Halesowen – 12/03/2014
This week at Halesowen I was going to hang around and let someone else suggest games again, but master-organizer Mike split the highly undecisive half of the room I was in up to groups with me providing a game for 4 of us from that group. Mark showed interest in playing Belfort, as I had the box out as a result of picking up Belfort: The Expansion Expansion, so out it came (Without the expansion, mind, I need a chance to learn how it works before I throw it at people, particularly with new players ^^). The players for both games were: Mark, Ian, Stan & Me.
Belfort is a worker-placement game where players are vying to me the most influential participant in building up the city of Belfort. The game is played over 7 rounds, and 3 of these, the 3rd/5th & 7th are scoring rounds. When scoring, players get points based on majority participation in the 5 segments of the city, (5/3/1 points awarded to 1st/2nd/3rd place respectively) and then points for most workers of the 3 types – Elves, Dwarves & Gnomes, with 1st place earning 3 points and 2nd place earning 1 point – There’s no 3rd here. The big caveat here being that scoring points also leads to paying taxes, with each 5 points taking you up a tax bracket (Paying 1 more money per round in taxes), this makes it so after the 3rd round players need to start being careful to ensure they have enough money to spare, or lose victory points if they don’t!
Each round takes place in a number of phases. The first of these is placement, where players can place their workers on the variance ‘plank’ spaces on the board & their own properties. Available in every game are ‘Recruit a worker for 2 money’ and ‘Switch Player Order’ spaces, the former of which has more spaces available for higher player counts (resulting in 3 players being far tighter for workers than 4/5). There are also 5 ‘guilds’ which have spaces available, which are different every game and provide the big variability in the game. In our game, we had 2 resource guilds (4 Wood, 2 Iron respectively), 2 Basic Guilds (‘Place a coin under a property to make it worth 50% more for majorities’ & ‘Recruit an Elf, Dwarf or Gnome’) and 1 Interactive Guild (Gain 1 Coin + Receive 1 resource from each player with less walls than you). The rulebook has suggestions for the distribution of basic/interactive/resource but I just go with 2B/2R/1I as it’s fairly easy to pick up for new players. It should be noted that you don’t immediately get the benefits when you place a worker, that comes later.
When a player passes out of the placement phase, they distribute their remaining workers (And there will be some) across 4 resource gathering spaces. These spaces provide wood (But requires Elves only), stone (Requires Dwarves only), iron (Requires an elf + dwarf) or coins (Either). These give you a straight 1:1 of number of workers to resources, but whoever has the most workers (Ties don’t count) gets one bonus resource, so it can be worth it to stagger your needs so you can take majorities and get those additional resources. (Also, this is one of the elements of the game which benefits you to be last, as it’s easier to work out where you can nab/block a bonus from other players).
Once everyone has passed and distributed their workers to the collection area, placement is over and the collection phase begins. Players take their workers back from the collection area and take the resources they’re due (Including bonus if they had the majority), as well as taking an extra worker if they invested in one (Not from the guild as that’s on the city board) and order-rearrangement. At the end of this phase, players receive income and pay taxes. Income is from properties, and some of those that you can build have a coin icon in the top corner. Taxes are, as I mentioned earlier, based on your score, so if you scored high early, you’d best be sure you can afford to pay for it now!
Following this comes the action phase. Going in (potentially different to placement as it changes in collection) player order. In this phase a player can build properties, walls or guilds (Spend resources & place one of your house pieces in the city to represent it’s yours), visit the trading post (Buy 1 thing and sell 1 thing), retrieve workers (Getting their benefit at this time) and buy a gnome (one/round) for 3 coins. These can all be done in any order, then at the end of their turn can buy 1 property card (3 are face up, or can take a random) for 1 coin if desired. Being 1st in this phase helps you avoid interactive ‘steal resources’ abilities by running yourself dry, but being last means you’re building properties last and have an easier time getting majorities in the various sectors in the city.
When teaching the game I suspect I placed too much emphasis on early scoring making things difficult for the players. I say this because the first thing everyone did (Including me, to be fair) was place 2 properties in an area away from other players. Ian was the first (I think) to spread out a little. As a result of the ‘gain a worker’ guild I went for a focus on rushing for a lot of workers in this game over getting buildings. The first round of scoring put Ian out into the lead with his wider spread of property placements, me & Stan in the middle of the pack, and Mark at the back who very much avoided getting early taxes. (I think it was something like 3/turn for Ian, 2/turn for Me/Stan & 1 for Mark).
As the game moved forward, I continued to spam workers and tried to keep the space blocked so that noone could contend me for those points, while also taking the space that improved my properties to be worth more for majority as I wasn’t able to build as many. Mark set himself up with a wall to take resources from players so I made sure to build a couple of walls to keep myself protected (As well as get majorities), the side-effect of this is my stack of workers usually just went to gather money so I could pay my tax (Most properties provide income, walls don’t). Ian managed to get out a lot of properties and spread them around (Not many more, but I think he had the most). I think Stan was focused on propeties too, but he was being a little quieter so I’m afraid I missed a lot of what he was going for (Sorry!).
As we moved into the last season (So just after the 2nd scoring phase where our taxes get really quite high) Ian maintained his lead, while I stayed fairly close behind and Mark managed to capitalize on his lower taxes before to build enough for a big jump to catch up with the pack. I got a bit worried through this bit as the territories I was in got quite highly contested, but the extra strength of my buildings from getting that guild every turn in the game helped me keep up enough to do ok. I’m not sure who of Mark/Ian & Stan got the most points from area majorities in the last round, but I believe Ian/Mark got ahead of me until we counted up worker majorities, where my 6elves/6dwarves (Or 7, not sure) net me 3 points each and caught me up to Ian for a tie in first place. Strictly I won from having more resources left over (I tried to gamble with the thieving guild but just got tons of wood when I needed but 1 stone!) but I decided to share the key-to-the-city, for now! Mark was close behind and Stan wasn’t much behind him either (I think that’s the right order anyhow).
Following Belfort, we had roughly an hour left so I suggested Smash Up and some interest was shown so I grabbed the box to play. I have some ‘selector’ cards which me & my girlfriend made to make setup a little more random with a draft for each players 2 factions (As the standard rule tends to result in the same faction combo’s every single game). This left me as Alien Locals, Stan as Robotic Bears, Ian as Elder Carnivourous Plants & Mark as Steampunk Cultists.
If you’re not familiar with the game, the reason we each had 2 factions are because we take those 2 decks and shuffle them together to play, hence the slightly random sounding pairs! Each deck has a number of minions/actions (Usually 10 of each) and those are played throughout the game to try and capture ‘bases’. Each base has a breakpoint, an effect and some scores. When the power of all minions on the base is over the breakpoint, the scores are distributed to players depending on how much power they had there. The effects vary, and could be when minions are played, when it scores, etc. Each turn, players can play 1 minion and 1 action, which may allow them to do further and more interesting effects based on what the card says.
The start of the game set the precent, with Marks cultists stacking him with madness & Ian doling out even more besides with a byakhee on a base we shared. We shared that base because Stan moved one of my minions there of course (And that particular base soon became ridiculous, with 5+ actions on it and a ton of minions, which took ages to capture as the plants overgrowth card nerfs everyone elses minions by 1 power). Mark made the understandable mistake (First time with cthulhu) of using a fair few madness cards to draw cards rather than returning them to the deck, I generally flailed a bit as my minions/actions just wouldn’t synergise and Stan/Ian did pretty well through the first half of the game.
Sometimes that can change, but on this case it was actually a pretty consistent in that Ian & Stan continued to do well at grabbing bases. Most of Ians madness cards came to me & mark thanks to neat choices made by Stan, particularly in where he placed and where he moved minions to (I.e. making it less attractive for Ian to use a Byakhee on bases he was on so he got less madness from it). I continued to struggle, and while I got a base to 10 power without anyone else bothering to compete for it couldn’t quite capture (I had an action that would have made it 15 but didn’t seem to be able to get enough power there until nearly the end of the game for it actually work). A base came out at one point that could have removed all of Marks madness and catapulted him to compete with Ian, but as I had a terraform card I used it to prevent this and hoped it might delay the game long enough for me to start scoring points (Which it turns out was fated not to be).
We started running out of time near the end of the game, and reduced the playspace to make things go faster (When the last few bases scored we didn’t replace them). I managed to get the base I was going for on my own I think to take 3 points, as well as contributing to another, but this only got me to 9 points for the end. Ian got his ‘2 madness cards to every player’ card right near the end which made it extra difficult for us all as we had to waste actions getting rid of it, and Stan, while he did quite well, didn’t quite get enough points down to take the lead off of him. At the end of the game I think Stan had 1/2 madness, I had 4 (Reducing me to 5 points, waaaah), and Mark had well, lots, but had a lot more points than me and finished on I think 7. Ian took the victory here, so congratulations to Ian ^^.
That’s all for now, although I’m probably going to make a post soon about a couple of kickstarter projects if anyones interested in crowdfunding some stuff (Tuscany & MERCS: Recon). If anyone who goes to halesowen each week is interested in Tuscany I can set up a game next week with prototype bits ^^. Cheers!