12th December 2017

With this being the last GOATS Tuesday before Christmas (and the Jockey shutting on Boxing Day which would be the next one), we decided to have an early “Christmas Party” with everyone arriving for supper at the same time and home-made crackers.  Out of habit, most of us ordered pizza from their Tuesday “Pizza Special” menu, though there was also the odd portion of scampi too.  Even though it was still nearly two weeks until Christmas, we were a bit short on numbers thanks to the combination of people leaving early for the holidays and work commitments.  That didn’t stop Pine and Ivory bringing out their favourite topical Christmas Cracker jokes though:  “Why doesn’t Trump ever finish decorating his Christmas tree?  Because people keep shouting “Moron”!”  “Why didn’t Teresa May visit the baby Jesus? Because she couldn’t form a stable government…!”

Pizza at the Horse and Jockey
– Image from horseandjockey.org

Once crackers, jokes and food had been dealt with, Magenta’s little one (who had come a long for the ride and a bit of pizza crust), found himself a friend to play with which gave everyone else the chance to get on with the “Feature Game”, Giftmas at Dungeon Abbey.  This is a short game designed by a local gamer and member of the Didcot Games Club, Rob Harper.  Blue and Pink picked up a pre-release copy at Essen in October and had saved it for a special, festive occasion, and this seemed appropriate.  The game is a fun, micro card game based in a world that is a sort of cross between Downton Abbey and the Adams Family.  The artwork is suitably gruesome, though it was very clear from the start who the Countess D’Ungeon was a caricature of!  Played over several short rounds, each player takes the role of one of the various eccentric and unpleasant family members grasping for whatever feels like the best present.  To this end, players begin with a character card and a couple of gift cards, all face down on the table in front of them.

Giftmas at Dungeon Abbey
– Image by boardGOATS

On their turn, the active player may either swap one of their face-down cards with one elsewhere on the table, or turn a card face-up, possibly activating a special action on the gift cards. The round ends when all a player’s cards are face up at the start of their turn or a bomb is revealed, at which point everyone scores points if they have collected the gifts wanted by their characters.  A lot of fun was had with everyone amused by the idea the sick combination of a set of electrodes and a puppy…  Before long, Magenta, Blue, Pine and Green had won one round a piece and Magenta’s son’s and his playmate was starting to look bored with the game they were playing, so although the we were just warming up nicely, we reluctantly decided to bring it to an early close when one player had won two rounds.  It was tight, but Green prevented Ivory and Burgundy getting in on the act and took his second round, and with it, the game.  Søn-Magenta had clearly had enough, so Mor-Magenta took him home leaving everyone else with a selection of wintery themed games to choose from.

Giftmas at Dungeon Abbey
– Image by boardGOATS

With five players left, the choice was actually rather limited and we quickly settled on an old favourite, the sled racing game, Snow Tails.  We played with the original edition, where players start by building the track which can either be from one of the suggested examples given in the rulebook, or, a home-designed one which we opted for.  On reflection, designing our own track might not have been all that clever, as we inevitably made it way more complicated than it needed to be.  The parcour began with a Chasm immediately after the start which caused an almighty bottle neck before everyone even got going.  Then there was a sweeping left hander and a short straight section followed by a right hander.  This wouldn’t have been so bad except they were immediately followed by a combination of a Crevasse (that had to be jumped at speed) and a field of saplings (adding a slalom element) just before the finish line.  As a result players had to control their speed very carefully throughout.

Snow Tails
– Image by boardGOATS

And that is what Snow Tails is all about really: controlling speed.  Players have a deck of number cards from which they draw a hand of five cards.  On their turn, cards are played on one to three of the active piles: the left husky, the right husky or the brake.  The catch is that if multiple cards are played, they must all be the same number, and once a card has been used, it can’t be used again until the player’s individual draw deck has been depleted.  The idea is that the sled’s speed is the sum of the dog cards in play, minus the current value of the brake; the speed dictates the number of spaces the sled moves forward in each turn.  Steering is carried out by adjusting the difference between the speeds of the two dogs which gives rise to “drift”, i.e. sliding movement to the left or right.  Drift occurs as a sled moves forward, with a maximum of one lane drift per forward movement.  An evenly matched pair of dogs goes faster leading to a balanced sled bonus, but for some reason we forgot about this.  It probably didn’t matter anyhow though, because the nature of the course meant that a balanced sled was a real rarity rarity and the close proximity of the obstacles meant it was unlikely that anyone would have been able to make use of the bonus as well.

Snow Tails
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory and Blue were first out of the blocks and managed to steal a bit of march on everyone else, getting through the Chasm first and causing chaos behind as everyone else got stuck.  With nobody in his way, Ivory took an early lead and Blue gave chase, but bit by bit he continued to edge away.  It wasn’t long before Pine led the charge from the rear and those who had got jammed in the Chasm began to catch up.  This was partly because they had been able to store up a few good cards and plan their attack while they were waiting to get past the obstacle at the beginning, but also because first Blue, and then Ivory, paid the penalty for their quick start and were forced into the barriers.  Coming round the final corner, it was really tight, but Green, Burgundy and Pine were heading for home through the Saplings.  It was then that we realised the importance of positioning:  for those with no dents in their sled, it was possible just to mow through the saplings taking damage as necessary and career across the line.  There is a limit though as players got in his way, Pine stalled, allowing both Blue and Green through the gap, pipping him on the line.  Burgundy crossed the line first however, with Green finishing a close second in what had been a quite chaotic race.

Snow Tails
– Image by boardGOATS

With a shortage of five-player winter-themed games, we decide to go for one of our most popular games6 Nimmt!.  This is probably our most played game, which is strange as, even when we have a break, it always comes back into fashion again.  In the group we’ve discussed the phenomenon many times, and it is definitely a special game.  There are a combination of factors that add to it’s appeal including the time it takes to play, the number of players, the lack of down time, the simplicity etc..  Perhaps the biggest factor though is the illusion of control the game gives, until it all goes horribly wrong of course.  And of course it did this time too.  The first round was quite close with three players picking up almost exactly the same number of “Nimmts”.  It was the second round that was most amusing though as Pine and Ivory seemed to be competing to collect as many as they could, taking it in turns to pick up rows.  Unusually, as he usually has one catastrophic round, Burgundy managed to win both rounds with a clean sheet in the first and just five in the second.  This gave him a clear victory with Blue some way behind, just pipping Green to second place.  The excitement had all been far too much for Ivory and he decided it was home time, having won the unofficial “hat on the longest” competition that only he had been playing.

– Image by boardGOATS

This left everyone else with time for one last festive game, Christmas Tree.  This is an apparently simple card drafting game, which turns out to be surprisingly challenging in practice (not least because shuffling diamond-shaped cards is remarkably difficult!  Each player begins with an empty Christmas tree shaped board and a hand of eight cards.  Simultaneously, everyone chooses one card to keep and passes the rest on.  They then add the card to their tree, decorating it.  Each card features a bauble of some kind, a wrapped sweet or a gingerbread cookie and some additionally have half a light on the edges.  Points are scored at the end of the game for satisfying the gingerbread men’s neighbourhood preferences, matching the half lights to make whole ones, for sweets and baubles.  The largest number of points come from the “objective cards”, however, which give points for ornaments in a particular arrangement.  At the start of the game, each player is given four objective cards and players choose one at the start of each round, which is scored at the end of that round.  As only Blue and Green had played it before (and then without the objectives) it was felt that it was fairest to draw the objective cards at random this time.

Christmas Tree
– Image by boardGOATS

It took a while for everyone to get the hang of the game, and it quickly became apparent that Green’s experience was invaluable as he took an early lead.  Blue, on the other hand, was demonstrating how not benefit from the advantage she had been given and was grubbing about at the back of the pack.  It turned out that everyone had a different strategy and was targetting different objectives, as evidenced by the changing of places in the final scoring.  Green, who was a long way out in front, remained there unchallenged, but all of a sudden, Blue made a march from the back, thanks to her large number of completed festive lights and a couple of well-timed linzer cookies (which allow players to swap decorations positions on their tree).  It was very tight for second, in fact, there were just two points in it, which given that scores ranged from one hundred and forty to over one hundred and eighty was very close and merited a recount of the final round.  The scores stood, however, and Blue just managed to edge in front of Burgundy to take second.

Christmas Tree
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  There are very few festive themed games that play five!