Category Archives: Games Night

5th February 2019

Far from being over-run by new people flocking to games night in response to our advert in the Parish Newsletter, it was one of the quietest weeks for ages.  With Ivory still on “sabbatical”, Mulberry in the States, and Pine, Pink and Red all having something better to do, for the first time in ages, we were down to just five and a single game.  Burgundy was just finishing eating and Blue was waiting for the imminent arrival of her pizza, so the group decided to play something short that could be played while feeding.  After a brief discussion the group began a game of Walk the Plank!, and inevitably, Blue’s pizza arrived just as it started.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

Walk the Plank! is an old favourite that has been somewhat neglected by the group of late.  It is a very silly programming game where players control pirate meeples who try to push each other off the ship and, when plans go wrong, occasionally jump overboard.  The idea is that each player begins with a hand of action cards and simultaneously everyone chooses three cards to play and the order they are going to play them in, placing them in a stack with the first card on top.   Once everyone has chosen their cards, the players take it in turns to take the top card off their pile and carry out the action using one of their three “pirate-eeples”.  Actions include shoving other players meeples closer to the end of the plank (or into the sea); running towards the ship; retracting or extending the plank, and even changing along the plank pushing another player closer to the sea.  As we were playing with the Limited Edition which comes with some extra cards, so for a bit of variety, we added the Dynamite and Ghost Pirate cards.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

The first of the extra cards, “Dynamite”, pushes everyone on a given piece of plank one space closer to the sea. The other, the “Ghost Pirate”, scares everyone on a a piece of plank so much that they run away, half towards the sea and half towards the ship.  The newly bespectacled Green was of the opinion that the extra cards were generally a little over-powered, so we house-ruled it so that they could only be played once each.  When we play this game we include a couple of other house rules too:  according to the rules as written, the last piece of the three piece plank should not be removed when shortening the plank and the game is supposed finish when there are two meeples left.  While we understand why these rules exist, we find that sharing victory means the game feels a little unresolved so we play through to the bitter end.  Similarly, we quite like the madness removing the last plank adds, and in such a short game, crazy chaos seems entirely appropriate.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

And chaos there was aplenty this time round too:  Burgundy was quickly out of the game when the third and final of his meeples was banished to the deep.  As the first person to be eliminated, Burgundy was given the slightly dubious honour of returning as a Ghost.  In this mini-expansion, the player returns as a white pirate-eeple doomed to haunt the ship and generally cause mayhem for everyone else by playing one shove card per round.  When the last of Black’s pirates joined Burgundy’s there was some discussion about a second ghost, but we decided it would just prolong the game.  It wasn’t long before he had company on the sidelines though, leaving just Blue and Purple.  With both of them perched precariously on the end of what was left of the plank and Blue set to go first the game was her to take.  However, she decided she couldn’t take advantage of the position and instead retracted the plank unceremoniously pitching both of them into the drink.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

With Blue finished with her pizza, and it clear that nobody else was coming, the group decided to move on to the “Feature Game” which was to be Through the Desert.  This is an old game, but one that is very simple to play, though difficult to play well.  It is an area control game with pastel camels that many feel is reminiscent of the classic game, Go.  The game begins with players placing one camel in each colour on the board.  Each of these has a rider (Leader) in their own colour, so these camels are the start of the player’s camel trains or Caravans.  After the initial placements, on their turn, players take any two camels from the general supply and add them to the board.  There are a few rules about placement – each one must be placed next to camels of the same colour to become part of one of that player’s caravans, and must not be placed next to a caravan of the same colour belonging to another player (as this would cause them to join).

Through the Desert
– Image by boardGOATS

The aim of the game is to gain points through via the four sources.  Firstly, there are several oases marked with green plastic palm trees; players who connect a caravan to an oasis get five points.  There are also watering hole tokens—players who place a camel on these spaces can claim these tokens which are worth up to three points.  Players who finish with the longest Caravans in each of the colours are also rewarded with points at the end of the game.  The most lucrative source of points, but also the most risky is enclosing areas.  It is in this way that it is most like Go.  Go is a very ancient game played on square grid with black and white stones.  People often try to compare it to Chess, though in truth, beyond the facts one play plays black, the other white and the game is played on a rectilinear grid and both are very old, the two games have almost nothing in common.

Chess
– Image by Unsplash contributor sk

Chess is a game with a very rigid structure where players control armies that are lined up to face each other.  Each piece has a clearly defined role and movement pattern and games develop in a very particular way.  The highly structured nature of the game means strategies are developed by analysing all the possible or likely moves which makes it highly programmable.  In contrast, Go is all about territory and pattern analysis, which has traditionally made it much more challenging for computer programmers and it is only recently that software engineers have been able to use machine learning algorithms that have the ability to beat Go champions.  In Go, players place their stones on the intersections of a rectilinear grid with the aim of marking out territory.  There is a lot of psychology in the early moves with players declaring their space; if a player is too aggressive at the start, they won’t be able to defend their position, if they are too timid with their opening they will have lost before they’ve begun.

Go
– Original image by Tomasz_Mikolajczyk on pixabay.com

Ultimately however, Go is a complex game of strategy where players are trying to capture their opponent’s stones and with i,t territory.  A single empty space inside a group is called an eye; for a group to remain alive it must contain at least two eyes.  Creating eye spaces in a player’s groups and trying to prevent their opponent from making eyes is one of the key aspects of Go.  It is in regard to building territory that Through the Desert is similar to Go, however, there are two significant differences.  Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, the game is played on a hexagonal rather than a square grid.  The main difference is in the game-play though:  in Through the Desert pieces must be added to an existing caravan and surrounded pieces are not removed from the board.  Nevertheless, despite the differences it is unquestionably true that the Through the Desert is reminiscent of Go and was likely inspired by it.

Go
– Original image by Przemek Pietrak on flickr.com

With five players, everyone starts the game with Leaders mounted on four of the five different colours of camel.  Starting placement was quite difficult because nobody really knew constituted a good starting position, though some claimed to know what a bad one was.  Maybe there was an advantage in going last, or perhaps Black had a better idea than everyone else, but it quickly became apparent that that he had a large corner of the board all to himself.  This put Burgundy in a very difficult position as he was the only one who could do anything at all about it, but he had other plans.  In the end, Burgundy decided to do his own thing because the damage he could do to Black was minimal and it would be a significant expense to himself.

Through the Desert
– Image by boardGOATS

Elsewhere, Burgundy was in a four-way tussle with Purple, Green and Black for access to an oasis and Green and Burgundy combined to prevent Blue from connecting two of the oases.  Meanwhile, Purple collected a pile of watering-hole tokens, and Burgundy was attempting to enclose an enormous space in the middle, while Green and and Blue were hoping to fly under the radar and get away with discretely annexing small areas at the edge of the board.  It wasn’t long before the number of pale blue camels was dwindling and Black was left trying to decide whether it was in his interest to bring the game to an end.

Through the Desert
– Image by boardGOATS

When Blue reduced the handful to one lonely looking camel, Black could resist no longer leaving Burgundy’s audacious attempt to claim on the large central area incomplete and looking temerarious as a consequence.  Everyone had thought Black was so far in front that they were playing for second place, however, it turned out that the game was much closer than expected.  Green had scored slightly more for his oases and the length of his Caravans than Black and Black’s large corner hadn’t given him quite as much territory as it had first appeared.  It was very close, but Green took it by just two points.  As the group packed away, feelings were generally positive, but everyone was agreed that they’d play it differently next time, so we’ll have to give it another Go sometime soon.

Through the Desert
– Image by boardGOATS

With five players, the options were limited – we generally try to avoid two-player games and we were a bit short on good five-player ones.  In the end, it was either yet another game of Bohnanaza, or the 2016 Kennerspiel des Jahres winner, Isle of Skye, and Isle of Skye won easily.  Although this is a game we’ve played quite a bit and know reasonably well, we decided not to add the new Druids expansion as it is a while since we last played the base game and we felt we could do with a reminder.  The game is a sort of upgraded tile laying game with a lot in common with Carcassonne, but with an auction at the start of each round and scoring at the end of each round.  The scoring is one of the interesting parts of this game as the four scoring criteria change from game to game and, and each one scores three times during the course of the game.  Choosing how to prioritise these to drive a strategy is one of the keys to playing well.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, points were available for cows in the largest field; brochs; completed areas, and lighthouse-longboat combos.  The game proceeded along its usual course:  Burgundy had stacks of money but no tiles because everyone kept buying them while Blue and Black had plenty of tiles, but no money.  Black with a very linear kingdom was reminded by Purple that the goal for that shape wasn’t in use this time.  It didn’t seem to matte as he stormed off into the lead with a large field full of cattle, but it wasn’t long before others gave chase.  The winner in this game often comes from the back, because there is a “catch-up mechanism” where players get money in the later rounds, with those at the back getting more.  So, when Green and Blue eventually caught up with Black, the positions were important and Green looked ideally placed one point behind Black who was one point behind Blue.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image by boardGOATS

Although the points awarded at the end of the rounds are valuable, it is usually the end game scoring through the scrolls that is critical.  These provide personal targets for each player, and score twice where terrain is “completed” (i.e. completely enclosed).  So towards the end of the game everyone scrabbled to maximise their points.  Green took a tile Blue wanted to keep, so Blue took one that Burgundy had priced very highly giving him even more money, but not the one tile that was really crucial to his plans.  Black added a couple more farms, while Green went for ships Purple went for light-houses and Blue tried to get both.  Burgundy and Blue were also working on the communal, end of round scoring for the brochs (prehistoric circular stone towers found in the highlands and islands of Scotland).  In the case of scoring for brochs though, one would give one point, two would give three and three six points.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image by boardGOATS

With two players fighting for them brochs were scarce, but by the final round both Blue and Burgundy had managed to get their quota of six.  They were less than impressed when Black pointed out that the brochs only scored if they were in the same mountain region.  Although Black had read the scoring in full, somehow it had failed to make it to the end of the table as both Blue and Burgundy had missed it.  Green pointed out that anyone affected should be called out for cheating, but Burgundy was in such dire need of points nobody was going to contest him claiming them.  The scoring at the front was a bit closer though.  As the points were calculated though it was clear that Green needn’t have worried.  Although he was only one point behind Black, Blue’s fleet of ships meant she was twelve points clear, and it was obvious that even allowing for the extra points, she would still have won.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  If the rules are that important to your game-plan, clarify them first.

22nd January 2019

Green was delayed, so once food had been dealt with, we started with the “Feature Game”, Auf Teufel komm raus.  This is a fun, push-your luck game with a betting element, in the vein of games like Incan Gold.  “Auf Teufel komm raus” literally translates as “On Devil come out“, but roughly means “by hook or by crook” or according to rule book, “The Devil with it” (as the title is officially translated).  None of these really give any information about the game though they inspire the lovely artwork.  The game itself is fairly straight-forward though:  everyone simultaneously places bets on the maximum value of coal that will be drawn out of the fire by one player in the round.  Players then take it in turns to draw coals, either stopping when they choose or going bust if they draw a piece.

Auf Teufel komm raus
– Image by boardGOATS

The player who draws the highest total value coals without going bust gets a fifty point bonus, as does the player who draws the most pieces of coal without drawing a Devil token.  Everyone whose bet was exceeded by the maximum value keeps their stake and wins the equivalent value from the bank.  If the player with the highest bid was successful, they win double their stake money.  This is key as it means the largest stakes are very lucrative making it in everyone else’s interest to stop once their stake has been met, unless they are in the running for the largest total or the most coals of course…  The game ends when one player passes one thousand six hundred at the end of the round and the winner is the player with the highest score.

Auf Teufel komm raus
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is beautifully produced with lovely poker chips, nice wooden coal tokens, a colourful board and chunky score tokens, but it is the little things in the game play that make it enjoyable.  Bizarrely though, it took the group several rounds to really get the hang of what decisions they were making.  Firstly, players had to work out what a reasonable level for bidding was.  There are approximately the same number of tens, twenties, twenty-fives, fifties and Devil coals with a smattering of seventy-fives and hundreds, but it took a round or so for people to get a feel for the statistics.  Then there was an understanding of the tactics when drawing coal—it took most of the game for players to realise that once the highest bid had been matched, players might as well keep drawing until they win something as there was no penalty as long as nobody had “made a pact with the Devil”.

Auf Teufel komm raus
– Image by boardGOATS

Making a pact with the Devil is not something one generally chooses to do; it is simply a catch-up mechanism, but significantly changes the dynamic of the game.  Basically, a player alone at at the back is given fifty points by any player who draws a Devil token.  This prevents the “devil may care” attitude once the maximum bid has been met.  It only happens rarely though (especially with six), as players don’t reveal their precise score, only the range of their score.  As Black put it, players only know the rough size of each other’s “wad”.  The aspect that makes the game fun though, is the encouraging, discouraging and general barracking as players try to manipulate others to their own ends.

Auf Teufel komm raus
– Image by boardGOATS

With the “wad” scoring and everyone feeling their way, it wasn’t entirely clear how people were doing to begin with, but Mulberry suffered from a huge unsuccessful overly optimistic bid in the first round.  Making a pact with the Devil helped Mulberry catch up, while Pine pulled away at the front.  Burgundy, Black and Blue weren’t going to let him get away with that and started pushing the boundaries with their bids and their draws.  As players began to get a feel for what was a safe bid and what was a risky bid, everyone joined in with lots of “Ooos” and “Aaahhs” as coal was drawn from the Devil’s cauldron.  Purple seemed to have an unerring knack of finding Devil tokens, but despite languishing at the back, the fact she had Mulberry for company meant neither of them could benefit from making a pact with Lucifer (maybe something that could be “House Ruled” in future).  In the final round everyone put in large bids, but Blue’s was the largest, a hundred and fifty.  Purple had gone bust while trying to meet Blue’s target, but the slightly more modest bids from Burgundy, Pine and Black had all been achieved, leaving all or nothing for Blue as the last player to draw.

Auf Teufel komm raus
– Image by boardGOATS

When the first token Blue turned over was one of the scarce hundreds, Black commented in jest that Blue had “marked it”.  The reason for Blue’s slightly indignant reply of “Hardly!” became clear in the post-game chit-chat.  There are several online reports of the coal tokens being identifiable.  Blue had therefore looked carefully at the tokens that had arrived covered in tiny specks of white paint which she had spent an hour scraping off.  This wasn’t entirely successful leaving some small scratch marks, so she had then carefully spent another hour inking the backs to try to homogenise them.  This had left the coals with a wide variety of glossy sheens, so she had carefully spent another hour rubbing them all with carnuba wax to try to make them all similarly shiny.  Unfortunately, the grain meant the pieces looked more even more varied with white wax deep inside the grain for some tokens and others smooth and glossy.

Auf Teufel komm raus
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue had then spent another hour rubbing all the tokens with oil which finally had the desired effect – there was still variety in the pattern of the grains, but there wasn’t an obvious trend.  Once Blue had explained that she’d spent most of Sunday evening on the exercise, trying hard not to identify any of the pieces while getting inky, waxy, oily, numb fingers, the Irony of Black’s comment was appreciated by everyone.  With Blue having drawn a hundred, everyone was on tenterhooks to see if she could draw the fifty she needed to make her bid successful.  Pine’s successful bid meant he had just exceeded the sixteen hundred needed to end the game; draw a Devil and Blue would lose a hundred and fifty and finish some way down the rankings.  It wasn’t to be though, with a flourish she produced a fifty, giving her three hundred points for the bet plus a fifty point bonus and with it, the game.

Auf Teufel komm raus
– Image by boardGOATS

Everyone had enjoyed the game though all were agreed that they’d start differently next time.  It had been a lot of fun once we’d got going though, so it will probably get another outing soon.  Poor Green had missed out, arriving about half-way through.  That left us with seven though, and a conundrum as to what to play next.  Time was getting on, but Green was keen to play something a little meatier.  Although Burgundy was happy to join him in Endeavor: Age of Sail with the new Exploits, nobody else was in the mood and it is a game that really needs at least three.  Blue was tempted, but with her fuzzy, “fluey” head wasn’t up to something new (she hadn’t played with the Exploits before) and Black was of a similar mind.  Inevitably Bohnanza got a mention, and as Mulberry hadn’t played it before, it was looking a likely candidate.  Pine wasn’t enthusiastic, but was even less keen on Endeavor.  In the end, the group split into two with Blue, Burgundy and Purple opting to teach Mulberry “The Bean Game”, while Pine and Black joined Green in a game of Marrakech.

Marrakech
– Image by boardGOATS

Strictly speaking, Marrakech is a game about selling Rugs, but the group just couldn’t stop themselves calling them Carpets.  The game itself is a very clever little abstract game made all the better by the addition of fabulous fabric “Carpets”, wooden coins, a large chunky bespoke die and a cool salesman who goes by the name of Assam.  The idea of the game is that players take it in turns to roll the wooden die and then turn Assam zero or ninety degrees and move him the given number of spaces.  If Assam finishes on an opponent’s coloured piece of Carpet (or Rug), the player must pay rent equal to the size of the contiguous area.  Finally, the active player places on piece of Carpet covering one square adjacent to Assam (and one other square as the Rugs are rectangular), before passing the problem on to the next player.  The player who ends with the most money and visible squares of Carpet combined, is the winner.

Marrakech
– Image by boardGOATS

After the first few placements it felt very obvious which direction the seller would have to be facing and then it was luck of the die.  Green quickly built a nice large area in one corner of the board, but thereafter game-play resolutely remained in the other areas of the board.  This was a bit of a mixed blessing as it meant Green kept his high Rug count, but did not receive any earnings from it.  This was compounded when he made a tactical error, turning the faceless Assam into the path of everyone else’s Rugs. From there on, Pine and Black made regular visits to each others Rug areas, although Pine seemed to be coming off slightly better from the exchange.

Marrakech
– Image by boardGOATS

Eventually, with the Green and Black down to their last three Rugs in hand, for some reason Pine had an extra and still had four left.  The group decided that he must have failed to place one at some point, so let him to place two on the next turn.  It wasn’t clear how much that affected the outcome, but on final count, Pine had just one more Rug visible than Green, but had a advantage in coins so was declared the winner.  With Bohnanza ongoing on the next table, the group looked for something short-ish and familiar and settled on Splendor, but decided to add The Orient module (from Cities of Splendor expansion), for no better reason than the fact that one of Pine’s favourite football teams is Leyton Orient.

Splendor
– Image by boardGOATS

Splendor is a very simple game: on their turn, players take gems (rubies, sapphires, opals, diamonds and emeralds, in the form of special poker-like chips), buy a gem-card, or reserve a gem-card taking a wild, gold chip as a bonus.  When taking chips, players must take three different chips, or, if there are enough chips in the stack, they can take two the same.  Each card features a gem which acts as a permanent chip (i.e. where chips are spent when buying cards, gem-cards remain in the player’s display).  Some cards also give points, and the first player that achieves a set combination of gem-cards also gets points for “attracting a Noble”.  The winner is the player with the most points at the end of the round where one player reaches fifteen.  The Orient expansion module adds an extra three decks of cards (one for each tier), which have special powers, like double bonus cards or joker cards which help players entice Nobles to their store.

    Cities of Splendor
– Image by boardGOATS

This time all the randomly drawn Noble tiles required ruby cards; three of them also needed opals and three needed diamonds as well.  When laying out the Level One cards, all four came out as white diamonds and a quick check on the rest of the deck showed this was no fluke, and the deck really did need shuffling further!  Once the cards had been randomised, the usual cat and mouse game ensued until Green took one of the Level Two Orient cards.  This meant he was able to reserve one of the Nobles, much to Black’s chagrin, as he then had to change tac.  The extra gold and additional gems that the Orient cards gave were used a few times to add a new twist to the classic game and Pine managed to use the ability to choose any Level One card he wanted to good effect as well.  When Green managed to reserve a second Noble, the writing was on the wall.

Splendor
– Image by boardGOATS

With only two Nobles remaining for Pine and Black to fight over, Pine decided that he would also go the reserve route and took the third, leaving Black floundering with just the high scoring cards as targets.  Green managed to get his first Noble to take a one point lead, and very soon after completed his second reserved Noble to jump to a very good score of nineteen. Neither Black nor Pine could reach the fifteen in their final turns, although Pine was only a turn or two away from completing his Noble.  Although we’ve played this expansion has been before, the question arose as to whether the ability to reserve a noble is to powerful.  The conclusion was “possibly”, and there was some discussion about a “House Rule” to limit players to holding one Noble in reserve at a time.

Splendor
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, on the neighbouring table, Mulberry was learning the delights of “Bean Farming” in Bohnanaza from Blue, Purple and Burgundy.  The game is really simple, but very engaging as players are involved even when it isn’t their turn.  The really key part of the game is that players cannot rearrange the cards in their hand, playing them in the order they draw them.  Thus, at the start of their turn, they must “plant” the first card in their hand into one of the two fields in front of them, and may plant the second if they choose.  Two cards are then turned over from the central draw deck, which these must be planted, but not necessarily by the active player.  These cards can be traded or even given away, but must be planted in one of the fields on the table.  Once these cards have been dealt with, the active player may trade some (or all) of their cards with others round the table, before they draw cards to refill their hand.

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

Fields can only hold one type of bean at a time, but can be harvested at any point.  Harvested beans give money according to the “Beanometer”, and the rarer the card, the more money it yields when harvested.  Thus for Garden beans (of which there are only six), three beans will earn three coins whereas it will require ten of the twenty-four available Coffee beans to give the same return.  The coins are taken from the harvested beans (the card is turned over to show the coin on the reverse), so the number of common cards reduces as the game progresses, but the rare cards become ever more scarce.  The winner is the player with the most points after three trips through the deck.

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

The game followed the usual flow with some players trying to persuade others to take unfavourable trades.  Blue spent much of the first part of the game alternately drawing Green bean and Wax bean cards; with two substantial fields and a hand full of them she then benefited from lots of donations and nobody else fancied grubbing their plantations when Blue already had the majority of the cards.  All in all, it was a very generous game with everyone giving away cards left, right and centre.  Everyone benefited; Purple did particularly well with her Garden beans, but Burgundy got a couple of cheap Soy beans and Mulberry did well too.  It was Blue who benefited the most though and it showed in the final scores…

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

Splendor was still on-going, so Blue persuaded Mulberry to stick about for one more short game, NMBR 9.  This was another one she’d not played before and Blue felt it would appeal to her natural spacial awareness.  The idea is that one player turns over cards in the deck one at a time, and everyone takes the indicated card and adds it to their tableau, ensuring that the edge touches one of the other tiles. Once a few tiles have been placed to form a base layer, then tiles can be placed on top of other tiles as long as there are no overhanging parts, and the tile sits squarely on more than one other tile and it shares an edge with at least one other tile on that level.  The higher the tiles are placed the more they score (tile value multiplied by the “floor” number).

NMBR 9
– Image by boardGOATS

It was late, and Mulberry got into a bit of a tangle with the higher levels, but the generosity of spirit from Bohnanza lingered and everyone else let her rearrange her tiles so they conformed to the rules.  And quick as it is, it wasn’t long before everyone was adding up their scores…  With that over, Mulberry headed off while everyone else chewed the cud, discussed “Monster Games” at the Weekend (Food Chain Magnate or a repeat of The Gallerist) and whinged about Brexit.  When the Landlord suggested we moved away from controversial subjects and tried Religion and Politics instead, we knew it was home time.

NMBR 9
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Some combinations of games and groups benefit from “House Rules“.

8th January 2019

The evening began with everyone comparing lurgies:  Blue and Burgundy were blaming Purple for theirs (contracted in Didcot last week), while Purple and Pine blamed Lilac (contracted at New Year).  With food delayed we decided to play a quick game of one of our old favourites while we waited, 6 Nimmt!.  Unbelievably, this fun little card game is celebrating its twenty-fifth birthday this year, yet its still just as popular as ever with our group.  That said it was a little while since we last played it, and with our guest, Maroon (Mulberry’s Daughter), new to the game we had a quick rules summary first.  It’s very simple, with players simultaneously choosing a card to play which are then simultaneously revealed.  Starting with the lowest number played, players add their cards to one of the four rows in the central display.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

Each card is added to the row that ends with the highest number that is lower than the card they played.  If the card should be the sixth card, then instead of adding the card to the row, the active player takes the row into their scoring pile and their card replaces the row, becoming the first card.  The aim of the game is to end with the lowest score, but that is much easier said than done.  With so many people involved it was guaranteed to be mayhem and there were only enough cards in the deck for one round instead of the two that we usually play.  The game is all about timing.  Usually there is one player who gets their timing wrong, and once it starts to go wrong, it tends to go very, very wrong.  With so many people we were expecting absolute carnage, but perhaps because there were so many of us, the damage was spread out and the highest score was Red with a reasonably respectable twenty-nine.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

It was close at the front though with five players within six points.  Unusually for 6 Nimmt!, Burgundy managed to avoid picking up piles of cards, and he finished in first place with eight nimmts, just two ahead of Black with ten.  Food hadn’t quite arrived, and largely out of inertia, we decided to give it another go.  Something went a bit wrong with the first deal as there weren’t enough for everyone to get the eleven cards they’d got the first time round.  To begin with, Pine got the blame for misdealing, but it quickly became clear it was not his fault and some cards were missing.  There was a lot of confusion for a moment, until Blue revealed that she had a stash of cards that she’d forgotten to return.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, the game followed the more usual pattern, with Purple managing to collect a massive pile of cards some with lots of high-scoring, pretty colours, totalling a massive forty-seven points.  Lots of players thought they were in with a chance of winning though, Blue and Mulberry both finished with eight, but they were beaten by Green with two.  It was then that Burgundy revealed that he’d managed to avoid picking up any cards at all this time, giving him victory in the second game too.  It was time to decide who would play what, in particular, who was going to play the “Feature Game”, Hare & Tortoise.  Although Blue had finished eating by this time, and Burgundy was coming to the end of his enormous pile of ham, egg and chips as well, they had played the game at the recent Didcot meeting so they left everyone else to play it.  After lots of discussion, they were eventually joined by Pine and had to decide what they were going to play.

Hare & Tortoise
– Image by boardGOATS

Hare & Tortoise was much quicker to get started though.  This is a relatively old game which won the inaugural Spiel des Jahres award in 1979 and was first released in 1973, making it over forty-five years old.  The game is a very clever racing game where players pay for their move with Carrots, but the further they move the more it costs.  Thus, to move one space it costs one Carrot, but to move five spaces it costs fifteen and to move ten it costs fifty-five.  On their turn the active player pays Carrots to move their token along the track; each space has a different effect, but will only hold one player’s token at a time.  It is this that makes the game something of a knife-fight in a phone box, as players obstruct each other (often unintentionally) causing other players to move more or less than they would wish.  The icing on the cake are the Lettuces though:  each player starts with a bunch of Carrots and three Lettuces—players cannot finish until they have got rid of all their Lettuces and nearly all of their Carrots.

Hare & Tortoise
– Image by boardGOATS

To get rid of a Lettuce, a player must land on one of the “Lettuce Spaces”,  and then spend the next turn eating the Lettuce before they can move on again.  With only four of these spaces available and players needing to land on three of them and spend two turns there on each visit, they are always in high demand, but especially with high player counts.  As well as enabling players to get rid of Lettuces, these spaces also help them replenish their Carrot supply.  And this is another clever trick this “simple little race game” uses that makes it special:  the number of Carrots a player gets is dependent on their position in the race.  This means a player who is in the lead benefits from having an unobstructed path in front of them, but they only get ten Carrots on leaving a Lettuce Space.  In contrast, the player in last place in a six-player game gets sixty Carrots, and Carrots are scarce so this difference is not to be snuffled at.

Hare & Tortoise
– Image by boardGOATS

Lettuce Spaces are not the only opportunity to get Carrots though.  A player on a “Carrot Space”, for example, will earn ten Carrots for every turn they wait on that space.  Another way of getting Carrots are though the number spaces—a player who is on one of these at the start of their turn will get Carrots if the number matches their position in the race.  Of course, the game would not be complete without “Hare Spaces” and “Tortoise Spaces”.  The latter are the only way a player can move back along the track, and this can be invaluable when trying to get rid of Lettuces.  Moving backwards also gives Carrots, with players getting  ten Carrots for every space regressed.  Hare Spaces are completely different, with players landing on these drawing a “Hare Card”.  These are “Chance Cards”, some good, some not-so-good and some really, really bad.  The aim of the game is to be the first to cross the finishing line, but even this is unconventional, with players having to have eaten all their Lettuces, consumed almost all their Carrots, and make the exact number of moves.

Hare & Tortoise
– Image by boardGOATS

For those who were new the game it only took a round or so to realise the subtle cleverness of it, the ability to choose one’s own position on the track is vastly tempered by the usefulness of the available squares with so many other players taking up the first few spaces.  Red started the game and immediately went for a Hare card. That didn’t do a lot except tell everyone exactly how many Carrots she had, which was not difficult to work out after just one turn.  Green also decided that the Hare cards were also worth a go, but his was a bad one, and he lost half his Carrots!  For his second turn he decided he had not taken enough punishment and went for the next Hare as well and also got the “Show your carrots” card.  As the first three had all been bad, the odds had to right themselves, so when Maroon went for the fourth Hare card it was much nicer to her.  Purple, who knew the game, understood the importance of having eaten all her Lettuces and started munching on the very first available Lettuce space.  Green and Red hadn’t fully understood the rules, so did not realise until they were a long way round the board; Red thought she only had to get rid of one Lettuce and Green had missed it completely.

Hare & Tortoise
– Image by boardGOATS

By that time Green only had three lettuce squares available and Red had only two, so was going to have to use the Tortoise spaces to move backwards.  Meanwhile, Purple’s early pit stop for Lettuce put her near the back at the start of the game, but slow and steady she moved through the pack and then began to charge ahead as everyone else had to manoeuvre for that penultimate Lettuce Space.  So in the early part of the game, Green and Purple were languishing at the back, but that meant they soon had Carrots a-plenty (from the multiplication factors) and were soon racing to join the pack.  Mulberry found herself in a pickle with a Hare card when she had to give ten Carrots to each other player.  Suddenly she had very few Carrots left and really needed to get something from the next Carrot space, but Green had his eye on it too.  Green was just about to make the leap, but, much to Mulberry’s relief, found something better to do.  Although she got her Carrots, they weren’t coming in very quickly at just ten a turn, until someone pointed out that she could go backwards to a Tortoise space and collect several more in one go.

Hare & Tortoise
– Image by boardGOATS

Eventually, luck changed for Green who had ended up with a fistful of Carrots and he joined Purple near the finishing line and the last Lettuce space.  But who was going to be able to rid of their excess Carrots first and get across the line?  Both Green and Purple had rather too many Carrots and were left pootling about at the front of the race, while Red and Black were languishing at the back still trying to get rid of their Lettuces.  Maroon was steadily moving along, but it was Mulberry, who charged back through the pack and, without any lettuces left, hared past the Purple and Green tortoises to snatch the victory.  Nobody could really be bothered playing for the minor places, but a quick check suggested that that Purple would have been next in what is still showing a worthy game, and might still be in the running for a Spiel des Jahres even now were it a new publication.

Luxor
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, Pine, Burgundy and Blue had eventually decided what to play, opting for one of the 2018 Spiel des Jahres nominees, Luxor.  This is a clever hand management and set collecting race game from Rüdiger Dorn, designer of a wide variety of games including The Traders of Genoa, Goa, Istanbul, Karuba and one of our all time favourites, Las Vegas.  These games have very little in common with each other and Luxor is different again. In this game, players exploring the temple of Luxor collecting treasure as they go.  Players start with two “Indiana-Jones-eeples” and move them round the board by playing cards from their hand.  The clever part of this is that players have a hand of five cards, but like Bohnanza, must not rearrange the order.

Luxor
– Image by boardGOATS

On their turn, the active player can play one of the cards at either end of their hand, i.e. the first or last card.  They use this to move one of their meeples, along the twisting corridor towards the tomb at the centre of the temple.  If they can, they carry out an action based on the space they land on, then replenish their hand from the draw deck, adding the card to the middle of their hand.  This hand-management mechanism is one of several clever little touches that elevate this game beyond the routine.  Another is the movement mechanism:  players move, not from space to space but from tile to tile.  Some of the tiles are in place throughout the game, but when a player claims a treasure tile, these are taken from the board into the player’s stash.  This therefore provides a catch-up mechanism as the path to the tomb effectively gets shorter as the game progresses.

Luxor
– Image by boardGOATS

Players can claim treasure tiles when they have enough of their “Indiana-Jones-eeples” on the tile.  Each tile gives points individually, but there are three different types of treasure and players score points for sets; the larger the set, the more points they score at the end of the game.  Treasures aren’t the only tiles players can land on though.  There are also “Horus” tiles (which allow players to add more interesting cards to their hands or take key tokens), Osiris tiles (which move players forward) and Temple tiles (which give players a special bonus).  These non-treasure tiles are never removed providing stepping stones as the treasure tiles disappear.

Luxor
– Image by boardGOATS

Players strive to be the first to enter the temple chamber which will win them one of the two sarcophagi.  When the second player enters the temple chamber, they win the second of the sarcophagi and trigger the end of the game with play continuing to the end of the round before scoring.  There is a smorgasbord of points available with players scoring for how far their meeples have made it towards the temple, for scarabs they may have collected en route, and any left over keys or sarcophagi they have, as well as for the sets of treasure they collected.  The balance of these points change dramatically with player count – with two, treasure is everything, but with more, there is increased competition.

Luxor
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy shot out of the blocks like a hare, with Blue and Pine doing their best to try and follow.  Burgundy had got a set of three necklaces before Pine had managed a single treasure and despite the fact that the game was hardly started, he was already hoping that “slow and steady” might win the race.  It wasn’t long before Blue collected a few jewelled statues and Pin had a couple of fine vases, and finally the treasure hunt was on its way.  Burgundy’s “Indiana-Jones-eeples” were stealing a march  and making rapid progress, while Blue had managed to get one left one behind.  Despite the built-in catch-up mechanisms, it seemed there was little Blue or Pine could do to arrest the inexorable march of Burgundy.

Luxor
– Image by boardGOATS

Eventually, Blue sent a scout in ahead, and she was the first to enter the temple chamber, picking up the first sarcophagus.  It wasn’t long before Burgundy followed though taking the second and triggering the end game.  Blue and Pine tried to make as much as they could out of their last turns, but it was too little too late.  Each treasure token comes with a small number of points which are supposed to be scored when the treasure is collected.  Previous experience suggests players are so excited at finding treasure that they forget to collect these points, so we added a house-rule, and saved collecting these until the end of the game.  Since the points are similar in value, they give a rough idea of how players stand.  It was only when these were counted that Blue and Pine realised just how far behind they really were, with Burgundy taking forty-one compared with Pine’s twenty-eight and Blue’s twenty-two.

Luxor
– Image by boardGOATS

From there matters only got worse.  Burgundy’s “Indiana-Jones-eeples had made it further into the temple than anyone else’s and he had larger treasure sets too.  His final score was a massive one hundred and eighty-three, nearly fifty more than Blue and seventy-five more than Pine.  It’s all about getting the right cards Burgundy explained as the group tidied up.  “Mmmm, I had the right cards, just not in the right order,” muttered Pine in response, a comment that pretty much summed up the entire game.  It was much, much later however, that we realised we’d got the scoring very wrong.  Players are supposed to score for the number of complete sets of three treasures, rather than for the the magnitude of each set.  While this would have made a huge difference to the game of course, it probably would not have changed the overall outcome as Burgundy was in total control throughout.  Nevertheless, we should give it another try soon, this time with the correct rules…

Luxor
– Image by boardGOATS

With both games finishing pretty much simultaneously,the question was what to play next.  Mulberry and Maroon went home to nurse their jet-lag taking Red with them, leaving six.  Pine said he would stay for something short (and short didn’t include Bohnanza), but would be happy to watch if others wanted to play something longer; Green said he could also do with an early night and didn’t mind watching either.  Inevitably, that created indecision and it was only when Green decided to go and Pine started a two minute countdown that Blue eventually made a decision and got out No Thanks!.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

No Thanks! is one of our oldest, “most favourite-est” games that we’ve sort -of rediscovered, giving it a few outings recently; as Blue shuffled she considered how clear and simple the cards were, and how well they were holding up given their age.  The game is very simple too:  the first player turns over the top card and chooses to either take it or pay a red chip and pass the problem on to the next person.  The player with the lowest total face value of cards is the winner.  There are two catches, the first is that when there is a run, only the lowest card counts, and the second is that nine cards are removed from the deck of thirty-four before the game starts.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy, Purple, Pine and Blue were in the business of collecting cards hoping to build substantial runs.  It was just as the game was coming to a close that Pine collected a card and a handful of chips fumbling as he did so and thought he’d dropped one.  He was sat on a bench between Black and Burgundy, so rather than disturbing everyone immediately, there were only a couple of cards left so he decided to leave finding it until the end of the game.  Blue and Pine fared better in their card-collecting than Burgundy and Purple, but Black had kept his head down and finished with just one run and with it the lowest score,  We recounted all the chips a couple of times and there was definitely one missing, sop as Blue packed away everyone else started playing Hunt the Game Piece.  It’s not often that we play this, but, we have had a couple of epic games, including one where a token ended up some thirty feet from where we were playing and the other side of a pillar.  This edition, the “No Thanks! Red Chip Version”, was particularly special.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

After about five minutes hunting, one of the bar-staff asked, “Oh, what are you looking for?” and then added, “I love it when you play this!” and joined in.  Fifteen minutes later, there was still no sign despite looking in lots of nooks and crannies, checking trouser turn-ups and shoes, and emptying all the bags in close proximity.  Then Purple said, “I can see something red down here…” as she shone the light from her mobile phone between the cracks in the floor-boards.  And there indeed, nestling about half an inch below the suspended floor, only visible when the light was exactly right, was the small red chip.  It was exactly where Pine had been sitting and must have dropped straight through the gap between the floorboards and fallen over so it was lying flat, nestling in the fluff and totally inaccessible.  So Purple won, but it was Game Over for the time being.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Sometimes Bohnanza is quicker than that other “short” game…

31st December 2018

The evening began with Pine’s arrival, and he helped Pink rearrange the furniture for PitchCar while Blue added the finishing touches to supper.  PitchCar is a brilliantly simple, dexterity car racing game—players take it in turns to flick their wooden cars, and the first one to get round the track three times is the winner.  Before long Burgundy, Purple and Black had arrived and pieces from the base game and five of the first six expansions were all over the place and everyone was diving in trying to make an interesting looking track.  There was a problem though, the problem we always have, which is a shortage of straight sections.  It was then that Blue produced another expansion from under the sofa:  the “Long Straights“.  These are exactly what they sound like, two, very long, plank-like, straight sections that are a pain to store and difficult to transport, so rarely get used.  They have the potential to add a very fast section to the track though, so this time we used both with a tight hairpin in between them to add interest.

PitchCar Track 31/12/17
– Image by boardGOATS

Like last year, instead of making a circuit, we made a single long race track weaving around plates of crudites, mugs of tea, and trays of “pigs in blankets”.  There was a big debate whether to use The Cross as a cross-roads or back-to-back corners.  In the end, the double corners won, the track was complete and we had a push off to see who would start at the front of the grid.  Black won with a magnificent flick, followed closely by Purple.  Blue stalled on the grid and the only one to come off worst was Burgundy who came off the track and defaulted to the back of the grid.  The race began:  Black and Purple continued strongly and everyone else shuffled about in the middle order with Burgundy bringing up the rear.  Then Burgundy adjusted is driving style slightly and gradually began to work his way through the field.  Meanwhile the wheels dropped off for Purple who had briefly taken the lead, but suddenly seemed to lose the knack of flicking, and gradually, the rest of the pack overtook her one by one.

PitchCar
– Image by boardGOATS

Almost everyone had trouble going over the bridge, but particularly Blue, Pink and Purple.  Eventually they made it over though and shot down the rail to the hairpin some failed to make the corner, but the long straights added a bit of speed and excitement.  The tunnel ended up being a relay race with Black getting stuck under the bridge, only to be pushed out by Blue, who in turn also got stuck and was freed by Pink.  Similarly, he was freed by Burgundy and Burgundy was liberated by Pine.  And that order was maintained all the way to the finishing line, despite Blue needing several shots at crossing it without overshooting.  Green and his lady-friend, Lilac, had been held up though were expected any second; food wasn’t quite ready either so we ran the race in reverse starting with Purple, the last player to cross the line in  the first race.

PitchCar
– Image by boardGOATS

Inevitably, we’d only just started when Green and Lilac arrived, so they just joined in.  In fact by this time, Blue had actually managed to go backwards and was further behind the line than others were in front of it.  With the larger pack, this time round the race was even more eventful with Black managing to park his car in a plate of crudites just missing a bowl of salsa and Pink repeatedly bouncing off the edge of the mouth of the tunnel obstructing everyone else behind him.  Bizarrely, although the tunnel caused mayhem, the bridge was much less of a problem this time though with Pine leading the way by deftly bunny-hopping over it and almost everyone else just following his example.  Leading over the bridge was a huge advantage, and though Blue threatened to catch him, he maintained his position to the finish.  With food ready and waiting, the track was progressively dismantled as those bringing up the rear made their way to the finish line.  Although it only gets an outing two or three times a year, PitchCar is always great fun and the seventh expansion, “The Loop” which is due in the new year, looks like it will add even more madness to the game.

PitchCar
– Image by boardGOATS

With PitchCar over and the track in a heap in the corner, food swiftly appeared in the guise of enchiladas with corn on the cob, nachos and some strange yellow, habanero salsa that reminded Pine of wallpaper paste.  Supper was accompanied by more special crackers, little parcels, Herb Alpert and the Tujuana Brass, and finished with ice cream, and then it was on with the games; after a little debate first up was Ca$h ‘n Guns.  This is push your luck game with a gangster theme played over a series of eight multi-player duels over their ill-gotten spoils.  The player with the largest haul after eight rounds is the winner, as long as they are still alive of course.  Each player has a character standee, a foam gun, and a clip of three bullet cards and eight blank cards.

Ca$h 'n Guns
– Image by boardGOATS

At the start of each round, everyone simultaneously chooses a whether to “load” their gun with a bullet or a blank, and on the count of three, points it at one of the other players.  On a second count of three, they choose whether to remain in, or withdraw taking their shot with them.  Anyone whose target is still standing reveals whether their gun was loaded with a live bullet or a blank.  Anyone who received a shot takes a plaster signifying their wound and is out of the rest of the round; three wounds and they are eliminated from the game.  All players remaining then take it in turns to take a loot card from the centre of the table—there are eight cards, so the number of cards each player gets depends on how many players have survived the “duel”.

Ca$h 'n Guns
– Image by boardGOATS

The game can be quite brutal, and this was no exception, indeed, Black was out in the second round and Green quickly followed.  Pine pointed out that everyone on his side of the table had been injured while Blue, Pink and Burgundy were all uninjured.  Purple decided to fix that and faced off with Burgundy, both ending up injured as a result.  Lilac proved a dangerous adversary as she collected extra bullets from the loot and ended up with a full set going into the final rounds.  Blue injured Burgundy and coped a bullet in return.  After Black’s and Green’s dismissal, everyone was more circumspect and didn’t gamble as readily with their lives, so all the other players survived to the end of the game.  That just left the small matter of the scores.

Ca$h 'n Guns
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine and Purple had both been collecting gems, but had finished up with the same number so neither picked up the $60,000 bonus for having the most.  Blue had started out collecting artwork, but there wasn’t much available.  It became clear why, when the loot for the final round was revealed:  almost all of it was art.  It was tough in the final round; Blue was taken out by Burgundy, which effectively removed her from the running.  Pink had been doing well as the Godfather, but had taken a couple of hits in the latter stages and was also taken out of the final round.  Pink finished with $110,000 and second place.  The final round was attritional and there were few people left to share the swag.  Most of the artwork ended up going to Pine and with it first place overall thanks to a final total of $123,000 worth of loot.

Ca$h 'n Guns
– Image by boardGOATS

There was still time till midnight, and it was a toss-up between two of our favourite light games, 6 Nimmt! and Las Vegas, in the end we went for dice over cards and played Las Vegas.  This is a very simple game, but a lot of fun. The play area is made up of six casinos, each numbered one to six with a jackpot drawn at random from a deck of money cards.  With eight players, each jackpot totals at least $90,000 and comprises one or more notes.  On their turn, players must use all the dice of one number to bet on the casino of that number by placing them on that casino tile.  Once everyone has placed all their dice the player who placed the most dice on a casino takes the highest value currency card. The player with the most money after four rounds is the winner.  The snag is that before any money is handed out, any dice leading to a draw are removed. It is this rule that makes the game interesting, raising the decisions above the trivial.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

We usually play with a few “House Rules”:  we replace one of each player’s dice with a big, “double weight” die from the Las Vegas Boulevard expansion; we include the Slot Machine, and only play three rounds.  The Slot Machine is a little different to the Casinos as players place all their dice of one number on the tile, but each number can only be placed once.  Unlike the Casinos, if there is a draw, then the player with the total number of pips wins, and if it’s still a tie, then the player with the highest value die wins.  The game is very robust to interruptions which is just as well as we took a break at midnight for toasts to the new year and to Ivory’s new arrival (we are looking forward to his return in March).  Prosecco and sparkling apple juice were accompanied by the village fireworks, an exceptional panettone and mince pies and eventually everyone made it back to the table and the game resumed.

Las Vegas: The Slot Machine
– Image by boardGOATS

Perhaps it was the interruptions, but Black’s game went almost as badly as it had in Ca$h ‘n Guns, and he won nothing at all in the first two rounds and not much in the third.  It turned out that Purple and Burgundy didn’t do any better as all three finished with just $100,000.  That was better than Green however, who made a paltry $20,000.  Pink started off really well, but at the start of the second round we realised he was using one more die than anyone else.  After paying a $10,000 penalty, he finished with $240,000, $10,000 more than Blue.  Lilac, on the other hand, took more in the first round than Blue or Pink took in the whole game and finished with $410,000.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Normally $410,000 would be more than enough to guarantee a win, but Pine, who took three $70,000 notes in the final round alone finished with a massive $510,000, a personal and probably group record.  With the game over, Green took Lilac home to nurse her sore throat and everyone else finished their drinks and chatted for a while.  Everyone who had been there commented how much they had enjoyed The Gallerist at the ninth “Monster Game” session a few days earlier.  Although it had taken ages and was very complex, it wasn’t a real brain-burner and everything had been done well.  The rule book was good, the board was clearly laid out, the player-aids were helpful, the pieces were great and the box was really top quality—in fact, it was almost the complete opposite of Agra, which struggled through at the previous “Monster Games” event.  The second game, Reef, had also gone down well, but everyone was particularly keen to give The Gallerist another go.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  GOATS enjoy a good party just as much as the next ruminant.

11th December 2018

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

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

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

"Un-Christmas Party" 2018
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Golden GOAT - 2018
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Christmas Tree
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Christmas Tree
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Christmas Tree
– Image by boardGOATS

There was time for something else.  Inevitably, we threatened Pink with Bohnanza (he has possibly the smallest amount of love for the game per copy owned), but it’s lack of festiveness, meant it was a hollow threat.  We still had the “Feature Game” to play anyhow, which was Giftmas at Dungeon Abbey.  This is a mad game by a local gamer and member of the Didcot Games Club, Rob Harper set in a world that is a sort of cross between Downton Abbey and the Adams Family.  The artwork is suitably gruesome, though it was very clear from the start who the Countess D’Ungeon was a caricature of!  Played over several short rounds, each player takes the role of one of the various eccentric and unpleasant family members grasping for whatever feels like the best present.  To this end, players begin with a character card and a couple of gift cards, all face down on the table in front of them.  On their turn, the active player may either swap one of their face-down cards with one elsewhere on the table, or turn a card face-up, possibly activating a special action on the gift cards.

Giftmas at Dungeon Abbey
– Image by boardGOATS

The round ends when all a player’s cards are face up at the start of their turn or a bomb is revealed, at which point everyone scores points if they have collected the gifts wanted by their characters.  With six people playing nobody had a clue what was going on and mayhem reigned.  Ivory and Pine jointly took the first round giving them a point each, but after that, the gloves were off.  Purple took one round and Pine and Ivory took another each, so it was all down to the last round.  Green had spent most of the game trying to furnish Little Eugenia with two bombs, so when Blue realised he had the cards he needed to win the round, she made it her business to try to obstruct his plans.  Needless to say he spent the round getting his cards back.  With Blue and Green playing silly beggars in the corner, everyone else fought it out, but there was nothing everyone else could do to stop Ivory taking the point he needed to win.

Giftmas at Dungeon Abbey
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Dinosaur Island
– Image by boardGOATS

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

27th Movember 2018

With the Festive Season now apparently upon us, the pub was once again packed and food was later than usual.  For this reason, we started with a quick game of No Thanks!.  This used to be one of our “go-to” filler games, but has been somewhat neglected of late, so was surprisingly unfamiliar to some people.  It is very simple though and very easy to learn on the fly:  everyone starts with eleven red chips and the first player turns over the top card—they can take it, or pay a chip for the privilege of passing the problem on to the next player.  The player with the lowest summed card total when the deck expires is the winner.

No Thanks!
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor msaari

There are are two catches, firstly, where a player has a run of consecutive cards only the lowest is counted and secondly, a small number of cards are removed from the deck at random.  Top scorer looked to be a toss up between Blue, Red and Mulberry, but Red took the dubious honour in the end, with forty.  It was tight between Pine and Burgundy, however, both of whom had a large pile of chips and a substantial run of high cards (between them they had nearly forty of the fifty-five chips and the cards numbered twenty-eight to thirty-five).  There were only two points in it in the end and it was Pine who took the honours.

No Thanks!
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor ronster0

The group had been just about to start playing when Black, Purple and Green had walked in.  Since No Thanks! only plays five, so pre-empting a discussion of options, Blue chucked over a copy of Dodekka which the group obligingly settled down to play.   This is another light set collecting game where the aim is to get the highest score possible from one of the five colour suits, while ideally scoring nothing in all the other suits.  Gameplay is very simple:  take the first card on display, or reveal a card from the deck and add it to the end of the row (thus “passing”).  If the sum of the cards on display now totals more than twelve, the active player must pick up all of the cards on display. When the deck runs out, the winner is the player with the highest score (the total face value of one suit minus one for each other card).  It was very close at the top, with only one point separating Black and Purple, and much to Purple’s chagrin, it was Black who came out on top.

Dodekka
– Image by boardGOATS

Just as No Thanks! was coming to an end, food arrived, along with Ivory.  Dodekka was still going, so while some munched, those remaining decided to give The Game an outing (played with a copy of The Game: Extreme, but ignoring the special symbols).  This is a surprisingly popular game within the group, which is remarkable because it is cooperative and we generally prefer competitive games.  Another simple game, the idea is that 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.  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.

The Game: Extreme
– Image by boardGOATS

Red started and it quickly began to go wrong with with Pine holding a “nice mid-range hand”.  With the help of everyone else he battled through though, and it wasn’t long before he had a “nice extreme hand” while all the piles were offering “nice mid-range options”.  It perhaps wasn’t surprising with this that the group didn’t win (i.e. play all their cards onto the four decks), but given that they had such a poor run of luck, they did well to exhaust the draw deck and ultimately have only eight cards they were unable to play.  Inevitably, Dodekka finished just after The Game started, so Black, Purple and Green killed time with a quick game of Love Letter.  This is the original “micro game”, consisting of just sixteen cards.  The idea is that each player starts with a single card, draws a second card and chooses one of the pair to play.  The cards are numbered one to eight (with more of the lower numbers), and each number has an action associated with it.  The aim is to eliminate all opponents, as the last man standing is the winner.

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

Rounds only take a minute or two, so elimination is not a problem.  This time, each player won a round.  So with honours even and with the other game and food coming to an end, it was sudden death.  This time it was Purple’s turn to come up trumps, taking the final hand and with it, the game.  This started a big debate as to who was going to play what.  As it was likely to be Ivory’s last chance for a meaty game for a few weeks (with Christmas and his impending arrival), the “Feature Game” was Ambition, the expansion to one of his favourite games, Roll for the Galaxy.  With Burgundy fed-up with the feeling of confusion that Roll for the Galaxy always gave him and Black feeling that he’d played it a couple of times recently, for a while it looked like it was only going to be Blue and Ivory.  Eventually Black saw sense, and Green joined in, despite the fact that he felt he’d not played the base game enough to appreciate the expansion.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Roll for the Galaxy is the dice game of the popular empire building card game, Race for the Galaxy.  Both suffer from the same “iconography confusion”, but that aside, neither are actually complicated games.  The idea builds on the Puerto Rico/San Juan idea of different phases or activities that only happen if or when players want them to.  Roll for the Galaxy is almost a “worker placement” game where dice are the workers and have a say in what sort of work they do with players “spending” these dice to make actions happen.  Each player starts with a dice in their cup which they roll and assign, in secret behind a screen.  When dice are used they are placed into the player’s Citizenry and it costs a dollar to move them from the citizenry to back into the cup.  Each face of the worker dice corresponds to one of the five different action phases:  Explore, Develop, Settle, Produce, Ship.  Each player uses one die, any die, to select a single phase that they want to “happen”.  All the other dice are assigned to the Phase that corresponds to the face rolled.  Any that do not correspond to the chosen phase can only be used if another player chooses those phases to happen.  Any that are used move into the player’s Citizenry, any that are not used go back into the cup.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

As such everyone is reliant on other players to help them out and the player who best piggy-backs other players’ choices usually does well.  It is not only about second-guessing what other players are going to do though: success also requires a good strategy, a complementary tiles (Worlds), an understanding of probability, the ability to effectively manipulate the dice rolled, and a modicum of luck.  Luck is everywhere, but there are ways to mitigate its effect.  For example, in Phase I (“Explore”), players draw tiles out of a bag.  These are double-sided with one side being a Development World and the other a Production World.  These are “Built” in Phases II & III (“Develop” and “Settle”) and the cost is paid in dice, anything from one to six (with expensive Development Worlds generally partnered with cheap Production Worlds).  These tiles are drawn at random in Phase I and a side chosen and the Worlds added to the bottom of their personal Development or Settle pile as appropriate.  The top World tile is the one that will be built first and if there is not enough to complete a building, that means there will be fewer dice available for the following rounds, until it is finished.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

This may seem very harsh, with players potentially getting stuck with a high value building and a shortage of dice so that they struggle to complete it in a timely fashion.  However, clever use of the Explore Phase can ensure that this is not a problem, despite the luck involved.  Players can discard as many tiles as they like, drawing one extra from the bag.  Thus, an early round committing lots of dice to the Explore phase can enable lots of tiles to be recycled as better ones are drawn.  Dice assigned to Phase IV (Produce) are moved to Production Worlds where they will stay until Phase V (ship) happens and that player has dice assigned to it.  In this way, dice can get “stuck” in a similar fashion to dice involved in Developing or Settling.  Thus dice management is one of the key skills to the game.  Points come from building (a building that requires five dice is generally worth five points at the end of the game); from bonus points Development buildings which give points for some particular feature (e.g. one extra point for a particular type of Production World), and from victory points generated during Phase V (Shipping) by using the “Consume” option.

Roll for the Galaxy: Ambition
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor dotKeller

The Ambition expansion doesn’t change the game very much, simply adding a very small number of Worlds, some extra Starting Worlds, some in game Objective tiles and replaces one of each player’s starting white dice with a black “Leader” die.  The first player (and only the first player) to achieve each of the objectives receives “Talent” counters; these can be treated as single-use workers or as victory points at the end of the game.  There are also orange “Entrepreneur” dice—these and the “Leader” dice have some faces with two symbols allowing players to choose which of these Phases to assign them to and giving them the magic power of automatically switching to the alternative Phase if the initial nomination does not happen.  There are a couple of other little twists, for example on some faces the second symbol is a dollar sign signifying that if the die is used for its intended Phase then the die goes back into the Cup (not into the Citizenry) after use, making it effectively free to use.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Ivory was fastest out of the blocks with a large amount of liquidity from his “Doomed World” that gave him $8 start up.  Furthermore, his “Alien Artefact Hunters” start-world gave him $2 each time he consumed Alien goods, and Victory points (from Consuming).  For everyone else it looked like it was going to be over before it had begun when Ivory  was the first to achieve an Objective, adding the associated Talents to his already growing pile of victory points.  Although they were a little less obvious , everyone else’s Start Worlds were quite useful too however.  Black for example received extra cash every time he developed, Green had the ability to reassign two of his white dice as Explorers or Settlers and Blue could reassign any two dice to explore.  These special abilities were slower to take effect, but gradually, these, together with the lack of production on the “Doomed World” meant the group began to haul back Ivory’s rapid head-start.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Blue, and to a lesser extent Green, spent a lot of time Exploring (using their special abilities), carefully choosing which Worlds to build and stacking the deck to control the order, a tactic that paid dividends later in the game.  In Blue’s case, she used the Objectives as a target and then used the Talents to finish off Worlds quickly enabling her to grab a couple from under Ivory’s nose.  Green more or less ignored the Objectives as he was too busy trying to remember how to play the base game while fiddling with his phone.  Black was less fortunate, and really struggled with the luck of the dice and found it difficult to make use of his special ability to get his engine going.  Then suddenly it looked like Ivory might end the game as the Victory Point reserve rapidly depleted.  He couldn’t make it on the first attempt though and there were a couple more things he wanted to do in any case.  In the end it was Blue who ended it—building not only her twelfth World, but also an extra one giving her a massive forty points for that alone.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Although Blue had a couple of Victory Point chips and a handful of Talents left over, it paled into insignificance compared with the massive pile of chips in front of Ivory—the question was whether it would be enough though.  It was very close, but Blue’s last round just tipped it in her favour and she won by five points.  With that, Ivory and Green took their leave, leaving Black and Blue to consider their options.  While they had been playing with their dice, the others had played a full four rounds of Saboteur and moved on to their next game.  Saboteur is a fun little hidden traitor game where players are either Dwarves trying to find the treasure or Saboteurs trying to stop them.  We’ve played it quite a bit and in truth it plays best with more than six players, as the number of Saboteurs varies and there is an element of doubt.  With five their can be either one or two Saboteurs, and the odds are heavily stacked against a lone Saboteur, but in favour of a pair.  Nevertheless, the group were keen to introduce Mulberry to it.

Saboteur
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mothertruckin

It is another quite simple game:  On their turn, players can play a tunnel card onto the grid in the centre, play a special card (a broken or fixed tools card on another player or a map card to look at the destination cards), or discard a card face down and then draw a replacement.  If the Dwarves don’t get to the treasure before the cards run out, the Saboteurs win.  In the first round, Burgundy was isolated as the Saboteur and despite his best efforts, he failed to disrupt an organised team of Dwarves.  In the second round Burgundy was joined by Pine, and with two of them the odds were much better and the pair took the opportunity to prevent the Dwarf team from getting to the gold.  As a group, we normally only play a couple of rounds, but everyone wanted to see if luck would deal Burgundy a Dwarf card.  The immediate answer was no, and in the end it turned out that the third rounds was a direct replay of the second with Pine joining Burgundy on the Saboteur winning team.

Saboteur
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

By this time the group had decided they would keep playing until Burgundy wasn’t the Saboteur, and in the fourth round they finally got their way when Mulberry was a lone Saboteur.  Inevitably she failed to break the will of the “gang of four” who easily found the treasure.  Normally we don’t bother sharing out the “gold” scoring cards as it is very arbitrary who goes first and in a low number of rounds it is purely luck who wins overall which takes some of the fun out of the game.  This time though, the group played the rules as written.  With Burgundy and Pine winning two rounds and sharing the spoils two ways (instead of three) it was inevitable that they would score well.  In the end it was Pine who did lightly better, thanks to the fact he had been on the winning Dwarf team in the first round.  As Roll for the Galaxy was still going (and Red and Mulberry had gone home for an early night), the group looked round for something else to play and Purple’s beady eye lit on Steam Donkey.

Steam Donkey
– Image by boardGOATS

Steam Donkey is a card game that involves building a seaside resort consisting of a four by three grid of attraction cards. The three rows represent the different parts of the resort:  beach (yellow), town (pink) and park (green).  Similarly, the four columns correspond to the different types of building: amusements, lodgings, monuments and transport.  In order to place a feature, it must go in the correct location and must be paid for using cards of the same type, as such it has similarities with games like Race for the Galaxy and San Juan.  As players build their resort, visitors arrive at the station and come to see the attractions. Each attraction can take a certain number of visitors, which are actually a row of face down cards that are used to replenish the cards in players’ hands. Thus, on their turn players carry out one of the following actions:  choose a colour and build as many attractions in that colour as they can/want paying with other cards from their hand; choose a colour and start taking cards in that colour from the “station” (a row of face down cards), or if there are no visitors of the chosen colour (or there are no spaces for the visitors to go), they can add visitor cards to their hand and refill the station platform with four new visitors.

Steam Donkey
– Image by boardGOATS

The colour of the visitor side of cards does not reflect the colour of the attraction on the other side, however, the type of attraction is indicated.  There is a hand limit of twelve though and this can actually be quite a serious impediment for players collecting cards to build the more valuable attractions.  At the end of the game, points are scored for each unique attraction built as well as for fulfilling individual goals and bonuses depicted on players’ resort posters.  It was a long time since anyone in the group had played it, and Pine hadn’t played it at all, so it took a while to get going.  It was close at the top with Burgundy and Pine scoring pretty evenly for their buildings and taking almost exactly the same number of bonus points too.  Burgundy just had the edge however, and took the game by three points, with a grand total of seventy.

xSteam Donkey
– Image by boardGOATS

When Roll for the Galaxy finally finished and Green and Ivory left Blue and Black alone it was clear that they were going to be waiting for a while, so they looked round for something that wasn’t too long and played well with two.  In the end, they settled on Kingdomino, but decided to add the new Age of Giants expansion acquired at Essen.  Kingdomino is a tile-laying game with a couple of clever mechanics.  Players take it in turns to choose a “domino” and add it to their “Kingdom”.  The clever part of the game is that the tiles are numbered with players who choose the high numbered (and therefore more valuable) dominoes taking their turns later in the next round.  In the two player game, players get two turns per round, so their first turn can be used to try to set up the second turn.  In the two-player game, each player is building kingdoms consisting of 7×7 arrays of “squares” rather than 5×5 arrays, which makes the game much more strategic.

xKingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

The game ends when there are no more tiles to place.  Scoring is by multiplying the number of tiles in each terrain by the number of crowns in that terrain.  Thus a moderate sized area with plenty of crowns is worth more than a large area with very few crowns.  The Age of Giants expansion doesn’t change things as much as Queendomino, which we found managed to take all the fun out of the game and add a whole load of unnecessary complexity instead.  This expansion adds a small number of tiles that feature either a Giant or a Giant’s footprints.  When a Giant Tile is drawn, a large wooden giant meeple is placed on it.  When this is taken, the Giant is taken too and is placed over one of the crowns anywhere on that player’s area.  When a footprints tile is taken, a Giant of their choice moves from their Kingdom to another player’s Kingdom.

xKingdomino: Age of Giants
– Image by BGG contributor kalchio

There are two problems with this little addition, firstly, there is a rules tweak that means five tiles are drawn in the two player game and one is discarded.  Blue and Black found that this meant they just chose not to take tiles with Giants on them except when forced to right at the end.  Secondly, even when forced to take a Giant, there was almost always somewhere it could be poked that caused minimal damage, so it wasn’t really a big issue.  This was a real shame as the Giants are lovely.  As well as adding a fifth player there is also a a small pile of bonus-point tiles; both Blue and Black really liked these as they thought that they added a nice twist.  This time, they ended up with bonus points for Sea tiles adjacent to the castle and Marsh land on the corners.  Both players tried to accommodate these, though Black did a much better job than Blue.

xKingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

It may have been that Black was focussing too much on the bonuses however, as he ended up unable to place all his tiles.  And although he scored well on the bonuses and for Sea and Pasture, he scored very little for Woodland, Marshland and Mountains.  In contrast, while Blue completely failed to score for Pasture, she scored well in every other terrain and made a killing with her Wheat fields, giving her a total of two-hundred and thirty-three, some sixty more than Black.  With that done and the epic game of Steam Donkey finally over, there was just time to arrange some of the details for the Christmas Party nest time before everyone went home.

xKingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  We like simple games: they can be quick to learn, but take time to master.

13th Movember 2018

There was a bit of a delay for food, so after Blue had handed over an exciting box of echidnas to Pine and given Burgundy and Green a selection of Splendor, Orléans, and Zooloretto promo cards from Essen, we decided to play something quick.  As there were a lot of hungry people, we decided to start with a quick game of Om Nom Nom.  This is a fabulous little double think game based on critters eating other critters further down the food chain.  The game is set up with a large handful of dice which are rolled to give either items from the bottom of the food chains (flies, carrots and cheese) or animals from the middle of the food chains (frogs, rabbits and mice).  Players start with six cards representing animals from the middle of the food chain and the predators from the top of their food chains (hedgehogs, wolves and cats).  Players simultaneously choose a card to play and then everyone reveals them and they are placed on the appropriate space on the three central player boards. before and the animals begin to feed starting at the top of the food chain.  For example, wolves eat frogs and any surviving frogs then eat flies.

Om Nom Nom
– Image by boardGOATS

If only one card of any type is played, the predator feeds and the player takes their card back with any cards/dice their animal has eaten placing everything in their scoring pile.  Where more than one card of the same type is played and there is enough food to go round it is shared equally and everyone eats (taking their cards back with their share of the prey).  If there is not enough food for everyone to get a share, they all starve and lose their cards going home with nothing.  This is repeated until there are no cards left.  Food at the bottom of a chain is worth two points at the end of the game and food from the middle of a chain and any cards are worth one point.  The game is played over three rounds and the winner is the player with the most points.

Om Nom Nom
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue won the first round with eleven, more than twice the points anyone else managed to gather.  Om Nom Nom is one of those games where a high score in one round is usually balanced by a dreadful score in the next, so everyone expected Blue to fail to score at all in the second round.  Burgundy’s twelve points in the second round looked really good, but contrary to the usual run of things, Blue somehow managed to improve her score picking up eighteen points—one less than the record for a single round in our group.  The third round was a little bit of a dead rubber, but Burgundy was keen to see Blue get her bad round and if she did, fancied his chances.  It was a much more even final round and with lots of points available, things looked good for Burgundy, but unfortunately for him, everyone else chose this round to get it together.  In the end it was all about second place, which Burgundy just managed to take ahead of Black and Mulberry as food arrived.

…Aber Bitte Mit Sahne
– Image by boardGOATS

While Burgundy, Blue and Mulberry ate their belated supper, everyone else carried on the food theme, playing a little Japanese game picked up by Black and Purple at Essen called くだものフレンズ or Fruit Friends.  This is a little card drafting and set collecting game where players are collecting different types of fruit using the “I divide, you choose” mechanism.  There are a surprisingly few games that use this idea, but two of the best are …Aber Bitte Mit Sahne (aka Piece o’ Cake) and San Marco.  …Aber Bitte Mit Sahne is relatively unusual as it works well with players dividing the pie into more than three.  In contrast, San Marco is a three to four player game, but plays much better with three than four because the “I divide, you choose” mechanism generally works best when the pile is divided into three.

Fruit Friends
– Image by boardGOATS

In Fruit Friends, each player starts with a random start or “seed” card, dealt face up.  Players are then dealt seven cards which they divide into three piles of two (discarding the final card).  Beginning with the player who was dealt the apple start card, players offer the three piles to the player on their left who takes one pair; the next player then chooses from the remaining two piles leaving one pair for the active player.  Play continues in this way until everyone’s cards have been taken.  The second round is played the same way except cards are offered anti-clockwise and the player with the grapes start card goes first.  The final round is clockwise again, and the player with the kiwi start card begins.  At the end of the game, each player has eighteen fruit cards, with each type scoring differently.

1 card 2 card 3 card 4 card 5+ cards
Apples 0 points 2 points 5 points 9 points 14 points (max)
Grapes 2 points 5 points 8 points 11 points 11 points (max)
Kiwis 2 points 6 points 0 points 12 points 18 points (max)
Bananas 3 points 7 points 12 points 0 points 0 points
Peaches 2 points 5 points 9 points 14 points 20 points (max)

There are some catches, for example, peaches come in two colours, yellow and white, but only one of them scores.  Oranges score one point per apple card and similarly melons score one point per grape card (both up to a maximum of four points). The scoring intervals also offer some quirks, so while almost everyone scored twelve points for their bananas at the end of the game, Ivory went “Banana Bust” by over-shooting.  Otherwise it was close at the top and you could fit the first four players in a fruit-basket with only five points between them.  It was Purple, the “Kiwi Queen”, who just had the edge, “pipping” Green by a single point with Pine and Black finishing in joint third.

Fruit Friends
– Image by boardGOATS

By the time the game came to an end, the eaters had mostly finished, so Black started getting out the “Feature Game”, Imaginarium (also described previously as “the one with the elephant on the box”).  Burgundy and Ivory were quick to stake a claim to play it and Purple was equally quick to opt out.  Mulberry and Blue made up the five, so Green started to collect together the games he thought the rest might play, which Pine pointed out just made it look like he was playing Jenga with boardgames.  It took a while to come to a conclusion, but eventually the trio went for Echidna Shuffle.

Jenga
– Image by boardGOATS

Echidna Shuffle is a game that we first discovered at the UK Games Expo back in June and since then, has been very popular with everyone who has played it.  This is partly because of the fabulous, over-produced pieces, especially the lovely echidnas with cute smiley faces.  The game is very simple:  Players have to get their bugs to their tree-stumps by moving echidnas around the board.  On their turn the active player rolls the die, and moves echidnas a total of that number of spaces.  The clever part is that players only roll the die on alternate turns with intermediate turns evaluated from the dice board giving a total over two turns of nine moves.  Thus, if someone rolls the maximum, a seven, the next turn they get just two.  Similarly, if they roll a small number, say a three, then they get a six on the next turn.  This means nobody gets screwed over by the dice, but there is still a nice, randomisation effect to the movement.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

There are two sides to the game board:  green “Summer” and snowy “Winter”.  There was some discussion as to which to play.  Pine thought the Summer side of the board rather than the Winter side was more of a challenge.  He explained that it was more confusing on the snowy side and that it is not so easy to block people.  On the other hand, the first time it was played with the Summer side, the game had become something of an epic marathon as everyone worked together to stop everyone else winning.  So this time the group started with the “advanced” Winter board and ended up with a very short game indeed.  After only about three rounds, Purple had got one of her bugs home and Green had managed two.  Then Pine surprised everyone and with a roll of seven managed to complete all three of his bugs and the game was over, almost before it had begun.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

Echidna Shuffle is really meant to be a children’s game, so perhaps it should not have been a huge surprise that it ended quite so quickly.  Maybe Pine had had a point though, so unusually the game got a second chance, this time with the Summer board.  This second game, did indeed last longer, but was still relatively quick and before too long everyone had just one bug remaining each. Green was first to get to this point, but Purple and Pine managed to successfully block his route while they also got their second bug home.  In the end Pine became the “Kingmaker” as everyone knew how many moves each player would get and he found himself in the position where he could either move the echidna out of purples way and into Green’s or do something else entirely. Either action (or inaction) would result in win for either Green or Purple and in the end he inevitably chose to open the door for Purple.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

It maybe that as a bunch of adult gamers, we have found the limit of this very pretty and lovable game.  On the other hand, the number of players also has quite an impact—the full compliment of six seems to have the effect of dragging out the Summer board, but the combination of a small number of players and the complexity of the Winter board appears to make the game too open.  Hopefully the company will bring out some new expansions or different board layouts that will give us more to explore, in the meantime, the game may get fewer outings in the weeks to come.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

Because of the late start and the fact that Green wanted an early night, there wasn’t enough time for another medium-weight game, but it was still early enough for a short game. After some discussion, the trio agreed upon Walk the Plank!, a cute little programming game with a hefty dose of “take that”.  In programming games players choose the cards they are going to play before the round starts and then action them during the round, usually taking it in turns to reveal one card and then carry out the associated action.  One of the classic games of this type is Colt Express which won the Spiel des Jahres a few years ago, but Walk the Plank! is a quicker and simpler game.  The idea is each player has three pirate meeples on a ship and the last one remaining is the winner.  Players start each round by simultaneously choosing three cards and laying them face down in front of them.  On their turn, players turn over the top card and action it.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

The cards allow players to do things like “shove” one of the meeples belonging to the player on their left, or to the player on their right.  When this is played a meeple that shares a space with one belonging to the active player is moved one step along the plank and thus closer to falling into the depths.  There are lots of other actions including “drag to ship”, “drag to sea” and “Charge!”, but the most exciting cards are probably the “retract the plank” cards.  At the start of the game the plank comprises three pieces, but usually at least one player removes one of these at the start of the game, heightening the stress levels. We usually play with a couple of house-rules too, firstly we play to the last meeple standing (the rules say the last two share victory) and we allow the plank to be completely removed (the rules say there is always one piece left).

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

We’ve loved the game for years and have several different editions within the group—this time we played with the “limited edition” which includes some optional extra cards.  This time two of the extra single use cards were added to each player’s deck:  “Parlay”, which gives a player a chance to turn the tables via a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors, and “Dynamite”, which pushes everyone on one tile one space closer to the sea.  After a little shuffling about, Green played his “Dynamite”, but succeeded in sending two of his own men closer to the water as well as the others.  Then Purple played a “Charge!” card to try to push Green into the sea.  Green used his “Parlay” to see if he could to prevent it, but this ended up in hysterics thanks to a total inability to play the game correctly.  It started with Green playing on the count of three as agreed and Purple after the count of three (i.e. on four).  After multiple attempts including one where Purple ended up just pointing vaguely at Green everyone was in fits of giggles, but it didn’t look like the tie was anywhere nearer being resolved.

Rock-Paper-Scissors
– Image from theguardian.com

Pine suggested that perhaps they should try after the count instead.  Green duly obliged, but Purple had finally worked out how to play on the count of three and still the problem persisted.  Then Green chose stone and Purple also chose stone changing to paper at the last second, but this was spotted by Pine who ruled a “Let” and so they had to try yet again.  By this time everyone was laughing so hard that in a fit of confused giggles Purple then chose “none of the above” by using a single finger.  Pine suggested Green and Purple put their hands behind their backs, but this time it was Green’s turn to make a mess of things and he just couldn’t get the hang of it.  In the end, in an effort to stop Purple from soiling the furniture, Pine suggested they remove the counting element and play with closed eyes which was finally successful.  It was largely immaterial by this time, but Green won, so one of Purple’s pirates went charging off the plank into the sea.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

Getting back to the game seemed tame by comparison. Everyone ended up back on the boat and then started moving forward again.  With the plank retracted, Green found himself with all three of his pirates on the end when Pine played his dynamite and Green was out in one go taking one of Purple’s and one of Pines own with him.  So Green became the Ghost and with two pirates versus one, it looked to be Pines game.  Two rounds later, though the Ghost shoved one of Pine’s pirates off the ship to level things up until Purple played her “Dynamite” and managed to get both dumped into the water, bringing the game to a shuddering halt, and on that note, Green headed home.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

Imaginarium was still underway with no sign of finishing soon, so Pine and Purple decided to give Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra a go as Pine had missed out last time.  As in the original game, Azul, players take all the tiles of one colour from a “factory” and put the rest in the middle, or they take all the tiles of one colour from the middle. Tile placement and scoring is rather different however. All the tiles taken in a turn are placed in a single column of the player’s personal player board. This board is modular with the double-sided strips laid out at random so everyone has a different starting setup.  Tiles must be placed in the strip immediately below the Glazier meeple, or in a strip to its right.  The Glazier is then placed above the strip the tiles were placed in.  Instead of taking tiles, players can choose to reset the Glazier’s position, moving him back to the left most strip.

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
– Image by boardGOATS

Players get points when strips are completed scoring the sum of the score depicted below the strip and any strips to the right that have already been completed.  There is also a colour bonus—each round has a colour drawn at random at the start of the game, and any tiles that match the colour for the round score extra.  Once a strip has been completed, it is flipped over; after it has been filled a second time it is removed.  Any left over tiles that cannot be placed yield a penalty with players moving along a negative score track which has small steps at the start that get larger.  There are also end-game bonus points with two variants available, one colour dependent and the other rewarding completing adjacent strips.

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
– Image by boardGOATS

This is definitely a game that takes a at least one play to understand how it works and what the best way to score points is.  For example, the way the score builds, it is imperative to complete the furthest right strips early as then they score again and again.  However, they are relatively low scoring, so this is not the only important strategy. So while Pine started off well, Purple scored more later, especially when she picked up colour bonus point as well.  Early in the game, the penalty for picking up the first player token or for having left-over tiles is small, but it quickly increases, and with Pine taking the first player token more than Purple, he finished with more negative points too.  All the little extras combined to make it a bit of a landslide in Purple’s favour, but then Purple had the advantage of having played the game several times, so next time will surely be different.

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
– Image by boardGOATS

While these games had been going on, the “Feature Game”, Imaginarium was getting an outing.  Subtitled “The Dream Factory”, this game is a worker-placement, engine builder with a Steam Punk theme where players are building machines in a factory.  Beautifully produced with remarkable artwork, players first take it in turns to choose a position on the factory conveyor-belt.  They select either the broken machine card that they are going to buy or a position to collect charcoalium.  These are then carried out in “action” order which then also becomes the selection order for the next round.  At the end of the round any unused cards move long the conveyor-belt and the early positions are populated with new, exciting cards.  As the game progresses, the broken machine cards generally become more expensive, but the machines become more useful, producing more and/or higher value resources.

Imaginarium
– Image by boardGOATS

On a player’s turn, their existing “machines” first produce resources, then the player must buy the broken machine card they had chosen. The active player finally carries out two actions dictated by an unusual clock mechanism:  each player has a board with the six possible actions arranged in a circle and the hands of the clock are fixed such that players are unable to take actions that are adjacent.  As the clock hands must be moved every round, players are only able to take repeat one action in consecutive rounds.  Possible actions include hiring a character, trading resources, extracting charcoalium, repairing broken machines and reorganising or dismantling existing machines.  When a machine card is taken from the conveyor-belt, it is broken, they must be repaired before they will work and produce resources.  Once repaired, machines can be combined to make them more efficient, or dismantled to give points, the game ends when one player gets to twenty points.

Imaginarium
– Image by boardGOATS

One of Ivory’s questions before playing a new game is always, “Where are the points going to come from?” In addition to dismantling machines, points are also available for completing “projects” i.e. satisfying goals drawn at random at the start of the game, or by trading charcoalium.  There are also two points available for players who have the most of one of the four resources at the end of the game.  As the game was late starting, the group decided to end the game at fifteen points instead of twenty, though to begin with it didn’t look much like anyone was going to get to fifteen points before midnight.  Black assured everyone that people would pick up speed as the game progressed and eventually, Ivory got going completing the first of the projects and then Black and Blue followed.

Imaginarium
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is mostly multi-player solitaire, except when it’s not.  There are some machine cards that take resources from the other players.  In a game where resources are very tight and players are very reliant on resources for their plans this can be crucial.  The game also has a distinctly mean streak, as a player that is unable to pay for the card they have chosen, doesn’t get the card, but also loses all their resources, completely upsetting their plans and forcing them to start again from scratch, potentially losing them the game.  This is exactly what happened to Blue—Ivory went earlier in the turn order and bought and then repaired a machine that took all her charcoalium which meant she lost the card she was going to buy and all her resources.  She vowed to get her revenge, but the opportunities for that are few and far between.  As she waited for her chance, she gathered charcoalium to ensure she would be able to buy the right card when it came up.

Imaginarium
– Image by boardGOATS

Sadly for her, interaction in the game is minimal so there she never really got her chance.  Amassing large amounts of charcoalium wasn’t totally without use though as it enabled her to fulfill one of the projects and as they were playing to a smaller total, she started trading them in for points in an effort to avoid coming last.  Meanwhile, Ivory kept amassing points and Mullberry kept doing “the weird goat-head thing” which ensured she always had plenty of charcoalium and was starting to build a productive engine.  Black and Burgundy had also just got their engines going and were planning to score heavily when Ivory announced that he’d passed the fifteen point mark.  With Blue still to take her turn, she maximised her points and everyone added up their scores.  Sadly, for Black, Burgundy and Mullberry this wasn’t a long process as shortening the game had had the unforeseen consequence that the game ended just before their plans had come to fruition.  Much to her surprise, Blue had done rather better as she had stuck to short-term targets that lent themselves to the short game.

Imaginarium
– Image by boardGOATS

There was only one winner though and Blue’s fourteen points flattered her position as the scores did not tell the true story of the game.  It’s definitely a game to try again sometime, though perhaps with fewer people which would give players a bit more control over their own destiny.  The artwork is somehow both amazing and very disturbing at the same, and it certainly had an unforeseen effect on Blue.  She is not normally one to remember dreams or one to design games, but when she awoke the next morning she had a fleeting recollection of dreaming about playing a card only version of Om Nom Nom that she had designed called “Yum Yum Tum”.  We will have to see if that ever comes to fruition.

Imaginarium
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  When gamers are hungry they play games about eating.