A small group of us are trying to start a regular Wednesday night gaming routine. This isn’t to say it will be our only gaming. No, bigger games with longer setup & tear down times will be relegated to weekends as we can arrange them. Wednesday nights will be focused on board games and card games.
Our first Wednesday night gathering was on April 27. My friends Wally and Kevin joined me for a game of Nexus Ops. This was an Avalon Hill game that I purchased many years ago (about 2005) and which was sitting on my game-shelf, still in the shrink-wrap, unloved and unplayed.
Nexus Ops is a 2-4 player sci-fi wargame. Each player commands a force of humans and alien mercenaries that are mining a strange planet for rubium (the currency in the game). You acquire rubium by exploring and mining new territories, and maintaining control of your home bases. You spend rubium to recruit new soldiers and creatures into your army.
The creatures in the old Avalon Hill version of the game are colorful translucent beasts and include Humans, Fungoids, Crystallines, Rock Striders, Lava Leapers, and Rubium Dragons. They all have slightly different abilities, such as being able to fight or move better in certain types of terrain, or being able to mine rubium. The Humans are the weakest of the bunch, but cheapest to recruit, whereas the Rubium Dragons are expensive but super nasty, being able to spit plasma at foes in adjacent hexes and fly from the giant Monolith that occupies the center of the planet.
Nexus Ops is a game that encourages fighting. There are two main reasons for that. First, the battlefield board is round, with a Monolith in the center that’s particularly useful to control (especially if you can get Rubium Dragons up there). So, you can’t turtle your forces in some remote corner of the map.
Second, and even more important, are the Secret Mission cards. During the game, you’ll be acquiring Mission cards. You’re trying to complete the objectives on these cards to earn Victory Points, and the first player who earns 12 VP wins the game. Virtually all these cards require you to win battles to earn VP’s. So, it’s a game of attack, attack, attack.
It was an interesting first-play. The combat is interesting but wildly swingy, because you only roll 1D6 for each human/creature when attacking (rather than a bunch of dice which helps the probability curve smooth out). As a group, our dice-rolling was historically awful. We couldn’t hit the broad side of an elephant’s ass, and the game dragged on a bit longer than expected due to that.
In the end, Wally’s force slaughtered us. I came in dead-last. The turning point for me, was when I had 2 Rubium Dragons atop the Monolith ready to wipe out 2 of Wally’s Rock Striders, and the odds were heavily in my favor of easy kills. Wally played a “Combat Reversal” card, which lets his units attack BEFORE my Dragons. He killed them both — of course. Gah!!! Not only was a high-scoring Secret Mission card of mine totally wasted, my plans of flying the Dragons into lightly protected enemy bases after that and grabbing additional rubium and points were dashed. I never recovered.
All in all, it was a fun game. It’s Ameritrash goodness: a wild, beer & pretzels wargame where your best laid plans can change in a heartbeat.
On Wednesday May 4, Wally and my wife Anna joined me for a game of Big City. This was another “new to us” game. I acquired it several years ago in a trade on BGG.
Big City is a 2-5 player euro game in which your goal is to score the most points by smartly constructing buildings in the best locations within the confines of the city. To me, this game feels like an interesting mix between Bingo, Tile Placement, and Puzzle building.
The board is composed of modular “neighborhood” tiles that have 8 to 9 numbers on them. For a 3-player game, four neighborhoods are placed in the center of the table, each connected to another by at least two squares. There are also 8 Neighborhood Decks containing numbered cards that tie to the squares in each neighborhood (e.g. the 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19 cards tie to Neighborhood 1). Players start with 5 cards in their hand.
During your turn, you can play a card(s) to place a building down on the numbered square(s) which matches your card. There are a variety of different 3D plastic buildings to place, from 1-square to 3-square residences and corporate buildings, to Banks, Post Offices, Cinemas, Churches, Shopping Centers, Parks, Factories, and City Hall. You must adhere to special rules to place each type of building (e.g. Cinema must be adjacent to 2 residences), and each building scores you a certain number of points once placed. Placing a 1-square residence is easy, but only scores you 2 points. Placing a Church is quite difficult, but nets you 15 points.
A different action you can take on your turn is placing a Street Car. These act as multipliers when you place future buildings beside them. So a 6-point corporate building turns into 12 points if it’s placed beside the Street Car line. Placing Street Cars requires planning ahead but can really payoff if you do it right.
I won’t go into detail on the other rules, but that’s the crux of the game. Bad card draws can hamper you, requiring you to cycle through rounds of card-drawing to better your hand, which slows down your building (and point accumulating) efforts. Other players can also block your building plans without even doing it on purpose (although screwing another player by laying down a Factory is a good strategy). That said, those factors aside, there’s some plan-ahead strategy going on here. I can see some similarities to Ticket to Ride in the strategy.
Anna absolutely destroyed us. She focused on building in just 1 or 2 neighborhoods and was able to place a bevy of 2-square buildings before we knew what hit us. I finished in second place and thought I did okay, but after falling behind early, I was overly focused on “the big play” and was never able to pull it off and catch-up.
I can easily imagine getting better at this game and enjoying it much more after repeated plays. It’s definitely a nice change of pace from all the direct-conflict and battle games we play. And by the end of the game, you’ve got this cool looking city built up on the game board, which is a nice bonus.