5th May 2015

We weren’t sure whether Yellow and Orange (who recently moved to Swindon) were coming, so we started out with a quick game of 6 Nimmt!.  This is an older game, and though very simple it is one that everyone in our group somehow struggles to remember the rules for.  The game is played with a deck of cards numbered from two to one hundred and four and features a number of “Bulls Heads” (mostly just one, but some have as many as seven).  Four cards, chosen at random are turned face up on the table to make the start of four rows.  The idea is that everyone then simultaneously chooses and reveals a card from their hand.  Then, starting with the player who played the lowest card, players add their cards to the rows on the table.

6 Nimmt
– Image used with permission of BGG
contributor punkin312

Cards are added to the row that ends with the highest number that is below their card.  Thus, if the cards on the table are four, ten, fifty, and seventy-two, a player with fifteen would add it to the row containing ten.   If the card played is the sixth card in the row, then the player must take the cards and place their card in the empty space.  If the card played is lower than the last card in all the rows, the player must take all the cards in a row of their choosing.  The aim of the game is to be the player with the lowest number of Bulls’ Heads or “Nimmts”.  As play continues, the number of cards in the rows increase (making it harder to play safely) and the number of cards in hand decrease on each turn (players don’t pick up after each turn), so the decisions get increasingly agonising, especially when the rows contain cards with a lot of Bulls’ Heads.

6 Nimmt
– Image by BGG contributor Niko the Shadow

Burgundy started the first round badly and finished worse, ending with thirty-five Nimmts, compared with Black and Purple who both finished the first round with none.  The idea is that a game consists of two rounds, each played with a random half of the deck.  Unfortunately, we miss-counted and used to many in the first round, so the second round included some repeated cards.  Not that it helped Burgundy much as he finished the second round with twenty-one giving him a combined total of over fifty.  Black and Purple did better, but it was Green who had the best over-all, with just two Nimmts in the first round and none in the second, he was the clear winner.

6 Nimmt
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

We then moved on to our Feature Game which was another older game, The Settlers of Catan, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.  As it is an old classic, we had three different editions available and countless expansions.  Since everyone was keen to play it, we set up two parallel games.  Although we’ve only played it once before in the group, everyone knew the game, so we just had a quick reminder of the rules as we were setting up.  At its basic level, the game is one of resource management and civilisation building.  Players start with two roads and two settlements.  These are placed along the edges and on the corners of the hexagons of the modular board.  Each hexagon has a number on it, and on each player’s turn, first they roll both dice and resources are awarded to players with settlements on the corners of the hexagon that  corresponds to the total rolled.  Once the resources have been handed out, the active player can trade resources with other players and use them to build more roads and settlements, develop their settlements into cities or buy development cards.  Victory points are awarded for settlements, cities and the longest continuous road as well as via development cards (both as straight victory points and for the player with the most soldier cards, i.e. the largest army).

The Settlers of Catan
– Image by BGG server robot BoardGameGeek

Burgundy, Blue and Red played with a ten year old, third Mayfair edition, while Green, Black and Purple eschewed an older Mayfair edition and opted for the slightly easier setup provided by the fourth Mayfair edition.  Green, Black and Purple were nearly ready to go, while Burgundy, Blue and Red were still separating the base game from expansion tiles.  No sooner had this been noted by the first group when, calamity, quarter a pint of beer was spilled over their cards, narrowly missing their board!  A hasty drying session ensued and the third copy of Catan came in handy after all, as it was temporarily cannibalised for cards.

The Settlers of Catan
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ronster0

Meanwhile, Blue, Burgundy and Red had finished setting out their randomised board and had started to critique it.  There was only one good source of brick and nothing for ore, in fact, the only abundant supply of anything seemed to be wood and sheep of which there were plenty.  This was exacerbated by the fact that nine was by far the most frequently rolled number in the first half of the game, which delivered both wood and sheep.  Blue had gone first and had grabbed the best brick space, however, although Red and Burgundy apparently had two better starting positions, it was a bit claustrophobic as they were both camped in close proximity on one side of the board.  Red really suffered as she ended up with two awkwardly placed positions and that made her game really tough.  Everywhere she went she was blocked by Burgundy and Blue and although she challenged for the longest road, she just couldn’t get out of the trap.  Although Blue had much more space to work with, good settlement positions were further apart which meant she had to build a lot of road before she could build.  Consequently, she quickly picked up the Longest Road card.  While Blue was road building, Burgundy got his nose in front and was first to build his third settlement.  With the extra resources this provided, Burgundy was able to keep his nose in front, settling more and building cities first.  He also had enough resources to buy a handful of Development Cards, which first of all netted him the Largest Army, and then enabled him to masterfully take the Longest Road card by building three sections in one turn.  This, together with a single victory point card brought him to ten points bringing the game to a close.

The Settlers of Catan
– Image by boardGOATS

Eventually after a lot of mopping, the second game of The Settlers of Catan had got underway.  As is often the case in this game, it was the statistically unlikely numbers which came up all the time and the more probable ones hardly ever!  This time, five appeared time and again, until Purple was awash with sheep  Wood, ore and wheat appeared often enough, but brick was not available at all, probably because they were both elevens and the twelve!  So, the sheep were exchanged for brick and everyone quickly built their third settlement.  Black obstinately refused to join up his two bits of road to claim the Longest Road card which left Green free to take it having extended his road slightly to try to get some ore into his production.

The Settlers of Catan
– Image by BGG contributor shannona

Everyone built a another settlement or two and Black started turning his into cities, but still didn’t join his roads.  Green struggled to get sufficient wheat and ore, so started buying development cards instead of building cities (as they only need one of each rather than a total of five). In the process, Green also ended up with a number of soldiers which resulted in the Largest Army card.  It was then that we discovered that Black had been inadvertently cheating. He had been using his port to swap two wood for his missing resources (he had two settlements on the wood hexagon that happened to be a six).  Of course there would have been nothing wrong with that, except that in this case his port was for the ore port not the wood port!  Green and Purple ribbed him mercilessly for the rest of the game (and indeed the rest of the evening, as he deserved.

The Settlers of Catan
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor thephantomhennes

Fairly quickly Green had taken a commanding lead with five points to the others two and three, which then became six and eventually eight when he took the Largest Army card.  Green kept plugging away at the development cards, trying to get victory points, but a clear lead meant he was also attracting the attention of the robber and his brick port was great considering he had three settlements giving brick, but the dice just weren’t playing the high numbers game.  Eventually Green found a victory point card and he needed just one more to win.  A settlement at the end of the road or a victory point development card (or perhaps a city) would do it, but by now Black had three cities and a settlement, plus that little gap in his roads.  With people finally rolling sixes and Black gaining four wood every time, the inevitable happened. He built another settlement and the missing piece of road meant his was now one longer than Green. So Black went to ten points, and Green tied with Purple two points behind.  Still, Black had cheated…!

The Settlers of Catan
– Image by BGG contributor olaha

The second game was still in full flow when Blue, Burgundy and Red finished, and decided to give a quick game, Yardmaster an outing.  This is a cute little set collecting game with a train theme and some parallels with the Ticket to Ride games.  In Yardmaster, however, players are building a locomotive rather than routes.  On their turn players can do two actions.  The actions are: draw a cargo card (either blind or from the face up discard pile); buy a railcar card from the four face up cards in the middle, or swap their “Exchange Token” with any other one around the table.  To buy a railcar, players pay using sets of cargo cards, so a yellow number three railcar will cost three yellow “oil” cards.  However, the exchange tokens allow players to use other cargo cards at a rate of two-to-one, so in the above example, if the player only had two yellow oil cards but also had two blue “coal” cards and the blue exchange token, they would still be able to buy the yellow number three railcar.

Yardmaster
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor joeincolorado

When buying a railcar, if the number or colour match the previous car, then it must be added to the end of their locomotive.  If not, then players can park it in their personal sorting yard and add it later, when another railcar is being bought and added to the locomotive.  This is the clever part of the game as it allows players to “stack” points in their personal train yard enabling them both to take some risks and strategically remove railcars from the grasping hands of their opponents.  Players score is the total of the numbers of the on the railcars making up their locomotive (waggons in the sorting yard do not score).  Burgundy started with a succession of ones and gradually built a very long, if not very high scoring loco.  Meanwhile, Blue and Red grabbed a couple of higher scoring waggons each.

Yardmaster
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor moonblogger

Although quick, Yardmaster was still going when the second game of Settlers finally finished and Green, Black and Purple were looking around something to play and opted for Plague & Pestilence.  This is another old game, dating back to the early 1990s and has been out of print for a long time, however, Green had brought along a self-printed version.  The game is played in two “phases”.  The first is the Prosperity Phase. During their turn, the active player rolls a pair of purple six-sided dice which indicates how much their population increases by.  Then the active player draws Prosperity cards to refill their hand and plays one.  A special Death Ship card is shuffled into the Prosperity deck and drawing it indicates the start of the second phase, the Plague Phase.  This is played exactly the same as the first phase, but the dice rolls now indicate how much the active player’s population decreases by.  As the game progresses, the plague ravages the populations and players are eliminated; the last player is the winner.

Plague & Pestilence
– Image by boardGOATS

Green, Purple and Black had played Plague & Pestilence recently (though not on a Tuesday) and Purple had won decisively with a whole handful of population cards, so was looking forward to a repeat performance.  With it being a game where being nasty was not just possible, but obligatory, Purple and Green quickly ganged up on Black to punish him for cheating in The Settlers of Catan.  Water off a ducks back, he responded with “Pied Piper” cards and “Mass Migrations”!  However his attempts at getting Green and Purple to fight came to naught thanks to Purple’s apparently endless supply of “Negotiated Settlement” cards.  Populations rose and fell, city improvements were built and destroyed. Some surreptitious changing of population cards from small denominations into large ones to reduce the size of the their pile and hide the true value of the hand went on.  Then the death ship arrived and the game was really afoot.

Plague & Pestilence
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, Red, Burgundy and Blue were bringing Yardmaster to a close, having ridden out a spell of poor railcar cards.  Burgundy was just a handful of points away from winning, and with a cards in his sorting yard needed to buy the red one in the middle, but it was Blue’s turn.  Red urged Blue to take the card or Burgundy would end the game on his next go, but Blue had other plans and using her Exchange Token bought a yellow three and took the opportunity to move all the cards from her sorting yard onto the end of her locomotive, giving her a score of twenty, seven more than Burgundy.

Yardmaster Express
– Image by boardGOATS

Plague & Pestilence was still ongoing, so, after a quick chat about Yardmaster, Blue, Red and Burgundy decided to give its little brother, Yardmaster Express a go.  This shares the locomotive building feature, but is even quicker and simpler than Yardmaster, though much more luck-driven.  The game is based on card drafting, so the start player begins with a hand of railcar cards, draws one from the draw deck and then chooses one to add to their loco.  As before, the waggons must match in colour or number, but this time, the cards are “split” so they contain two waggons and the front waggon may not be the same as the rear one.  Scores are the sum of the numbers on the waggons, as before, but bonus points are awarded to the player (or players) with the longest continuous set of waggons of the same colour.  This can be significant as the bonus is equal to the number of waggons.  If a player cannot match the colour or number they can play the card face down as wild, but these score less and break any otherwise continuous string of waggons.  Once a card has been chosen, the had is passed to the next player who draws a card and chooses one.   There is a little bit of opportunity to screw over the next player by taking the cards they want, but otherwise, the game is highly luck dependent, and this time, Blue was the lucky one.

Plague & Pestilence
– Image by boardGOATS

Over in Plague & Pestilence, survival was the order of the day.  Purple unfortunately had several very high roles and no improvement cards to reduce them, so quickly found her deck dwindling.  Green and Black, however, were getting better luck on the roles, and combining them with City Improvements, managed to hold on to more of their population.  Purple, with a population reduced to just ten, had one last go at Green with a “Pied Piper” card, but ultimately it wasn’t enough as she rolled 9s and 10s and within a couple more turns was dead. The gloves were now off between Green and Black.  Well not so much gloves off as desperately trying to shore-up our own populations against the relentless tide of plague and death.  Green eventually managed to win the war of attrition, thanks in no small part to four consecutive trade centre cards (which increased his population by ten each time)!

Plague & Pestilence
– Image by boardGOATS

With both games finally finishing more or less together, we had a quick chat and then decided to finish as we had started, with another game of 6 Nimmt!.  This time we started with the correct number of cards and, as before, Burgundy managed to start collecting Nimmts like they were going out of fashion.  Once again, Black managed to avoid picking up any Nimmts in the first round, but this time it was Blue that joined tied with zero at the halfway point.  Much to everyone’s surprise it was Burgundy however, who won the second round with just three Bulls’ Heads.  Unfortunately, with eighteen in the first round he was always going to find it hard to compete for the lead, which left Blue and Black with fourteen overall, having finished both rounds with exactly the same number and the evening finished with a draw.

6 Nimmt
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  New games can be good, but classics remain popular for a reason.

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