18th October 2016

Magenta arrived first, and after a short delay while she fiddled with her phone she was joined by Blue (armed with lots of “Mammy Sheep” for Red and a pile of other bits from Essen for everyone else). Burgundy, Pine, Red and Cerise followed together with food.  We were nearly done when Black and purple turned up and ordered their food, so while we were waiting we started a pair of parallel games of the “Feature Game”, The Game: Extreme.  We’ve played the original version, The Game, quite a lot, so were keen to see what this added.  The Game is very simple:  as a group, players must try to to play every card from the deck (numbered two to ninety-nine) onto four piles.  On their turn, the active player must play two cards from their hand on any of the four piles:  for two of the card must be of higher value than the current top card, while for the other two it must must be of lower value.

The Game
– Image by boardGOATS

Players can discuss anything they like so long as nobody discloses any specific number information and they can play as many cards as they like on their turn so long as they play at least two (until the deck has been depleted, after which they must play one).  To help eveyone out, there is also the so called “Backwards Rule” which allows players to push a pile back so long as the difference between the card they are playing and the card they are covering is exactly ten.  Once the active player has played their cards, they replenish the missing cards.  The game ends when all cards have been played or the active player is unable to play a card.  The game is often compared with Hanabi, as it is a cooperative card game, but for Hanabi to work really well it needs to be played in total silence and with poker faces – anything less and clues are given away unintentionally and the level of “cheating” becomes arguable, but playing like this is very stressful.  In contrast, we find that The Game is much more relaxed and “fun”, which is why we like it.

The Game: Extreme
– Image by boardGOATS

The Game: Extreme differs from the original in that the cards have a different colour scheme and twenty-eight of them are marked with special “command”.  There are seven different commands, three that take effect immediately and only directly affect the active player, and four that continue to affect every player on their turn until they are covered by another card.  These commands are all nasty and vary from “play three cards” to “pick up only one card”, or “no talking”.  It was very quickly apparent that the commands make The Game: Extreme much more difficult than The Game.  What was less obvious was that it becomes much more stressful and, as a result, less fun.  After both groups had endured two terrible rounds getting barely half way through the deck, Magenta, Blue and Burgundy came to the conclusion that a large part of the problem was that it felt like the game was playing the players rather than the players playing the game.  Blue commented that it hadn’t felt like that with two players when , so maybe an extra card each would help?  So Magenta, Blue and Burgundy gave it another try with seven cards apiece.

The Game: Extreme
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, it was much better – everyone felt like they had meaningful choices instead of no choice, but it was still difficult.  Clearly with the extra cards The Game was much easier, but still not trivial and the group finished with a creditable three cards remaining.  Meanwhile, Pine, Red and Cerise had got bored with dispiriting losses and had moved onto Port Royal Unterwegs.  This is supposed to be the travel edition of Port Royal, though how it is the travel edition, Heaven only knows as the box is the same size as the full version, which itself is big enough to include the expansion as well!  Perhaps it is in reference to the number of cards, which is considerably less than half the number in the full game and, as a result it plays a maximum of four rather than the five in the original.  The cards are different and the rules slightly more succinct too, which make the game play a little more streamlined.

Port Royal Unterwegs
– Image by boardGOATS

Port Royal is a very simple game:  on their turn the active player turns over the top card of the deck and either takes the card if it is a Ship that they want; repels the Ship if they don’t want it and have sufficient cutlass cards to do so; buys the card if it is a Character card that they want and can afford, or places it face up in the display in front of the draw-deck and draws another card.  They continue to do this until they have bought/taken a card, or a Ship is drawn that is the same colour as a ship already in the display and cannot be repelled, in which case, they go bust.  The game uses the same dual use cards trick as Bohnanza where the cards have one meaning when face up and are coins when face down.  In general, each Character card has a special power, but is also worth victory points at the end of the game.  Port Royal Unterwegs is very similar except the characters are generally less complex and the game ends when someone gets to eight points instead of the usual twelve.

Port Royal Unterwegs
– Image by boardGOATS

These changes make Port Royal Unterwegs quite a bit quicker than its parent, but it helps a lot if players have an idea of what they are trying to do and what chances they need to take as there isn’t time for them to come round again.  It turned out that of the group of players only Pine had actually played it before and he had scant recollection of it.  Blue did her best to remind him from the next table, but as there were slight changes to the rules and she didn’t want to let the side down in The Game: Extreme, she couldn’t give them the help they really needed.  After the event, Blue asked Pine what happened and he replied, “Just record it as three people who didn’t know what they were doing…”  Red was similarly vague and aside from the fact that Cerise won and Pine came second, everyone seemed very keen to forget the whole experience.  Maybe one to try again sometime.

Best Treehouse Ever
– Image used with permission of
nonsensicalgamers.com

While all this was going on, Black and Purple on the next table were struggling with one of their Essen acquisitions, Best Treehouse Ever.  This is a card drafting game where players spend three weeks (rounds) building themselves a tree-house.  Similar to games like Between Two Cities, 7 Wonders and Sushi Go!, players start with a hand of cards (in this case six) and then everyone simultaneously chooses one room card and places it face down in front of them before passing the rest of the cards on to their neighbour.  Once everyone has passed their cards on, everyone simultaneously adds their room to their tree-house.  There are very few building restrictions, but it is these that make the game interesting.  For example, tree-houses must be no more than six levels high and each room must be supported by two branches from the room below (except on the outside).  The first room of any colour may be placed anywhere, but those that follow must touch a room of the same colour.  If at any point a room card cannot be placed, it must be discarded, reducing the final magnitude of the tree-house and ultimately the number of points it can score.

Best Treehouse Ever
– Image used with permission of nonsensicalgamers.com

The really clever bit is the “Balance Marker” – a wooden cube at the bottom of the tree.  Everyone knowns that when building a tree-house it must be balanced if it is not to collapse.  So, rooms cannot be built on the same side of the tree as the balance marker, which shifts throughout the game based on the players room placement.  Thus, the building restrictions require constant awareness of the position of rooms in a players tree as well as those in the trees of the opposition.  While the ability to start a new set of coloured rooms gives flexibility, players must be cautious not to cut off existing colours too early.  Once all cards have been played or discarded, the round is concluded by a scoring session where players choose one of the four game changer cards, which either multiply the score of one room colour or completely prevent a room colour from scoring.  After three complete rounds there is a final scoring round where players with the majority of one or more room colours at the end of the game will score an additional point per room of that colour.

Best Treehouse Ever
– Image used with permission of nonsensicalgamers.com

With just two players, the scoring s simplified – the multipliers are removed and players have one “this room doesn’t score” card each instead.  As ties don’t score at all in the final round, these become quite critical in a head-to-head game.  This time, both players had level five treehouses, though this was probably largely because it was the first time Black and Purple had played the game and they played too many rounds.  In the final scoring, Purple dominated the red and brown rooms while Black had the majority in yellow and purple rooms.  It was very tight, but Purple took the game by a single point.  Best Treehouse Ever was a game that Black and Blue had discussed getting.  Sadly, it was clear that Black was disappointed that it wasn’t at its best played with two, however, it will doubtless get another outing in the near future with more of us involved.

Best Treehouse Ever
– Image used with permission of nonsensicalgamers.com

With Black and Blue suffering from “German lurgy” and Burgundy still recovering from his last bout, everyone was keen for an early night.  Once Red, Cerise & Magenta had headed off, everyone else settled down to go through the rules of Kerala, a simple little tile laying game with beautiful presentation, while Purple multi-tasked and wrote an essay about her favourite tree-house. In Kerala, each player starts with a single tile in their own colour with two wooden elephants perched precariously on it.  On their turn, the active player draws the same number of tiles from the bag as there are players and then chooses one before everyone else takes it in turns choosing one.  Players then simultaneously place their tiles next to a tile with an elephant on it and move the elephant onto the new tile.  The tile can be placed in an empty space, or on top of a tile previously laid.  Thus, over the course of the game players’ elephants ponderously move over their play-area with players messing with the player to their left by leaving them with tiles they don’t want.

Kerala
– Image by boardGOATS

Tiles come in the five different player colours:  red, green, blue, black and purple.  At the end of the game players require precisely one contiguous region of each colour (with two allowed for their own colour); if they are missing a colour they lose five points and if any regions appear more than once, tiles must be removed with a penalty of two points per tile.  There are three types of tiles, Elephant tiles, Edge tiles and Action tiles.  Elephant tiles score points at the end of the game with players receiving one point for each elephant visible. “Edge” tiles have one side with a different colour; if these are adjacent to the correct colour the player scores an additional five points otherwise they can be ignored.  There are also two sorts of action tiles, which score no points but allows the player to move either a tile or an Elephant.

Kerala
– Image by boardGOATS

After a few slight rules queries, everyone got on with the gentle action of choosing tiles and moving elephants, but gradually everyone became aware of the game’s “Tusks” as Blue left Pine with something he really didn’t want for the second time and what had initially seemed like multiplayer solitaire suddenly wasn’t.  As their areas expanded, players gradually got themselves into difficulties and then struggled to get themselves out of them again.  Although nobody pulled their punches when choosing tiles to leave, everyone offered genuine assistance and friendly opinions, especially to those unfortunate players left with rubbish at the end of the round.  Predictably, having played it before, Blue finished some way ahead of the pack, though Black, with a veritable troop of Elephants in a very tidy array joint top-scored with forty-five, eight ahead of Pine in third.

Kerala
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Essen is Awsome, and Blue needs cloning.

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