28th June 2016

Blue and Red arrived first, so once they had ordered food, they settled down to a quick game of Mijnlieff (pronounced “Mine-Leaf”).  This is basically Noughts and Crosses or Tic-Tac-Toe with a bit of added strategy and some beautiful wooden pieces.  We’ve played it a couple of times before on a Tuesday, but as it is an independently produced game (by Hopwood Games), it is difficult to get hold of and Blue had taken the chance to pick up a copy at Expo.  The aim of the game is to form lines of three or four, but the different types of pieces force your opponent to control where you can play.  For example, when a Greek cross (or “+” symbol) is played, the next player must place their piece on an empty square in an orthogonal line from the piece just played.  Similarly, playing a saltire (or “×” symbol) forces the next player to place their piece in a diagonal line from the piece just played.

Mijnlieff
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor thepackrat

Unfortunately, Blue forgot to mention that if there was nowhere a player could go, they were forced to pass giving their opponent a free move, so when this arose, Red cried “foul” and Blue offered to concede the game.  It didn’t really matter much anyhow as Burgundy had arrived and so had food, so everyone’s attention was drawn elsewhere.  As other people arrived, we moved on to the inevitable post-Brexit referendum discussion:  the group consists of several continental European Union gamers (Denmark, Poland and Ireland), so we have a natural pro-Europe stance.  Consequently, the group as a whole has been pretty horrified at occurrences of the last week, and its long term consequences (not least of which is the increase in the cost of games!).  Before we depressed ourselves too much, however, we decided to play something to take our mind off it.  Since we were unsure of who was coming and with Pine wanting an early night, we decided to begin with something short, and with two possible games it seemed appropriate to have a quick referendum on the subject…  Saboteur went the way of the “Remain” campaign and lost by a tiny margin as we decided to turn the evening on its head and begin with 6 Nimmt! a game which we often finish and one that is guaranteed to cheer us all up.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

The game lived up its usual standard of chaotic fun, with Burgundy, Black, Pine and Green vying to collect as many high cards as possible.  After our usual two rounds, Purple finished with eight, but Blue took it with just six nimmts, all garnered in the first round.  With the fun over, it was on to the serious game and Pine left as he was “cream-crackered”.  The rest of us split into two groups for our “Feature Game”, Concordia, a strategic game of economic development in Roman times.  The game takes at least half an hour per person and with set-up and teaching, it was always going to take most of the rest of the evening.  Played on a beautiful map, Concordia is a game of resource production and exploration.  Notable cities which are connected via land and shipping routes, each produce one resource (indicated by tokens placed on the map allowing for variable set-up).  Each player begins with a hand of Character cards and six colonists and a handful of resources. Everyone begins the game with the same set of cards; on their turn, the active player chooses a card to play, and then carries out the associated action.

Concordia
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Space Trucker

These cards allow players to move colonists and build settlements, trigger production for all settlements in a given region, introduce more colonists etc., however one of the cards enables players to buy extra cards from the market (a face up display).  The cards are played into a personal discard pile where they remain until the player plays their Tribune card to get all their cards back. Each player also has a warehouse of a fixed size which will hold a maximum of only twelve items, which at the start of the game includes four of their six colonists (two ships and two “Elvis-meeples”).  So, managing resources and finances is one of the key parts of the game and it is essential that players have the right resources when they need them as there isn’t space to store excess.  Another “pinch-point” is the cards; players can only play each card once before picking them all up.  They also get income when they play their Tribune card to recover their cards, but as it is dependent on the number of cards they pick up, it is in the player’s interest to play as many cards as possible before collecting them all again – this also needs planning.

Concordia
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Space Trucker

The most difficult part of the game is the scoring, however, which is tied up in the Character cards.  In addition to a name and an action, each card is dedicated to a Roman God.  Each God rewards the card’s owner with victory points at the end of the game.  For example, Mars delivers points for colonists placed on the board.  Each Character dedicated to Mars gives two points per colonist, so a player with all six colonists on the board at the end of the game and five Characters devoted to Mars will score thirty points.  Thus, since the cards are effectively multipliers, in general, the strategy is to try to excel in one area rather than try to do a little bit of everything, but that is something that is definitely easier said than done.

Concordia
– Image by boardGOATS

With two copies of the game available and everyone keen to play it, we decided to split into two groups, both playing Concordia and both adding the Salsa expansion.  This is “Salsa” as in “Salt” rather than the Spanish “Sauce” or the Latin dance, so in addition to the standard resources of brick, wheat, tools, wine and cloth, we also had salt.  Salt is “wild”, so can be used as anything and adds some peculiarities to the scoring, but otherwise doesn’t make a huge difference to the game.  Both groups also chose to use the new Hispania board which includes the Iberia peninsula as well as the North Africa and Italian coast.  The biggest change to the base game, however, was the introduction of the Forum and associated Forum tiles.  These tiles come in two flavours, blue, which are perpetual, and green, which offer an instant, one-off reward.  Each player can choose one from a starting hand of two at the beginning of the game, but otherwise, these are taken when players play the Tribune card.  Since players have a larger choice of available cards if they are picking up more cards, and these Forum tiles can be quite powerful, this is another driver towards efficient use of Character cards.

Concordia: Salsa
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy, Blue and Red  got going first.  Burgundy chose the Claudius Pompeius Forum tile (which gave him an extra opportunity to sell whenever he was playing the Prefect card); Blue chose Gaius Mercellus (who yielded an extra sestertii for every item she sold), and Red kept Titus Valerius (who enabled her to exchange any other commodity for salt when she played her Tribune card).  Burgundy went first and moved one of his colonists inland north-east settling in a brick producing city.  The close proximity of the two nearest brick sources meant that this made it very difficult for anyone else to get into brick production.  Consequently, when Blue went next, she headed north-east into Gallia, where there was wine and cloth to be had, and eventually brick, though that would take a few turns.  This left Red to head towards the sun in the south of Spain.

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

Blue started out with lots of cash, but no idea what to do with it, on the other hand, Burgundy knew exactly what he wanted to do but couldn’t find the money to do it.  Red and Blue were relatively unfamiliar with the game so opted for the scatter-gun approach, while Burgundy was picking up as many cards as he could.  Before long Red and Blue got away from the congestion of the Iberian peninsula, with Red taking over North Africa and Blue spreading to Corsica and Sardinia and across to the Amalfi Coast.  This race to place settlements eventually dried up when Red found more fun activating Africa to pick up lots of goods.  Since one of the end game triggers is a player running out of “houses”, Blue had to decide whether to end the game early by placing her last few “houses” or whether to try to push forward on other frontiers.  Something told her that she was too far behind in collecting cards, so she decided to take a break from building and try to maximise points elsewhere, starting by buying as many cards as she could and then getting all her colonists onto the board.

Concordia: Salsa
– Image by boardGOATS

With only a couple of cards left in the market, Blue placed her final houses and triggered the end of the game.  As suggested in the rules, we went through each of the Gods in turn, though with Burgundy’s enormous pile of cards, it all looked like it was going to be more a measure of how much he was going to win by.  As we added together the totals, every time Blue picked up points, Burgundy took more and Red languished at the back.  Before long, Burgundy had what appeared to be an insurmountable lead.  When Mercurius was scored Blue’s large number of settlements began to tell, and with a lot of Character cards devoted to Mars and all six colonists on the board, Blue finally took the lead.  With only Minerva to  go, Blue looked to have taken it, then we all realised how many Specialist cards Red had.  With all her high scoring Specialist cards and a lot of settlements in high value production cities (inc. lots of Salt which counted for each of them) it looked like she would take it the lead.  In that final scoring phase Red picked up a massive thirty-nine points, but sadly it wasn’t quite enough, and with Blue taking the extra seven points for placing all her settlements, she was the clear winner, though there was just four points between second and third place.

Concordia: Salsa
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, on the next table, set-up and rules explanation took a little longer, but they were soon under way too.  Coincidentally, two of the Forum tiles chosen were the same –  Claudius Pompeius (chosen by Burgundy and Green which gave them an extra opportunity to sell goods) and Gaius Mercellus (chosen by Purple and Blue and which gave an extra sestertii for every item sold).  Black, on the other hand, took Appius Arcadius which gave him the ability to move three spaces instead of two – potentially very powerful, especially in the early part of the game.  Purple began followed by Black, leaving Green with a much more restricted choice, but gradually all three began their expansion across the board producing and trading as they went.

Concordia: Salsa
– Image by boardGOATS

In contrast to the game on the next table, the players used their Forum tile powers only rarely.  Green made good use of his bonus tile several times early in the game, but he used it much less later on, when having the goods was more important than having the money.  Purple used her bonus only a small number of times and Black did not use his bonus tile until almost the very end of the game, but then he used it to good effect to jump two spaces and build in a city that Green had his eye on.  The game was probably about two thirds through when Green moved his ship and, unintentionally he claims, blocked Purple.  And there he left it until the end of the game as his card collection action enabled him to buy a new ship which was much better placed to move efficiently to the other side of the board.

Concordia: Salsa
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Green took every opportunity to encourage his “Elvis-meeples” to leave the warehouse, but while Purple occasionally added colonists to the board, black persisted with only his starting two throughout the entire game.  Eventually, Green ended the game by buying the remaining character cards.  While Purple found she could do nothing in her final turn to increase her score, Black pulled a master stroke and used a special card to buy all four of his remaining colonists in one go, thus increasing each of his Mars scoring cards by eight, and since he had three of them this gave him a massive twenty-four points more from just one turn.  It wasn’t enough though; the scores were all close, but Green finished twenty-four points ahead of Black largely thanks to the fact that he’d managed to get a settlement in each region and had plenty of scoring cards to go with it.

ConcordiaSalsa005
– Image by boardGOATS

While Black, Purple and Green put everything away, Burgundy, Blue and Red began the inevitable discussion of the game.  We all enjoyed the game, but Concordia is probably one of Burgundy’s all-time favourites, as a result he has played it quite a bit.  There is no question that this familiarity helped when choosing which character cards to buy and when,.  This is unquestionably an advantage as it is clear that the only real strategy in the game is to try to match the Character cards to the cities and perhaps specialise in one direction.  That said, there are many ways that this can be done and in practice, it is really quite difficult to it do well.  Although for Blue theme is not the most important factor in a game, she feels it should be there to help players remember the rules.  In Concordia, however, Blue felt that the scoring was a little arbitrary making the game feel just a little bit abstract.  Red also enjoyed the game, but felt that the game was slow to get started and with such a beautiful map, it seemed a shame that it took so long before really exploring it.  On the whole though, we were all in agreement that it was a very good game that needed playing several times, and we were all very willing to give it another go soon.

Concordia
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Sometimes experience pays, sometimes less so.