actually know of an earlier one. Mikko Saari started his excellent GameBlog in August 2002. Chris Farrell started blogging around that time, I'm not sure exactly when. So it's possible I was the first! However, unlike Mikko and Chris there has been a lengthy hiatus in my blogging career. My posting frequency slowed down a lot from 2007 onwards, and completely dried up by 2011. When I started blogging it was partly as a distraction from the boredom I was feeling with my career. However, in 2007 I made a new start, with a masters degree in neuroscience at King's College London followed by a PhD at University College London and a post-doc at Oxford. Neuroscience was pretty well all-consuming, and didn't leave much space for blogging. But I retired last year, and so have a little more free time and energy. So perhaps nimrods will come back to life. Let's see.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The wayward genius of Phil Eklund

I've just been playing Pax Renaissance, the latest masterwork from Phil Eklund at Sierra Madre games, playing it through solo to get the hang of the rules, and what an experience it has been! Deeply immersive, intriguing, satisfying, full of historical interest. Best of all, like all Phil's games, it is a game of ideas, the polar opposite to the idea-free mechanism-driven designs that dominate Euro-gaming, or indeed the high-fantasy miniature-bloated big boxes that Kickstarter regularly produces.

As you can see, I'm a bit of a fan of Phil Eklund games. And this isn't even my whole collection. I've just said that a big part of their appeal for me is that his games are games of ideas. They give you something to think about. That doesn't mean that his ideas are necessarily very palatable. For example, Phil seems to be some sort of American libertarian. I'm all in favour of personal liberty, but the Ayn Rand style libertarianism that Phil seems to champion is more about liberty for corporations. The entrepreneurial spirit of capitalism operating in free markets is the great driver of human progress. At least that is what the rule booklet for Pax Renaissance tells me. My response to that is – tell that to the people in Bhopal. Pax Porfiriana, Phil's epic game of the Mexican revolution, teaches us that the world is divided into makers and takers, in other words taxation is simply extracting money with menaces. I prefer to think of taxation as a (very imperfect) common purse, to which we all contribute for the common good. Bios Megafauna, Phil's simply magnificent game about the last 250 million years of evolution, has a throwaway line in the rules about mankind's heroic efforts to avoid the next "snowball earth" by digging up and burning as much fossil fuel as possible. So much for the scientific consensus on climate change.

But I don't really mind all that. The great thing is that Phil Eklund reads widely and deeply, and builds his often heterodox conclusions into the structure of his truly excellent games. Giving me not only something great to play, but some truly interesting ideas to chew over and disagree with. Give me that over the latest idea-free Euro-deckbuilder any day.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

A couple more thoughts on X-Wing fatigue

My gaming background is in board wargames, I was a teenager back in the heyday of Avalon Hill and SPI, and more recently I've played a lot of GMT or Columbia ar MMP wargames. In a typical board wargame you will get, as well as the main event, a handful of usually smaller scenarios. These specify starting positions and order of battle – a list of exactly which units each side gets to play with – and victory conditons, special rules etc. In a good quality game each scenario will have been carefully playtested to make sure it is more or less balanced, so that given players of equal ability victory will go to either side roughly the same number of times. So for example Up Front, one of the the finest wargames I have ever come across, has a dozen or so scenarios printed on the back page of the rule book. Each one is a little gem of compression, specifying the exact composition of your squad and their weapons, the setup conditions, the kind of terrain you are likely to encounter, and the victory conditions. Each one (remember this was back in the golden age of Avalon Hill when they had big print runs and plenty of resources) was thoroughly polished and playtested, so you could be sure you were getting into a fair fight with your opponent.

Star Wars: X-Wing in contrast went for a points-based build-your-own-squad approach. I can understand why, after all many people thoroughly enjoy the meta-game of squad building, the obsessive poring over lists which can fill the fan's leisure hours (and some of his working hours too!) But the price of this is a certain rock-paper-scissors flavour to one's encounters down at the local club. Your obsessed-over squad is quite likely to meet an opposing squad which simply steamrollers yours, with no possibility of playing skill or luck rescuing what is from the start a hopeless situation.

Interestingly, even Up Front, which I am holding up as a shining example of balanced scenario design, gives every personnel and weapon card a points value, so points-based DIY scenarios are very much possible, and were a lot of fun whenever I tried it, back in the nineties when I was playing a lot of Up Front.

Stll, it would be nice to see FFG produce some proper balanced and playtested scenarios. I think it's unlikely, the current structure of the game with numerous upgrade packs marketed as single (or sometimes pairs of) ships, would make it difficult.  The missions are a step in that direction, but you are still choosing your forces on points value, so the meta-game intrudes even here.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

X-Wing Fatigue

I think I need a break from Star Wars: X-Wing.

I've been playing for about 15 months now, benefitting from the regular group that meets every Wednesday at Thirsty Meeples in Oxford. Great group of friendly guys ( and yes it is 95% guys), I've really enjoyed learning the game, building up my collection of rebel space ships (including 2 yes 2 Millenium Falcons!), reading the blogs, watching the matches on YouTube, listening to the podcasts, and even going to a few tournaments.

But... the last 3 weeks, taking a beating in every single game, from squads with such complicated shenanigans that I have no idea why you get to reroll that attack a third time! OK so I need to fly better and perhaps I'm not putting the hours into understanding this game and the multitude of upgrades and pilots available, but I dunno... I think I just need a break. Maybe only a short break, I'll probably be back with my tail wagging in a week or two. But for now, I think I want to think about something else. Maybe StarFarers of Catan.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

So I finally got to play "High Frontier" on Saturday. I persuaded Nick Simon and Iain to come over to Wood Green for a Big Games Day, and spent weeks preparing for the big day by studying the rules over and over.

It was a partial success I would say. It took an awful long time - 6.5 to 7 hours I would guess altogether. I was the only one who had read the rules, so the first few hours I had to answer a LOT of rules questions for every turn. I felt like I was planning everyone's missions at one point! It's not that it's a complicated game - every one of us has mastered more complicated games - but it's unfamiliar, so not much in the way of conceptual landmarks.

Having said that - I loved it! Such a fascinating game, the time just flew by for me. I did very poorly, possibly because I was so busy answering rules questions that I didn't have time to think very clearly about what I was doing. Towards the end I did make some good progress claiming asteroids with a 4.1/3 thruster and a raygun, but too late to get back into the running.

Simon and Nick both seemed to enjoy it too, both expressing a willingness to play again. But Iain, having enjoyed the first few hours, seemed to lose the will to live a few times when he was trying to figure out how to organise his next mission. He won by a good margin (lots of glory points), but his final verdict on the game was "overwrought", "a prog-rock game"! So I don't anticipate persuading Iain to play it again any time soon.

So, this is a fantastic game, but not for everyone. And I'm sure it can be played a lot quicker than we managed by even slightly experienced players. A serious contender for my top 10 list.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Civ

I'm spending Christmas with Sue's family in a luxury barn conversion buried in the snowy Herefordshire countryside. Even better, I've been playing Civilization with Sue's 12-year-old nephew Tom. We're using my old Gibson's edition, where the playing area for 2 players (Greece and Asia Minor) is helpfully colour-coded. The 2-player game is surprisingly challenging. Space is in short supply so Tom and I have been clashing for room regularly. We had an easy ride to start with, but then the calamities started coming thick and fast, and we are just emerging from a chaotic dark age of civil war, eruptions, epidemics and revolts. Love this game, still my number one.