Ivanhoe, Ivanhoe and yet more bloody Ivanhoe!
Ivanhoe. My neighbour Liam (last seen swigging wine at Sioux's gallery launch in May last year) came round on xmas eve keen to play a game to which he'd taken an instant liking way back in October 2009. We played a 24-game session. And so began a marathon run of 325 games, all but 9 of which were played in the 6 months up to May. That's averaging 14 games/week, in a couple of sessions each week. Whew!
I've written before about how much I like Ivanhoe. I still like it, but I never would've imagined that there could come a point when I'd be scunnered at the suggestion of playing again. That point came sometime in May I seem to recall, when we played 12 sessions. Luckily something came along to break Liam from his obsession with Ivanhoe before I broke down completely!
A pleasant sufficiency of Alhambra
Alhambra is a game I first played a couple of times at a DiceCon in Glasgow way back in the days before RD/KA!. I enjoyed it quite a lot, and remember it as being something of a brain-burner in which my every move was foiled before I could make it. Seeing some slightly battered boxes going cheap in Static Games a couple of years ago, buying a copy was a bit of a no-brainer. As so often happens, the game then gathered dust on the shelf until I finally got it to the table one Sunday last November.
|Bits, dear boy, bits|
A major feature of Alhambra is that there is no direct player interaction, so that the game is something of a multiplayer solitaire puzzle. Even though I'm an avid wargamer I don't mind this a bit: random tile and money draws; the uncertainties of market conditions as you wait your turn; coupled with often fraught decision-making in poor markets; these all add up to a game I'll be happy to play a lot more.
Not nearly enough Cosmic Encounter
"We come in peace for the benefit of all humanity"
Cosmic Encounter is one of the classic multiplayer boardgames of our time. It was first published in 1977 by Eon Games and has since seen 16 editions. 'Uncle' Martin (last seen around xmas 2009 introducing me to the delights of Pandemic) owned the original- and all its expansions IIRC, back in the early 80s. We played the game endlessly, and viciously, for hours and hours at a time. It was in my first ever flat- which I happened to share with Martin, and I have one of those peculiarly vivid memories of us all sat playing around the kitchen table; peculiar because I can see the scene from outside, as if out of body.
"Eat plutonium death, you disgusting alien weirdoes!"
|The original Eon edition|
- Each player is an alien species with a system of 5 home planets and 20 spaceships.
- The game is played by playing cards in encounters to establish colonies on your opponents' home planets.
- The winner is the first player to have 5 such colonies.
- Encounters work like this:
|The hyperspace gate|
- The target system is chosen at random.
- You place up to 4 of your ships in the hyperspace gate and point it at the planet of your choice in the target system.
- You invite any other players to ally with your attack.
- The defender also asks for allies.
- The other players decide in turn if they'll ally, committing their spaceships as they see fit.
- You and the defender each secretly choose an encounter card from your hands; these can be Attack cards or Negotiate cards (there's one other kind of encounter card, but I'll leave that out for simplicity).
- Cards are revealed, with the following effects:
|Sample Encounter cards:|
sneaky, mighty, median
- Attack v. Attack: the highest total of card plus ships wins; all losing ships go to the warp (the deadpile).
- Negotiate v. Negotiate: allies are sent home; the main players have 1 minute to make a deal involving swapping cards and/or bases; if no deal is struck, each player loses 3 ships to the warp.
- Attack v. Negotiate: the Attack card wins automatically; the player who played the Negotiate receives 'compensation'.
|The warp: home of|
the rash, the luckless
& the unwary
- Attacker and allies: all gain a colony on the defeated planet.
- Defender: survive to fight another day.
- Defending allies: rewarded with 1 new Cosmic card and/or ship freed from the warp for each ship committed to the defence.
"Take us to your leader"
|"My card? No, your card."|
"I hit you with my planet."
More cards, more sneaky tricks
|Some useful cards|
filling out the deck
- Morph: a unique card which dupiclates your opponent's encounter card.
- Reinforcement: any player(s) involved in an encounter can play reinforcement cards after the main cards are revealed, to change the outcome; any number of these cards may be played in an encounter.
- Artifacts: these are 'event' cards which have various useful effects, some of which can tip the balance in an encounter.
|Flares & tech:|
The rules for tech in Cosmic Encounter are simple enough: each player starts the game choosing 1 of 2 random cards. Tech cards have to be researched before you can use them. Researching a tech card involves placing ships on the face-down card- 1/turn, until the player chooses to reveal the card. If the number of spaceships on the card is greater than or equal to the card's research number (that number in the bottom right of the cards), the card is complete. Whether the tech card is complete or not, the ships on the card are returned to the player's colonies.
Surprise, surprise: an expansion!
Cosmic Incursion expansion set for the sake of a potential 6th player. Cosmic Incursion adds 20 new aliens to bring the total number up to 70, and a new rule: 'Cosmic Quakes'. A 'Cosmic Quake' happens when a player has to draw a new card and both the Cosmic deck and the discard pile are empty. All players must discard their cards, then new hands are dealt to each player. This will be rare, but no doubt entertaining and frustrating in equal measure when it does happen. There is also another deck of cards: the optional Reward deck. Players can choose to draw their cards from the Reward deck instead of the regular Cosmic deck when they receive rewards for participating in a successful defensive alliance.
|Rewards: a gold|
- Kickers: these multiply your attack card value, compensation and/or opponent's ships lost due to failure to make a deal (just watch out for the 'Kicker x0').
- Rifts: free ships returned from the warp- always good; with a sting in the tail if your opponent steals the card from you- better still.
|Individual planet counters|
& the new spaceships
If there was nothing more to FFG's new Cosmic Encounter than some new aliens, cards and high production values, then it would be good but not excellent. What makes the new edition excellent for yours truly are several small additions in particular, much more important in play than their unassuming appearance might suggest. These additions are:
- Text on the alien cards to remind players when they can use their powers and whether use of the powers is optional or mandatory.
- The timing strip which appears on all relevant cards.
All-in-all then, this new edition of Cosmic Encounter should be sought out by all fans of highly interactive multiplayer games with serious screwage; sought out, cherished, and played- a lot! ;)
- The long dark night of the dice rolls #2: light at the end of the tunnel