I popped round to Ben’s last Sunday for a day of board games and BLTs.
There were three of us, then four of us and it was great fun!
We played Azul, Escape the Dark Castle, Wildlands and Terraforming Mars.
I also shout out excellent customer service and some of my RNG preferences.
Check out Ben’s Sneaky Meeples blog for an alternative perspective of this session.
I think I had the advantage on Sunday, as I hadn’t spent my Saturday hiking for ten miles – like Ben and Rachel had! I was also pretty well caffeinated, having only recently started drinking strong breakfast tea from Imperial Teas in Lincoln as well as being kept well supplied with Yorkshire Tea by my gracious hosts. I’m super-sensitive to caffeine, having pretty much stopped drinking it two decades ago!
Yep – I was ready and raring to play some games!
The reason I mention my opponents handicap/my advantage is that I somehow managed to win at Azul! I’d bought it ages ago as I’d heard great things, only for it to sit on my shelf unplayed for too long. Ben and I only played once before, I struggled with it and ended up selling it to him! I didn’t think it was my kind of game or that I’d get to play it often enough to warrant a space on my game’s shelf. However, I really got into it on Sunday, spotting patterns quickly and successfully getting my diagonals completed for decent points bonuses.
This is definitely one of those ‘you just have to play it to learn it’ games. the mechanics are so minimal that to describe it to someone falls a bit flat. I often find doing is learning and I think that’s especially true of this game.
Do I regret selling Azul? I don’t think so, as I’ll still get to play it every now and again, and I know it’s found a good home with Ben and Rachel whom I’m sure will bring it to table much more than I ever would. Although I can tempt my wife into playing board games every now and again, most of my gaming at home is solo, which is why my preferences lean towards things like FFG’s Arkham Files games – all of which can be played solo as they’re cooperative. Azul is definitely a game that requires opponents. I look forward to dabbling with this more when I visit Ben and Rachel in future.
Escape the Dark Castle
We moved on from tiling the flamboyant walls of the royal palace in Azul to what’s fast become a favourite for Ben and I: Escape the Dark Castle. I picked up the entire lot on Kickstarter and I’m so glad I did. The amount of content you get for your money is brilliant and means there’s tons of replayability in the box. We started off with the first expansion: Cult of the Death Knight with Rachel becoming marked for death and recruited by the cult, rolling the cult die instead of her own for a while. Other terrible things happening along the way which meant we were all driven mad by a screaming banshee whose screeches were so powerful, they turned our brains to mush! That wasn’t even the end of level boss, which we didn’t get anywhere near in this first game.
Rachel took to the game pretty much straight away too, so we played another. This time we faced off against the second expansion: Scourge of the Undead Queen. We just about managed to reach the boss this time, but died almost immediately! Still, this is a game that’s more about the journey than the destination – and the sticky ends you reach are deliciously written in the ‘Death Book’ which was another extra I got from the Kickstarter. It contains a graphic description of how each encounter card can bring about your demise – it’s a great narrative addition.
We played both games with expansion content: the extra character flaw cards (which give you a one-off bonus) as well as the curse cards which bring afflictions and finally the companions, which involve random encounters where you temporarily gain a party member. Even amongst the big stack of item cards, we managed to experience a bit of everything those had to offer. We had the Guard companion supporting us for a while – until we sacrificed him in combat, and we got a touch of the curses about us.
We also had the option to acquire the spell book which comes with its own die, but I declined in favour of a different item, as the only other time I tried casting spells it had backfired, drastically! I really hope Themeborne keep releasing content for this game (Escape the Dark Woods, maybe?) as it’s just so much fun!
And the customer service award goes to…
Just a quick note on how awesome Themborne’s customer service has been. Since receiving my Kickstarter I spotted two issues which needed fixing, and Themeborne really outdid themselves.
I first spotted I had no character die for the Cook. I actually had two Tailor dice instead – clearly a factory picking/packing error. I contacted Themeborne through the form on their website at around 5pm on a Saturday. Tom replied at ten to nine that same evening! No quibbles, just apologised, asked for my address and assured me he’d send the missing piece. My Baker die came through the mail several days later – brilliant!
Subsequently, when I came to play one of the expansions for the first time, I found one card had a scratch across it. Due to the monochromatic design and the scratch being on a large black area of the card, it was very pronounced. I was pretty sure I hadn’t caused this myself as the first thing I did when I got the cards was to sleeve them with the excellent matt-backed sleeves provided from the Kickstarter. I also hadn’t spotted it until this moment because I’d kept everything hidden when sleeving so as not to spoil the narrative surprise of each chapter card. I contacted Tom again (rather sheepishly I might add) wishing I’d spotted this before claiming for the die. Again – no push-back whatsoever, just a brief email exchange, apology and the replacement turned up a couple of days ago.
This is the exact kind of customer service that really takes the headache out of the problem, so big thanks to Tom and the rest of the Themborne team – not only for a great game, but for supporting their backers/customers too! 🙂
Next up was Wildlands, which Ben and I had played once before and enjoyed, but was completely new to Rachel. With its card-driven miniatures combat this is a departure from the economic strategy of Brass, Martin Wallace‘s other tabletop title I’m familiar with. It definitely plays better with three than it did with two. When Ben and I had played two-player a while ago, we struggled to see much board interaction in our game. This time around, there was much more combat as well as manoeuvring to avoid opponents. I really look forward to playing this four-player at some point to see how it gets even more tactical.
Now that’s random
When it comes to random number generators (RNG), there’s something I prefer about drawing shuffled cards instead of rolling dice. I keep trying to pin it down. There’s just something about randomly drawing a card that makes me feel less hard done by when it’s a bad draw. If I’ve rolled a die and it comes up bad, that just feels so much more disappointing to me for some reason! IT might be because usually drawing a card, even if it’s a bad card is actually useful in gameplay, whereas dice so often dictate whether you pass or fail, but not by how much.
I think almost the inverse is true for me too: that when rolling dice, if it comes up all sixes (if that was the desired target), that the sense of achievement is greater than drawing a good card. Maybe it’s just the games I’ve played that make me think this way and other peoples mileage will vary if they have experience of a different catalogue?
I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this, so hit my up in the comments if you’d like to share!
So you may recall from my previous write-up that the last time I played TM, that I struggle to keep up with this game. The sheer vastness of the choice daunts me somewhat and I end up struggling to define a core strategy; instead pinging off in any direction my cards dictate at a given moment. Well, this was my first four-player game, as with it being a family-favourite, Ben’s dad joined us. All my other games have been two-player, so it was good to see the game come to life with all four of us competing to bring blue and green to the red planet.
It certainly helped that it was only a few weeks since my last play and I could remember the basics, but I still found that even with the Venus Next expansion removed there’s still so much stuff to parse! We played with Colonies and Prelude included. Preludes is easy enough, but I completely ignored the colonies during the game so I didn’t get too distracted.
I did, however, once again make the mistake of focusing too much on my cards, leaving the terraforming of the board to my competitors. Other than the oceans I placed at the very start of the game, it was slim pickings for me in the late-game when I realised my mistake! I’m so used to card-driven games that those are what grab my attention more than anything else. I’ll learn one day, and said to Ben and Rachel that I’ll keep slogging away at this until the game ‘clicks’.
I was expecting this game to take longer than our two-player games as there are a lot more actions happening, but we actually completed it about an hour quicker than the previous game Ben and I had played. Interesting how it worked out that way! With 85+ plays under his belt, Ben won this one, and I don’t know how but I managed to come in second! All I can say is, “watch out” cos I may be slow at grasping this one, but I can see victory in my future! 🙂
So all in all a very fun day had by all. Ben’s also written up his own thoughts on his blog: Sneaky Meeples over on BGG. Check it out to see if he and I remember things the same! 😉
We’ve made a point of booking in some more weekends where we should be able to cross paths so we keep the momentum going. And I’m going to keep requesting Terraforming Mars so I can get the practise in!
So ’til next time: game on!