Category Archives: Games Night

7th January 2020

Almost everyone was late arriving and many wanted to eat, so we decided to play something quick to get people going while we waited for food to come.  In the top of the bag was …Aber Bitte mit Sahne (a.k.a Piece o’ Cake), and as there were a lot of hungry people, it seemed appropriate somehow.  “Sahne” is a very simple little “I divide, you choose” game where players are collecting pieces of cake.  On their turn, the active player, or Baker, begins by turning over one of the five piles of cake slices in the order they appear in.  They then divide the cake into segments, each containing one or more slices. The player to their left then chooses one of the segments, either “eating”, or “saving” each of the slices they take.

…Aber Bitte Mit Sahne
– Image by boardGOATS

At the end of the game, if a player has saved the most of a given type of cake, they score the number of points shown on the slices of that type; they also score one point for each blob of cream they have eaten.  The clever part is balancing the possibility of scoring a lots of points later with banking the blobs of cream now.  The cake types that score the most highly are those that have the most slices available, but they also have the most cream.  The player with the most points after the five rounds wins.  Burgundy started the first round, and, as there were four players, he also started the last round, arguably giving Blue a slight advantage since it meant that she was able to choose first twice. Blue began by collecting chocolate cake, because, well, it’s chocolate cake, (obviously), while Green and Pine began a bit of a tussle for “pea pie” (probably gooseberry tart really).

…Aber Bitte Mit Sahne
– Image by boardGOATS

One of the key parts of this game is that ties are friendly, in other words, if there is a tie, everyone gets the points.  This generally has the effect of making players work to get just enough pieces of cake to join the group of players that will score points rather working that bit harder to than get more pieces than everyone else and be the only one to score.  Thus, many people often score points for the same type of cake.  This was instrumental in making it a tight game this time, as there were several ties. In the end, the fact Green wasted none of his slices, winning points for everything he kept and eating the rest, meant he beat Blue by just one point with Pine not far behind in third place.  Towards the end of “Sahne” Ivory arrived and commented on the differences between it and it’s reimplementation, New York Slice, where cream is replaced with pepperoni and anchovies are added to give negative points – one to play another time perhaps.

…Aber Bitte Mit Sahne
– Image by boardGOATS

Once everyone had finished feasting (both in the game and in real life), we started looking at what people might play.  First up was the “Feature Game”, Suburbia in it’s rather epically large, and very fancy new “Collector’s Edition”. This is a tile-laying game, where each player tries to build their own town providing an economic engine and infrastructure that starts off as self-sufficient and hopefully becomes profitable and encourages growth.  Each player has two tracks:  Income and Reputation, the facilities that a player builds affect these, so as the income of their town increases there is more money to spend on purchasing better and more valuable buildings.  These, in turn, can increase the reputation of the town which will increase the population.  The winner is the town with the largest population.  While one might think this means going for the highest possible reputation would be the way to victory, the scoring track contains several expansion checks that immediately reduce a player’s income and reputation.

Suburbia
– Image by boardGOATS

The frequency of these scoring checks increases as scores increase, which could be disastrous for a player who allows rampant population growth to get out of control.  Although only Ivory had played the game before, the group decided to include one of the expansion sets, Nightlife.  Setup did not take as long as it looked, with the box inserts from the new edition making the job much quicker and easier.  The three communal objectives were: Most houses, Highest Income, and Most Municipal Buildings.  Each player also had their own private objectives with Green going for Nightlife, Ivory for Factories and Burgundy for Offices.  In the first round, even though the developments were as yet tiny villages, both Green and Ivory built Helipads.  With the owners of each helipad receiving $5 for every Helipad currently in the game (including the ones just taken), the power of the game became immediately obvious.

Suburbia
– Image by boardGOATS

In most games, players receives bonuses based on the situation when a card or token is taken.  In Suburbia, any benefits act through past, present and future, so tiles can keep on giving throughout the game.  Burgundy used this effect to gain $1 every time anyone built an Office. Green managed to build up a bonus of $3 for every House built in the game. This type of Income really helped, as Green didn’t need to worry too much about his base Income level and could concentrate on building up the Night tiles and Houses that he needed to fulfill his personal goals.  Ivory and Burgundy both decided to chase the Income bonus and ended up fighting for the Income producing tiles pushing each other up to ever higher values.  Obviously that Income helped them buy tiles, but they were largely in competition with each other and thus allowed Green to build a commanding lead in Accommodation and Nightlife.

Suburbia
– Image by boardGOATS

Another unique aspect of Suburbia, are the expansion checks that prevent a run-away winner. For every few population points gained, the player’s Income and Reputation markers are pushed back by one point each.  Since Burgundy and Ivory were competing for the income bonuses, there was the highly unusual (and amusing for anyone who was not Burgundy or Ivory) situation in the final couple of rounds where they were trying to avoid scoring too many “points” resulting in reducing their income and potentially losing the fifteen points the end-game objective would.  Ivory in particular was racking his brains over the best way to do this and spent so much thought on it that he failed to spot that he was only one Municipal building ahead of Green who’s turn was next (and had a pile of cash even though his Income was minus three!).

Suburbia
– Image by boardGOATS

Thus, for his final turn Green (knowing he had already won the Houses and Nightlife bonuses) bought the one remaining Municipal building on the track, robbing Ivory (no friendly ties in this game, to get a bonus you have to have most).  In the final scoring, Green’s green and pleasant city, with only Houses, Schools, Nightlife and a large Park (aside from his one starting Factory) was much more popular with the residents than Ivory’s Factory filled city or Burgundy’s green Office city.  Overall the group had enjoyed the game, which had perhaps more than the usual amount of interaction for a personal area building game.  Although there weren’t really any new mechanics, it was well implemented and everyone would be very happy to play it again.

Suburbia
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, Pine, Lime and Blue opted for the slightly lighter game, Istanbul. This is an old favourite that won the Kennerspiel des Jahres in 2014, but thanks to the new fare hasn’t been played in the group for some time. The game is played on a modular board with players making paths between different locations. The aim of the game is to be the first player to get five red Rubies, but there are a number of ways to get these.  For example, they can be bought from the Gemstone Dealer, but this costs money (and every time someone buys a Ruby, the cost increases too).  Money can be obtained by trading goods obtained from the three warehouses at one of the two markets.

Istanbul
– Image by boardGOATS

Each player starts with a small barrow, with space for four different goods and the Rubies. Three of the goods (Spices, Cloth and Fruit) can be gained from the associated warehouse, with a visit allowing players to fill their barrow to its maximum. A small barrow will only hold a maximum of two of each though, so visiting the wheelwright to buy an extension or two makes these visits more efficient, but barrow extensions also cost money… So planning the order of visits to these different places, and this is the clever part of the game.

Istanbul
– Image by boardGOATS

Each player is in charge of a stack of wooden disks representing a Merchant and his Assistants. The idea is that on their turn, the Merchant visits one of the different locations by travelling orthogonal a maximum of two spaces. At each location, he can negotiate a deal and leaves one of his Assistants to complete it. After several turns, the player runs out of Assistants so they can continue to move their Merchant without making deals returning to the Fountain to call their Assistants so they can start again, possibly using a couple of turns to do so.  Alternatively, the Merchant can move up to two spaces and return to one of the locations where they left an Assistant and carry out another deal at that location, taking the Assistant with them.

Istanbul
– Image by boardGOATS

Thus, the game is similar to Yokohama in that it is all about planning an efficient route, in this case, dropping off Assistants at useful locations and then, ideally, travelling the route again reusing them and picking them up.  There are other factors to consider too however. Encountering another Merchant will cost money, for example.  On the other hand, meeting the Smuggler or the Governor provide opportunities to get resources, including the rare Jewels (valuable, but distinct from Rubies), or bonus cards that can be kept and played to give an advantage later in the game.

Istanbul
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, the group used the big numbers on the location tiles to dictate their layout. Then, after a rules run-down, Blue started, moving her Merchant from the Fountain to the Post Office.  Visits here provide a couple resources and some cash, which she planned to sell, using the profits to extend her barrow.  Lime started out visiting the Tea House (via the Caravansary) to get cash, while Pine went to the Black Market to get money and Jewellery.  Blue was first to get a Ruby, but Pine and Lime weren’t far behind, and it was even closer by the time they were claiming their second Rubies. Lime, every inch the accountant was accruing vast amounts of cash, and somehow seemed to be collecting gems too, without the pile seeming to diminish significantly.

Istanbul
– Image by boardGOATS

As the game approached the end, Lime went on a spending spree, at the end of which Pine scuppered Lime’s plans. He took a Ruby from the Gemstone Dealer, increasing the price for Lime in the process, making things worse by the fact that he was squatting putting the cost just out of Lime’s reach. In the end though, Blue made a mistake leaving the door open for Pine to have another visit, and claim his final Ruby, with it the game.  With that, Pine left for an early night, convinced that Suburbia which was “just finishing” would be at least another half an hour. Blue and Lime, waited and set up For Sale, but it turned out Pine was right, and by the time the other group finished there wasn’t time to play.  So, after a bit of chit-chat, everyone went home.

For Sale
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome: Green and pleasant towns are nicer places to live.

31st December 2019

Burgundy was the first to arrive and he was quickly joined by Purple, Black and Lime.  As the first to arrive, together, they began to set up the “Feature Game“, the now traditional, car-racing game, PitchCar.  When Pine joined the party, discussion turned to the “Monster Games” session which featured Bus, Ecos: First Continent and the very silly Happy Salmon, all of which had been very enjoyable in their own way and most of which will come out again soon.  Before long, an exciting-looking racing track was set up around an obstacle course of snacks and drinks.

PitchCar
– Image by boardGOATS

As we’ve done a few times recently, instead of a circuit, we set up a single section track with separate start and finish lines.  This year we included the new Loop (which got it’s first outing at Pink’s sPecial Party in October) and Upsilon expansions as well as the bridge from the first expansion.  As usual, much fun was had by all concerned, especially with the new challenge that the Loop added.  There is clearly a knack with this: it is essential to hit the puck hard and in the middle, but some have the skill naturally, while others apparently just don’t.  Lime is one who clearly does, and as a result, his car traveled the furthest in the “flick-off”, so started at the front of the grid and finished way out in front too.

PitchCar Track 31/12/19
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine, Pink and Purple, clearly don’t have the knack, and we never really found out about Burgundy either, as someone helped him largely avoid it, resulting in him to taking second place.  Elsewhere, having successfully escaped from the Loop, Black shot round the chicane and made the bridge look easy, inspiring Pink to comment that we always used to get stuck at the bridge, but now we have the Loop, the bridge is easy!  That said, stopping over the line without falling off the end of the track proved to be quite challenging.  So much so, that after half a dozen mini-flicks, Black was in danger of getting caught by Pine, who eventually made it round in fourth place.

PitchCar
– Image by boardGOATS

That just left Pink and Purple, taking it in turns to try to get round the Loop.  Eventually, Purple hit the sweet spot and started off towards the finish.  Unfortunately, after a superb single shot that took her round the ring, she ended up pointing in the wrong direction and tried to go  round the Loop backwards.  Pink meanwhile was still stuck and thanks to the way the track looped back on itself creating an intersection, managed to very effectively obstruct Purple in her quest to get to the end.

PitchCar
– Image by boardGOATS

As Purple’s and Pine’s antics entertained, everyone else consumed crudites, Devils on horsebacks, stuffed mini peppers, and large quantities of pigs in blankets (Lime commented that he now knew why JD Wetherspoon had a shortage).  When Purple and Pink finally crossed the line, it was time for supper – spicy vegetable chili, beef chili, rice and corn on the cob.  As people finished dinner we realised we’d forgotten the crackers and Christmas pressies. Unusually, this year there was desert too, so Black was given a special rolling-pin shaped knife to “cut” it, leaving everyone to wonder, before Pink delivered a Christmas pudding-shaped chocolate piñata.

New Year 2019
– Image by boardGOATS

The “Pud” resisted all Black’s initial blows, until he decided a side-swipe might have more effect.  Eventually a dent became a crack and the crack became a hole revealing the sweets inside.  As everyone picked at the chocolate, we decided to start another game, Ca$h ‘n Guns, because there’s nothing better at Christmas than pointing foam guns at each other.  This is a very simple, but very fun party game where players are gangsters dividing up their loot by a sort of controlled Russian Roulette.

Ca$h 'n Guns
– Image by boardGOATS

Each player starts the round by loading their gun with one bullet from their deck of eight bullet cards, or “clip”.  Each bullet can be used only once during the game, and three are live, while the other five are blanks.  Once everyone has chosen their bullet card, the Godfather counts to three and everyone points their weapon at someone.  The Godfather can then use his privilege to ask one player to point their gun away from him (there was some discussion as to whether a real gangster would use “please”), then there is a second count of three.  This time, players can back out, which means they won’t get shot, but they also won’t get any loot.

Ca$h 'n Guns
– Image by boardGOATS

All the remaining players then reveal their bullet cards and anyone who is shot picks up a plaster and also won’t get any loot at the end of the round.  This leaves a hard-core of gangsters to take it in turns to collect cards from the loot pool that was revealed at the start of the round.  In each round, all the loot cards are taken, so when it is a particularly brutal round, players can take several cards.  The loot includes diamonds, artworks and cash, as well as the occasional medipack or additional bullet and the opportunity to become the Godfather.  Unusually, this final option was taken several times so the Godfather changed hands quite frequently, with Burgundy, Pink, Lime, Blue, and Pine all taking the role at some point.

Ca$h 'n Guns
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue was Boris, so Pink suggested that she should be the target.  This is fairly usual in this game, so Blue rarely wins.  However, it seems people didn’t like being told what to do by Pink, even if he was the Godfather, so remarkably, she survived the first round.  After a couple more rounds she’d still only picked up one plaster, while Pine, had acquired two so a third would put him out of the game.  As he had pointed out at the start, an injury tends to make you a target, but somehow, Pine managed to get himself a medipack.  Burgundy and Purple, however, were not so lucky and bought it in round six.

Ca$h 'n Guns
– Image by boardGOATS

Going into the final round, Black commented on how many painting cards Blue had picked up—the first is worth $4,000, but these score an ever increasing amount so a player with ten scores $500,000.  At that point, Blue didn’t feel she had enough, but as Pine’s final bullet proved to be a blank, she was able to stay in for the final round and pick up a couple more.  It surprised even her when she counted up and found she had seven paintings giving a total of $250,000 when her cash was added in.  Black took the $60,000 bonus for the most diamonds and with it, second place with $133,000, and not a scratch, just ahead of Pink ($110,000) who was also unharmed.

Ca$h 'n Guns
– Image by boardGOATS

With midnight fast approaching, we replaced the guns with glasses to toast the New Year and watch the fireworks (in both London and the village).  And then we had the very important decision to make: what to play for the first game of 2020.  In the end,  we decided to go for our old favourite, 6 Nimmt!.  Everyone knows how to play this by now:  players simultaneously choose a card from their hand and then, starting with the player that revealed the lowest value card, players add their cards to one of the four rows.  The player who adds the sixth card to a row, instead takes the first five into his scoring pile, where the number of bulls’ heads indicates the score.  The winner is the player with the fewest “nimmts”.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

We played with our usual variant where a game takes two rounds, each played with one half of the deck.  In the first round, Pine top-scored with twenty-two closely followed by Lime with eighteen, while Pink kept a clean sheet and Purple remarkably (especially for her), had only the one card with just a single “nimmt”.  So, going into the second half, it was all to play for.  As is usually the case, those that do well in the first round typically do badly in the second.  That was exactly the way it panned out for Pink who picked up the most “nimmts” in the second round with twenty-five, almost catching up with Pine and Lime.  Purple, however, managed to buck the trend, and pulled out a clear round giving her a final total of just one and with it, clear victory—the first of the new year.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

Lime suggested a second game, and as the only other game being suggested was Bohnanza, apathy from everyone else meant we played 6 Nimmt! again.  Again, Pink ended the first round with “zip”, followed by Black and Burgundy with five; again Pine had the highest score of twenty-four.  Also again, Pink failed in the second round, taking more than anyone else and finishing with a total of twenty.  Blue managed a zero in the second round, but had picked up too many points in the first to do better than second place.  It was consistency that won the game though, and Burgundy, the only one to say in single figures for both rounds, finished with thirteen and took first place.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

By this time was well gone 1am, and there was some chatter before Lime decided that it was past his bedtime and left everyone else to it.  With six, there were slightly more options, and when Pink appeared with For Sale, nobody objected.  This is an older game, that we haven’t played in the group since it was the “Feature Gamenearly seven years ago, but it is a bit of an “ever-green” game that still pops up on recommendation lists from time to time.

For Sale
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is very simple: players buy properties in the first part of the game and then sell them in the second half, and the player who has the most money at the end wins.  Buying properties is through auction.  Players start with $14,000 to last the whole game and take it in turns to bid for one of the property cards available on the table.  These have a nominal rating of one to thirty with fantastic pictures that reflect their value.  In each round, the bidding is continuous with players either increasing the bid by at least $1,000 or passing.  When a player passes, they take the lowest value property card and pay half their bid.  Thus, the winning player gets the highest value card, but has to pay the full amount bid.

For Sale
– Image by boardGOATS

In the second part of the game, cheque cards with a value of $2,000 to $15,000 (or void) are revealed and players simultaneously select a card to play and then reveal.  The property card with the lowest numerical value takes the cheque with the smallest value.  This time, the property cards came out in bunches so it was mostly a case of players trying to avoid getting the real rubbish, and some inevitably failing.  It was such a long time since we had played the game, that it took a couple of rounds for players to really get the feel of valuing the properties and the best way to bid, by which time, in some cases, the damage had already been done.

For Sale
– Image by boardGOATS

It also took a round or two to get the hang of selling properties as we weren’t sure exactly how the money on the cheques was distributed.  In addition, the cheques came out with low values first, then high values and finally, both voids in the last round.  This meant that although Blue took the maximum return for her Space Station, she didn’t take out any of the other high value buildings.  It also meant that Burgundy and Pink got saddled with the voids in the final round.

For Sale
– Image by boardGOATS

Despite this, it was a very close game.  In the final accounting, Black won with a total of $50,000, just ahead of Burgundy in second with $47,000, the void possibly making all the difference.  By this time, it was gone 2am and although nobody was keen to leave, it was definitely pumpkin-o’clock.  So everyone headed home to bed for the first time in 2020.

New Year 2019
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Thick chocolate is surprisingly hard to break.

24th December 2019 – “Unofficial boardGOATS” on Christmas Eve

It being Christmas Eve, with many people away or having other plans and already having held our Christmas Party, we decided to have a quiet, “unofficial” meeting for those who fancied it.  As a result, there was no “Feature Game“, and just four to respond positively to a Doodle Poll. So, Pine and Lime joined Blue and Pink (newly arrived from Radio Oxford) for food and a chat before settling down to play some light games.  The first of these was Azul, winner of the Spiel des Jahres  and Deutscher Spiele Preis in 2018, a game we played a lot when it first came out at Essen in 2017, but has more recently been largely superseded by the newer versions (Stained Glass of Sintra and Summer Pavilion).

Azul
– Image by boardGOATS

Azul is very light and simple to play, but with surprising staying power.  Despite Azul being so popular with the group, Lime had somehow missed out so we had a run-down of the rules first.Players take coloured tiles from a central market and add them to rows on their player board next to their mosaic.  The rows are different lengths and can only hold one colour at a time.  For any rows that are complete at the end of a round, one of the tiles is moved into that players mosaic and the row is emptied for the next round.

Azul
– Image by boardGOATS

The clever part of the game is the tile market.  There are a number of “stalls” in the market, each holding four coloured tiles.  On their turn, the active payer can take all of one colour from one of the stalls moving the rest to the central pool, or alternatively, they can take all the tiles of one colour from the central pool.  Once all the tiles are gone, the round ends and tiles in the rows are moved across to the mosaic then the market is restocked from the draw bag.  Scoring occurs during the game when tiles are added to the mosaic, and bonus points are awarded at the end of the game for completed rows, columns and any colours which appear in each row/column.

Azul
– Image by boardGOATS

Pink put all his efforts into trying to get bonus points for placing a full set of red tiles monopolising them early on and making it really hard for everyone else to get any.  It was a really, really tight game, and Lime put in an excellent show to take second place against much more experienced opposition.  He was just pipped by three points by Blue, who finished strongly taking bonus points for two completed columns.  Lime had enjoyed his first play and likes playing games twice so suggested a replay. With the relaxed atmosphere, everyone else was happy to go along with it.

Azul
– Image by boardGOATS

The second game wasn’t as tight as the first.  Pink collected more red tiles, annoying everyone else, again, and Blue was forced to take an eight point penalty which she thought was going to put her out of the game.  She made up for it by picking up bonus points for one complete column and a set of blue tiles and once again sneaked ahead of Lime.  Everyone was trampled into the dirt by Pine, however, with an enormous score—his first ever over a hundred.  As we were packing away, we discussed how he did it, and concluded that it was all about the scores from tile placement, and the bonus points really were, just that: a nice bonus, but not really something to aim for.

Azul
– Image by boardGOATS

The night was still young and everyone fancied playing something else.  In keeping with the relaxed nature of the evening, a pair of comfy slippers seemed in order, in this case, Ticket to Ride: London. This is a trimmed down version of the popular modern classic, Ticket to Ride.  All the game play is much the same: on their turn the active player, takes coloured cards into their hand or plays coloured cards to place pieces on the map trying to complete route cards they received at the start of the game.  In the original game, the cards and pieces were carriages, in this cut down version the cards depict other forms of transport and the pieces are buses, and players have fewer of them.

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

Points are placing trains on the map with the longest sections scoring more heavily.  In this cut down version, there are also bonus points for connecting stops in certain regions.  The biggest factor is usually the tickets however, as completed tickets score points, while incomplete tickets give negative points.  The active player may forfeit their turn, instead taking additional tickets, which adds an element of jeopardy: taking more tickets can add to the score, but if they aren’t fulfilled by the end of the game, it can be costly.  Pine started the game with two tickets giving long, roughly parallel routes that he thought he would be able to make work.  However, as is often the case with the cut-down versions of Ticket to Ride, the game started fast and Pine quickly realised he would be lucky if he could finish one and end with a positive score, never mind complete both.

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

It was really tight around central London, and almost everyone struggled as others upset their plans.  This made for another tight game.  Blue finished the game by reducing her stock of buses to two first, and ended up with a winning score of forty largely thanks to a couple of fortunate tickets picked up late in the game.  Lime likes playing games more than once and suggested a rematch.  Pine, having had a really rough time the first time round was keen to improve on his first attempt and Pink and Blue were happy to go along with it.

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine again picked up Regent’s Square to Elephant & Castle, but pairing this with a shorter route made  it much more achievable.  This time, Blue really struggled to place trains, and looked to be in a lot of trouble with only seventeen points when Pink brought the game to an early end.  Both Blue and Lime had nothing they could do on their final turn so were left with a decision: gamble on taking more tickets to try to get one that is already complete, or hope they had enough tickets already.  Both thought about it, but chose to forgo the gamble, which turned out to be the right choice.  In the final accounting, Blue picked up a massive twenty-three points from her tickets, to give her an unassailable total of forty (again—nothing if not consistent), dashing Pinks hopes, leaving him five points behind.  With that, everyone wished each other a Very Merry Christmas and headed home to put their stockings up.

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  While GOATS love a good party, a quiet night can also be really enjoyable.

10th December 2019

The evening started with people arriving in festive attire and snow, glitter and other detritus all over the table, as people pulled crackers and party poppers.  While we waited for food everyone amused themselves writing “Secret GOAT Christmas Cards” and contemplating the voting possibilities for the Golden GOAT Awards (by far the most enjoyable poll of the week).  In the interlude between courses, people completed and submitted their voting papers and Blue and Mulberry conducted the count.  As the results came in, it was clear that there was only going to be one winner.

"Un-Christmas Party" 2019
– Image by boardGOATS

Although Key Flow put in a very strong showing to come second, Wingspan, already winner of the Kennerspiel des Jahres and Deutscher Spiele Preis, took the most coveted award of the year, the coveted Golden GOAT.  The GOAT Poo Prize was less clear cut – almost everyone said that for them there wasn’t a stand-out game deserving of the award.  In the end it went to 7 Wonders, which is a bit of a Marmite game among the GOATS – some people are very fond of it, but nearly a third of the group nominated as the least enjoyable game of the year.  Eventually, everyone finished dessert, but everyone was in festive mood and nobody seemed desperate keen on playing anything.

Golden GOAT - 2019
– Image by boardGOATS

Lime threatened to head off without playing anything as he had a long drive in the morning, but after some discussion about perhaps playing the Winter Edition of Carcassonne or repeating the snowy Nordic version of Ticket to Ride that we played last year,  eventually, he joined Mulberry, Blue, Pink and Ivory to play the “Feature Game”, Christmas Penguins.  This is a cute little game, with some interesting ideas, but proved to need more development and more complete, precise rules.  The premise is that players are naughty penguins trying to steal gifts from under the Christmas Tree, while trying to avoid being captured by Santa.

Christmas Penguins
– Image by boardGOATS

The rules for the second edition were only available in German and had been translated by Blue, so some aspects might have been missed, but the idea is that the round is started by Santa who rolls his die and moves accordingly, trying to catch one of the naughty Penguins. Then each Penguin takes their turn trying to get to the Christmas Tree to steal one of the presents under it.  If they manage to steal a pressie, Santa moves the tree to another location.  Penguins cannot pass through a space occupied by another Penguin, instead, playing a sort bumper-car game, they push the occupant onto an adjacent unoccupied space.

Christmas Penguins
– Image by boardGOATS

If a Penguin lands on a space with an Event Stone, by design or because they were pushed onto it, they take the stone and keep it until they need it.  Event Stones come in different colours which have different effects, but these primarily involve swapping places with other characters. To use an Event Stone, the player can call “Stop!” at any time and then carries out the action by spending the stone.  Rolling a one, has the additional effect of invoking the Polar Bear, who moves one space at a time, but if he ends on a space with a Penguin it drops a parcel and runs away to an unoccupied adjacent space.

Christmas Penguins
– Image by boardGOATS

One of the clever ideas is that when Santa captures a Penguin, the owner of the Penguin takes over the role of Santa and the player who had been Santa places their Penguin in Santa’s workshop.  The turn order was a bit of a problem, however, and may have been one of the things that didn’t make it from the German translation, certainly it was one of the things that mean the game didn’t really gel for us.  Another thing that our group found lacking was the fact that there was no mechanism for the Event Stones to return to play, which was a shame; perhaps we would house rule it that every time the Christmas tree was moved a stone would be left in its place.

Christmas Penguins
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory started out at Santa and we went at it with a will.  Ivory quickly caught Lime, who looked most unimpressed.  Unfortunately, thereafter, every time Santa caught a Penguin, the upset it caused to the turn order confused everyone.  There was one other aspect of the game that we completely failed to use, which was the rivers—each player can place or remove one river piece per turn.  These cannot be crossed by Penguins, Polar Bears, or even Santa himself and are clearly designed to add an element of strategy to the game.  In practice though we just forgot they existed, only using them very occasionally.

Christmas Penguins
– Image by boardGOATS

The game ends when the final parcel is taken from under the tree, in our case, by Blue, which just left the scoring.  Even this was a little more complex than it needed to be: players get one point for each present they’ve stolen and bonus points are awarded in a Point Salad way to the player with the most parcels of each colour and the player with the most different colours.  It is almost as if this game doesn’t know what it is meant to be, silly fun or strategic, which is a great shame because it feels like it should be a good seasonal game. So, over the Christmas period, we’ll have a go at house-ruling it to try to improve it for our group.  This time, in the end, Blue and Ivory got a bit of a lead and Blue eventually put everyone out of their misery.

Christmas Penguins
– Image by boardGOATS

It wasn’t clear how bonus points should be awarded in the event of a tie.  In our first attempt, we decided that bonus points would only go to the person with more than anyone else, but this led to a three-way tie which was about as unsatisfying as the game.  So we decided to try friendly ties, which did at least give us a winner, with Lime just sneaking into the lead.  With that, Lime and Mulberry took themselves off leaving Ivory, Pink and Blue to play Christmas Lights, the game that was going to be the “Feature Game” until Pink had commented that he didn’t like it.

Christmas Lights: A Card Game
– Image by boardGOATS

Christmas Lights is a set collecting card game with a memory element.  The idea is that players have a hand of cards that are “reversed” so players can see everyone else’s hand, but not their own, like Hanabi.  Players are tying to make a string of lights by playing coloured light bulb cards in the correct order to match their cards.  On their turn, the active player first trades a card of their choice with one from any other player.  They then play one card, adding it to their string of lights.  This can be the card they’ve just swapped, or one they’ve had in hand, but if it does not match their pattern card, they must discard it.

Christmas Lights: A Card Game
– Image by boardGOATS

Once they have played a card, the active player then turns over the top two cards and then either adds one to their string, or can trade one of the cards for the one-word answer to a question of their choosing.   With just two players, it feels like the game plays itself, but with three or four players, its sweetspot, there is a more interesting interplay between planning, memory and navigating the event cards which can help or hinder.  This time, Pink was first to complete his first target string, but found it difficult to play the plug card that he needed to connect his first string with his second.  This was made worse by Blue, who stole his once he’d found one, and the fact that he had played a lot of broken bulb cards that needed replacing before he could continue.

Christmas Lights: A Card Game
– Image by boardGOATS

While Pink was struggling to sort out his plug, Ivory and Blue had both caught up and started work on their second string of lights.  With two cards played per turn, it wasn’t long before all three were threatening the end of the game, but Blue got there first, just.  Pink couldn’t quite finish his string and as Ivory had started first, he didn’t get another turn, leaving Blue to take victory without another tie-break.  Meanwhile, on the next table, Green, Black, Purple and Pine were playing a slightly more conventional, tie-break free game in one of our old favourites, Snow Tails.

Snow Tails
– Image by boardGOATS

Snow Tails is a husky sled-racing game where players have a deck of cards from which they draw a hand of five, playing one to three of these each turn so long as the cards played all have the same value.  Each player also has a dog sled with two dogs and a brake.  Forward movement is the sum of the dogs minus the value of the break, with a drift sideways of the difference between the two dog speeds (in the direction of the faster, stronger dog).  Using this, players have to navigate the course avoiding colliding with obstacles including other sleds, saplings and, of course, the wall of the track.

Snow Tails
– Image by boardGOATS

Corners are also a hazard, and players traveling too fast into them or hitting things they shouldn’t, pick up dent cards.  These are added to the players’ hand and stay there for the rest of the game obstructing their planning and management reducing the number of cards they can draw.  The track is modular and there is a “menu” players can choose from.  This time, Lime, on the next table chose the board layout, and picked one of the two double hairpin tracks, albeit one without the sledge destroying saplings.  It took us a couple of attempts to get the track right though, having to make sure there weren’t two red speed limit lines next to each other and adding a couple of saplings either side of the gorge to make it just a little more interesting.

Snow Tails
– Image by boardGOATS

Using a random selection, Pine was in pole position, followed by Black, then Purple with Green starting last.  There was a nice easy run to the first half bend, but those starting last had to make sure they did not crash into the back of the sledges in front.  Within a couple of turns Green had nudged from last to be alongside Black and on the inside of the track so theoretically in the lead.  Over the next few turns Green and Black vied for the lead while Pine and Purple were scrapping for third.

Snow Tails
– Image by boardGOATS

Eventually, Green got a good position for the first hairpin and pulled into the lead.  Although could have let the brake off at this point hurtle forward, he decided that the inevitable dents for breaking the speed limit would not be worth it, so instead slammed on the brake. This allowed Black to catch up, but his track position was not so good and soon found himself boxed in on the outside unable to get across the track fast enough, as a result picking up his first dent.  At about the same time, Pine also found himself sliding too wide at the hairpin also taking a dent, while Purple was taking it slow and steady, avoiding damage.

Snow Tails
– Image by boardGOATS

At the front Green used his inside track position to start to pull ahead of Black, and continue round the second hairpin, cutting in tight to the opposite half bend, for an easy dodge through the canyon and round the tree towards the finish line.  Black in second place had to manage his damaged sledge through the last corners, but had a good lead on Pine and Purple and was able to easily slide home in second, taking one of the trees with him to the line.

Snow Tails
– Image by boardGOATS

In the meantime, Pine found himself going too fast into the second hairpin and not only crossed the speed limit line too fast, he also crashed in the same accident black spot that had caused Black problems earlier.  Pine’s sledge was so badly damaged that everyone else took pity on him and allowed him to only take a single dent card, although he insisted he should take the lot.  At this point it looked like an easy third place for Purple, but she suddenly began to struggle as she didn’t have the right cards to do what she needed to do.  As a result she was crawling along so slowly that Pine caught her up. It was looking like it might be rather tight for that third place, until Pine’s impossibly damaged sledge finally got the better of him and Purple crossed the line for third.

Snow Tails
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  GOATS love a good party!

26th Movember 2019

There were lots of people feeding and with a bit of a queue, so the non-eaters, Ivory, Mulberry and Lime, decided to play something while they waited.  There were lots of options, but it was a long time since we’d played The Game and it ticked all the boxes, so unusually, a decision was made really quickly.  This is a simple cooperative card game (in our case, played with a copy of The Game: Extreme, but ignoring the special symbols), but new to Mulberry and Lime.  The team have a deck of cards from two to ninety-nine and they must play each card on one of four piles, two where the card played must be higher than the top card, and two where it must be lower.

The Game: Extreme
– Image by boardGOATS

There are just three rules:  on their turn, the active player can play as many cards as they like (obeying the rules of the four piles), but must play at least two cards before replenishing their hand, and players can say anything they like but must not share “specific number information”.  Finally, there is the so-called “Backwards Rule” where players can reverse a deck as long as the card they play is exactly ten above or below the previous card played on that pile.  This time, it went a bit wrong early on, but the trio managed to pull it back.  Lime got stuck with fifty-six and sixty-four that he couldn’t play, and eventually the game came to a halt with six cards still to play.

The Game: Extreme
– Image by boardGOATS

By the time The Game was over, the eaters had just about finished as well and the group split into two, one five to play the “Feature Game”, Mississippi Queen.  This is an older game that won the Spiel des Jahres award in 1997, but has recently been re-released in a new edition having been out of print for many years.  In this game, players race their paddle steamers down the Mississippi, picking up passengers along the way.  Onboard, coal supplies are limited, so each ship’s acceleration and manoeuvrers must be carefully planned.  The key to the game are the cool little plastic paddle steamers which have two numbered paddle wheels – one to track coal and the other to record the speed.

Mississippi Queen
– Image by boardGOATS

The five riverboats start at jetties and then set sail along the river, which is made up of a hexagonal grid.  At the start of their turn, the active player can adjust their speed by one and then move that number of hexagonal spaces, turning a maximum of once before, during or after the move.  The player can increase or decrease their speed by more or make extra turns by burning coal.  Everyone starts with just six coal though and there is no source of coal during the game, so when it’s gone it’s gone.

Mississippi Queen
– Image by boardGOATS

The game has a lot in common with Powerships, a mad spaceship racing game we played about six months ago, but there are a couple of key differences.  Firstly, each player has to pick up two passengers from the islands during the race, which means they must arrive at a jetty at a speed of one.  There is a more subtle difference which is nevertheless important to the way the game plays.  In Powerships, the map is modular, but is set out before the start of the game, where it is built as play progresses in Mississippi Queen.

Mississippi Queen
– Image by boardGOATS

In Mississippi Queen, after the first turn, play proceeds according to position in the race (like PitchCar).  The advantage of this is that players at the front don’t obstruct players moving up from behind, however, it can lead to a run-away leader problem instead.  In Mississippi Queen though, the river is “built” as the game progresses; when the leader moves onto the final space, they draw a new river tile and roll the die to determine placement (left, right or straight ahead).  The fact that the player in the lead has less time to plan has the additional effect of off-setting the advantage of less obstruction, helping to prevent the leader running away with the game.

Mississippi Queen
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, Lime stormed into the lead, but overshot the first island allowing Blue to sneak in behind him and grab a passenger.  There are plenty of islands though, so Lime had plenty of other opportunities.  Unfortunately, he overshot the second island as well as he was going too fast.  By the third island, Lime was starting to get desperate, but hadn’t got his speed and position right and ended up burning almost all his coal and doing a full circuit of the island to rectify things.  This, and almost sinking gave everyone else a chance to catch up and Blue managed to snatch another passenger putting her in a position to make a run for the finish.

Mississippi Queen
– Image by boardGOATS

Although she was able to move into the lead, Blue was hampered by an inability to plan and was forced to burn some of her carefully hoarded pile of coal.  Mulberry wasn’t far behind, and had the advantage of being able to see slightly further down the river so was better able to plan and could therefore carry more speed.  Purple and Pine got into a tangle over picking up a beautiful lady, delaying them both as Blue and Mulberry puffed off into the distance.  Lime bravely fought his way back, but it was between Blue and Mulberry with Mulberry rapidly eating into Blue’s lead.  Blue just managed to make it to the jetty burning the last of her coal to drift in gently, just ahead of Mulberry.  Lime limped in next, leading the others in.  Meanwhile, on the next table, everyone else was playing one of the archetypal card-drafting games 7 Wonders.

7 Wonders
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Players start each round with a hand of cards, and everyone simultaneously chooses one and plays it.  The remains of the hands are then passed on to the next player who chooses a card and plays it.  Play continues like this until each player has two cards at which point one is discarded.  The game is distinguished from simpler card-drafting games like Sushi Go! by the civilisation and engine building aspects.  In 7 Wonders, the players are the leader of one of the seven great cities of the Ancient World. They use the cards to gather resources, develop commercial routes, and affirm their military supremacy.  Some cards have immediate effects, while others provide bonuses or upgrades later in the game. Some cards provide discounts on future purchases, some provide military strength to overpower your neighbors and others give nothing but victory points.

7 Wonders
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor  punkin312

After three rounds (or Ages), the player with the most points has the most advanced city and is the winner.  The player boards are chosen at random at the start of the game.  In this case, Green got Halicarnassus, and chose Side B so would be looking to build extra cards from the discard deck in the second and third rounds. Black got Ephesus and also went with Side B and so was only going for victory points and extra money.  Ivory got Babylon and again Side B was favoured, giving him the second tier bonus of being able to build both his final two cards.  Red received Alexandria and was also going to use Side B which would provide her extra resources and victory points.

7 Wonders
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Green’s game was one of building resources in order to build the pyramid enabling him to  build the extra cards.  He started building up his military, and although he was joined at the same level by both his neighbours (Ivory and Black), he began to pull ahead of Ivory after the second round and by the end of the third round had amassed an unassailable army. In the process though, he had neglected green science cards and purple guilds.  Building extra cards from the discard pile is perhaps not as helpful as it might seem as the cards in the discard pile are there because they are the least useful cards. Maybe with more players there would be more to choose from and this bonus would work more favourably, on thee other hand, it might just end up with more duplicates.

7 Wonders
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor punkin312

On the opposite side of the table was Red.  She, in contrast (and not under threat from the growing armies of Green) mostly ignore the fighting, but still managed to win one battle. With the extra resources available from her pyramid she did not need as many resource cards and decided to concentrate on the other cards.  She invested heavily in the yellow bonus cards and also managed to get a full complete set of science cards.  These she managed to combine with the purple guild which gave her an extra science symbol of her choice.  She also managed to build a second purple guild, which gave her extra points for all brown, grey and purple cards. She also managed to acquire a very large pile of money which netted a fair few points too.

7 Wonders
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Ivory’s game was built around trying to get to the second pyramid level quickly, so initially he took a lot of resource cards. Unfortunately he didn’t get to the second level until the end of the second round, but having looked at the card he then decided the extra money would be more useful. He managed to build both his last cards in the final round, but like Green found, that extra card is not always that useful. He did manage to collect some high scoring blue cards, but  although he tried, he failed to get a full set of science cards. He did get a couple of purple guilds though with one scoring the yellow cards belonging to neighbours, Red and Green who had both gone quite heavily into those. The other gave him points for every battle lost by his neighbours. He got nothing from Green for this, but scored quite nicely from Red.  His resource heavy early game meant that he was left trying to catch up on the other later cards and abandoned his attempts to build a strong army and just took the beating.

7 Wonders
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Black’s game was concentrated on the blue victory point cards and his pyramid build.  A smattering of yellow bonus cards aided his end game score because he scored for all the brown cards built by both himself and his neighbours (Green and Red). He collected some science, but not a complete set.  Although beaten by Green in the final battle, he avoided defeat in the first two and took a clean sweep of victories over Red.  So although everyone had had a strong game in one area, these were more than offset by less strong elements elsewhere.  It turned out that the strongest games were had by Black and Ivory who finished level on fifty-one, some way ahead of Red in third.  The tie break was won by Black who had the more money at the end of the game.

7 Wonders
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Mississippi Queen was still going, but coming to an end so something quick was needed and Ticket to Ride: London hit the spot.  This is one of the new, smaller versions of the popular route-building game, Ticket to Ride.  These are reduced in size and designed be quicker to play although the game play is very similar.  Players take it turns to draw coloured cards or use them to place pieces, but in this version the Train pieces are replaced by Routemaster Buses.  As usual, players also start with a selection of ticket cards and successfully fulfilling these give more points, but woe betide any player who fails to complete a ticket as the points become negative, which can be very costly indeed.  In addition to these features, this new light version of the game also gives bonus points to players who manage to connect all the locations in an area.

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

The action started around central London, (Covent Garden, Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar square) as Red, then Black and Ivory laid buses around the area, all concerned that the other may block their paths. Green went further out to Kings Cross and Regents Park.  As the game progressed, Ivory, Red and Black continued to challenge each other around central, East and Southern London. Green happily laid his buses round to the East unopposed.

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

Black, who had only kept one ticket, was the first to complete his ticket and go for more.  He was closely followed by Red (who had also only kept the one), and then Ivory (who had kept two).  Green never took new tickets, concentrating on his two and connecting all the stations in the five point district. Black, Red and Ivory continued to take new tickets, but it looked like Green might end the game as he was soon down to only three buses.  Ivory checked around the table to see who had buses and how many cards they had left and decided that he had time.  Even though he had missed the fact that Green had only a single card in hand, he still managed to lay his last buses first; one turn too early for Green who had to settle for a two length route instead of the three he was aiming for (and close to getting).

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

Black placed one last bus, but Red decided to gamble on new tickets as she had nothing she could claim.  Ivory still had one final turn, but with no more buses to lay, he decided against the ticket gamble.  In the final scoring, Ivory was way ahead of everyone else, due to claiming four “long” routes (threes and fours) and completing some high scoring tickets.  Red, Black and Green were all within two points of each other. Red’s final ticket gamble failed and cost her a clear second place, and Green’s gamble on connecting all the stations in the five point district (and the stations in the two point district as well) did not pay off either.

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

Some left for an early night and those that were left decided to play one last quick game.  Pine was adamant that Bohnanza and Las Vegas weren’t “quick” so in the end, 6 Nimmt! got the nod.  This is one of our most popular games, and frequently gets played in circumstances like this.  It is very simple and there is something almost magical about playing well:  simultaneously everyone chooses a card from their hand and places it face down in front of them.  Once everyone has picked a card, they are all revealed and, starting with the lowest card, the cards are added to one of the four row, the row where the end card has the highest value that is lower than their card.  The point is that the row a card is played on changes as players place cards.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

The player who places the sixth card, takes the five cards and scores the number of bulls’ heads shown.  The winner is the player with the fewest bulls’ heads.  We play the game in two rounds, and this time the first round was mostly pretty even with everyone taking twelve to fifteen Nimmts except Blue who somehow scraped a clear round.  This meant it was all to play for in the second round, especially with the tendency for a good round to be followed by a bad one.  Unusually, nobody had a terrible game:  Pine top scored with forty, followed by Purple with thirty-one, and everyone else was quite closely grouped. Blue’s clear first round gave her a head-start and she finished with fourteen, just two ahead of Ivory and three ahead of Black in what was an unusually close game.  And with that, it was home-time.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning  Outcome:  Neglect end game bonuses at your peril.

12th Movember 2019

The combination of Illness, work and jet-lag meant we were really low on numbers, despite having a new player, Emerald.  Blue arrived first followed by Pine and both ordered food.  Green arrived shortly after and ordered the mushroom tagliatelle as he was suffering with toothache and he thought it would be nice and soft.  Blue’s scampi arrived lightening fast, quickly followed by Green’s tagliatelle, much to Pine’s chagrin.  Despite his head-start, Green was still last to finish, partly due to his toothache making him eat slowly, but mostly because he was busy texting.  When called out on it, he explained that it was important – he was helping some friends at a quiz.

Google
– Image from google.com

Green denied it, but that didn’t stop everyone from was roundly chastising him for aiding and abetting cheaters.  That was until Ivory pointed out that it was strange anyone would choose to ask Green when it would be just as easy to ask “Mr. Google”, and “Mr. Google” would probably be better!  Eventually, as Green mopped up the last of his sauce, Blue suggested people started shuffling seats so games could be started.  Blue, Pine and Lime had all had a fairly long week and fancied an easy night, and the “Feature Game”, The Voyages of Marco Polo which Green was leading, was always going to be right up Ivory’s street, and it turned out, Emerald’s too.  So after a little prompting, the groups sort of formed themselves.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

Although we’ve played The Voyages of Marco Polo a couple of times before on a Tuesday, the last time was over a year ago.  In the game, players recreate the journey from Venice to China undertaken by seventeen year-old Marco Polo, his father and older brother.  During their voyage, they travelled through Jerusalem and Mesopotamia and over the “Silk Road” until they reached the court of Kublai Khan in 1275.  In the game, each player has a different character and special power. The game is played over five rounds with players rolling their five personal dice and using each one to perform one action per turn with them.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

The actions include:  gathering resources, gathering camels, earning money, buying purchase orders and travelling.  The game ends with players receiving victory points for arriving in Beijing, fulfilling the most purchase orders, and having visited the cities on the secret city cards that each player gets at the start of the game.  With only three people playing the group decided not to use the Agents of Venice, but did use the New Characters mini-expansion.  It took quite a while to set up and explain the game as it is one of those where the rules explanation is far heavier than the game itself:  after only a round or two it all becomes quite clear how to play. However, the trick is to work out what are the best actions to take and when.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

The main game board is divided into two parts with the upper part showing a map of Marco Polo’s travels from Venice to Beijing.  On the routes there are oasis-spaces as short stops and fourteen cities.  When a traveller stops at a city, they mark that with a trading post and may use the special action of that city for the rest of the game (these are allocated during setup). The first player reaching a city also gets an additional bonus. Travelling costs a varying amount of camels and money depending on the route taken and whether it is over land or sea.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

The bottom part of the board shows the five main actions, which are triggered by the placing of dice. Each player has five personal dice in their player colour and may purchase one additional black die per turn.  The actions are the guts of the game.  The first action is purchasing Resources/Camels and the table on the board indicates how many dice must be placed for different numbers of a given resource.  Players need Camels to travel, and Gold , Silk and Pepper to fulfil orders.  The first player at each Resource gets them for free, with each subsequent player paying as much as the lowest result he placed next to the table.  For the next action, Players can instead take one Resource of their choice and two Camels, and again, each player sets the cost for subsequent players.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

The next action is getting money:  the first player can take five coins in exchange for any die, but the later players must also pay the dice value for doing so.  As an action, Players can also purchase Orders.  These are placed on six “double dice” spaces at the beginning of each round.  The value of one die unlocks the orders up to that number (shown on the spaces) and allows the player to buy one or two of those orders.  The Orders are refreshed and replaced at the beginning of each round. The orders are placed on the player’s individual player board and can be fulfilled at any time as an additional action by returning the resources needed back to the supply.  The completed Order cards are then turned face down and placed in the player’s “drawer”, and the player gets victory points, money, camels, another order, etc. as a reward.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

Finally, players can travel.  To do this, they place two dice are to “unlock” the distance they want to move on the map.  Each traveller starts in Venice and can decide between several possible routes eastward, towards Beijing. Each player also gets two “city cards” with two cities on each of them, which they keep secret. At the end of the game, they get additional victory points depending on how many of these cities they have visited by the end of the game.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

This is one of those games where players want to do lots of things but can’t do everything, need lots of Resources way more than they have, and therefore want to be first to do all the actions, but can’t.  Despite the dice, the luck factor is relatively low; high rolls are usually better, but low ones are also usable in many ways.  With city cards, Orders and attractive special actions in the cities, players usually have clear primary and secondary targets as well as an overall strategy.  At the same time they have the freedom to do what they want.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

The winner is usually the player who makes best use of their character’s special ability, however, so it is this that usually drives strategies.  The characters are very different, for example, with one character the player doesn’t roll their dice, instead turning them to the result they need before each placement.  With another, the player always gets one of the resources from the supply, whenever another player purchases any resource.  As a result of these differing abilities, each player generally follows a totally different path with a very different approach.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

Following the group’s usual policy of the player with the least experience of the game going last, Emerald took that position, but that meant choosing his character first.  Fortunately, he only had four to choose from and they did not take much explaining.  Emerald chose Johannes Carprini which allowed him to jump between oasis points on the travel map; handy to get to those hard to reach bonuses. Ivory then chose Alton Ord (from the New Characters mini-expansion) which gave him extra cumulative bonuses every time he placed a trading station.  This had the potential to become quite lucrative if he could get around the map fast enough.  This left Green with a choice of two. He didn’t favour the extra trading posts, so went for Matteo Polo which gave him a new contract and resource at the beginning of every round; clearly the contract strategy was the way to go for him.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

As ever in this (and many) game resources were tight, camels all too rare and players could never get the dice rolls they needed.  Emerald quickly got the hang of it and was doing his best to move around the travel map while also keeping an eye on completing contracts. Even with the oasis hop, it still took him a few rounds to get to the far side of the board and the triple action city, but once there, he started using the extra actions to his advantage.  Ivory also went travelling and managed to place a number of trading posts and so collect more and more bonuses on the way.  The small city bonus card which allows a player to choose any other small city bonus at the beginning of each round was located near to Venice.  So this was an early target for Ivory and Emerald who both got there early and used it to broadened their options and give them room for manoeuvre.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

Green hardly travelled at all, and found himself somewhat at a dead-end which was compounded by making a free move in the wrong direction, so he only managed to place two trading posts in total.  This wasn’t his game plan anyhow though, and he mostly stuck to the bottom part of the board, hoovering up contracts and hunting down resources to complete them: not bothering with travelling gave him extra dice to do it all with.  He also made use of the favours two or three times and by the end of the game had a huge lead and a pile of completed contracts far higher than either of the other two.  Ivory, in particular, had a lot of bonus points to come from his travels though.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

Everyone thought it would be a tight game, and indeed it was.  When all the points were in, Ivory and Green tied on sixty-seven points with Emerald not far behind.  A quick check of the rules for tie breakers gave it to Green thanks to the fact he had two Camels left over.  meanwhile, on the next table, while Ivory and Emerald helped set up Marco Polo and Green began his rules explanation, Pine pointed out the long and unpronounceable title of “Weltausstellung 1893” on the German box.  So, before long Blue was explaining the rules to World’s Fair 1983.

World's Fair 1893
– Image by boardGOATS

This is a fairly simple little game that is now a few years old and flew under the radar a bit at the time.  Reviews generally seemed to be complimentary though, referring to it as a bit of a “Hidden Gem”.  So, having been on the look out for it at a reasonable price for nearly three years, Blue and Pink had finally picked up a German copy at Essen.  The game is a set-collecting dame with an area majority mechanism where players are proposing exhibits for the fair in the five different areas (Fine Arts, Transportation, Manufacturing, Electricity and Agriculture).  The game is played on an eye-catching, modular, Ferris-wheel shaped board surrounded by sections for each of the five areas.

World's Fair 1893
– Image by boardGOATS

The actions are simple enough, making the decisions that players have to take theprimary  focus of the game.  On their turn, the active player places a Supporter cube on one of the five coloured areas, taking all the cards in the area.  They then place three cards drawn from the top of a deck around the wheel, the first going in the now empty area the player chose, and one going in each of the next two areas round the wheel.  There are three types of cards:  Exhibit cards associated with each of the five areas, Medway tickets and Influential People.  The Medway Tickets are the timer, with the Ferris wheel turning one step each time a Ticket is taken.  The round ends after the Ferris wheel has made one full revolution.

World's Fair 1893
– Image from google.com

At the end of the round, the Tickets are cashed in for a dollar each and the player with the most gets a couple of dollars bonus.  Each area is also evaluated, and the player with the most supporters in that area gets a monetary reward worth three dollars in the three-player game.   In addition the winner is also able to exchange three exhibit cards for that area, for tokens.  The player who comes second receives a smaller remuneration and can exchange one card for a token of the same colour/area.  The game ends after three rounds, and sets of tokens scored, with larger sets worth increasing numbers of points.

World's Fair 1893
– Image by boardGOATS

Perhaps the thing that makes the game is the Influential People cards.  These must be played the turn after they are taken, after the player places their influence token, but before they take the cards.  If a player has more than one influential person card on their turn they have to play them all at this point too.  These allow players to mess with the distribution of Supporter cubes slightly, either by adding an extra one in a given space, or moving one.  As a result, these add a thin layer of complexity to the decision space, making it that bit more interesting.  Thought processes go something along the lines of, “Placing a Supporter here will give these cards, but this person card means this Supporter can be moved giving the majority in that area, but there’s little point in winning that without any cards of that colour, so perhaps it would be better to try something else…”

World's Fair 1893
– Image by boardGOATS

Although the game is not terribly difficult, Blue had only played it once and was a bit flaky with the rules, but it wasn’t long before the game got going.  Half-way through the first round, Blue had a pile of tickets, Lime had a pile of Exhibit cards, and Pine had worked through a pile of Influential Person cards.  Blue took the Medway Ticket bonus, but Pine turned a lot of his now substantial pile of Exhibit cards into a significant pile of coloured tokens.  Blue picked up a few, but Lime took a round to really get the hang of things.  The second round when much the same way with Blue and Lime struggling to edge out Pine.

World's Fair 1893
– Image by boardGOATS

The third round was a tight affair with everyone needing certain colours to get full sets of five in order to be even vaguely competitive.  The key was having enough cards as well as gaining the majority in the necessary area.  As the game drew to a close, Lime decided to go for Fine Arts letting Pine place his Supporter in the Electricity area, take a Medway ticket, get the majority he needed, and end the game as well.  In truth, the writing had been on the wall from the start—it was clear this had been a game that had just clicked for Pine and he romped home with eighty-five points leaving Blue and Lime some way behind fighting it out for second.

World's Fair 1893
– Image by boardGOATS

As World’s Fair 1983 was coming to an end, The Voyages of Marco Polo was only just beginning and it was becoming clear that it was going to last most of the night, so Pine suggested a game of Ticket to Ride: New York.  Like the London version played a few of weeks ago, this is one of the new, smaller versions of the popular route-building game, Ticket to Ride.  These are reduced in size and designed be quicker to play although the game play is very similar.  The New York version is set in the city, with players placing Taxis instead of train carriages.

Ticket to Ride: New York
– Image by boardGOATS

Players also start with two ticket cards (which they must keep one of) and successfully fulfilling these give more points.  Similar to the original games, on their turn, the active player can take coloured cards from the market or play cards to place Taxis.  There is no end-game bonus for the longest route, most completed tickets or similar, instead, bonus points are awarded for each of the landmarks a player builds a route from.

Ticket to Ride: New York
– Image by boardGOATS

Lime started and claimed one of the double track route from The Empire State Building to Gramercy Park.  Pine went next and took the other track leaving Blue stymied before she had even taken a turn, specially given the tiny number of taxis each player had to place.  Not one to give up, she started a detour, very glad that she had decided to keep only one of her starting tickets.  Matched step for step by Pine, she built a route from The Empire State Building to Brooklyn via Chelsea.  Pine on the other hand was building what he later referred to as the “Beckham” route going from Chelsea to Brooklyn.

Ticket to Ride: New York
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue was the first to pick up tickets and, after checking she had enough Taxis, decided to gamble, keeping both, as she had only kept the one from her starting pair.  Lime quickly followed and also kept his, as did Pine, who then drew another second set.  Lime claimed two tracks going from Central Park to Gramarcy Park, then suddenly looked crest-fallen having just realised he didn’t have enough Taxis to do what he wanted to.  It wouldn’t have mattered anyhow, as Blue promptly triggered the end of the game.  That only left the scoring.

Ticket to Ride: New York
– Image by boardGOATS

These little versions of Ticket to Ride are always really tight affairs where things can go horribly wrong. In this case, Blue scored most for claiming routes.  Pine would have scored most for tickets except he’d just failed to complete an eight point ticket from The United Nations Building to Wall Street giving him a brutal sixteen point swing.  Lime discovered that he’d not made the mistake he’d thought he had, as he’d actually gone from Midtown to Central Park by the long route, via Gramarcy Park.

Ticket to Ride: New York
– Image by boardGOATS

In the end, the opening play from Lime and Pine taking the two sides of the single Taxi double route from The Empire State Building to Gramercy Park might have been critical.  In forcing Blue to take a detour, she had been able to visit almost all of the eight tourist destinations giving her a very valuable seven points.  This coupled with completing all three of her tickets (including two long ones) and placing all fifteen of her Taxis gave her a final score of forty-four, five more than Lime in second.

Ticket to Ride: New York
– Image by boardGOATS

By this time, The Voyages of Marco Polo were progressing, but it was clear it wasn’t going to finish soon.  With Pine flagging after his trip up to Edinburgh, and Blue and Lime fending off colds, Blue suggested Coloretto as a light game that didn’t take too long or need a lot of thought.  Although it’s been played a lot within the group, it was new to Lime, so Blue gave him a run-down of the rules while Pine shuffled.  The game is really simple: on their turn, the active player either takes a coloured chameleon card and places it on one of the trucks, or takes a truck.

Coloretto
– Imageby boardGOATS

Each truck has a maximum of three chameleons, and there is one truck per player.  Once a player has taken a truck, they are out of the game until everyone has taken a truck and the next round starts.  At the end of the game (when the deck is mostly depleted and the end of game card is drawn), players score sets of chameleons.  The three largest sets are scored positively and everything else gives negative points.  The clever part is the triangular number sequence (one point for the first card, three points for two cards, six points for three cards etc.), which means that one more card in a large group is worth a lot more than a singleton or the second card in a pair.

Coloretto
– Image by boardGOATS

Lime picked it up quickly, but not quite quickly enough given that Blue and Pine had played the game many times before.  Served two wild Joker cards by Pine, Blue was able to put together two sets of six, giving her a total score of forty-eight, a healthy advantage over the other two.  Lime had enjoyed playing though, and suggested a second game as it would save getting something else out.  With lethargy playing its part, Pine and Blue were very happy to give it another shot.  This time, Lime was quicker out of the blocks this time, as Blue started to go off the boil.  He wasn’t quite quick enough though, and Pine took the second game with forty-four points, seven ahead of Lime.

Coloretto
– Image by boardGOATS

Lime doesn’t give up easily, however.  As The Voyages of Marco Polo was finally coming to an end, and Coloretto is quite quick, Lime suggested a third game.  This time, Lime started very strongly with obvious determination.  Ultimately Lime made a killing picking up a massive fifty-three points, more than ten points clear of Blue in second.

Coloretto
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome: You can never have too many camels.

29th October 2019

Blue and Pink were first on the scene, armed with special deliveries from Essen and some new exciting toys to play with.  Burgundy, Pine, Lime and Green weren’t far behind and soon those that hadn’t eaten earlier were tucking in.  Inevitably, the conversation was all about the games fair in Essen and how much it had grown – this year, according the organisers, there were over 209,000 participants, ten percent more than last year.  There were also one thousand two hundred exhibitors from fifty-three nations, occupying six large halls, around twice the hall space when Green last went.

Essen 2019
– Image by boardGOATS

As people arrived, they received their consignments.  Purple and Black got their sadly rather squished copy of the new release, Fast Sloths complete with Expansion and Chameleon promo, a copy of the new portable set of Settlers of Catan (“Catan Traveller“) and a several bags of German lebkuchen biscuits.  Burgundy got his annual Concordia expansion (the Balearica/Cyprus map) and the European Birds expansion for Wingspan.  This last game was one of the sell-out games at Essen, and Blue and Pink had been at the front of what became a very long queue to get it.  That said, the length was probably more to do with the fact that it was also the queue to get a hand on one of the fifty English language copies of Tapestry at the show. Given the fact that Wingspan is very popular at the moment and it would need very little learning, the new expansion was “Feature Game” for the night.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is relatively simple, with players collecting birds for their reserves.  On their turn, the active player chooses one of four actions/habitats, and then starting with the card furthest to the right in that habitat, activating each card in turn.  The actions associated with the habitats are spending food to play cards; getting food; laying eggs, and more drawing bird cards.  Players start with eight possible actions per turn, which gradually reduces to five over the course of the four rounds of the game.  All the bird cards in the game have actions that fit with their real-life behaviour.  For example, the food needed to play cards closely resembles their diet, the number of eggs each bird has in their nest is proportionately correct and bonus actions are associated with birds that flock and birds of prey.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

The European Expansion adds more birds that mostly do more of the same thing, but includes birds that have new end of round powers.  There were enough copies for everyone to play, so we set up two games in tandem.  Blue, Green and Pink helped Burgundy christen his new copy, while Black, Purple, Ivory, Pine and Lime gave Blue and Pink’s copy it’s first outing.  After making sure all the new cards were thoroughly shuffled into the deck, Burgundy’s group were first to get started.  The end of round objectives were particularly awkward as the final round rewarded players with the most birds without eggs on nests (one of the new objective tiles).

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue started off very well, but then her game stalled as she struggled to find useful cards.  Burgundy wasn’t far behind and his very hungry Griffon Vulture seemed to be very effective when it came to catching mice.  Blue’s Barred Owl was also successful on almost every occasion it went hunting while Green’s Northern Harrier repeatedly went hungry.  Meanwhile, Pink was building a very fine reserve with lots of high value birds, although he felt they didn’t give him such effective actions.  With Blue struggling to get anything she could play and Green muttering about not understanding the game, it was left to Pink and Burgundy to fight it out.  In the end, although Pink had far more interesting birds, Burgundy did much better with his personal objectives and end of round objectives, giving him a total of seventy-three points, nine more than Pink in second place.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

On the neighbouring table, everyone started off slowly.  Black grabbed one of the new European birds that allowed him to steal food which he used to great effect.  Black and Lime also took one of the new end of round bonus cards each which allowed them both to tuck cards.  Pine played a Long-tailed Tit, one of the new double space birds, allowing him to get lots of food. Ivory focused on cards with activation powers and in the second round, he and Lime built egg laying engines, with Lime making good use of his Fish Crow which allowed him to exchange eggs for food. Purple struggled due to the lack of fish, clearly having an eye on the last round objective (most birds in wetlands).

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

Both Pine and Lime struggled seeing and understanding the cards, but despite this, both managed to get effective engines going, particularly Lime.  By the end, Black had lots of valuable birds and did well on his objectives and Pine missed out on a seven point objective bonus by just by one corn eating bird (getting three points instead). Black also did well on tucked cards, as did Lime.  Everyone drew for the first end of round objective (most birds in any row), with Ivory followed by Lime for the second (most birds with “brown powers”).  Lime managed to win the third round objective battle (most grassland birds), edging Ivory into second place, but the final round (most wetland birds), was a three-way tie between Ivory (again!), Pine and Purple who all had the maximum number of birds in their wetland.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

Although he did well on objectives, in the final round Ivory’s primary focus was on getting as many eggs laid as possible and he finished with a massive twenty-seven, a significant contributor to his final, winning score of seventy-nine, seven more than Black in second place and ten more than Lime in third.  There was the inevitable comparisons between the two games, and when Ivory asked whether people felt the expansion had made much difference to the game, opinions seemed divided.  Having birds he could see in his garden had made a big difference to Pine, though to those people who were less interested in our feathered friends and more interested in the game play, the expansion had made less of an impact.  For those that have it though, the European expansion will no-doubt remain a permanent feature.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

The four-player game including Burgundy, Pink, Blue and Green finished first by some margin, giving them time to play something else.  With Blue and Pink having exchanged last year’s variant on the 2018 Spiel des Jahres winner, Azul (Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra), for this Essen’s latest model, Azul: Summer Pavilion, this seemed a good time to give it an outing.  All three games are based round a clever “market” mechanism:  players take all the tiles of one colour from one of the stalls and put the rest in the central pool, or take all the tiles of one colour from the central pool.  In the original game and in the second iteration, these are placed straight away in a tableau, with the original representing a mosaic and the second a stained glass window.

Azul: Summer Pavilion
– Image by boardGOATS

In the new, Summer Pavilion variant, tiles taken from the market are put to one side for the second phase when players take it in turns to place them on their personal player board.  Where the tiles in the first two versions are square (opaque and clear plastic respectively), in the new edition, they are rhombus-shaped.  Instead of rows, each player’s tableau consists of stars made  up of six rhombi.  In this game, as they add pieces players score points for the size of the block.  For example, adding a piece to an existing partial star consisting of two pieces gives three points.  Thus, increasing the size progressively yields increasing amounts of points.  Although this is an obvious difference, the biggest difference in the game play is the cost of placing tiles and the use of “Wilds”.

Azul: Summer Pavilion
– Image by boardGOATS

Each space on a player’s tableau has a number on it: one to six.  This is the cost to place a tile in that space.  So, placing on a six-space means they place one tile on the board and five in the tile tower.  The tiles must all match the colour being placed, however, every round, one of the six colours is “Wild” and this can be used as a substitute.  The Wild colour affects the tile drawing phase too:  Wilds cannot be chosen from the market, however, if there is are Wilds present in the market, one (and only one) must be taken as well.  For example, if there are two blue tiles, a red and a green (which is Wild), the player can take the two blues and the green, or the red and the green, but cannot take the green alone.

Azul: Summer Pavilion
– Image by boardGOATS

There are several bonuses, both in game and end game.  Players who surround certain features on their tableau get to take extra tiles from a second, special market.  This helps grease the wheels and makes the decision space a little more interesting too.  At the end of the game, players get bonus points for completing stars and for covering all the “ones”, all the “twos” etc..  The stars give different numbers of points depending on the colour.  Each tableau has one of each colour available and one central multicolour star in which every tile must be a different colour.  At the end of the game, the player with the most points is the winner.

Azul: Summer Pavilion
– Image by boardGOATS

Although Blue had found time to punch the pieces in advance, she had not been able to read the rules properly so did it on the fly – the rules are not long, nor are they complex.  That said, this version certainly adds strategic depth compared with the original, without the fiddliness of the second version.  Without any experience, there were no clear strategies.  Blue targeted the bonus points for the must lucrative, purple star and the central star as “low hanging fruit”, while Pink went for the in-game bonus tiles and picked up the extras for completing all the “ones” and “twos”, but didn’t quite make the “threes”.  Burgundy played for some of the less valuable stars and Green struggled to get anything to work at all.  It was really close, with only one point between Blue and Burgundy, and Pink just a handful of points behind him.

Azul: Summer Pavilion
– Image by boardGOATS

This was a brand new game, never played by anyone round the table, so inevitably, something got missed in the rules.  In both the base game, Azul, and the follow-up, Stained Glass of Sintra, the first person to take tiles from the central pool in each round takes the first player marker and a penalty for doing so.  The same is true here, but unlike the base game, the size of the penalty depends on the number of tiles taken with the first player token.  Everyone played by the same rules, so nothing was “unfair” and nobody noticed any balance issues, however, in such a close game it is very likely to have made a difference.  We’ll get it right next time!

Azul: Summer Pavilion
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Essen is Awesome!