22nd March 2016

Red, Magenta, Blue, Burgundy and Green were first to arrive and decided to get the evening going with a quick light filler.  After a quick debate, we decided that the best fit to the number of players and the time we wanted to fill was …Aber Bitte Mit Sahne (which means “…But Please, With Cream”, though the game is known as “Piece o’ Cake” in English).  This is a cute little set collection game coupled with the “I divide, you choose” mechanic.  The game starts with “The Baker” taking a pile of cake slices showing a selection of different types, and then arranging them in random order to form a wheel of eleven pieces which they then divide into five slices.  Then the idea is that the other players take it in turns to choose which slice to take and how much of it to “eat”.  Points are scored at the end of the game for the player with the most kept pieces of each type of cake and for the number of “blobs” of cream on cake that has been eaten.

…Aber Bitte Mit Sahne
– Image by boardGOATS

In case of a draw, all parties win the pints, but any set that has been not been eaten and is not the largest scores nothing.  Thus, the player dividing needs to try to make sure that they are left with something useful after everyone else has chosen, but at the same time, they don’t want to give away anything that helps the opposition too much.  After dealing out the piles for each round we realised that we’d inadvertently included the wild card slice from the mini expansion, but Blue couldn’t remember the rules, so we decided to take it out and do it again. In the event, the game itself was quite close with Red and Magenta fighting it out for first place and for the most strawberry gateau.  In the end, Red took first place with thirty-two, three points ahead of Magenta with everyone else some way behind.

…Aber Bitte Mit Sahne
– Image by boardGOATS

We were just deciding what filler to play next when Black and Purple wondered in, so we decided to get on with playing something with a bit more bite.  First on the table was the  “Feature Game”, Glen More, which is a tile laying game set in the seventeenth century highlands. Black wasn’t keen as he’d played it before and had felt it was very random.  Blue said she hadn’t got that sensation from reading the rules, but she did think that it had some very different elements to it and had no feel for how to go about playing it.  Magenta and Red commented that they weren’t really selling it and wondered what the alternative might be.  Black suggested The Voyages of Marco Polo and Green was torn as he really wanted to play both.  Although Blue was very interested in playing Marco Polo too it has a reputation for being monstrously long and she has a very strong dislike for leaving games incomplete.  Burgundy had read up on Glen More, so was keen to give it a try as was Blue, so despite its poor billing, Red and Magenta joined them to make a four and they quickly got going.

Glen More
– Image by boardGOATS

Glen More is a strange mixture of mechanisms and it is initially hard to see how they fit together.  The game has an unusual turn order mechanism (similar to that in Tokaido), where the player at the back goes first moving their token along the circular track, choosing a tile the fancy and replacing it with their marker.  They then add the tile to their village and draw a new tile which is placed at the front of the row of tiles (keeping the number available the same throughout the game).  When a player adds a tile to their village they must obey two basic rules:  any road or river on the tile must connect with their existing road or river and the tile must be next to a clansman.  Tiles cannot be rotated and each player starts with a village tile comprising a clansman, a road running vertically and a river running horizontally.

Glen More
– Image by boardGOATS

Once the tile has been placed, all orthogonally and diagonally neighbouring tiles can be activated.  Each tile gives the village some kind of benefit:  yellow and green tiles provide resources, fairs and the like allow players to trade resources for victory points, village tiles allow the clansman to be moved, while distilleries allow the conversion of grain into whisky.  Resources are essential because, as well as the potential to trade them for points, about half of the tiles also have purchasing costs that has to be payed before a tile can be added to a village. Resources can be bought and sold at any time during a players turn, but any that are bought must be used straight away and the cost will depend on the Market which reflects demand.  When a player buys a resource, they place a coin on the market space and the next player must pay one more than the last up to a maximum of three after which, that resource is no longer available.  A player selling resources takes the last available aliquot until there is no money available, after which they can no-longer sell, making currency circulation a contained system.

Glen More
– Image by boardGOATS

Tiles can be activated in any order and then the new “last player” gets a turn.  Since players can move as far forward as they like, jumping lots of tiles if they choose, it is quite possible that a player may have several consecutive turns, alternatively, they may decide to sacrifice turns in order to get a particular tile that is nearer the front of the track.  There are three piles of tiles and interim scoring occurs every time one of the stacks is emptied.  Scoring is also unusual as players score based on the difference between their position and that of the person in last place in that category.  There are three scoring categories:  locations, chieftains  and whisky.  The locations are special tiles which give some special powers that have an impact during the game, but are also a a source of points.  At scoring time, players evaluate how many special tiles they have and then subtract the number of locations held by the weakest player in that category.  This difference is then compared with a scoring table and points are awarded accordingly.  Larger differences return a proportionately larger number of points.  Chieftains and whiskey are scored in a similar way, with chieftains being clansmen that players moved off the board.

GlenMore007
– Image by boardGOATS

For example, in a four player game, if the players have six, five, three and one barrel the “differences” will be five, four, two and zero which translate into eight, five, two and one victory points.  Thus, as the player in last place, picking up a distillery, may actually have a bigger impact on the scores than adding to the scoring category that they are strongest in.  This is because it reduces the number of points held by all the other players, where the difference is large, it can hurt players more efficiently too.  At the end of the game, players also get points for any remaining money, but also lose three points for every tile they have more than than the player with the smallest village.  So, when choosing which tile to take, each one has to earn its keep, in other words, the winning village has to be efficient as well as effective.

Glen More
– Image by boardGOATS

Having explained the rules, everyone was still not much the wiser.  We could all see what the mechanics did, but connecting them together was more tricky and we all felt we could only find out more by playing.  Red went first, but as she had no clue what she was trying to do, she picked a nice looking grain tile that was some way down the track and went for it.  Burgundy and Blue queried it as it meant she was likely to miss a couple of turns, but she said she was happiest that way as she didn’t feel she could make a better, more meaningful decision.  By the next turn she wasn’t  much wiser, but added a distillery to her village, no doubt making her clansmen very happy indeed as she started her whisky production.  Meanwhile, Magenta’s village was already very resource rich and Burgundy had a couple of valuable Fair tiles that he could use to convert resources into points.  Blue had no idea what she was doing, but was certain she wasn’t doing it very well whatever it was.

Glen More
– Image by boardGOATS

By the first scoring round, Red was way out in front with a handful of whisky barrels and a very small village full of very merry Scotsmen.  The lean nature of her village meant that everyone else was feeling the pressure to make every tile count as they knew it would cost them three points at the end.  Despite her huge number of resources, Magenta was  struggling to score points and Burgundy and Blue weren’t doing much better, slightly mesmerised by Red who appeared to be winning by miles despite spending most of it watching everyone else make bad decisions.  Things hadn’t changed much by the end of the second round though it was clear that Burgundy was starting to make his Fairs count by activating them frequently and buying the resources he needed if he didn’t have them.  Blue had picked up a couple of Special Location tiles and had distilled a couple of barrels of whisky, but with nothing like the efficiency of Red.  In the third and final round, Magenta now had the maximum number of resources on most of her tiles and had finally started picking up a brown tiles so that she could make use of them.  Blue managed to get herself in a mess, wanting to pick up a Special Location, but not being able to place it because her clansmen weren’t in the right place.  In trying to fix the problem she tried to be clever and discard a tile, but quickly realised she should have played it instead.  People were starting to run short of money as Magenta starved everyone else of cash by selling only the resources that were in highest demand.  In the corner, Burgundy had finally got his engine working, but it still looked like it was too late to challenge the efficiency of Red.

Glen More
– Image by boardGOATS

With just enough tiles left for one turn each, Blue promoted most of her clansmen to chieftains, Magenta managed to use her Fair to trade five resources for a massive twelve points, Burgundy picked up yet another Special Location and Red asked whether she should have been scoring three points every time she placed something next to her Tavern (which she should, and so should Blue…).  Before the final end of game scoring, Burgundy was some way out in front, but as he also had the largest village he was going to lose an awful lot of points.  Surprisingly, Blue wasn’t far behind, so it all came down to how many points people were going to lose.  In the end there was just one point between Burgundy and Blue, but Burgundy took it with forty-four points.  In the end, Red was some way behind, but as we discussed the game, we felt she had left a lot of points on the table in the final few turns, and it was certainly possible to make a lean village strategy work.  Similarly, if Magenta had been able to activate her Fair just once or twice more, she could have been way out in front.  Nobody disliked the game, but we all felt a little bit non-plused about the experience, as we’d really struggled finding a path through the maze on the first visit (though we didn’t feel it was the luck-fest that Black had described).  In the end, we decided that it definitely needed to be played again now we had a better idea of what was going on and it certainly was different to most other games we play.

Glen More
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, the other group had settled down to play The Voyages of Marco Polo, which won the Deutscher Spiel Preis last year and was designed by the same pairing that put together Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar.  It took a while to set up and explain the rules, especially as Black was the only one that had played it before, and even that was on-line. The game is played over five rounds with players recreating Marco Polo’s journey to China via Jerusalem and Mesopotamia and over the “Silk Road”.  Each player has a different character and special power in the game.  Each round, the players roll their five personal dice and can perform use them to perform one action each per turn.  The actions include:  gathering resources, gathering camels, earning money, buying purchase orders and travelling.  The game ends with players receiving victory points for arriving in Beijing, fulfilling the most purchase orders, and having visited the cities on secret city cards that each player gets at the start of the game.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Eventually we were all kitted out with merchants, camels, currency, houses, a contract and a couple of city (mission) cards; all that was left was to choose a character. There are eight different characters to choose from providing a range of different benefits, all relating to different strategies. Black gave a quick run-down of the character abilities, quickly dismissing two of them:  Kubilal Kahn who starts in Beijing as opposed to Venezia where everyone else starts and Raschid ad-Din Sinan who can set the dice to whatever numbers he chooses at the start of the round instead of rolling them.  He dismissed Kubilal Kahn, because he does nothing else for the player, although he does guarantee ten points for placing the first house in Beijing. Raschid ad-Din Sinan was dismissed as Black explained it “broke the game”.  By that he meant that half the fun of the game is based on dealing with the dice players roll, not only must choosing the dice numbers take an age to decide, it also removes an element of luck and challenge.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor bovbossi

Pine, the start player, got to choose first and went for Mercator ex Tabriz, who we had all made positive, “Oooh! That’s nice!” noises about when it was explained.  This would give Pine one resource every time someone else collected something in the market, quite handy. He thought that this would push him to a contract completing strategy.  Green was next and went for Kubilal Kahn, despite Black’s dismissal. He felt that being on the other side of the board to the others would mean he was not in competition for the bonuses, and the neighbouring city would give him a free choice bonus at the beginning of the round, a handy one to have at the start of the game. He wasn’t too sure about his plans, but placing would help gain the city-mission bonuses, so a bit of travelling looked likely.  Purple decided that the ability to teleport across the board from oasis to oasis would really help her complete her city missions and took Johannes Carprini. Since the board layout is very much east/west with very little north/south crossovers, all the pairs of cities on the mission cards were on different east/west tracks so being able to jump around the board almost at will looked to be very very useful for this strategy.  In addition, the extra three coins at the beginning of each turn was a nice little sweetener.  The experienced Black felt he was up for a challenge and chose Wilhelm von Rubruk which would allow him to place houses in every city he crossed (normally players have to finish in a city to place a house there).  As an additional goal this gave him two extra houses to place after he had exhausted his personal supply for an extra ten points, if he could manage it.  Clearly Black was also going to be doing quite a bit of travelling.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Finally the game got underway with the satisfying sound of twenty dice being rolled, then studious silence as we each tried to work out what actions we could do with the different combinations we had rolled.  A reasonable first goal seemed to be to gain the resources necessary to complete our starting contracts.  The first dice placements were benign affairs. Pine was happy as collecting resources from the market proved popular and he quickly completed his first contract. Green also made use of his “free choice” bonus for reaching the small city to enable him to complete a contract.  It was about half way through the first round that the true heart of this game revealed itself:  how to place all your die actions on spaces already occupied by others.  There is cost involved in placing second, and suddenly it seemed that money (or rather the lack of it!) could be a key factor.  In most games, rolling a set of five’s and sixes would be met with squeals of pleasure – not this one.  High dice rolls might unlock some tasty options, but at a price. Finding that you had only a four and a five to place down on the travelling track when you only wanted to move once, was very annoying.  Such a move increases the cost from four (or three if you’re lucky enough to go first) for placing a single pip die to seven, and if you did decide to make use of the extra moves, that will be sixteen in total, and we’ll not consider the cost of three movements!

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

In the early rounds Black and Purple kept rolling fewer than fifteen in total, which gave them extra camels and/or coins to make up the difference, but it did also mean that their outlay was much less than Pine and Green who kept rolling, fours, fives and sixes.  This meant that when there was something they wanted to do, they could at least afford it. While Pine and Green were left scratching their heads as to how on earth they were to use their remaining six. Pine often just placed it “in the purse” for a measly three coins. Although Green was having similar issues, he did at least have the advantage of gaining some decent first visit bonuses, to keep his game alive. Black and purple were making rapid progress across the board, although perhaps not quite as rapid as their respective characters might suggest was possible. Pine and Green, meanwhile, kept a steady pace on wrapping up the contracts to roar into the lead on the points track.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Black commented how we did not seem to be using the black dice very much. In the online games they disappear very quickly (there are only five per turn). It was only during the last part of the last round that we realised that we had not fully understood the implications of the black dice rules. We had thought players could only have one black die per round (i.e. a maximum of five all game distributed over the five rounds), but they could actually have one per turn making them a good way of increase the number of action choices. The camel cost associated with them would reduce the ability to travel, but there are plenty of other ways to trade your way to victory in the game.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor jsper

In the last round or two, Black and Purple really wound up their travelling elastic bands and went flying round the board, ultimately completing both of their city-mission bonus cards, which neither Pine nor Green could manage. Green did eventually complete one, but Pine had barely moved at all, preferring to concentrate on completing contracts.  When the final tally came, Green had romped away, proving Black wrong about the Kahn character. Black’s final speed-demon dash across the board netted him enough bonuses (although not his extra two house bonus) to bring him home in second place. Purple was just behind, proving that the teleportation device of the ancient east was a good way to get your presence felt, but she had neglected the contracts and did not manage to net quite enough extra points to sneak past Black. Pine’s contract strategy hadn’t been as successful as he’d hoped and we realised that his special bonus of receiving a resource every time someone else bought in the market, dwindled in later rounds as we all found other ways to get resources.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

In the end, despite our initial opinions we concluded that the characters are more balanced than we first thought.  Our first game also called into question the widely held BGG opinion that contracts are a better way to gain points than travelling, though we will have to see if this opinion holds over time.  Overall it was a really interesting game, with much variety in it from play to play and the dice action mechanism was also really clever and satisfying.  It did take a long time to play, but next time should be quicker, and there will certainly be a next time as we all enjoyed its first outing and others are also keen to give it a go.  Meanwhile, Glen More had long since finished, so rather than condemning Blue and Burgundy to a two player game, Red and Magenta suggested playing something quick.  Near the top of Blue’s bag was 11 Nimmt!, a game so far only released in German that Blue had picked up last year at Essen.  Designed by Wolfgang Kramer, the same person who brought us one of our favourite, 6 Nimmt!, we were keen to see if this really was five nimmts better…

11 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is played with a deck of cards numbering one to a hundred, each also with some number of bulls heads, or Nimmts on it (much like 6 Nimmt!, though the distribution is different).  Each player starts with a hand of ten cards and the aim of the game is to be the first person to get rid of them all, or (since the game is played over several rounds) at least finish with a low scoring hand, i.e. as few Nimmts as possible.  In contrast to 6 Nimmt!, the game is played in turns rather than simultaneously and the game starts with one card pile.  On their turn, the active player must discard a card that is above the top card on the pile, but within ten of its face value.  If they do not have a suitable card (or choose not to play it) then they must take the stack into their hand and replace it with two new face up cards drawn from the draw deck making two new piles.  If a player takes a stack comprising three or more cards, then the player also takes a Bull Card which allows that player to play more than one card at a time on one stack so long as they are all within ten of the top card.  Should they end up with a second Bull Card, then they can play on more than one pile, and this is where it becomes an advantage to pick up lots of cards, because with several Bull Cards, players can discard a lot of cards very quickly and have more control over the game.

11 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

From the start it was apparent that 11 Nimmt! is very different to our much loved 6 Nimmt!.  There is a lot less gratuitous glee at other people’s misfortune when they are forced to take fists full of cards, but this is replaced by strategy and planning.  The lack of simultaneous play also makes it feel a lot more solitaire than 6 Nimmt! and, though there was plenty of opportunity to scupper someone else’s plans, without knowing the contents of their hand it was hard to do it in a constructive way.  It took us a few rounds to get the hang of it, but before long we were starting to see the strategic advantage of picking up cards as well as getting rid of them.  The rules suggested playing the same number of rounds as there are players, but we ended up playing six rounds just to fill time.  Despite Red and Blue both winning rounds, Magenta was the clear winner after four rounds thanks to her consistency and she added just one to her total in the extra rounds compared to everyone else’s ten and, as a result, she finished the clear winner.  Although we all enjoyed it and could see that it was probably a better game with lower player counts, we all felt that it hadn’t usurped 6 Nimmt!, which would retain its special place thanks to its fast play and generally chaotic fun.

11 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Sometimes subtle changes to a game make a huge difference.