I got some new children's games to try out. Couple of them were instant hits (Zoowaboo doesn't look like it's really hot with two, so it's still waiting) with Nooa.

Mouse Carousel box

Mouse Carousel has six tubes and seven mice with different colours. There's some cheese cubes on the middle of the tubes and to get to that cheese, you need to push the seventh mouse to one of the tubes, making another mouse appear. If the colour of the mouse matches the cubes, the mouse eats the cubes and you get another go. If you fail, it's next player.

A simple memory game, then, but remembering which mouse is where is bit of a problem, especially if the game is played fast enough. The constant switching of places can be a bit taxing and takes some proper concentration. However, the idea is simple enough that a three-year old can figure it out and actually play competitively. Just minimize all distractions - one games was totally ruined by a TV that was on at the background, Nooa was so distracted his playing was completely random.

The game looks gorgeous, but has some usability issues. Red and orange cheese is nearly impossible to tell apart in weak light and at least my copy has blue cheese cubes matching to a mostly purple mouse. The mice are marked with small stickers, which may or may not last, but at least the game comes with a set of spares.

Kids of Carcassonne box

Kids of Carcassonne simplifies Carcassonne for four-year-olds. It's simple enough that Nooa, three years and five months now, can play it correctly. He doesn't really have a clue of strategy, but with some practise I'm sure it'll come to him.

This one also looks gorgeous (and is, like Mouse Carousel, illustrated by Rolf Vogt). The tiles are extra large, as are the meeples. Every tile fits everywhere, as all have roads leading to every direction. Players try to complete roads (which is easy, as there are terminals on most tiles). Whenever a road is done, players get to place their meeples on the road, each non-terminal road piece has a picture of one of the kids. Just fill up with correct meeples, very simple. Winner is the player who first gets rid of all eight meeples. No counting involved!

Kids of Carcassonne is a winner, because it works so well with kids and adults can enjoy it, too. Actually, once we got the kids in bed yesterday, we played three quick games with Johanna. She likes the game, more than regular Carcassonne. I think it's charming, too, but I don't think I'd take the game to a game club, even though it's a nice five-minute filler with adults. Regular Carcassonne can be played almost as fast and is more rarely decided by the tile draws. Still, this is a top-notch children's game.

Helcon was last weekend. The event was again great success, with lots of good games available. Running the event just week after Essen proved a bit problematic, as some of the games arrived from Essen on Friday, barely in time.

I did a day trip for the first time, driving to Helsinki in the morning and driving back in the evening. It's about 2,5 hours each direction, so a bit of a driving, yes, and definitely not my favourite way to do it. However, it beat not going at all and with the kids it was the best I could do this year.

1825 unit 1 box

1825 Unit 1. I started the day with a scheduled 5-player game of 1825. I was the only one with 1825 experience and three of the players were total 18xx newbies. We managed to play the game in less than four hours (well, about 4,5 including complex setup and fairly quick clean-up).

We used all Regional Kits and the LT&SE kit and had a bank of 8 300 (I was aiming for 8 000, but didn't bother to remove three 100 chips to get the exact amount). The game actually ended when LNWR reached 340 on the SPI, one or two operating rounds before the bank broke. We were lazy buying trains, which kept the bank alive. It was a fun game and included some interesting challenges.

The setup was good, though I'd probably leave Wales out the next time. South Western England might stay or might go, North Norfolk on the other hand is a must and I'm likely to include it every time I play Unit 1. London, Tilbury and Southend is also easy to include every time, because in general minors are good.

Here's a picture of the board after the game (if you want to see a larger version, it's in the Geek):

1825 Unit 1 game over Box front: Age of Steam

Age of Steam: Finland. We lost one player, but continued the train theme. Age of Steam Finland was a must! It's a tough map: it looks very wide open, but there are plenty of evil lakes that block building a lot. Many cities are easy to monopolize, as you can build all exits if you want to.

I enjoyed the map. The local colour is good: I was able to build track from Helsinki to Tampere to Pori to Oulu to Kuopio, nice round trip through Finland. The expansion is light on the special rules, there's Russia and Sweden that accept any colour and have cubes to use, but once the cubes run out they shut down. Simple, but interesting. Some of the players thought the map was too tight and with five players it's probably downright evil, but I like it and could see it used as a newbie map, thanks to familiar geography and easy special rules.

Bunny, Bunny, Moose, Moose is a party game hit. I think it's not that much fun and very dependent on having a good group. If I never play it again, I'll live a happy life.

Gonzaga. This is the game with the plastic ring thingies over the map of Europe. Clever ideas, somewhat meh play. Bland game, doesn't really stand out except for the garish components.

Pony Express. Liar Dice, racing to finish, dexterity element that includes throwing dice at pawns across the board. Strange combination! It actually works, which is somewhat surprising, and I'm fairly sure some people will love this. I'm not one of those people, but it was fun (especially as I won the epic duel in Sacramento). It was fun explaining the rules, as most situations ended in "and then you must go to prison".

That's pretty much it, for the new games at least. I didn't win Greed, Inc. in the raffle (I bought 16 euros worth of tickets and won a Finnish Board Game Society badge - not bad!), so I'll have to buy it (we're doing our annual post-Essen Milan Spiele order right now). I brought three boxes and a big bag full of games I had sold or traded or somebody else from Tampere had sold or traded and brought back three boxes of games for me and other people.

Now I have plenty of interesting games to try: Winsome set, Early Railways Collection, Railroad Dice (and Railroad Dice 2 and the German expansion), Dampfross and so on. Yeah, I got some train games (actually, about 40% of my collection is now train games or expansions to train games). I also got Dominion: Seaside and Vasco da Gama.

What else... I bought a copy of 1830 from BoardGameGeek. It's either moderately priced or hideously expensive, depending on whether the Finnish Customs Office gets it or not. My Deep Thought order - placed in August - has progressed, there's less than 300 games before me and current ETA is in March. I'll probably drop 1826 out of the order (keeping 1889, 18MEX and 1846), but if 18NEB is ready before my order is done, I might add that.

So many games, so very little time to play them...

Last Train to Wensleydale

I was fortunate enough to make it to the game night this week. Last Train to Wensleydale was most wanted of the new games, so we got full four players. Short version: it's good and worth buying.

Description of the game

Players build small railroads in the Yorkshire Dales, moving cheese, stone and passengers. Passengers are tricky, because they have specific needs, they need to reach the NER or MR network. Stone and cheese are easier to move.

Everything hinges on influence. There are four sorts: government, train, NER and MR influence. Players get influence from a Amun-Re style auction. Government influence determines track building order and is necessary to get rid of complaining farmers who want to block progress. Train influence is super important, as it's needed to rent trains and it also determines the order of goods movement. NER and MR influence are needed a bit in the track building and a lot in the end of the turn (I'll explain later).

Track-building is easy. You can only build one continuous stretch each turn, no forking! Track has a cost, which you can pay in investment cubes (= money that's replenished each turn) or influence. Building must start from a MR and NER town or from own track.

In the movement phase players rent trains of varying capacity and move stuff. Cheese can be moved if your track reaches the area where the cheese is, stone moves if your track is next to the hill with the stone. This is pleasantly simple. Red passengers want to reach a MR town, green passengers want to reach a NER town.

Players get profit from goods moved and collect those for end game scoring, loss is accrued from track on board. Placement on profit/loss track determines general turn order.

In the end of the turn, players can make one of the big companies to acquire their track. It takes a connection to a company town and some matching influence. No more losses from useless track! This is very important phase for the general well-being of your company.

This goes on for four or five rounds. After that you score your profit or loss, 1 point for each good moved during the game and 2 points for each set of four different goods.

Our session and my impression

I like the game. It's fairly hard to grok, I think we got it pretty much on the second or third round. Next time it'll go better. The rules aren't super clean, but we got only one thing wrong (the cost of takeovers). Still, takes a while to explain them.

The setup is notoriously tedious (two cubes are placed on each area, then wrong-coloured cubes - white on lowland, orange on hills - are removed, then passengers are placed in towns) and indeed a bit annoying. There's some fiddly tracking of influence, too.

The game took about 110 minutes. A bit long, but full of action and I can see fast experienced players playing this in 90 minutes. Still, two hours is fairly well justified, there's meat in the game (and I'm not talking about the board, which looks like a bacon omelette).

There's lots of clever stuff going on. I like the auctioning for company influence, the track-building, collecting goods and the takeovers - most of it, that is. Last Train is pleasantly different from the collect-the-shares train games and pick-up-and-deliver lot.

I started by building a track to Hawes in the middle of the hills. I kept the track the whole game, shipping plenty of stone to keep myself making profit. I also got some cheese and green passengers. The route had plenty of red passengers, but it took some effort and two turns of track-building to reach a red town. On the last turn, I did a separate track to gather up some more cheese and green passengers. I wasn't very efficient with the takeovers, so on the last turn I ended up on -3 in the profit/loss track.

However, I was the best with goods, gathering 34 points from four sets and ten more goods cubes. Petri got 23 (least cubes, +5 profit), Hannu 20 (29 points in cubes, -9 mostly from unnecessary track) and Tuomas 11 (21 points, -10 on p/l track).

I'm very glad to own the game and definitely want to explore it more. The different setups will lead to different games, so I suppose there's quite a bit of replay value there.

1825 Unit 3 box

Olli and I played another game of 1825 Unit 3 (our first game, our second game). Even though it was a while since our previous game, we got the game up and running in just 10 minutes. That was pretty sweet.

On company selection

I got the large private, Olli started NBR and I took Caledonian. Caledonian headed towards Carlisle, while NBR took the usual northern route. As usual, NBR withheld a lot, while Carlisle paid good dividends.

Next Olli started Highland in the north, while I started GSWR. CR and GSWR work really well together, as I saw in our first game, so this was an obvious move for me. HR and NBR have some synergy, too.

Caledonian was somewhat hampered by Olli's token play, he closed the city in front of Glasgow, so CR was limited to two-city runs between that city and Glasgow. Nasty. He did another foul trick to GSWR later on, I should've put more effort into playing offensive tokens myself.

More minors

Well, my companies paid better dividends and soon I had a lot more certificates. The game looked pretty clear, but we decided to slug it through. We started more minors. Olli started Great North of Scotland, again at low par, while I started M & C at £100.

That has been something I've wanted to do, and it was a good move. First, it got me more profit. Olli raised GNS from 550 to 1120, while I got M & C from 1000 to 1800. Second, after I paid £370 for the 3T train, M & C had enough money to buy a 5 train (sold to GSWR for £10) and pay something like £200 to CR for a 2 train. M & C bought another junk train later on so I could make space to get a 7 train for GSWR.

In the end GSWR was the king, running 7, 5 and 3 (exact same combo I had for NBR last time! NBR made £540 runs, GSWR had £530). CR had 3, 3 and 4, while NBR had just 3T. NBR's share value was for a long time below 50, allowing both of us exceed the certificate limit.

Final scores

I must admit I was a wee bit surprised in the final reckoning. On the last round we counted the profits on a spreadsheet and it turned out I beat Olli only 738-719. He had more cash than I had, but still I won, mostly thanks to GSWR, of which I owned 80%. My first count was 6648-6572, but typing this session report I noticed a mistake in my calculations and the correct score was 7648-6572, which is quite decisive.

Again the main owner of NBR lost - this has been the case in all three games so far, interesting enough. So, a good game. I now have two victories against Olli's one.

Variant rules used

I used some modifications from Dave Berry's Unit 3 kit DB3. We agreed the addition of the city of Berwick-upon-Tweed on the east coast was a good one. The east coast has been bit of a dead area, but adding Berwick made it more interesting and I ended up building a route there (it was a good route, too). So that's something I'll be using from now on.

Changing Dumfries to a small town and removing one of the mountains between Glasgow and Carlisle was interesting, too. Dumfries is an easy target for CR, this change makes the historical route to Carlisle more likely and perhaps slightly slows down CR in the beginning. Not bad, and I'll definitely try this again. The extra 58 tile necessary was also used, though not on Dumfries.

Adding a small town of Galashiels in the mountain didn't make a difference in our game. Dave's new stock price index, on the other hand, was an excellent addition. It shows the dividend payments necessary for different levels of price advancement, reducing the amount of mental calculation required a lot. Highly recommended!

Picture of the board and the SPI after the game

1825 Unit 3 session

Today ends our large board game auction. We have couple of hundred games for sale. See the auction at Lautapeliopas. Feel free to participate, if you understand the instructions and can pick up your games at Helcon or from me.

I made a huge inventory cleanup for the auction, I'm selling over 40 games. Lots of small card games, but plenty of big boxes. It's mostly games I don't like, but also some really good games I haven't played that much recently. There's Catan, Puerto Rico, Kardinal & König, Wings of War, For Sale, High Society, Phoenicia, FITS, things like that. Looks like I might make 400 euros from the auction, and what's best, I get lots of space in the board game closet so I can fit in new games.

Here's a picture of just about every game I'm selling:

Auction games

(yes, there's a copy of Age of Steam in there, but don't worry, that's my spare copy)

Ghost Stories box

I'm a wee bit late, since everybody played Ghost Stories back in Helcon last year, but I got it now as the Finnish version was published and we got it on the table today with Johanna - and got promptly butchered. It's one hell of a difficult game!

I suppose that's good, as beating the game is an actual challenge and I suppose that'll keep some people playing the game until they beat it and even then there's more replay value, but I'm pretty sure it'll be a turn-off for some, too. Kind of curious they did a Finnish translation, but I guess it's one of those "good chance to make a small print run" opportunities and Lautapelit.fi isn't going for the mass market with this one.

I'm not sure how I like the difficulty. The game looks splendid, if a bit busy, and seems a pain to explain. Well, now I understand the game better, having played it, so explaining it might be easier. I'm not terribly keen on it and I don't think it'll stay, but I do want to give it a four-player go - solid 75% of Geek voters thinks it's best with four.

Steam over Holland box

A while ago I got a chance to play Steam over Holland. I introduced two of the locals to 18xx, since I've got those DIY projects and the DTG order - those are mostly more complicated stuff, not very good for newbies. So, Steam over Holland, the friendly newbie game!

I was actually quite happy to try the game with just three players, because my earlier experience seemed to indicate that's the best number of players. It is - there's enough money in the game to make things more interesting. It's still a bit quiet on the stock market front, but we got five companies running well, which was nice.

I won hands down, no surprises there. I suppose the guys got a pretty good idea on some of the dangers with the trains. Petri got to deliver a nasty punch for me with a train purchase, after which I caused one of Hannu's companies to go bankrupt with the next train type.

Fun game, the boys enjoyed it, we played swiftly - slightly over three hours, including rules, setup and cleanup! - and my new Sidepot Venerati poker chips were great.

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I'm a train gamer, yes. I've got two Deep Thought games on order and I'm adding third (I've got 1826 and 18MEX, I'm adding 1889) and I'm right now in the process of building two more (recently liberated 18EU and the new and curious Japanese 1886). I can also hear 1844 calling for me from Germany, I think it's likely I'll buy it at some point. We're moving in few months to an apartment 30 square meters bigger than our current place and I'm kind of hoping the extra space will make it slightly easier to run some longer games every now and then.

My post-Essen game order looks like it might resemble last year quite a bit: a big Splotter game and the Martin Wallace train game. Greed, Incorporated seems pretty nice, though I have to admit Duck Dealer had a better theme. To speak of the game, I still haven't played it. About time, huh? Last Train to Wensleydale sounds interesting, though I haven't read the rules or anything. I'm hoping to try before I buy at Helcon.

What else... I haven't been playing games for a while, and I'm really itching to get some action. I've got Fauna, Coast-to-Coast Rails and a pretty hot prototype to try.

Age of Steam - Zombie Apocalypse sounds interesting, but expensive. Still, it seems like a relevant AoS expansion, as it's by Michael Webb.

In general the new Essen stuff seems relatively uninteresting. Finnish Board Game Society has really good forum discussion on the new games. I haven't been following BGN lists this year, but the forum notes on new games are generally even better. Endeavor is getting interesting affection - it's a short one, that's always a bonus. I'll try this one at Helcon, definitely. Peloponnes might be fun.


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Vuosiäänestys 2009If you're a Finnish board gamer or a board gamer living in Finland, make sure you vote in the yearly best board game voting. The Vuosiäänestys is running for the seventh time this year. The voting is open for all Finnish board gamers, so unfortunately you foreigners have to pass this one.

This year the winner is hardly a surprise -- well, I'm really surprised if Dominion doesn't win. What's interesting is to see how the dynamic duo from last year does: will Agricola and Race for the Galaxy claim the next spots or will they fade like Caylus did.

Voting form is here.

Finnish Game of the Year ("Vuoden peli") awards have been given. The finalists were chosen August 5th and the winners the next day, but for some reason both weren't published until today. Bizarre.

Dominion box

The adult game category was won by the official prize winner of the season, Dominion. The finalists were Pandemic and Stone Age. All three are published in Finland by Lautapelit.fi.

The family game category went to Zack & Pack. It's my translation, so I score something this year too. Finalists were Epäillyt (by Competo, as is the winner) and Livingstone by Lautapelit.fi.

The best children's game was Quoridor Kid, another Lautapelit.fi game. Finalists were Moomin Alias by Tactic and World of Cars: Race O'Rama, about which I know absolutely nothing.

In Finnish, you can read Vuoden peli 2009 -voittajat.

Roads and Boats box

I was able to organize a longer game today. We ended up playing Roads and Boats, which was certainly welcome. I bought the game back in 2006 and played the only game so far back in 2005, so I'd say it was about time. Olli and Robert joined me, Robert had played back in 2005 and Olli was a newbie.

A quick rules explanation during the setup and off we went! This is a pleasingly simple game to explain, considering how difficult the game actually is. This time we didn't make the same mistake mixing mountains and rocks, so we got mines and gold a lot better. Still, that's all we did. I was just about to build my first coal burner when the game was over. Robert won with almost 100 points, he had four gold and rest of the points from the wonder. I pretty much chose to lose, as I decided to skip the wonder rush and try to actually build something.

Roads and Boats game

There was also a lot more fighting this time. Olli and Robert started building walls pretty soon. I was laughing, but then Olli rushed to my areas with a wagon and a donkey, straight to my brick yard. Ouch. I was able to seize initiative, though, and build, what, six or seven walls on my areas. If I hadn't, Olli would've built those walls and that would've been the end of my game, period.

I need a lot more practise. I'm pretty good at Antiquity after just six games, but Roads and Boats is still a mystery to me. With just few of these four hour slots each year (our game took 3.5 hours with rules explanation, setup and packing), getting Roads and Boats routine is going to be hard.

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