Hive Opening Strategy – the Arachnid Slingshot

I love Hive – which is a tile laying game of two unlikely teams of bugs swarming around, beside and on top of each other in an attempt to surround the other team’s Queen Bee first.  I usually describe it to newcomers as “like chess, but with insects – and no board”.

I have Hive Pocket, which is the travel version of this game with slightly smaller hexagonal tiles (which are still just as gorgeous) all wrapped up in a hard-to-miss but easy-to-carry orange drawstring bag.  My seven year old son is pretty amazing at this game and regularly beats me.  I am starting to suspect that he may be half-insect – or that I may be really bad at Hive.

During our summer holidays last year, one of my favourite memories was of my wife and I drinking cider in the beer garden outside our hotel, playing Hive while the kids ran around the playpark.  Summer evenings were made for this!

Anyway, over the many games I have played, I have developed an opening strategy of sorts.  It is fairly common ground that the Beetles are the most powerful pieces in the game, allowing you to trap other pieces in a “stack” underneath them  If you can ever manage to get one of your Beetles on top of your opponent’s Queen, then the game is certainly tipping in your favour.

This opening set of moves is designed to get your Beetle into the front line and heading for the opponent’s Queen in the shortest possible time.

As simple as that!  What do you think of this strategy?  Would it work for your own style of play?  Do you have any strategy tips of your own?  Please share below…

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A Valentine’s message for board gamers

We’ve been playing King of Tokyo
At each other’s throats forever
Baby, let’s play Pandemic
And die horribly together!

Lessons in Luck (1)

I’m a teacher. All I need are minds for moulding.

– Dewey Finn, School of Rock (2003)

Today, at my sons’ primary school was the first day of this year’s “golden time” sessions.  Parents are invited to volunteer to run various fun activities for the P4-P7 pupils at the school.  I am one such volunteer, and my fun activity is – of course – board games.  In fact, as the school has taken to describing it “Games you’ve never played before!”.

Jungle Speed
Jungle Speed

I had a group of four, and so we settled down to a game of Forbidden Island. One child (my son) had played before and it was new to another three. I explained the rules and we sat down to raid the island for treasures, not forgetting our wellie boots. The four of them: Messenger, Engineer, Explorer and Navigator gathered first, synchronised watches, and raced off to collect treasure cards.

Those cards were kind at first, with few “Waters Rise” cards appearing early in the game.  Perhaps this lulled the team into a false sense of security.  Then, like waterbuses, the flood cards started appearing in pairs and the water began pooling around the ankles of all four players.

The game (played at Novice level) ended with a success for the team in just over 30 mins.  Before that, the game had clearly started to exert its unique brand of tension on each of them.  Each “Waters Rise” card turned over to a groan, and each tile lost beneath the waves mourned like a deceased pet.  Frenzied pointing across the table and cries of “No, no, no. Move there, then flip that tile over! Move me with the helicopter!” were music to my ears.

25 mins to go and we have time for something else.  But what?

Having recently picked up this dexterity game in a local charity shop at the recommendation of another parent volunteer, I suggested this to my four pupils with the summary: “It’s a bit like snap”.  Having removed the arrow cards to simplify matters, I dealt the cards, instructed them on turning over cards in the correct manner and sat back to the game which followed.

It started slowly at first, but matching the pattern not the colour became easier as the game went on.  One player came within a single card of winning, only to have the totem grabbed from under them while in the throes of victory.  This game did not conclude, and victory was shared on a (very) rough card count between two players.

Now, what shall we play next week … ?

A Few Acres of Snow

2014-02-10 23.08.08A Few Acres of Snow is a deck-building war game for two players, designed by Martin Wallace (Discworld: Ankh-Morpork; London; Brass ). It is set in North America in the 1700s where the French are doing battle with the British for control. There are two ways to win: take your opponent’s capital by force, or amass more victory points through controlling key towns and villages.

Players start with a small deck, but can draft additional canoes for river transport, ships for naval battles, and trained soldiers from home.  Native Americans can also be recruited and sent to raid the enemies settlements. But as your deck gets bigger it gets more difficult to get the right cards at the right time, and your empire can seize up under the weight of trying to coordinate a diverse and spread out force. The mechanics are simple, but the choices vast, and the game captures the feeling of trying to manage what at first is a small and nimble colony, but can quickly become a bloated bureaucracy.

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I took charge of the British armies, but decided initially to take the more peaceful approach of building a strong economy and settling in the East.  Taking Detroit was my goal, but there was a long slog of canoeing down difficult-to-navigate rivers  and traversing lonely trails to get there. Meanwhile, the French raised funds by trading furs, strengthened their forces and also went west, across the a Great Lakes.

2014-02-10 21.36.50

My Rangers earned their keep with daring raids into French territory, bringing back trophies. However, the French consolidated their position on the coast, fortifying Halifax and threatening the British settlements round the coast. With support from home, I had nearly captured enough territory to declare a victory, when the French launched an assault on Pemaquid. With weak defenses and my resources committed inland, it was only a matter of time before the town fell, leaving Boston open to attack. An attempt to split the French forces by seiging Detroit only resulted in further British casualties. Despite the territory gained in the west, it wasn’t enough to avert a narrow French victory.

The combination of card-drafting and war game seems a little strange at first, but it works very well. There are lots of difficult decisions to be made, and tricky trade-offs between short-term gains and longer term strategy, making it great fun to play.  The British will be back!

TMNT Game – Optional Rules

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – the board game is an MB game TV tie-in with one of the many animated series that have been made in recent years.  I’ll begin with a confession – I love the turtles!  My first encounter with them was in TMNT the Role Playing Game, and I was hooked from that moment on.  Having said that, in the RPG you play as other mutant animals and so the actual turtle characters don’t get a look in (at least in the games we played).  I do fondly remember my mutant horse private investigator character.  I decided I could do without fingers in order to retain hooves with which to punch people (I’ll get the answers, someone else can do the paperwork!).

Anyway, I digress.  The game is for all those aged 6+ and is (as you’d expect) a pretty simple affair.  You get yourself from one end of the board to the other, beating up bad guys as you go, use a keycard or dynamite to bust into Shredder’s hideout and beat him up too.  Then it’s back to the sewers and pizza all round before you can say “Cowabunga!”.

The gameplay is heavily dice driven, with custom dice for combat – which works pretty well.  There is a custom d6 marked 2 to 7 for movement, but as you have to stop whenever you hit a new chit (which litter the board like .. um .. litter) that aspect is pretty meaningless.  The cartoon artwork is straight out of the Fox Kids series (and therefore awesome) and it plays out very quickly.

However, my younger son (aged 7) was not satisfied.  He insisted that we assign special powers to each character, and made me write them down.  Now, whenever we play, we use these rules.  He is definitely going to be a games designer when he grows up.  Marvel at the simplicity and balance to these powers.  See how they create additional interest and spice without descending into complexity or breaking the gameplay.  Wonder as … well – you get the picture.

So, in case you’re interested, and maybe even would like to try these rules for yourself, here they are …

Raphael: can reroll combat dice once per turn

Michelangelo: can use buildings as movement spaces

Donatello: can pass over one token without revealing it each turn (only if he is not in the sewers)

Leonardo: can turn over two tokens per turn – the one he’s standing on and one which is next to him

Shredder: can summon one bad guy token each turn to come and help him in battle

There you have it.  You’ll never look at this game the same way again. As the box says:

Time to apply some Turtle whacks!

You’re welcome, Internet!

Clash of Civilizations

Then came Isaiah the prophet unto king Hezekiah, and said unto him:
“What said these men? and from whence came they unto thee?”

And Hezekiah said:
“They are come from a far country, even from Babylon.”

And he said,
“What have they seen in thine house?”

And Hezekiah answered,
“All the things that are in mine house have they seen: there is nothing among my treasures that I have not shewed them.”

And Isaiah said unto Hezekiah,
“Hear the word of the Lord. Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store unto this day, shall be carried into Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith the Lord. And of thy sons that shall issue from thee, which thou shalt beget, shall they take away; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”

2 Kings 20:14-18

I start with this … observation … about the character and, let us say, track record of the Babylonian civilization for no particular reason.  And certainly not, because it throws any light whatsoever on the events which unfolded this weekend.

We gathered, the seven leaders of fledging stone age tribes which would – in the millennia which followed – develop into giants of civilizations which would stride across the known world like the very Colossus at the harbour in Rhodes.

My own experience of this game stretches back to my school days, when we spent many, many hours creating (and destroying) civilizations courtesy of Civilization and then Advanced Civilization, with their iconic jigsaw style boards.  I still have some of the components from that original set (which did not used to belong to me) including some of the “house rules” we liked to observe:

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Some decades passed, and then I met a man at an underground venue who told me he knew where I could score another game of Civ.  Foolishly, I took him up on the offer and the addiction (which had only been dormant – never extinct) resurfaced like a submarine with fake reactor problems from the Sean Connery film “The Hunt for Red October”.

I have a soft spot for Illyria due to its “Twelfth Night” connections and was third to choose – so managed to get the thinking man’s civilization.

CAPTAIN.
This is Illyria, lady.

VIOLA.
And what should I do in Illyria?

Twelfth Night, Act 1

What should I do in Illyria? It is a good question, Viola.

Mostly building cities and learning new skills – that’s what gets you victory points in this game.  Also exchanging an unusually erudite class of table banter.

Very early in the game, the Cretans took two cities in what I would ordinarily regard as Illyrian territory:

With the benefit of hindsight, I should not have allowed this to stand.  I was too generous, and ought to have protected my boundaries with more vigour.  It left me too hemmed in for building cities – I think I had a maximum of six the whole game.  Although a protracted conflict is to no-one’s benefit in this game, my neighbours to the East and West (Asia and Italia) were both understanding and co-operative.  I ought to have joined them in their sporadic assaults on Greater Crete.

Ah well.  It ended with a Cretan victory.  We did not complete the game to the end, but my 1,777 points were good enough for a mid-table finish (4/7).  Egypt were a close second, and had the game played to its conclusion may have even stolen the win.  Babylon had a solid collection of Civ advances, but a series of costly calamaties and conflicts hampered their development too much.

The second new era game also ended before completion.  It is an unapologetically long game, but a lot of the start of it feels like set-up.  Perhaps one solution would be to have a bronze-age set up – so that it plays to the end more quickly – maybe there’s something like this on BoardGameGeek?

DUKE.
“If music be the food of love, play on;”
Twelfth Night, Act 1

Space Cadets – damage report

I never wanted to go to space. I never sat gazing at the stars, yearning to be among them as they burned their stellar invitations in the night sky. There was always enough to explore here, on Earth…

Hmm. It’s easy to forget. There, on Earth, I should say. Estranged planet of my birth. Home. Despite the cards life had dealt me, it was still my home, it was – it is, still where I belong. And now, I’ll probably never see it again. So this is my fond farewell to a planet over three million years away – which may not even exist any more. My body may be minutes away from being abandoned to the cold vacuum of space, but my soul’s coming home at last.

I was only trying to buy a copy of Monopoly …

No, wait. I think that’s the plot from Red Dwarf, isn’t it?

Whereas I’m here to tell you about Space Cadets. Space Cadets is a cooperative board game for 3-7 players, played against the clock, where you take the roles of spaceship personnel trying to steer an increasingly ramshackle craft through uncharted space and collect the space treasure – returning to your own galaxy / dimension / time zone before the whole damn thing explodes, killing every last man, woman and alien life form on board.

Actually, it is a bit like Red Dwarf – and in a good way, too. Do you remember that episode where the crew are tracking some object through space and Lister, Rimmer, Kryten and Holly are all on the bridge tapping away on their computers, and all talking across and over each other at the same time. And it’s really tense moments because the object could be anything, hostile robots, space junk, aliens! And then the whole apparatus goes down because Cat has unplugged it all to use his hairdryer?

The whole game is a lot like that. And if you think that sounds like smeg loads of fun, then you’d be dead right.

The basic gameplay is basically performing ostensibly simply tasks of manual dexterity and/or mental agility under high pressure circumstances. Which is fun. But you get to play at space ships while you’re doing it. And quote lines from Star Trek and Babylon 5 and, yes, even Red Dwarf at each other. Which is really fun – if you like that sort of thing (which I do)!

So, I started out in charge of Engineering, which means doing a funny little 7-piece jigsaw puzzle. The object is to try and get as many complete circles in your puzzle, which translate to energy capsules for various parts of the ship.  So, if your shipmate wants to fire torpedoes, first of all I have to earn some weapons energy circle thingys.  Then, later in the turn, the weapons guy has to do some Tetris puzzles to load the torpedoes and a shove ha’penny game to fire them.

Each of the stations in the game operates in a similar way – with minigames for scanning, tractor beam, helm, damage repair, shields etc etc etc.  Having acquitted myself with such high honours in Engineering, a shift change meant a well earned promotion for me.  I took the news with surprising humility and settled into a role I was clearly born to – although not all of the crew took the news so well.

To tell the truth, my captaincy did not last very long.  We managed to grab a second space crystal (not a euphemism for drugs!) of the three required for victory and made an ill-fated attempt to jump to hyperspace.  Turns out that, while in engineering, I ought to have been doing something called “Jump prep” – which would have been useful…

Still, the effort was bravely made and our adventures have been recorded for Space Corps staff training purposes.

I have been told that Space Alert is a much better game. I haven’t played Space Alert, but Cadets is certainly a great fun evening of sci-fi gaming, so it gets my recommendation.