11th December 2018

Since this was the last meeting before Christmas, we did what we did last year and arranged to eat a little earlier so we could all share an “Un-Christmas Dinner” together, complete with festive crackers and party poppers.  Plans were nearly derailed by gridlock in Oxford that delayed Blue (and by extension the crackers, party poppers, cards and the “Feature Game”), and motorway traffic that slowed Pink in his long trip from the frozen north.  Between their arrival and food appearing, there was just time to play a little game of “Secret Christmas Cards” – the idea being that everyone got a suitably festive goaty card and a name, and write the card to that person signing it on behalf of the group.  Once we’d got over the lack of pens, the “game” seemed to go very well, though a lot of people didn’t open their card, saving the excitement for later.  Green arrived and his announcement that his divorce had come through was greeted with a round of applause.

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

Once the cards, pizza, “half a side of pig with egg and chips”, burgers and ice-cream had been dealt with, it was time for crackers.  We had been just about to pull them when food arrived, and knowing what was in them, Blue suggested they’d be better left till the end of the meal as people might not want cracker contents as a topping to their pizza!  It was just as well, because when everyone finally grabbed a couple of cracker ends and pulled, there was an explosion of dice, mini-meeples, wooden resources, tiny metal bells, bad jokes, party hats and festive confetti that went everywhere.  The table went from mostly ordered to complete devastation at a stroke, to which party popper detritus was quickly added.  It was immediately followed by everyone trying to work out where the bits from their cracker had ended up and as some people ferreted under the table, others began to read the jokes (which turned out to be quite repetitive).  While the table was being cleared, subject of the “Golden GOAT” award came up.  This had first been mentioned a few weeks back by Ivory who had suggested we should have a game that we’d played during the year that deserved an award (presumably he was completely unaware that “Golden Goat” is also a strain of marijuana).

"Un-Christmas Party" 2018
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine suggested that there should also be an award acknowledging the worst game of the year, which eventually became the “GOAT Poo” award.  Unfortunately there wasn’t really a plan for how to go about doing this.  In the end, Ivory and Green tore up some slips of paper and passed them round with the book so everyone could “vote”.  The rules were quite simple, only games played at a GOATS games night in 2018 (i.e. appear in the log book) could be nominated and everyone got just one vote. There was real concern that we were just going to end up with a list of different titles and two nine-way ties, but surprisingly, that did not happen.  As the votes were read out, it became clear from the appreciative noises round the table that many of the picks were very popular choices, including Yokohama and Keyflower: The Farmers.  A couple of games managed the feat of appearing in both lists winning the unofficial “GOAT Marmite-factor” Award, namely Endeavor and Yardmaster.  The winner of the “2018 Golden GOAT” however was AltiplanoQueendomino took the “GOAT Poo” award with a third of the group nominating it (remarkable since only four of the people present had actually played it).

Golden GOAT - 2018
– Image by boardGOATS

There was also a special award for “possibly the best and worst moments of the year” which went to Purple and Green’s inability to play Rock-Paper-Scissors (during Walk the Plank! a few weeks back) and Burgundy, the perennial Saboteur name last time.  Eventually, the table was cleared and the inaugural “Golden GOAT” awards had been announced, so people’s thoughts turned to playing games.  This year Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries was a hot choice and with two copies, two games were quickly underway.  This is a variant of the very popular train game, but with a nice tight map designed specifically for two or three players and featuring a snowy festive theme.  The game play is almost exactly the same as the other versions, with players taking it turns to either draw carriage cards, or spend sets of carriage cards in appropriate colours to place plastic trains on the map.  There are a couple of things that really make the Ticket to Ride games work:  firstly, the longer the route, the more points it gets.  This often makes the longer routes very enticing, but this has to be set against the desirability of tickets (the second thing).

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

At the start of the game everyone chooses from a handful of ticket cards each depicting two cities and a value: players who manage to join routes together to connect the two cities get the depicted number of points at the end of the game.  The catch is that any tickets that players keep that are not completed successfully score negatively, and the swing can be quite devastating.  Ticket to Ride is a game everyone knows well and although we don’t play it often it is always enjoyable (perhaps because we don’t play it too frequently).  The familiarity means that everyone always fancies their chances at it though, which tends to make for very competitive games and the group really benefits from the variation that the different maps and versions offer.  On the first table, the game started out in much the same way as all Ticket to Ride games.  Ivory placed trains first, but Mulberry and Green followed soon after.  It wasn’t long before Ivory was drawing more ticket cards (instead of taking carriage cards or placing trains) and Green soon followed with Mulberry taking a little longer.

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

As is usual, the colour cards that players wanted, just seemed to refuse to come up and everyone’s individual hand of cards grew even as the board filled with more tickets taken at regular intervals.   In the early stages the trio were fairly well matched.  Green was starting to pull ahead and then for some reason abruptly stopped and his hand of cards grew and grew.  He had said that he was going for it and it would either pay off or he would lose abysmally. Mulberry and Ivory had nearly twice as many points as Green when he finally laid a train:  the nine-carriage route giving him twenty-seven points and propelling him into the lead by more than his previous deficit.  Everyone still had lots of trains left though, so the game was far from over.  Eventually, Mulberry brought the game to a sudden halt when she placed her last three trains, catching the others by surprise.

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

With their last turn they scrabbled for the longest route they could manage.  Since Green still had a handful of cards he was able to take a six-carriage route for a healthy fifteen points, however, that meant he had to abandon his twenty-four point ticket as he still needed two, very small routes to complete it.  The group decided to forgo recounting the points for placing trains and decided to assume they had kept on top of the scores during play.  Green was ahead in points for train placement by quite a margin, but Ivory and Mulberry had completed more tickets and Green was crippled by the forty-eight point swing caused by his incomplete ticket.  Mulberry took bonus for the the most completed tickets (by only one) and ended just one point behind Ivory.  With the score at the top so close they decided they had to double check all the scores and after a complete recount, there was a reversal and Mulberry edged Ivory out by one solitary point.

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

On the next table the story was a little different, with Pink, the “Prophet of Doom” goading Pine offering him advice to give in before he’d even started as he was in for a torrid time playing against Blue and Burgundy.  Pine didn’t see it like that however, and as he likes the game, he really fancied his chances.  Fortune favours the brave, and he was out of the blocks like a greyhound with a fifteen point placement in just his second turn.  From then on, it was fast and furious with players fighting to secure the routes they needed to complete their tickets.  Blue and Pine kept fairly level and began to pull away from Burgundy, but neither of them dared to get complacent as he usually has a master-plan that he’s waiting for the perfect moment to enact.

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine drew more ticket cards and Blue followed, keeping pace every step of the way while Burgundy kept drawing carriage cards.  Eventually Blue drew ahead in the “taking tickets” race, but it was one set of tickets too far for her as she drew three moderate to high scoring cards that were all unplayable.  Fearing she’d pushed her luck one step too far, she kept the lowest scoring card (i.e. the one with the fewest negative points) and pondered her options.  Pine took tickets and it was clear he had hit a similar problem though at least two of his were playable, if difficult.  In the end, he took a twenty-one point ticket that needed a little work, giving Blue an interesting choice.  In addition to the unplayable ticket, she had one low-ish scoring ticket left that she only needed one card to complete.  She’d been waiting for that single yellow carriage for a while though and persisting could allow Pine time to complete his new ticket.

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

Although she didn’t know the value or difficulty of Pine’s final ticket Blue felt sure it was high scoring and that he would need a few turns to complete it.  With a large set of pink cards and not many trains left, it gave her a chance; by placing a largely arbitrary route she triggered the end of the game.  Burgundy squeaked, although it had looked for all the world like he was trying for the long route, in fact he was really hunting for a locomotive (wild) card or a single orange carriage to complete his route into Narvik (though he came very close to getting nine cards necessary for the long route by accident).  The irony was that Blue had picked up loads of locomotive cards in her hunt for the single yellow, but hadn’t wanted them and had been unable to find yellow cards because Burgundy had them all!  In his penultimate turn, Burgundy had finally drawn his last orange card enabling him to finish his final, long ticket on his very last go.  Pine on the other hand was less fortunate and fell short, taking a swing of forty-two points which more than off-set Blue’s incomplete tickets.

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

The group recounted the train points and found a few extra points for Blue, but it was still very close and all down to the tickets.  Blue had mostly low-scoring cards; where Pine had one fewer, they were more valuable.  In the end, Blue finished twenty-three points ahead of Pine, but she had managed to complete one extra ticket which had given her the ten point bonus – had it gone to Pine there would have been a twenty point swing and the second group might have had a recount too.  Both Ticket to Ride games finished at much the same time and while the third game was finishing off, the two groups compared notes.  It was then that the first group realised they had not played quite correctly, as there is a rules change in this version that means locomotive cards can only be used as wilds on tunnel and ferry routes, not on ordinary routes.  This explained why Green had managed to succeed at his long route when Burgundy had failed. While playing correctly would have changed the game, there was no accusation of cheating as Ivory and Mulberry who had been playing that game had played by the same rules.

Christmas Tree
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, while the two ends of the table were playing with their train-sets, the trio in the middle were decorating their Christmas Tree.  This game is a cute little card drafting game that originated in Hungary.  The game takes place over three rounds during which Christmas decoration cards are drafted. After each card is chosen, the player puts it anywhere they like on their tree.  After seven cards, the round ends and the trees are evaluated.  Decorations include gingerbread men, glass ornaments in different shapes, wrapped sweets and, of course, festive lights.  The gingerbread men have different markings on their hands and feet and the more that match the adjacent decorations, the more points they score.  Some glass ornaments and all the sweets score points directly; lights only score if both halves match.

Christmas Tree
– Image by boardGOATS

The decorations only score at the end of the game though;  objective cards are evaluated at the end of each round.  At the start of the game each player receives four objective cards and at the start of each round everyone chooses one; these are shuffled and before the round begins.  The trees are therefore evaluated at the end of each round according to these objectives.  and then decorations score at the end.  One of the things about this scoring mechanism is that it’s often not obvious who is in the lead during the game as there are so many points awarded at the end.  This game was no exception, and was ultimately very close as a result.  It is one of those games that benefits from experience, and Black and Purple’s who had both played before took first and second, in that order.

Christmas Tree
– Image by boardGOATS

There was time for something else.  Inevitably, we threatened Pink with Bohnanza (he has possibly the smallest amount of love for the game per copy owned), but it’s lack of festiveness, meant it was a hollow threat.  We still had the “Feature Game” to play anyhow, which was Giftmas at Dungeon Abbey.  This is a mad game by a local gamer and member of the Didcot Games Club, Rob Harper set 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.  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.

Giftmas at Dungeon Abbey
– Image by boardGOATS

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.  With six people playing nobody had a clue what was going on and mayhem reigned.  Ivory and Pine jointly took the first round giving them a point each, but after that, the gloves were off.  Purple took one round and Pine and Ivory took another each, so it was all down to the last round.  Green had spent most of the game trying to furnish Little Eugenia with two bombs, so when Blue realised he had the cards he needed to win the round, she made it her business to try to obstruct his plans.  Needless to say he spent the round getting his cards back.  With Blue and Green playing silly beggars in the corner, everyone else fought it out, but there was nothing everyone else could do to stop Ivory taking the point he needed to win.

Giftmas at Dungeon Abbey
– Image by boardGOATS

There was still time to play something else, but nobody was really in the mood so, instead, Blue and Ivory drooled over the fabulous pink dinosaurs from Ivory’s new arrival, Dinosaur Island.  Blue had nearly KickStarted the second edition, but had withdrawn when she’d heard Ivory was already committed to the project.  Needless to say, Ivory had brought his copy to show it off at the earliest opportunity, including plastic goats as well as dinosaurs.  And of course it will undoubtedly be a “Feature Game” sometime in the new year.

Dinosaur Island
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Christmas Crackers can make an awful lot of mess.

3 thoughts on “11th December 2018

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