Madness and Wonders

Spent most of Sunday at the Bolton boardgames day run by GNOMES. Despite an initial hiccup, where double-booking of the normal church hall meant a change of location, the day went reasonably well.

We played four games over about 8 hours. Aside from one game, we’d never played them before – and the exception, Mansions of Madness, we’d only played once before.

First up, 7 Wonders. You control one of the civilisations clustered around one of the seven Wonders of the World, trying to advance your civilisation through science, trade, battle, or completing the Wonder. Over the course of three Ages, that resemble a Magic: The Gathering draft passing hands of cards around the table and taking only one to play each time, you gather resource cards, build using resource or traded goods, acquire science cards, or accumulate battle cards in the hope of defeat your neighbours at the end of the Age. You need to work out how you’re going to win early on to get a card gathering strategy going – otherwise, you simply find yourself faced with small piles of disparate cards with questionable value in the end game.

I enjoyed this one and I’m certain repeated plays with allow you to get some strategies together. I opted for a science route without 100% commitment, so ended the game equal second, three points behind the winner. If I got some more varied resource I might have got better buildings early on, or could have held on to more coins instead of frittering them away paying for trade items from my neighbours. Plenty of cards and tokens makes for a very busy tabletop, but somehow that adds to the excitement of the experience.

Second, we played Eketorp. In this simple game of resource gathering, bluffing and battlement wacking, the players control a Viking village and a group of villages. Cards determine resources laid out each round, and players secretly commit their villagers to gather resources, attack opponents or defend the village. Finite resources force players to do battle where the materials come under contention, playing cards to do battle. Beat the value on your opponents card to win, but they get your card and you get their at the end of the battle. Once you get resources, you use them to build a wall around your village. Build six walls, three resources high, and you score big at the end of the game. However, in the meantime, players will try and attack you and both steal the resource from the top of the wall and try to knock down the rest.

Personally, I disliked some of the mechanics. Defending my village with three men against an attack by one enemy villager against a maxed out side of my village with two 3-high walls – we played a draw on our cards and we both lost a villager to the hospital, where he lurks until better at the end of next turn (if you’re lucky). Why suffer any loss at all if your opponent didn’t beat you and certainly never breached the wall, and faced overwhelming odds against the defenders?!

Unfortunately, my wife spilled her camomile tea over the table and game board before the game concluded. We spent quarter of an hour mopping everything with paper towels and trying to stop the cards and board from warping.

After that, we played Forbidden Island while waiting for the Keeper to set up Mansions of Madness. A more simple game suitable for all the family, you construct an island from 24 square tiles and have to gather four treasures by finding completes sets of Treasure Cards before the island sinks. Flooding happens at the end of each player’s turn and poor luck will make the rate of flooding increase. You can move, trade Treasure Cards, claim the Treasures themselves or shore up a flooding tile. By the end of the game, the island got so flooded we had an archipelago going, with the helicopter pad needed for our escape cut off at the northernmost edge. A combination of special abilities and special cards allowed us to turn the potential catastrophy into a desperate victory.

I’m not sure what the ongoing replay value of the game might be like, as the simplicity works both for and against the game in that respect. However, it made for an entertaining, short filler game.

Finally, we played Mansions of Madness.

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A weighty box of components for a £50+ investment, Mansions of Madness allows you to play through adventures against the Great Old Ones – like Call of Cthulhu but with a board, counters, character cards, miniatures and a time limit. For anyone having difficulty getting friends to roleplay Cthulhu, this might be a good route in as the game translates much of the experience into a boardgame format. The various miniatures impress considerably, with massive Shoggoth and Cthonians, as well as cultists, investigators and axe-wielding mad men.

We found ourselves looking for a missing friend who had been investigating a strange cult at a monastery. Four of us entered, only to rapidly face a hoard of cultists. The number of cultist grew until the Keeper – the guy running the game who controls the baddies and aims to win before the characters – sacrificed them summon a Shoggoth, formless servitors of the Mythos. After an initial struggle to survive and find any clues without impenetrable locks, my character used a special ability to kill the Shoggoth – a Lucky Break with a 3 in 10 chance of success! Alas, while we stalked around the building looking for clues, the number of cultists grew – and a Hound of Tindalos and a Cthonian soon followed. In the end, as the great clock of doom struck the end of the game, only one character remained – a dull-witted nun with a very lucky die – and the cultists had failed to meet their objective. The Keeper very kindly called it a draw.

Great day, great people. Recommended.






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