Fifty seventh session - Rat Race

St. Ives Tabletop

28th June 2023

After last session with no new games out, this week we had many new games to try, partly because some members were recently back from a games exposition eager to try out their new loot. The games covered trains (of course), building zoos, abstract pattern building, rats making rockets to the moon, growing a forest and horse racing.

Ark Nova

Ark Nova had been booked in advance and as this is a long game four players quickly got started on building their zoos and conservation strategies. The gameplay mechanic is reasonably simple, everyone takes turns doing one action and there are only five types of action. However there are a lot of cards with interesting animals or items to help your zoo. So there are crucial decisions to make on whether to grab those cards you can see that might fit your strategy and work together or just build some enclosures and fill them to get some revenue flowing whilst working towards a conservation goal. In the end two players assembled a set of complementary cards to get an engine going a bit faster than the others and gameplay accelerated towards the endgame condition when the score track for zoo attractiveness crossed over with conservation score, then the end game bonuses tipped the balance and produced a clear winner. However as always everyone enjoyed the challenge of building their zoo.

Meanwhile the first short game of the week was Northern Pacific back for its fourth play but not seen since session 25 though the best description of gameplay is in blog 13. A train based route building and speculation game and typically cut-throat as players decide between betting on the route the train will take, or building the next part of the route and thus choosing to avoid other peoples bets and direct it to yours.

Block and Key Block and Key

Then players tried Block and Key a 3D building game. There is a central raised play area where players are limited to their own 2D viewpoint, no moving around the table and checking how the structure looks from the other sides. Players have their own request cards with certain patterns to make. Then they can draw new blocks from the supply or place one block in the shared raised space. The blocks can only be placed either diagonally next to an existing block, or they must be higher (up to a max of 6) than any touching adjacent blocks and not have any parts hang without support. Finally the player checks and sees if any of their request cards have been filled before drawing new cards. The game ends when one player has completed a set number of request cards and then scores for the cards are counted up. The game had a clear winner, but second place came down to a tie break between the other three.

Next the players split between two tables and started playing First Rat and Photosynthesis.

First Rat First Rat

In First Rat the aim is to be the first player to get your four rats (rattronauts) onto the junkyard built spaceship and launch first to get the most lunar cheese. The game has a simple movement and set collection mechanic. The end goal is achieved by moving your rats around the junkyard and collecting various resources, improving the lighting (so you can find resources better) or raising new rats in the nursery (you only start with two rats). This is a brand new game that was getting a lot of attention at the expo so it was nice to be able to give it a go at the club and let some other members try it.

Photosynthesis Photosynthesis

Photosynthesis is a slightly older game that has won a lot of awards but strangely had never made it onto the tables until this session! The game is a very pretty three dimensional forest growing game. You need to plant your trees wisely as they require light and other trees will block the sun due to their height and length of shadow they cast. On a turn everyone collects light energy from their planted trees that the sun shines on, and then one at a time you use this energy to plant seeds, grow trees and manage your available plants from your stock. Then the sun will rotate around the board, casting shadows in new places and changing the trees that get energy, in the advanced game shadows also stop new growth. A full round involves the sun revolving around the whole forest and the game ends after a few rounds. The aim is to grow your trees to their highest and at an opportune moment before the end to harvest them for points, more points can be earned for doing harvesting quicker than others, and for trees nearer the centre of the board. Like Renature (see last session blog 56) this is a game with a nice nature theme but with a competitive (tree shadowing) mechanic. However it is simple to learn and a nice implementation of a more novel mechanic needing to plan ahead and think about where the sun will be to nurture your growing forest.

Ready Set Bet

Finally the remaining players joined back up again for Ready Set Bet. This was a noisy but fun end to the session with an optional app providing some atmosphere (and automated dice rolling) for a day at the races. The horse racing mechanic is similar to Catan or Can’t Stop and based on rolling 2 dice and the probability of the sum of the numbers, 7 being more likely than other combinations like 2 and 12. The aim is simple, make the most money over four rounds by betting on numbered horses in the race. Players can bet as the race progresses until 3 horses have passed a particular point. At the end of each race players win or lose money and can acquire VIP cards to help in the next races. It was frantic, sillyness that worked as a great ending to the night.

The next session is 12th July, please come and join us for more games, there are always plenty to choose from or we are happy to matchmake games in advance. Contact us via discord, twitter or email for more information.