This week, we started late partly due to illness and delayed arrivals and then we got side-tracked by the latest haul from the UK Expo over the weekend. These included The Little Prince: Make Me a Planet, Tsuro of the Seas (an expanded version of one of our favourites, Tsuro), a little card game called Dodekka and most exciting of all, a new game based on the old childrens’ classic, Ivor the Engine, complete with the original artists drawings.
We decided to start with Dodekka, as it had been played at the show. This is a short card game played with five different suits, Fire, Earth, Air, Water or Ether each numbered 0-4. The game starts with three random cards placed in a line from the draw deck. On their turn, a player may choose to take the card closest to the deck into their hand or take a new card from the deck and add it to the end of the row. Players score the total face value of the highest set, minus one point for each additional card and the highest score wins. As long as the row totals twelve or less (or the new card is the same number as last one) everything is fine, but if the active player chooses to “twist” and goes “bust”, then they must take all the cards on the table into their hand and this can lead to a lot of negative scores! The game started fairly evenly, but White was the first to succumb to the bust. It seemed that every time it came round to White, she had to choose between taking a card she didn’t want or taking a chance that she would not go bust from 11! So yes, the inevitable happened again and just as we were beginning to wonder if this game was flawed, Red went bust and shifted the cycle. Green (who had not played it before) somehow managed to hang on till the end of the game without going bust and won with the handsome score of 9.
As the theme of the evening was new games and old favourites, next we played Alhambra, but with a couple of new, unplayed modules: the Characters and Military Encampments from the City Gates expansion. We’ve played Alhambra a few times as well as its predecessor, Stimmt So!. Basically, on your turn, you buy coloured tiles with different coloured money cards and add them to your Alhambra. If you can pay with exactly the correct amount, you can buy another tile, but if you over-pay, you get no change and your turn ends. While this all sounds simple enough, there is the little problem that most of the tiles have walls along one, two or three edges, and when placed, these must match up without partitioning the Alhambra. These walls are critical as poor play in the early stages means that it is possible to get yourself backed into a corner later in the game. The Military Encampment tiles are placed alongside and outside the Alhambra walls and score points dependent on the number of tiles within that row. The Characters can do a variety of things: some help end-game scoring, some provide a one off bonus, and others give a bonus of some sort every turn. These cards are in the money deck and are immediately auctioned off when they appear.
The game progressed steadily through to the first scoring round, with White and Green matching tile for tile and Red just a couple behind. After totting up at the first scoring round, Red was only two points. As the second round progressed, things began to get interesting as the characters started appearing. Red picked up the first two, which enabled him to swap exchange a tile on the market board if he wanted, or get extra money if he got low. Green got the third Character, which was a tie breaker for one tile colour at scoring. White then got in on the action with a card which would increase her wall score, and since her wall was looking good already, seemed like a wise investment. Meanwhile, Red’s Alhambra was looking good for the high scoring tiles and the wall, although building was going to become more challenging. White was also getting a little boxed in to the west, but built up a few camps improving her score. Green did not have the long wall, but was really boxed in due to the hap-hazard nature of his city. So, when the next character card to appeared gave an additional city re-arrangement action for placing a new building, Green did everything he could to get it, and fortunately for him, the others did not try very hard to stop to him.
In the second scoring round Green’s tie breaker character gave him a boost and White’s wall bonus gave her a few extra points, but it was all to no avail as Red soared into the lead. Moving into the third round and the game picked up intensity as Ruth left the building (i.e. the game became “Ruth”-less!). The final character to appear enabled the player to get a money card if he bought a high value tile, although looking at what was already on the table there did not seem to be many (if any) left and only Green thought it was worth money.
So the fight was on, White was trying to make her wall as long as possible and added camps as often as she could. Green and Red fought to get the most of the highest scoring, purple tiles, while Green frantically set about re-arranging his city, turn by turn, often over-paying simply to buy a tile and unlock the re-arrange action, so that he could to get more tiles in. Red won the battle for purple and green tiles, Green just about got his city re-arranged and nabbed a couple of white buildings at the last to give him the lead in that class. In the scoring, Green then used his tie breaker to take the lead in brown tiles ahead of White, adding them to the lead in red tiles, meanwhile, Red sneaked ahead in the lowest scoring blue tiles. Both White and Red scored well for camps and walls, but Green had managed to pull his city together and link up his walls to give a respectable score. In the end, the game was quite close, but Red won the day with 146 points, just seven points ahead of Green in second. We all agreed that the character cards really added an interesting twist to the game, and will likely remain a feature of our Alhambra games from now on.
This game had taken a very long time, and, even though it was only supposed to be only an hour, according to the game cube timer it had taken over an hour and a half excluding setting up and auctioning! There was still time for another crack at Dodekka though and this time Green went bust very early on, while Red remained card-less and White went bust next. Red did not survive and right at the end, Green took a gamble and went bust to finish the game. As we’d found earlier this is a generally low scoring game and this was no exception, with Red running out the winner on 1 point! Even so it was agreed that this was a good game, worth playing again… and again… and again…
Learning Outcome: To win you don’t always have to score highly!