11th August 2015

It was a quiet week, so unsure of how many people we would be, we started out with what was supposed to be something quick, our “Feature Game”, Port Royal.  This is a fairly light card game with elements of push your luck and and deck (or rather tableaux) building.  On their turn, the active player turns over the top card from the deck:  this could be a coloured Ship, or a Person.  The player then has two options, they can turn over another card and add it to the row, or take one of the face up cards.  They can continue turning over cards either until they choose to take one or until they go bust because they draw a Ship and the colour matches one that has already been revealed.

Port Royal
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

When taken, the coloured Ships are immediately exchanged for money according to the number of coins shown on the card.  They also have a military value which is where the People cards come in.  The People cards cost money, but in general, yield both victory points and special powers.  For example, Sailors and Pirates give players a military strength.  If their strength matches that of a Ship, the active player may repel the Ship to avoid going bust.  There are also Settlers, Captains and Priests which are used to fulfill the requirements of Expeditions.  Expeditions are cards that are immediately put to one side when drawn and allow players to increase their number of victory points by trading People cards for the higher value Expedition card.

Port Royal
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor jsper

There are other People cards too.  For example, the Governor awards players two extra coins if there are five or more cards on the table, and the Admiral allows players to take more than one card. Once the active player has taken their turn, then the next player can choose to take a card from the remaining face up cards, paying the active player one coin for the privilege.  Once everyone has had the chance to take a card, play passes to the next player.  The game end is triggered when one player hits twelve victory points and play continues until everyone has had the same number of active player turns.

Port Royal
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The game has obvious elements of “push your luck card turning” like Incan Gold, dual purpose cards like Bohnanza, tableau building like 7 Wonders and Dominion, and set collecting like Splendor.  However, it also has other interesting features.  One of the most interesting aspects was the way that the appearance of some cards is delayed because they are tied up as currency.  This meant that in our game, the Tax Man didn’t appear at all for the first half of the game and then appeared several times in quick succession.  Similarly to Bohnanza, the composition of the deck also changes.  In Bohnanza, the deck shrinks dramatically and as all the rare cards are turned into money their rarity increases.  In Port Royal, it is the People cards that become rarer as they are played into harbours, and ships, which start off quite scarce, become increasingly common increasing the chances of going bust.

Port Royal
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor msaari

Black and Purple started out collecting Settlers, Priests and Captain cards, hoping for an opportunity to upgrade the victory points with Expedition cards.  Blue and Burgundy eschewed Expeditions and instead went for the expensive People, with powerful actions.  That said, Burgundy struggled at the start, going bust in the first two rounds which left him penniless and hampered his ability to buy anything at all.  Meanwhile, Green was fighting just to get the cards he wanted before someone else pinched them.  Eventually, Purple took her second Expedition card and triggered the end of the game, but nobody else was close enough to threaten her position; Burgundy took second on a tie-break with Green, who both finished with nine victory points .

Port Royal
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The rules booklet was not the best, however, and there were a number of questions we had that went un-answered.  For example, we were unclear on how to combine the Admiral with either the Jester or the Governor.  The question was, since the Admiral allows a player to take two cards, does that mean they apply the Jester/Governor special powers twice?  On reflection, we felt the way we played (by a strict reading of the rules) was incorrect as it meant the combination was exceptionally powerful.  Similarly, could a player repel a card if it was the first of a colour to be drawn, or is it only the second card that can be repelled?  On balance, although it was a long way from being the “quick game” we expected, we all enjoyed it and felt it was a good game.  Green in particular was quite taken with the effect the dual-use of the cards had on the draw deck and everyone had had thoughts on how they could have done better, but it was fitting that the one who currently has to wear an eye-patch won the pirate game!

Snowdonia: The Daffodil Line
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor tonyboydell

After some debate, we decided that we wanted to play a deeper game next which meant we were quite limited as we didn’t have many five-player games.  We all enjoy Snowdonia, so since we’ve all played it before we thought we could fit it into the time we had left despite the prolonged setup time (not helped by the fact that Blue’s box contains most of two copies).  Unfortunately, we got side-tracked by the possibility of playing one of the alternative scenarios.  We started setting out The Daffodil Line and then we realised it only played four, so as the game is very tight anyhow we decided not to try to stretch it to five and broke the shrink-wrap on Britannia Bridge instead.

Snowdonia: Britannia Bridge
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor tonyboydell

Snowdonia is a very tight, worker placement game, where players have just two workers and an optional third if they have the required train and coal.  The game simulates building a railway, with players first choosing actions in turn order, then carrying out the actions in “action order”.  The actions include collecting resources from the stockyard, clearing rubble from the route, building track, and building stations.  There are points for most things, but one of the actions is to take contract cards which give players extra points for completing a set number of given tasks (e.g. laying three sections of track).

Snowdonia
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ansi

There are a number of interesting aspects to the game.  Firstly, the weather.  Snowdonia is well known for its rain, fog and very occasional sun, and this has an effect on the rate players can perform tasks.  Secondly, the author, Tony Boydell, is known to dislike resource hoarding and has built in a mechanism to discourage it.  At the start of each round, resources are drawn from a bag and placed in the stockyard.  There are also a small number of white cubes in the bag – for each one that is drawn the game carries out an action.  Since resources are limited, if players hoard them, the chance of drawing white cubes increases and the game speeds up, perhaps unpredictably.

Snowdonia
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor winterplum

Britannia Bridge (or Pont Britannia in Welsh) is the bridge across the Menai Strait between the the mainland of Wales and the island of Anglesey and the scenario simulates building a railway from the mainland to Holyhead on Anglesey.  Thus, before players can build any track, they have to build the bridge.  Uncharacteristically the weather remained quite sunny, though as it was Anglesey rather than Snowdonia, perhaps that was to be expected.  This kept the dig rate up and the track-bed was cleared in record time.  However, although four white cubes came out in fairly quick succession, after that, they seemed to lurk in the corners of the bag, so much so that we checked they were there twice.

Snowdonia
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor winterplum

Black and Purple both built locomotives early giving them the distinct advantage of the optional temporary labourer.  Black used his to move his Surveyor collect contract cards and Blue decided to obstruct his plans by taking the some of the most lucrative (but most challenging) contracts.  Everyone else looked at the short track and some of the high scoring options and decided to go for points.  Blue, Green and Burgundy decided to wait until the maintenance was done before buying a train, but since the white cubes were so slow, by the time it happened they all decided the game was too far advanced for it to be worthwhile.

Snowdonia: Britannia Bridge
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor tonyboydell

Although Black got an early train (The Dawn Raider) and made good use of his extra worker, he was unable to used his special ability as it depended on white cubes being drawn.  Purple took the nine point train and also used the extra worker to move her surveyor.  Burgundy scored a massive number of points by building bits of stations and the game sort of stalled with one track left to build and nobody very keen to build it.  Green eventually got fed up and felt everyone else was picking up points faster than he was, so he decided to end the game.  Blue somehow managed to scrape it all together in the last round building the last siding she needed to fulfill her thirty-one point contract for four track sections and grabbed a six point contract which she had already fulfilled.  These, together with other bits and pieces this gave her a total of seventy-nine points, just two ahead of Black (who also completed three contracts) and someway clear of Burgundy who took third place with sixty-six points.

Snowdonia
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor winterplum

Although we enjoyed the variation and the Bridge undoubtedly changed the start, the different scenario didn’t change the game very much:  contract cards were still very powerful and ultimately made the difference though Burgundy did incredibly well just building stations.  In short, the weather and its effect on the “dig rate” together with the lack of white cubes made a much larger impact on the game than the Bridge.   And that can happen in any game of Snowdonia.

Snowdonia
– Image by BGG contributor aleacarv

Learning Outcome:  The weather has a big influence on building a railway, wherever you choose to build it.

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