23rd February 2016

After another quick game of Love Letter (a resounding win for Magenta), we moved on to our “Feature Game”, Kobayakawa.   This is a simple little Japanese micro-filler game with elements of betting and push-your-luck.  The rules sounded unpromising, but it was much more fun on the table.  The idea is very simple:  from a deck numbered one to fifteen, each player is dealt a single card with one extra one face up in the middle.  Like Love Letter, players draw a card and chose which to keep, but the aim is different as players are trying to set themselves up for the second phase of the game.  In the second phase, players take it in turns in player order choosing whether to pay a token to join the bidding or not. The player with the highest card in hand wins the pot and the winner over all is the player with the most tokens after seven rounds.  There is a catch, however, as the player with the lowest card gets to add the face up card to their total.

Kobayakawa
– Image by boardGOATS

It is at this point that the little bit of strategy comes in:  in the first phase, players can choose to replace the face up card instead of drawing a card into their hand.  It is only a very little bit of strategy though, since play is strictly in player order and at the start of the round you have almost no information.  Thus, a player who has chosen to keep a low card can find their round is trashed when the last player in the round changes the face-up card from a high value to a low one.  That said, the game is not meant to be an intensely deep strategy game, and it was much more fun than it sounded on reading through the rules.  Pine took an early lead with Green crashing out as he ran out of tokens.  Although we enjoyed it, we felt the end-game could do with a little work as the rules say that everyone who has enough tokens must pay two to join in the last round of bidding (instead of one as previously).  This increases the value of winning the final round and means the preceding rounds can be essentially meaningless unless a player has managed to accrue more than half the number of tokens available (and in that case the final round is pointless instead).  We felt that maybe the game would be better with an early target, with the winner being the player to collect, say, three times the number of tokens as players, and if that hadn’t happened by round seven, then play the final round.

Kobayakawa
– Image by boardGOATS

This was followed by a short break during which we discussed what to play next and got side-tracked by an (unusually serious) conversation regarding the upcoming EU referendum.  As the debate disintegrated into general moaning along the lines of European stereotypes Green felt a game of Lancaster was in order, as it is a game where players are directing noble families from the time of Henry V, vying for power and favour amongst themselves, with a side order of fighting the French.  This is a game that has had a couple of outings recently since we first played it just after Christmas, but this time we decided to add the Reward Tiles mini-expansion.  Pine was the only one not to have played it before, so we had a quick run-through of the rules.  Players take it in turns to place their knights in one of three places:  in the shires; in their castle, or in the wars in France.  Once the knights have been placed, players then vote on and evaluate “the Laws” which give players a benefit just before they get their their rewards for knight placement.  After five rounds, the player with the most points wins.

Lancaster: Reward Tiles
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Baartoszz

The mini-expansion added reward tiles which are drawn at the start of each round and placed next to a county on the game board.  During the rewards phase, the player who takes control of the county may collect the reward tile instead of the imprinted basic reward (collecting both the nobleman tile and the reward tile if they pay the extras).  Clearly these weren’t going to have a huge impact on the game, though they would make some of the benefits slightly more available during the game, something that had the potential to help out Purple who insisted that she never did very well as Green and Black always knocked her out of the castle improvement counties (something that was not denied).  The first round of knight placement was a benign affair as no-one seemed up for a fight. Black concentrated on beating the French, Purple inevitably went for castle improvements, Green wanted the starting token and Pine thought building up his knights would be a good start.

Lancaster
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor kopernikus

Then came the first phase of voting for the Laws. Confusion abounded concerning quite how it worked, and having been fairly unanimous in our votes we prepared to discard two laws and replace them with two more. A quick check of the rules about how we do this indicated that we’d done it all wrong:  we should have voted for the new laws we wanted not the old laws we wanted to keep.  There was a little more discord at the ballot box when we tried again, but we still got two new Laws.  With that, the most complicated part of the game, out of the way for the first time, we went into the rewards round with players counties collecting knights, castle improvements, voting cubes and squires, and awarding points for the victory in France.  It was when we came to the rewards from the Laws that Green realised that all his calculations as to what he would get were wrong since number of squires and money had suddenly changed.  It was only when placing the knights in the second round that Green realised that the rewards from the Laws should be awarded immediately after the vote and before the rewards from the rest of the board.  We changed to follow the rules for the rest of the game, but did think that it could make an interesting variant as it provides an extra level of uncertainty into the game.

Lancaster
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

Over the next couple of rounds, Black continued his grudge against France, Purple tried to build her castle (largely unsuccessfully), Green gathered voting nobleman around his table and Pine built up his fighting strength.  By round three Purple and Black had both accumulated a lot of squires and Pine and Green found themselves being kicked out of a few counties and having to replace somewhere else and by the fourth round, the knives were really out and the counties were changing hands like “pass the parcel” at a birthday party.  Pine and Green had superior knight strength, but Black and Purple had the upper hand with squires; battles raged across the land and the rivers ran red with the blood of so many faithful soldiers.

Lancaster
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

The battles continued into the final round, however, Black had often swiped the nobleman from under the noses of the other players by judicious use the free nobleman king’s favour and the free nobleman alternative reward from the expansion (the only person to actually take advantage of it in the whole game). Eventually, everyone settled with several sending their knights home to treat their wounds, and the game ended except final scoring.  Black began the scoring several points ahead of the others and it looked like his fighting in France may have paid off, especially as he had managed to gain quite a table of nobleman as well. The superior knights of Green and Pine and the better castles of Pine and Purple brought them a little closer to Black prior to the nobleman scoring.  Black and Purple finished with the same number of nobles giving them fifteen points, but Green finished with two more which he had snuck in right at the end and took him to a near full compliment giving him an extra thirteen points and with it the win, leapfrogging Black in second place with Pine finishing just one point behind in third.

Lancaster
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

In discussing the game after, Pine said he quite enjoyed it and we ruminated on how weak the castle improvements seemed to be, more because they were so hard to get early on, when they would provide the most benefit whereas later on they were of less use.  This brought in the idea of using the expansion extra reward tokens all at the beginning of the game rather than only one new one out each round.  We also wondered if placing them randomly rather than on specific counties could work, though that might need some thought.

Lancaster
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Meanwhile, Blue, mindful that Green and Burgundy had been keen to play Endeavour again, had produced that as a her offering for a game about international treaties.  With Green engaged elsewhere, Blue and Burgundy recruited Magenta to the cause and gave her a rules run-down as she had not played it before.  The game felt much less confusing than last time as it was fresh in Blue’s and Burgundy’s minds having played it within a month.  So, despite all the little bits that need to be set out, the perceived complexity of the game and the relative inexperience of the players, Endeavour was actually under way first.  The game is played over seven rounds, each of which consists of four phases:  Building, Population, Income and Action.  The idea is that players have four status tracks which correspond to Industry, Culture, Finance and Politics, which roughly correspond to the four phases and dictate what players are allowed to do at each stage.  The game is actually much less confusing than we made it last time, though there are a number of apparently little rules that have the potential to make a large difference.  For example, last time at least one player had multiple copies of one building which can significantly change the balance of the game as well as potentially making that building unavailable to other players.

Endeavor
– Image by boardGOATS

Players start by choosing a building:  although the choice is very limited at the beginning so everyone begins with only a slight variation in direction, we have a feeling that the choices made very early on in the game are critical.  Similarly, getting the first round of settling and shipping right is vital as this gives both position and a crucial fast start on the status tracks allowing players an early toe-hold in the game.  As such, Magenta was at something of a disadvantage not having seen the game play out before, though with just three players (compared to four last time) there was just a little more wriggle room.  Burgundy and Magenta began by building Shipyards, so Blue decided to do something different (largely just for the sake of it) and built a Market instead.  Although she didn’t plan it that way, it meant that she was first to start picking up cards from the Asset Deck in Europe, giving her an alternative method of building her status tracks.

Endeavor
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, Magenta and Burgundy were both engaging in shipping though Magenta was having the better of it managed use to build up her Population and Income tracks and quickly took the Governorship of South America.  Somehow, Burgundy had got things very slightly out of kilter and was unable to put them right.  Before long his Income status track had fallen behind which restricted his available population as well as blocking up his action spaces.  Magenta was on roll judiciously shipping, settling and picking up Asset cards, and generally playing a very canny game.  In the previous game, with four players, almost all the board had been opened up in what had been a very tight game.  This time, with only three players, large sections of the board didn’t get explored much at all.  This was exacerbated by Blue only starting her shipping slowly, so Burgundy had to make almost all the running in India, which was hard work, but necessary for him to build a network of settlements.  Matters were made worse for him with Blue pouncing on one of his key targets.

Endeavor
– Image by boardGOATS

Although everyone finished in much the same place, as before, with nearly complete status tracks and a near full set of cards, it was clear that Burgundy had struggled and Magenta had really done very well.  Blue’s position was less clear as she hadn’t done quite as well as Magenta on the status tracks (especially as she had to discard one of her cards at the end of the final round), but had picked up points elsewhere, in particular on her Asset cards.  In the final count, Burgundy was nowhere near as far back as we had thought and it was clear that if he had been able to increase his income just slightly, earlier in the game, he would have been way out in front.  As it was, Blue finished some twelve points clear thanks to her Asset card victory points and more cities than anyone else.

Endeavor
– Image by boardGOATS

Lancaster was still under way, so Burgundy, Magenta and Blue decided to play something small and quick that they all knew.  The minimal set-up time and its more relaxed feel commended The Game, and since the decision had to be made quickly, no-one really looked any further.  We’ve played this simple little card-laying co-operative game a lot, so the only thing we needed to check was the number of cards in the starting hand.  Unfortunately, an appalling deal quickly put paid to our “R&R” and the stress levels quickly rose as it looked highly likely that we weren’t going to even get through the deck.  In the event, we just about managed to get to a point where the draw deck was depleted, but that was it and we finished with seventeen unplayed cards.  Lancaster was drawing to a close, but scores still had to be tallied and there were a lot of bits to put away, so we decided to give it another go, with speed.  Not thinking seemed to help (or maybe it was the practice from the previous try), because we made a much better fist of it, finishing with just four unplayed cards.

The Game
– Image by boardGOATS

With Magenta heading home for an early night, there was just enough time (and people) for a quick game of one of our most popular fillers, Om Nom Nom.  The game is quite simple with players simultaneously choosing animal cards to try to eat as much possible:  for example, a cat will eat mice.  Similarly a mouse can eat cheese, but only if it is not eaten by a cat first.  The board is seeded with dice, after which there is a large dose of double-think as players try to guess whether everyone/anyone else is going to go for the largest tastiest helpings or not.  As usual, Green moaned about how badly he does in the game, and tried his usual array of randomly choosing cards and going for his second choice rather than his first, but for all that, he didn’t do so badly in the end, though he was some way behind Blue who just pipped Pine thanks to a large helping of carrots (which, it turns out score double) in the final round.

Om Nom Nom
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor msaari

Learning Outcome: Games can be very different when you change even the smallest of rules…

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