Billabong Boardgamers - 8th August, 2000
Present: Doug, David, Torben, Debbie, Roger, Asher, Alan, Tina
Doug Adams writes:
On the night a rare tonado struck Melbourne, eight hardy gamers braved torrential rain to get in some new games. We welcomed Asher to the fold, a new member who stumbled across the website - another member assimilated. :) Torben, who alas returns to Copenhagen soon, earns the Bravery Award tonight for the mile swin through flash floods from the railway station.
David, Tina, Roger, Doug
A new game of Roger's that I've read little about, but what I have read has been uniformly positive. Each player controls a tribe of six dwarves that have to mine gems in specific colours to match contract cards. The dwarves are allocated to their tasks secretly - four of them are miners which mine gems in specific colour combinations, while the other two can be "silver" dwarves or "shadow" dwarves. These last two dwarf types have enhanced powers, the silver dwarves leading towards constructive play, while the shadow dwarves lean towards negative play.
The game is a good one. Each player has a contract to fill for a specific price, however each turn the contract fails to be completed, the price falls until after four turns it's worthless and the owner must pay a penalty. Obviously, the earlier you fill them the better. To accomplish this you allocate your dwarves behind a screen to try and accomplish this goal...and you never seem to have enough of the beggars!
There are a few quirks to get in the way of your goals however. You are capped to a twelve gem limit at the end of your turn, so you can't invest for the future to any great extent. Shadow dwarves have some nasty abilities to thwart your plans as well - robbery, removal of dwarves from the player's allocation card, causing the price of another player's contract to fall, etc.
If you complete a contract, your earn the bonus which is recorded on the Medici like scoring track. First player to 600 credits wins the game, otherwise the game ends when all the contracts have disappeared. A nice feature, each contract save the most lucrative, has a "power" on it that may be used once the contract is claimed. These range from earning bonus credits for sets to cancelling shadow dwarf actions.
Our game was an enjoyable one - a turn or two was all that was needed to iron out the mechanics and we all began churning out contracts with aplomb. Roger skipped out to the early lead courtesy of a 120 contract, so we all began picking on him a bit - via robberies, etc, with the shadow dwarves. This caused the scores to tighten up with Doug and David closing in on Roger by the midgame. Tina always seemed to be about 100 credits behind on the score track.
It was at about the hour mark that we ran into problems. David was holding a "shadow dwarf cancel" ability contract which seemed a powerful weapon. We didn't want to waste one of our own precious dwarves on David to draw his cancel ability out, which was a bit stupid, as David began a reign of shadow dwarvish terror. Doug's silver dwarf was removed from the "fill 1 job" slot six turns in a row via the "remove 2 dwarves" ability. Roger and Tina were also victims during the havoc caused by David, and the game seemed destined to be a stalemate (nobody was getting anywhere) when Roger discovered the "remove 2 dwarves" ability had to be from the same column as David's tyrannical shadow dwarf - meaning the "sell gems" and "fill 1 job" dwarves are always safe! Aaaargh - six turns down the drain! :)
During the "reign of terror", Roger had selected the "sell gems" action for the first time and hit upon a great strategy - he sold his entire stockholding to hurdle David's leading score marker and skip 50 points further on. It was then we realised just how powerful this could be, now we knew it was safe from removal!
With the contracts drying up, Doug and Roger chose "sell gems" on what was to be the final turn, and cashed in big time, Doug just edging out Roger by 10 credits. David was annoyed that he didn't sell off his stock holdings on the final turn, as it would have edged him closer to Tina.
Scores: Doug: 577 Roger: 567 Tina: 510 David: 470
Doug's rating: despite loathing it half way through having dwarf after dwarf removed by David, I now realise this was no fault of the game. I'm very keen to try an entire game with the correct rules. Very intriguing - a strong 7.
NICHT DIE BOHNE
David, Doug, Tina, Roger
I hope I have the title correct. Another new game of Roger's that is almost a trick taking game in depth. Fifteen cards in 4 suits are shuffled and dealt out. Each suit contains 1-10, 3 "minus" cards, a "2x" card and a "Nicht die Bohne" card. The idea is to collect cards in such combinations that they will total a positive score.
The 1-10 cards score their pip value; a minus card will turn the total negative, but another will turn it back positive again. The "2x" will double your total, while the "Nicht die Bohne" card will turn your score in that colour to zero - that could be handy if you were heavily negative!
Game play is interesting and it took me two hands to get used to it. The player leading to the "trick" plays a card face up, then the other players play face down then reveal simultaneously. The leader will claim one of the other three cards and keep it in their "bean field", for want of a better term. The person who had their card taken now chooses from the other two, and so on until the last player takes the card initially lead face up. The last player leads to the new trick.
Quirky this, but rather clever. If you *want* the lead card, you toss down something the leader doesn't want, so they won't claim your card and leave you in the running. If you don't want the lead card, throw the leader a big juicy carrot! Once I got used to this weird mechanic, I really began to enjoy the game. There is also some scope for "hit the leader" tactics.
I can't give details on game play, but highlights I remember were Roger at one stage with four negative piles; David had three piles scoring zero in the last hand; I went seemingly minus billions on hand 1 and was never in it, etc.
Doug's rating: another 7. May have to get one of these :)
Debbie Pickett writes:
Debbie, Alan, Torben, Asher
It was a night of new games at Billabong this week, with Silberzwerg and Nicht die Bohne at the other table, and Wongar and Castle at ours. We started with Wongar, which I'd wanted to try since hearing about it from Nürnberg this year. We ploughed into the rules (the ones on Brett & Board, and made a start.
Right away we got rules wrong about the scorpion cards, which meant that the game went veeeery slow at first. Asher picked up the mistake eventually and we decided that the scores were likely way off, and that we should just play the rest of the game to get the mechanisms right. By the end of the game we'd figured out those and were just starting to learn some of the strategies, after which the game was all over.
The scores evened out nicely after we got the scorpion rules right, and at one stage all four of us were in adjacent spots on the scoring track. Through luck I managed to be almost the only player present in a board space when a double-ancient-elder card popped up there, netting me a very healthy number of points, enabling me to hold on for a Not Really A Victory after the final bonuses were tallied.
I definitely want to try this game again, and unless I have seriously misjudged the game, I don't see what all the fuss is about with the game being broken. I put this game in the same category as a lot of the other Alan Moon creations, of light-hearted family fare with more than a modicum of luck.
No final scores (they weren't remotely correct), but I rate the game a 6 after a first half-playing, meaning that I'll gladly play it again, and possibly even suggest it.
Debbie, Alan, Torben, Asher
Being the international group that we are, it was no surprise that Castle turned up for the first time this week in not one but two languages. We decided to use my English edition rather than Doug's German one, since there was a lot of text and only half of us are fluent enough in German to read the cards on the fly.
At least we got the mechanics in this game correct, and after a quick explanation, which all understood instantly, we were underway.
The game has received quite a bit of talk lately, so I'll give a very basic rundown of the game. It's played on a six-by-six square grid, the outer edge of which forms the ramparts and towers of a castle, inside of which is the courtyard. Players receive a hand of cards and a personal draw deck which they try to completely play onto the grid. Each card has rules about where it has to be played, and what effects it has on the game when it is played. Most of the cards are unique, which on the down side means more reading to learn the cards, but on the up side gives a great deal of character to the game. There are some duplicates, namely the soldiers and the siege engines, between which there is a delightful sub-game. To protect players against stalemates, players can swap a card in the hand with a stack of cards face up off to one side (the exchange), hopefully a card that is more playable. The first player to get rid of all of his or her cards wins, which is hard when other players keep sending cards back from the table to the hand of the player who looks most like going out.
In our game, Torben picked up on the relative futility of playing cards early on, and collected his draw deck into his hand in short order. Asher and I almost played out the cards in our hands before going for the rest of the cards. Alan went for an in-between approach. By the time the game was well underway, there was a little pile of characters in one corner of the courtyard, protected by my (and then Asher's) priest (who himself was protected by a knight for a lot of the game). There was a little bit of sending back, and then suddenly there were four siege engines outside the castle and all of Alan's and my soldiers were sent back into our hands. It was almost certain that Asher would win by this stage, with only three cards - compared to Alan's seven or so. But a concerted effort by Alan and me, helped in part by inexperience on the part of the first-timers, brought the game back from the brink of ending, and there was a round where almost any one of us was close enough to win. In the end it was Torben who, by virtue of turn order, finally put us out of our misery.
Cards left at end of game:
My rating: Like most games, this one starts with a 6, but with not much chance of moving from that point. Games will probably tend to end up the same way, and there is always that horrible drag near the endgame as players try to delay the inevitable. The alternative is to insist that hand size is not revealed, but then the game could end very suddenly, removing a lot of the tension from the game. Still, a clever little game with nice artwork and good mechanisms.
Alan Stewart writes:
Players: Alan, David, Torben, Roger
A new game for Torben and Roger, while Alan and David had played it quite a while ago. A neat filler game, which took about 30 minutes including explaining the rules.
No-one managed to successfully complete their bid, and win the required number of tricks.
Both David and Torben sold all their cards, while Roger and Alan still had a reasonable pile unsold.
Alan managed to purchase a wild 4 each hand, and this helped win the game, though the scores were surprisingly close. David's 'buy cheap' strategy almost paid off. On the second hand all red cards turned up at first, and David's 2 meant he became the start player. Roger decided trumps in both hands.
Alan 57, David 56, Roger 51, Torben 49