Saturday, 28 May 2011

Offrandes - Ludonaute

This gaming session there were two games played, the first was Offrandes which I picked up at Essen last year. Designed by Cedric Lefebvre and produced by Ludonaute, it takes from 3-5 players and claims to play in 60 minutes, only having played it twice I think this can only be achieved with experienced players, it is aimed at age 10+.
Offrandes Box
The box contains 3 separate playing boards, a quantity of cash, a number of discs in player colours, 7 auction cards and the best bit – lots of wooden animals, namely chickens, pigs, goats, sheep and cows. The rules are clearly written with examples to help. The theme of the game, if not already guessed, is that the people of Greece in an effort to fend off a plague which is devastating their cities are offering sacrifices to the Gods. It is the player who gains the most points in the game that wins.
The playing boards
The game is played in a series of rounds. In each round every player runs a number of auctions after which corruption takes place, then points are awarded for prayer and each player may make a single sacrifice at an altar gaining further points. The game ends when all altars have a sacrifice or someone gains 100 points, at which point game end bonuses are added. As a brief aside for the purists I have missed out a few of the “if and but”/minor rules, so no complaints there please.
Rule book
There are seven jobs up for grabs which are dealt with by way of auction. The auction process was difficult to get to grips with when I initially read it and equally difficult to explain on the two occasions I have introduced other players to the game, however saying that, after everyone has completed their first round of auctions it all seems so simple and the games have ran smoothly; so feel free not to understand the rest of this paragraph. In short the first player chooses 2 of the jobs for auction and makes an initial bid, if another player is the winner than the first player chooses a second pair to auction off, the winner of the first pair cannot bid. If again another player wins he gets to auction off a third pair in which the previous 2 winners cannot bid. If the first player wins any pair he puts up for auction, then his run of auctions ends at that moment and no further pairs are put up for bidding; all the jobs are collected together and the second player then runs some auctions. This continues until all players have run some auctions. A player can choose to forgo their run of auctions and just pass the job stack on. Now perhaps is the time to explain that money is tight, and at times, very tight. Each round after the sacrifices you get an income of 10 Drachmae, this must last you all the auctions run by all the players this round, the good news is that you can carry money over between rounds but there is a maximum holding of 25.

Drachmae and start token
When a player has run his set of auctions all players get to move their markers up the scale of the two jobs they obtained, before handing back the tiles to go to the next player to run his auctions. So what are these jobs, the first is the peasant from whom you take the animals, the higher up his scale the better the type of animal you obtain. The water carrier purifies the animal and the flower carrier adorns the chosen animal type. The lowest on these two scales dictates how many animals get sacrificed. The Temple Guardian allows you to sacrifice at a higher level of altar, the Priestess scale is where you pray for additional victory points during the sacrifice phase. The Briber allows you to corrupt a player whose token is lower than yours on the Soldier scale.
The Jobs for auction

After all the auctions, players have moved their tokens up the various scales, now the Briber takes effect, when you corrupt another player you get to move their token down one space on a scale and you move yours up one. This may sound devastating for the victim, however the amount of corruption in the game is low due to the Soldier which provides protection, and most of the time where it does take place the corrupter usually falls victim to another player and often their own victim, thus balancing out the corruption they did themselves.
Soldier and Briber
Victory points are now obtained from the Priestess, and then in player order everyone may make one sacrifice. They take the animal(s) as dictated by the Peasant, Water and Flower carriers and place at an alter level or lower than their Temple Guardian token. They get points equal to their sacrifice rating. You leave a player token with the sacrifice as altars score bonus points at game end. You may replace another’s sacrifice at an altar, provided your sacrifice is different and of an equal or greater value than the one already there. After sacrifices, the turn marker moves on, cash given out and you start again until game end conditions are met, when you get the altar value of all the sacrifices you have remaining at altars.
Altar Board

So how does the game play? After the initial round of bidding where players get to grips with the auction system, it runs very smoothly and various nuances within the game system become apparent. The choice of jobs you put up for auction, and who wants what jobs become quite important; the last player in a round to run an auction has more control as cash is limited by then; you can lock out people from auctions due to cash, and if an auctioneer wins their own first auction they will be the only one to advance tokens that phase. My advice to this particular group of novices was to look to bid a maximum of around 3 Drachma, so the very first pairing went to 3 Drachma and I talked through the various possibilities saying that at this stage a bid of 4 was stupid and a bid of 5 suicidal; it was only a few turns later that I made a bid of 7 and the mocking began! One of the players tried hoarding his money to gain greater control in auctions, this cost him dearly in that he was not advancing any tokens and then in the later auctions he just ended up paying more as he was pushed up in the bidding. The net effect was his tokens were now behind the other players. It is interesting to note though that a holding of just a few drachma more than other players can be very useful. Another player due to circumstances got hit with corruption in the first 2 turns without being able to defend, normally this would not have had a lasting effect, but in a game of first time players, recovery was a little longer and she fell too far behind to catch up. So as the most experienced player did I win? Not by a long shot. I was neck and neck with Alan throughout the sacrificing stages and was even sacrificing a better class of animal, to edge slightly ahead; however Alan’s sacrifices were at a better class of altar than mine and I lost heavily in the bonus point stage at the end, gaining only 40 points to Alan’s 75.
Animals in close up

It was an enjoyable game and all players said they would be happy to play it again. I myself like the game a lot. The underlying subtleties of doing certain things at the right time keep you thinking throughout the game and the interaction of current token positions with jobs put up for auction will make every game different, and to top it off it comes with loads of wooden animals. Fantastic!
Loads of wooden animals

The second game we played was Kingsburg from Stratelibri, this game is well thought of in gaming circles and there are enough reviews out there for me to keep this one short and sweet. A brief overview of the game is that there are 5 game years over which you try to accumulate the most victory points. Each game year is split into the four seasons; in each of the first 3 seasons you get to roll a set of dice, place these dice on the playing board, gather resources based upon your selection and then use those resources to build one building. In the fourth season there is an attack which every player must defend against. Success brings bonuses, defeat results in losses.
Kingsburg Box

The resource spaces may include one or more of the following resources/options :-
Gold, Wood, Stone, A Good of choice, Combat Bonus, A +2 Chit (which can be used to boost a die roll) , A Victory Point, and Advance information of the enemy to be fought in the last season. Most of the victory points you gain will be from the buildings you build, however these also provide in-game benefits such as combat bonuses, die rolling bonuses or boost to Victory Points when doing certain things.

During the game you will build about half of the buildings, so early choices have to be made as certain advanced buildings cannot be built until the relevant minor building has been built.This game again was new to the group, however the basic rules were easier to explain and the building/crib sheet is an excellent player aid. Despite not finishing until we all had a good game and everyone was happy for a revisit on another occasion. Gary won the game and it pays homage to his capacity for new information that this was the third new game that evening, that I had taught him the rules to. The first being Antiquity by Splotter, as we were soon to be playing it by post.This had taken the first hour of the evening as I had had to run a dummy game through the first few turns to fully explain the interaction of the mechanics. A review for another day.

Anyway, back to Kingsburg, this will be a favourite for a while with its very well balanced mechanism, playing equally well with anywhere between 2 and 5 players. I am hoping to pick up the expansion set for it soon, I will do a full review of this game then.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Mystery of the Abbey - Days of Wonder

This is more of a game review than a game session summary. Only managed to play one game last night and that was Mystery of the Abbey by Bruno Faidutti & Serge Laget, it is produced by Days of Wonder. Six of us sat down to play, the game is recommended for 3-6 players aged 8+ with a playing time of 30-60 minutes.

The unnecessarily Deep Box
First the Box, it measures 29.5cm x 29.5cm x 7cm within which there is nothing but air in the bottom half of the box; over-packaged? Certainly, which is pain to those of us with an eye on shelf space. The board depicts an Abbey with a central courtyard split into 4 zones and various rooms around the edge.

The Board
The rest of the contents are shown below; the rules are clearly written as are the crib sheets which are very useful if not essential, in game play.

Various Decks of Cards, Pawns, Crib Sheets, Dice and Bell
When reading the rules I felt the game was an elaborate form of Cluedo crossed with Guess Who. The game setting is an Abbey within whose walls a monk has been murdered. We as players, have to deduce the murderer. There are 24 suspect cards, one of which at random is placed under the board, the others are dealt out evenly to players, with the remainder placed in the Parlour, each card has 8 different traits, i.e. which order they belong to, their rank, bearded or clean shaven, cowled or uncowled, thin or fat. During the game you can make a delaration that the suspect has a specific trait for which you gain positive points if correct and negative if wrong. Successfully naming the suspect also gets positive points.

The Rule Booklet
The play is simple, on your turn you must move either 1 or 2 spaces (3 in a 6 player game), you may then ask a question of any other player in that space, they can either choose to not answer, or they can answer for which they can then ask you a question in return. After this you get to interact with the room you are in. Some of the rooms have power cards namely the Library (one use only) and Scriptorium, also the Crypt has a double turn token (player holding limited to one). Whilst in others you get to take cards from other players hands, namely the player cells and the confessional, however if caught in a cell by the resident, you miss your next turn. Lastly the Parlour allows you to take a Suspect card from those left over after the deal, or if empty, to ask any player about 1 or 2 traits and they must show you a card that fits if they have it. Finally after every 4th turn (3 in a 6 player game) all playing pieces are returned to the chapel for Mass, a sort of game reset, an event card is turned over, and depending on the round, everyone passes a set number of cards to the player on their left.

So how did it go for us? As can be seen, there is a lot of card movement and it needs a good memory to keep track of where the cards you have already seen are, in fact in reality you can only really track cards between Masses. Conversely the card movement also ensures that the game does not drag by ensuring that eventually all suspect cards will be seen by most players. A couple of players felt limited by being only able to move 3 spaces (the longest journey is 8 spaces) however most players during play were able to reach a room and gain a benefit every turn – though it may not have been the room they wanted at that time. The power cards in the Scriptorium were on the whole weak, but seemed to help those players who collected them. The greatest imbalance I found was in the Library, other players who went there had the advantage of seeing up to 5 cards held by other players, whereas mine only permitted me a free guess at a trait, I was no better off information wise and I had little information upon which to base my guess.

What I have not covered yet is questioning other players, in a 6 player game this did create a level of dead time, if there was a lot of questions and answers, then it seemed like forever before your turn came round again, this was especially so if you got caught in another’s cell and had to miss your next turn. To be its most effective you had to plan a chain of questions (or chain your question to another players question earlier in the round) and ensure you got to ask them all before the next Mass moved all the cards on. Questioning someone on your right was likely to result in them remaining silent as they knew what cards you had from the last Mass.  Question phrasing was often important, however the answers did not often help (or that’s how I felt).

One of the Suspect cards
So how did we all do, Most players got down to the last 2 or 3 suspects when Joe made a successful accusation. I still had 9 on my sheet! So where did he go right and I go wrong. Joe made good use of the Scriptorium cards, pre-planned a lot of his moves and had structured questioning. I on the other hand was met with a fair few “no’s” to my questions, though to tell the truth they were just shots in the dark. I suffered from a bad Library card, I was also an early victim to thievery, so although I already had the information from those cards and thus no real loss other players also had that information in addition to their own.

Conclusion. It was an interesting game and played within the time, I felt I was a victim to the chaos of card movement, however I know there is more to the game than that and if I had gone to the right rooms at the right time then I would have fared a lot better, I still wouldn’t have won, but I would have had a better sense of achievement at the end. We had a few laughs and jokes during the game, but I don’t think it will get another airing with 6 players as there were times (due to the games structure rather than the players) when it dragged a bit. I would love to give it another go as a 4 player game where your turn comes round a bit quicker and you are more likely to be involved in someone else’s turn.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Just an introduction

This blog will be a record of my board games activity. It will also have a few reviews as I go along though feel free to take them with a pinch of salt, as a game played with one group will feel totally different when played with a different group. I may even give a list of house rules, these usually crop up to make a game more playable mainly because I misread the rules in the first place. I will also add the odd photo to make the Blog colourful.