31st December 2020

Following the success of all the previous New Year parties, everyone wanted to have one this year too especially given how difficult it has been.  So, the evening began with Pink showing off his new Christmas panda games which were admired as people arrived.  Much to Blue’s horror, Pine then showed off his lack of trousers which he was not wearing in Pink’s honour.  There was much messing about with the new version of Teams and the settings, because Green seemed to be muted in the chat and couldn’t work out how to fix it.

Pass the Pandas & Posing Pandas
– Image by boardGOATS

After a lot of messing about, eventually we settled down to the “Feature Game”.  In the absence of our usual New Year game of PitchCar, we opted for the nearest online alternative: Downforce played online using Board Game Arena.  Downforce is a card-driven, bidding, racing, and betting game, based on the older games, Top Race and Daytona 500.  There are lots of different options, but basically, the game comes in two parts.  Firstly there is an auction for the cars, then there is the race when players try to manipulate the race so their cars win, and bet on which car will triumph.

Downforce
– Image by BGG contributor The Innocent

The clever part of the game is the cards which are used for bidding in the first part of the game and then later to move the cars.  These are marked with one to six of the colours corresponding to the six cars in the race.  Each colour has a number which represents the car’s speed, i.e. how far it will travel in a forward direction.  These cards are activated from the top to the bottom, moving the fastest car first, then the next and so on.  The cards show different combinations of colours and numbers, but players know what they have at the start of the game.  This therefore gives the players much more control over what they are doing, compared to games like Formula D for example, where the movement is dependent on rolling dice.

Downforce on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

Three times during the game, players have to bet on a car to win or place—this doesn’t have to be a car they own, in fact, betting against a car they own is a good way to limit losses.  The cars are auctioned off at the start of the game and the amount players spend is off-set against their winnings (money for placing in the race, but also for any successful bets).  The winner is the player who finishes with the most money (net).  So the game started with an auction of cars, and as it was our first game, we decided not to include the special powers and chose the River Station track, as it was the simplest (though there are still a couple of pinch points).

Downforce on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

With six players, six cars and no special powers, the auction was really for pole position. That was taken by Team Greeny-Lilac, who played their “Superspeed Eight” card first and moved straight into the lead which they held, crossing the first betting line at the front of the pack.  With lots of players the hands are very small, so it is essential that players have at least some cards that match the colour of their car if they are to have any control at all.  That was not something that Pine succeeded in having at all.  Despite that, somehow Pine managed to cross the second betting line first and parked up in the narrow, single car section between the second and third betting lines, blocking it completely.

Downforce on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

By the time he left the narrow section, Burgundy and Team Greeny-Lilac had replaced him, effectively obstructing everyone else and amid much hilarity, producing a lot of expletives on screen.  Pine and Burgundy’s cars got in Team Greeny-Lilac’s way and Pine then put on a spurt to cross the third betting line in the lead.  That was a master-stroke, as it gave him space to accelerate round the final corner to the finish line, leaving Burgundy and Team Greeny-Lilac some way behind. Although he crossed the line first, Pine had started with such an appalling hand of cards that he didn’t back himself to win, even when he was ahead at the final betting line.

Downforce on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

Just like the one, true, car racing game PitchCar, everyone else stalled on the line in the race for second place.  Eventually, Team Kitty (piloted by Pink), crossed the line in second place while Pine was still struggling to come up with cat-car-racing puns (Niki Meowda was the best he could come up with).  The winner of the game was actually Purple, despite the fact that her car came in third.  This was thanks to her astute early betting and the fact she spent much less on her car than everyone else.  The first game had been a lot of fun, so we decided to give it another go with some of the other options.

Downforce on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

This time, we added the basic special powers to the auction phase and picked a track at random, which turned out to be Switchback Pass (from the Danger Circuit expansion).  This turned out to be an interesting track with no single track sections, but instead featured small, dangerous spaces, with cracked tarmac and rubble from frequent rockfalls.  Players cannot end their movement on these spaces as they are too dangerous; they can only be used for overtaking and players are forced to move back to a regular space as soon as one is available.

Downforce on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

This makes it harder for players to actually block others as they have options, though these are can be expensive since the dangerous spaces are smaller and it takes twice as much energy to use them.  Team Kitty bid high and won the first car as they only really had one colour on their cards—as a result, they had a power (Strategic) they could only use once.  The other powers were arguably better, though none really felt like a game changer or breaker.  This time it was Black (who was “Cunning”) who stormed to an early lead and crossed the first betting line way ahead of everyone else.  As a result, everyone except Black, bet on Black to win.  Aside from a brief spell when “Determined Pine” took the lead, “Cunning Black” stayed at the front until he was well past the third betting line.

Downforce on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

Then, largely without warning, Black found himself blocked in by the combination of some dangerous track and a load of other cars.  And suddenly, we were in “Echidna Shuffle” territory where everyone was trying to avoid giving victory to anyone else.  This was made worse by the fact that everyone had betted that Black would win, so wanted Black to come in first to maximise their takings.  However, everyone also knew that everyone else had bet on Black, so everyone knew that whether he won or lost it would probably make little difference to the scores.  As a result, it became every car for itself and “Cunning Black” was left to languish on the side of the track like an Alfa Romeo waiting for a recovery vehicle.

Downforce on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS
from boardgamearena.com

“Determined Pine” was the beneficiary Black’s misfortune and was first to cross the line, eventually followed by “Team Strategic Kitty” in second (by now Pine and Pink had come up with Purrrrling Moss and David Cat-ard…).  “Aggressive Burgundy” and “Team Tricky Greeny-Lilac” came in third and fourth, leaving Black to limp home fifth.  “Cunning Black” was the only one to take anything from the betting, having not learnt from Pine in the first game, and instead bet on Team Kitty at the first betting line.  It wasn’t enough this time though, and in a low scoring game, the winner was Pine, thanks to him winning the race and buying his car cheaply.  Burgundy was second with Team Puss in third.

Downforce
– Adapted by boardGOATS from image
by BGG contributor kalchio

Although we’d all enjoyed it, two games of Downforce were definitely enough for one evening.  So we decided to move on to something else.  For a bit of variety we had planned to play a round of Just One.  As a cooperative, social deduction, word game, Just One ticks all the unpopular boxes for our group, making it the sort of game we very rarely play.  With more than superficial similarities to Codenames (which went down like a lead balloon when we played it a few years ago), Just One is a game we would never have tried had it not been for the current situation.

Just One
– Adapted by boardGOATS from image
by BGG contributor kalchio

The idea is that one player from the group is nominated to be the Guesser and everyone else gives them clues.  The clues have to be words, or characters and must not be derivatives or homonyms of the target.  The clever part is that any words that are the same are removed before they are shown to the guesser.  So for example, if the target word is “Berry”, clues could include “Straw”, “Black” and “Nick”.  If two people suggest “Straw”, however, this clue is removed which makes the job significantly more difficult for the Guesser.

Just One
– Image by boardGOATS

Thus, much like Dixit, in Just One, players are skating a thin line, trying to give an obvious clue, but one that is not so obvious that someone else will give it too and have it removed.  The game is a cooperative game usually played over thirteen rounds, but this time we decided to “house rule” it to play eight rounds, with everyone taking one turn as the Guesser.  Pink started, as he was already in the kitchen doing the washing up.  His word was “Venus”, and people scratched their heads as they tried to think of good clues.  These included “Milo”, “Woman”, “Tennis”, “Planet”, “Williams” and “Love”, but the one that clinched it for Pink was Pine’s clue of “Bananarama“.

Just One
– Image by boardGOATS

With the first one out of the way, everyone understood what they had to do, and Green took his turn to guess.  Even when the clue “Love” appeared twice and was therefore eliminated, “Caddy”, “Surf”, “Derelict”, “Shed” and “Outhouse” were enough for him to correctly guess, “Shack”.  So, it was all going swimmingly and people were just beginning to think it was easy, but then it was Black’s turn.  His clues included “Kylie”, “Area” and “Community”.  He correctly picked up on the “Australia” connection, but even with “Location” or “Locality” (which were ruled out as being too similar), the connection to “Neighbourhood” was just too tenuous.

Just One
– Image by boardGOATS

Next it was Pine’s turn and his clues included “Warning” and “Coast”.  Pine being Pine, the clues that most strongly suggested “Lighthouse” were “Family” and “Lifted”.  Although he was pleased to get it right, he is not a fan of the duo, and was very unimpressed when Pink found the track online and shared it with everyone.Burgundy was next and even when “Poll” was eliminated, “Vote” and “Boris” were enough to help him to correctly guess “Election”.

Just One
– Image by boardGOATS

Then it was Blue’s turn, but with clues of “Sand”, “Desert”, “Movie”, “Film”, all she could think of was “Ice Cold in Alex“, which was clearly not right.  “Shoes” might not have been the most helpful clue for someone who hates shoe-shopping, but “Herbert” and “Spice” should really have led her to “Dune”.  As she had not read the book or seen the film, she passed instead.  That left just Purple and Lilac, as it was five to midnight though, we took a break to get drinks to toast the passing of 2020 and sadly bid farewell to the UK membership of the EU.

New Year 2020
– Image by boardGOATS

After admiring Squeeze‘s jazzy rendition of “Cool for Cats” on Jools Holland‘s “Hootenanny“, singing “Auld Lang Syne“, a couple of phone calls, and looking for fireworks, we started again.  Purple was given clues including “Gucci”, “Vogue”, “Catwalk”, “Bowie”, “Outfits” and “Clothes” which she quickly correctly guessed as “Fashion”.  Lilac was last up and got clues of “Green”, “Earth”, “Love” (again), “Armistice”, “Nobel”, “Quiet”.  Seeing “Earth” and “Green” together, she excitedly said, “Greenpeace“, but of course that could not be correct as clues could not be contained in the answer.

Just One
– Image by boardGOATS

After what seemed like an age she guessed correctly giving us a team effort of six out of eight. Like Hanabi, the collective score at the end corresponds to a comment in a table, so scaling this to thirteen, it corresponded to “Wow, not bad at all!”.  One of the things we really hated about Codenames was the pressure it puts on the clue-giver; worse, if the clue-giver is not naturally good at making those sort of connections, they feel they are failing their team and the whole thing can tank spectacularly.  This is very different in Just One.

Just One
– Image by boardGOATS

In Just One, the stress is shared evenly amongst the clue-givers and although there is a little more pressure on the Guesser, as each person only guesses once or twice and the game is cooperative, no one person takes responsibility for failure and everyone shares in success.  That said, although it is much, much, better in that regard than Codenames, Just One still isn’t really a game for our group.  So there was only really one way to properly welcome in the New Year, and that was with a game of 2020’s Golden GOAT, our old favourite, 6 Nimmt!.

Golden GOAT - 2020
– Image by boardGOATS

In this game, players simultaneously choose cards to play and then add them, in order to the four rows.  When a player adds the sixth card to a row, they take the other five and their card becomes the new starting card.  The “nimmts” they pickup are subtracted from their starting total of sixty-six and the game ends when one player reaches zero.  We now play with the “Professional Variant” where cards can be added to both ends of the row adding a new level of madness, and fun.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, unusually, we were about a third of the way through the game when someone pointed out that Purple had not yet picked up a card.  This was particularly remarkable because more often than not she is the player to trigger the end of the game.  At the time we thought perhaps this signalled that 2021 was going to be better than, or at least different to, 2020.  On count-back however, it turned out that Purple won the first game of 2020 as well, so maybe that’s not such a good omen after all.  Meanwhile, everyone else was picking up the cards that Purple would normally take.  At one point everyone had around forty-five or forty-six, except Team Greeny-Lilac who had fifty-four, and Purple who had yet to pick up a card so still had sixty-six.

6 Nimmt! on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS

Purple lasted thirty-five minutes into 2021 before she picked up any nimmts.  It couldn’t continue forever though, and although everyone else continued the inexorable creep towards zero, Purple finally picked up enough cards to move her into second place, leaving Team Greeny-Lilac in the lead.  Inevitably, that made Team Greeny-Lilac a target although nobody has anywhere near enough control in 6 Nimmt! to effect any significant change.  Perhaps it was a matter of collective wishful thinking, but slowly, Team Greeny-Lilac started picking up cards, and at a slightly higher rate than everyone else.

6 Nimmt! on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS

With the rate everyone was going, we were in serious danger of ending the game with everyone on negative scores.  Black, correctly predicted that there wouldn’t be the extra necessary round to make that happen though, as he picked up once more and brought the game to an end.  Only Team Greeny-Lilac joined him in the red, after so long in the lead.  The winner was really just the player who had managed to hang on the longest, and with one of the lowest winning scores in recent games, it was Pink who won the first game of 2021 with twenty-one points and Purple was just behind with sixteen.  With that, and a little more chatter, it was time for bed.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Online racing is much like the real thing:  lots of queuing.

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