Category Archives: Games Night

26th June 2018

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

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

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

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

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

Lanterns: The Emperor's Gifts
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Concordia: Ægyptus / Creta
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Concordia
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Space Trucker

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

Concordia: Ægyptus / Creta
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Concordia: Ægyptus / Creta
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Concordia
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor bkunes

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

Concordia: Ægyptus / Creta
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Concordia: Ægyptus / Creta
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Concordia
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:   Hot weather can have some strange effects…

12th June 2018

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

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Dice Forge
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Dice Forge
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Dice Forge
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

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

29th May 2018

Two of our more sporadic members arrived early and were keen to get as many games played as possible, so the first game was squeezed in between ordering food and its arrival.  As something quick was required and Turquoise hadn’t played it before, NMBR 9 was the perfect choice.  A quick rules explanation was necessary, but there isn’t much to explain so it didn’t take long:  one player turns over the card deck, one at a time and everyone takes the indicated card and adds it to their tableau, ensuring that the edge touches one of the other tiles.  Once a few tiles have been placed to form a base layer, then tiles can be placed on top of other tiles as long as there are no overhanging parts, and the tile sits squarely on more than one other tile; the higher the tiles are placed the more they score.  It was a  tight game, well, tight between three players, but Pink romped away with it, twenty points clear, thanks to building one more level than everyone else.

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

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

– Image by boardGOATS

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

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Taluva
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Taluva with Extension
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Taluva with Extension
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Taluva with Extension
– Image by boardGOATS

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

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

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

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

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

Dodekka
– Image by boardGOATS

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

The Game: Extreme
– Image by boardGOATS

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

The Game: Extreme
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Bohnanza
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor spearjr

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

15th May 2018

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

Caverna: The Cave Farmers
– Image by BGG contributor MisterC

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

Caverna: The Cave Farmers
– Image by BGG contributor saksi

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

Caverna: The Cave Farmers
– Image by BGG contributor saksi

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

Caverna: The Cave Farmers
– Image by BGG contributor haslo

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

Caverna: The Cave Farmers
– Image by BGG contributor haslo

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

Caverna: The Cave Farmers
– Image by BGG contributor haslo

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

Caverna: The Cave Farmers
– Image by BGG contributor saksi

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

Caverna: The Cave Farmers
– Image by BGG contributor saksi

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

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Keyflower
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor punkin312

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

Keyflower
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

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

Keyflower
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

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

Keyflower
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

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

Keyflower
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

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

Keyflower
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

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

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

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

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

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

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

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

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.