Category Archives: Games Night

7th August 2018

Largely due to holidays and work, for the first time in months, we only had enough players for one game.  Blue and Pink were first to arrive and, while they were waiting for their pizzas, they played a quick game of Honshū.  This is a game that Blue had played with Black and Purple about a year ago when Black and Blue agreed it was a very, very clever game.  Somehow though, it hadn’t got another outing until last week at the Didcot Games Club, when Blue introduced Pink to it.  He really enjoyed it and was keen to give it another go.  It is a trick taking game, so it plays a bit differently with two.  The idea is that players start with a hand of six cards; two cards are drawn at random from the deck to make one pool, and the players play a card each to make the second pool.  Each card features six districts and a number – the player who wins the trick by playing the highest number chooses one pool and then chooses a card from that pool.  The other player does the same with the second pool.

Honshū
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor  HedgeWizzard

The players then add the cards to their city. Each card is divided into six districts, each of which scores in a different way at the end of the game. For example, every district in their largest city, players score a point. Similarly, all forest districts score two points. More interestingly, a single water district is worth nothing, but water districts connected to it after that are worth three points each. Perhaps the most interesting are the factories which only score if they are supplied with the appropriate resources, wooden cubes that are placed on resource producing districts.  These resources can also be used increase the value of cards when they are played, in the two-player game this is only by the losing player who can guarantee a win by paying a resource.  One of the biggest challenges is choosing the cards though. When the cards are placed, players must take care to make sure that they either partially cover (or are covered by) at least one other card. This, together with the fact that players are trying to expand their largest city and any lakes makes choosing and placing a card really difficult as there are many options to explore.

Honshū
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor msaari

Despite playing it a couple of times, neither Blue nor Pink have really understood how the game plays which is probably what makes it interesting.  After the first three rounds, in the two-player game, players swap their remaining three cards and are supposed to add another three (repeating this after the sixth and ninth rounds).  Unfortunately, Blue misunderstood the rules for some reason, so instead, they swapped hands after three tricks, refreshed their hands to six cards at half-way and swapped hands again after nine.  This simplifies the game a lot, as the obvious strategy is to play high cards early and then hand all the dross over to the other player who is forced to play them.  It also introduces a lot of luck, and while we like luck in the right place, the game would definitely be more interesting with the rules as written.  Blue won, but it is definitely one to play again, and correctly this time.

Honshū
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor bkunes

With Burgundy’s arrival and then Green’s, and food out of the way, we moved onto the “Feature Game”, Altiplano.  This is a bag building game that re-implements some of the mechanisms found in one of our more popular games, Orléans.  Like Orléans, Altiplano has two phases: planning and carrying out.  The idea is that players start off with a handful of resource tokens and, on their turn can draw a number of these out of their bag, placing them on their personal worker board.  Simultaneously, players then place them on the action spaces on their board.  This usually takes a little time as everyone is trying to maximise their return.  And this is where it differs significantly from Orléans where everyone can more or less do whatever they want, whenever they want.  In Altiplano, there is a central circle of locations, and actions can only be carried out when player’s meeple is in the appropriate area.  There are seven locations and players get one movement of a maximum of three spaces for free on each turn.  This means it is possible to get to any location, but only one of them, unless they pay a food token which will allow them another move, but only a single space.  Thus getting the planning right is essential.

Altiplano
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

In the action phase, players must take an action, or pass.  Once they’ve passed, they cannot have another turn.  Before or after they take an action, players may move if they are able to.  This effectively means that players can carry out actions in two locations per turn, unless they pay for more.  Once a token has been spent, it it goes into a little cardboard crate where it stays until the player’s bag is empty.  This means that unlike Orléans, every token must come out of the bag and be placed; there is no element of chance except in the timing.  Thus, instead of playing with probability, the game is now all about controlling what’s in the bag and knowing what can come out and when.  Anyone who’s played Orléans and felt that their Monks have entered a closed order in the corner of their bag will really appreciate this.  However, it also means rubbish can be even more costly as it WILL come out and must be used.  Worse, any rubbish will will eventually go back in the bag and have to be dealt with again, and again and again…

Altiplano
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

It is possible to get rid of resources:  they can be placed into the player’s personal warehouse. Once they are in the warehouse though, they can’t be taken out again and as all resources are limited, it may not be possible to obtain a replacement.  Placing resources in the warehouse is done by visiting the Village and is a useful thing to do as it is one of the ways to score points.  Most resources are worth points at the end of the game, but in addition to this, full shelves in the warehouse score bonus points.  Each shelf can only hold one type of resource, and the higher shelves score more points.  Getting resources is therefore important, but they have to be the right resources as the warehouse isn’t the only strategy available.  At the Village location, players can also buy Hut cards which depict one resource and give players extra points for that resource at the end of the game (as well as a little bonus).  In the Market, it is possible to “sell” goods (they still go back into circulation though), and buy Contract cards which give points when completed.  Players can only work on one Contract at a time, but once they are finished, they can be worth a lot of points.

Altiplano
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

The Market will probably be one of the most visited locations as players can also buy “Extensions” to their player board.  These are really key to playing the game well, as without them there are lots of resources that are difficult to get.  In addition to the Village and Market, there are five other locations to visit:  the Farm, the Forest, the Mines, the Harbour and the Road.  The first four of these are mostly about using one sort of resource to get another (e.g. using an alpaca and some food to get wool, or using two fish to get stone).  All resources acquired in this way go into the recycling crate to be used on a later turn.  The Road is slightly different as it features a track similar to the Knights track in Orléans, and players’ position on the road dictates how many resource tokens they are allowed to place in the planning phase.  Like Orléans, players don’t have to place their full quota of tokens on action spaces, but these will block spaces for their next turn if they don’t (which can be doubly damaging as it prevents more useful things coming out of the bag).  The Road has to be built though, and it costs a wood and a stone to travel along the path.  Some steps give Corn instead, and this has to be placed in the warehouse, but it can be very useful as it is “wild”, so can help fill those difficult rows where resources are scarce.

Altiplano
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor JackyTheRipper

The game is not terribly complicated in itself, but there is a surprising amount of thinking to be done and, like all great games, players always want to do many more things than they are able.  Blue had played Altiplano with Pink a couple of times, and Burgundy had read the rules and watched a video, so the rules explanation was really for the benefit of Green.  Unfortunately, he was too interested in playing with his phone to pay attention, which might explain why he made such a mess of things later on.  To be fair, everyone was interested in the difference between an alpaca and a llama (apparently llamas have long banana-shaped ears and are roughly twice the size of an alpaca, but alpacas have softer fleece and are a bit more skittish).  We all had a good laugh at the jumping alpaca footage too, but even after all that and everyone else focussed on the game, it was clear Green’s attention was elsewhere.

Altiplano
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Mouseketeer

At the start of the game, everyone gets a character card which dictates their starting resources and gives them a special action.  Green was the Woodcutter, Blue was the Shepherd, Pink was the Miner and Burgundy was the Farmer, giving them access to Wood, Wool, Ore and Alpacas respectively.  Blue and Green started with only three resources (and an extra coin), which didn’t seem to bother Green much.  Blue felt it was a big disadvantage though, especially as it wasn’t clear to her what strategy the Shepherd encouraged.  In the absence of anything better, she started off going to the Market and buying an Extension, and using her Alpaca to make some Wool in the hope that things would become clearer in time.  Green on the other hand, began with the obvious tactic and used his Woodcutter to get some wood.  For Burgundy, the priority was to increase the number of resources he was able to place in each round, so he began by trying to get the stone he needed to start building his road.

Altiplano
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Pink had a two-pronged strategy, planning to go for the three point resources  (especially Silver as he had the Miner which meant he could get plenty of Ore).  This was because they were less difficult to get than Glass, but were still worth a lot, especially if augmented with a Hut bonus.  So that was the second part of his plan: get lots of Hut cards from the Village as they give a small bonus anyhow, and by taking them he was depriving everyone else.  As Burgundy started to build his road, Blue and then Pink decided to join him.  Eventually Green followed suit, but it wasn’t until he was several steps along the road that it became clear that he hadn’t actually been visiting the road to build it.  He explained that he didn’t think it was necessary as the road was different and it had been positioned very slightly out of the line of the circle due to the slightly cramped space.  Everyone else had been visiting properly though, so if he’d been concentrating on the game and watching what others were doing (instead of playing with his phone), it probably wouldn’t have happened.

Altiplano
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Meanwhile, Pink was continuing to collect Huts and Silver, and Blue had another Extension, was buying lots of Cocao and using it to get Glass (or occasionally Food or Cloth).  It was around this time that Green began to join Pink collecting Huts.  Burgundy was just beginning to get his game off the ground when he got into a bit of a tangle.  He had positioned himself to move onto his third step along the Road, but that gives Corn and he really didn’t want to take it yet as it would have to go into his Warehouse.  Since he didn’t have any resources in his Warehouse yet, it would mean he would have to start a shelf with Corn.  The problem with this is that any corn he got later would have to go on that shelf too, rather than padding out any other, scarce resource.  Eventually, Burgundy managed to sort out his problem, but it took a couple of turns and set him back just long enough for Blue to buy the Extension he had his eye on (again).

Altiplano
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor JackyTheRipper

The game was entering its final stages and Blue began filling her Warehouse, trying to keep the size of her bag down.  She was helped by the Extension she’d grabbed from under Burgundy’s nose which allowed her to place an extra item in the Warehouse on each visit.  Everyone else followed, and began worrying about what they needed to maximise their bonus points.  Everyone that is except Green, who was still fiddling with his phone despite the fact that his friend had apparently gone to bed.  The game end is triggered when either there aren’t enough Extensions left to fill the Extension Strip, or one of the locations is completely exhausted.  When Green took the last Glass token, everyone had just one more round to maximise their bonus points.  Blue and Burgundy fought to try to get the last Extension that allows players to draw an extra ten tokens out of their bag and put them straight in the Warehouse at the end of the game.  This time Burgundy won, as Blue discovered that she didn’t need it anyhow because she could use Corn to do the job, and as she didn’t have the right resources in her bag it wouldn’t have helped her in any case.

Altiplano
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Eventually, the game petered out as there was nothing more people could do and players began adding up their scores.  Burgundy had struggled throughout and Pink’s experience and Hut strategy had worked well.  It was very, very close at the front though with just three points in it, and much to everyone’s surprise given how much attention he wasn’t paying, Green finished just ahead of Blue with a hundred and six to her hundred and three.  He was obviously pleased and professed to have liked the game despite not really focusing on it.  It was when Burgundy commented on all the Wood and the Glass that he had, that someone asked where Green had got all the Glass from.  As Green explained that he’d got one from a Hut, it all came out.  Every time he’d taken a Hut card, he’d taken a resource (perhaps confusing them with Boat cards).  He said it wouldn’t really have made much difference, although he wouldn’t have won as he’d have had fewer resources and therefore maybe ten points less, leaving him in second place.  Burgundy pointed out that the advantage he got from all those resources during the game was incalculable, added to which, taking the last Glass ended the game early preventing others from scoring more.  Normally nobody would have minded as everyone makes mistakes from time to time, but as Green had been playing with his phone all evening and not concentrating, we decided there was no cause for a llama, and just disqualified him.

Altiplano
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Learning Outcome:  Playing with your mobile phone means you make mistakes which upset the balance of the game.

24th July 2018

It was a quiet night, and the atmosphere was slightly subdued as our thoughts were with Green who had had a very rough day and therefore wasn’t with us.  Burgundy and Blue were still eating, so Pine, Red and Ivory began punching out Pine’s brand-spanking, new copy of the “Feature Game”, AzulThis week, Azul won the Spiel des Jahres Award, but despite the fact that it only came out at Essen last year, and has been difficult to get hold of for much of the time, we’ve still managed to play it a lot.  Even so, Red seemed to have managed to miss out, so an explanation of the rules was in order.  It is quite simple to play, if a little abstract.  The idea is that players are tile laying artists decorating a wall in the Palace of Evora with “azulejos”.  On their turn, the active player can either take all the tiles of one colour from one of the factory displays (putting the rest in the central market) or take all the tiles of one colour from the market in the centre of the table.  They then place the tiles in one of the five rows on their player board.

Azul
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor JackyTheRipper

Each row can only contain one colour, but players may have more than one row with any given colour.  The catch is that each player only has five rows, each with a set number of spaces, one to five.  Players can add tiles to a row later in the round, but once a row is full, any left-overs go into the negative scoring row.  Once all the tiles have been picked up, players evaluate their board, and, starting with the shortest row, one of the tiles from each full row is added to the player’s mosaic and scored. Players score one point for a tile that is not placed adjacent to any other tile, whereas tiles added to rows or columns score the same number of points as there are tiles in the completed row (or column).  The game continues with players choosing tiles from the factory displays and then adding them to rows, the catch is that as the mosaic fills up, it is harder to fill the rows as each row can only take each colour once.

Azul
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

End game bonuses, keep everyone guessing right up to the end which adds interest and occasionally it can be really nasty when someone ends up with a pile of tiles they can’t use.  Red, Ivory and Pine got going quickly, and once Burgundy and Blue had finished with their supper, they moved to a table near the door to make the most of the draught and started a second game with Black and Purple.  Having played the game quite a bit, nobody pulled their punches:  It was only the second round when Blue had to pick up ten yellow tiles netting her fourteen negative points.  She was fortunate that she didn’t have fourteen to lose, but when Black picked up seven yellow tiles a couple of rounds later he was less lucky.  On the next table Ivory was being nasty to Pine, leaving him with Hobson’s Choice and minus ten points either way.  Playing “dirty” clearly worked for Ivory as he won the first game, though there was some confusion of the scoring, which Pine blamed on his over-hot head.

Azul
– Image by BGG contributor JackyTheRipper

In the other game, there had been a lot negative points and a lot of bonuses, it was all surprisingly close.  In the last round, Purple took the tiles she needed for a full set of reds and Blue had scotched a ten point bonus for Burgundy.  Despite that, Burgundy still picked up a massive twenty-seven points in end-game bonuses, but much to everyone’s surprise he didn’t quite manage to catch Black who finished with a eighty-five.  It had been quite a stressful game, but as usual, we’d all enjoyed it, and discussion moved on to the new release coming in October: Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra, which we are all looking forward to, as long as it doesn’t “do a Queendomino“.*

Azul
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Toynan

Red, Pine and Ivory had started their game first, and with only three players compared with four on the other table, it was no surprise that that also finished first.   As they were looking round for something to play, Red spied Yardmaster, one of her favourite games, in Blue’s bag.  Neither Pine nor Ivory had played it before, but it wasn’t difficult for Red to persuade them to give it a go.  Unlike most other train games, in Yardmaster, players are building a locomotive rather than routes.  On their turn players can do two from the three possible actions:  draw a cargo card (either blind or from the face up discard pile); buy a railcar card from the four face up cards in the middle, or swap their “Exchange Token” with any other one around the table.  To buy a railcar, players pay using sets of cargo cards, so a yellow number three railcar will cost three yellow “oil” cards.  The exchange tokens allow players to use other cargo cards at a rate of two-to-one, however, if a player only had two yellow oil cards but also had two blue “coal” cards and the blue exchange token, they would still be able to buy the yellow number three railcar.

Yardmaster
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor joeincolorado

When buying a railcar, if the number or colour match the previous car, then it must be added to the end of their locomotive.  If not, then players can park it in their personal sorting yard and add it later, when another railcar is being bought and added to the locomotive.  This is the clever part of the game as it allows players to “stack” points in their personal train yard enabling them both to take some risks and strategically remove railcars from the grasping hands of their opponents.  Players score is the total of the numbers of the on the railcars making up their locomotive at the end of the game.  Ivory started out with a really clever move, using a discarded “extra move” cargo card to take another “extra move” card and Pine and Red thought it was all over before it had begun.  It wasn’t though, and despite it being a very short game, Ivory quickly got bogged down trying to buy a high value, “Purple Four”, which gave both Red and Pine the chance to get past him.  Although he was new to the game, it was clearly one that made sense to Pine who finished four points ahead of Red.

Yardmaster
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor moonblogger

As both games finished Blue, Burgundy, Black and Purple moved back to the group’s usual table and the options were discussed.  With seven players and Red present, Bohnanza was always a possibility, but with the heat sapping everyone’s strength, nobody fancied playing anything too strenuous and the deal was sealed.  Everyone is very familiar with this, even Ivory who has played it the least, so as Burgundy shuffled the deck and removed the cocoa and garden beans, everyone else reminded each other of the rules:  must plant the first card in hand, may plant the second as well; turn over two cards from the deck which must be planted before any other deals can be finalised; trading can only be with the active player; draw four cards at the end of a turn; two coins for a third bean field; fields with only one card can’t be ploughed in unless they all have only one card, and don’t forget – you can’t rearrange your hand!

Bohnanza
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor spearjr

As usual with a large number of players, it was a tight game and everyone spent most of it telling people not to trade with everyone else as they were winning.  Three times through the deck doesn’t take long and people don’t get many turns, but it was Blue, Black and Purple who stood on the podium at the end with everyone else within a point of each other.  It was Blue who made up for her dire showing in Azul though, beating Black into second place by a massive two points.  There was still time to play something else, but the heat had clearly got to everyone as the conversation degenerated into a discussion about everyone’s favourite childhood cartoons and how many had inspired boardgames.  The late, great Peter Firmin‘s Ivor the Engine and Noggin the Nog both got a mention, but then age and nationality created a bit of a divide, and the evening ended with Pine crowing, “My name’s Pig and I like cream cakes!”  His head was definitely over-hot.

Pipkins
– Image taken from youtube.com

Learning Outcome:  Children’s TV programs were very weird in the 1970s.

* Queendomino is the follow-on to the 2017 Spiel des Jahres winner, KingdominoWhen the group played it, we found the new game replaced the smooth elegance of the original with a more clunky, complex, long-winded game that was no where near as good as the games it was trying to compete with (much like Tsuro of the Seas a couple of years before).

10th July 2018

While those eating finished, we welcomed an old friend from the Didcot Games Club on his first visit, and began the evening began with a quick game of an old classic, High Society.  Designed by Reiner Knizia, this is a light bidding game with a catch, in the mold of games like For Sale, No Thanks!, Modern Art, and perhaps our old favourite, Las Vegas.  First released over twenty years ago in the designer’s heyday, a beautiful new edition has recently been published by the Cumnor Hill-based company, Osprey Games.  In High Society, everyone starts with the same set of money cards, each numbering from 1,000 up to 25,000 Francs.  The game is all about correct valuations. Players take it in turns to bid for the luxury objets d’art for sale, however, when they increase their bid, they add money cards to their personal bidding pile, and there is no concept of change.  Thus, as the game progresses, players have fewer and fewer bidding options  as they spend their money cards, and are increasingly forced to big large amounts potentially for relatively low value items.  Some of the objects for sale are not so much art, as artless, and can halve a player’s score, lose them points, or even cause them to discard something they purchased previously and the first person to withdraw, “wins”, while everyone else pays whatever they wagered.

High Society
– Image by boardGOATS

The other twist is at the game end which occurs abruptly when the fourth “end game” card comes out.  At this point, the player with the least money at the end is eliminated regardless of the value of their luxurious objects.  Despite the age of the game, a lot of people were new to it, and as the valuation of the luxuries is the key, some people found knowing how much to bid challenging.  As is the case with this sort of game though though, until the scores were actually calculated nobody knew who was winning, especially as the money was tight at the bottom.  Purple and Black (or “The Dark Destroyer as Ivory called him”) had pots of cash, but Red was just eliminated ahead of Yellow.  That left the final count:  Black was by far the most efficient, with a score of fourteen, two more than ivory – quite remarkable given the amount of cash he had left at the end.  It was Yellow though, who having just escaped elimination, finished some way in front with nineteen points.

High Society
– Image by boardGOATS

With everyone fed and High Society over, we split into two groups: one to play the “Feature Game” (which was to be Keyflower) and the rest to play something else.  As always, the issue was what the other game was to be and almost everyone was happy to play Keyflower, but for some, the final decision depended what the other game was to be.  The problem was that the choice of the second game depended on who was going to play it.  Eventually, Purple broke the deadlock when she said she would be happy not to play Keyflower.  With Red having requested it in the first place, and it being Blue’s favourite game, it was just a matter of who would fill the remaining seats.  In the end, Pine, Burgundy and Ivory joined Red and Blue, leaving Yellow, Black and Purple to play Calimala, an are-influence driven, worker-placement game set in the Republic of Florence during the Late Middle Ages.

Calimala
– Image by boardGOATS

This is an unusual game with variable setup to keep it fresh.  The idea is that on their turn, players place one of their workers on one of the twelve worker spaces.  Each one of these is adjacent to two of the nine action spaces. If there is already a worker disk present, on the space, once the active player has carried out their actions, then the other player gets another turn.  This continues until a player places the fourth disk on a stack: actions are carried out for the top three disks and the fourth is placed on the first available scoring tile which is then triggered.  Each player has some worker disks in their own colour and a small number in white.  Coloured disks give players a maximum of two actions on three occasions (i.e. a total of six), while white disks give four actions when played, but none later in the game.  The actions include acquiring resources (brick, wood or marble), building (ships, trading houses or workshops), create artwork, produce cloth, transport cloth, and contribute to the building of the churches.

Calimala
– Image by boardGOATS

The fifteen scoring phases are built on the actions, rewarding players for the amount of cloth they have shipped to a given city or combination of cities for example, or for their contribution to a specific building, or their contribution to the building effort of a given resource.  In each case, the player with the most scores three points, the player in second place scores two and the player in third gets just one point.  In case of a tie there is a complicated series of tie-breakers.  The game ends when either all fifteen tiles have been scored, or everyone has placed all their workers (in which case any remain tiles are scored).  It was another close game:  “The Dark Destroyer” scored heavily for the cloth in the Port Cities (Barcelone, Lisbon and London), while Purple scored for the trading cities (Troyes, Bruges and Hamburg).  Calimala is one of those games that rewards players who score “little and often”, and it was Yellow who managed to score most frequently.  There were a lot of tie-breaks however, particularly between Yellow and Black and it was probably the fact that Yellow did better in these that tipped the balance, as he finished just ahead of Black with a winning score of forty-five points.

Calimala
– Image by boardGOATS

Keyflower was still under way, so the players looked around for something quick to play and picked one of Yellow’s favourite games, Red7.  On the surface, this is a fairly simple game, but underneath it is much more complex.  The game is played with a deck of forty-nine cards, numbered one to seven and in seven different colour suits.  Each player starts with seven cards in hand and one face up on the table.  The player with the highest value card is “winning” because the rule at the start is that the highest card wins.  On their turn, each player can play one card from their hand into their tableau in front of them, or play a card into the centre which changes the rules of the game (a little like Fluxx), or they can do both.  If they cannot play a card or choose not to, they are out of the round.    In the event that there is a tie and the highest face value is displayed by more than one player, the tie is broken by the colours with red higher than orange and so on through the spectrum to violet.

Red7
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The colours also dictate the rules, so any red card played in the centre will change the rules to “the highest” wins.  Similarly, any orange card played in the centre changes the rules so that the winner is the person with the most cards of the same number.  In each case, if more than one player satisfies the rules, the tie is broken by the card that is highest (taking into account both number and colour).  Thus, if the rule is “the most even cards” and there are two players with the same number of even cards in front of them, the player with the highest even card is the winner.  At the end of their turn, the active player must be in a winning position, or they are out of the round. The round continues until there is only one player left.

Red7
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

We last played this a few years back when we made rather heavy weather of it.  Part of the problem was that there were several of us and we were all new to it.  This meant we struggled without someone to lead the way.  With Yellow very familiar he was able to show everyone else how to play.  Inevitably, this meant he won (giving him a hat-trick).  The game was played over five rounds and at the end of each round the player who was left at the end kept their highest cards.  With Yellow so much more familiar with the game than anyone else, it was inevitable that he would be able to build on this, and he made the most of it.

Red7
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

By this time, the next table were just coming to the end of their game of Keyflower, and we had all found it unusually hard going, that is to say we all struggled to find anywhere to score points.  The premise of the game is quite simple:  over four rounds (or seasons) tiles are auctioned using meeples (or Keyples) as currency.  The clever part is that to increase a bid, players must follow with the same colour.  Keyples can also be used to perform the action associated with a tile, any tile, it doesn’t have to be their own, but each tile can only be used three times in each round and, again, players must follow the colour.  The aim of the game is to obtain the maximum number of victory points at the end.  However, the highest scoring tiles aren’t auctioned until the last round (Winter), so players have to keep their options open.  On the other hand, the tiles that are auctioned in Winter are chosen by the players from a hand of tiles dealt out at the start, so players can choose to take a steer from that, or, if things go badly wrong, decide not to include certainly tiles.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

These games are nearly always memorably epic and this was definitely no exception.  The game started of with Ivory declaring that while he loved it, he thought it was maybe “a bit broken” because in his experience, there was one winter tile that would guarantee a win to the player that got it.  Blue and Burgundy thought they knew he was referring to “The Skill Tile Strategy” and agreed it was powerful, but felt it wasn’t over-powerful.  Blue said she thought it was only a guaranteed win if everyone else allowed it.  Pine suggested that playing the game would give Ivory another opportunity to gather evidence to see if this was the case.  As soon as the winter tiles were dealt out, it was clear that Ivory had one of the tiles that rewarded players with lots of Skill Tiles, and everyone knew what his strategy was going to be.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

Spring started and it quickly became clear that it was going to be a fight.  Initially, Blue went for the Peddler which converts yellow Keyples into Green ones, but Pine thought that sounded good, and outbid her.  Next she went for the Miner which gives two coal, upgradable to three, but Red outbid her on that.  Somewhat in error she tried to get the Woodcutter which gives two wood (upgrading to a wood and a gold), but Burgundy outbid her.  Ivory also got in on the act, beating her to the Keystone Quarry, which meant Blue finished spring with no Village tiles at all.  At least she didn’t over-pay for anything though, and it meant she had plenty of Keyples to bid with for Summer, at least in theory.  The lack of tiles meant she didn’t have a strategy though, while everyone else was beginning to build theirs.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

With summer came a whole new set of interesting tiles, for Ivory, that included the Hiring Fair which gives two tiles in exchange for one (upgradable to three tiles for one).  Given that Ivory had telegraphed his plans, and that Burgundy took one for the team during Concordia last time (when he took the Weaver and gave everyone else a chance), Blue felt it was her turn and she made it her business to outbid him, even though this gave her a tile she had very little use for.  As the only one with any meeples to speak of, Blue managed to pick up three boats relatively cheaply too.  She didn’t have it all her own way though, as Pine took the Farrier (extra transport and upgrade ability) and Ivory took the Brewer who turns skill tiles into Keyples.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

Unusually, there had been a lot of bidding for the end of season tiles and it came to a peak in autumn with everyone jostling for position for the final round.  The other tiles were generally less popular, however, and most people were trying to keep their Keyples to themselves where possible, hoarding them for the final round.  And it was in the final round that it all came to a head.  Everyone had to put in at least one tile, but nobody seemed terribly keen to put any in.  Blue had contrived to win the start Keyple at the end of autumn, and started by bidding for the Key Guild tile which had been put in by Ivory.  Inevitably this descended into a bidding war, which Blue won.  The Key Guild tile gives ten points for any five skill tiles, so Blue was finally able to use her Hiring Fair to get points. Having had his plans scuppered, Ivory moved on to messing with Pine’s plans, while Red engaged Burgundy in a bidding war for the Jeweller tile (which increases the value of gold from one point to two), and lost.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

It had been a  really tough game with points really hard to get hold of, and that was visible in the scores.  It was very tight with just six points covering Red, Burgundy, Ivory and Pine and all of them in the low to mid forties.  Blue finished with sixty-one however, thanks largely to her twenty points for her skill tiles and sixteen for her boats.  It had been a very stressful game, that led to a considerable amount of discussion.  Ivory felt the fact that Blue had won using skill tiles confirmed that they were over-powered, but Pine and Burgundy were less certain, so the jury is still out.  Blue said that every game was different and the point was that it was up to other players to stop the person who is making a beeline for skill tiles, in fact, that was exactly what she had done to Ivory, as he put that tile out in winter.  The discussion would have continued, however, it was getting late and people began to leave.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine, Burgundy and Blue felt there was just time for a quick game of NMBR 9.  This little game has been a real success within the group, mostly at the start as a warm-up game, but occasionally as filler too.  Pine took the deck of cards and began turning them over, with everyone else taking the number shaped tiles and adding them to their tableau.  It was another tough, tight game, but Blue managed to squeeze one of her eights on to the fourth level giving her twenty-four points for that tile alone.  Aside from that, the levels and therefore the scores were very similar, so Blue took victory by twenty-one points from Pine in second place.

NMBR 9
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Sometimes it is better to keep your plans to yourself.

26th June 2018

It was an remarkable evening from the very start:  Burgundy had a drink at the pub for the first time in known history, Blue eschewed her usual pizza and chips in favour of the ploughman’s special (both consequences of the heat), and to top it all, a new gamer, Viridian, turned up.  Inspired, while food was still being consumed, we quickly sorted out who was going to play what, and the first game got started with another outing for Echidna Shuffle.  This was a game some of us played at the UK Games Expo and was such a success that Purple and Black brought a copy home.  The game is a very simple, pick up and deliver type game with beautiful pieces.  Basically, each player has a set of three coloured insects and three matching tree stumps.  On their turn, the active player rolls a die and moves the fabulously large echidnas around, trying to use them to pick up their insects and drop them off on their stumps.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

We played Echidna Shuffle last time as the “Feature Game”, but instead of taking the expected  half an hour, it took nearer two!  Although it dragged a little towards the end, everyone had enjoyed it, but it was felt that it might not take quite so long when played with fewer people and with the alternative board: the “Winter Snowball Fight” side, rather than the pretty “Summer Leaf” side.  The “Snowball Fight” board is considerably more complex, with arrows going in lots of different directions giving players more options and opportunities to mess up other’s plans.  The game was tight, but didn’t go on anywhere near as long as last time and was all the better for it.  Everyone managed to get home their first bug reasonably easily, and Pine (the winner last time) was the first to get his second bug home with Purple just behind.  With the more complex patterns on this board it was much harder to keep people away from their third tree stump and despite everyone else’s best efforts, Purple managed to ease her way to her third stump and win the game.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

On the next table the “Feature Game”, Concordia had started, but still had a long way to go, so the group looked for something else to play, and attention fell on Lanterns: The Harvest Festival.  This is a light, pretty, tile-laying game with the tenuous theme of decorating the palace lake with floating lanterns and competing to become the most honoured artisan.  On their turn, players choose a tile from their hand of three and add it to the central palace lake.  Each tile is divided into four quarters, each of which has a colour, red, orange, blue, green, purple, black and white.  Every player then receives a lantern card corresponding to the color on the side of the tile facing them, with the active player receiving bonus cards for any edges where the colours of the new tile match those of the lake.  At the start of their next turn, players can gain honour tiles by dedicating sets of lantern cards, three pairs, four of a kind or seven different colours. Each tile is worth honour points and the player with the most points at the end of the game wins.

Lanterns: The Harvest Festival
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

We’ve played this a few times, so in order to spice things up a little, we added the pavillions from the expansion, The Emperor’s Gifts.  This introduces the concept of the emperor’s pavilion;  players can place up to three pavilions during the game, on “unimproved” lantern tiles.  If the players make a colour match on a pavilion, they earn a gift from the emperor.  Two emperor cards are revealed at the start of each game, so at the start of their turn players can redeem two gifts to activate one of the cards and perform the special action associated with it.  Some of these gifts allow players another avenue to earn more honour whereas other gifts allow players to modify the state of the playing area.  Black, Purple and Pine all went after the highest scoring honour tiles requiring seven cards of different colours, while Green tried to maximise the efficiency of his cards taking the lower scoring combinations instead, but getting more of them.  The addition of The Emperor’s Gifts was a little controversial:  Black in particular was of the opinion that they made a nice little game unnecessarily complicated, while Green felt the base game was quite simple and benefited from the additional elements.

Lanterns: The Emperor's Gifts
– Image by boardGOATS

In the end the scoring was close, with a tie between Black and pine on fifty-three, and another tie between Purple and Green on sixty-one.  Even though the others were scornful of Green’s strategy, it nearly worked, but it was Purple, who had managed to get both her temples out and used the extra bonuses to good effect in the last few turns who won the tie-breaker with two favours to Green’s one.  And with it, she took her second victory of the night.  The “Feature Game” was still going on the next table, but Pine was finding it difficult going as he didn’t have his glasses.  Apparently he’d left them on the roof of his car and only realised once he’d got home and discovered them missing (possibly another consequence of the hot weather).  Green also wanted an early night so the group ended up chatting and Black took to spectating the game on the neighbouring table.  This was Concordia, a longer, strategy game of economic development in Roman times,  We’ve played it a few times on Tuesdays and Fridays (at the Didcot Games Club), and enjoyed both the base game and the Salsa expansion.  This time we used the Egypt map from Concordia: Ægyptus / Creta, the latest expansion.

Concordia: Ægyptus / Creta
– Image by boardGOATS

It was Viridian and Ivory’s first game of Concordia, and it was a while since Blue had played it too, so Burgundy explained the rules. Mechanistically, the game is quite simple:  players have a deck of cards and, on their turn, they play one and do what it says.  That’s all there is to it, but how the cards work together is the key.  Each player begins with a hand of Character cards (the same cards), six colonists and a handful of resources. The game is one of resource production and exploration. Notable cities are connected via land and (in the case of the Egypt map) river routes and each produces one resource.  These cards allow players to move colonists and build settlements, trigger production for all settlements in a given region, introduce more colonists etc., however one of the cards enables players to buy extra cards from the market (a face up display). The cards are played into a personal discard pile where they remain until the player plays their “Tribune” card to get all their cards back.

Concordia
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Space Trucker

Each player also has a warehouse of a fixed size which will hold a maximum of only twelve items, which at the start of the game includes four of their six colonists (two ships and two “Elvis-meeples” – the third ship and third “Elvis-meeple” start the game in Memphis, Uh-huh). So, managing resources and finances is one of the key parts of the game and it is essential that players have the right resources when they need them as there isn’t space to store excess. Another “pinch-point” is the cards; players can only play each card once before picking them all up. They also get income when they play their Tribune card to recover their cards, but as it is dependent on the number of cards they pick up, it is in the player’s interest to play as many cards as possible before collecting them all again – this also needs planning.

Concordia: Ægyptus / Creta
– Image by boardGOATS

One of the characteristics of the Egypt map is how tight it is, making the game a bit of a knife-fight in a telephone box.  For this reason, it is imperative players get a good start and Ivory did just that, quickly commandeering two of the cities that produced fabric.  Before long he had engaged in a cycle of produce and sell, produce and buy and it was clear that everyone else was in danger of a sever trouncing.  Meanwhile, Viridian was building a strong-hold in the Oasis province and was also looking to be very competitive.  Blue had started off well too, heading for the Red Sea.  This is a new feature specific to the Egypt map, which has the ability to generate five Sestertii every time one of the Red Sea ports produce. In a game where money is so tight, this seemed like a really good idea, but Blue was keen to use her ship to build on all the Red Sea harbours first and needed resources to do that which meant she delayed to long to make best use of it and it took Burgundy to show her how to do it.

Concordia: Ægyptus / Creta
– Image by boardGOATS

All the while though, Ivory was getting ever stronger with his vast amount of cloth and then the Weaver card appeared in the card row.  This enables the owner to produce all their cloth at the same time, rather than having to produce them one province at a time.  There was a flurry of people buying cards and suddenly it was quite cheap, though nobody had any use for it except Ivory, as nobody else had any cities producing cloth.  And so, the Weaver sat there, unloved, until Burgundy took one for the team and bought it, much to Ivory’s disgust.  It was expensive though and cost Burgundy dearly.  Ivory couldn’t believe Burgundy had taken the Weaver, and lamented his failure to get it when he had the chance, possibly due to an uncharacteristic misjudgement, or maybe the heat was getting to him too.

Concordia
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor bkunes

The game continued with players building up their production heartlands; Burgundy had a stronghold in the Valley of the Nile, while Viridian took the Farmer and Smith cards enabling him to produce with his wheat and silver cities.  It was about this point that the other game finished, and Black began spectating.  Ivory asked him how he thought he was doing and Black replied he had no idea, “You can never tell with Concordia.”  Ivory pressed some more and Black took a look at his cards and eventually said no.  The most challenging part of the game is the end-game scoring, which is tied up in the Character cards. In addition to a name and an action, each card is dedicated to a Roman God. Each God rewards the card’s owner with victory points at the end of the game.

Concordia: Ægyptus / Creta
– Image by boardGOATS

For example, Mars delivers points for colonists placed on the board. Each Character dedicated to Mars gives two points per colonist, so a player with all six colonists on the board at the end of the game and five Characters devoted to Mars will score thirty points. Thus, since the cards are effectively multipliers, in general, the strategy is to try to excel in one area rather than try to do a little bit of everything, but that is something that is definitely easier said than done.  Black’s intervention sparked a massive spell of card buying.  Burgundy went for “Mercurius” cards that reward players for having different types of production, while Ivory went for “Saturnus” cards which gave points for each populated province or region.  Blue on the other hand, noticed she already had a few “Jupitus” cards and there were lots on the table so made a beeline them and then started building in as many cities as she could.

Concordia: Ægyptus / Creta
– Image by boardGOATS

When Black came back for a second look and Ivory again asked whether he thought he would win, Black was less negative, but still not exactly positive.  And shortly after that, Blue took the last card (and with it the seven point bonus) and everyone tried to eek out what they could from their last turn.  It was tight, and as the scores for each card type were calculated, the lead changed repeatedly.  It turned out that Black’s reticence was well placed.  Although Ivory’s position looked good it was soon clear that his one hundred and twenty-nine wasn’t enough and the loss of the Weaver card had cost him dear.  Burgundy finished with one hundred and forty-five, scoring highly despite not having one really strong area (unusual in this game).  It was Blue who top scored though, with one hundred and fifty-four, thanks largely to her massive seven “Jupitus” cards.

Concordia
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:   Hot weather can have some strange effects…

12th June 2018

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

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Dice Forge
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Dice Forge
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Dice Forge
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

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

29th May 2018

Two of our more sporadic members arrived early and were keen to get as many games played as possible, so the first game was squeezed in between ordering food and its arrival.  As something quick was required and Turquoise hadn’t played it before, NMBR 9 was the perfect choice.  A quick rules explanation was necessary, but there isn’t much to explain so it didn’t take long:  one player turns over the card 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; the higher the tiles are placed the more they score.  It was a  tight game, well, tight between three players, but Pink romped away with it, twenty points clear, thanks to building one more level than everyone else.

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Food was a little delayed, so there was time for another short game, this time an old favourite, 6 Nimmt!.   This is a game that gives players the illusion of control while everything is going well, and then shatters that illusion when it all goes wrong.  It is one of those games that is more difficult to explain than to play, but essentially players simultaneously choose a card from their hand, then simultaneously, everyone reveals their card.  Beginning with the lowest, each card is added in turn to the end of one of the four rows of cards on the table.  If a card is the sixth to be placed in a row, the first five are “won” and the card becomes a new starting card.  The player with the fewest “nimmts” is the winner, though almost as much kudos goes to the person for whom the game goes most wrong  and ends up with the most “nimmts”.  As usual, we played two rounds, and Magenta won the first with a duck, while Purple top-scored with twenty-six.  Purple picked up more “nimmts” than anyone else in the second round too and bravely took the wooden spoon, but the winner is the lowest over two rounds, and when Magenta picked up thirteen in the second round, she left the door open for Turquoise who finished with a very creditable total of six.

– Image by boardGOATS

While Pink, Blue, Magenta and Turquoise munched their pizzas, and Burgundy was attacked his ham, egg and chips, there was just time for those not eating to play a quick game of Love Letter. This game is very, very simple and can be as long or as short as necessary, in fact we hardly ever actually play it to the bitter end (three wins for one person).  Players start with a one card in hand and, on their turn draw a second, then choose which to play.  Each card has a special action and the aim of the game is to be the last player remaining or, in the case of more than one player left standing, to finish with the highest value card.  The first round went to Ivory came out on top, but in the second, Green made a lucky guess and knocked out Ivory in the first turn.  Then Green lost on a comparison, leaving Black and Purple to battle it out to the last card, with Purple the victor.  The third (and as it turned out, final) round ended up in a very unusual situation of being a tie between Green and Purple who both had the same high card.  While checking the rules, Blue shouted across that the winner was the one who had the highest total in front of them, which gave victory to Green.  With one-a-piece (except for Black) it was declared a three-way tie, though Purple was able to claim a moral victory with one win and a lost tie-break.

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy was still wading through his ham, egg and chips, but everyone else was finished, so it was time to negotiate who was going to play the “Feature Game”.  This was to be Taluva, a game we’ve played before, but this time it was to include the Extension.  The base game is a fairly simple tile laying game with a surprising amount of depth.  The idea is that on their turn, players place their tile, then place a building then replenish their hand.  This procedure is to that of Carcassonne, but that is where the comparison ends.  The tiles are a strange dodecagon made of three hexagonal regions or fields, one of which is always a volcano.  When placing tiles, they can be adjacent or on top of other tiles so long as the volcano sits on top of another volcano (the tile must also cover more than one tile and there cannot be an overhang).  Buildings can be placed anywhere, provided that they obeys certain rules. Unfortunately, although the game is beautiful, the theme is a bit sparse making these rules appear very arbitrary which has the consequence that they are quite difficult to remember.

Taluva
– Image by boardGOATS

A hut can be built on any unoccupied level one terrain that isn’t a volcano. On the other hand, an existing settlement can be expanded by placing huts on all adjacent terrains of one type, with more huts placed on the higher levels (two on the level two etc.). There are also three temples and two towers to place which can only be added to existing settlements: temples must be added to settlements covering at least three fields, while towers must be placed on a level three field adjacent to a settlement of any size.  The game ends when there are no tiles left and the winner is the player to have placed the most temples at the end of the game. In case of a tie, the number of towers built counts and then the number of huts. However, if a player succeeds in building all buildings from two out of the three different types before the game end, then he immediately wins the game. On the other hand, any player who squanders his building pieces and is unable to build any more is immediately eliminated.

Taluva with Extension
– Image by boardGOATS

Adding the Extension adds four optional modules:  pieces for a fifth player; two ships per player; a small number of double-hex tiles (rather than triple-hex tiles), and a board that provides a boundary for the building area.  We added all four modules, though we used the largest boundary area so it had only a small impact on the game.  The double-hex tiles are laid out face up and each player can only use one during the game, but as all tiles must be used unless a player checks-out early, the decision when to take play one can be quite important as nobody wants to be left with a tile they can’t use effectively.  Perhaps the most interesting module, though, is the ships.  These are played on “lagoons”, but critically, there is  a limit of one ship per lagoon, and the ships do not connect other areas.

Taluva with Extension
– Image by boardGOATS

From the very start, everyone seemed to get carried away with the idea of trying to build lagoons and place their ships.  Everyone that is except Burgundy, who got his first settlement illegally removed by Blue and spent most of the rest of the game trying to catch up.  Meanwhile, Pink stalled as his computer overheated, trying to come up with a strategy to compete with Ivory’s ever-growing empire.  It quickly became apparent that it would require everyone else cooperating to bring it down.  Burgundy and Blue tried to hatch a plan, but Black couldn’t see a way to prevent Ivory placing his last ship, and wasn’t prepared to spend as long thinking about things as Pink.  And with that, Ivory brought the game to an end; definitely far more “thinky” than such a simple little game really had a right to be.

Taluva with Extension
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, those who did not want to play long or heavy games chose a light game of Best Tree House, an easy game to learn (or so we thought).  This is a fairly simple little card drafting game, but with the rules in German, it was down to Purple to try and remember how to play it and Magenta to attempt some translation.  Players start with a hand of six room cards, and simultaneously choose one to add to their tree, passing the rest of their hand on to their neighbour.  There are some rules about building: firstly, treehouses must be built in such a way that each new level has one more card than the last (giving the tree its shape).  Each card represents a type of room and these are colour-coded to one of six colours. When a player is adding a card of a colour they don’t have in their treehouse yet, it can go anywhere, but if a player is placing a colour that already exists in their treehouse, it must connect to at least one card of matching colour. In this way players have to consider their card placements over the course of the game and try to avoid locking themselves out of options as play develops.  The clever part is the Balance Marker which limits the placement options.  It has three positions and when it is not central, the player cannot build on that side of their treehouse, indeed, they have to build to the other side of center in order to move their Balance Marker back to open up their placement options again.

Best Treehouse Ever
– Image used with permission of
nonsensicalgamers.com

At the end of each round, players score their treehouse based on the trophies on display.  We stumbled through the first game not entirely sure who should chose the scoring alteration cards after each round.  It wasn’t till the end of the game, when Black had found a copy of the English rules online for us that we realised we had made a few mistakes in the way we played. Some of us had also re-used a colour that should not have been used as it had already been blocked by other rooms.  Although the game was a tie between Purple and Turquoise on thirty-four each, we felt we had made such a mess of it that we needed to try again, but properly this time—it was only a short game after all.  The second time round, the game made more sense and everyone made better choices. The choosing of the score alteration cards was certainly trickier this time, but that felt more like a game challenge.  This time the victory went to Magenta, but everyone felt better after the second try and the game seemed a lot fairer too.

Best Treehouse Ever
– Image used with permission of nonsensicalgamers.com

Although time was getting on, it still wasn’t that late, and the “Feature Game” looked like it might be drawing to a close soon, therefore we picked another short one, Dodekka.  This is a simple little push-your-luck card game, with five different suits, Fire, Earth, Air, Water or Ether each with cards numbered 0-4. The game starts with three random cards placed in a line from the draw deck.  On a player’s turn they can either take a card from the deck and add it to the end of the row of cards, or take the card nearest the deck.  If the total of the face values of the cards in the row exceeds twelve, then the player has to take the whole row.  At the end of the game, players choose a scoring suit and add up the face value for that colour, then they subtract the penalty points – one for every card not in their scoring suit.  Purple and Green are old hands at this one, but Turquoise and Magenta had not played it before. Green made a good show of demonstrating how not to play this game as he managed to collect a vast array of cards of all colours.  His positive score was not bad, but he had a shockingly high negative score giving an overall minus one.

Dodekka
– Image by boardGOATS

It was much closer between the other three.  Turquoise got to grips with the idea quite quickly and managed to amass a high positive score of 16, but ended up with a few too many other colours.  In a game that is often won with a score of two or three, her score of nine was excellent and remarkably tied with Purple who scored.  Eclipsing them both, however, was Magenta, who scored positive thirteen like Purple, but amazingly had avoided the traps and ended up with only two other cards to give an unheard-of total score of eleven.  By this time, Taluva had finished, and that group had moved onto another quick game that we’ve not played for a while, The Game.  This was played with the blue cards from The Game: Extreme, but we just ignored the additional extra icons.  In this game, players must try to cooperatively play every card from the deck (numbered two to ninety-nine) onto four piles.  On their turn, the active player must play two cards from their hand on any of the four piles:  for two of the card must be of higher value than the current top card, while for the other two it must must be of lower value.

The Game: Extreme
– Image by boardGOATS

Players can discuss anything they like so long as nobody discloses any specific number information and they can play as many cards as they like on their turn so long as they play at least two (until the deck has been depleted, after which they must play one).  To help eveyone out, there is also the so called “Backwards Rule” which allows players to push a pile back so long as the difference between the card they are playing and the card they are covering is exactly ten.  Once the active player has played their cards, they replenish the missing cards.  The game ends when all cards have been played or the active player is unable to play a card.  This time, a lot of players started with mid-range cards, but once those had been cleared, things progressed quite satisfactorily.  Inevitably, when Burgundy was forced to trash a pile, things began to go wrong, but once he’d played all his cards, with a bit of careful organisation all of a sudden it looked possible, and indeed, as Ivory played his last cards, a four and a three, we beat The Game for the first time in a very long while.

The Game: Extreme
– Image by boardGOATS

While all this excitement was going on, Green had left for an early night and the last three decided to give NMBR 9 another go.  This time, all three players only managed two scoring layers, and, as a result, there was just one point between second and third.  It was Turquoise, however, who had really got a handle on the game this time though, and finished more than ten points ahead of the others with a creditable score of sixty-four.  There was still time left for something shortish, and with six people there wasn’t an awful lot to choose from, so in the end, we went for an old favourite, Bohnanza, also known as “The Bean Game”.  Because most people have played this a lot, in general, it was only a few minor points that really needed clarifying though reminders are always helpful:  hands must NOT be rearranged; active players MUST play the first card from hand and may play the second; the two cards turned over from the deck must be planted before any other trading can be done; fields with only one bean in them cannot be harvested unless all fields only have one bean in them; draw FOUR cards at the end of players turns, and third bean fields cost only TWO coins…

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

The game was very close.  Purple was clearly doing well with lots of lucrative Soy beans, while Black-eye beans were unusually popular.  Black was stuck with a precession of coffee and wax beans, while Blue kept digging up stuff just before she acquired more of them. Burgundy kept complaining that he had a very small pile, but by the end it looked just as healthy as anyone else’s.  Blue bought herself a third bean field at her first opportunity, and, controversially, Ivory followed about two thirds of the way through the second round.  This drew lots of surprised gasps and sucking of teeth, as the received wisdom is that with large numbers of players, the extra field is rarely worth it.  It was impossible to tell whether Ivory would have done better without it, but it was a game of small margins.  In the end, it was a tie, with Blue and Purple both finishing with thirteen points, largely thanks to a very dodgy trade on the final turn.

Bohnanza
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor spearjr

Learning Outcome:  Great games can come from a simple rule set.

15th May 2018

As Blue and Burgundy finished their dinner, everyone else arrived and we began the “Who wants to Play What” debate, and particularly, the “Who wants to play the “Feature Game” tonight” discussion.  The “Feature Game” was to be Caverna: The Cave Farmers, a game that is so similar to Agricola, that it is often referred to as “Agricola 2.0”.  In Agricola, the idea of the game is that players start with two farmers, a large field and a wooden hut and try to build a farm, by planting wheat and vegetables, buying and breeding animals, extending and upgrading their hut, and expanding their family.  It is a worker placement game which takes place over a set number of rounds and in each one, each family member takes one action.  The actions that are available are very limited at first, but more are added as the game progresses.

Caverna: The Cave Farmers
– Image by BGG contributor MisterC

There are three main differences between the Caverna and Agricola, and the first (and most obvious) is the theme.  Instead for medieval farmers, players are dwarves living in the mountains, building a dwarfish community with dogs and donkeys.  This means players are developing their cave system (rather than their hut) and cultivating forest land rather than pasture.  The game play is very similar though with players taking it in turns to place one of the dwarves from their community on one of the action spaces and then carrying out that action.  Again during the game, the number of actions available increases.  Many of the actions are different though as players cultivate the forest in front of their cave and dig into the mountain, furnishing caves for their clan as well as mining for ore or ruby.  This leads to another obvious differences:  Expeditions.  In order to go on expeditions dwarves need ore to forge weapons, and the better armed the dwarf, the more exciting the adventures they can go on and the better the rewards.

Caverna: The Cave Farmers
– Image by BGG contributor saksi

These features are largely cosmetic though, and the real differences are in the game play.  In the advanced game of Agricola, each player is dealt a hand of fourteen cards at the start, which are used to add variety and interest to the game.  There are hundreds of possible cards available and players can either choose from their starting hand, or to make the game fairer, they can be drafted.  The problem with this is that for players who are unfamiliar with the game, choosing which cards might be useful or will work together is a very painful process.  In Caverna, the depth is introduced by the addition of forty-eight different buildings tiles which laid out so players can see what the options are throughout the game.  Critically, there is one set of tiles and they are all used in the advanced game.  This means Caverna doesn’t have the infinite variety of Agricola, but the buildings deliver a more balanced game with a lot of options that are available every time.

Caverna: The Cave Farmers
– Image by BGG contributor saksi

The games also feel very different:  with Agricola the game is always a struggle, with players fighting to balance feeding the family and developing the farm.  At the end of the game, a large proportion of players scores come from fulfilling a checklist of animals and vegetables.  This means that there are one or two main strategies and successful players are generally those who are most efficient in these. In Caverna, there is more variety in the strategies available, but without the feeding mechanism and associated peril of starvation, there is a lot less stress in the game.  All in all, it is generally a lot easier to build a productive engine and more difficult to make a total mess of it in Caverna, while still providing a lot of the same sort of challenges.

Caverna: The Cave Farmers
– Image by BGG contributor haslo

Both Agricola and Caverna take up a lot of table space and a while to set up. As Ivory had never played it before, and even Burgundy, Magenta and Green had not played it in nearly four years, we decided to play the introductory game.  It turned out that this was just as well, as it still took the best part of three hours to play.  By random selection Burgundy got to go first and effectively choose his own strategy, while Green went last and was more or less forced to let his strategy be dictated by what was left over.  The first few turns were the inevitable resource grab—anything and everything that players could get hold of.  Being a cave based game, stone and ore were particularly popular to such an extent that Green found he was struggling to get any by the time his turn came round, which pushed him towards a more Agricola-style farming strategy.

Caverna: The Cave Farmers
– Image by BGG contributor haslo

Although Magenta had played Caverna once before she had little recollection of it as it had been at 3am one Christmas Holiday.  As a result, the game was all a bit of a mystery at the start.  Nevertheless, she got into sheep farming early, but did not neglect her mountain either, regularly chipping away giving her ample opportunities for rooms and mines.  She was struggling outside though:  she managed to get some more animals, but couldn’t get the pastures to keep them in, and without crops she was constantly struggling for food.  She was able to build an oven, but this meant that as fast as her flock grew she had to slaughter them to keep her hungry dwarves fed.  With her lack of outdoor enclosures though, this might actually have been a help.  In the end, it was her mining and interiors that helped give her the best scores and she did eventually manage to cover her whole player board by the end of the game to avoid negative points.

Caverna: The Cave Farmers
– Image by BGG contributor haslo

Ivory and Green were the first to grow their families and, fed up with being last in the turn order, Green used his larger family to good effect and nabbed the start player marker. So the very next turn he was able to grab a wheat and veg while planting a field and pasture at the same time.  Then, with his second dwarf he immediately planted another field and pasture to plant that self same wheat and veg, and thus started his crops growing. He then supplemented this with an improvement tile which enabled him to convert a wheat and a veg into five food which meant he was never short of food to feed his family and was free to expand whenever he was able to mine the mountain and build extra rooms. With crops aplenty, he then set about acquiring animals and fencing in fields, leaving his mining for the last few turns in a frantic dash to increase his final score.

Caverna: The Cave Farmers
– Image by BGG contributor saksi

Burgundy and Ivory, both decided to bet heavily on arming their dwarves and sending them on expeditions to bring back lots of exciting goodies. Several times, Ivory exchanged a precious ruby to play his fighting dwarf out of turn and grab the four-goods expedition before Burgundy could. This strategy served them both well, especially as they were able to keep mining in order to locate more and more ore to help weaponise more dwarves.   Burgundy held on to his gems and managed to build a special room to help them score him more points. He also managed to also cover his whole area and “discovered” two ruby mines.  Ivory neglected his farming and failed to plant anything till right at the end of the game.  Ultimately, that counted against him as he was left him with empty spaces that lost him six points.

Caverna: The Cave Farmers
– Image by BGG contributor saksi

The last two harvests were both interrupted by the special tiles which caused everyone a few problems and in the end it was really quite close. It was Burgundy who took the glory though, a handful of points ahead of Green who was a single point ahead of Ivory.  It was a good game though and everyone enjoyed it—Burgundy professed to prefer it over Agricola too, a game where he reckons he always struggles to do well in.  Meanwhile, the next table started with a big debate about what to play.  Several games were considered, but Black made the mistake of mentioning Keyflower, which is one of Blue’s favourites and thereafter, there was only one game she wanted to play.  Other games were suggested, but for the most part, there was a good reason why these were not ideal, and, in the end, Black pointed out Blue’s interest in Keyflower, and everyone else agreed to play it.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

Everyone had played the game before, but it was a while ago and Pine had little recollection, so a rules run-through was necessary first.  The rules of the game are not terribly difficult to understand, but combine to make a complex game.  Played over four rounds (or Seasons), players bid on hexagonal tiles which are added to the winners’ village at the end of the round.  Bidding is carried out with coloured meeples (or Keyples as they are known in this game), and counter-bids must follow colour, usually red, blue or yellow.  Most tiles are action spaces, so as well as currency for bidding, Keyples can also be used to activate spaces.  Any space can be activated at any time by any player when they place one of their Keyples on a tile, any tile, one in their own village, one in someone else’s, one still being auctioned.  At the end of the round, Keyples used in winning bids are lost, while those involved in losing bids return to their owners and any used to activate tiles are adopted by the tile owners.

Keyflower
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor punkin312

Essentially, that is really all there is to the game, but there are lots of consequences of this simple mechanism and a lot of complexity underlies what players can do with the actions on the tiles.  In Spring, most of the tiles available provide resources of some description, in Summer there are more advanced resource and related tiles, while in Autumn the first of the scoring tiles arrive.  The majority of the scoring comes from the Winter tiles though, and these are selected by the players, who are dealt a small number at the start of the game and choose which to introduce at the start of the final round.  This is particularly clever as it provides players with possible strategies if they choose to follow them.  Invariably, though, the best laid plans go completely awry and players are left choosing which of their tiles will be the least useful to their opponents and hope that others will be forced to play something more helpful.

Keyflower
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Once we’d run through the rules, we laid out the Spring tiles and began.  Keyflower plays two to six players and unusually, it plays well acrioss the whole range, but is different at each number due to the fact that different numbers of tiles are used during the game.  With two players nearly half the possible tiles are removed from play, so the game becomes very tactical rewarding players who can keep their options open and change their plans like a politician changes policy, when they find the tiles they need are not available.  With six players, all the tiles are available, however, with so many opponents lots of competition is guaranteed.  Black pointed out that Keyflower is particurly good with four though as almost all tiles are in play, and there is lots of competition as well.

Keyflower
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

There are other consequences of changes in player number.  For example, at the start of each Season, ships arrive delivering Keyples and Skill tiles; players bid to have first choice of these.  The number of arrivals is dependent on the number of players, however, no matter how many arrive it is never enough, worse, as the game year progresses the number of Keyples arriving steadily decreases.  This is because players are spending less on buying tiles and instead are reusing workers that have been activating tiles.  Regardless, having a means to get extra Keyples is invaluable and it was with this in mind that Black began bidding for the Ale House.  This tile generates another Keyple, each time it is activated, two once it has been upgraded.  Largely on the principle that if someone else wants something, they should not be allowed to have it, Blue started a bidding war.

Keyflower
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Unfortunately for her, Blue won, but at a cost.  This was very much counter to her usual strategy, as she usually avoids overpaying at all costs, often leaving her with the fewest tiles at the end of Spring, sometimes none at all.  Pine on the other hand, fancied the Pedlar, a tile that turned yellow Keyples into green ones, and green ones are Special.  Green Keyples behave in exactly the same way as red, yellow and blue Keyples, except there are none in the game at the start so their extreme scarcity means they are very powerful, especially when bidding. Pine also went for gold and Purple took the Keywood, which gave her substantial wood producing capability and the Workshop which allowed her to produce any resources she wanted.

Keyflower
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Summer and Autumn proceeded in a similar fashion, except that everyone started out much more careful with their Keyples, which meant everyone ended Summer with lots of stuff they didn’t want.  Black finally got his Keyple generating tile when he took the Brewer, however, that needed Skill Tiles and he didn’t have a source of them.  Blue was worse off finishing Summer with a random assortment of boat tiles she didn’t really need.  Pine and Purple did slightly better, taking tiles that convert Skills into resources and transport/upgrade tiles and adding to their gold producing ability.  Autumn saw the advent of round two of the bidding war when Blue started bidding for the Sculptor and Sawmill and Black decided to join in.  It ended with honours even, but there was more to follow.

Keyflower
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

In the final round, some of the strategies became clearer, when the Jeweler, Craftsman’s Guild and the Windmill appeared.  Everyone was hustling for the tiles they wanted, trying to maximise their points for the end of the game.  It was then that Black finally finished the bidding war, taking the Sea Breese boat tile, which gave him only one point, but cost Blue nearly twenty points.  Pine who had struggled throughout the game suddenly found he had lots of points, sixty in total, just two behind Black who finished in first place, thanks largely to the vast number of Keyples he finished with.  On the next table, Caverna still had some way to go and there was still time for one more game, so Pine dipped into Burgundy’s back and brought out Splendor—at least with Burgundy occupied elsewhere, everyone else had a chance of winning for a change…

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

We’ve played Splendor a lot within the group, an awful lot, and have just begun exploring the Cities of Splendor expansion, but after the last game, everyone wanted something they were very familiar with, so we stuck to the base game.  And it is a simple game of chip collecting and engine-building with a very loose gemstone theme. Basically, on their turn, players can take gemstone poker chips, or use chips to buy a card. Some cards have points on them and all can be used like the poker chips to buy cards (but without having to return them). The cards also give players access to “Noble tiles” which also give points. The winner is the player with the most points after someone reaches fifteen points.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

The game play was very unusual this time, because the black Opals came out very late, and on the odd occasion that they did appear Blue pounced on them and immediately reserved them.  This had two effects as it both prevented anyone else from getting them and also ensured that she had a plan each time she had to pick up gemstone poker chips.  The problem was made worse by the fact that three of the Nobles required Opals.  With the strangle-hold she had on the game, it was not surprising that she was the only one to get any Nobles and quickly brought the game to an end finishing with eighteen points, well clear of Pine in second place.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Learning Outcome:  Sometimes winning a bid can be worse than losing.