17th April 2018

With Burgundy and Blue waiting for food, they decided to entertain Red with a quick game of NMBR 9, making it’s appearance at four consecutive games nights and starting three, something of a record.  Somehow despite this extended run, Red had managed to avoid playing it, so after a very quick run-down of the rules, we started.  The game is really very simple indeed, with players simultaneously drawing tiles and adding them to their tableau. Tiles can be placed on top of other layers as long as they don’t overhang and overlap more than one tile.  Each tile depicts a number and the more tiles it sits on, the more points it scores.  The whole game is typically over in about ten to fifteen minutes, and in this case it was quite tight between Blue and Burgundy, though Blue finished on ahead thanks to a lot of high-scoring tiles on her third level.

NMBR 9
– Image by boardGOATS

Although it has proved to be a highly popular filler thanks to it’s simplicity and minimal set up time, Red was not so impressed because she felt it had seemed to offer more when she had watched everyone else playing.  She struggled to explain what she meant, but it was clear that she was a little disappointed though that was probably largely due to her expectations.  By this time, food had been dealt with and everyone else was arriving, and as the “Feature Game” was to be be Mini Park, another quick filler, we got on with deciding who would play it.  When Ivory’s comment, “I’ll play that, but it depends on what else is on offer really…” was challenged, he added, “Well, if the alternative is Kingdomino, I’d rather try Mini Park!”  Since Black had chosen that moment to wave Kingdomino around, that pretty much settled them as the two games and uncharacteristically, almost everyone jumped on the Mini Park band-waggon, leaving Black and Purple to play Kingdomino alone.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

The group doesn’t usually go for two-player games and as Black and Purple get lots of opportunity to play games like this together, normally someone would join them.  However, in this case, both games were short and Kingdomino can be a bit variable with three due to the tiles that are left out, so we just got on with it.  Kingdomino was the Spiel des Jahres in 2017 and has been very popular within the group as a light filler, so has hit the table quite a bit in the last year.  The game is quite simple in that players take it in turns to choose a “domino” and add it to their “Kingdom”.  The clever part of the game is that the tiles are numbered with players who choose the high numbered (and therefore more valuable) dominoes taking their turns later in the next round.  In the two player game, players get two turns per round, so their first turn can be used to try to set up the second turn.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

Unfortunately, Black and Purple forgot about the other key difference when playing a two player game:  instead of 5×5 arrays, each player is building kingdoms consisting of 7×7 arrays of “squares”.  They suddenly noticed they had more tiles left than they had spaces and realised their error, so decided to carry on playing anyhow.  Purple concentrated on getting corn fields and then sea and finally forests, while Black just tried to build areas of everything and make sure he was able to place all his tiles.  It was very, very close, but despite the fact that she had to forfeit some tiles and failed to pick up her bonus for completing her grid, Purple just pinched it by a single point.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, on the neighbouring table, everyone else was learning the “Feature Game”, Mini Park, another quick-playing, tile-laying game.  On the face of it, this has a lot in common with Carcassonne, played with two face up tiles to choose from.  In contrast, however, the tiles are hexagonal which gives a little more variability and once during the game, players choose one character which dictates the end game scoring.  We played the “advanced” game which has slight changes to the scoring and pairs each scoring character at random with a second character.  In our game, for example, the Black Man in the Smart Hat was paired with the Yellow Fish, so the player who chose the Man (Ivory), got half the points that the player who chose the Fish got for that character (Blue).  It was felt that this would add an interesting dynamic to the game as it would take on some aspects of a semi-cooperative game.

Mini Park
– Image by boardGOATS

Unfortunately, nobody realised at the start just how powerful (or not) each of the characters were and in that game it turned out that some were really very powerful indeed.  For example, at the start of the game everyone was encouraged to place fish next to other fish, as this was the only way to make them pay when they were being placed.  However, this left a large fish pond with lots of fish and when Blue (who was the first to get to the Yellow Fish Marker) and then Ivory added to it, it yielded a massive twenty-four points.  Although this was the most lucrative character, the Green Man on a Bicycle (claimed by Pine) was not far behind with eighteen points.  This was thanks largely to the fact that Pine and Blue (who had the Bicycle as her subsidiary character) kept drawing road tiles and extending the road the Bicycle was on, trying to scupper Ivory’s plans to build roads with benches.

Mini Park
– Image by boardGOATS

Although Burgundy picked up the most points for tile placement, the majority of the points come at the end of the game and, as he was last to pick his character, Burgundy was penalised when he ended up with the relatively low scoring White Bird (ironically partnered with the Orange Cat that also failed to score highly).  Pine scored well for his Green Cyclist, but did not pick up enough subsidiary points from the White Bird.  Ivory’s subsidiary scored highly (Yellow Fish), but much to his chagrin the scoring for his Black Man in a Smart Hat was severely restricted by Pine and Blue’s tactics. Blue, however, did well on both her primary goal (Yellow Fish) and her subsidiary (Green Cyclist), giving her more than enough compensate for a poor score on the tile placement, and she finished some way in front.  If everyone had realised the implications of how the scoring worked, it was quite likely that they would have played differently and it would not have been such a landslide, and chatting afterwards, it was obvious that that aspect coloured people’s opinion of the game.

Mini Park
– Image by boardGOATS

The fact that everyone had only one shot at a character was meant it felt that all a player’s eggs were in one basket.  This was made worse by the fact that with only one shot, the challenge was when to choose a character:  too early and everyone else would be able to obstruct, too late and only the dross is left with not enough time to improve the situation.  That said, it was not a long game and with only three players it would be very different as each player gets two opportunities to take character cards.  Furthermore, it seems the rules are still being developed, for example, the latest version of the online rules state that the subsidiary character cards are placed face down and thus kept secret until the end of the game and the tile placement scoring has been simplified too.  Given that it is such a short game, we should certainly give this one another go sometime, perhaps with the new rules-set.

Mini Park
– Image by boardGOATS

Kingdomino and Mini Park finished at much the same time, which meant i was possible to re-balance the number of players a little, but not before the usual shenanigans regarding who wanted to play what.  Although neither mentioned it by name, Burgundy and Ivory clearly had an eye on giving Yokohama another go.  Time was marching on though and Yokohama isn’t a short game, and even without any rules explanation there is a lot to setup.  The 10th Anniversary Edition of Puerto Rico was also available though, and there was just time to squeeze in a game provided it started straight away.  So as Ivory had somehow managed to avoid playing it thus-far, we felt it was essential that we rectified the situation and Burgundy and Ivory started setting it up.  With Blue joining Burgundy and Ivory, that left four people looking for something interesting to play, so Blue suggested Bärenpark.  This another fairly light tile laying game, this time set in a bear park.

Bärenpark
– Image by boardGOATS

Each player starts with a plot that will become their park, and the idea of the game is that on their turn, players place a tile from their personal supply on this plot.  Each starting plot has a different array of symbols on some of the spaces, indicating different types of tiles.  When these symbols are built over, the player takes more of the appropriate tiles from the general supply to add to their personal holdings.  Some of these are small animal houses, some are larger enclosures and some are very small amenities like toilets and children’s play areas.  Each tile also has a Construction Crew and a Pit providing the foundations for a Bear Statue.  The Construction Crew allows the player to take an expansion board for their park, providing a new plot which they place next to their park.

Bärenpark
– Image by boardGOATS

In contrast to the rest of the spaces, the Pit cannot be built upon in the usual way and is the last space to be covered in each plot; once every other space in a plot is covered, the owner can claim a statue from the display and place it over the Pit.  These statues provide points, with the statues providing a diminishing number as the game progresses.  Other sources of points include the animal houses and enclosures, but the number of these are limited and again, the earlier tiles are worth more.  The small amenity tiles do not score points, but they allow players to fill in those awkward, difficult-to-fill, small gaps, enabling them to finish a plot and build a statue.  Even these are limited, though to a lesser extent, so players need to be on the watch in case they are caught out.  The game ends when one player fills all of their four plots and then everyone adds up their scores.

Bärenpark
– Image by boardGOATS

After a little grumbling about koalas not being bears (the rules explain that “people like koalas, so we will be including them in our park!”), and a brief explanation from Blue, everyone started building.  It was a fairly close game, but Black finishing with eighty-eight, seven points ahead of Pine in second place.  Asked what he thought of it, Black’s comment was that it was a very simple game, but the group had been playing the basic game.  The “Expert Variant” has achievement tiles which provide another source of points and make the game far more interesting for experienced gamers.  Red, on the other hand, enjoyed the game much more, somehow finding in it the tessellation building thing that she had struggled to describe, but she had felt was missing in NMBR 9.

Bärenpark
– Image by boardGOATS

Puerto Rico was still going, so the group moved on to one of Purple’s current favourites, Cat Lady.  This is a light card game that got an outing last month as well.  The game is a very simple a card drafting game, similar in feel to Sushi Go!, though with a very different drafting mechanism.  On their turn, the active player takes all thee cards from one row or column in the three by three grid, marking the row they took with a kitty meeple.  The cards are replaced from the draw deck and the next player then takes a different row or column.  Cat cards go in front of the owner who must feed them before the end of the game or they score negative points.  Any food cards yield cubes which can then be placed on the face-up cat cards to show they are being fed.  Similar to Sushi Go!, there are also cards that score for the player with the most cards (cat “costumes”) and give players with the fewest negative points and sets that players can collect (toys).

Cat Lady
– Image by boardGOATS

Players can also collect catnip cards which score minus two if the player only has one at the end of the game, or one or two points per cat if they have more.  There are also lost cat cards, and discarding a pair allows players take a two victory point token or one of the three stray cat cards which are particularly useful because they have special powers.  The tricky part is making sure that the food a player gets matches the cards, because cats are fussy creatures and some like tuna, while others will only eat chicken…  At the end of the game, players score points for each happy well-fed cat and for their toy collection with extras if they have the most cat costumes.  Unfed cats, having the fewest costumes, and the largest surplus of food will give players negative points.

Cat Lady
– Image by boardGOATS

This time everyone went for different approaches with differing degrees of success.  For example, Purple went for costumes and Pine went for toys; Black and Red both went for lots of cats and catnip, but Black failed get enough catnip to score, and actually ended up with negative points.  It was very close between Pine and Red in the end, but Pine who had fewer cats (but very contented ones thanks to all the toys they had to play with), just beat Red with her larger number of cats that were all high on catnip.  Time was getting on and Puerto Rico was just coming to an end giving them just enough time to watch the last few rounds.

Cat Lady
– Image by boardGOATS

Puerto Rico was the number one rated game on the BoardGameGeek website for over five years and still commands a lot of respect though it has significant flaws.  The problem is that there is very little randomness in the game which is great, but when a game like that is played a lot people become “experts” and there is a perception that there are right and wrong moves.  In Puerto Rico, this point is exacerbated because of the way the game is played.  In each round, beginning with the Governor, players take it in turns to chooses an action.  Every player carries out the action, but the player that chose it gets a “privilege”, i.e. a bonus.  The catch is that players that players need to watch what everyone else is doing in order not to give an advantage to an opponent, or worse, give one opponent an advantage while making life difficult for someone else (also known as “King making”).

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

In Puerto Rico, players are plantation owners in seventeenth century Puerto Rico growing up to five different kind of crops: corn, indigo, sugar, tobacco, and coffee. Each plantation owner must try to run their business more efficiently than their competitors. First they must grow their crops then they must store them efficiently. Finally, players must sell their crops at the right time or ship their goods back to Europe for maximum benefit. In order to do this most effectively, the plantation owners must make optimal use of the arriving colonists and develop the capital city, San Juan, building useful amenities.  Thus, the aim of the game is to get victory points which are awarded for buildings and for shipping goods. However, to build, players need money, and before they can ship goods, players need to be able to produce the goods with a plantation, and where necessary process them in the appropriate building.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

As Ivory had not played the game before, Burgundy was Governor for the first round and Blue went second, giving him a little thinking time before he had to choose an action.  This has consequences for the setup, with Blue and Burgundy starting with an indigo plantation and and Ivory starting with a corn field.  At first, Ivory couldn’t see why corn might be useful as selling it doesn’t give any money, however, he quickly realised that it doesn’t need a production building and therefore is quicker and easier to produce, making it ideal for shipping.  Blue joined him and the pair were soon filling boats as often as they could.  Burgundy meanwhile, had gone for the high value coffee.  This took him a little while to get going, but once he had a coffee roaster he was able to sell his first batch of coffee and for a short while looked like he was going to storm ahead as he added sugar to his portfolio.  Unfortunately, for him, once he had spent his coffee profits, Burgundy got a little stuck as Blue and Ivory worked together very efficiently to make life difficult for him.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

To begin with, Burgundy was able to ship his coffee, but as it is a high value produce, he really wanted to sell it and use the profits to build.  That wasn’t possible though as the Trading House already had a coffee crate in it and until there were four different commodities there, no more coffee could be sold.  Burgundy had been able to commandeer a ship for coffee, but once that was full, Burgundy was in an even worse position, because between them, Blue and Ivory were able to make it very difficult for Burgundy to ship two different goods types.  The reason why this caused him problems was because of the Boston Tea Party Rule:  after shipping, players are only able to keep one crate and anything else is lost over the side.  Thus, to begin with, Burgundy was forced to ship when he didn’t want to, and then lost valuable stock when he couldn’t ship.  And all the while, Blue and Ivory were collecting victory points for shipping their corn and a little sugar or indigo.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory had got off the mark quite quickly buying a Hacienda early on.  It wasn’t till much later in the game when Blue bought a second that we realised we’d been playing it wrong and instead of choosing which extra plantation tile he got, he should have been drawing them blind.  This had two consequences:  firstly it gave Ivory a small, but potentially significant advantage, and secondly, it meant we didn’t run out of plantation tiles quite as quickly as we would otherwise have done.  It couldn’t be fixed though, so we just carried on and as long their strategies were aligned, Blue and Ivory were worked well together.  It wasn’t long before Ivory moved on to the next stage of his development and first built a Factory and then started raking in the cash every time he produced.  Blue then built herself a Warehouse and upped her shipping rate and starting raking in the victory points.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

The game was coming to a close when the Big Question came up:  Burgundy asked whether players were allowed to buy more than one large building.  Both Burgundy and Blue had a vague recollection of the rule, but it couldn’t be found in the booklet.  Ivory graciously switched his strategy and did something else, though checking later proved that was wholly unnecessary.  The game came to a close as we ran out of  on victory point chips and colonists (something that would have happened a lot earlier had we realised there should always be a minimum number arriving on the Colonists Ship), and all that was left was to tally up the scores and it was very tight indeed.  Although he had lots of buildings, Burgundy’s shipping had been effectively stymied by Blue and Ivory and the shortage of colonists had also made things a lot more difficult for him than it should have been, despite all that though, he wasn’t far behind Blue and Ivory.  In the end, Ivory won by a single point.  There was no need to re-count as he would have undoubtedly won by far more if he had built that second large building, though perhaps that off-set some of the advantage he had received early on with his Hacienda.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Sometimes it is best to play the “basic” game to get a feel for it before trying the advanced rules, but other times, it just feels trivial.

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