Monday, April 28, 2008

Big Brother 08 - Launch Show

Big Brother cometh. And Big Brother produceth the freaks.

The words "freak show" have been bandied around the blogosphere in the last few days as the housemates for Big Brother Australia 2008 have been revealed. And having just watched the Launch Show I can say that that term is not entirely unjustified.

The Giggling One and I were joined for the evening's festivities by Danni and Dave, so that we could all share in the warm inner glow of a new season of Big Brother.

The launch started with the two new hosts Kyle and Jackie O, perhaps the two most pre-loathed hosts on Australian television. But hey, I'm willing to give them a shot and you know what? They weren't that bad.

They bounded on to the stage (which was straight out of an 80s chat show (oh the blinding whiteness!)) and told us straight up that Big Brother was going to give us lots of new things. Like huge microphones.

Kyle was a little awkward to start with: rather stiff and a rather distracting and off-putting eye tic. He got into the swing of things as the night went on, but that tic really started to bug me.

As for Jackie O, in the words of Danni she was a blonde insipid twat who was such a bimbo that she put her dress on back-to-front. So not her greatest fan then.

We were then introduced to a bookie who was there to give us the odds as the HMs (that's "housemates" for the abbreviaphobes) were introduced. In his own words it was "character of collision courses". So yeah, he had no idea.

We were treated to a glimpse of the "garden" next, and there was a collective "wtf?" as we saw the brightly coloured (some might say tacky) house. The Giggling One said it reminded her of last year's Big Brother UK house in that regard, and I concurred.

On to the housemates, and first up was Terri the granny we'd all seen in the promos for the last week. She's 52 and she tells it like it is. And she used to be a redhead which means she has an affiliation with Pauline Hanson. Obviously.

Saxon was next. He's a UFO believer, and sceptic that I am, I can't help feeling he may have a point; his hair was definitely not cut by human hands. "Take me with you" he cries plaintively in the promo package. "Yes, please take him with you!" I cry back.

Terri then entered the house and Kyle and Jackie O (KyJO? - bah why not?) made nanna jokes. Terri was followed in by Saxon, and he was immediately accosted by Terri who flirted with him and told him he must be rich to have all that gold jewellery, then showed him her muscles.

Jackie showed us inside the house next and we got to see the military style bathroom and one huge bed. That should provide some decent entertainment. Nice job there Big Brother.

Bianca was HM number 3. The 18 year old is the youngest and the most well endowed of this year's contestants. Her chest size is a curse apparently, but it sure as hell doesn't stop her flaunting it lasciviously.

HM number 4 was Nobbi (short for Nobuyuki or something like that. It's OK, he doesn't expect people to remember it. That's why he calls himself Nobbi). Nobbi is a metrosexual boxer who takes a towel to bed. Seems like a nice guy, though the towel thing is a little weird.

Oooh boy. Stand by folks, it's blonde cliché time. The next HM onto the stage was Malibu, I mean Brigitte. With an ridiculous dress and a plastic personality, Brigitte is every inch the walking semi-talking dumb blonde. So daggers of dislike out for her right from the start.

Upon entering the house Malibu informed a fellow housemate "I was supposed to start uni, but I'm shopping." Say no more.

Alice was the next HM to enter, and proved to be the early favourite for we voyeurs on the couch. She's an attractive vet who's not afraid to stick her hand up a cow's backside on a daily basis. So plenty of like for Alice.

Next we had Travis. You don't so much see Travis as hear him. We've dubbed him "Squeaky Godboy". He's a nice lad, but that squeaky voice is bound to grate on the other HMs.

The trademark Aussie Bloke was the next to go in. Rory was, according to Danni, the most attractive of the guys. But those dreads! Erg.

From one Aussie Bloke to another. The next HM was rugby playing abattoir worker Renee. She's a tomboy who hates girly girls. So she's not going to clash with anyone else in the house then.

You can't say the next HM is at all ordinary. Rima is a belly dancer. She's married. She's one metre tall with a cartoon character voice to match. She was absolutely tiny on stage beside KyJO, even with her platform shoes. She's definitely going to have the "cute" tag applied to her which may see her survive for some time.

When Rima entered the house, grandmother Terri went straight into cringe-worthy mothering overload. It was painful to watch.

HM 11 was Ben. Cast as the arrogant intelligent head boy, Ben came across as a complete knob head. Plus he couldn't stand still on stage so obviously forgot to go to the toilet beforehand.

Number 12 was National Anthem loving mental health worker Dixie. She seems to be one of the quieter HMs and is also well endowed. She and Renee are from the same town and had a lovely hug as they were reunited inside the house.

Rebecca was the penultimate housemate and by all rights should be blonde. She's a personal trainer, a skimpy barmaid, and a germaphobe. She has a lucky elephant figurine that she bought in New Zealand. Cos nothing says New Zealand like an elephant. Oh, and she doesn't hate fat people.

Our last HM for the night was ex-cult member David. He escaped from the Exclusive Brethren when he was 17, was recaptured, and then escaped again aged 19. He's now 33 and he's a fireman. Nothing like a fireman to get the girls hearts pumping.

So, let's review. Straight talking granny? Check. Alien loving fruit loop? Check. Huge breasted girl? Check. Metrosexual boxer? Check. Blonde bimbo? Check. Attractive smart girl? Check. Squeaky voiced weirdo? Check. Ocker Aussie bloke? Check. Ocker Aussie sheila? Check. Vertically challenged belly dancer? Check. Arrogant head boy? Check. Weepy mental health worker? Check. Personal trainer clean freak? Check. Ex-cult member fireman? Check.

Yup, that's one freak show right there.

And one of them gets booted out tomorrow.

Welcome back Big Brother. I missed you.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Another update of sorts

Three topics are up for bloggerising today: Catan Card Game, Pillars of the Earth, and Big Brother.

Firstly to Catan. After having tried Wizards & Dragons, The Giggling One and I further expanded our Catan Card Game horizons with Science & Progress.

This expansion was definitely more fun, and integrated more easily with the base game. We both built the (almost obligatory) University and switched our regions around to make use of doubled production. I found the Crane quite useful in the late game, especially as I had only one wood and one brick producing region.

In the end it was probably my beefed up ore production that won me the game. With two of my three ore regions either side of a Foundry and protected by a Garrison, I had ore coming out of my you-know-where.

The Giggling One was again frustrated by her lack of resource production but thought this was better than the Wizards & Dragons expansion. I agreed. The Science & Progress expansion fits in nicely and adds a few more options. I do, however, think it could do with more cards as it seemed a bit light on.

I just wanted to go into brag mode for a brief moment to mention I am still undefeated in The Pillars of the Earth. I'm 5 from 5 (from two games of 2 players, one game of 3 players, and two games of 4 players).

My most recent foray to Kingsbridge involved myself, The Giggling One, and Pillars noobs Paul and Narelle. I went the stone strategy, and finished Round 6 with three Sculptors, the Bellmaker, and a Goldsmith, leading to my highest final round yet: a not insubstantial 30 Victory Points (8 stone to 16 VPs from the Sculptors, 2 metal to 8 VPs from the Bellmaker, and 18 gold to 6 VPs from the Goldsmith). 54 points all up.

My inner snark is just itching to get out, and I fear I may be unable to keep it restrained once Big Brother 8 starts on Monday night. New hosts and a new producer should shake things up a bit from the stale tripe of the last couple of years. Here's hoping there's plenty of blog fodder to come.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Catan Card Game - Wizards & Dragons

The Giggling One's birthday was last Tuesday. Along with a shiny new iPod ("It's Pink!"), I bought her the Catan Card Game Expansion Set.

We didn't have quite the level of issues we had with the base game. Unfortunately there was still one card missing from one of the sets. Hopefully I'll be able to remedy that soon.

Anyway, as it was The Giggling One's game, she had first choice of the expansion to play with when we had our first game on Thursday night. Her choice? Wizards & Dragons. Why? Because it's wizards and dragons!

Unfortunately it didn't play as well as we hoped (Oh no! Not another negative review! Well, maybe a little but it all depends upon what sort of game experience you are after). I think my expectations were set a little too high. I was hoping the set would complement the game more than it did. However it was more like shoving the geeky new kid into a room with the cool kids and forcing them to play together.

Of course there are interactions between the cards but the Wizards & Dragons cards seem to have a bigger influence over the resource cards than anything else.

Our first attempt to play was aborted after less than a minute after The Giggling One decided that she would draw her starting hand from one of the two Wizards stacks. Big mistake. Wizard cards are only any good to you once you own a Citadel.

You're much better off playing with the base game cards for a few rounds, expanding your colony, and only when you can afford to buy a Citadel should you draw from a Wizard stack.

So, realising she was effectively neutered by her starting hand, we began again.

There are some neat strategies involving the Wizards cards, and I discovered a couple along the way. I was fortunate enough to get a Citadel well before The Giggling One, so had free reign of spells and Wizard cards for some time.

My lead was cemented when my frustrated opponent finally built a Citadel but was unable to play or get rid of any cards in her hand so she could then draw from a Wizard stack. It took a few more turns before she finally managed to get her hand on any purple cards.

By then I had two Wizards in my realm, and had used the Earth Magic spell to swap one of my Wheat regions for one of her Sheep regions. Not only did this give me two Pastures either side of a Wool Mill (which was why I played the spell) but it left her without any "4" regions (this was not intentional (I'm not that bastardly) and we only noticed this the next time a 4 was rolled). So whenever a 4 was rolled for the remainder of the game she did not receive any resources.

I was also aided by the Wheel of Time spell which allows you to determine the roll of the Event Die. I used it in conjunction with the Alchemist to choose the Production Die value as well, and then completely screwed up the choice. I should have chosen "4" as it would have won me the game there and then, but I didn't want to be mean and pick a number The Giggling One didn't have.

It was of little consequence though, as I then used the Magical Eye spell to draw Ismai the Green Dragon and played him on my next turn to take the Knight token from The Giggling One and give me my 13th Victory Point.

It wasn't a particularly fun game overall as The Giggling One spent the majority of it frustrated that she couldn't do what she wanted.

My opinion of the Wizards & Dragons set is that it's kind of fun, but more of an add on than an interactive set as I anticipate the other expansion sets will be.

But more of that when we get a chance to play with the other new cards. Stay tuned.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Race for the Galaxy

Last night's edition of the Hobart Games of Society games night saw only one addition to the New Games Quest list. And that game, was Race for the Galaxy.

Let me get this off my chest first. To me, Race for the Galaxy is like four people simultaneously playing solitaire and racing to go out.

Yes, it's a little more complex than that, but when you get down to it there is very very little player interaction. Everyone does their own thing, and no one can affect what cards anyone else plays. Yes, you can see what sort of cards someone else is playing, and base what cards you play on that, but there are so many different cards with so many different bonuses (there are literally no bad cards in the entire game) that you never know what cards you're going to get.

So, a negative start to this review. You're probably thinking I didn't like the game. That's not true. I did like it. But, I would have liked it more had there been some tangible way to influence what your opponents do other than choose what phase to play. So really, I'm ambivalent.

Let's take a look at how the game works.

Most people compare the game to Puerto Rico (a game that is now on the top of my "games I have never played but really, really want to" list). That's because at the start of each round, every player chooses the phase (or action) they want to take that round, and then everyone plays that phase.

Each player secretly chooses a phase they would like, and then they are all revealed simultaneously. For that round, the actions all players take will be those that have been revealed by the phase cards. So with 4 players, there will be 4 phases in that round. As players choose their preferred phase in secret, it is quite possible, and indeed probable with the maximum 4 players, that more than one person will choose the same phase. If that happens, then that phase is played multiple times that round.

There are 5 possible phases you can choose from: I: Explore, II: Develop, III: Settle, IV: Consume, and V: Produce. There is also an optional phase - $: Trade - that can be taken as part of the Consume phase. Phases are always played in the same order during a round. That is, if the Explore phase is chosen, it will always be played first, while any Produce phases always come last.

If someone chooses Explore, all players simply draw a set number of cards from the top of the (shuffled) stack and place them in their hand. There is no limit to the number of cards in your hand during a round, but you must discard down to 10 at the end of the round (ie. after all phases have been completed).

While everyone gets to draw cards in an Explore phase, the player who chose that phase gets a bonus. There are two different bonuses the player can choose. While everyone else draws 2 cards and gets to keep 1, the person who chose Explore can either draw 3 cards and keep 2 (discarding the third) or draw 5 cards and keep 1 (if they are looking for a particular card).

In the Develop phase, all players may choose to place 1 Development card on their tableau. These cards give bonuses during particular phases. For example, one card might reduce the cost of playing further developments while another might give trade bonuses.

Speaking of costs, here's where one of the interesting and cunning mechanics comes into the game. All costs in the game are paid by discarding cards. So if you want to play a development card with a cost of 2, then you must discard 2 other cards from your hand to pay for it.

This is a very intriguing way of going about things, as it forces players to choose which cards to keep and which to discard.

The benefit of being the player who chooses the Development phase is that the cost of playing a development card is reduced by 1.

Phase III is Settle. If this phase is played, each player may play 1 World card to their tableau. There are two main types of worlds: regular worlds and military worlds. Each of these also have sub types that may allow them to produce goods and affect how other cards interact with them.

Costs to play world cards are also paid by discarding other cards. Costs can be reduced if you have other cards that give bonuses. For example, some development and world cards give military bonuses. If the combined military bonuses on the cards in your tableau are equal to or greater than the cost of a military world card you want to play, then you can play it for free.

In addition to a cost, both world cards and development cards also have a Victory Point number. Generally the more expensive or powerful a card is, the more victory points it is worth. These VPs don't come in to play until the end of the game when you add them all up to see who has won.

I'll skip the Consume phase for now, and go to the final phase: Produce. This is because Consume relies on goods already having been produced, and it's easier to explain them this way around.

In the Produce phase, all world cards you have that can produce resources do so. There are four different resources: Novelty (blue), Rare Elements (brown), Genes (green), and Alien Technology (yellow).

No world can produce more than one good at a time so if it already has a good on that world, it won't produce another one.

Goods are also represented by cards. When a good is produced on one of your worlds, you draw a card from the deck and, leaving it face down, place it partially over the applicable world card to signify it is a resource.

It is during the Consume phase that resources are used. Using the bonuses listed on individual development and world cards, players can discard their resource cards in return for victory point chips. Some bonuses also allow you to draw more cards when the resources are consumed.

There are two extra bonuses you can choose from if you chose the Consume phase this round. The first extra is trading. If you chose this bonus, you get your own personal Trade phase before the Consume phase that no other player gets (unless they also chose this phase themselves). This allows you to trade in resources for cards.

Each resource has a different trade value, so for example, while you can trade 1 blue (novelty) resource in order to draw 2 cards from the deck, you can trade 1 yellow (alien tech) resource for 5 cards. If you have other development or world cards that give you trade bonuses, you can draw even more cards to your hand.

The other option when choosing the Consume phase is to double the VPs that you receive during that phase. This comes in handy towards the end of the game when you're trying to amass as many VPs as possible before the game finishes.

The game continues in this fashion, with each player choosing a phase each round, and everyone going through those particular phases. This is where an element of strategy comes in. For example, you may want to do both the Settle phase and the Produce phase this round. Unfortunately, you can only choose one of those phases as your selection for the round.

However, you check out what the other players are doing and notice that one player has lots of cards in their hand and they are a little light on with world cards in their tableau. You guess that there is a good chance that they are going to want to play a world card this round, so will probably choose the Settle phase. As you can leech off their choice to play your world card, you're free to choose the Produce phase so you can do that as well. Of course, if they are strategising as well.....

The game ends when either one or more players has 12 cards in play (the round is still completed) or you run out of VP chips (less likely). You then add up all the VPs on your world and development cards, your VP chips, and any special bonus VPs that some cards have. The player with the most VPs wins.

For the record I finished a close second in the game behind the more experienced Jon who owned the game.

As I said earlier, I enjoyed it. There are a hell of a lot of different strategies you can use due to the enormous number of different cards, but I still think it could do with more player interaction. For example, perhaps you could have a development card that allows you to use another player's world to consume one of your resources. Or perhaps if your military power is greater than other players you get a bonus.

It doesn't need to be a nasty power that lets you force a player to discard, or allows you to steal their world, because the developers have so obviously avoided that. I just want there to be more strategy involving interaction with the players.

I don't think it's really that much to ask and would add to the game's appeal for me. Hopefully the expansion coming out soon will do something that effect. If it does, I may well consider buying this game.

An update of sorts

I've done some gaming since the last post, including two new games added to the list. Here's a quick run down of games and thoughts:

* Starcraft: The Board Game

I intentionally haven't done a stand alone post for this one because I've only played it with two players: myself and The Giggling One. Quite frankly it wasn't great with just two players. It took us ages to set up and go through the rules and then it was all over on just my 3rd turn.

The reason it was so short is that with two players, the 3rd phase of the game comes very very quickly, and all I had to do to win was control more territories than The Giggling One during Phase 3.

The Giggling One hated it. I still liked it due to my affinity with the computer game. I'll reserve further judgements until I've played with more players. For now I can simply recommend that this game not be played with only two players.

* Carcassonne

We had another crack at this the other day with our good friends Paul & Narelle. This time things were a tad more even experience wise. Paul was playing for just the 3rd time, The Giggling One and I for the 2nd time, and Narelle for the 1st time.

Readers may recall the debacle that was my Carcassonne debut. Well I'm happy to say that I enjoyed the game much more this time.

So yeah, I won.

We played with The River expansion which adds a little aesthetically to the game and was kinda nice. Remembering that I didn't have to place a Meeple every turn was also very helpful!

I think I was much more strategic this time, and didn't end up with half my Meeples on roads but shared them about. Interestingly, and perhaps a game breaker, every Cloister tile in the game was picked up by either me or Narelle. So piggy-backing all of my Cloisters, I managed to eke out a fair whack of points from them.

Final scores were something in the realm of me: 90 something; Paul: 70 something; The Giggling One: 60ish; and Narelle around 50.

/smug mode cancel

* Catan Card Game

/smug mode reactivate

Just a quick note to say I gave The Giggling one a rather sound shellacking (which is somewhat of a tautology I suppose but it was a fairly large final margin) in our most recent game, and have the photos to prove it. Session report with photographic evidence coming soon.

* Race for the Galaxy

Ever wanted to play solitaire and race 3 other people to be the first to go out? That's Race for the Galaxy, the latest addition to my New Games Quest. Full post to come shortly.