12th June 2018

The evening started with a couple of quick rounds of Love Letter, while Pine and Burgundy finished off their dinner.  This is the a quick “micro game” played from a deck with only sixteen cards.  Each player starts with just one card in hand drawing a second on their turn, choosing one to play.  The aim is to try to eliminate the other players from the game, with the last player the winner.  Red started the first round and immediately knocked out Burgundy by guessing his hand.  When Pine swapped his Countess card for the Princess though, he took the first round.  The second was also won by the Princess, but this time Red was the beneficiary, despite being side-tracked discussing work with Blue.

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

With food essentially dealt with, it was time to discuss who was going to play the “Feature Game”.  This time it was Echidna Shuffle, a very simple pick-up and deliver game with a couple of clever little quirks and fantastic over-produced pieces.  This was a game Black and Purple played with Blue and Pink at UK Games Expo last week; they liked it so much they nearly came to blows over who was going to get a copy, and it sold out on Friday afternoon as well.  Everyone else had heard about it, and despite the fact that it played six, it was hugely over-subscribed, so Blue, Burgundy and Ivory took themselves off to choose something else to play.  For many, Echidna Shuffle looked like a game with hedgehogs—the wonderfully chunky and gorgeously styled models could be either.  As there are more hedgehogs than echidnas in the UK, that’s what everyone associated them with, so every time someone said “Hedgehogs” there was a chorus of “Echidnas!” in response.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

The idea of the game is that each player has three tree-stumps on board, and three insects in-hand; players have to get all three of their insects to their tree-stumps by riding them on the backs of echidnas. Each echidna and each stump can carry just one insect, with stumps removed from the game once they are occupied.  The active player first rolls the dice, and then moves the echidnas.  There are a lot of echidnas and not a lot of free spaces, so players have to shuffle the echidnas round the board, first passing their insect pick-up point, then trying to move that echidna to a tree-stump. Someone commented that “Echidna Skiffle” might have been a better name, but Pine pointed out that while they might look like hedgehogs, none of them looked like Lonnie Donegan

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

The total number of spaces moved is dictated by roll of a die, and this is perhaps one of the cleverest parts of the game: players only roll the die on alternate turns with intermediate turns evaluated from the dice board giving a total over two turns of nine.  Thus, if someone rolls the maximum, a seven, the next turn they get just two.  Similarly, if they roll a small number, say a three, then they get a six on the next turn.  This clever trick means nobody gets screwed over by the dice, but there is still a nice, randomisation effect to the movement.  There are two sides to the board, the normal “Summer Leaf” side, and the manic “Winter Snowball Fight” side.  On this occasion, we played the “simple” board with a full complement of six players.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

Red got one of her bugs home first and it remained that way for several turns, before everyone else caught up quickly, leaving only Green bugless.  Red and Magenta then led the way with their second insect before Green finally got one of his home.  There followed a steady levelling-up with each player getting their second insect home, while everyone took care to make sure that Red and Magenta were prevented from getting their third critter to it’s stump.  Meanwhile Green and Pine were really struggling a second bug home, eventually leaving Pine the only one with only a single safe insect.  By this time, the game had turned into a group calculated effort to stop each other from getting their third insect home.  Consequently, Pine was feeling very left out as his echidnas kept falling victim to everyone else’s attempts to stop the others.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

Eventually, Pine joined the party, and everyone was struggling to get one final insect home and put everyone out of their pain.  A move by Purple appeared to leave the door open for Black to trundle his final echidna to his last stump in two moves, but for some reason he moved his echidna in the wrong direction on the first move, leaving it to do another loop before he could get it back, and that was the end of his chance.  The game continued for a while longer, like a never-ending six-player game of chess;  everyone circling each other, with their insects stuck in eternal echidna traffic jams until finally Pine broke through to an open leaf road, and an unstoppable position.  At least three other players were unable to get their insect to their own stump without playing “King Maker” for someone else, so Pine emerged the victor having spent so long stuck at the back of the field early on.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

Discussing the game afterwards, we realised that with the “simple” board and six experienced gamers who thought perhaps a little too much about the game, it had ended up in an almost “Tic-Tac-Toe” impasse.  This had lengthened the game, making it take much, much longer than it should have done.  As a result, players vowed to use the more complex board “Snowball Fight” board and maybe look for other ways to prevent the stalemate, like using the “extra moves” variant, especially when playing with lots of people.  It would be well worth finding a way to make it play a little quicker as we all had fun with the game which had very nice pieces. A game we can all share with our non-gaming friends and families too, which gave it a big thumbs up from the group, most of whom don’t really care whether they are hedgehogs, echidnas, or even porcupines

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

On the next table, Blue, Burgundy and Ivory, had eventually chosen to play Dice Forge, a game they had enjoyed once before but felt they had unfinished business with.  The game is a dice building game, with a similar feeling to deck building games like Dominion and bag building games like Orléans, or cup building games like Roll for the Galaxy.  In these games, the aim is to try to mitigate the effects of luck by stacking the deck, bag, cup to improve the odds; in the case of Dice Forge, it is the dice themselves that players are modifying.  Each player starts with two dice, similar to those in some of the Lego games, where the faces can be removed and changed.  Beyond this, the game is actually quite simple.  On the active player’s turn, everyone rolls both their dice and accumulates resources accordingly.  On their turn, the active player can then also spend their resources to either upgrade dice, or to move their pawn from their central “Starting Portals” to one of the “Islands” on the board and take a “Heroic Feat” card.  Dice upgrades and cards all have a cost, with the best having the highest costs.

Dice Forge
– Image by boardGOATS

One of the key strategy elements is where to put dice upgrades, and how to improve the dice.  For example is it best to save up for the most expensive upgrades, or given the fact that the game only lasts ten rounds, is it better to upgrade dice at every possible opportunity?  Similarly, is it best to upgrade one dice preferentially, to try to ensure that something good will come out every time, or is it best to sprinkle good stuff on both dice and hope that the dice Gods will smile…  On the other hand, cards can be more effective, so it can be better to concentrate on getting them, but only if the means to buy them can be accumulated quickly and efficiently.  This time Blue decided to concentrate on building up one die and try to keep her points tally ticking over.  Burgundy tried a different approach and went for cards, but struggled to get the “Sun Shards” he needed to execute his plan.  Meanwhile, Ivory serenely surfed the resource roller-coaster, buying cards and upgrading his dice seemingly at will.

Dice Forge
– Image by boardGOATS

The game came to a close with the tenth round, finishing just as the echidnas were finishing their elegant waltz.  Blue, who had been working up to a twenty-six point card had he plans quashed when Burgundy caused her to roll one of her dice and she ended up loosing six of her valuable Moon Shards.  This was all the more damaging as she had been waiting patiently for her turn with a full quota wasting any dice rolls that gave her more.  That meant that Ivory could take the last card on his turn, leaving Blue to try to find other ways of making points with her final turn.  And then it was just a case of quickly adding up the scores:  Blue had accrued more than twice as many points with her dice than Burgundy, who had in turn amassed a large pile of cards giving him more than twice as many points as Blue via that route.  It was Ivory though who was the clear winner, the same number of points from his dice as Blue, and almost the same number of points from his cards as Burgundy.

Dice Forge
– Image by boardGOATS

It wasn’t late, but with Green, Red and Magenta heading off for an early night, that left six to play something else.  Ivory had enjoyed his first and only game of Las Vegas so much that he was keen to give it another go and everyone else was happy to join him. It is a very simple game with players rolling their dice and assigning some of them to one of the six numbered casinos.  Once everyone has placed all their dice the player who placed the most dice on a casino takes the highest value currency card.  The really clever bit is that before any money is handed out, any “draws” are removed, which leads to a lot of table talk and “helpful suggestions”.  As usual, we added the Slot Machine (which is like a special seventh casino); some elements from the Boulevard expansion, including extra high value money cards and the large, double weight dice, and house ruled the game to three rounds.  Some people did well on the first round, some well on the second, some on the third, but once, again, it was Ivory who finished with $400,000, just a head of Blue and Purple, proving that last time wasn’t just beginner’s luck…

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Some dice games aren’t all about luck.

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