13th December 2016

Unsure of who was coming, to get everyone in the mood, we started off with the quick set collecting game, Coloretto.  We’ve played this little filler a few times, but somehow, Red felt she’d missed out. The game is very simple: on their turn the active player either draws a chameleon card and places it on a “truck” or takes a truck (which means they’re out for the rest of the round). The idea is that players are collecting sets of cards, but only three will yield positive points, with the rest scoring negatively.  The really clever part of the game is the scoring which uses the triangular number sequence (one point for the first card, three points for two cards, six points for three cards etc.), which rewards one large set more than two or even three small ones. It was very tight between Blue and Ivory who both picked up sets of six, but Blue finished one point ahead thanks two her second set, three green chameleons.

Coloretto
– Image by BGG contributor SergioMR

With everyone arrived, we moved on to the evening’s “Feature Game”, Marrakech, a very simple little area control game played through the medium of the Persian rug. Played on a small grid, each player starts with thirty lire and a pile of pieces of carpet.  On their turn the active play can rotate Assam, the master salesman a maximum of ninety degrees left or right, before they roll the die to find out how far he must be moved.  If Assam lands on a carpet square of an opponents colour, then the active player must pay the owner “rent” equivalent to the total size of the carpet.  Once Assam has been moved and any dues paid, the active player places a strip of carpet. The carpet pieces are all the same size (twice as long as they are wide) and cover two squares on the board.  They can also overlap with pieces laid previously, but cannot be placed wholly on top of one single rug.

Marrakech
– Image by boardGOATS

This is where the strategy comes in – is it best to try to make a large contiguous area which will be very lucrative every time someone lands on it (but that players will avoid if at all possible) or is it better to make many small areas that players will be more likely to land on?  The game ends when everyone has played all their pieces of carpet and the winner is the one with the most money (each visible piece of carpet earns its owner one lira).  Marrakech is a nice little game, but what really makes it is the quality of the rendition.  Assam is a beautifully made and painted wooden piece; the “coins” are wonderfully tactile wooden discs and the carpet is well, a strip of coloured fabric.  Without these touches, the game would still be as good, but would be very abstract.

Marrakech
– Image by boardGOATS

We had two copies and plenty of people who were interested in it (to quote one of the GOATS, “I want to play the carpet game!”), so we played two parallel games.  Red, Blue, Ivory and Pine were first to get going with the slightly newer, brighter version of the game.  Pine and Red started out quite aggressively building large areas of carpet, trampling on each other and Blue and Ivory in the process and building a mini-carpet-mountain seven or eight layers high.  Throughout, it felt tight, but in practice, there was only ever going to be one winner and Red finished eleven lira ahead of Blue in second place.  On the next table, playing with the more traditionally “sandy-coloured” version, Green, Ivory, Purple and Black were playing a slightly more strategic and less vindictive game.  The result was a closer game with everyone within four points of each other, but was won by Green, just two lira ahead of Black.

Marrakech
– Image by boardGOATS

With both games finishing almost simultaneously, there was a quick bout of musical chairs, with Green joining Ivory and Blue for a game of Ivor the Engine (its first outing with the “mammy sheep” picked up at Essen).  This is a cute little game with a viciousness that lurks just below the surface and belies the gentle art-work from the Ivor cartoons as drawn by Peter Firmin.  The idea is that players are travelling round Wales collecting sheep and the person with the most sheep at the end of the game is the winner.  A single sheep can be collected whenever you start your turn on a town or village with sheep in it, but more sheep can be collected if you are in a town or village without sheep and perform a task to “help Ivor”.  Helping Ivor comes at a price, however, as in order to do this you have to play one of the dual-purpose cards from your hand, which means you cannot use it to help you in other ways.  At the end of your turn you add one card to your hand from the face up displayed cards, however, when the chosen card is replaced from the draw-pile though mixed in with the errand cards are event cards which can be nice or nasty.

Ivor the Engine
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue got lucky, and started off in Grumbly Town which happened to have only one sheep. Since she also had a card for Grumbly Town, this meant she could pick up the one sheep and then play the card to help Ivor, netting a total of six sheep before Ivory had even had a chance to take a turn.  That was where her luck finished though, and Green soon caught up quickly followed by Ivory.  The cards fell well for Green as he picked up several cards for Tewin as he traveled to the south-east corner of the board picking up lots of sheep as he went.  Ivory had a little poke at him, taking a couple of his sheep when he had the chance, then , out of fairness, he then had a go at Blue, taking both the last sheep and the lost sheep token from her current location. Next turn, Green did the same to Blue and just to compound things, “the game” joined in, giving a total of nine sheep she’d missed out on.

Ivor the Engine
– Image by boardGOATS

Feeling rather “got at”, and in desperate need of time she tried to stop Green from finishing the game by doing the only thing her cards allowed her to do – put sheep in Tewin to slow Green down.  It was all too little too late, and twenty-five sheep is not an awful lot, so it wasn’t long before Green passed the threshold and triggered the last round.  Still with no useful cards and in a position that was not going to trouble the scorers, Blue was forced to do nothing, leaving Ivory to do what he could to catch up.  With some effort he was able to cross the line, but was still some way short of Green who still had his final turn to come.  In the final accounting, Green finished on thirty-five, nine sheep ahead of Ivory, and more than twenty clear of Blue, in what had been a very unforgiving game.

Ivor the Engine
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, Red, Black, Purple and Pine were looking for something to play. With Burgundy away worrying about his MOT, Pine fancied his chances at Splendor.  We’ve played this little chip-collecting and card development “engine building” game quite a bit, but we all still seem to quite like it when we are looking for a light filler game. Since Black, Purple and Red had also suffered at Burgundy’s hands recently, they were very happy to join Pine in the certain knowledge that, for once, Burgundy wouldn’t win. The idea of the game is that players collect chips to buy gem cards which can, in turn, be used in lieu of chips. More expensive cards are also worth points and the game end is triggered when one player reaches fifteen points (and the round is completed to give everyone the same number of turns). Points are also awarded for “nobles” which go to the first player to get a specific combination of gem cards and the player with the most points at the end is the winner.

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

Everyone was up for it, and it started out with players taking it in turns to pick up cards, keeping everyone guessing as to who had the edge. Before long, Black, Pine and Red edged ahead, then suddenly, Black declared he had fifteen points and everyone else panicked.  It wasn’t long before someone smelled a rat and there were demands for a re-count.  With the discovery that Black had miscounted and only had fourteen points, there were the inevitable tongue-in-cheek accusations of cheating and a second “final round” began.  Although this gave everyone a second chance, it wasn’t quite enough, and Black won with eighteen (despite “cheating”).  Pine finished in second, three points behind, so he’ll have to wait a little longer to win Splendor. One thing everyone was pleased about, however, was that at least Burgundy hadn’t won, and that was almost as satisfying as beating him, though not quite, obviously.

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

With Ivory and Green heading off early, that left five players and a debate as to what to play next.  Somewhere in the discussion “Beans” got a mention, and from then on, despite conversation moving onto Christmas music and everyone’s favourite version of “The Bean Rhyme” (“Beans, beans, good for your heart…” – who knew there were so many different versions?), the final game was inevitably Bohnanza.  This game is very simple:  in front of each player are two “Bean Fields” and on their turn, players must plant the first card in their hand and may plant the second.  Once the active player has planted the card(s) from their hand, then they turn over the top two cards from the draw deck:  these must be planted by the end of the turn, though not necessarily in one of the active player’s fields if they can be traded.  Once all these cards have been planted, the active player can then offer to trade any unwanted cards in their hand before their turn ends with them replenishing their hand from the draw deck.

Bohnanza
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor spearjr

The catch is that players are not allowed to change the order of the cards in their hand which must be “planted” in the order they arrive.  However, it is possible to remove unwanted cards by trading them away (either during their turn or with the active player).  This simple mechanic coupled with the different availabilities and values of cards when they are harvested, are the critical parts of the game.  Thus one of the key points is the ability to value a bean and not overpay for it, or equally important, not give it away for less than it is worth.  The problem is that “value” depends on perspective, and this caused an otherwise friendly little game with a bit of bite to become a little bit nasty.

Bohnanza
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor spearjr

Blue had picked up and planted the first two Cocoa beans, so when Purple drew a third, Blue asked whether she would trade.  Blue didn’t have much to offer, but offered what she could and pointed out that there were only four Cocoa beans in the game and since we were less than a quarter of the way through the deck on the first pass, Purple could be waiting a long time.  Purple had other plans though and commented that it was a very valuable card and determinedly planted it.  On her next turn, Blue dug up her pair of Cocoa beans and put both in her money stack.  So it was more than a bit irritating for her when she promptly drew the fourth Cocoa bean card.  Blue was feeling a bit obstreperous after the rough treatment in Ivor and Purple was unable to offer a good trade.  So, much to Purple’s disgust and despite the difficulties it caused both of them, Blue planted the offending bean before immediately digging it up.

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

This had a couple of consequences.  Firstly, Blue’s plans were now in tatters, and secondlym Purple had to choose whether to get rid of the Cocoa bean (with singles being hard to get rid of) or whether to wait for the second pass through the deck.  Purple doggedly stuck with it, so it was particularly unfortunate when Blue drew the Cocoa bean card almost as soon as the deck was turned.  With little chance to get rid of it and still in a very kamikaze mood, Blue planted it a second time before digging it back up again.  Purple was not impressed.  Fortunately, on the third pass, the Cocoa bean finally landed in the hands of Red.  She wasn’t in a silly mood like Blue, so Purple finally got her second Cocoa bean and was able to harvest them for two coins.  It was only just in time though and she had played nearly the entire game with only one field, and still finished third – quite an achievement.  Red finished in first place, just one coin ahead of Blue who had spent most of the game trying to dig herself out of her self-inflicted mess.

Learning outcome:  Value is dependent on circumstances and very much in the eye of the beholder.