Match Report 20th June 2011

Some of the evening's players
Lots of people and lots of games

With the weather doing what it so often does during English summers (rain) we had a bumper turnout. Welcoming back one of our youngest members Matt, spared from his toils as a trainee farmer because of the aforementioned weather. Although maybe it was the rumour of double munchies (more on this later) rather than the weather that lured our friends along on Monday night. We were also joined by Ben our newly qualified Yacht Master (well done), Natalie our trainee Barrister, Daniella our travel operator and some older people (Crispin, Malcolm and Gwen) who are either retired or do stuff!

With Ben surprising us by arriving at 7pm rather than his customary 8pm (some have said he operates in his own universe, certainly wherever he comes from there seems to be a time difference!) we were initially thrown into confusion. But with cokes, coffees, red wine and ginger beers to hand we started the evening with
Trans Europa.

Trans Europa  (Age 8+, 2-6 players 30+ minutes playing time)
The Trans Europa board game
Trans Europa is a simple little board game, from Rio Grande Games, about building communication (train, plain and boat) routes (generally referred to as ‘tracks’) from one side of Europe to the other. TransEuropa is a game I picked up following encountering the better known variant of it Trans America at London on Board last year.

The winner is the first to player to connect all their cities effectively scoring zero. The element that makes the game worth playing is what is called the players 3 Vexation tracks. These are wooden tracks in your player colour. As the game is typically played over a number of turns these Vexation tracks need to be used judiciously as once used they cannot be re-used in future turns. It is these tracks that deny the use of the interconnected black track created by all the players to other players forcing them to bypass these connections.

We really liked it. It was quick to explain and grasp. The game play is pretty quick and everybody finished within points of each other so with its ability to handle 6 players and the little bit of screwage available through the use of the Vexation tracks I feel sure it will see regular use over the coming months. 
The Trans Europa board, track and Starting markers

Maybe it was his long background in rail engineering that helped Malcolm win the game? Despite his initial problem with the notion that one rail operator would deny the use of their lines to other operators thus contravening the whole notion of ‘open architecture’ – this denial occurs within the game by the playing of Vexation pieces, the element that adds edge to the game!
A fuller review of the game can be read here.

The arrival of Natalie, Matt and Daniella took our number to eight (too many for a single sensible game) prompting the question of what to play? 
Two games would need to be played at either end of the same table so we wanted two games that had a similar level of interaction (in order not overly distract each other) and that would take a similar length of time. Ultimately we went for Alhambra and Seeland.
The players during their game of Alhambra

Alhambra is a tile laying game where you are aiming to build..... you guessed it, an Alhambra! Matt, Malcolm and Crispin opted to play this for the first time with Gwen (who keeps beating me at it). Despite some initial issues with layout it looked for a while as if Crispin would be the winner but it was obviously Malcolm’s evening because he stormed through in the final scoring. The game was a universal hit and there was much amusement at Matt and Malcolm’s battle to build the biggest Seraglio. 
A serious looking Daniella deciding where to place her next piece in the game of Seeland

In the game of Seeland Natalie and Daniella demonstrated their female superiority (?) leaving Ben and I trailing on the score track. As ever when explaining games I always seem to see and point out the opportunities for other players new to the games and then miss the obvious ones myself (which excuse I intend to stick to).

Whilst Ben was less enamoured of Seeland (possibly because with his yachting background he felt there to be something wrong in reclaiming the Dutch wetlands from the sea – oh and he did come last by a largish margin) everybody else said how much they had enjoyed both games.
Crispin serving some large but delicious slices of his cake

With Alhambra finishing just before our game, coffees and munchies were organised (lemon drizzle cake from Crispin and chocolate florentine muffins from Natalie – thank you both very much). Crispin even had time to check on Andy Murray’s progress at Wimbledon on the TV – catching the winning moments by sheer chance.

The Great Dalmuti (Age 8+, 5-8 players 15+ minutes playing time) 
The last game of the evening, called The Great Dalmuti, brought everybody together for a little silliness. The aim of the game depending on your position at the court (everybody has to change seats so they sit in order) is to hold onto your position (me) or advance your position (everybody else). There are no real winners it’s just a bit of fun.
The Great Dalmuti, cards and box

In this card game you sit higher or lower in the court depending on what card you draw (everybody draws one card and depending on the number on it they will rank higher or lower with the higher numerical values equating to a lower position in the court). To get the game going I took the role of The Great Dalmuti (well somebody had to) with Crispin as the Lesser Dalmuti and everybody else sitting below us (as merchants of progressively lower rank) until you reached the lowest of the low The Lesser Peon (Ben) and even lower the Greater Peon (Daniella). It is the Greater Peon’s job to deal the cards, tidy up discarded cards and generally be respectful to all those that rank above her, although deference should be shown by all those of lower class to their betters or at least in this game anyway.
The Great Dalmuti cards

Once all the cards have been shuffled and dealt out the Peon’s are taxed passing their best cards (1 for the Lesser Peon and 2 for the Greater Peon) to the Dalmuti’s whilst in return the Dalmuti’s pass the Peon’s their worst cards. The Great Dalmuti then starts play by laying one or many cards of the same denomination; the person to the left then has to lay the same number of cards but of a lesser value. If you are not able to do this then you pass and when everybody has passed the person who laid the lowest value cards starts a new round (obviously after the Greater Peon has tidied the cards up). The first person to play their last card(s) becomes the Greater Dalmuti for the next round. Through clever game play Ben managed to rise from The Lesser Peon to The Great Dalmuti (who said there was no social mobility in Britain!) although he struggled as indeed did everybody else with this meteoric rise as he kept forgetting his new found rank and helping the Peon by tidying the cards away. 

The Great Dalmuti and Jester cards
This is a very funny game with much opportunity for abusing your fellow players and claiming rights on the basis of hierarchy within the court, over others. It is not a fair or balanced game but with the right group of like minded fun loving people it can and was very funny. I am sure we will play this one again! It was a game recommended by Nigel from Imagination Gaming and having seen him play it in the Family Zone at the UK Games Expo with a group of people who had never met each other before it’s a game I would love to get on video. He also used two of the optional rules:

a. The wearing of silly hats to reflect your position in the court.

b. The passing of Acts which can require the lesser players, the Peon’s , in particular to sing, cluck or in some way act even more daftly when playing the cards or addressing the Great Dalmuti with a question.

Maybe we will introduce these next time!
The caution would be for those where the balance of humour becomes abusive and leaves players feeling uncomfortable. It is perhaps a fine line to tread and one that you could unwittingly cross over.

A fuller review of the game can be read here along with lots more images of the cards.

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