We started the evening with a big bowl of chips, some ice-cream and a game of Hanabi. This is a a co-operative game where everyone works together to try to achieve a common aim. The idea is very simple: everyone has a hand of tiles which are turned to face away, so that players can see everyone else’s tiles, but not their own. On their turn, players then either play a tile, give a clue about the colour or number of the tiles in front of a player, or discard a tile (and recover a clue). The aim is to lay twenty-five tiles in order within their suits.
Everyone had played the game before, but never together as a group, so we had a quick discussion of conventions. The game can be played very strictly in complete silence with “poker faces”, but given how hard the game is, we’ve always played it in a fairly relaxed way. Some groups have a lot of extra ways of giving clues, for example, if a player has three green tiles, they point to them in a prearranged order, say, from lowest to highest, however, within the group we’ve always felt this is a step too far. We typically play with a conveyor-belt, where new tiles are generally placed at one end and, in the absence of other information, should it be necessary, the oldest tiles are discarded. This not only helps the players giving clues ensuring that tiles stick about for as long as possible and makes sure people know which tile is “in the hot seat”, but also helps the owner remember which tile is which. In the past, we’ve also used some element of the active player talking through their thought process so that other players can learn how people think. This is nice when learning, but does have the tendency to give away a little too much information, so this time, with more experienced players, we tried to keep that to a minimum.
We started off well with one player beginning with three ‘ones’ all of different colours, but then the trouble set in. The absence of “twos” meant that nobody could really find any really good clues to give and before long we were forced to discard tiles which led to the inevitable consequence of throwing away both white “threes”. Although it limited our highest possible score, it had the advantage that people could freely discard white tiles and recover clues. Doors opened a little and we managed to play complete blue, green and red fireworks. The total of nineteen gave us an excellent crowd pleasing display, though it would be interesting to see if the same group could do as well, or even better next time, playing a little more strictly.
Meanwhile a couple of other players arrived and, seeing that the game had some way to go, decided to start a quick game of The Little Prince: Make Me a Planet. This is a pretty little game based on the book, The Little Prince, by the French writer, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. We’ve not played it before on a Tuesday, though many of us have played it on other occasions. The idea is that each player is trying to build a planet from a total of sixteen square tiles. The tiles have one of four different motifs: characters, up edges, down edges and middles and when four of each are combined, they make a picture of a planet with the four corner spaces occupied by the characters.
On their turn, the active player chooses a motif, draws one tile per player and keeps one. They then choose another player and pass on the remaining tiles for them to select one, then pass remaining tiles on etc. The final player gets no choice and gets to keep the last tile, but to make up for that, this player becomes the start player for the next round. Each tile features a number of items: lamp posts, sheep stars, strange-looking foxes, elephants, baobob trees, cobras etc. which are used for scoring. The score for each item depends on the characters, however, and items will score highly for one planet and poorly, or even negatively for another. The game was tight all the way through, but Purple finished ahead with a lead of seven points.
The games came to an end and we decided to start two simultaneous games of The Speicherstadt, our “Feature Game” for the week. This is an unusual auction card game where players compete for victory points, which come mainly from contracts (sets of resources) and special cards. The game is set in Hamburg around 1900 where there was a unique complex of storehouses (Speicherstadt) and a network of canals and bridges forming a terminus for spices, coffee, tea and carpets from all over the world. Players act as wholesaler at the heyday of the Speicherstadt acquiring shiploads for the storehouses and making profits selling selling them. We played this game quite a bit a few months back, but somehow seemed to have forgotten how to play it. After a period of staring blankly at the rules, we remembered that each player starts with three meeples which they use for bidding, and bid by placing them above their chosen card (and any meeples already there). Once everyone has declared their interest, the first card is auctioned: the person at the front of the queue has the first chance to buy and the price is set by the total number of meeples in the queue. If they choose to buy at that price, they pay up and the auction is over. If they choose not to buy (or are unable to), then they forfeit their opportunity, remove their meeple and the next person has a chance (and the cost is reduced accordingly). The deck is stacked so that contracts mostly come out first, then “schiffs” which carry the goods used to fulfil the contracts. There are also firemen (or feuerwehrmenn) and a smattering of other interesting and valuable cards.
In the first game, Blue failed to acquire any firemen and was duly punished by losing a total of ten points during the game. Because Orange and Red had not played before, they had neglected contracts in the early stages, which meant goods were plentiful and were mostly sold. Blue picked up the most contracts, but it was nowhere near enough. On the other hand, Orange took all ten points, so the question was whether the contracts and Counting Houses held by Red were enough. It came right down to the wire and the game finished with just one point in it, in Red’s favour, by just two points. Meanwhile, the second game was playing in a completely different way. In contrast to the first where contracts had gone unclaimed and all the “schiffs” were bought and goods sold, in the second game, most of the contracts had been snapped up, but with a shortage of money, some of the ships had not been bought. In the second game, Green had picked up most of the firemen points and finished thirteen points clear of Black, his nearest challenger.
A couple of people left early and those remaining played decided to play Montego Bay. This is a game we’ve played a few times before, that features simultaneous card selection, which are then played in a predefined order. Cards are numbered one to five and each player chooses two to move their big docker and their little docker round a circular track. If they land on a space that is already occupied, then the piece that was there, moves to the other side of the track if that space is available. If that space is also occupied, then the active piece moves as far as it can and then stops. Each space corresponds to a cellar that contains some number of barrels which players then take it in turns to load into boats. When a boat is full (or if it is the first boat in line at the end of the round), it sails and players score points for having the most barrels in boats when they go. Beware the broken barrels though, if a player lands on a cellar with some of these they must remove the corresponding number of barrels from the boats rendering the best laid plan in tatters.
Black started off really well with excellent timing on a couple of boats and catching lots of points as a result. Then Purple joined in before Green took a commanding lead. Blue made some in-roads, but proved her own worst enemy when she landed her big man on a cellar with broken barrels and then, to add insult to injury, landed her little man on the same space, moving the big man to the other side where there were even more broken barrels waiting for her. Green ran out the winner with forty-four points to Blue’s thirty-eight in second place.
Learning Outcome: If fire is inevitable, ignore it at your peril.