Category Archives: Games Night

1st May 2018

When we played Mini Park a couple of weeks ago, we had all found it a little underwhelming.  At the time we had felt it might be better with fewer people, so as it was a very short game, while we were waiting for food to arrive, we decided to give it another try. The game is a hexagonal tile-laying game where players choose one character which dictates the end game scoring.  We played the “advanced” game which has slight changes to the scoring and pairs each scoring character at random with a second character.  The latest version of the rules suggest that these subsidiary characters should be kept secret, but we felt that would make things a little bit too random.  We did adopt the simpler in-game scoring though.

Mini Park
– Image by boardGOATS

This time there were only three players, so everyone got two characters instead of one:  Burgundy took the people (Man and Child); Blue took the wildlife (Fish and Bird), and Magenta got everything else (Cyclist and Cat).  Unquestionably it was better this time round.  The Fish was still very powerful, but this time it was largely luck of the draw as Blue took it early and then managed to draw lots of pond tiles, netting her a massive forty-five points, with Magenta getting twenty-two.  The Cyclist was a lot less powerful this time though, and combinations of main character and subsidiary had a much stronger effect as well.  For example, while Blue had two of the strongest main characters, her subsidiaries were the weakest; on the other hand, Magenta and Burgundy had a much more even distribution of points across the board.  The end score was much closer this time, and despite the obvious high Fish score, it wasn’t the foregone conclusion of last time.  Nevertheless, wildlife won in the end with Blue finishing on eighty-six, ten ahead of Magenta in second place.

Mini Park
– Image by boardGOATS

With Mini Park and food over, it was time to play something more serious, and we moved on to the “Feature Game”, Lords of Xidit.  This is a reimplementation of the simultaneous programming game, Himalaya, which has a very unusual scoring mechanism.  The game is set in the fantasy land of Xidit, which is under attack.  The last hope for restoring peace lies with the Kingdom’s noble heirs, the Idrakys, who must travel the Kingdom recruiting brave soldiers and restoring the threatened cities.  The game board is a map of Xidit, depicting the cities, on which double-sided tiles are placed, showing either recruitment or threats.  The game is played over twelve years with each year consisting of players giving their Idrakys six secret orders using a special player board, and then executing them in order.  There are three possible orders for the Idrakys:  moving along one of the three road types; in a city, either recruit a Unit or eliminate a threat (depending which side the tile is showing); or wait.

Lords of Xidit
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The catch is that if the action is possible, it must be carried out, so if the order is move along a green road, that is what it must do.  Similarly, if a player’s Idrakys is in a city where the tile is recruitment face up, they must recruit a Unit.  The Units come in five different types, in order of increasing power: Peasant Militia; Archers; Infantry; Clerics, and Battle Mages which are orange, green, grey, white and purple respectively.  When the city tiles are Recruitment side up, they hold five Units, in predetermined colours, and when recruiting, players can only take one Unit and it must be the least powerful available.  These Units can then be used to defeat a Threats in exchange for Gold Sovereigns, placing their Bards or add Stories to the city’s Sorcerers’ Guild Tower if it is their own.  When a Threat or Recruitment tile is removed, another is drawn from the respective stack and placed on the appropriate city.  If there are insufficient tiles in the Treat stack, then the Titan tiles are turned over, to the Raging Titan’s side—these are super-aggressive Threats that are not associated with a city and can be eliminated in a similar way to other Threats.

Lords of Xidit
– Image used with permission of boargamephotos

At the end of the fourth, eighth and final (twelfth) year, there is a Military census where, beginning with the Peasant Militia (and continuing with the others in turn), players secretly hold a number of Units in their hands before a simultaneous reveal.  The player with the most of Units receive a reward; players are not obliged to reveal all their Units of that type, indeed, bluffing can be a good idea when trying to mislead players at the end of the game.  This is because the final census is followed by a series of assessments, where the weakest player in each one is eliminated until one player is left.  Each assessment ranks the players based on either their Wealth, their level of Influence with the magical community, or their Reputation across the Kingdom.  The last player remaining at the end of the assessment stage is the winner.

Lords of Xidit
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The game looks complicated, but was actually surprisingly easy as long as the Threat/Recruitment piles are managed effectively.  Game play is also very quick, much to everyone’s surprise: it never took too long to work out what the six actions were going to be and even when someone took a bit longer than usual it was never excessive.  Carrying out the actions was very quick too—players barely had time after completing one action before it was time for the next.  As such this game does not suffer from “Analysis Paralysis” and there never seemed to be any down time, unusual for a game like this and a welcome change.  The other curiosity was that even though there is never anything hidden (although items are hidden behind a players screen, they are collected in the open, so it is entirely possible for players to keep track of how each other are doing) no-one had any real idea of who was actually winning.

Lords of Xidit
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

There were the occasional blunders as someone miscalculated and carried out the wrong action (such as going to a city to recruit just after someone took the last unit), or as in the case of Pine towards the end, looking at the wrong Idrakys counter when working out route and actions for the turn.  On the whole though, everyone was were able to plan the sequence of commands each “year” without difficulty.  The key to this game, however, is probably keeping a close eye on which Threat/Recruitment tiles are due to come out in the next couple of turns to try to plan an efficient route and arrive at the right city at the right time.

Lords of Xidit
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The unique elimination based scoring system worked well, keeping everyone guessing who would win right to the end. By the end of the game, Green and Black had both managed to build all their towers (the final round of elimination scoring), while Pine had the least. The Bard tokens (the penultimate elimination round) seemed relatively close, but Burgundy and Pine had both been fighting over the hidden central citadel so that outcome was unknown.  Before these two assessments could be addressed, players have to survive the elimination round for gold coins, and these are hidden.  Green had got off to a good start and gained a lot of gold at the beginning of the game; given his strong position in with respect to towers and bard tokens on the board he looked like the front runner. Unfortunately, he had neglected to collect gold later in the game and ended up with the least, just one less than Black, so was out in the first elimination round.

Lords of Xidit
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor duchamp

Then there was a discussion as to whether Green’s Bard tokens should be taken off the board and disregarded now he had been eliminated.  The answer didn’t seem to be in the rules, but it was at that point that we realised we should have scored everything first and then gone through the elimination checks so Green’s bard tokens remained.  Towards the end of the game, there had been a flurry players placing Bard tokens and, as a result Green again had the lowest Bard score, but since he had already been eliminated, Black was the next to go, leaving only Pine and Burgundy in the Sorcerers’ Guild Tower elimination round.  We knew that Black and Green had the most, but as they had both been eliminated it the best of the rest, and that was Burgundy. This was a surprise to everyone as he and Pine would have been knocked out much earlier, demonstrating that playing to win (i.e. concentrating on the final elimination) is not the way to play this game.

Lords of Xidit
– Image by BGG contributor JackyTheRipper

Overall everyone really enjoyed it:  it was fast, fun and there were a few surprises too. Nobody of us felt it was award-winning, but it was certainly one we would play again, and probably more than once.  Meanwhile, on the neighbouring table, everyone else was playing Castles of Mad King Ludwig, a tile laying game where players are building an extravagant castle for King Ludwig II of Bavaria, one room at a time.  Rooms selected randomly are sold off in batches with one player, the Master Builder, setting the prices for each room in the batch.  Payment is made to the Master Builder (similar to the auctions in Goa), but as they are the last player to buy, there is a large element of “I divide, you choose” (similar to games like …Aber Bitte Mit Sahne).  Thus, the idea is that the Master Builder wants to arrange the tiles such that rooms desired by the other players are expensive, but generally not too expensive, and similar to Goa, having a lot of money is powerful, but when you spend it, you give that advantage to the active player.  The other interesting mechanism is controlling the room layout so that rooms that work well together are daisy-chained yielding the most points.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor punkin312

When a room is placed, points are scored for that room, but also the room it is attached to.  Most of the points are dependent on the type of room they are connected to, so, a large purple living room with (say) six doors, will score every time a room is added to it.  If it scores two points for every “blue sleeping room” that is connected to it, it will score two points when it is first placed (next to a sleeping room, but four when the next is added to it, then six and so on.  However, the difficult part is trying to find six blue rooms that also score when they are placed next to a purple living room.  Balancing the synergistic effects are really what make the game interesting.  When a room is completed, there is a bonus, this can be extra points or some other advantage like an extra turn or money etc..

Castles of Mad King Ludwig
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

At the end of the game there are also bonus points for the player who best fulfils the requirements for the “King’s Favours” as well as points for personal bonuses.  The game uses a card-deck to determine which rooms are drawn and when it is exhausted it triggers the end-game.  One last round is played before all the bonuses are calculated and the winner is the player who finishes with the most points.  Although we played this quite a bit a couple of years ago, it has been neglected of late, and as a result, we had to recap the rules.  The problem with it is, the scoring when rooms are placed is a little counter intuitive, so a bit like Roll for the Galaxy, it is a game we often struggle with at first.  In fact, when it first came out, Blue and Magenta played it a few times, but only realised how the game “worked” when they played with a new player who just intuitively understood how to score heavily, and gave them a trouncing.  Although Blue had somehow forgotten again, it turned out that Magenta had not.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor punkin312

Blue started off buying a tile in error and thereafter was forced down a orange utility room strategy:  these tend to give fewer points when placed, but give bonus cards that score at the end of the game.  Clearly it was a game that wasn’t going to go well for Blue as, forced to which card to keep, the first card she discarded gave bonus points for money, and after a couple of rounds, it was clear this would have scored heavily for her if she had kept it. Purple had also played the game a few times before and also suffered the mental block associated with scoring.  She tried to build a lot of downstairs rooms and gardens, but again wasn’t able to get the room placement scoring to work for her.  Ivory was completely new to the game, and could be forgiven for not grasping the subtleties, but he was still in second place before the end game scoring and was clearly collecting blue sleeping rooms for an end-game bonus.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Early on, Magenta had managed to place a large purple Vestibule that scored four points for every adjoining yellow food room.  The key is, not only does each food room score four points, but they score every time another room is added.  With four doors and three of them leading to food rooms, this room alone scored her more than twenty-five points, which might have explained why Magenta was nearly twenty points clear before the end game scoring.  The final round was triggered when we ran out of room cards and that was followed by the Favour scoring.  Purple scored best here, picking up points in every category, but doing particularly well for her downstairs rooms.  The final scoring was the orange bonus cards.  Everyone thought that this was where Blue would make up ground as she had a fist full of them.  Unfortunately for her, none scored very well and some didn’t score at all.  Magenta had managed to pick up a few at the end of the game which scored well, meaning she finished some twenty-five points clear of everyone else who finished in a little group with a spread of just three points, with purple just beating the other two to take second place.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Both games finished at around the same time, and there was just enough time for something fun and not too long, so we opted for another game of one of our favourite, relaxing, light dice-chuckers, Las Vegas.  Despite the fact that we play this game a lot, Ivory had somehow missed out.  We thought it might be because he often leaves early and we often play it at the end of the evening.  Since he was sticking about this time, we all felt an introduction was essential.  The rules do not sound inspiring, and Ivory didn’t look terribly impressed.  On their turn, each player begins by rolling their dice, then assigning some of them to one of the six casinos.  Each casino is numbered one to six and has a jackpot drawn at random from a deck of money that comprises anything from one to eight notes; the player with the most dice in a casino takes first choice, then the second and so on.

– Image by boardGOATS

There are two little rules that make the game work: firstly, players must place all the dice of one number, and secondly, before any money is handed out, any dice involved in a draw are removed.  It is these rules that make the game interesting, raising the decisions above the trivial.  Although the base game only plays five, we add the Boulevard expansion, which adds more players, more high value notes, and big dice, which are “double weight” so increase the stress when bidding.  We also add the Slot Machine, where each number can be placed once, but only once, so it gives players another nice alternative to the conventional casinos.  The rules the player with the most money after four rounds is the winner, but the fourth round often drags, especially if you don’t feel you are in with a chance, so we generally house-rule it to three rounds. Despite his obvious misgivings, it wasn’t long before Ivory was chucking dice with everyone else and having great fun.  Unusually, Green, Blue and Burgundy scored quite well, but Pine thought he had it with his $370,000 until Ivory revealed is massive $440,000.  Definitely beginners luck…

Castles of Mad King Ludwig
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ckirkman

Learning Outcome:  Sometimes experience pays, other times beginners benefit.

17th April 2018

With Burgundy and Blue waiting for food, they decided to entertain Red with a quick game of NMBR 9, making it’s appearance at four consecutive games nights and starting three, something of a record.  Somehow despite this extended run, Red had managed to avoid playing it, so after a very quick run-down of the rules, we started.  The game is really very simple indeed, with players simultaneously drawing tiles and adding them to their tableau. Tiles can be placed on top of other layers as long as they don’t overhang and overlap more than one tile.  Each tile depicts a number and the more tiles it sits on, the more points it scores.  The whole game is typically over in about ten to fifteen minutes, and in this case it was quite tight between Blue and Burgundy, though Blue finished on ahead thanks to a lot of high-scoring tiles on her third level.

NMBR 9
– Image by boardGOATS

Although it has proved to be a highly popular filler thanks to it’s simplicity and minimal set up time, Red was not so impressed because she felt it had seemed to offer more when she had watched everyone else playing.  She struggled to explain what she meant, but it was clear that she was a little disappointed though that was probably largely due to her expectations.  By this time, food had been dealt with and everyone else was arriving, and as the “Feature Game” was to be be Mini Park, another quick filler, we got on with deciding who would play it.  When Ivory’s comment, “I’ll play that, but it depends on what else is on offer really…” was challenged, he added, “Well, if the alternative is Kingdomino, I’d rather try Mini Park!”  Since Black had chosen that moment to wave Kingdomino around, that pretty much settled them as the two games and uncharacteristically, almost everyone jumped on the Mini Park band-waggon, leaving Black and Purple to play Kingdomino alone.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

The group doesn’t usually go for two-player games and as Black and Purple get lots of opportunity to play games like this together, normally someone would join them.  However, in this case, both games were short and Kingdomino can be a bit variable with three due to the tiles that are left out, so we just got on with it.  Kingdomino was the Spiel des Jahres in 2017 and has been very popular within the group as a light filler, so has hit the table quite a bit in the last year.  The game is quite simple in that players take it in turns to choose a “domino” and add it to their “Kingdom”.  The clever part of the game is that the tiles are numbered with players who choose the high numbered (and therefore more valuable) dominoes taking their turns later in the next round.  In the two player game, players get two turns per round, so their first turn can be used to try to set up the second turn.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

Unfortunately, Black and Purple forgot about the other key difference when playing a two player game:  instead of 5×5 arrays, each player is building kingdoms consisting of 7×7 arrays of “squares”.  They suddenly noticed they had more tiles left than they had spaces and realised their error, so decided to carry on playing anyhow.  Purple concentrated on getting corn fields and then sea and finally forests, while Black just tried to build areas of everything and make sure he was able to place all his tiles.  It was very, very close, but despite the fact that she had to forfeit some tiles and failed to pick up her bonus for completing her grid, Purple just pinched it by a single point.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, on the neighbouring table, everyone else was learning the “Feature Game”, Mini Park, another quick-playing, tile-laying game.  On the face of it, this has a lot in common with Carcassonne, played with two face up tiles to choose from.  In contrast, however, the tiles are hexagonal which gives a little more variability and once during the game, players choose one character which dictates the end game scoring.  We played the “advanced” game which has slight changes to the scoring and pairs each scoring character at random with a second character.  In our game, for example, the Black Man in the Smart Hat was paired with the Yellow Fish, so the player who chose the Man (Ivory), got half the points that the player who chose the Fish got for that character (Blue).  It was felt that this would add an interesting dynamic to the game as it would take on some aspects of a semi-cooperative game.

Mini Park
– Image by boardGOATS

Unfortunately, nobody realised at the start just how powerful (or not) each of the characters were and in that game it turned out that some were really very powerful indeed.  For example, at the start of the game everyone was encouraged to place fish next to other fish, as this was the only way to make them pay when they were being placed.  However, this left a large fish pond with lots of fish and when Blue (who was the first to get to the Yellow Fish Marker) and then Ivory added to it, it yielded a massive twenty-four points.  Although this was the most lucrative character, the Green Man on a Bicycle (claimed by Pine) was not far behind with eighteen points.  This was thanks largely to the fact that Pine and Blue (who had the Bicycle as her subsidiary character) kept drawing road tiles and extending the road the Bicycle was on, trying to scupper Ivory’s plans to build roads with benches.

Mini Park
– Image by boardGOATS

Although Burgundy picked up the most points for tile placement, the majority of the points come at the end of the game and, as he was last to pick his character, Burgundy was penalised when he ended up with the relatively low scoring White Bird (ironically partnered with the Orange Cat that also failed to score highly).  Pine scored well for his Green Cyclist, but did not pick up enough subsidiary points from the White Bird.  Ivory’s subsidiary scored highly (Yellow Fish), but much to his chagrin the scoring for his Black Man in a Smart Hat was severely restricted by Pine and Blue’s tactics. Blue, however, did well on both her primary goal (Yellow Fish) and her subsidiary (Green Cyclist), giving her more than enough compensate for a poor score on the tile placement, and she finished some way in front.  If everyone had realised the implications of how the scoring worked, it was quite likely that they would have played differently and it would not have been such a landslide, and chatting afterwards, it was obvious that that aspect coloured people’s opinion of the game.

Mini Park
– Image by boardGOATS

The fact that everyone had only one shot at a character was meant it felt that all a player’s eggs were in one basket.  This was made worse by the fact that with only one shot, the challenge was when to choose a character:  too early and everyone else would be able to obstruct, too late and only the dross is left with not enough time to improve the situation.  That said, it was not a long game and with only three players it would be very different as each player gets two opportunities to take character cards.  Furthermore, it seems the rules are still being developed, for example, the latest version of the online rules state that the subsidiary character cards are placed face down and thus kept secret until the end of the game and the tile placement scoring has been simplified too.  Given that it is such a short game, we should certainly give this one another go sometime, perhaps with the new rules-set.

Mini Park
– Image by boardGOATS

Kingdomino and Mini Park finished at much the same time, which meant i was possible to re-balance the number of players a little, but not before the usual shenanigans regarding who wanted to play what.  Although neither mentioned it by name, Burgundy and Ivory clearly had an eye on giving Yokohama another go.  Time was marching on though and Yokohama isn’t a short game, and even without any rules explanation there is a lot to setup.  The 10th Anniversary Edition of Puerto Rico was also available though, and there was just time to squeeze in a game provided it started straight away.  So as Ivory had somehow managed to avoid playing it thus-far, we felt it was essential that we rectified the situation and Burgundy and Ivory started setting it up.  With Blue joining Burgundy and Ivory, that left four people looking for something interesting to play, so Blue suggested Bärenpark.  This another fairly light tile laying game, this time set in a bear park.

Bärenpark
– Image by boardGOATS

Each player starts with a plot that will become their park, and the idea of the game is that on their turn, players place a tile from their personal supply on this plot.  Each starting plot has a different array of symbols on some of the spaces, indicating different types of tiles.  When these symbols are built over, the player takes more of the appropriate tiles from the general supply to add to their personal holdings.  Some of these are small animal houses, some are larger enclosures and some are very small amenities like toilets and children’s play areas.  Each tile also has a Construction Crew and a Pit providing the foundations for a Bear Statue.  The Construction Crew allows the player to take an expansion board for their park, providing a new plot which they place next to their park.

Bärenpark
– Image by boardGOATS

In contrast to the rest of the spaces, the Pit cannot be built upon in the usual way and is the last space to be covered in each plot; once every other space in a plot is covered, the owner can claim a statue from the display and place it over the Pit.  These statues provide points, with the statues providing a diminishing number as the game progresses.  Other sources of points include the animal houses and enclosures, but the number of these are limited and again, the earlier tiles are worth more.  The small amenity tiles do not score points, but they allow players to fill in those awkward, difficult-to-fill, small gaps, enabling them to finish a plot and build a statue.  Even these are limited, though to a lesser extent, so players need to be on the watch in case they are caught out.  The game ends when one player fills all of their four plots and then everyone adds up their scores.

Bärenpark
– Image by boardGOATS

After a little grumbling about koalas not being bears (the rules explain that “people like koalas, so we will be including them in our park!”), and a brief explanation from Blue, everyone started building.  It was a fairly close game, but Black finishing with eighty-eight, seven points ahead of Pine in second place.  Asked what he thought of it, Black’s comment was that it was a very simple game, but the group had been playing the basic game.  The “Expert Variant” has achievement tiles which provide another source of points and make the game far more interesting for experienced gamers.  Red, on the other hand, enjoyed the game much more, somehow finding in it the tessellation building thing that she had struggled to describe, but she had felt was missing in NMBR 9.

Bärenpark
– Image by boardGOATS

Puerto Rico was still going, so the group moved on to one of Purple’s current favourites, Cat Lady.  This is a light card game that got an outing last month as well.  The game is a very simple a card drafting game, similar in feel to Sushi Go!, though with a very different drafting mechanism.  On their turn, the active player takes all thee cards from one row or column in the three by three grid, marking the row they took with a kitty meeple.  The cards are replaced from the draw deck and the next player then takes a different row or column.  Cat cards go in front of the owner who must feed them before the end of the game or they score negative points.  Any food cards yield cubes which can then be placed on the face-up cat cards to show they are being fed.  Similar to Sushi Go!, there are also cards that score for the player with the most cards (cat “costumes”) and give players with the fewest negative points and sets that players can collect (toys).

Cat Lady
– Image by boardGOATS

Players can also collect catnip cards which score minus two if the player only has one at the end of the game, or one or two points per cat if they have more.  There are also lost cat cards, and discarding a pair allows players take a two victory point token or one of the three stray cat cards which are particularly useful because they have special powers.  The tricky part is making sure that the food a player gets matches the cards, because cats are fussy creatures and some like tuna, while others will only eat chicken…  At the end of the game, players score points for each happy well-fed cat and for their toy collection with extras if they have the most cat costumes.  Unfed cats, having the fewest costumes, and the largest surplus of food will give players negative points.

Cat Lady
– Image by boardGOATS

This time everyone went for different approaches with differing degrees of success.  For example, Purple went for costumes and Pine went for toys; Black and Red both went for lots of cats and catnip, but Black failed get enough catnip to score, and actually ended up with negative points.  It was very close between Pine and Red in the end, but Pine who had fewer cats (but very contented ones thanks to all the toys they had to play with), just beat Red with her larger number of cats that were all high on catnip.  Time was getting on and Puerto Rico was just coming to an end giving them just enough time to watch the last few rounds.

Cat Lady
– Image by boardGOATS

Puerto Rico was the number one rated game on the BoardGameGeek website for over five years and still commands a lot of respect though it has significant flaws.  The problem is that there is very little randomness in the game which is great, but when a game like that is played a lot people become “experts” and there is a perception that there are right and wrong moves.  In Puerto Rico, this point is exacerbated because of the way the game is played.  In each round, beginning with the Governor, players take it in turns to chooses an action.  Every player carries out the action, but the player that chose it gets a “privilege”, i.e. a bonus.  The catch is that players that players need to watch what everyone else is doing in order not to give an advantage to an opponent, or worse, give one opponent an advantage while making life difficult for someone else (also known as “King making”).

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

In Puerto Rico, players are plantation owners in seventeenth century Puerto Rico growing up to five different kind of crops: corn, indigo, sugar, tobacco, and coffee. Each plantation owner must try to run their business more efficiently than their competitors. First they must grow their crops then they must store them efficiently. Finally, players must sell their crops at the right time or ship their goods back to Europe for maximum benefit. In order to do this most effectively, the plantation owners must make optimal use of the arriving colonists and develop the capital city, San Juan, building useful amenities.  Thus, the aim of the game is to get victory points which are awarded for buildings and for shipping goods. However, to build, players need money, and before they can ship goods, players need to be able to produce the goods with a plantation, and where necessary process them in the appropriate building.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

As Ivory had not played the game before, Burgundy was Governor for the first round and Blue went second, giving him a little thinking time before he had to choose an action.  This has consequences for the setup, with Blue and Burgundy starting with an indigo plantation and and Ivory starting with a corn field.  At first, Ivory couldn’t see why corn might be useful as selling it doesn’t give any money, however, he quickly realised that it doesn’t need a production building and therefore is quicker and easier to produce, making it ideal for shipping.  Blue joined him and the pair were soon filling boats as often as they could.  Burgundy meanwhile, had gone for the high value coffee.  This took him a little while to get going, but once he had a coffee roaster he was able to sell his first batch of coffee and for a short while looked like he was going to storm ahead as he added sugar to his portfolio.  Unfortunately, for him, once he had spent his coffee profits, Burgundy got a little stuck as Blue and Ivory worked together very efficiently to make life difficult for him.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

To begin with, Burgundy was able to ship his coffee, but as it is a high value produce, he really wanted to sell it and use the profits to build.  That wasn’t possible though as the Trading House already had a coffee crate in it and until there were four different commodities there, no more coffee could be sold.  Burgundy had been able to commandeer a ship for coffee, but once that was full, Burgundy was in an even worse position, because between them, Blue and Ivory were able to make it very difficult for Burgundy to ship two different goods types.  The reason why this caused him problems was because of the Boston Tea Party Rule:  after shipping, players are only able to keep one crate and anything else is lost over the side.  Thus, to begin with, Burgundy was forced to ship when he didn’t want to, and then lost valuable stock when he couldn’t ship.  And all the while, Blue and Ivory were collecting victory points for shipping their corn and a little sugar or indigo.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory had got off the mark quite quickly buying a Hacienda early on.  It wasn’t till much later in the game when Blue bought a second that we realised we’d been playing it wrong and instead of choosing which extra plantation tile he got, he should have been drawing them blind.  This had two consequences:  firstly it gave Ivory a small, but potentially significant advantage, and secondly, it meant we didn’t run out of plantation tiles quite as quickly as we would otherwise have done.  It couldn’t be fixed though, so we just carried on and as long their strategies were aligned, Blue and Ivory were worked well together.  It wasn’t long before Ivory moved on to the next stage of his development and first built a Factory and then started raking in the cash every time he produced.  Blue then built herself a Warehouse and upped her shipping rate and starting raking in the victory points.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

The game was coming to a close when the Big Question came up:  Burgundy asked whether players were allowed to buy more than one large building.  Both Burgundy and Blue had a vague recollection of the rule, but it couldn’t be found in the booklet.  Ivory graciously switched his strategy and did something else, though checking later proved that was wholly unnecessary.  The game came to a close as we ran out of  on victory point chips and colonists (something that would have happened a lot earlier had we realised there should always be a minimum number arriving on the Colonists Ship), and all that was left was to tally up the scores and it was very tight indeed.  Although he had lots of buildings, Burgundy’s shipping had been effectively stymied by Blue and Ivory and the shortage of colonists had also made things a lot more difficult for him than it should have been, despite all that though, he wasn’t far behind Blue and Ivory.  In the end, Ivory won by a single point.  There was no need to re-count as he would have undoubtedly won by far more if he had built that second large building, though perhaps that off-set some of the advantage he had received early on with his Hacienda.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Sometimes it is best to play the “basic” game to get a feel for it before trying the advanced rules, but other times, it just feels trivial.

3rd April 2018

Blue and Pink arrived first and, as they were early, they decided to get in a quick game of NMBR 9, while they waited for food and more people.  This is a game which is rapidly becoming one of our go-to fillers primarily thanks to it’s almost non-existent setup time.  This time, Blue turned over the cards, and Pink scratched his head a lot as he tried to work out what to do with his 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.  This is essential as the higher the tiles are placed the more they score.  Unfortunately, the rule Pink forgot about was that tiles must be placed such that at least one edge touches a previous tile on that level.  “Cheating” didn’t do him much good though, as Blue won by more than thirty finishing with a massive eighty-one thanks largely to placing a seven on the fourth tier.

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Although a few of our regulars were missing (Green, Red and Ivory), they were ably replaced by a couple of our irregulars in Pink and Turquoise.  So while we made sure there were no more stragglers and Burgundy finished his inch thick slice of ham, we played another quick filler game, this time of 6 Nimmt!.  This has long been a favourite in the group, thanks to the fact that it plays a lot of people coupled with the hilarious way that a tenuous control of the game can catastrophically turn into chaos.  It is one of those games that is more difficult to explain than to play, but essentially each player has a hand of cards and simultaneously everyone chooses one to play.  Simultaneously, everyone then reveals their card and each card is added in turn to the end of one of the four rows of cards on the table.  Beginning with the lowest each card is added to the row with the highest number that is still lower than the active card.  The snag is, if anyone’s card is the sixth to be placed in a row, the first five are “won” and and the card becomes a new starting card.

– Image by boardGOATS

As well as a face value (one to a hundred and four), each card also has a “nimmt” value: most are one, but there are some as high as seven.  The player with the fewest nimmts at the end is the winner.  It has been somewhat neglected of late though, and has only been played once this year by the group, and then only just (it was the early hours of New Year’s Day), so it was definitely time for another outing.  Normally we play two rounds, dealing out approximately half the deck each time, but with so many of us all wanting to play, we decided to go for a single round and deal ten cards each.  This time Black and Purple were fighting it out for the unofficial wooden spoon, but that honour was reserved for Turquoise with a quite fantastic thirty-one.  At the other end, both Burgundy and Blue thought they might have got it with just three and one respectively, but it was Pink with a nice round zero who pipped them to it.

– Image by boardGOATS

Once the food and the nimmts had been dealt with and it was clear that no-one else was coming, the inevitable squabble began over who wanted to play the “Feature Game”.  This week it was Fabled Fruit, a very light worker-placement and set collecting card game with a “Legacy” element to it.  As such, the game is very simple, but develops as you play.  The idea is that the game starts with six “Locations”, each of which is formed by a deck of four cards.  On their turn the active player moves their meeple to one of the locations and either carries out the action shown on the cards in the deck or buys one card for the amount shown.  The locations provide access to “fruit cards”, which are the currency in the game and are used to buy the location cards.  Each location has a different action, for example, the first location enables the active player to draw two cards from the top of the fruit deck.

Fabled Fruit
– Image by boardGOATS

On the other hand, Location Five allows the active player to draw cards until they have a hand of three—useful if they started with no cards, but not so helpful if they had a handful. At Location Six, the active player can turn over as many cards as they like, keeping all the unique cards they turn over, but go bust in a Port Royal sort of way if they turn over a duplicate card.  Since there are five different fruits, this action quickly becomes increasingly risky.  There are other actions, some of which add a bit more interaction, like giving a player a banana card and getting two cards in return or drawing one card from the fruit deck and then exchanging three fruit cards with another player.  A little more interaction comes from the fact that visiting an occupied location costs a fruit card: since location cards typically cost four or five fruit cards, this is expensive, especially with low player counts, but playing with the full complement makes this almost unavoidable from time to time.  Aside from this though, there is very little interaction and the actions for the starting locations are quite mild.

Fabled Fruit
– Image by boardGOATS

The interesting part is how the game develops, since a new card is added to the game every time a location card is bought.  Each location holds just four cards, so for every cards that are bought, a new location is introduced, and once all the cards for one location have been bought, that location and therefore that action is no longer available.  The really clever part of the game is the “Legacy” element:  the end game condition, becomes the start condition for the next game.  For this reason, we decided to play the game three times so we could see and appreciate how it evolves.  The rules were easy enough to explain and Turquoise, Magenta and Burgundy were keen to give it a go, so they joined Blue and Pink leaving Black, Purple and Pine to find something else to play.  It wasn’t long before the Fabled Fruit players were happily collecting fruit cards and occasionally turning them into juice by buying location cards.

Fabled Fruit
– Image by boardGOATS

It is a game of very fine margins, though and it wasn’t long before almost everyone had two Location cards tucked away and were fighting for one more to win.  In truth it wasn’t a long fight as Pink made his experience with the game tell and took the first round.  Then instead of resetting the game, we checked we still had the right number of cards out, and started again with the new set up.  So this time, we started with the market which had been introduced during the first round.  This is a face up display of five cards that players can interact with.  The Locations that were available allowed players to trade cards with the market, but also trade one strawberry, for any three non-strawberry fruit cards in the market.  This hugely increased the value of strawberries and, with the high value of pineapples (which could be traded for five from the deck) and bananas (which could be used to take cards off another player), it meant that players were holding more and more cards.

Fabled Fruit
– Image by boardGOATS

This all changed in the third round, however, when Location Ten appeared which allowed the active player to take two fruits from the player with the most cards.  Nobody liked falling victim to that one very much, but everyone took advantage where they could.  With just Pink taking the second round as well as the first, it was all about trying to stop him taking a clean sweep.  In the end it was really tight.  Everyone gets the same number of turns, so when it was clear that Pink was once again in a position to trigger the end by purchasing his third card, it was a question of whether anyone could stop him.  Although Turquoise who started the round had been steadily improving, there was nothing she could do, nor Burgundy who went next.  As Pink then played his master-move and picked up third Location card, the question changed to whether Blue and Magenta would be able to join him.  Both had enough cards, but but Magenta, was unfortunately standing on the only card she could buy, so in the end, the final round was shared by Blue and Pink.

Fabled Fruit
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, on the next table, Black, Purple and Pine had started off with Azul.  This, like NMBR 9, has been an immensely popular game since it first appeared on the group’s radar at Essen last year.  The game is almost entirely abstract, with a very loose “artists decorating a wall in the Palace of Evora” theme, but somehow, that doesn’t seem to matter as the game play is good and the production values very high.  In summary, 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 they took in one of the five rows on their player board.  The catch is that although they can add more tiles to a row later in the round, once a row is full, any left-overs go into the negative scoring row. The round ends when all the tiles have been picked up, and one tile from each full row is added to the player’s mosaic and scored.

Azul
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Tiles placed singly score just one point, but if they become part of a row or column, they pick up points for each tile in the row or column, so clever players can make tiles score over and over again.  The game ends when one player gets a complete row, so it takes at least five rounds, and then bonus points are awarded for completed columns or rows and full sets of five of a colour.  Purple wasn’t concentrating, so failed to get any bonus points, while Black and Pine picked up a few negative points.  Pin had a disastrous final round when he was forced to pick up six red tiles but could only place two of them meaning the rest all scored negative points, a total of minus thirteen for that round.  It didn’t do him too much damage though as he finished with thirty-eight, ten points clear of the others who were in a battle for second that Black won by a single point.

Azul
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Toynan

Next the trio moved on to Sagrada.  This is another popular “game of the moment”, with very similar feel to Azul, but this time using dice and players are building a stained glass window by placing dice on a grid of dice on their player board.  Each board has some restrictions on where certain coloured or numbered dice can be placed there and players take it in turns to take dice from a pool and add them to their window.  Depending on the difficulty of the starting grid, players start with a small number of favour tokens which act as “get out of jail free” options and allow them to use special tools to manipulate some of the dice, either during the “drafting” phase, or sometimes those already in their “window”.  Points are awarded for fulfilling certain criteria, depicted on cards drawn at random at the start of the game.  Although completing the window can be challenging in its own right if the dice don’t roll well, it is the objective cards that are the key to the game.

Sagrada
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Each player has their own private objective which scores for the number of pips displayed on dice of a given colour in that player’s window. There are also three public objectives which everyone can use to score points; this time these gave points for complete sets of all five different colours, complete sets of all six numbers, and for columns that contained different numbers.  The game starts with each player choosing a window from two double-sided cards dealt at random.  The hard ones come with a lot of favour tokens and these can be critical as they can be used to move and re-roll dice or other special actions depending on what special tools are available.  This time they were particularly important, as everyone kept rolling sixes which wasn’t what they really needed.  Purple in particular made full use of all her favour tokens which helped keep her in the game.  When it came to scoring, it was quite close, with players taking similar scores on the separate public objectives. The small differences added up, however, and Pine finished in front with a nice round fifty, a handful of points ahead of Black in second place.

Sagrada
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Fabled Fruit still hadn’t finished, but was well into its third round, so Purple, Black and Pine, looked round for something familiar and quick to play, and their collective eye fell on Kingdomino.  The rules didn’t need much recap: take a domino and add to the kingdom and then place a meeple on one of the dominoes on display for the next round.  When placing the dominoes, one of the two ends must connect to terrain of the same type already in the kingdom, or connect directly to the start tile.  Points are awarded at the end of the game by multiplying the number of tiles in an area of terrain by the number of crowns in the area.  All dominoes must fit in a five-by-five space (or be discarded) and bonus points are awarded for successfully placing all tile and finishing with the start tile in the centre.

Kingdomino
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

It is a very clever little game, and tile placement is clearly critical, but one of the most important aspects is the trade off between turn order and tile value.  Each domino has a numerical value and they are set out and taken, from low to high, so players going for the more valuable tiles are trading this value against their position in the turn order.  This was key for Pine who failed to get the crowns he needed and when he did couldn’t add them to the terrain he wanted.  This was exacerbated by the fact that with only three players, some tiles never appear which can upset the balance of the game.  All in all, Pine had a complete “mare” of a game, crowned by the fact that he failed to place all his tiles and didn’t get his castle in the centre of the kingdom either.  It was a game he wanted to forget, but was close between Black and Purple.  Black had the edge though and finished with a grand total of seventy.

Kingdomino
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Nobody wanted a late night, but everyone fancied finishing with something light, and with so many people Las Vegas is always a good option.  This light dice game is really easy to play and doesn’t require much in the way of concentration, so is great to wind down with.  On their turn, each player begins by rolling their dice, then assigning some of them to one of the six casinos.  Each casino is numbered one to six and has a jackpot drawn at random from a deck of money.  the catch is that to place a “bet”, the player must use all the dice of one number that number.  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 barracking.

Las Vegas
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor joeincolorado

We also always add the Slot Machine from the 2015 Brettspiel Advent Calendar, which is like a seventh casino, except that it can hold dice of any number, but each number can only be added once (though a player must add all the dice they have of that number).  We also add some elements from the Boulevard expansion, including extra high value money cards, the “biggun” (which replaces one die per person with a larger, double weight die worth two of the little ones) and extra dice so more people can play.  Finally, we always house rule the game so we only play three rounds instead of four—although we love it, with four rounds it can outstay it’s welcome for those who feel they can’t catch up.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

It’s never easy to tell how people are doing as the money is stored face down and the denominations vary from $10,000 to $100,000, so someone with a large pile may be very rich or just have a lot of “notes”.  And Purple certainly had a lot of notes as she popped out to the conveniences and came back to find a massive money pile.  Everyone was so impressed that several others optimistically tried the same trick, but unfortunately they didn’t quite have the knack.  It was an exciting game though; with so many people playing there were a lot of draws and lots of bids ended up cancelling out others, often with three people involved and a fourth very lucky “loser” picking up the spoils.  In the final counting, Pink proved that while he was good at collecting fruit, he was rubbish at collecting money.  At the other end of the scale meanwhile, Black and Purple were again fighting it out for first place, but a tie on $340,000 each was eventually resolved in Purple’s favour.

Las Vegas
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ckirkman

Learning Outcome:  Aesop doesn’t have a monopoly on Fables.

20th March 2018

Unfortunately, ordering dinner was delayed due to a birthday party on the other side of the room, so Blue, Pine and Burgundy decided to get in a quick game of NMBR 9 while they waited.  Despite the fact that it isn’t a top game for anyone and takes up a lot of room in the bag, it is is rapidly becoming a very popular filler.  This is because it is nice and short, has a enough bite to keep everyone interested for the duration and, as it has almost no set-up time, the activation energy barrier is particularly low (find and open the box, take out the deck of cards and turn over the top one…). The game is a bingo-type tile-laying game where each person plays a total of twenty tiles, numbered zero to nine, with each one appearing twice. The deck of cards dictates the order they appear in and tiles must be placed such that at least one edge touches a previous tile. 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. At the end of the game the number of the tiles are multiplied by the level they sit on minus one. So, a five on the third tier scores ten points (5 x (3-1)).

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

This time, everyone started off with the same placements albeit in a different orientation.  It wasn’t long before first Burgundy and then the other two diverged though, with slightly different strategies.  There is a bit of knack to the game with two basic competing requirements: getting strong continuous layers without gaps, and placing numbers, ideally high numbers, on the highest tiers possible so they score more.  Blue and Burgundy concentrated on getting a really solid zero level with Burgundy even sacrificing his first “nine” to the cause.  Pine on the other hand, succeeded in placing both his “eights” on his third tier scoring a thirty-two points for those tiles alone.  It was a very close game, but the difference was when, towards the end of the game, Burgundy managed to squeeze a “three” onto the fourth layer.  This gave him nine points and victory with a total of sixty-three points, just five points ahead of Blue and Pine, who tied for second place.

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

By the time NMBR 9 was finishing, everyone else was arriving and the group split into two, with one group playing the “Feature Game”, Boomtown and the other playing Yokohama, a game which Ivory had been hankering after playing since he first saw it long before Christmas.  With food due for Blue and Burgundy at anytime, Ivory had to wait another twenty minutes or so, and to try to keep his mind off the delay, the trio decided to squeeze in another filler, Coloretto.  This is a light set-collecting card game that everyone in the group is familiar with: on their turn, players can either pick up a chameleon card from the face down deck and add it to a truck, or take a truck (passing for the rest of the round).  The innovative part of the game is the scoring which uses the triangular number sequence (one point for the first card, three points for two cards, six points for three cards etc.), with positive points for three sets and negative for the rest.

Coloretto
– Image by BGG contributor SergioMR

We’d  just started when food arrived and it quickly became apparent that Blue was concentrating more on her pizza than the game as she just stared collecting almost anything that came her way.  Everyone started collecting light blue/white cards and this was a mistake because it meant that everyone was going to struggle to get lots of them.  In the end, three things made the difference: the jokers that Blue picked up;  the bonus point cards that Blue and Ivory collected, and the negative points that Burgundy ended up with.  As a result, despite her lack of concentration, Blue finished with forty-four points and a sizeable lead, with Ivory in second place.  Meanwhile, the next table had started the “Feature Game”, Boomtown, which is a fairly light card game where players are mining moguls and each round is divided into three parts, auction, selection, and production.

Boomtown
– Image by boardGOATS

At the start of the round one card is drawn per person and placed face for bidding. Players then, in clockwise order, take turns bidding for who gets to choose a card first. Bidding continues round the table; when a player passes then they are out of the bidding and the auction continues until there is one person left.  While the auctions are fun, the real twist in the game is what happens as a result of the auction.  Winning the bidding has two consequences:  first pick from the cards available, but also payment of the bid to the other players.  So, the winner of the auction pays his winning bid to the player on his right who then gives half of that sum to the player on his right who, in turn, gives half of that amount to the player on his right, and so on in anticlockwise order, stopping just before the player who won the bidding.  The winning bidder chooses first and selection then passes to the player on his left and continues in clockwise order (i.e. opposite to the order of the money route).

Boomtown
– Image by boardGOATS

There are two types of cards in Boomtown, mine cards and special cards.  The special cards typically provide a one off action that must be used straight away while others can be saved for later in the game.  Some help the owner, but most target one, several or all of the other players destroying or stealing mines, changing dice rolls or the order of a result of an auction.  Mine cards provide victory points and can also be a source of income throughout the game (especially valuable as  money enables players to take control during the auctions).  Each mine card has a number of gold coin symbols on it as well as a number between two and twelve. The gold coin symbols correspond to the number of victory points the card is worth at the end of the game and the number of chips a player will receive should the card’s number be rolled during the production phase (like in The Settlers of Catan).

Boomtown
– Image by boardGOATS

Each mine card also has a colour and these can be critical as the player with the most cards takes the mayor who is worth five points at the end of the game.  Perhaps more importantly, the player who owns the mayor receives payment from the other players when they take (build) a mine of that colour.  Mayors can also be a deciding factor in how one bids for first choice in a round and some of the special cards can provide an edge in the contest for mayors, as well.  This means that fights over mayors can get very, very nasty indeed.  The game ends when the deck is exhausted and everyone then adds their number of chips to the value of their mines and any mayor bonuses, the player with the highest total wins.

Boomtown
– Image by boardGOATS

It was a slow start with no-one really bidding very high. Most people were not sure quite how the game would work so did not want to commit too much at this early stage. In the very first round, the “aggressive” nature of the game quickly reared its ugly head when four of the five cards in the auction were mines and one was Dynamite.  Green won the bid and since Red was sitting on his right, she was left with the final card, the Dynamite.  There was really only ever one choice as to who’s mine would go…the person who had played it many times before, Green.  A couple more rounds on and the players were still only tentatively feeling their way. Red had chosen to diverge from the other player’s tactics slightly by going for a Saloon rather than mines and before long she was able to add the Saloon Girls to double its effect.

Boomtown
– Image by boardGOATS

When Pine won a bid and started the next round of bidding, he did not know what to choose, not really wanting to win the bid at all. So he bet one, When nearly everyone had passed and he looked like he would win the bid on one, he commented that it seemed unfair that he would be forced to pay some money, thinking that if everyone passed he would be the winner anyway.  A quick check of the rules confirmed that indeed the player starting didn’t have to bid and could pass, and in the unlikely event that everyone passed, they would win.  So everyone agreed to start the round again. Pine passed, Red Passed, Green, with an eye to the main chance then bid one—Oh the shouts of disgust that followed—he had passed last time so why bid this time?  Well, it wasn’t worth two, but it might be worth one, and with that he won the auction.

Boomtown
– Image by boardGOATS

About a third of the way through the game, there were a couple of Mayors out and Red’s yellow Saloon was bringing in some income from Pine’s growing number of yellow mines.  It was about this time when Pine decided he’d had enough and took the next dynamite card and, much to her disgust, blew up Red’s Saloon, taking the girls with it!  In the meantime, Purple was trying to corner the green and red mines, while Black was settling himself strongly into purple mines.  At this point Red decided that she was so far behind in the mining stakes there was little point in switching to that route so decided to stick to the “money by other means” strategy. She managed to get a second saloon and this time chose Black’s purple mines to be the target for her custom.  This seemed to regularly provide income, but without the girls it was only two gold at a time, barely enough to cover costs.

Boomtown
– Image by boardGOATS

As the game drew to a close, it was looking like a two horse race between Green’s extensive pile of cash and Black’s almost as large pile and growing number of mines.  Pine decided he wanted a piece of the action and chose to hold up Black opting for a 50/50 and said he’d try to roll a seven or higher.  He failed, as did Red when she tried the same thing, with Black again the target.  As everyone tallied up the scores, it became apparent that the failed hold-ups had had a significant impact on the outcome. Red’s strategy had totally failed and Purple had been unlucky with the mine production rolls, but it was quite close between the other three.  In the end, Black finished just five points ahead of Pine who pipped Green to second by two points—if Black had lost those hold-ups the game could have gone to Pine…

Boomtown
– Image by boardGOATS

On the next table, Yokohama had barely started, so the group found something a little longer to play in Jórvík.  This is a viking re-themed version of The Speicherstadt, which was a very popular game with the the group a few years ago.  Last time we played the expanded version (corresponding to the original game with the Kaispeicher Expansion), but this time we did not want it to go on too long, so played the base game rather than the fully expanded one.  Pine remembered it as the game where Vikings queue up, and called it “The Queuing Game”, and that sums it up pretty well.  Players take it in turns to place their meeples in queues next to the laid out cards.  Once everyone has placed their cards, each card is “sold” and the first player who placed their meeple next to the card has first dibs.

Jórvík
– Image by boardGOATS

The snag is that the cost depends on the number of players who joined after them.  So, if the queue consists of three people, the first player can pay two for it, but if they turn it down, the next player can pay one.  This makes the game evil.  It is an auction game in which players can increase the value and, once the other person drops out, can drop out as well, no strings attached. A kind of, “Well, I didn’t want it, but I just didn’t want you to have it…”  This lack of control didn’t go down well with Ivory, who saw the game and commented, “If we were playing “Snog, Marry, Avoid”, that would definitely be “Avoid”!”  Curious, Blue asked him whether Yokohama would be “Snog” or “Marry”, to which Ivory emphatically responded, “Snog” and added, “”Marry” would require investment…”

Jórvík
– Image by boardGOATS

The cards come in varying types, starting with contracts and goods – contract cards give victory points, but only if they have been fulfilled by collecting the correct goods.  On the other hand, Market Cards allow players to sell goods and get a better return than usual, enabling the owner to build a supply of cash giving them power in the “auctions”.  One of the most important cards are the viking fighter cards.  When the “Attack of the Picts” come up at the end of each season, the player with the most viking fighters gets a bonus, but woe betide the player that has the fewest viking fighter cards as they will lose points in a “Devil take the hindmost” mechanism.  The game ends when all the cards have been auctioned and the player with the most points is the winner.  It only took one round for everyone to take up their differing strategies.  Red, having not played the game before, had gone for a couple of market cards, enabling her to sell goods for one coin each rather than the usual two goods for one coin. Green had started a collection of Viking fighters to ward off the Pict raiders, Black collected the only artisan card, Purple went for the feast and Pine wasn’t really sure where he was going so had taken another market card.

Jórvík
– Image by boardGOATS

By the end of the second round Red had acquired three of the market cards, Green another fighter, Black and purple both had artisans, and Pine had taken the valuable warehouse.  Black was dubious of Red’s strategy for so many market cards, as experience had shown that these cards were generally not that valuable as you did not often have the required resource to sell. Green was reserving judgement thinking that with three she could almost guarantee being able to sell something.  Then  the goods started to arrive.  Everyone seemed frustrated at what they could actually get and money soon ran very low, except for Red however, who always seemed to have more than anyone else; those markets were beginning to prove useful.  Pine’s warehouse seemed pretty empty however and although Green’s defense of the Picts was mighty, there wasn’t a lot he was defending in the early stages.

Jórvík
– Image by boardGOATS

As the game wore on, Green inched up the score track as Pine, Purple and Red slipped back, due to Pict raids.  By the last round, almost everyone was spent up with no more than one or two coins each, except Red who seemed to have a stash of seven or eight. This meant that she was able to hoover up both the end game scoring bonus cards (the ships and the coins) and this left an odd position that didn’t seem to be covered in the rules.  The very last card in the Winter deck was the attack of the Picts card, which meant that all the other cards had been out and selected, and only two cards remained, both attack of the Picts cards.  Normally, the Attack of the Picts card would have been enacted as soon as it was revealed and then discarded, which is why the cards fit the slots perfectly.  Pine felt the game should end there without activating them, but since we did need to have the final attack card everyone else felt that the game probably meant both attacks should happen, one after the other.  Considering that there is a one in fifteen chance of this happening, it really should have been mentioned in the rules.

Jórvík
– Image by boardGOATS

It quickly became clear why Pine wasn’t keen on activating the Pict cards:  he had seven points to lose and Green had seven to gain!  It didn’t matter though, because in the final scoring Red trounced everyone, proving that some cards are more powerful than we could ever imagine. Black and Green were tied in second place, much to their chagrin, as both had thought it would be one of them in first place; checking the tie breaker, it was Green took a somewhat Pyrrhic victory.  While all this was going on, after some four or five months, Ivory was finally getting personal with Yokohama, and it seamed he was finding that it had been worth the wait.  It had taken quite a while to set up and was quite a “table-hog”, but it looked much more complex than it appeared to the players on the neighbouring table.

Yokohama
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Yokohama has a lot in common with Istanbul—although it is unquestionably a deeper game, the principle is very similar.  In Istanbul, players take it in turn to move their Merchant around the bazaar to locations where he can carry out specific actions.  Merchants can only carry out actions at locations where there is one of their Assistants or where they can drop off one of their Assistants.  Yokohama has a similar travelling Merchant mechanism, but before he moves, the active player places Assistants, three in different locations or two together at the same location.  The difference is that in Istanbul the distance the Merchants can travel is limited, whereas in Yokohama, they can travel as far as they like, but can only travel through locations that are occupied by one or more of their Assistants.

Yokohama
– Image by BGG contributor cmarie

One of the most significant differences between the two games is that the action a player can take depends on the “Power” they have at their Merchant’s location.  The Power is the sum of the number of number of Assistants, Stores and Trading Houses present, plus one for the Merchant.  The nature of the locations are more complex too, some just provide resources or money, but others provide opportunities to get Contract cards, victory points or even technology cards that can be used during the game.   Another key difference is that each player is provided with a small number of Assistants at the start of the game.  Although any Assistants are returned when their Power is used to carry-out out an action, players inevitably need more, which they must obtain by visiting the Employment agency (where players can also buy Stores and Trading Houses).

Yokohama
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Despite the similarities, the games have a very different feel about them, though they are both very smooth to play with very little down-time.  Yokohama has a number of end conditions, including drawing the last contract card, filling a given number of spaces in the Church, or Customs locations, or if one or more players has built all their Trading houses or Stores.  In this way, it is up to the players how long the game goes on, which was definitely something that affected the way Blue, Burgundy and Ivory played.  The game began with Blue picking off the highest scoring Contracts while Ivory decided to build some technology, in particular the ability to place a fourth Assistant, something that proved it’s worth as he used it extensively throughout the game.  Burgundy followed Blue with the Contracts, but was generally beaten to the most valuable cards.

Yokohama
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor HedgeWizzard

As the game developed, all three players began to get into their stride a bit more, and when pine looked on in horror at all the pieces and commented that it definitely looked like an “Ivory sort of game”, all three agreed that it was no where near as complex as it looked.  And that was just as well, because Yokohama has a lot of fiddly pieces and does look especially complicated.  Up to this point though, everyone had been hitting the Contract cards quite hard, when Burgundy suddenly pointed out that there weren’t many left and if we continued that way, the game would be over quite soon. Clearly nobody wanted that, because everyone switched their attention to other sources of points.  It quickly became clear that all three players had spotted the value the Customs house could provide, and since everyone was beginning to build up a small stack of valuable “Import” crates, it became a race to get there first.

Yokohama
– Image by BGG contributor Roger_Jay

Inevitably, Ivory got to the Customs house first, followed by Blue and Burgundy.  Blue had more Import crates though and was able visit several times and hold the majority.  Ivory spotted that there were points to be had by visiting the Church, which the others had completely neglected and Burgundy took one of the achievement bonuses for having built in three commercial and two production areas.  This was something that everyone had tried to go for, but had been sidetracked from.  Ivory snaffled the bonus for being the first to achieve six bundles of silk with an extremely clever move, while Blue who had always had more money than anyone else picked up the bonus for being the first to have ten Yen.  It was clear that the game wasn’t going to go on much longer, but everyone was concentrating on trying to eke out those last few points in what felt like a close game.

Yokohama
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor HedgeWizzard

It was about this point that Red asked to borrow Blues car keys, only to return a few minutes later, much to everyone’s amusement, asking how to use them as she had been pushing the car boot open button without success.  Obviously that wasn’t the right button, so with new instructions she tried again, only to return after another couple of minutes still defeated.  In the end, Green went to her rescue, though even he took several tries to get it to work.  On their return Yokohama was coming to a close and the players were working out the final scores.  It was close, but despite Blue’s obstructive tactics at the end, Ivory still finished five points clear with one-hundred and twenty-two.  It was clear that everyone had enjoyed the game:  Burgundy’s comment was that he’d struggled from start to finish, but loved every minute.  Ivory had clearly enjoyed it too, and was making appreciative comments about variable setups as he helped pack away, though it remains to be seen whether he will invest in an engagement ring…

Yokohama
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor punkin312

Learning Outcome: Some games are worth the wait.

6th March 2018

Food had been ordered by those who intended to eat, but there seemed to be a bit of wait so we decided to play our “Feature Game”, Plague & Pestilence.  This game had been chosen as it was Purple’s birthday and she had enjoyed playing it in the past.  A fairly simple card game, everyone felt it wouldn’t be too difficult to play around when food arrived, added to which, there weren’t many other options available that would play six in a short time.  The game is played in two phases, the first is the “Prosperity Phase” and the second is the “Plague Phase”, but both are played the same way.  During their turn, the active player rolls a pair of purple six-sided dice which indicate how much their population increases by, and takes population cards accordingly.  The active player then draws Prosperity cards to refill their hand and plays one, which allow players to attack others and build their own protections for later in the game.

– Image by boardGOATS

A special Death Ship card is shuffled into the Prosperity deck and when it appears, it triggers the start of the second phase, the “Plague Phase”.  This is played exactly the same as the first phase, but now the dice rolls indicate how much the active player’s population decreases by.  As the game progresses, the plague ravages the populations and players are eliminated; the last player standing is the winner.  The game started fairly benignly as most players either built improvements or had bumper harvests. There was the odd pestilence played and a Mongol raid, however, Green upped the ante when he played the mass migration card and gained five citizens off every other player.  This released the inevitable retribution when he then found himself beset with wars, famines and pestilence.  With two Pied Pipers up his sleeve (metaphorically of course) he was then able to pick on Ivory, and did so twice since Ivory had twice hit Green hard with a major war, and had also caught Pine with Viking raids. Meanwhile, Burgundy tried to build defences, and but they fell to earthquakes and other attacks before he could actually make use of their benefits.

– Image by boardGOATS

The game had not seemed to be going on long when Green drew the Death Ship and the game  entered the Plague Phase. A quick run round the table while everyone tried to bolster their dwindling populations and then food started to arrive.  After a brief interlude, play resumed with Black and his seemingly never-ending stream of Trade Centres.  Before long, a fatal blow was dealt to Burgundy when Purple started a war between him and Green. With three ties in a row, both suffered heavy losses. Although Burgundy did eventually win the war, he suffered some poor dice rolls and soon found himself to be the first without citizens. By now, Green was struggling and Black’s own mass migration had put both him and Pine on the edge as well. The inevitable backlash against Black gave Green and Pine a reprieve, but it was short lived and both toppled very quickly.

– Image by boardGOATS

It was looking like a fight between Ivory and Black as Purple’s pile of people was also looking decidedly dodgy, but then Black tried to start a war between the other two.  Ivory brought out his “Negotiated Peace” card though and all was well. It was a race of attrition that Purple couldn’t win and she was the next to drop out with an empty city.  In the end there was still little Ivory could do and he finally bowed out leaving Black the winner. It was then that Black revealed his hand to have several military advantages that he never used as he was the only one who had not been at war; everyone else had been wondering where those tactical advantages had disappeared to as they really needed them!  With the death and destruction over, we quickly decided to split into two threes.  As it was Purple’s birthday and she wanted to play Cat Lady, Pine and Black joined her.

– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor HedgeWizzard

Cat Lady is a card drafting game, similar in feel to Sushi Go!, though the drafting mechanism is very different.  At the start of the game nine cards from the cat deck are laid out in a three by three array.  On their turn, the active player takes all thee cards in one row or one column and then replaces the cards from the draw deck marking the row they took with a kitty meeple so the next player knows they can’t take that row.  Any cat cards go in front of the owner (or should that be staff?) and these must be fed by the end of the game or they score minus two.  Any food cards give cubes which can then be placed on the face-up cat cards to show they are being fed.  Similar to Sushi Go!, there are also cards that score for the player with the most cards (cat “costumes”) and give players with the fewest negative points and sets that players can collect (toys).  Players can also collect catnip cards which score minus two if the player only has one at the end of the game, or one or two points per cat if they have more.  There are also lost cat cards, and discarding a pair allows players take a two victory point token or one of the three stray cat cards which are particularly useful because they have special powers.

– Image used with permission of BGG contributor HedgeWizzard

The tricky part is making sure that the food a player gets matches the cards, because cats are fussy creatures and some like tuna, while others will only eat chicken…  At the end of the game, players score points for each happy well-fed cat and for their toy collection with extras if they have the most cat costumes.  Unfed cats, having the fewest costumes, and the largest surplus of food will give players negative points.  The game began with Purple going for costumes and toys while Black and Pine tried to get catnip to add extra points for their fed cats.  Perhaps Purple concentrated too much on the accoutrements for her pets because she ended up with so many cats that should couldn’t feed them all.  In her defence, it wasn’t that she had no food, it was that her cats were fussy eaters and turned their noses up at the fresh chicken, preferring to starve.  Unfortunately, this meant she lost points for having unfed cats, but also for having the largest surplus of food.  In contrast, the others had well fed cats and were level in almost every department, finishing with only three points between them, and Pine just a whisker in front of Black.

– Edited from video on youtube.com

Meanwhile, on the next table, Burgundy, Green and Ivory opted for NMBR 9. Only Burgundy had played it before, but the rules are simple enough so didn’t take long to explain.  The idea is that players will play a total of twenty tiles, numbered zero to nine, with each one appearing twice. One player turns over a card and calls the number and players each take one tile of that number and add it to their tableau. Tiles must be placed such that at least one edge touches a previous tile. 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. At the end of the game the number tiles are multiplied by the level they sit on minus one. So, a five on the third level scores ten points (5 x (3-1)).  This time, Ivory and Green matched each other for several turns before making a slight different placement which then ballooned into big differences.

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Ivory and Green were quite pleased early on when they were able to place the eight on the, then highest level when Burgundy had to be content with adding it to his “ground floor”. In the end, Burgundy proved cannier than the others, however, and even managed to get a fourth level by the end of the game, while both Ivory and Green could only manage three tiers. In the final scores, it was Burgundy’s experience that showed through and his score dwarfed that of Ivory and Green, who finished with only a point between them.  Chatting about the game afterwards, everyone was surprised how quick it had been and how easy it was to learn (helped by the zero setup time).  So much so in fact, that even though the game was not to everyone’s taste, everyone felt it made a very handy little filler game and with a nice little bit of challenge. Having played it once though, both Ivory and Green felt they had a better understanding of the challenges and were more familiar with the tessellation possibilities and looked forward to doing better next time.

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

On the other table, Cat Lady was still underway, so the Green, Ivory and Burgundy opted for another of the hits from Essen 2017, Azul.  Despite the number of times we have now played this in the group, Ivory had somehow missed out.  The idea of the game 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.  The catch is that each player only has five rows, each with a set number of spaces (up 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.

Azul
– Image by BGG contributor JackyTheRipper

Players score just 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. At the end of the game, players score bonus points for completed columns, completed rows and complete sets of five of the same colour.  The game is actually much more complex to explain than to actually play and Ivory appeared to pick it up very quickly, successfully completing a column and two full coloured sets.  Green, on the other hand, had managed only one column and one colour set as he had got stuck with a single blue on the bottom row for at least two turns as there weren’t enough of that colour drawn from the bag which stopped him placing the colours he really wanted to.  It was Burgundy who romped home in the lead though, with two full columns and two complete colour sets and ninety-eight points, just three ahead of Ivory.

Azul
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

While Azul was going on, Cat Lady had finished and the group also fancied playing Azul.  Unfortunately, we only had one copy between us so they settled on Sheep & Thief instead.  This is another light abstract that has proven quite popular in the group.  Each player has a board divided into a four by four grid, and starts with their home card and two sheep in the top left hand corner.  Each round is played in two halves: first players draft cards then they play them, taking it turns to place one card per turn.  It is a strange little “point salad” of a game with players trying to connect their home card to the other three corners while also trying to keep their sheep safe and trying to catch other players sheep with their fox as well as attempting to navigate their black sheep to the town in the bottom right corner of their board.

Sheep & Thief
– Image by boardGOATS

With points for sheep captured, sheep retained, long rivers, connecting the home card to the other corners of the board as well as for moving their black sheep as far from home as possible, it is hard to see who has the most points and get an idea of who is in the lead and it is astonishingly hard to do well at everything.  During this game, there almost seemed to be a lack of sheep and not much movement around the fields either.  The black sheep only moved a space or two and the foxes mostly sat and watched.  Everyone managed to connect their home card to at least one town, but it was Black who managed to collected a huge number of points when he managed to mastermind a huge river system giving him a completely unassailable lead.

Sheep & Thief
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, Azul was over, but as Sheep & Thief wouldn’t be long, Green, Ivory and Burgundy settled on a quick game of Love Letter with Green’s home printed Hobbit cards.  It is a while since we last played Love Letter, but nobody had forgotten how as it is simple enough:  draw a second card and chose one to play then action it trying to knock everyone else out—last player standing is the winner.  This time, Burgundy was caught out first as he had been forced to discard the Elvenking, leaving Green with a fifty/fifty guess at Beorn or the Great Eagle (the mutterings on placing the Elvenking suggested he wasn’t Smaug).  Although he guessed right, Ivory played a Troll to compare hands and Green could not match Ivory’s eagle. In the second round, history repeated itself for Burgundy as the first card he played was an Elvenking and the Great Eagle guess proved correct.  It was Green’s Troll card that forced the compare this time and took out Ivory.

– Image by boardGOATS

In the third round, Green started off by keeping himself out of harms way with Elrond, but he drew Smaug as his next card and knew that the writing would be on the wall—it’s very hard to keep that quiet for long. The inevitable happened when Ivory forced Green to reveal his card, but it didn’t do Ivory much good as Burgundy was then able to beat him on another comparison.  With one golden ring apiece and Sheep & Thief being scored on the next table, it was all or nothing on the final round.  Burgundy was knocked out first, but Green and Ivory took it to the final cards, a compare hands. Much to the dismay of Green who had accused Ivory of being Smaug earlier in the round, Ivory had subsequently drawn the dragon card, and with it took the game.  It wasn’t all that late, but nobody really wanted to start anything else.  With Green and Ivory making for home, Black, Burgundy and Pine waited on the birthday girl’s decision, but she also wanted to head off—she’d had a busy day.

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Don’t be a fussy pussy or it could be fatal!

20th February 2018

As food was being dealt with, Red introduced a new gamer, Olive.  Olive is not new to Eurogames, but was unfamiliar the “Feature Game”, Colt Express: Marshal & Prisoners.  This is the second expansion to the train robbing game, Colt Express, and one nobody around the table had tried before.  Pretty much everyone said, “I really like the game, but I wouldn’t mind playing something else depending what that is…”   This inevitably led to a lot of debate as to who would play what, but in the end, Blue, Magenta, Pine, Black and Olive settled down to play Colt Express.

Colt Express
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor lacxox

Colt Express is a programming game where players take it in turns to choose the cards they are going to play (sometimes in the open, sometimes in secret) and then, after all the cards have been chosen, players take it in turns to action the cards.  The cards enable players to move their robbers along the train, onto the roof of their carriage, shoot or punch each other and pick up loot, the ultimate aim of the game.  The thing is, by the time players come to actioning the cards they chose, they have forgotten what their plan was, and usually the game state is completely different to what they thought it would be.  This ends up with lots of people taking a wild swing at empty space, or shooting someone they hadn’t intended to target.  The Marshal & Prisoners expansion makes things even more complicated as one of the players is the train Marshal instead of a robber, and has different objectives during the game.

Colt Express
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Punkin312

Black took the role of the Marshal, who starts the game with five objective cards.  Two of these are to capture other players (drawn at random), and all of them are placed face down to be revealed to the Marshal one at a time, one per round.  He also got a hand of special action cards and two clips of bullets.  Everyone else got the same action cards as in the base game, but additionally got a Brilliant Ideas card.  This card affects how players interact with the other new component, the Prison Car. Basically, its effect depends on the character’s location:  if they are not in the prison car then they repeat the previous robber’s actions, otherwise they have a choice of freeing a captured robber or rescuing a prisoner who will then work for them.

Colt Express
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

It took us a little while to remember some of the finer details and also get to grips with the changes caused by the expansion.  Marshal Black quickly captured Olive, a move everyone felt was a bit harsh on her fist visit.  Fortunately for her, Pine was in a chivalrous mood so instead of freeing a prisoner (and getting the associated special power), he liberated Olive from her cell, at a cost of course.  Meanwhile, Magenta had started out as she clearly meant to carry on, by being violent and shooting Blue.  Inevitably, she retaliated in the next round and from there bullets flew in all directions.  Magenta wasn’t only busy being a brutal murdering psychopath, she was also busy collecting.  Pine was slightly more gentlemanly about it, but was also making free with the available loot.  Blue’s game ended when she too was caught by Marshal Black and nobody saw fit to let her out.

Colt Express
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Punkin312

Eventually the game came to an end, and Marshal Black was first to declare whether he had achieved his goals.  To win, he had to succeed in four of the five challenges, but unfortunately for him, he’d only managed three of them.  He’d managed to shoot all four people and capture Olive (which was one of his goals), but he’d failed to nab Pine and one of his other tasks was nearly impossible.  This meant everyone had to reveal their stash.  While locked in her prison cell, Blue had been reading the rules and discovered that the Brilliant Idea card would enable her to escape on her own, but by that time, the game was nearly over and the damage was done.  Magenta, Pine and Blue had all managed to empty their clips so scored $1,000 as gunslingers.  Pacifist Olive had managed to pick up the strong box and some other loot, but getting captured cost her $500.  Pine finished second with an excellent $2,200, but it was a long way behind Magenta who finished well ahead with $3,150.

Colt Express
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Meanwhile, after some discussion, everyone else settled on playing Port Royal (with the extra cards from the Expansion).  This is a very simple game; on their turn the active player turns over the top card of the deck.  If it is a Ship that they want, they can take it to give them income, alternatively, they can repel the Ship if they don’t want it and have sufficient cutlass cards to do so.  If it is a Character card that they want and can afford, they buy it and put it in front of them.  If they do not want the card they place it face up in the display in front of the draw-deck and draw another card.  The active player continues in this way until they have taken a card, or a Ship is drawn that is the same colour as a ship already in the display and cannot be repelled, in which case, they go bust and play passes to the next player.

– Image by boardGOATS

The clever part of the game is that it uses the same dual use cards trick as Bohnanza, where the cards have one meaning when face up and are coins when face down.  This means some cards get buried in the money piles and may never appear face up, making each game slightly different.  The other clever part of the game is that if the active player buys or takes a card, then everyone else has the chance, in turn, to take or buy a card until there are none left in the row, however, it will cost them one coin, paid to the active player.  In general, each Character card has a special power, but is also worth victory points at the end of the game which is triggered when someone reaches twelve points.

Port Royal
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor msaari

It had been a little while since we last played this and we all felt a little rusty, and Ivory was entirely new to it.  So, the first few rounds were a little tentative but as we got into it, Burgundy opted for his tried and trusted strategy of gaining the Admiral Character card that would give him two extra coins (taken from the draw deck) if there were at least five cards in the row when it was his turn to choose. This worked very well for him initially, so that when the option to get a second came along he took it for a potential gain of four coins when there were five cards in the row just be fore he could choose one.  Whether it was just luck or that the rest of us made an extra special effort, he immediately stopped getting his five card chance after this and only rarely managed his four coins.

Port Royal
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Punkin312

After the first couple of rounds we were still finding our feet and everyone really needed more money so we were all trying to get some higher scoring pirate ships. Green was the first to go bust when the third he pulled out was a second green pirate.  Tom was next up and he also bust and so it went on round the table for an (almost) fully busted round, with only Burgundy bucking the trend.  The game was generally bereft of the Expedition Cards (which allow players to exchange some people for more points), and unusually there were only two available in the whole game.  This meant that for Green, Purple and Red who were pursuing and Expedition card based strategy it was a real struggle.  Despite Burgundy’s frequent large haul of coins, it was actually Purple that fell foul of the Tax Man first, and Burgundy (by way of having a solitary soldier), kept winning the extra coin for largest defense force when the taxes were due.

– Image by boardGOATS

In the past, Green had done well with Pirate and Sailor strategy, but unfortunately this time he struggled to get the fighting cards he needed.  Ivory was getting a feel for the game and took two red Trader cards that would add to his coin haul whenever he took a red ship.  However, these cards are not as powerful in this game as they at first appear, as it’s rare that you get to choose which colour ship you take. Since he had this double bonus, the rest of us made sure he didn’t get to use it.  In the end Burgundy made his strategy work and as everyone else struggled to gain traction he sailed to victory finishing with twelve points with everyone else in a very tight game for second place.  It was not clear how long Colt Express was going to go on, but as they were about half way through, a shorter five player game was in order.  This was not an easy choice with the games available which were either way too long or rather too short.  It ended up being Red’s favourite, Bohnanza.

Bohnanaza
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor spearjr

Bohnanza is a very popular game within the group, but somehow Ivory had managed to avoid playing it.  Everyone else were old hands with it though, so after a quick summary of the rules we had a discussion of the key points of the game.  As far as the rules go, the key part is for everyone to suppress all natural instinct and NOT sort their hand of cards.  This is something that is surprisingly difficult given the OCD nature of most gamers, but is is the crux of the game as the cards must be played in the order they are received.  The only way to work round this is to trade away the cards in hand, which means they must be played straight away, but by another player.  There was a short discussion on this point as the fun of the game is in the trading and if people refuse to trade it becomes tedious.  That wasn’t going to happen here though.  Our group are usually fairly free and easy with our trades, but that’s not to say we are push-overs. We trade, but we trade hard. Occasionally we might let someone have an exceptionally good deal, but only on the condition that they remember for next time!

– Image by boardGOATS

In many ways this was fairly typical game of Bohnanza.  Green was the first to go for a third bean field (often none of us do), and that was because he wanted to plant his Garden Bean while not getting in the way of his normal game.  There are only six Garden Beans in the game, but if you can get at least two, that gives you a point per bean card.  Although Ivory had already planted and harvested three Garden Beans, Green felt it was worth the gamble that at least one of the others was going to turn up sometime.  He was right about that.  They both turned up in Burgundy’s hand and he wasn’t trading!  Ivory followed shortly after planting his third bean field, largely for the same reason: he did not want to harvest an incomplete field just yet for a low yield, high scoring bean.  Like Green however, ultimately, the strategy failed.

Bohnanaza
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor spearjr

By this time, Colt Express had finished and since Bohnanza was going with such a swing the “train robbers” decided to join in with their own “Game of Beans” using a second copy.  In many ways it was a mirror of the first game; a case of different people, same game.  So, Blue picked up a third bean field quite early in the hope that it would ensure she could capitalise on some of the rare, but valuable beans she had in her hand, in particular her Garden Bean.  Everyone else tried to manage without, though Olive decided to pick one up in the late stages—a controversial decision in the eyes of the spectators.  Like Green and Ivory, the third bean field didn’t help them either though, in Blue’s case, largely because it spent the almost the whole game with one solitary bean in it because the rest all ended up in Pine’s coin stash. Both games were quite tight, so much so that when the first group couldn’t find someone to trade with, they tried to see if anyone on the next table could help.  Red, The Bean Queen, came out on top in the first game with sixteen, with Ivory finishing in second with fifteen and each place thereafter one coin behind the one above.  The winner on the second table also finished with sixteen and was a tie between Pine and Black who’d had a quiet, but obviously effective game.

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome: Sometimes violence pays.

6th February 2018

With seven of us and the “Feature Game”, Ave Caesar, only playing six, we started the evening with a small problem.  The general consensus was that the game is more fun with more people, so splitting into two small groups didn’t feel right.  Blue offered to sit out as she was still eating, as did Burgundy and almost everyone else as well, but in the end, Purple and Black teamed up so we could all play together.  An older family game dating from 1989, Ave Caesar is also a fairly simple game.  The idea is that each player has a deck of movement cards, a chariot, and a coin, and the aim of the game is to be the first player to cross the line after completing three laps of the track.  On the way round each player must pay tribute to Caesar on the way by pulling up in front of the Emperor in his dedicated pit lane, chucking their Denarius into the game box and crying “Hail Caesar!”.

Ave Caesar
– Image by boardGOATS

There are some nasty, unforgiving little features about this game.  For example, the track is generally a maximum of two lanes wide.  Worse, players can only use each of their cards once and don’t have lot of spare moves, so the outside lane should be used sparingly otherwise they may run out of moves before they complete their final lap.  Even worse than that, each player starts with a hand of three cards and plays one, then refreshes their hand.  The snag is that players cannot jump or move through occupied spaces and must use every space on the card they play, in other words, they cannot play a five for example if there are only three spaces they can move.  These “nasty features” can make the game very frustrating, but are also the clever part as they provide the challenge.

Ave Caesar
– Image by boardGOATS

There have been several editions of the game, but the original Ravensburger is widely believed to be the best because it has slightly longer tracks which makes for a tighter game as players have fewer moves to spare.  It is well understood that the newer version that we were playing with could be improved by removing a five card from each player’s deck.  So we started sorting and counting cards, and finding a five to remove from each deck.  With this done, all those eating had also finished and Burgundy started with a modest two.  Blue was second and, with two sixes in hand felt that it was a good idea to get rid of one of them nice and early.  The problem with sixes is that you can’t play them when you are in the lead, but they can be quite difficult to play from the back as there has to be enough space in front to play them.

Ave Caesar
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy’s two proved to be a mistake as everyone else promptly overtook him and left him stuck at the back for most of the rest of the lap.  In fact, he was so stuck, that he ended up missing three turns on the first lap alone.  In contrast, Blue had broken away from the pack and was looking at lapping Burgundy, but this had its own problems as she needed to get rid of her sixes, which she couldn’t do while in the lead.  Blue went to hail Caesar on her first lap to give people a chance to catch up.  After a bit of moaning that he hated Bank-holiday traffic, Pine finally managed to break away from the log-jam and take the lead giving Blue a chance to ditch a six, and everyone else a chance to make some progress too.  Everyone else that is, except Burgundy who was doing an excellent job of bringing up the rear.

Ave Caesar
– Image by boardGOATS

During the second lap, Pine just managed to nip in and pay his dues to Caesar, while Green followed and then reduced his chariot speed to a crawl and “Hailed” three times successfully causing a queue behind.  It was the third lap where things started to get interesting though with everyone jockeying for position to try to make sure that they didn’t have to waste moves.  Blue had a bigger problem though, she was miles in front, but still had to draw her final six from the deck and then play it.  She tried hanging back, reluctant to give away the size of her problem, but that card stayed in the pack.  Finally, as she drew her last card, she found her final six, but it was too late and Team Black and Purple cantered past and pipped her to the finish.  Green trotted in taking third place and leading the rest of the pack home.  Ironically, had she not suggested removing the fives at the start of the game, Blue would have won easily, but that would have been boring.

Ave Caesar
– Image by boardGOATS

It hadn’t been Ivory’s sort of game, so to placate him we offered him Yokohama, a game he’s been angling to play since before Christmas, but there wasn’t quite enough time for that, so he went for Sagrada instead and was joined by Pine and Blue.  This is a very pretty little game with many features in common with one of our current favourites, Azul.  It has simple rules, but lots of complexity and is essentially an abstract with a very thin theme, but for some reason that doesn’t seem to matter.  In Sagrada, players build a stained glass window by building up a grid of dice on their player board. Each board has some restrictions on which colour or shade (value) of die can be placed there and players take it in turns to take dice from a pool and add them to their window.  Depending on the difficulty of the starting grid, players start with a small number of favour tokens which act as “get out of jail free” options and allow them to use special tools to rearrange some of the dice, either during “drafting”, or sometimes those already in their window.

Sagrada
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Points are awarded for fulfilling certain criteria, depicted on cards drawn at random at the start of the game.  Although completing the window can be challenging in its own right if the dice don’t roll well, it is the objective cards that are the key to the game.  Each player has their own private objective which scores for the number of pips displayed on dice of a given colour in that player’s window. There are also three public objectives which everyone can use to score points; in this case we were scoring for coloured dice diagonally adjacent; complete sets of one to six and pairs of five and six. The game starts with each player choosing a window from two double-sided cards dealt at random.  The hard ones come with a lot of favour tokens; this time almost all the options available seemed to be the difficult ones, which made Blue especially wary given the dogs’ breakfast she made of the game at New Year playing a challenging window.

Sagrada
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Everyone seemed to go for different strategies this time.  Blue went for the public “diagonals” goal, making a pretty Battenburg pattern, but only managed to get one five, so struggled with the other objectives.  In contrast, Ivory did well getting pairs of five and six, but only got one three, so couldn’t score so well for the sets.  Pine completely ignored the diagonals and really concentrated on his private goal and getting complete sets of one to six.  It was a really tight game and Blue and Ivory were to rue those dice they’d failed to get as Pine finished with forty-three points, just two ahead of Ivory and three clear of Blue.  Despite finishing second, Ivory was much happier with this game than Ave Caesar and was up for giving something else a go.  Pine was keen to play Animals on Board again, and it is a nice enough little game and not long so Ivory was happy to give it a go too.  The idea is that players are collecting animals to go in their cardboard ark.  Each set of animals in the game is numbered from one to five and a selection are drawn at random and placed face up in the centre of the table.

Animals on Board
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

On their turn the active player either divides one of the groups in the middle into two parts (and takes a box of fruit for their pains) or takes the animals from one of the groups, paying for them with boxes of fruit at a rate of one per animal.  At the end of the game (triggered when one player picks up their tenth animal) Noah claims any pairs of animals and the remaining animals are scored: singletons score their face value and sets of three or more score five per animal.  It was quite tight, Ivory collected four rhinos and Pine managed three hippos.  Blue brought the game to a sudden and unexpected end when she unexpectedly found herself with a large set she could take profitably, leaving her with two sets of three, foxes and zebras, and with it, the she took the game.

Animals on Board
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Meanwhile, on the neighbouring table, Black, Pink, Burgundy and Green were playing the classic, Settlers of Catan (now known simply as “Catan”).  Despite being over twenty years old now, it still holds up as a good family game in a way that some other games of the same vintage do not.  The game is played on an iconic variable tile game board on which players build settlements and cities on the nodes and roads along the edges.  One of the things that makes the game so popular is the lack of down time: a turn consists of rolling dice, trading and then buying and/or building.  Each hexagon on the board is numbered and rolling the dice gives resources to every player with a settlement on the hexagon on the number rolled.  Since each node is on the corner of three hexagons, players frequently get resources during other players’ turns.  Everyone is potentially involved in the trading of course, so the only part of anyone’s turn that is not shared is the buying and building phase, but this is usually quite short.

The Settlers of Catan
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, the random layout of tiles gave an even spread, but the number tokens placed on them had an unusual symmetry:  both eights were on the mountains (giving stone), both threes were on the fields (giving wheat) and both nines were on the clay beds (giving brick).  Green started and inevitably chose the choice spot with that would give him wool, wood and clay, much to Burgundy’s chagrin. Black was last to place and decided to connect his two roads and settlements, so by the time it Green got his second turn, he had very little option and ended up with a port location which would yield only two cards to everyone rather than three.  The dice seemed to be rolling according to the predicted distribution with the red numbers (six & eight) coming up often.  This gave Burgundy a lot of stone and wood, but due to his lack of brick he quickly converted a settlement to a city which only increased his supply of stone.

– Image by boardGOATS

Unfortunately for him, all these extra resources counted against him as the other number to come up regularly was seven, so meaning the robber was moved and everyone had to reduce the number of resource cards they were holding to seven.  Burgundy often was higher due to his regular double productions, but to make it worse he frequently seemed to because of his own demise since he was the one who kept rolling the sevens—three times in succession at one point! With that kind of luck he really began to wonder if he should just pack it in right then and go play something else.  While Burgundy was struggling with his own security though, Purple and Green were steadily building their kingdoms. Purple gained another settlement and converted one of her others into a city. Green had spread out from his choice spot to build another settlement on the port side of the value eight mountains and in the other direction to another port with more clay, giving him the longest road, and with it two bonus points, for the moment at least.

The Settlers of Catan
– Image by boardGOATS

Black seemed to be languishing, unable to get traction and the cards he needed for expansion. Catan requires investment for growth, but he had barely two coins to rub together to invest with at all.  Once Green had built on the mountain-side the eight rolls seemed to dry up and he struggled to get enough stone or wheat to convert his settlements to cities.  Purple’s hidden development card made everyone think she had an extra hidden point, and possibly the lead. Certainly the early rolls went in her favour and it was beginning to look like this could be her game. Green’s long road brought him into the running, and the power of Burgundy’s cities meant he wasn’t far behind. The production Burgundy’s cities provided meant he was able to go after longest road and take it from Green, thus starting a little road building war between the two.

The Settlers of Catan
– Image by boardGOATS

With nowhere else on the board worth building on, Burgundy decided on an alternative strategy and started trading for development cards. He managed to place two knights and was about to take the Largest Army, until everyone else reminded him he three army cards for that. It only delayed the inevitable though, as one round later he played a third knight card, claimed the Largest Army and two points with it. He easily built two more roads and with it retook the Longest Road card for a second time simultaneously revealing he had a one point development card in his hand.  This meant he went from five points on the board to a total of ten points in one turn and with it finished the game.  Purple and Black revealed they also had a one point development card to give them both six points and joint second place.

The Settlers of Catan
– Image by boardGOATS

Both tables finished at about the same time and, as Ivory headed home, Burgundy commented that he’d like to give NMBR 9 a go.  Everyone else chimed in that they’d be happy to join him , but Pine and Purple got there first and with no set up time got started quickly.  The game is very simple: one player turns over a card and calls the number and players each take one tile of that number and add it to their tableau.  All the tiles are roughly number-shaped and each player will play a total of twenty tiles, numbered zero to nine, with each one appearing twice.  Tiles must be placed such that at least one edge touches a previous tile. 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. At the end of the game the number tiles are multiplied by the level they sit on minus one. So, a five on the third level scores ten points (5 x (3-1)).

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Unlike a lot of games, it is very difficult to tell who is winning, as the largest scores come late in the game when adding tiles to the higher layers.  However, the lower layers must be able to  accommodate the later tiles as and when they come out, otherwise a player can’t take advantage of the opportunities they may offer.  This time Burgundy “got lucky” and was able to squeeze a seven, an eight and a nine onto his third level giving him a massive forty-eight points for them alone and a bit of a land-slide victory.  We’ve played this game a few times now as a group and all the previous games have been quite close.  Other Bingo-type game like Take it Easy!, Das Labyrinth des Pharao or Karuba, have been relatively unpopular with the group as they feel like multiplayer solitaire, but somehow, in our group, everyone gets involved helping everyone else out, which makes this game much more enjoyable.

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

The other three chatted for a few minutes before deciding to play a quick game of Kingdomino as it is a game we know well and can play quickly and without committing too much thought.  It  consists of dominoes featuring two terrain “tiles” with some tiles also depicting one or more crowns.  Players are building their kingdoms by placing dominoes where one end must either connect to another domino matching at least one of its terrain types or to the starting tile (which can be considered to be “wild”).  All dominoes must fit in a five-by-five space and if one or more dominoes cannot be placed according to these rules, then they are discarded. At the end of the game, each player multiplies the number of tiles in each contiguous region of terrain with the number of crowns on the tiles in that region and adds them up together with any bonuses to give their score.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

The game was really tight with each player capitalising and building on different terrain types:  Black took forests, Green took pasture and Blue took sea.  There were three points between first and third, but it was Black who finished at the front, just one point ahead of Blue.  With three players, some tiles are removed from the game at random.  Like last time, almost all the tiles removed were  the high-scoring mountain and marshland tiles, but at least this time nobody’s game plan depended on them.  It did encourage some discussion, though with Black commenting that he didn’t like the game with three because of this uncontrolled randomness, and Blue commenting that perhaps the tiles that are taken out should be turned face up and displayed so that players can at least see what won’t be available.  Maybe a variant for another time.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome: Some games stand the test of time, others not so much.