31st December 2016

As is now traditional, we started our New Year’s Eve Party with the gorgeous, dexterity car-racing game, PitchCar, our “Feature Game”.  Everyone had played it before except Pine, and, as one of the first to arrive, he got the job of building the track.  Never having played it before, the track ended up as a single winding path rather than a circuit, but that didn’t matter, especially as there was a really short space after the chequered flag and we instigated a rule that players had to stop before they ran off the end or they would lose flick and distance in the usual way.  The track itself was really quite complex, including the bridge from the first extension, the cross roads from the fifth extension, and the new narrow bend and jump features from the latest extension.

PitchCar Track - 31/12/16
– Image by boardGOATS

Rather than the usual “flying lap” to see who starts, each player had a single flick with the longest going first.  Black went the furthest so started in pole position, but promptly caused a log-jam due to the narrow curve at the start that created a bit of a bottle-neck.  Once everyone else had got stuck, he took the opportunity on his second turn to make his get away and he did it very effectively quickly building up a commanding lead.  Things were a bit tighter in the middle of the field, but it wasn’t long before everyone had spread out a bit and it became a battle between pairs of players for individual places rather than for the race as a whole.  The arrival snacks in the form of crisps with dip and that 1970s stable cheese and pineapple on sticks, failed to distract Black who continued to lead the way, and finished well ahead of the rest despite taking a couple of shots at the finish to make sure he didn’t over-shoot.   He was followed by Green and Pink who had tussled for position briefly before settling into a steady pattern they maintained to the end.

PitchCar
– Image by BGG contributor visard

With the race over, everyone passed the pieces to Blue who packed them in the case before they crammed themselves round the table for supper of red lentil lasagne, accompanied by salad, home-made bread (onion & cheese and tomato & chorizo), pigs in blankets and devils on horse-back.  Once everyone had eaten their fill, we decided to play a second large group game and since Pink had been keen to play it again all Christmas, we went for Ca$h ‘n Guns. This is a simple party game that always goes with a bang.  The idea is that each player has a small deck of cards with three bullets and five blanks.  After choosing a card, players simultaneously point foam guns at each other.  On the count of three players have the opportunity to withdraw, before any “bullet” cards for guns pointing at people are revealed.  Anyone still “in” and not shot, then gets a share of the loot.  The player with the highest value loot at the end of the game wins.

Ca$h 'n Guns
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

This is where the game gets just a little tactical:  there are several different types of loot.  There is cash – always good; jewelry – valuable, and the player with the most gets a $60,000 bonus, and paintings – the first isn’t worth much but the average value increases if the player acquires more.  Players can also choose to take the Godfather role (i.e. first player to choose if they are still “in”), medipacks (useful if you have picked up a bullet wound) and extra bullet cards.  There are lots of other options, but although we had extra guns and characters to choose from, with so many people, we decided to stick to the purest form of the game, not even using the character cards (which give special powers).

Ca$h 'n Guns
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

There is something about pointing foam guns at each other that is just intrinsically funny and it brings out all sorts of peculiar traits.  The first was that from the start, everyone took the opportunity to have a go at Green which mean that he was knocked out by the end of the third round.  Purple started collecting Jewels while Pine, Magenta and Pink began working on their fine-art collections.  In the end, the battle for second place was very close with Blue taking it with $91,000, just ahead of Magenta.  Pink, however, was miles out in front with more than double the takings of anyone else, finishing with a total of $201,000.  Once Pink had finished counting his huge pile, we extricated everyone from the space they were wedged in, moved the table back and got out the second, folding table to give players a little more space.  Purple was keen to play Ulm, a game she and Black had played at Essen and liked so much they had brought a copy back with them.

Ulm
– Image by boardGOATS

The game play in Ulm is simple enough.  It is played over ten rounds, during each of which players get one turn in which they can do three actions that help them to gain points.  Ultimately players are collecting cards, city coats of arms and descendants, all of which can give them points during the game or at the end. This, in combination with the position of their barge and the number of sparrow tokens owned give the end game score, and the player with highest score wins.  The cathedral area is a three by three grid of action tiles.  On their turn, the active player slides a new action tile, randomly drawn from the bag, from the outside into the grid sliding another tile out. That tile stays in its spot on the outside of the grid and no other player can use that row or column until the tile is removed. The three tiles left in that row or column (two old ones and the new one, just added), represent the active player’s three actions for their turn.

Ulm
– Image by boardGOATS

Thus one of the actions is drawn randomly from the bag, though sparrow tokens acquired during the game enable players to exchange their random tile with one currently on the loading docks.  This is an area on the board where five actions tiles are constantly displayed and where players can get get extra tiles, or exchange tiles.  There are five different actions represented by tiles in different colours.  These are:  clear tiles on one of the four sides of the cathedral area (making more options playable), place a Seal, buy or play a card, move their barge, or take money.  Every time the active player carries out a Seal action, they place one of their Seals in a city quarter and immediately obtain a specific privilege as a bonus. These privileges vary from quarter to quarter.  The river Danube divides the city and the game board north and south.  If a player wants to carry out the Seal action, they can choose either the southern northern city quarter, adjacent to where their barge is.  The river is navigable only in one direction and a river space can’t contain more than one barge, so other players’ barges are jumped over.  This means players can move a surprisingly long way for just one step, if it is timed right.

Ulm
– Image by boardGOATS

Cards can be acquired by exchanging tiles for cards or as a byproduct of buying seals at the Town Hall or Goose Tower quarter.  When played, the active player can either discard the card for the card bonus which they can use during the game, or place the card in front of them, to obtain the points bonus at the end of the game.  Points are scored during the game through cards, Seals and Coats of Arms, but also at the end of the game for any sparrows and for the position of their barge on the Danube.  Perhaps the largest number of points are available for cards with three points per card, but it is the bonus points that are really key.  A set of three different trade cards gets a bonus of three points while three the same gives a six point bonus.  Cathedral cards are the most profitable, however, with a complete set of three cathedral cards netting a eighteen points, but they can also be difficult to get.

Ulm
– Image by boardGOATS

Carrying out a Seal action in the Oath House quarter gives players a Descendant who provides a special ability.  Purple was the only one not to get a Descendant with Black taking the Merchant (allowing him to exchange one of his action tiles for one from the docks) and Pine getting the Councilman (giving him more control over the cards he bought). Violet on the other hand took the City Guard who yielded two points for manipulating the action tiles in the cathedral area such that at least one new line of three in one color is formed in the inner grid of the Cathedral area.  This sound potentially very lucrative, but is actually quite hard to get to work, especially without compromising other scoring opportunities.  To some degree the Descendants dictated the strategies used.  Black tried to build sets of cards but was unlucky and they just didn’t fall for him.  Purple tried to capitalise on the shields and Violet went for Seals.  It was Pine who was the most successful however, very effectively coupling his Councilman with a card strategy with ultimately gave him eight more points than Purple in second place.

Ulm
– Image by boardGOATS

The down side of the random draw component is that the action grid changes constantly with players sliding new action tiles in and sliding old ones out, which makes planning very difficult.  This might explain why Black thought the game shouldn’t take too long, but was still going when midnight struck.  Cue Blue on the next table opening a bottle of fizz and covering the herself and the floor with it.  After watching other villagers setting off fireworks, Ulm continued, as did Tzolk’in on the other table.  They had begun by reminding themselves of the rules.  One of our longer, more complicated games, but one we’ve played a few times, Tzolk’in is a worker placement game built round a sumptuous system of gears.  The idea is that there is a central wheel dictating time, and five others providing actions.  On their turn, players can place workers on the action wheels and at the end of the round, the central wheel turns, moving all the workers round one step making a new action available.  In general, the longer a worker is on a wheel, the better the actions available to the player.  The really key part of the game, however, is the worker placement and removal:  on their turn, players can either take workers and carry out the associated actions, or place workers, but never both.

Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor bkunes

There is a cost associated with placing workers:  the first worker is free, but after that, the cost rises considerably the more workers a player places.  Workers can be placed on any of the four wheels, but must be placed in the lowest available space.  Placing on the “zero” space of any wheel is free, but if this is occupied, players can place in the next space.  Since placing in higher spaces yields better rewards or saves time, for every extra space here is an additional fee, which is paid in the currency of the game, corn.  The five wheels, each named after ancient ruined Mayan cities, all provide different actions.  Palenque provides corn and wood while the mountain city of Yaxchilan provides corn, wood, stone, gold and crystal skulls. Uxmal, an ancient commercial centre, provides opportunities for players to hire additional workers , interchange corn and resources, as well as enabling them to carry out certain other actions, like build,  and pay with corn (when normally specific resources would be required).

Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

Tikal, the ancient centre of architectural and technological development, provides players with opportunities to build monuments and buildings.  It also enables players to enhance the abilities of their workers using technology tracks.  There are four technology tracks, each one giving a bonus when players carry out certain actions.  For example, the Agriculture Technology provides extra corn or wood when a worker carries out an action that provides these items.  To move along a technology track, players typically have to carry out the appropriate action on the Tikal wheel and pay resource cubes (wood, stone or gold).  The benefits are cumulative, so further along the track a player is, the more advantage they have, but the more it costs to get there.

Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

The final wheel, named after the mythical tollan Chichen Itza (known to us as chicken pizza), is a temple where players are supposed to leave crystal skulls (first obtained by visiting Yaxchilan), in return for which players get points and climb steps in the temples.  There are three temples, and the higher up the temple players are at the more points they get at the end of the ages. The other main source of points at the end of the game are Monuments and Buildings.  At the start of the game a handful of Monument tiles and Buildings tiles are revealed.  Monuments are generally very expensive and typically provide points directly, or conditional on some other factor (e.g. the number of workers a player has) at the end of the game.  Monuments are not replaced when someone takes and builds them, though a new set is put out at the end of the first age (i.e. half way through the game). Buildings, on the other hand, provide an advantage for use during the game or indirect points, are replaced once someone has taken the tile and are generally single use.  Although Farms are a type of building, they are multi-use and provide corn every food day, which can be invaluable.

Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

Food days occur at the end of every age and again at the half-way point.  They can be crippling as players have to feed all their workers two corn each.  For this reason, a large part of the the first half-age is often spent acquiring corn to make sure nobody starves:  starving workers equals lost points.  In addition to food days, at the beginning of each round, every player must have three corn, if they don’t, they anger the gods which means they have to drop a step on one of the temples.  For this reason, and so that we don’t have to remember to check, we usually just put three corn to one side at the start of the game and then forget about it until the end.  In any case, corn is usually in high demand.  At the end of each round we place a “corn on the cog” to be taken when someone takes the start player.  This is an extra chance to get corn, and one that is usually a bit of a last resort, which means players are always tempted to wait as long as possible before they decide to take it, inevitably leaving someone disappointed.

Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor bkunes

Unfortunately, we made a mess of the rules.  Firstly, we forgot to change the Monuments at the start of the second age, only remembering at about half way through.  This was unfortunate and may have inconvenienced Burgundy, but wasn’t the real game-breaker.  We had all played the game before, so it really shouldn’t have happened, but when we were setting up the game, Blue placed the skulls around the wheel in the action spaces.  At the time she wondered why there were so few crystal skulls in the general supply, but with so many other things going on she didn’t question it further.  This meant that instead of getting a skull from Yaxchilan and then taking it to Chichen Itza, players just went to Chichen Itza and got skulls.  At some point Pink asked what the skulls were for, but at the end of the game any left overs are worth three points so that was what we said.  It was only after we had run out of skulls and Green asked whether there was any point in Pink placing his workers on the Chichen Itza and whether the spaces could be re-used that we realised our error.

Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor jsper

This rules error undoubtedly skewed the game giving the early adopters of the Chichen Itza wheel early success.  Pink and Burgundy were the first to go for this strategy and Blue quickly realised how effective it was and joined them.  Everyone had the opportunity to capitalise on the rules error, however, Green eschewed the chance and focused on climbing up the temples, but suffered as a result.  Blue managed to pick up a monument that rewarded wood tiles taken from Palenque and netted her thirty-two points for that alone at the end of the game.  Despite being awash with corn throughout the game she hadn’t been able to make the most of it.   Blue finished five points behind Pink and Burgundy (in spite of having almost no corn throughout) who tied for first place with eighty points.

Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor aleacarv

Learning Outcome:  Even when you think you know the game, check the rules when things don’t seem right.

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