Billabong Boardgamers
 

Billabong Boardgamers - July 13th, 1999

Present: Roger, Dey, Craig, Debbie, Tina, Doug, Janet, Alan, David, Bernie, Craig Mc., Donna, Julian

Previous session report

Doug Adams writes:

EXTRABLATT

I've searched for this game for what seems like years (it's only 2 years) and managed to snag a copy a few weeks back. On reading the rules it appeared the hunt was worthwhile, so I was eager to try it out. Roger, Janet and Craig Mc joined me as we went through the rules.

The idea of the game is each player takes on the role of an editor of a major newspaper. To win, you must achieve a higher circulation than the other players, and you do this in any combination of three tasks:

  • fill up your front page
  • earn bonuses for high coverage of up to 6 categories of news (sport, general, business, local, arts and politics).
  • scoop the other players by placing larger stories

The game is very elegant. A fax machine board contains up to 15 headlines at any one time. These headlines can be in any of the six categories, and there are three each of five headlines per category. This totals 90 headlines, which are mixed in with 14 clock/attack cards that drive the game towards the finish. Unfortunately the headlines are in German, therefore the puns are rather difficult to understand. "Gold for Ana Bolica" was one we all managed to see, but the one about the Pope/Vatican being good mothers/fathers required native German Bernie to explain it to us!

On a players turn they may take one headline and position it on their newspaper. A layout card, ranging from size 4 to size 20, is selected from a players stock and positioned with the headline on their board (i.e.. their newspaper). The players are committing to run that story at that size for the rest of the game. They may be able to make it larger later if they manage to get a photo to go with that story.

Another option on a players turn is to remove two headlines from the board, denying them to other players and possibly moving the game closer towards the end. How? Well, the fax machine board has to be refreshed whenever a column on the board is empty, and players may choose from a stock of headlines with, or without, clock cards in it. Clock cards advance time in this game, neatly providing an endgame trigger, as well as making stories more valuable. That is, the later in the game you commit them to press, the later the news and higher your final circulation (i.e.. total score).

The last option open to you is to attack rival newspapers, via choosing clock cards from the fax machine. Up to 7pm a successful attack will allow you to place escort agency ads. on rival papers layouts, positioned just so it totally destroys any plans they had! The escort ads are very amusing (well, Janet didn't think my choosing "Janette" for an ad. was amusing!), especially when I plonked a 12 size ad. for Angelo's services on Roger's paper!

The game ends when the last of the 12 clocks has been taken from the fax machine. Scoring is a bit fiddly, but basically it's for front page coverage (a special area that also doubles the value of stories there), coverage of each of the six categories of stories, and size of individual stories (a smaller story will always be removed if a larger like-story exists on a rival paper - the smaller story has been 'scooped').

So what happened? Well, again this is appears to be a wonderful Karl-Heinz Schmiel design (Die Macher, Was Sticht) where the design elements are really tight and little decisions have big consequences. Craig played the most carefully, and put some thought into his moves, while at the other end of the spectrum Doug self destructed with futile attacks as he learned what is good and not so good in this game.

Doug was first to commit to his front page area, trying to totally fill it up with red politics stories. Janet began creating a large political block on her paper and decided some nice escort agency ads. would look just fine in Doug's paper. Doug lost the attack, which gave Janet some extra turn chips and an ad. for "Janette" on Doug's paper. Doug was actually quite a victim in this game, losing 6 attacks out of seven attempts, which totally ruined his front page political layout, and made the rest of his paper look like an English tabloid!

Craig and Janet appeared to be getting through the game with a clean paper and I had Janet in the lead, when Craig started making inroads into the areas Janet was doing well in. Roger attacked Craig but forgot about the rule where a $1000 cheque (the mechanism for resolving attacks) defeats a $12000 cheque, and that destroyed Roger's paper.

Craig was looking good and decided to end the game as soon as possible. The game went one more round, which Janet and Doug used to pick up some easy points, before Craig did a "remove" turn to take the last clock card off the fax machine (I've since discovered this is illegal, you cannot remove clocks via the "remove" turn option - you may only remove headlines).

Scores:
Craig:
Front Page: 60
Most Politics: 60
2nd Local News: 30
Most Sport: 60
Stories: 360
Total circulation: 570,000 readers

Janet:
2nd Politics: 30
2nd Business: 30
Most General: 60
2nd Arts: 30
Stories: 290
Circulation: 440,000 readers

Roger:
320,000 readers (most arts, local, 2nd sport)

Doug:
300,000 readers (2nd front page, most arts, 2nd general)

Despite a hideous performance by myself, the game almost met 2 years of expectation for me. Karl-Heinz Schmiel has a great game here, perhaps a bit prone to over-analysis, but still a winner. The theme really sits well on this one, you feel like a media baron! Doug's rating: 8

UNION PACIFIC

Roger will be providing a report on his new arrival, I'll just pen some thoughts on the differences between this and it's daddy, Airlines.

  • 1 starting share: better
  • starting trains on the board: better
  • no route numbers on the board/cards: much better
  • reduced flight route/track types: better, but they are a bit hard to distinguish in Union Pacific
  • ability to play a single of two types of shares: much better
  • Wertung distribution: much better
  • components: much better
  • Union Pacific shares: wow, hand management! The main reason I now have to upgrade my Airlines!
  • Railway theme: seems to work better than an airline theme.

Roger Smith writes:

Doug: $123 mil
Craig Mc: $112 mil
Roger: $102 mil
Janet: $86 mil

The Extrablatt line-up moved straight on to UP. Doug has already posted a few thoughts on this in a prior message. This was a new game for all of us: my FunAgain order had in fact only arrived that afternoon. Doug and Janet are Airlines veterans whereas I had only played once before and Craig Mc had never played. I found it similar in style to Stimmt So! and Get the Goods, although it is obviously more involving. There was some initial confusion with a couple of the card colours: Craig Mc had been happily placing brown trains on the board which he assumed matched the [red] cards he was holding! I had some problem distinguishing tracks. At one stage I tried to place a yellow train and Doug pointed out to me that it was the wrong track. Unfortunately the same applied for two previous trains I'd played... A solid game with a tight system.

Roger's rating: 7.5

NEIGHBOURS

David writes:

Tucked under my arm was "Neighbors" (The NEW Family Board Game) from M&P Distributors of Barnegat, New Jersey.

Mark J. Bronkowski of M&P Distributors, the inventor of the game, sent me a free copy of the game for Billabong to play. Given the popularity of the Australian TV show "Neighbours" both here in Australia and in the United Kingdom, I was interested to try out the game. I assume, by the way, that Americans would not have heard of the TV show?

I quickly ran through the rules, and I think it became clear that this wasn't the usual fare for Billabong. It sounded very much like a roll-the-die-and-move type game with little effective decision-making for the player.

The game comes in the long, flat Monopoly-style box. The 3-fold map depicts a circular "street" with 6 coloured houses numbered 1 to 6 distributed evenly around the street. These are the player houses, assigned at game start by a die-roll. In between the player houses are other spaces such as "S" (Slob), "C" (Clean), Mischief Night, Recycle, Lose A Turn, Pot Luck, Wild, Sue Neighbour! and Start. There are 6 coloured heads (to match the player's houses), money in 10/20/50/100 bill denominations, 10 Slumrunner cards and 50 Slob cards. Slob cards have values from 10 to 70 on them and say things like "Overgrown grass and weeds", or "Junk Vehicles In Yard". Starred (*) cards don't count against you when a round ends. The rules are brief and are printed on the game-box insert.

The idea of the game is to be a clean/good neighbour and hence become the wealthiest neighbour on the block. I'm not convinced that one follows from the other. Anyway, you play a number of rounds until one or more players go bankrupt, with a round ending when a play accumulates 2 Slumrunner cards or one player is out of Slob cards. Each round consists of a number of player turns. Each turn a player rolls the die, moves their piece, and follows the instructions for that type of space. I don't intend to go into them all, but it largely consists of gaining and losing Slob cards (often at random, picked from the hand). Passing or landing on the Start space, for example, allows you to ditch a Slob card. Potluck requires another die-roll with quite varied results. Sue Neighbour! allows you to sue a player with your highest, non-starred, Slob card. The player you sue (determined by die-roll) can counter-suit if they have a card of the same or higher value.

Accumulating 10 Slob cards gives an additional penalty of a Slumrunner card (with a $100 penalty at round end) and you can't gain money or lose Slob cards for the round. Nor can you get rid of a Slumrunner during a round.

There were two fairly silly rules. Nosey Neighbour is when one play tells another how to play their turn (get 5 Slob cards). Assault Charge is when you pick up another player's piece by mistake (roll a die and pay 10 times that to that player).

When a round ends, the player with the most Slob cards pays the player who went out the value of his Slob cards. The other player(s) pay the value of their Slob cards to the bank.

By mutual consent, we only played for one round and Alan has the scores. I won, but there was little skill involved. I didn't enjoy it at all and I won't play it again. Nor would I recommend to anyone, adult or child.

Having designed my own boardgame, due out this month, I was wary about reviewing a game received directly from the designer. However, I will stand by my comments and let my own game stand or fall on its own merits. I'd had 3 emails pressing for our response to the game, so here it is.

Dey writes:

David had recently received a signed copy of Neighbors from its US-based designer and had been asked to play the game and provide some feedback. So when he, Alan and I found ourselves between two four player games, we decided to give it a quick (and indeed it turned out to be very quick) whirl. We've each been asked to provide our comments to be passed on to the author.

I'll begin by saying that the one game that had turned me off the idea that boardgames could ever be worth spending time on was Monopoly. Until recently, Monopoly and other long-winded (though usually slightly more imaginative) games were my entire experience of boardgames. So it was with some trepidation that I initially agreed to give boardgames a go at Billabong (almost a year ago now). I'm certainly glad Neighbors didn't turn up on my first night.

This is a game with nothing going for it. It has a classic (and I use that word very loosely) Monopoly feel to it--the basic mechanism is the movement of a playing piece around a board as determined by a die throw. Although properties aren't bought and sold, players begin with and aim to increase their stash of, Monopoly-like money. There's a replica of the 'passing go' event and the 'free parking' cash collection, and although properties aren't bought and sold, each player owns a property on the board and benefits when another player lands on it. Turns are fairly quick and appear to be dominated by the luck of the die roll than the development of a playing strategy.

We played one round and agreed unanimously to end the game there. I doubt we'll ever see it again at Billabong, unless David goes round the twist or wants to bore us all silly.

Alan Stewart writes

David (Blue = 2) 520
Alan (Red = 5) 430
Dey (Yellow = 6) 240

Only one round of this game was played.

Each player started with $500.

Money status through course of game:
Alan - paid $70 to David at end of round ($500-$70=$430)
David - paid $50 to `pot luck'(?), received $70 from Alan ($500-$50+$70=$520)
Dey - received $50 from `pot luck', received $100 from `pot luck' (rolled a 6), had to pay $320 to `pot luck' (rolled a 4?), paid the bank $90 at end of round ($500+$50+$100-$320-$90=$240)

It was really only a dice rolling game. The only choices I was faced with were which card from my hand to :

  • give to someone else
  • discard to the garbage pile
The only other choice which came up was for David, who had to decide whether to `sue' someone or not.

As we hadn't looked through the Slob Card deck beforehand, no one knew which was the highest card possible, and no one was sued. The person with the highest value card wins when being sued. (During the round the highest value card I received was a 50. Dey had a 100 in her hand at the end. Dey also had a `star' card which reduced her required payout. I never saw such a card in the round. Looking through the Slob Card deck afterwards, there was one 100 card, one 70 card, and a couple of 50s and 40s.)

The round ended with David discarding his last Slob Card. I had 5 left (so had to pay David their value) while Dey had 4 (so had to pay the bank their value).

The closest anyone came to being a Slumrunner (ten cards in hand), was Dey who had 8 cards at one point.

The round took about 40 minutes including reading the rules. The rules covered any questions and possibilities we came up with during the game.

Given such limited action choices throughout the round, there didn't seem much point in continuing the game.

It could probably be played on automatic using an algorithm such as "Roll the dice. Move. Get rid of your highest value card if possible."

IGEL AGERN

Game 1:
Alan (red) 2 (-2 rows out)
Dey (yellow) 2 (-2 rows out)
David (blue) 3

Game 2:
Alan (red) 2 (-1 row out)
Dey (yellow) 2 (-2 rows out)
Craig (blue ) 3

The first game (standard rules) was very close, with all players having 2 hedgehogs safely home and a third only two rows from home. But the rolls went David's way and he won.

The second game (wrap around variant) was also very close. I had a 50/50 chance to win, but actually rolled a 1 which put Craig's hedgehog across the line! Dey was the only one who used the wrap around factor, and I realised I should have used it towards the end to catch Craig's hedgehog in the 1 column.

MU

Dey, Craig, Alan, Tina, Debbie.

A first time for Tina and Debbie (I think), but they picked it up pretty quickly. Veteran trick taking game players!

The game started out fairly slowly, with the first 3 bids all losing. Then two successful bids, another losing bid, and finally two successful bids.

In this game I ended up Chief more than I had planned. When dealt 5 of one colour, I was determined to make it minor or major trump. But I never had the 9 of that suit, and Tina and Debbie tended to play 9,9 or 9,8 as their first bids and I could never take Vice off them. That left the only possibility of Chief. Of course when they both had 9s on the table, it was a good chance on of them would be Vice, and the other my partner.

Alan: 25 10 26 90 95 110 182 240
Dey: 4 29 34 38 68 98 167 229
Tina: 26 68 83 91 100 124 132 132
Debbie: -16 -1 8 54 121 121 124 131
Craig: 31 39 59 72 86 87 95 108

MONEY

Craig: 710
Dey: 580
Alan: 480

One round to end the night while waiting for other games to finish.

Craig was the one who was after two sets of money, and it paid off. Dey and I got an extra bonus, but not two sets greater than $200 worth.

David writes:

RA

Julian, Bernie, David and Dey

I'd only played this once before, and I believe it was a first for Julian. I got off to a modest start scoring about, but the round was over quickly so a modest start was good enough. Donna scored minus 2, Julian and Bernie not much. Julian did pick up some good potential with a few monuments after filling the row at the end of the round (we'd all gone out) and he and I shared the Pharaoh bonus.

Round Two wasn't kind for Julian but was a disaster for Bernie. Bernie had the 1, 2 and 5! Needless to say he invoked Ra as early as possible to ensure that if he was going to get small hauls then so would we. I managed the Pharaoh bonus alone, Bernie the Pharaoh penalty. Julian and Donna steadily accumulated monuments. The round ended with everyone out except me, and 3 Ra spaces. I filled the row and picked up a bonus for 3 civilisation tokens and other scoring tokens.

Round Three saw the usual focus on refining those monument sets and jockeying for position with the bidding blocks. Donna romped home with the bidding block bonus (29), and the rest of us were equal on 21 so were penalised minus 5. Again I alone got the Pharaoh bonus. Both Donna and Julian scored big bonuses for variety of monuments and Julian for sets. I got 2 sets, I think Bernie got 1. A dismal game for Bernie ended with a final disaster as he attempted to replicate Julian's and my good fortune by trying to fill the row whilst the last one left in the bidding. The sun set too rapidly for Bernie and he got nothing.

Julian seemed impressed with the game, and its rapidly becoming a favourite with me, too.

David - 48
Julian - 40
Donna - 39
Bernie - 18

DAVID & GOLIATH

David & Julian (judging from our scores), Bernie & Donna.

I like this game, partly because the game "clicks" with me - NOT TONIGHT! Julian was the master in this his second (?) game, and first in a while. The first round was fairly even, and poor Bernie found himself a card short with 2 or 3 to play. We found the yellow 12 in the box, & decided (due to time running out) that he should use it and he won some useful cards.

I don't remember specifics from the other rounds, except Donna and Bernie adopted the "win lots" approach, Julian the "win little" approach, and I started to lose it. Still, Julian and Bernie were close after round 3 and Donna caught up in round 4.

Julian - 34 44 46 57 = 181
Bernie - 38 19 59 45 = 161
Donna - 42 35 28 56 = 161
David - 42 30 28 43 = 143

Like Alan Stewart (and Dey, too, I think), I enjoy trick-taking games and this one is different enough to want to own it.

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